Bad Fall – Part 83


Bad FallMarka and Shay found Frank and brought him to the hospital. He had enough strength to tell Shay that the person he’s looking for is Liz.

“He’s being watched from a distance. They can’t exactly approach the ex and tell her, can they?”

“No. But it’s good to know he’s okay. There’s no telling what Liz would do if she figured that out.”

“Let’s hope she doesn’t.”

“I messed up,” Frank murmured. His throat constricted and he knew he was either going to cry or vomit. He gestured for the dishpan.

Marka held it for him. He didn’t vomit. He hurt inside and out. He felt violated, like Liz had somehow raped his psyche. He couldn’t describe it any other way. She’d done something to him worse than any torture. He knew she’d given him some sort of directive and left him alive long enough to fulfill it. If they didn’t find her and stop her, he’d be dead in a matter of days.

Frank clung to Marka, chest heaving as dry sobs shook him. “I can’t do this,” he gasped at last. “She did something—in my head. Marka, she did something awful. I don’t know what, but I can feel it, in here.” He pointed to his head, between his eyes. “Can you find out what she did?”

“I don’t know. The doctor has ordered MRIs for later today. Maybe that will show something.”

“Not if she mind fucked me. Marka, I know she’s been in my head, doing something unspeakable. I need you to hypnotize me, see what she’s done.”

“Frank, I can’t do that. I have no idea where to start. I don’t know her method. I could set off something and kill you.”

He squinted at her. “Can you do that? Well, not you, specifically. Can that be done?”

“Yes,” she answered quietly. “There’s so much we don’t know about the mind. But there’s been research, so top secret that only men Shay’s level and above would see it.”

“Or possibly his confidential aide.”

“Is that who Liz is?”

“Yes, Elizabeth Tynan. We all trusted her completely. Why not? She’s Shay’s assistant. She’s got high clearance too because she works so closely with him. I trusted her implicitly. I’ve been in her bed, for god’s sake!”

“Having sex with someone doesn’t mean you know them.”

“I know. But. . . .”

“But you hope that when there’s been a relationship, it meant something to the other person too.

“Exactly.”

Marka took Frank’s hand, kissing his fingers. “You need to get some sleep.”

“I’ve been asleep. I’m sick of sleeping.”

“I know, but it’s the best way to heal. They are being very cautious with pain meds. They still don’t know everything Liz gave you. Some of it’s top secret and experimental.”

“Trust Liz to drug me with something unidentifiable.”

Marka kissed him. She climbed onto the bed, cuddling up with him until he slept. Several hours later, her phone buzzed in her pocket. Answering it, she walked out of Frank’s room.

“Hello?”

“Marka, Arnold here.”

“Yes, Colonel?”

“How’s Frank? Has he woken yet?”

“Yes. He’s in good spirits, but he knows she did something to him. He suspects she left directives for him to carry out later. She hopes he’ll lead her to whatever it is she wants.”

“Does he know what she wants?” Shay didn’t seem surprised that she knew the situation.

“Not entirely, no. Her behavior is erratic, but focused. She’s a very determined woman.”

“Agreed. I blame myself. I should have seen how ambitious and ruthless she is. What I can’t figure is her motivation.”

“Money, power? She doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman who would do this for love.”

“Hardly. But how do you know?” He chuckled slightly.

“Get real, Arnold. I had Liz’s file in front of me as soon as I found out who she is. There’s a very eye opening psych profile included. It was done when they were evaluating her for her current position. Have you read it?”

“I didn’t know about it. How did you?”

“I’m not surprised. It’s buried. It took Cherry and Brad quite awhile to find it.”

“You’re using my staff to find things for you now?”

He sounded so incredulous, Marka had to laugh.

“Of course. You wanted my help.”

“Fair enough. What does the profile say?”

Marka closed her eyes, focusing on the page in her mind. “Driven, determined, very likely a sociopath. She’s brilliant, has narcissistic tendencies, and is angry because men consider her more as a sex object than a clever woman. She’s not overly fond of you, Arnold. She wants your job.”

“I’m not giving it up.”

“Trust me, if she focused on it completely, she’d have it in a heartbeat. She’s completely ruthless. The psychologist doing the evaluation was terrified of her.”

“Why the hell was she allowed to get where she is?”

© Dellani Oakes

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Bad Fall – Part 82


Bad FallFrank wakes, finding himself cold and alone. He’s been drugged and beaten but simply the fact he is still alive, gives him hope he didn’t break . Bruised and disoriented, Frank finds one hand is free. He undoes his straps and finds clothing to keep him warm, praying that help will arrive.

 

“Frank?”

Was it his imagination or did he hear someone in the living room. Fearing he was hallucinating, he tried to respond, but his vocal cords refused to cooperate. He groaned.

“Frank?” The voice sounded closer. It was familiar, comforting. “Oh, my God! Clark, Arnold! I found him!”

Voices jumbled, all talking at once. Hands groped him, prodding sore spots, making him curse. The poking stopped and he smelled a fresh, feminine scent. It reminded him of sugar cookies.

More loud voices followed. Glaring lights made his eyes water. He tried to turn his head away, but someone held him. He tried to jerk away, fight them off. Soft hands caressed him, holding him firmly.

“It’s okay, Frank. I’m here.” The comforting voice returned.

He felt pressure on his fingers and he knew she was with him. Movement. Doors thudding. The scream of a siren made him wince. The pressure on his fingers continued as he relaxed under heated blankets. Warm lips pressed his forehead, finding the one spot that didn’t hurt like bloody hell.

“Can you give him anything for pain?” The soft, gentle voice asked.

“We have to find out what they gave him first,” a louder, more annoying voice said. “Your friend said he’d probably been drugged. I promise, as soon as possible.”

“We’re almost there, Frank. Hang in there, sweetheart.”

“Marka,” he mumbled, finally able to put a name with the voice. “Love you. . . .”

“I love you too. Don’t try to talk. I’m here, darling. I’m not leaving.”

“Dr. Ventimiglia, you’ll have to wait out here,” the harsh voice said.

“I’m not leaving him. I’ll stay out of the way, but I’m not leaving his side.”

“Ma’am, that’s against hospital policy.”

“This man has a top security clearance. I’m here to make sure he doesn’t say anything that no one else is supposed to hear.”

“I thought you said you were his fiancée?” The voice held suspicion.

“I’m that too. We work together. If you don’t believe me, ask the older man with the nasty disposition. He’s got a higher clearance than God.”

Frank tried to chuckle. The paramedic didn’t stand a chance against Marka. As they lifted his gurney from the ambulance, he grabbed at her hand. Her face drew close.

“It’s Liz,” he muttered before his hand was jerked away from hers.

The gurney clattered over the threshold of the emergency room door. Many things happened at once. Frank lost track of Marka in the flurry of activity. He was lifted from the ambulance gurney to another bed. He tried to make sense of it all, but it was too much for him. Instead, he allowed himself the luxury of unconsciousness.

When he woke some time later, it was daylight. The position of the sun told him it was early morning. The room was bright, the drapes open, but the light came in at an angle. Frank heard water running in the bathroom. He tried to speak, but his voice didn’t want to work.

Marka came out a moment later. Her eyes brightened when she saw Frank was awake. Her lips touched lightly on his and she smiled, smoothing his hair.

“I hope you don’t feel as horrible as you look.”

Frank’s laugh was dry and crusty. Marka handed him a glass of ice water—the only good thing about hospitals. They always had fresh, super cold water in the rooms. Frank drank steadily for several seconds, until the icy water hit a sensitive spot. He gasped, choking slightly. Marka pulled the cup away, gazing at him with concern. Her warm hand took his wrist, feeling his pulse.

“I’m fine,” he gasped.

“Shh. Who’s the doctor here?”

He couldn’t speak, so he pointed to her. Her hand left his wrist, caressing his forehead.

“Why didn’t you tell me where you were going? Did you know it wasn’t Clark who called? Who’s Liz?”

“One at a time,” he rasped. “Did you tell Shay—about Liz?”

“Yes. He wouldn’t tell me a thing. He was furious, though. He kept saying he’d been a fool and he should have suspected the Ice Queen was up to something.”

“He here?”

“No. He and Clark are out looking for Liz and Phil. Some other spooks came in to protect you. I made them stay in the hall. Pissed off the nurses. They’re in the way, I suppose.” She shrugged. Her manner changed abruptly and Frank could see her transition from girlfriend to doctor. “What did she do, Frank? How did she. . . ?”

“Torture me? I honestly don’t know. Drugs, for sure. It felt like it was sizzling in my veins. I remember screaming—lots of screaming. After she got me with the syringe at the door, I don’t remember anything specific. I don’t know what I told her.”

“If you’d given the psychotic deviant what she wanted, you’d be dead.”

Frank nodded, sipping more water. “I figured.”

“So, she still hasn’t found what she wants. Do you think she’ll track down your things?”

“Don’t know. Depends on how resourceful she is. My family?”

“Shay has that under control. Your folks, sister and the boys are well protected.”

“My—son?”

© Dellani Oakes

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Bad Fall – Part 81


Bad FallLured away from safety, Frank finds himself a prisoner. Liz obviously has plans for him. She’s after something that only he can give her. Though Phil is with her, Frank suspects that he isn’t doing so willingly. Has she done to him what she’s done to Frank? Arriving at his house, Liz forces Frank to break through the coded police lock.

 

Frank tried four combinations before hitting on the right one. Shivering with cold and apprehension, he undid the lock when it beeped. He tried to keep an eye on Liz, who stood almost directly behind him, but the lock hung up on the doorframe and he had to give it his attention. That’s when he felt the sting of the syringe.

His knees turned to Jell-O. Phil caught him, dragging him into the house. His blurred vision showed that someone had been busy. A heavy chair was bolted to his living room floor. Several silver domed lights surrounded it. Frank dropped into the chair. Leather straps kept him upright. More thick straps bit into his wrists and ankles.

Et tu, Brute,” he murmured as blackness took him.

Frank woke slowly, pulse pounding sluggishly in his left temple. His throat burned as if he’d been screaming. A lingering ringing in his ears made him strongly suspect that he had. Torso and feet bare, he shivered in the chilly, dark room.

He remembered bright lights, voices, music—harsh, loud, frenetic music—like two freight trains mating. The image made him laugh. It was a dry, withered sound.

Even in the dark, he could see he sat in his living room. One of his sturdy dining room chairs was bolted to the floor and he was bound to it by leather straps at wrists, chest and ankles. Heavy metal buckles held the quarter inch leather in place. There was no getting out of this on his own.

The house was silent. He was aware of his own breath and the thudding of his pulse. Outside, the wind blew. A storm gathered. It would snow heavily and soon. A sudden drop in temperature and inside or not, he would die.

Marka, find me, sweetheart. I need you!

He cast his thoughts to the wind. Surely Shay and Marka suspected something. Phil’s absence would be noticed.

How could we all be so blind?

Maybe the others weren’t. Perhaps only he hadn’t seen Phil for what he was, hadn’t suspected his betrayal. Or maybe. . . . Phil wasn’t the traitor. What if he was a victim just like Frank? He’d acted pretty weird, very unresponsive, almost dazed. Chances were good, he was simply the tool of choice.

Elizabeth Tynan. Would who suspect her? The Colonel’s aid, of being a lying, traitorous bitch?

“What do you want?” His voice sounded strange to him. He knew he’d asked this question of someone recently.

A sneering female faced appeared in front of him, leering tauntingly. “You know what I want.”

“Elizabeth, you hardly look your usual, pretty self.” He heard the words in a dream. Had he said them to her? What had happened?

His mind was dazed, his perceptions skewed. Was it an effect of the drug of something else that made him feel half baked on strong weed? He yawned, trying not to hurt himself as his body arched to stretch against his bonds. It was then he noticed that the clasp on one of his wrist restraints was loose.

There was no doubt Elizabeth had done that on purpose. She would never leave such a thing to chance. She must still need him for something. Letting him escape was part of the plan.

I didn’t break. Relief flooded him. He’d survived. Granted, Elizabeth hadn’t subjected him to the tortures her compatriots had. But psychological abuse was even more devastating than torture of the body. It left its own mark—one the eye couldn’t see.

Desperate to release himself, Frank wiggled his wrist until the band came free. Cold fingers fumbled with the latch on the other restraint. He rubbed his hands, blowing on them before attacking his ankle straps. That accomplished, he rubbed his legs to accelerate blood flow. His limbs burned and the muscles ached as circulation returned.

Stumbling around in the half dark, he found the phone and called Marka. Hers was the only number, besides Shay’s, that he could dredge up from his hazy memory. Her phone went to voice mail. He tried to speak to leave a message, but couldn’t make words form. His lips felt puffy and he realized he had a split lip.

Dragging his unwilling body to the hall closet, he got a heavy coat. Pulling it on was horrendously painful. The split lip wasn’t his only injury. The warmth of the fleece lining enveloped him, making him sigh with delight. His feet were bare and freezing. The next objective was a pair of fur lined boots. He struggled with them, his fingers refusing to cooperate. Pins and needles shot through his hands and feet as the circulation returned.

Gasping with his exertion, Frank crumpled into an untidy heap on the floor. It felt so good to lie down and not do anything. He was so tired and his body hurt like hell. Frank knew he needed to keep moving. The deepening cold clutched him. Even cozy in his coat and boots, he could feel it. If he could get to his bedroom, he could wrap himself in blankets.

Unable to stand, he crawled the length of the house. A wave of nausea and fatigue hit him and he slid on his belly the last few feet. He made his way to the bed, clawing at the blankets and comforter, pulling them down to him rather than trying to climb onto the bed. He wrapped them around himself and lay in an untidy heap on the floor.

His strength gone, he fell into an uneasy sleep. Nightmare images appeared in front of him, as bright strobe lights flashed around and behind them. Another wave of nausea made him dizzy and he cradled his head so the room would stop spinning.

© Dellani Oakes

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Bad Fall – Part 80


Bad FallAfter a near accident and a fruitless trip to another location, Shay, Clark and Marka head back to Frank’s house. Marka is certain that he must be there. 

“Okay, but we aren’t simply going to walk in. We need a plan. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

They took a few minutes to discuss their plan of attack, then got back in the car. Clark got out fifty yards or so from the house. Shay followed when they got a little closer. The two men flanked the house as Marka drove up to the door. She cut off the engine and took a deep breath.

Giving the men a couple more minutes, she forced herself to sit still. Her eyes took in details, though her mind was slow to sift through and sort them out. The police lock was off the door. The drapes were shut, though she remembered they’d left them open the last time they were there. She could see footprints in the snow, but they were rapidly being covered by a heavy layer of damp snow. There were at least three sets, but that was all she could tell from her vantage point. Taking another deep breath, she let it out slowly and opened her car door.

Her shoes sank into the thick, wet snow, leeching through the nylon webbing. She promised herself she would buy boots at the soonest opportunity as she squelched through the freezing moisture to the porch. Trusting the men to be in position, she tried the door. It drifted open as she pushed on it. Fumbling for the light switch, she turned on the lights.

* * *

Frank knew it wasn’t Clark who’d called him, but he let Marka believe that it was. He suspected a trap. He was afraid she’d insist on coming along. If it was true that he’d been manipulated, he could be made to harm her. He couldn’t trust himself to protect her.

A dark blue sedan pulled up in front of the building. Frank let himself out, nodding to the woman at the front desk as he left. A glance at his watch told him it was just after 9:00. The bitter cold wind bit through his jeans, snaking down the neck of his heavy jacket. The warmth of the car’s exhaust reeled him in invitingly.

Phil sat behind the wheel, gazing at the road. An attractive blonde sat behind him. Phil didn’t respond as Frank greeted him. He put the car in gear, pulling out even before Frank had his door closed and belt on.

“Did Shay need to see me?” Frank asked the woman.

“Of course. Why else would I be here?”

Why indeed? Shay rarely traveled without Sergeant Elizabeth Tynan, his personal assistant. But this time, he’d come without her. Why was she here?

“Good to see you, Liz. It’s been too long, sweetheart.”

Her lips twitched upward. The greeting was as much as he would get. Liz was chilly, driven. She used sex like a weapon. Frank found that out during a brief, erotic affair. It left him bruised and breathless, but satisfied.

They headed up the road and out of town toward his house.

“What brings you to Ohio, Liz? I thought you hated the cold.”

“Unfinished business, Frank. Something I should have taken care of long ago.”

“Don’t you hate when life gets messy?” He lit a cigarette and lowered the window a couple inches.

“You quit.” Her voice held an accusation.

“Started up again. Stress.” He shrugged, flicking ashes into the night.

Liz coughed lightly. Frank opened the window more and turned up the heat. He smoked casually, trying to keep his expression bland and his hands steady. He knew he’d walked willingly into a trap. With a little luck, he’d figure out what they wanted from him before he was caught in it.

Seeing Liz had set off an alarm in his head. Confusing visions flashed past his eyes. Her face, surrounded by bright lights. . . . Her tall, voluptuous body standing over him with something shiny in her left hand. . . .

“Really, Frank? Another one? You’re a chain smoker now?”

One cigarette finished, he’d automatically reached for another. Her sharp words brought him back.

“Sorry.” He closed the window and lowered the heat as the car turned up his long driveway.

His little house looked ominous in the silvery moonlight. The surrounding trees cast an elaborate latticework of shadows across its face. The blue halogen headlights in the falling snow, gave it an eerie, ghostlike aspect.

Frank shuddered, unable to conceal it from the woman behind him. A cool, bony hand rested on his shoulder. As she leaned forward, her breath tickled his ear.

“You alright, Frank?”

“Peachy.”

“Let’s go inside.”

“I don’t have the code.”

Her laugh was strangely ominous. “That never stopped you before.”

Phil put the car in park and turned it off. He sat until Liz spoke to him. It wasn’t a word Frank recognized, but the tingle at the base of his skull warned him that it had significance. Phil followed, docile and silent. Frank’s eyes met his and he could see pain and frustration behind the complacent expression. That, more than his own self-preservation, made him wary.

Skin pricking unpleasantly, hairs rising on his neck, he examined the lock. It was coded. A closer look showed that this lock wasn’t new, nor was it particularly clean. It had been handled with greasy or sticky fingers at some point in its long life. The substance left on the keys provided Frank with a clue. It looked like a simple, four number code. The number of permutations was limited.

© Dellani Oakes 

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Bad Fall – Part 79


Bad FallMarka, Shay and Clark are desperate to find Frank. The weather has turned ugly, heavy snow and high winds make travel difficult. Not letting that stop them, the three set out in search of Frank.

Clark struggled with the door since the passenger side of the car was higher than the driver’s. He helped the Colonel out and the two of them studied the problem for a moment. With Marka driving and the two of them instructing and pushing, the car was out of the ditch in a matter of minutes.

Shay offered to drive, but Marka wouldn’t hear of it. Any delay would slow them too much. Already, she felt fear grab her stomach.

“How much further?” she asked, peering out the windshield.

The snow fell heavily, the thick flakes sticking stubbornly. The wiper blades on high could barely keep up.

“That’s the turn there,” Clark said, pointing to their right.

Marka slowed, suddenly worried that they would be seen. She had no plan, merely knew that they had to do something. She had to save Frank. She couldn’t lose him—not now that she was falling in love. At the base of the long, winding drive, she stopped the car. Hands on the steering wheel, she stared up the driveway. She couldn’t see the house, but she knew Frank was there.

“How do we do this?” She asked.

We don’t,” Shay replied. “Clark and I will. . . .”

“I’m going with you. He’s going to need me. You know they’re doing something awful to him.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because that’s what makes sense. They need his cooperation. The only way to get that is to manipulate him again.”

“Frank’s strong,” Shay began.

“They almost broke him once.”

“It will be harder this time. . . .”

“No, it won’t.”

“You have to believe,” Shay began.

“I believe that Frank will die if we don’t get up there immediately. Who knows how much damage they’ve already done!”

“Marka, calm down,” Shay said quietly.

“Don’t tell me that! Did that ever work for you? Telling someone to calm down and they did?”

He laughed slightly, shaking his head. “No.”

“What’s the plan?” Clark asked.

“I’m thinking,” Marka and Shay said in unison. They chuckled when they realized what they had done.

“I can’t believe it’s Phil,” Clark said quietly. “He’s like the last person I’d peg as the bad guy.”

“You’re sure?” Marka found it hard to believe that the mild mannered, jovial man was a villain. “Couldn’t he be another victim? Obviously, our master mind is going to keep his hands clean. What better way to do that than to get someone like Phil to take the fall for him.”

“Phil’s too strong to fall for something like that,” Clark said.

“And Frank’s not?” Shay yelled. “He’s the strongest man I know. Nothing ever freaked him out. But this—whatever it is, it’s reduced him to tears. Yes, Marka. I think it’s entirely possible that Phil’s been manipulated—brainwashed. I’ve know him for years. I helped to train him. I can’t believe he’s come to this.”

Marka yanked the door open and jumped out. She strode purposefully toward the house. Startled, the men didn’t follow right away. When they did, it was at a run. Clark caught up first. Grabbing Marka’s arm, he pulled her to a stop.

“What are you doing?”

“He knows we’re coming. Why play games and try to sneak in? Bold, frontal approach works better. He’ll be expecting us to try something sneaky. When we don’t, it will throw him off.”

Shay held her arm, slowing her.

“Didn’t you ask for the police to meet you here?”

“Yes.” Marka blinked. That seemed like ages ago.

“Then where are they?”

As if in answer, her phone vibrated in her pocket. Fingers numb from cold, she pulled her phone out of her pocket.

“Marka?” It was James.

“Yes, where are you?” She could hear voices, sirens and the sound of a cutting tool in the background.

“Huge accident on the highway. Six vehicles collided because of the weather. I’ll come as soon as I can.”

“Thanks, James. Be safe.”

“You too.” He hung up.

“Cops?” Clark asked.

“Major accident. They aren’t coming yet.”

“You think you can simply walk in?” Shay asked.

The cozy brick house looked deserted. Marka was sure that Frank was there, willing her to come.

“He’s there, Arnold. I know it.”

© Dellani Oakes

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Bad Fall – Part 78


Bad FallWith Frank missing, Marka is terrified for his safety. Her conversation with Shay did little to quiet her fears. Determined to find him, she goes to her room to change into warmer clothing.

They hung up. Marka felt numb. She changed her clothing, putting on a heavy sweater and warm pants. Wishing she had boots, she grabbed her jacket, pocketed her keys and headed out the door. She called Matthew on her way, telling him she had to cancel.

“What’s up, Doc?” He chuckled.

“I need to take a rain check on our coffee. Something’s come up.”

“Frank’s in trouble.”

She hesitated. “Why do you think that?”

“Because that’s what it would take to get you out, as spooked as you were. Where are you? I’ll come along.”

“No, Matthew. You need to stay here.”

“I can help. I’m coming.”

“No, Matt. Call James for me, I don’t have his number. Tell him Frank needs him.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“I have my suspicions. Have James call me in ten minutes. I’ll have something for him.”

“You got it. You be careful.”

“Always. I’m golden.” She hung up, hearing him laugh.

The car pulled up as she put her phone in her pocket. Shay opened the back door from the inside. She got in. Clark was driving.

“Where’s Phil?”

Shay and Clark exchanged a look in the rearview mirror. Neither spoke until they were on the road outside the campus.

“What’s going on, Colonel? Please, tell me.”

“Phil is the mole.”

“What? How do you know?”

“He traded phones with me,” Clark said quietly as he concentrated on the road. “We think he must have called Frank pretending to be me.”

“Do you know where they are?” she asked anxiously.

“We traced my phone to a house several miles outside town. It’s an old farmhouse.”

“You seriously think that Phil’s that stupid?” Marka frowned, biting her lip. “We’re going the wrong way. They aren’t there.”

Clark slowed. “It’s up ahead.”

“Marka, you stay here, behind the wheel,” Shay said.

She wanted to object, but knew that she’d slow them down, preventing them from eliminating this place as a possibility. Frank wasn’t here. She could feel it.

Marka slid into the driver’s seat and locked the doors. She sat in the darkened car with the motor running, waiting impatiently for a call from Shay. As she sat there, she watched the clouds thicken. Soon, a light dusting of snow landed on the hood, melting in the engine heat. It wasn’t long before they weren’t melting as fast. The minutes ticked slowly by. Her ring tone sounded louder than usual. Marka jumped, screaming a little.

“I hate to say it.” It was Shay.

“He’s not there.”

“No. We’ll be right back.”

They arrived a few minutes later. Shay slid into the back seat and Clark hopped into the passenger side.

“We found my phone. He must have called from here and went to meet Frank.”

“He’s at his house.” Marka turned the car around and headed to the opposite side of town, towards Frank’s home.

“Why would they be there?” Clark asked.

“Frank has a safe. Phil’s compatriot didn’t find it, but Phil has to have figured out that it’s there by now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been in there and located it.” She pressed the accelerator, urging more speed out of the car. “We still don’t know who is behind this. Phil isn’t acting alone.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty obvious that he’s not the mastermind,” Clark muttered. “But he might know who is. I intend to find out. Not just for Frank. This is personal.”

“Can you go any faster?” Shay asked.

The car skidded slightly. Marka’s grip tightened on the steering wheel and she slowed a little. The snow was heavier now, falling faster, the flakes thick and fluffy. It would have been magical under different circumstances.

The car skidded again, swerving into the oncoming lane. Marka screamed as she struggled with the wheel. Overcorrecting in a panic, she turned too hard to the other direction. The car hit the edge of the pavement, heading for the ditch. Marka hit the brakes, but they didn’t grab. Instead, the tires spun on a patch of ice. Bouncing out of control, the car landed nose down in the ditch. The engine shuddered to a stop as the three of them caught their breath.

“Everyone okay?” Shay asked, his voice shaking.

“Yes,” they answered in chorus.

“Let’s get this crate out of the ditch, Clark,” Colonel Shay said.

“Yes, sir.”

© Dellani Oakes

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