Barn Door to Hell - Chapter 2
The rope untangled and the soupy remains of Al West dropped to the barn floor with a dull thump. The hay rose and fell like the chest of a sleeping giant beneath the fallen corpse. The movement was in perfect sync to the pulsating glow in the skull’s eye sockets.
Blood soaked into the ground and more strands of hay punctured the partially melted skin of the dead man. Their brethren had already sapped his human life force, but now they imbued his body with a new dark energy, reanimating the vessel and remaking it into something that could better serve its malignant purpose.
The fatty flesh burbled over his ribcage like cooking meat. The hay encircled each limb and stuffed itself into every opening on Al’s skull. It merged with muscle, fat, and skin, fusing into something neither vegetable nor man. The essence of Al West had evacuated his body to make room for an avatar of something that had not come from the world in which he had lived and died.
Now that the seal on the barn which contained it was broken—now that it had a body and would soon have more—the entity was free to pursue its sole purpose. To grow and assimilate others into itself. To achieve this, the thing in the barn needed to keep killing.
Regis pulled up to the station for the second time that night. On the way over, the young woman had stayed mostly silent save for the occasional whimper. She didn’t appear to be injured at all, just spooked about something.
Outside the station, Deputy Phillip Lee and his trainee Avery Joel were waiting to assist. Though Regis didn’t foresee any trouble ushering the woman inside, he would need help if she collapsed again. Just to be sure, he asked,
“Can you walk?”
He’d tried to get answers out of her on the drive over, asking as gently as possible what happened to her. His inquiries went unanswered, but he thought now she could at least give him a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’
Her answer came in the form of a single nod, which he returned before going out to open the door for her. He held out his arms to help her up if she needed it, but she rose on her own. She stood steadily and Regis stepped aside to give her some room to walk.
Phillip gave Avery a nudge.
“Well, get the door for the lady,” he said.
Phillip Lee was nearly as old as retired Sheriff Abram Jones, but Regis couldn’t envision a world where the seasoned deputy cashed in his pension and took up Sudoku. He was all cop from the start, even lying about his age to get into the academy as a teenager. As far as Regis knew, that was the man’s only crime. He took law enforcement very seriously, was the type of guy who came to his shifts five minutes early and left five minutes after quitting time. It was Avery’s third night working with him, and Regis was surprised that the kid, fresh out of college on a baseball scholarship, hadn’t quit already.
Of course, the veteran wasn’t without a sense of humor.
“Young men these days,” he said with a wink. “No manners.”
Avery reached for the door, but the young woman beat him to it. She flashed him a look that told him exactly how she felt about needing a door held for her, and he shrugged at Phillip before heading in after her. Phillip laughed at Avery’s minor misadventure.
“I could tell she was one of those independent types,” Phillip said. “I just wanted to see that look right there on the rookie’s face.”
Now it was Regis’ turn to glare.
“Sorry, chief. Just trying to lighten the mood.”
“Some moods aren’t meant for lightening,” Regis said.
Phillip swallowed the last of his laughter. “She say what happened to her?”
“She hasn’t said a word.”
Inside, Daisy had already risen from her desk to help Avery take the young woman to the interviewing area.
“Come on, through here,” she said. She turned her attention to the young woman. “Can I get you anything?”
The young woman gave a single shake of her head.
“You get an ID on her at least?” Phillip asked.
“How am I gonna do that without her saying a word?”
“Are you sure she doesn’t need an ambulance?” Daisy asked. “She looks like she’s suffered quite a shock.”
“Shock doesn’t even begin to cover it,” the young woman said. Her voice sounded rough and ragged. Avery’s eyes twitched at the woman’s sudden speech. Regis had heard the new guy was a little jumpy. He hoped that wouldn’t be a problem.
“Hey, she speaks,” Phillip said with a slight chuckle.
“Give it a rest,” Daisy said.
The admonition made Phillip look at his shoes. Regis wondered sometimes if Phillip was one of the deputies who’d said racist things about his father back in the day. He never had the heart to ask Daisy because part of him didn’t want to know. If it was true, then it would bother him, and it would bother him badly enough that it would interfere with the job even if they were on different shifts. Maybe he would ask Daisy if the fucker ever finally retired.
“Avery,” Regis said. The new guy squared his shoulders. “You don’t need to jump to attention. Just stay with Daisy and the young lady, see if they need anything, or if she starts talking or anything changes in her condition.”
“Should we call the Sheriff?” Phillip asked.
“No. There’s no need to bother him while he’s on vacation. Not yet. But I want you to get on the radio and check in with the units we have checking the area where I found her.”
“What are you gonna do? Go home?”
Regis shook his head. “No, I’m going to get some coffee because I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”
Deputies Judith Cane and Roy Patrick turned onto Big Hill Road. Together, they made up one of the two units assigned to patrol the area after Regis Jones picked up the woman who stumbled out of the woods near Route 473.
Judith was a fast talker, having often consumed a full pot of coffee by the time the first hour of her overnight shift was through. Roy was ex-Army and tended to remind people of androids from movies about dystopian futures. He maintained a cool demeanor, speaking little and seeming only to possess one facial expression. He had four kids at home, but Judith couldn’t imagine how a guy like him wooed any woman into spreading her legs. Judith didn’t prefer the romantic or sexual company of men herself, but she didn’t think his utter lack of appeal had anything to do with that. There was something a little soulless about him.
Still, she had been paired with him for all six years of her tenure with the Tucker County Sheriff Department. She hadn’t ever asked for or even wanted to change partners. His strong silent demeanor meant he was a hell of a good listener. Judith occasionally wondered if that had been what his wife saw in him. Judith didn’t just speak quickly; she also talked a lot. About everything. Having someone who hardly said anything for their entire shift was better than having a therapist.
At the moment when Deputy Roy Patrick pulled up on the spot where Carson Reid left her mother’s Camry, Judith was talking about a crazy movie she saw called The Scary of Sixty-First, which was about two young women who moved into an apartment haunted by the victims of deceased child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. She had watched it early in the morning before going to bed and wound up staying up most of the day thinking about it, and not just because it had some nice lesbian action. With its fixation on conspiracy theories and satanism, it brought back memories of the past several years, a time when world events and online discourse turned everyday life into something that felt more like a bad dream or a poorly written soap opera than reality.
When she gave Roy the elevator pitch for the movie’s premise, he merely cast a look her way.
“Sounds trashy, I know, and believe me, it is, but like, I dunno, I kinda liked it,” she said.
Roy slowed the vehicle to a crawl. His jaw flexed—his only real expression other than the resting hard-ass face he usually sported. The vehicle stopped at an unmarked trailhead that led into one of the less charted areas of Henshaw State Park. Judith followed his stony gaze into the trees.
Flipping from her usual bubbly self to cop mode, she put down her window to switch on the spotlight attached to the side mirror and shone it into the woods. She had to squint to see it, but there was a car back there.
“Did you see that from the road?” she asked.
“Headlight reflected off it.”
Sometimes she thought Roy was a robot.
“Check it out?” she asked.
He nodded once and switched on the light bar so anyone zipping down the dark road would see them and slow down.
“Cane here,” she said into the radio. “We’re off of Big Hill Road near the Bypass. We’ve got an abandoned vehicle parked up an unmarked nature trail. Patrick and I are going to check it out, over.”
“That’s a copy,” said a voice that wasn’t Daisy’s.
“Lee? What are you doing working radio?”
Roy pointed to his eyes and gestured toward the car in the woods. Judith sighed.
“Never mind. We’ll report back. Over.”
“Ten-four,” Phillip Lee said.
The officers got out and shut their doors in near unison. The air was cold and full of crickets. It reminded her of camping with her daddy, but no time to think about that now—time to be alert.
Each officer had their flashlight out. Roy unsnapped his holster but left his gun inside. Judith did the same. They each padded carefully down the trail, but Roy was especially silent. Their flashlight beams would give them away to any potential ne’er-do-wells, but being light on their feet at least meant they wouldn’t get set off by the sounds of their own footsteps, and it meant they could hear anyone approaching.
Up until they’d gone into the woods, Judith had thought of this as routine patrol. Sure, she had kept her eyes peeled, but she figured whoever had scared that girl Regis brought in was likely long gone. Now, more exposed outside the cruiser, she thought of the state in which Regis had found the girl. The subject had apparently fainted, which meant it had to be something pretty bad. Judith’s palm itched to pull her sidearm, but she still hoped she wouldn’t need to use it.
When they reached the Toyota Camry, she shined her light around the vicinity while Roy shined his inside the vehicle’s windows. Other than the crickets, the woods had other sounds but none that drew her immediate attention. The rustling to her right was too small to be anything that might be a threat. The snap of a twig came from somewhere too far away. Those croaking sounds were only being made by toads.
She walked around the car with an uneasy confidence, telling herself that this discovery was a clue at best and an unrelated abandoned vehicle at worst. Since Regis had yet to discern any information about the girl as of Judith’s last correspondence with him, she couldn’t even make an educated guess that this was the subject’s car.
“Anything inside?” Judith asked over her shoulder.
Judith turned toward Roy.
“Looks like someone lives in it,” he clarified.
“It doesn’t look like the kind of car a bum would drive around. It’s too nice. At least on the outside.”
Roy made a sound in his throat and bent down to look under the car. Judith pointed her flashlight up the trail. The beam illuminated a dark human outline over a dozen paces ahead and closing the distance at a brisk pace.
“Roy?” she said, her voice wavery. Seeing the shape outlined in Judith’s light, he put his hand on the grip of his gun. Judith did the same, flexing her fingers on the handle, feeling the coolness of the trigger guard against her finger. “Who’s there?”
“Identify yourself,” Roy said.
The shape drew closer. Judith and Roy drew their weapons.
“Don’t come any closer,” Judith said. “We’re armed.”
The shape continued its approach. More of its features came into focus. It appeared to be a man wearing some kind of skeleton mask. His clothes were spattered with what could have been mud or blood, and hay hung from his limbs like some unraveling, makeshift cape.
“I don’t like this,” Roy said under his breath in a rare display of emotion. He sounded scared, and if he was scared—
“I said freeze!” Judith reiterated.
The man in the skeleton mask kept coming. His mask looked less like a mask the closer he got. It glistened with fluid—definitely blood—above a ragged wound in his neck. He reached behind his back and produced a rusty sickle.
“Drop him,” Roy said.
Judith didn’t need to be told twice. She aimed for the hand wielding the farming implement and the right kneecap. Nonlethal force first, she reminded herself.
Roy had no such scruples. One of his shots struck the masked man just under the collar bone. The other hit the man’s left flank.
None of the four shots stopped the oncoming menace.
“Is he fucking high or something?” Judith yelled.
Roy stepped forward, machinelike, and squeezed off another three shots. Two struck the assailant in the gut while the third went wild.
The assailant did not stop. Now upon Roy, he swung the sickle underhand. Its point entered the meat between Roy’s groin and left thigh. Judith’s partner cried out and in desperation pressed the muzzle of his pistol against the forehead of the skull mask. He fired again.
This time, the man in the mask fell backwards from the force of the close-range shot. He flopped to the rocky trail and lay motionless.
The deputies’ breaths tore in and out of their lungs. They exchanged a glance. Roy looked frightfully pale. Judith dropped her gaze to his wound; the sickle was still embedded in flesh between a blood-soiled section of his left pant leg.
“Sh-should we pull it out?” she asked.
Roy holstered his weapon and grabbed the sickle by its hilt. Judith cringed at the sticky sound of Roy yanking the tool out of his leg. Gritting his teeth, Roy tossed the offending implement aside. He gave a single nod to indicate he was good to go, but now the blood pumped out of his leg more vigorously and he looked even more ashen than he had a moment ago.
His legs buckled and he went to his knees.
“Ah, fuck-shit,” he grumbled.
Judith put a hand on his shoulder.
“Here, let me get the first aid kid and—”
The skull-faced figure sat up.
“No way,” Judith said.
Roy followed her gaze and bared his teeth when he saw the figure rising again. He growled and redrew his weapon.
“Get the shotgun,” he said through gritted teeth. “And call for backup.”
Judith nodded rapidly but didn’t make any other move.
“Now!” Roy screamed.
He squeezed off two more shots, but neither met their mark.
Judith spun on her heel and headed back to the cruiser. Behind her, Roy screamed again and fired another shot. Judith risked a look back. The skull-faced figure had mounted Roy and was clawing at his face. Judith froze, needing to go back and help, but…
Shotgun! Call for backup.
“Hang on, Roy,” she muttered and resumed her sprint to the cruiser. The strobing reds were like a beacon, causing her to pump her legs more furiously. “Almost there!”
Another cry from Roy tore through the air. This one sounded panicked and full of pain.
What is that thing doing to him?!
She dared not look back.
Shotgun. Backup. Almost there.
Roy’s screams turned to muffled things, as if he’d been gagged with something.
Shotgun. Backup. Hang on, Roy. Almost fucking there!
Judith ripped open the passenger door and jumped back.
The cruiser wasn’t empty. A woman sat in the passenger seat, Judith’s seat, and she looked like she should be dead but she wasn’t. Her midsection was torn open and stuffed with hay. Blood ringed her mouth and nose. Myriad punctures lined her arms, each holding a single strand of hay. Her body had undergone all this serious trauma. Yet, the eyes were aglow with an eerie golden light, and she was holding the shotgun.
Judith went to raise her own firearm, but the figure inside muscled her way out, leaving a bloody puddle on the seat. Judith stumbled backwards. Before she could regain her balance, the woman from the police car rammed the butt of the shotgun into her chin.
The impact broke her jaw and took her off her feet completely. As she fell, she could hear Roy’s screams grow weaker but no less persistent. She could taste her own blood and feel loose teeth roll across her palette like a mouthful of pebbles. She coughed and choked as the disemboweled woman stepped to her side, then bent down.
Judith’s head swam with panic. She’d lost her gun in the fall and felt frantically around the dirt for it. Her hand found no purchase before her attacker dropped a knee across her chest. Even with the wind now knocked out of her, she thrashed in hopes of freeing herself.
She might as well have been under an anvil.
The woman who had been waiting in the cruiser—a vessel of flesh once belonging to one Ashley Casey—reached into her shredded abdomen and pulled out a fistful of bloody hay.
Judith belted out a final protest through the blood and dislodged teeth before the disemboweled woman buried a fist into her mouth, knocking out the rest of her front teeth and stuffing her throat with straw.
In the twenty minutes since Regis entered the interviewing area, Carson Reid had loosened her tongue. Mostly thanks to the coaxing efforts of Daisy, getting Carson to speak was no longer a problem. The problem lay with what she was saying.
It was absolutely batshit bonkers.
She’d told him, Daisy, and Avery that she and a friend had gone out to the barn of the late Alvin Herschel West. Any feelings stirred up in Regis by the mention of his old flame’s late grandfather were quickly—though not entirely—swept away by what Carson described happened there. It was like something out of a horror film. There was no other way to say it. Her tale was replete with a melting man hanging from the barn’s rafters, a pitchfork that flew through the air on its own to impale her friend, and hay that seemed somehow alive.
Regis had been ready to believe that Carson was attacked. He still believed something bad happened to her in those woods. But this required more than a mere suspension of disbelief. For him to buy her story, he would have to take every shred of skepticism he had, douse all of them in kerosene, and light them on fire.
He said none of this, of course. He knew better. Instead, he did his best to maintain a neutral facial expression and speak as one simply collecting the facts.
Rookie Deputy Avery Joel had no such reservations.
“Well, shit,” he said.
Regis fixed the new guy with a stern glare that was gone by the time he returned his attention to Carson.
“Thank you for your cooperation. Are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor?”
“You mean like a shrink?” Carson asked with some acidity.
Well, now that you mention it, Regis thought but didn’t say. “You’ve been through something traumatic, and I want to make sure you’re given the proper care.”
“No, I don’t need a doctor,” she said. “I want to go home. I want to sleep, though I don’t think I’ll be able to.”
“Can I call someone for you?” Daisy asked. “Your parents?”
“I don’t have my phone, and I have no phone numbers memorized.”
Regis and Daisy glanced at each other. Avery simply stared ahead, eyes wide but staring inward. Regis got the impression that this kid was just now grasping what it meant to be a cop. That even policing a spread-out, mostly rural county maybe wasn’t for him. Perhaps it was an unfair assumption, but that’s what Regis’ gut said. Gut instinct had seldom steered him wrong before.
And it was instinct that made Regis not entirely discount Carson’s story, however outlandish.
“Is there a computer I can use?” Carson asked.
“Huh?” Regis said.
“A computer. I can check my social media and see if any of my friends are up and able to come get me.”
Regis looked to Daisy for guidance.
“She can use mine,” she said. She extended a hand for Carson. “Come on, dear. Can I call you dear?”
Carson stood on her own. “Sure, though I’d prefer your majesty.”
She delivered this so dryly, Regis almost missed it. When he realized what she’d said, he chuckled. It was mostly out of relief. If her sense of humor was intact, then she couldn’t be too far gone. The relief was short-lived, however, when he realized that if she wasn’t deluded from something like a knock on the head, then there might be something to her story.
Father God, in the name of Jesus…
That was his mother’s voice in his head again. She started every prayer like that when Regis was a kid. She had soured on religion in recent years, often joking that God didn’t want nothing to do with an adulteress like her, but she used to be pretty devout, even believing in things like demonic possession and speaking in tongues. Some of the imagery Carson relayed called his mother’s lapsed belief system to mind. It was something she had tried doggedly to instill in him during his early teenage years. While the dogma never stuck, the grammar around it sometimes resurfaced for Regis in times of stress.
He stayed by the interview room door while Daisy got Carson set up at the computer station.
“Need me to relieve Phil?” Daisy asked.
Phillip looked at Regis expectantly.
“Not yet. I want to talk with you and Avery first.”
Avery, who was halfway out the interview room, did an awkward twirl before filing back inside. Daisy gave Regis a wry smile on her way back. Before following them in, Regis asked Phillip, “Any word from the units patrolling the area where I found her?”
“Judith and Roy found an abandoned vehicle and were going to investigate.”
“Was it a Camry?” Carson looked up from the computer and asked. “If so, it’s probably mine.”
Regis met Phillip’s gaze. Phillip grabbed the radio and pressed the talk button.
“Cane, are you there? Over.” No answer. “They’re probably still checking it out,” Phillip said.
Now Regis looked at Carson. He didn’t like the haunted look in her eyes.
“Keep me updated,” he told Phillip. He went into the interview room and closed the door. Avery stood with his hands folded in front. Daisy had taken a seat on one of the sofas. “So, what do we think?”
“I think that bitch is off her rocker,” Avery said.
“Let’s make that the last time you call that young lady or any victim a bitch in my office,” Daisy said. “We save that word for someone who really deserves it. Got it, Rookie?”
Avery opened his mouth to protest. Regis held up his hand.
“Daisy’s right,” he said. Avery reddened and looked down. “But I’m still interested in your slur-free takeaway. You think what? She’s mental?”
“She looked pretty stable to me, all things considered,” Daisy said.
“Me too,” Regis said. “But you’ve gotta admit. Her story is really difficult to swallow.”
At this, Daisy darkened. First, Regis thought it was as if a shadow had fallen over her eyes, but the more he examined her, the more it seemed like some inner light had dimmed.
Avery looked from Regis to her. Frowning, he said, “What is it?”
“If what she said happened had occurred anywhere other than Alvin’s barn, I wouldn’t have given her story a second thought,” Daisy said.
“But?” Regis asked.
“Well, you remember the state of that house when he died. And well, sometimes you hear things when you get to be as old as me.”
“Come on, Daisy. What sort of things?”
“Well, I’m surprised you haven’t heard some of them yourself being that you spent so much time being romantic with Alvin’s granddaughter.”
“I mean, I heard people say the grounds were haunted, but you can’t expect me to believe that. You don’t believe that either. Do you?”
“I don’t,” Avery interjected, rather uselessly.
“Well, I don’t believe in ghosts, if that’s what you mean.” Daisy paused to chew her bottom lip. Her eyes shifted ever so slightly to stare at an empty corner of the room. She lingered there, as if she expected something to manifest at the perfect angle, something that would explain everything she hoped to say, in a way Regis and Avery could understand. When she faced him again, her eyes were still dark. “You weren’t Sheriff when Alvin’s wife Linda died. Your father was, and he’ll tell you. There were some striking similarities between what Alvin said about the day she died and what that young lady told us tonight. He said Linda was killed by something in the hay.”
“I didn’t read that in the papers,” Regis said.
“That was by design.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Avery said. “It’s just a coincidence is all.”
“Maybe,” Regis said. “But we should still check out the barn and scour the rest of the area. Something happened to that girl tonight, and if her friend was killed like she says, that means we’ve got a murder case on our hands. That also means I’m not sleeping anytime soon.”
Carson scrolled for the third time through her list of online friends. She kept hoping someone else would become available, someone close by who could actually help her.
Anyone but Jennie Silva.
It was Jennie’s fault Ashley was dead. If she hadn’t been so awful to them on set, they wouldn’t have gone out tonight with anything to prove. What a cruel twist of fate that Jennie might be the only one who could drive her home.
The deputy working the radio—Phil, she’d heard him called—kept glancing over at her, thinking he was being subtle about it—he was not.
“Fucked-up night, huh?” he said.
The inquiry made her grind her molars. To say this had been a fucked-up night would be the understatement for the eons.
“Uh-huh,” she said.
She did not have the patience for casual conversation. She kept seeing that pitchfork twirl its way out of Ashley’s belly, taking a string of guts with it. She kept seeing those yellow eyes and the syrupy skin on the hanging man. And all that hay, roiling like some textured golden sea.
She must have hallucinated it. At least some of it?
She wasn’t prone to anything like that. No history of paranoid delusions from her or her immediate family. Aside from some weekend drinking, she was drug free. Ashley had been the more adventurous one there. She could have hallucinated these things, perhaps, but not Carson.
Ashley was dead, though.
Impaled. Devoured by a sea of straw.
Carson didn’t want to buy it, but she couldn’t doubt what she had seen. Even with her interests in UFOs, cryptids, and ghost stories, the events of the evening were purely unimaginable—dreamlike, though she had little doubt she was fully awake. All of it was real, and she had to accept it.
“No one awake?” Phil asked.
She blinked at the second intrusion. She pressed her lips together and shook her head.
“That’s okay,” he continued. He held up the radio’s mouthpiece. “No one awake out there either, it seems.”
“Aren’t you worried?” she said.
He gave a half-shrug. “Too old to worry.”
“Must be nice,” she snipped.
She couldn’t accept that Jennie fucking Silva was the only person she could call for a ride. Carson would almost rather ride in a cop car again, but she’d had more than her fill of police talk tonight. Even if she hadn’t, Regis and the others probably had plenty to do already. He could, of course, just take her to her car, but she doubted he would be okay with letting her drive.
It was either Jennie Silva or a cab. And she’d left her purse in her car along with her cell phone.
She hovered the cursor over Jennie’s profile thumbnail and blew out a long breath. Resigned to the fact that it was her only option, she clicked on Jennie’s heavily filtered face to open a chat and began typing her message.
When she finished, she hesitated over clicking send. The door to the interview room swung open again and stole her attention. Phillip turned around too as Regis and the others entered the lobby.
“I’m not getting a response from Judith and Roy,” he said.
“What about DJ and Carver?” Regis asked.
“They’re headed to Big Hill. I told them to check on Judith and Roy.”
“It’s a big stretch of road, but it shouldn’t take them too long. They’re good cops.”
“So are Judith and Roy,” Regis said.
“Right. I’m sure they’re just checking things out and haven’t had a chance to respond.”
Regis flicked a look toward Carson. His face was creased with worry, but his eyes were hard with determination.
“Did you find a lift?” he asked.
“Uh… I think so.” She clicked send, trying not to make a show of it. “I’m just waiting for a response.”
“Good. Let me know.” His brow deepened as he paused for a moment. “Okay, Avery. Phil. Let’s drive out to Alvin West’s barn and take a look around.”
Phillip pushed away from the desk like he couldn’t get away fast enough. Daisy was there to meet him.
“Thanks for keeping my seat warm,” she said.
“Anything for you, doll,” Phillip replied with a wink.
Daisy sat down and gave a subtle eye roll that only Carson seemed to catch. Carson smirked at the sentiment shared with her, and Daisy winked.
The messenger app made a pinging sound.
“That your ride?” Regis asked.
Carson checked. It was a single-worded response from Jennie Silva. SURE, it said. Nothing to indicate concern for Carson’s well-being, just a short response that all but told Carson that Jennie would do it, though she wouldn’t be happy about it. To be fair, she hadn’t mentioned Ashley’s death. She had, however, said she was at the Sheriff’s Office and something bad had happened.
Oh, well. That was Jennie. Carson hoped she wouldn’t take too long to arrive.
“Everything good?” Avery asked.
No, everything was not good, Carson thought. What a ridiculous question.
Regis put a firm hand on the young deputy’s shoulder and squeezed. “What my colleague meant to ask was, ‘is you’re ride coming?’”
“Yes, she is,” Carson said. She maintained eye contact with Avery. “Thanks for asking.”
“Ma’am,” Avery said and gave a slight nod.
He headed toward the back where Phillip was getting a coat on. There was a shiftiness to the way he walked, and she wondered if it might be his first night on the job. He couldn’t have been much older than her.
“I’ll meet you guys in the parking lot,” Regis said, heading for the door.
“I’ll hold down the fort,” Daisy said. “Be careful out there, Sheriff.”
Regis halted his stride and looked back at her.
“Sorry,” she said. “For a moment there, you reminded me of your father.”
He grimaced and left without another word. The other deputies followed seconds later.
Carson put her head on the desk and ran her fingers through her hair. It will be over soon, she told herself. Telling her parents, telling Ashley’s parents, those were tomorrow’s worries. Regis and the other deputies could deal with the rest. For her, tonight’s nightmare had reached its end.
“You can sleep on the couch in the back,” Daisy said.
Carson sat up straight again and shook her head. “I better not.”
“I’m sorry about your friend.”
“Let me know if you need anything before your ride gets here. Even after that, if you’d like. I’m an easy woman to reach.” She nodded toward the sticker on the door that said CALL 9-1-1.
Carson couldn’t bring herself to laugh, but she smiled a little. The woman’s kindness and overall demeanor had earned at least that.
“Phil, are you there?” someone said on the radio. He sounded strange, and it wasn’t just the signal.
“It’s Daisy again, DJ. What’s up?”
“Carver and I are out by where Cane and Patrick found that car.” During the ensuing pause, Carson’s body tensed. “Something’s not right.”
Carson tensed further, until it felt like every muscle in her body was pulled taut.
“Not right how?” Daisy asked.
Carson could only imagine. And she knew, before the deputy could answer, that her nightmare was far from over.