I noticed the drawn curtain of a window and rushed to it, with Owen clinging to my hand the whole time. But Curtis shimmied out from under the bed before I reached it, his freckled nose unmistakable even after the two years that had elapsed since anyone saw him. He scanned me up and down, keeping his distance, not falling into comfort as easily as his younger brother.
“It’s not real.” Curtis nodded to the window. “Owen said he missed outside so Todd set that up for him.”
My chest sank as I wrenched the drapes aside. A pane of glass projected an image of grass and sunshine, but all of it was two dimensional. Behind the fake window was only wall.
“But you know another way out, right?” Owen asked, his innocent eyes gleaming up at me.
“He doesn’t know anything,” Curtis mumbled, flopping onto the farthest bed. “He’s as trapped as we are.”
I knelt down with Owen and scribbled in the notebook, I’ll find a way.
In spite of Curtis’ skepticism, Owen smiled softly. “I believe you.”
I rummaged around in their toys for anything useful. Most of their belongings were plush, likely for this exact reason. Nothing could double as any kind of tool or weapon.
Bathroom? I wrote.
Owen dragged me to a door that I had assumed to be a closet, but he opened it into a tiny restroom with only the bare minimum inside. Besides the toilet, tub, and sink, no toiletries were stored.
“He takes our toothbrushes and stuff after we use them,” Owen seemed to read my thoughts.
Todd seemed to think through every possibility. But my searching locked onto the toilet and one last hope occurred to me. Sure enough, all of the expected inner workings were present inside the tank and far from plush. Judging which might prove most helpful, I unhooked the chain, forced to bring along the flapper attached to the end of it as well.
When Owen and I reemerged, Curtis sat up with begrudging interest. “What’s that?”
“It’s from the toilet!” Owen crooned enthusiastically.
I jotted onto the notebook again and showed it to both of them. I need you to make some noise.
They tilted their heads at me in confusion, so with a smirk I whipped the curtains aside from the fake window and drove my heel into the pane. Glass clattered together in a cacophony of deafening pitches that even a mostly soundproof room couldn’t suppress. Curtis and Owen ducked away in alarm, but once the shock passed, their excitement for destruction ensued.
Piece by piece we tore the place apart. I helped Curtis kick over the dresser, Owen leapt on the bed and howled at the top of his lungs, and I rammed my shoulder into the door incessantly, insistent on gaining Todd’s attention. As a coup de gras, Curtis disappeared into the bathroom, returned with the lid to the toilet tank that I had removed from its place, and slammed it into a million pieces in front of the locked door, cracking out the most earsplitting racket of all.
He grinned proudly, finally finding a camaraderie with my presence, and I fist bumped him for the good work.
Owen sprinted up to me. “What happens now?”
On cue, the locks of the door jiggled on the outside, scratching frantically. Hardening as I prepped for the most crucial part of my plan, I ushered the boys off to the side and poised myself next to the doorway with the ends of the toilet chain secured around my fists. Curtis and Owen instinctively fell silent as my mood shifted into seriousness and only the pound of the pulse in my ear proved the existence of life in the room. The last lock clicked out of the way and the door knob turned.
Todd began to scold before completely entering, “What the hell are you guys-”
Once his throat was within view I slung the chain around his neck and hauled him away from the exit. I barked at the boys unintelligibly, but they understood enough to bolt through the open door.
Todd’s face flushed crimson under my grip, though I imagined rage had more to do with this than pain. He roared and tugged against me, but the thought of the Canns’ escape kept me strong. I knew I would tire eventually, but I only needed to last long enough.
I faltered sooner than I wanted to when Todd backed up and rammed me against the wall, my spine nearly crumbling under the pressure. I managed to keep hold for a few moments longer. Only when his elbow jammed into my ribs did I fall away entirely.
He abandoned his frustration with me for the time being and stormed from the room after Curtis and Owen, not bothering to lock me in behind himself. The keys still dangled from the last lock where he left them and I rummaged through, experimenting with several before fitting a small one into the padlock on the back of my head. The bolt sprang away and the leather gag dropped from between my teeth. I stretched the aching muscles of my jaw before mustering the energy to stagger out, towing along my weaponized chain just in case.
I followed Todd’s curses down a hallway and up a flight of steps until I came upon the familiar living room I originally entered into. He halted on the threshold of the front door, gazing out into the darkened evening where Curtis and Owen had disappeared. Under the wrath, I actually detected a bit of devastation.
I propped myself against a table. “It’s over, Todd. Can you make it easier on both of us and work with me here?”
At the sound of my voice he turned a fiery glare on me and stalked back into the house. My hands went up in defense just in time for him to plant his knuckles into my face. I blinked against the stinging across my cheekbone and before I recovered, he snatched the toilet chain from me and furled it around my neck as I had with him. He proved much stronger than me, my legs collapsing from the moment the sharp links sliced into my skin. He laid me down on the ground and pressed his knee on top of me, pinning me in place for my strangulation. My lungs seized up and white spots stabbed through my vision. Vitality drained from me by the second.
“I tried to be reasonable with you,” he spat. “I was gonna let you live, but then you took everything from me.”
My eyes slid close and I sensed myself fading. Only one voice could have brought me back from the brink of death and it just happened to echo in my ear.
“Todd Norwood, hands in the air.”
The chain loosened and oxygen flooded my chest in a perfect moment of ecstasy. Once my eyes opened again, a new, but familiar face hovered over me, her braids sweeping against my skin.
“You with me, Cam?” Alicia pressed her palm onto the initial wound from the statue.
“Where the hell did you come from?” I coughed with a halfhearted smile.
“I followed clues the right way and ended up here but I see you got here first.”
“Yep, you owe me dinner,” I choked.
“But I’m the one that actually caught the guy. You busted in and got yourself caught, so I feel like I’m the winner here.”
“How did you figure it out?”
“The composition of the heroine used to kill Risa matches some that we’ve taken off junkies in this area. I was tracing it back to the dealer when all testimonies led me back to the Canns house, where I happened upon two very scared little boys.”
“So you didn’t catch Todd at all,” I mused. “You hit a dead end and got lucky because I happened to help the Canns boys escape.”
“I think you’re the one that got lucky,” she teased. “If I hadn’t followed my leads you would be dead.”
“I guess we can call it a tie.”
As I tried to push myself up, she grabbed my shoulder and urged me back down. “We’ve got medics on the way. You should stay put.”
I brushed her off. “I’m fine. I wanna see them.”
Reluctant, she braced an arm around me and pulled me to my feet, limping to the door. Police cruisers lighted the area and an officer ducked Todd into one, much to my satisfaction. Before I ever spotted them, the silhouettes of two young boys rushed up and threw their arms around my waist.
To be concluded in Bridges 9...
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber