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Brett swallowed hard. His mother hadn't stopped talking, but he couldn't catch all of it through the rushing in his ears.
"...came up that way and he said there's police all over, but there hasn't been anything on the news. Not yet. Awful, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Brett tried to marshal his thoughts, think clearly through the jumble inside his head. No way. Coincidence. Isn't it? "Uh, thanks, Mom. I have to, uh.... I'll have somethin' to eat later, okay?"
He got up and left the room, just as Monica set the plate of bacon and eggs down in front of him. She called out, but Brett didn't respond, already halfway to the front door as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and sought out the number he hadn't had the heart to even think about deleting.
Come on. Pick up. Prove me wrong. Please....
It probably wasn't anything but a stupid, sentimental impulse, Brett told himself. He didn't even know why he'd thought it could be anything to do with--
"Hello?" A woman's voice.
His stomach lurched. "Who is this?"
"Uh, my name's Jacqui Austin. I'm with the Hill County Sheriff's Department. Who--"
Brett shut off the phone quickly. Fuck! Why the hell would the sheriff's department have Tommy's phone? Unless--Oh, God.
He gunned the Bronco into life, driving without thinking, despite the whirl of thoughts in his head. Brett turned off his phone when it rang; Monica, probably wanting to know why the hell he'd left like that. What could he tell her?
Brett drove through the Sunday morning traffic just on the legal side of too fast, taking a loop down by Deacon's Bar, passing close enough to see the scene of crime tape. Hehauled the truck in and wound down the window to ask the woman from the florist across the road what had happened.
"Carl Delaney from the corner store found him," she said, sucking on a cigarette, squinting a little at this wild-eyed, crazy kid demanding answers. "Only a couple hours ago. Some Indi--"
"How old?" The woman frowned. "Why the hell w--"
"Well ... middle-aged, I guess Carl said."
"Thank you," Brett called. The Bronco's tires squealed.
Oh, God. Oh, Tommy ... what did you do?
He hit the gas and just drove, not even aware he'd headed for Fresno until he drew up alongside the campground. Brett stumbled out of the truck, sick to his stomach. Tommy wouldn't have, surely. He couldn't have. No ... he could. You can't keep protecting people like that. Not forever. Brett's own words echoed back at him. He finally caught sight of the Chevy parked sloppily down by the trees that led to the wa