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Four days, eight hours, twenty-two minutes.
That's how long it had been since Mitch Williams pulled the trigger and killed a man.
Two days, five hours, twelve minutes.
That's how long Mitch had been holed up in the isolated cabin he'd purchased on a whim almost six months ago. Thanks to the locale, he hadn't had any visitors.
He didn't want any visitors.
But he had one now.
The whrrr of an engine and the crunch of tires had left the road and headed up Mitch's drive. He did what he always did when he heard an unexpected noise. He checked to make sure his gun was nearby. Then, he got mad at himself.
He couldn't remember the last time he hadn't treated his gun the way he treated his wallet and watchas items to always have either on his person or nearby. His watch was on his wrist. His wallet was on the nightstand by the bed. His gun? His gun was in Phoenix, tagged as evidence in an officer-involved shooting.
He was the officer. He'd done the shooting.
And now he was on administrative leave that the attorney general, Melody Griffin-Smith, kept referring to as a much needed vacation. Unfortunately, Mitch kept hearing the unspoken word permanent before the spoken word vacation.
He slowly stood, leaving the safety of the all-terrain vehicle he'd been tinkering with. Climbing from an old blue truck was one of the few people who just might be able to cajole him out of his funk. If anyone knew about injustice, it was Eric Santellis. Eric had been born into a major crime family, yet managed to turn into one of the most self-assured, content Christian men Mitch had ever encounteredeven after serving years in a penitentiary for a crime hehadn't committed.
Mitch set down his wrench, wiped grease from his fingers and grinned for the first time in daysfour days, eight hours and thirty-six minutes.
"I wondered if you'd be here. I still can't believe you bought this place!" Eric yelled out.
"And I can't believe you didn't stop me."
"Stop you? I think it's great. A place in the wild is what you need. Especially now. I heard what happened. Man, I"
Mitch held up a hand. "I'm not at liberty to talk about it."
Eric nodded and studied the cabin once again. "So, what have you done to the place so far?"
"Not a thing. I think the old sheriff hired a dump truck to come load everything up and cart it off. There's nothing left."
"Good thing. My sister used to complain about what a mess this place was." Eric checked his watch. "She's due to arrive any time."
Mitch raised an eyebrow. "You found Mary?"
Eric nodded. "The private detective called last week. He found her in Florida. I've spoken to her twice now."
"What did you say to her?"
"I told her I'd help her, told her that things were different now, told her both God and I loved her."
It must have been quite a phone call. Mitch didn't know Mary Graham personally, but if she were a typical career criminal's wife, not to mention the typical daughter of a local crime lord, she'd be a woman who didn't trust anybody easily.
Including her brother Eric or God. "She believed you?"
"She says being on the run isn't healthy for Justin. He isn't anywhere long enough to make friends. I've already spoken with her caseworker. It won't be easy, but Mary has a few things on her side."
Mitch managed to keep his expression neutral. He had no sympathy for wives, husbands, mothers, fathers or even children who helped keep criminals in business and on the street. Yes, Eric had turned out to be different than Mitch had expected, but his sister had two strikes against her: not only was she the daughter of a criminal, but also the wifecorrection, widowof one. To Mitch's way of thinking, Mary probably enjoyed the roles and money that came with being Yano's daughter and Eddie's wife.
"I know what you're thinking, but I think you are wrong about my sister. I'm asking you as a friend, since your cabin is right next door to where she'll be staying, to keep an eye on her." Eric's eyes bore holes into Mitch. "This might be her only chance to make good. Maybe she turned a blind eye to some things that she shouldn't have, but remember, she was trained from birth. And even with that type of upraising, she never acted as a messenger or go-between. Not for our father, not for her husband. I think we can prove that she can't be charged with mafia association or as an accomplice to any of Eddie's dealings. That will leave just the child-endangerment issue and aggravated assault for the way she clocked Eddie after Justin ended up in the hospital. I think that I'll be able to get her probation or even a suspended sentence. What do you think?"
"You don't want to know what I think."
"You're too hard, Mitch. Not everyone is like you. Will you come with me to meet her, maybe give her a hand with a few boxes so you two get off on the right foot?"
Mitch nodded, then laughed and shook his head. "She's going to hate living next door to me."
Eric laughed. "Got that right. You couldn't possibly be any more establishment."
"And proud of it."
He was proud of it and always had been, ever since the first time he'd read about Eliot Ness and then later watched all the cop shows his mother would allow. And that was before his sister disappeared. After that, he'd known exactly what he wanted to do with his lifefind missing people. He'd started as a beat cop, finally worked his way to detective, and segued into Internal Affairs. He found lots of missing people; most of them didn't want to be found.
He turned his attention back to his friend. "Where's your wife? She's a much better-looking officer to hang around with than me."
Eric sobered. "Ruth would have come, but she's working on a missing baby." He pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket. "You remember José Santos?"
"Sure, great guy, good cop. He died last year after pulling over a kid who'd stolen a car. Kid had a gun."
"His family is still having a hard time dealing with it. His sixteen-year-old daughter, Angelina, has a little boy now."
"So young," Mitch murmured. "It's her baby that's missing. Sunday she took her son to a festival in town. Somebody snatched him."
Sunday. Mitch felt prickles up and down his spine. On Sunday, while he was busy shooting a fellow police officer, here in small-town America somebody was stealing a baby. "What do you have there?" Mitch sat down next to Eric and reached for the piece of paper.
"It's a drawing. Right now we're calling her a person of interest. She'd approached Angelina at the festival and touched the baby. Angelina thought she was just admiring little José. When José was taken, Angelina thought again."
The sketch was of a young Hispanic woman, probably no more than eighteen. Her dark hair spilled past her shoulders. Her cheekbones and the lines of her chin were too thin. Her eyes radiated sadness. There was nothing special about her except
Suddenly, he remembered. Six months ago, an illegal crossing gone wrong near Yuma cost a young man his life. He was shot while trying to cross the border by a crooked border patrol officer.
Mitch had seen a photo of a girl that the dead man carried in his pocket.
Mary Graham winced as the U-Haul bounced over the uneven pavement of the Santellis Used Car Lot. It was all hers now: every broken window, every cracked sidewalk, every shattered dream.
"Justin, we're here." She tapped her son's shoulder and removed one of the earbuds that ran from his ever-present iPod into the sides of his head. "That's nice." Justin shoved the earbud back in. He was still punishing her for picking up their lives and moving yet again.
After three years on the run, she thought it would feel good to come back to Gila City and Broken Bones, Arizona, the place she had grown upthe place she used to call home.
Mary climbed out of the car and looked around.
She should be excited that she and Justin could settle down again in a place with family.
Not with her family.
As Mary surveyed the ramshackle car lot, she pictured herself standing in that same spot three years beforethe day her estranged husband, Eddie, had been led away in handcuffs and her life in Arizona had ended. From the looks of things, the decades-old family car business had ended that day, too.
The grimace on her son's face as he joined her broke Mary's reverie.
"This is it?" Justin, way too discerning for an eleven-year-old, muttered after getting a good look at his mother's inheritance. "You're kidding. Dad really used to work here?"
Like something out of a low-budget 1950s horror flick, the one-level main building that rose out of the dusty parking lot was dingy-white, almost gray, with a large bay behind it where cars were once repaired. By the street, an oversized sign still had enough pitiful letters for Mary to make out the words: S-ntel-s Us-d Ca- Lot.
Looking at Justin in this setting from her past made her realize again how much he looked like Eddie, the Eddie she had at one time loved, the Eddie who had broken her trust and her heart. She softly said, "He actually managed the place."
"From the time you were a baby. Your father took over the business two years before you were born and ran it until just a few years ago "
"You mean until I went in the hospital and he got arrested," Justin stated quietly as he looked around. "Until we left Phoenix," he added.
The lot took up a full acre of land in a prime location just off the Interstate. According to the estate executor, the deserted gas station next door was also part of her inheritance.
"Did it look like this when Dad worked here?"
"Oh, no. Your father kept it up."
And Eddie had. Truthfully, he hadn't sold many cars, but the place had somehow managed to look like a semisuccessful business, not just a front for her father and brothers' criminal activities.
Justin tried to look impressed, wanting no doubt to believe he could be proud of something his dad had done. Mary understood; she had felt the same way about her own father once.
As if he could read her mind, Justin asked, "Did Grandpa work here, too?"
The very thought made Mary want to chuckle. Of the great line of Santellises, Yano Santellis had been the most successful of all. Well, if you thought that having a finger in just about every till in Gila City made you a success, that is. Her dad was happy to skim most of the profit from the dirty dealings the used car lot fronted, but seldom got his own hands dirty.
In Mary's eyes, her father was neither successful nor great. And now the great Yano was a mere shadow of his former self, Alzheimer's had claimed his mind. Mary finally shook her head in response to Justin. "Grandpa owned it."
Except that wasn't true. Mary owned it. And had for some time, according to the will her grandfather left behind. Conveniently, Eddie hadn't passed that information along. She'd only discovered it when the detective her brother hired had tracked her down a few weeks ago. "Your grandfather was here a lot, but he hired others to actually work it."
"Dad worked for him?"
"Will I get to help you fix this place up?" Justin frowned.
Justin made a face that Mary pretended not to notice. No matter what the lot looked like now, it would be good for him to be part of something that belonged to the two of them, because nothing had belonged to them for a long time. She'd made the decision to go into hiding when Eddie was arrested, knowing she could be charged as an accomplice in whatever crimes he had committed and that Justin might be taken from her if social workers believed that her family connections had put him in danger.
After all, she was Eddie Graham's wife, even if they had been separated for years. If she had been arrested, too, what would have become of her son? Justin had been hospitalized after swallowing some pills that he had mistaken for candy pills that Eddie had stashed in the back of his car when he came for a visitation.
On that awful day, Mary never left Justin's side, not even as she heard the nurse say she was being reported to social services, not when she heard the words protective custody, not when she heard the term aggravated assault and not even when the photographer started snapping pictures right in the hospital room to start the criminal investigation.
Right there in the hospital that day, a tightness gripped her heart as she realized what she'd allowed to happen, what she'd becomeway too many years ago. She was as much to blame as Eddie because she knew. She knew!
The only way she could live with herself was to get Justin away from the life she'd always known and to make a change. That meant getting away from not only her husband but also her family. Rather than wait for the fallout, she ran. She'd do anything to keep her son safe and away from the life the rest of her family had chosen.
She and Justin had spent the past three years moving to a new place every time Mary feared someone was watching. He'd heard more "We'll see" and "Not this time" putoffs than a kid deserved.
He headed toward the abandoned bay. Mary let him go. He was pushing for space and she needed to let him have some. Once again, everything in his life had changed. But this time, they were home. At least, she hoped it could be home again.
"Maybe coming back was a mistake, but I just couldn't run anymore," Mary whispered to the wind.
The wind didn't dispute her; a lone tumbleweed offered no advice.
Justin disappeared around a corner, and Mary wished she could disappear, too. Instead, she stoically marched toward the decaying office building, stuck her key in the knob and turned.
The door still squeaked when you opened it. The floor still had ugly green-speckled tile and sloped a bit. The whole place smelled like dust and neglect. When Eddie managed it, it had smelled like exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke and tension.
At least the tension was gone. "I've made so many mistakes," she whispered into the stale air. And it sounded like she got an answering moan. Mary stepped back in surprise, then peered into the door of Eddie's former office.
At first, Mary thought the prone figure wrapped in an aged blanket surrounded by years of grime and neglect was dead. Then, it rolled over and sat up.