My head throbbed as my consciousness slowly returned to me. Carpet stuck to my blood soaked cheek where I laid. I hardly had the strength to open my eyes after such a blow. Yet I sensed a presence and had to address him.
Todd leaned against the wall with a nonchalant air, twirling a set of keys around on his finger. I clambered up, finding a grip on a bed frame nearby. I intended to focus my hatred on him, but my vision danced around with no rhyme or reason and I was forced to rest myself on the mattress.
“I’m not gonna kill you,” he assured me, “if that’s what you’re worried about. I meant it when I said I always have time for the boys in blue. I’m not a cop killer. That would just bring me more problems that I don’t need.”
I attempted to open my mouth with a spiteful retort when an uncomfortable binding caught between my teeth. I clawed at it with my nails to find a chain wrapped in hardy leather stuffed into my lips and encircling my head, secured together in the back by a padlock. My chest tightened and I wrenched at the gag to no avail, the links grating my jawline despite the leather cushion.
“That’s only precaution until I’m sure that we’re in the clear and none of your friends are gonna come knocking down my door. This room is mostly soundproof, but I like to be sure you can’t shout at the top of your lungs and draw attention to me.”
As my stability gradually reawakened, I scanned the place, realizing I was no longer in his living room. The atmosphere was actually homey, painted a pleasant blue and scattered with toys and other spoils. The bed beneath me bounced with its fluff and an identical one sat opposite. The only element that set this apart from a pampered child’s room was the array of locks built into the door, installed to fasten on the outside. At the moment the door stood ajar, yet Todd seemed unbothered by this fact.
“Make yourself comfortable,” he continued. “Mi casa es su casa.”
I jabbed a finger at the two beds, shooting as much accusation at him as I could with only my eyes.
“Yes, that’s where Curtis and Owen sleep. I figured there was no point in hiding that from you. You seemed to already have your mind made up to that truth. But it doesn’t matter now, since you won’t be able to tell anyone.” When I snorted and shook my head, he piped up, “You don’t think I’ll get away with it, right? But please keep in mind that I’ve kept the Canns boys across the street from their father for two years without anyone being the wiser. And from what I’ve seen, you seem the kind of cop to go busting into situations without much of a plan, so I’m guessing no one knows you’re here. I know how to cover my tracks.”
I mumbled against the chain, but couldn’t manage a word. When he noticed my struggle, he fetched a notebook from the top of a dresser and offered me a marker. I rolled my eyes at the idiotic charade and scratched across the paper, Why Risa?
He frowned at the mention and flipped to an earlier page in the notebook where a child’s drawings of stick figures played across the page, with the vague forms labelled as Mom, Dad, Curtis, and Owen.
“Even after I’d taken such good care of them for years, they still wouldn’t let go of those two shitheads. I simply helped to prove that Sawyer and Risa weren’t the type of people to idolize.”
I jotted down, Risa NOT a crackhead.
“She is now,” he chuckled. “She is to them.”
Where are the boys?
I side eyed the gaping door.
“You can try if you want. I don’t think you’ll get far. And if I have to kill you, then you’ll never be able to help those poor kids, and I think you’ll keep yourself alive for that.” He sauntered onto the threshold. “Enjoy your stay.”
The door clanged and the keys jingled in each lock one by one. With the finality of the silence that followed, true dread flooded through me. I drove my fist into the mattress and hung my head in defeat. The notebook crinkled in my grip, yet brought me back to the importance of my stay here. Todd was right. I would find a way to take care of Curtis and Owen, no matter what it meant for me.
I skimmed through the previous pages, my heart breaking with each drawing of the outside world, of the life they wanted. Small messages would occasionally scroll across the top of the pages, such as Dad? or I miss baseball. I swallowed against the lump in my throat.
I soon tossed the notebook and ran my fingers through my curls. At the impact of the papers against the wall, a scuffing noise seemed to react from the opposite bed and I held my breath, straining my ears. Once all my sounds ceased, I discerned frightened breaths from tinier lungs.
Stepping lightly so as not to scare away all my hopes, I climbed down to the floor and peeked under the shadows of the framing. Two young boys cuddled together with eyes wide and limbs shivering, pressing their lips together in the hopes of staying quiet.
I scurried back across the room and returned with the notebook, my pulse pumping a new song through my veins. I’m a police officer, here to help you. I slid the pages to them, not wanting to come too close until they trusted me.
The older of the two scooped it up and narrowed his eyes through the darkness to read it. While he worked through his misgivings, the younger crept out against the advice of his brother and sat before me, gazing up with tears in his eyes.
I managed an assuring smile despite all the misfortune, and Owen jumped onto me and swept his skinny arms around my neck, nuzzling into my chest.
To be continued in Bridges 8...
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber