"I tied you up because I need you to listen," Derek says. "Focus."
"Please... W-what do you want from me?"
"The truth," he says. "About what happened the night my brother died." He reaches for my left hand. "If I think you're lying..." With his other hand, he flourishes a pair of flower cutters. Curved. Sharp.
And he smiles.
When Chris wakes up in a dark basement tied to a chair, he knows that he's trapped-and why. Eight nights ago a burglar broke into Chris' home. Eight nights ago Chris did what he had to do to protect his family. And eight nights ago a 13-year-old runaway bled to death on his kitchen floor.
Now Derek wants the truth about what happened that night. He wants proof his little brother didn't deserve to die. For every lie Chris tells, he will lose a finger. But telling the truth is far more dangerous...
A riveting, edge-of-your-seat thriller from Edgar Award-nominated author Jeffry W. Johnston that explores the gray area between what is right and what we'll do to protect the people we love.
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By Jeffry W. Johnston
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Jeffry W. Johnston
All rights reserved.
I wake up to find I can't move, my arms and legs duct-taped tight to a wooden chair. Duct tape is also wrapped around my chest and the chair's hard, unyielding back.
The only thing not bound is my head, but I can only turn it left and right. I can't look behind me because of the chair's high back.
Christ, what is this!
My head hurts. I feel nauseous, dizzy. Can't focus. What happened? How did I get here? My memory's a blur.
"Hey!" I shout. "Hey! Anybody here?"
I wait a few seconds. Nothing.
I see unfinished walls, but I could be in a room anywhere. The only furniture I can see is a metal folding chair leaning against the wall opposite.
Wait a minute! What about Devon? The last thing I remember was calling on my cell phone to make sure he got to the field okay. What time is it? Is he in the middle of his game, wondering where I am? Is Mom there, wondering the same thing?
I can tell my cell is not in my pocket, not that I'd be able to reach it anyway. Where is it? How long have I been out? A couple hours? A whole day? Is it still ... what, Saturday? Are people looking for me? The police?
"Hey!" I shout again. "Heeeyyyy!" I try harder to break free. "Is somebody here? Can somebody help me? Please! Please!" Who could have done this to me? Why?
"Help! Help me! Heeelllp!"
This isn't working. I need to calm down and try to think. Come on, breathe. That's it. Again. Now another breath. My heart is starting to slow a bit. That's good. Maybe closing my eyes will help.
Two more deep breaths. Okay. Now, think.
I remember dialing my cell. But before that, I had knocked on Rita's front door. We were going to go to Devon's game together. I was waiting for her to open the door. Wait, the door did start to open. Then ... nothing. Or ... something. Something made me pass out. Something with a sweet smell. Held against my face. Making me gag. Feel sick. I couldn't push it away. Something very strong was holding it in place.
Not something. Someone.
I hear movement. Behind me. A door opening. I try to look back. Can't.
The door closes. A quiet click.
Then footsteps. Steady, determined.
I recognize the guy who appears in front of me. Derek Brannick. Only a year older than me, which makes him seventeen, but with the broken front teeth and scar on his throat he looks much older.
He's holding something in his hand, which he slips into his pants pocket before I can see it. Then he picks up the metal chair from against the wall and opens it before straddling it and leaning over the back, facing me. He lowers his head. Does nothing for a couple minutes. My heart slams against my chest. I wait. So scared I can't think straight.
Finally, he raises his head and looks at me. His eyes ... it's as if there's no light in them. Nothing. Dead eyes. "You want some water?" His voice is raspy. He stands and moves out of my field of vision. I hear a faucet turning on and off. Then he's back with a paper cup. "Tilt your head back," he says. I do the best I can. Some of the water runs down my chin, but enough makes it into my mouth. The water's lukewarm, but I welcome it.
"Feel better? Can you talk? 'Cause you're gonna need to be able to talk." He crumples the cup and throws it on the floor.
"Yes," I croak. "Th ... thank you." My voice is trembling. I can't help it.
Derek nods, lets out another long breath as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and sits back in his chair, pulling it closer to me.
"I'm ... I'm sorry," I try. "I'm really —"
"Shh," he says sharply, pointing a finger at me. "I told you before, Chris ... I'm not looking for that."
"I should have showed up at the —"
He begins to cough. It sounds painful. He starts to talk again, then stops. Maybe it's painful to talk too. The way his voice is all rough and raspy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Derek tries again. "I tied you up because I need you to listen," he says. "Focus. Think you can do that?"
"Please ... wh ... what do you want from me?"
"The truth," he says. "That's all."
He reaches for my left hand. Tied the way I am, I can't resist. "I don't want to hurt you if I don't have to," Derek says. "But you need to know that I'm serious. If I think you're lying ..." With his other hand, he pulls out what he had shoved into his pants pocket and shows it to me.
A pair of garden shears. Curved. Sharp.
Slowly, even gently, he opens them and slides the little finger of my left hand in between the razor edges.
"One finger for each lie," he says. "Do you understand?"
Oh God! Oh Jesus! All at once, I'm sweating, my eyes stinging.
"Do you understand?" he asks again, voice unchanging, low key.
"Yes," I croak. My eyes remain riveted to the shears, expecting them to move, to squeeze.
"Chris. Look at me."
I look up into those dead eyes.
"I meant what I said." He stops to cough again, continues. "I need to understand everything. This," he says, indicating the blades lightly caressing my finger, "will help you to tell the truth. That's all I want. Don't tell me what you think I want to hear. There's no right or wrong answer. There's only the truth. Do you understand?"
But I can't tell him the truth. Not the whole truth.
My eyes dart back to the shears.
Abruptly, he squeezes them. "Do you understand?"
"Yes!" I cry out, eyes shooting back to him. "Please don't —"
He eases the pressure, and I let out a long, shaky breath. "Don't hold anything back," he says. "I want to hear all of it."
"I don't know what else I can tell you about that night ... other than what I told the police."
"Start with that."
I look at him, confused. "What?"
"Tell me how your conversation with the police went."
I stare at him. I can hear the fear in my voice as I ask, "Are you going to kill me?"
"Why?" he comes back with. "Do you think you deserve to die?"
How long was I in this room before I woke up? Has Mom reported me missing? Are the police looking for me at this very moment?
If I can somehow stall, is there a chance they'll find me? Could they come bursting into this room any minute?
I stare into his lifeless eyes, looking for ... I don't know ... something that tells me I have a chance to survive this.
His eyes tell me nothing.
"If I cooperate," I say after a deep breath, "if I tell you what you want to know, will you let me go?"
"What I want to know is simply the truth. Now get started."
But I can't tell him the truth. Not all of it. Not the one, most important thing. I won't. Even if he cuts off every finger I have, telling him the truth would make him do far worse. But maybe I can tell him just enough. Enough to get me through this.
I swallow, wishing I had more water.
Giving the garden shears a slight squeeze for emphasis, Derek says, "Remember. Don't leave anything out."
"Once we got to the station," I begin, trying to keep the trembling out of my voice, but failing, "the police put me in an interrogation room ..."CHAPTER 2
"It was just you and Devon in the house, right?" the detective says.
"Right," I hear myself respond.
He waves his hand for me to talk.
* * *
After Devon and I play two games of dice baseball, we order pizza and watch the Phillies game on TV — Devon making up trivia questions between innings from the huge baseball stats book I gave him that's sitting in his lap. I send him off to bed. He wants to keep talking baseball, but I point out he's not the only one who has school tomorrow.
I go to bed about eleven thirty. Fall into what I hope is a sound sleep.
But the same bad dream wakes me up again.
I lunge for Dad's gun on the floor ...
I sit up in a cold sweat. Why the dream is back after three years is not something I'm going to figure out now, so I try closing my eyes again.
Then I hear something.
* * *
"That was around one o'clock?" the detective asks.
"I ... I think so," I answer. "Yeah."
His name's Bob Fyfe. He says he knew my dad when they were both patrolmen, so maybe I remember him. I don't, but I made like I did.
The room is too cold. I can't stop shaking.
He puts a hand on my arm. "It's gonna be all right, Chris. I promise. Why don't you drink some of that Coke?"
I hate Coke, but he bought it for me and I don't want to piss him off by asking for something else. The carbonation burns going down.
"Go on," he says after I put the can back on the table.
"Where's Devon?" I ask.
"He's okay. You'll be able to see him soon. We got through to your mom too. She's on her way."
He looks at the notes in his hand from when we first talked at my house.
The image of blood on the kitchen counter flashes in my mind.
"I know it's difficult, but it's important we go through this again."
"I'm okay," I lie.
I'm not sure he believes me, but he goes on. "You said something woke you?"
"How'd you know it wasn't your mom?"
"I know the noises she makes coming home late after a night shift at the diner; this wasn't like that."
"You checked on your brother?"
"Yes. I thought he'd be asleep."
I can see him the way he was lying on his side facing away from me, tangled up in his Phillies blanket. Normally, I'd have taken the time to straighten the blanket out, get him back into a more comfortable position. He was wearing a Ryan Howard T-shirt and gym shorts for pajamas. The walls of his room are covered with thumbtacked baseball posters and baseball cards. Signed baseballs from Phillies events, along with game balls and home run balls he's collected from Little League games he's played, decorate his shelves.
"But he wasn't."
"No. He rolled over to look at me and asked what was going on. I told him to go back to sleep."
"But then you heard more noise. That's why you went downstairs."
"Yes. Well ... I'm not sure. I thought I did."
"Did Devon hear it?"
"I don't know. I just told him to stay in his room."
"Then you went and got the gun."
I hesitate. Look down at the table.
Detective Fyfe leans in. "These are the kinds of questions you're going to be asked in a little while, Chris. It's better if you hear them from me first."
I take in another breath. Let it out.
"So you went and got the gun?" Detective Fyfe says again.
I nod. "I was thinking, what would my dad do in this situation," I tell him. "And I knew, if he thought one of us might be in danger, he'd take along protection."
"And you thought Devon might be in danger. He was awake. Worried. That's why you got your father's gun."
"Mom put his gun away a long time ago. But she has this smaller one Dad got her. For protection. After he died, Mom started keeping it loaded in a drawer next to her bed. She told me about it a couple years ago, told me where the key was if ever ..." I stop, get my breath again.
"You went downstairs ..." Detective Fyfe prompts.
"I didn't think I'd find anything. I really didn't. I thought I was being stupid. But then I got to the bottom of the stairs ..."
* * *
To the left is the living room. I see the game board pieces and dice still spread out on the coffee table. I told Devon I'd put the game away, but I was so tired after he finally settled in, I forgot about it. Mom doesn't need to find this when she comes home.
I've almost finished cleaning it up when I hear something again. From the kitchen. A cabinet door being closed, another one being opened.
I stand up and start walking in that direction.
* * *
"He didn't see me at first," I say. "He was rooting around in a cabinet, his back to me. It was dark. Then I heard movement behind me from the living room — Devon. He must have come down the stairs. He called out my name, and the guy must have heard him 'cause he turned real quick, and there was something in his right hand. It looked like ..."
"What?" Detective Fyfe says. "What did it look like?"
"It was dark, hard to see ... I thought he was pointing it at me ..." The detective waits.
"And my gun went off. Just like that."
"You ... pulled the trigger."
"I guess. I ... I don't remember. It ... it just happened."
"What do you mean?"
"I ... It fired. That's all. It just fired. And he fell. It all happened so fast. I went right over to him. There was blood on the counter. Blood on the floor. It was pumping out of him."
"Where was Devon?"
"Like I said, in the living room. I shouted for him to stay there. He did. Then I went right to the guy on the floor."
"Is it possible Devon saw what happened?"
"No. He never came into the kitchen."
"We'll be talking to him." I look at Detective Fyfe. "We have to, Chris." After a moment, he tells me, "Keep going."
I swallow. "I saw the guy was alive, and I called 911. Then I went back to him, and this time, he wasn't moving. I thought he must be dead. That's when I noticed ... how young he looked."
"Then what happened?"
"I started looking for ..."
"His gun. I ... I didn't see it ..."
Abruptly, Detective Fyfe gets up and moves away from the table. He seems to be thinking.
Now he's going to arrest me. He has no choice.
After a moment, he says in a low voice, his back still to me, "You thought he had a gun."
"I ... He was pointing something —"
"That you thought was a gun," he says in a more measured tone.
"I don't know —"
"No!" His voice makes me jump.
I stare at him as he turns and moves slowly back toward me. "Don't say that, okay?" he says quietly. "There was a gun."
"There was?" I say, anxious.
"Yes." He lets his hands fall on the table, leans in toward me. He's a big, burly guy. Big hands. Fierce eyes. I wonder how many suspects he's intimidated in here.
"You're a lucky kid, you know that?" he says. "If you'd reacted just a little slower, taken just a couple seconds longer to pull the trigger, it might have been you on the floor instead of the other guy. You did the right thing. You protected yourself. You protected your brother."
"If he'd shot you first, he might have gone after Devon. Who knows?" My heart is pounding hard against my chest. He says there was a gun, so there must have been.
But I can feel myself walking over, the body coming into view as I reach the other side of the counter. Again, I see the blood on the counter near where he went down. The bullet got him in the neck. The blood kept coming. The guy — not just a guy, a kid, younger than me — was looking at me, shaking, his eyes pleading, like he wanted to tell me something but couldn't.
"We found the gun under his body," Detective Fyfe says. "He must have fallen on it. So you wouldn't have seen it after he was down." Moving his chair closer to me, he sits again and puts a hand on my shoulder. "It's gonna be okay, Chris. Your father is still loved around here. What he did three years ago ..." He hesitates, then says, "We owe him. So we're gonna watch out for you. We're gonna make sure this doesn't turn into something it isn't. But it's important what you say to the assistant DA when she's here. And how you say it. You need to be consistent. She's gonna ask why you chose to go downstairs with a gun rather than call the police right away, especially since there was a phone right in your mom's room. But you said it yourself. You weren't sure; it could have been nothing. You took the gun because that was what your father would have wanted you to do. Watch out for your ten-year-old brother. You're only sixteen yourself. Not too many adults would be brave enough to do what you did.
"Once you were in the kitchen, you hardly had time to react. There he was, pointing a gun at you, and you fired; you had to fire. Self-defense, plain and simple." Detective Fyfe leans in, lowers his voice. "But you don't have to make a big deal about not seeing the gun for sure. It was there; we found it. All you have to say is, he turned, pointed his gun, so you shot him. You saw how bad he was hurt and called 911 right away. Okay?"
I take a deep, shuddery breath and nod. He pats me on the shoulder. "You're gonna be okay."
He moves away like he might leave but stops, turns back, and stares at me a moment. "You don't really remember me, do you?" he says.
I hesitate. "No. I ... I'm sorry."
"That's all right. I was already a detective when your dad died. I tried to get him to take the detective's exam after me, told him he'd ace it. But he wanted to stay in uniform. Said he loved it. When we were both patrolmen, I remember you running around your backyard at the barbecues he'd throw. You were four, five years old.
"After the funeral, I spoke to you at your house, shook your hand, but I'm sure you had too much to deal with." He hesitates, sighs. "He was a great guy, your dad. What he did ... He's a hero. A lot of us still miss him."
Suddenly, I remember this guy. Can see him standing tall in front of me, hand extended, one of the many firm, solemn handshakes I'd gotten the day of Dad's funeral. Just another cop telling me how sorry he was.
Except that, when Mom left for a moment to take Devon to the bathroom — Devon had been very needy that day and refused to let Mom out of his sight — he leaned down close to me and said in a quiet, tense voice no one else could hear, "Don't worry, son. The punk who did this is gonna pay." Then he had straightened, tousled my hair, smiled, and said, "Don't let your mom down. You're the man of the house now."
"I'm gonna see if your mom's here," he says now, back at the table. "And I'll get Devon and bring him in. You can have a few minutes till the ADA arrives. Your mom can stay during the questioning but not your brother. He'll be questioned on his own, after you. But your mom can be with him as well."
Excerpted from The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston. Copyright © 2016 Jeffry W. Johnston. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Now,
Chapter 2: Then,
Chapter 3: Now,
Chapter 4: Then,
Chapter 5: Then,
Chapter 6: Now,
Chapter 7: Then,
Chapter 8: Then,
Chapter 9: Then,
Chapter 10: Now,
Chapter 11: Then,
Chapter 12: Then,
Chapter 13: Now,
Chapter 14: Then,
Chapter 15: Now,
Chapter 16: Then,
Chapter 17: Now,
Chapter 18: Then,
Chapter 19: Then,
Chapter 20: Now,
Chapter 21: Then,
Chapter 22: Now,
Chapter 23: Then,
Chapter 24: Now,
Chapter 25: Then,
Chapter 26: Now,
Chapter 27: Then,
Chapter 28: Now,
Chapter 29: Then,
Chapter 30: Now,
Chapter 31: Then,
Chapter 32: Now,
Chapter 33: Now,
Chapter 34: Now,
Chapter 35: Now,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was a page turner.... it always felt me on the edge of my seat... I honestly could not put it down ... it's just a amazing book
I love this book! The way the story opens with a mystery was very well executed and the end will leave you shocked! I would recommend this book for anybody who wants a quick read with a meaningful story to it.
It was a scary book and it was just amazing
This book was amazing so surprised how it ended. I definitely recommend this book!
Easy read but not that great of a story
“The Truth” is a thriller that starts rolling in the first chapter and never gives you a chance to catch your breath until the end. Told through a combination of flashbacks and current events, the story unfolds in reverse and leaves the reader guessing until the very last page. I pride myself on being able to catch plot twists in books, movies, and television shows, but the author managed to surprise me and catch me off-guard. I only figured out a tiny piece of the puzzle. I wish I could say more about it, but almost anything would be a spoiler, and that would suck the fun right out of the reading experience. Perhaps the best part of the book is that it is a very quick read that will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers, while still engaging those who are true bibliophiles. There is almost no romance in the story, so those who do not enjoy that will be satisfied. I’m not going to lie, I felt afraid right along with the main character. Any reader who enjoys young adult thrillers will be turning the pages as fast as they can to find out what happens next. I recommend “The Truth” to anyone looking for a good thriller who is upper middle grade and up, especially reluctant readers. This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This book was pretty creepy. The story kept going back and forth quite a bit but it was pretty easy to follow. A brother gets shot and a brother wants answers. It's definitely an edge of your seat ride that I could not or did not want to put down. This story was well written and has several twists that you do not see coming. The final one is unquestionably a jaw dropper. While this was written for YA, I enjoyed it as an adult. Of course, it's not as gripping or a grisly, but it's pretty close. Thanks to Sourcebooks for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I absolutely recommend this book.
Snip, snip! I hear the sliding of the garden shears as he holds them close to Chris’ fingers. Strapped to a chair, Derek threatens to snip off a finger for every lie that comes out of Chris’ mouth. Derek wants details and Chris will supply them but just not every detail. The author had a wonderful way of bringing this story to life. Bringing together the present and the past, the story became urgent and I had a hard time putting this novel down once it got started. As Chris is strapped to the chair and he’s retelling his side of the story, I wondered just how things would work out. How would Derek know when Chris was lying? How impatient was Derek? How serious was his threat and what was the purpose of him doing this? So many questions were tumbling through my head and yet I didn’t want to rush through the novel and miss something. As we flashback to the “then” portions, we read about what actually transpired and what had made Derek become the offender. His brother Caleb was killed when he was found inside Chris’ home and Chris shot him. This is where the details get fuzzy and where you need to understand the parties involved. There is a commitment to family and to the ones you love that follows the individuals in this novel, this love runs deep and it hurts when they can’t abide by their obligations. As people fulfilled their own promises, it felt creepy with how far they would go in their attempts, their depth and their means showed just who they were. The story will grip you and you will want to know why, why is this so important and why hold back the details? What really happened that night in the kitchen? Some of it seemed so simple, yet we know our hearts can only carry so much. The ending, I was not ready for that but now, what can you do? I received a copy of this novel from Sourcebooks Fire and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4.5 stars