The outliers, p.10
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       The Outliers, p.10

         Part #2 of The Outskirts Duet series by T. M. Frazier
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  “Bridget, if you go back there,” I trailed off, knowing exactly what would happen. This was a warning for coming to me. She could have died. They wouldn’t have cared.

  Monsters parading themselves around as Christians.

  What if I could…” Josh started when two men entered the room. The first man I didn’t recognize at all, but he was wearing the church of god’s light pin on his shirt. The second one stayed behind the door in the shadow with his hat low on his head.

  “Don’t answer anything,” the first man commanded, coming to stand at Bridget’s side. “This is my wife.”

  “Funny,” Josh said, standing up to reveal her full police uniform. Her badge glinted under the fluorescent light. She scrunched her lips. “I didn’t hear a ‘thank, God you’re alright.’ I didn’t even hear a ‘I was worried sick.’ The only thing I did here was you proclaiming that she was your wife like you’re collecting your dog from the pound.” Josh pointed to Bridget’s eye. “This how you treat your dog, sir?”

  “I’m in shock. That’s all,” the man said, picking up Bridget’s hand awkwardly like he’d never done it before. “How dare you accuse me of treating her like a dog.”

  “No, I believe I indicated you treated her like less than a dog.”

  “Can we talk later, officer,” the word dripped off his tongue in disdain. “I’d like a moment alone with my wife.”

  “Only if it’s okay with our victim,” Josh said using the same stress on the word victim.

  Bridget didn’t meet our eyes but nodded. “It’s okay. This is my husband.”

  “Bridget, you don’t have to talk to them!” I cried as Josh moved toward the door. “We can stay. You don’t have to be alone with them. Never again.” Josh turned me around by my shoulders and guided me from the room, shutting the door behind us.

  “We can’t leave her in there with them!” I shouted. “They’re monsters. Look what they did to her!”

  “They ain’t gonna do shit with me standing out here.” She placed a hand on her belt. “I got a gun and shit. What are they gonna do. Fight me with some bullshit prayers? Sawyer, if they touch one hair on that girl’s head and I’ll go in their shooting like it’s the wild wild west up in here.” Her eyes were strong and serious.

  “Thank you,” I said, grateful that I wasn’t the only one trying to protect her.

  “But there is something you have to know,” Josh said, keeping her eyes trained on the door.

  “What?” I asked.

  She sighed and pointed to the window where Bridget’s husband was huddled over her bed. “That girl in there is gonna walk out of this hospital with them tonight.”

  “No!” I shouted, feeling sick at the thought.

  “What they did to her was a warning and she got the message loud and clear. Not even a blink or wink or shake of her hand to tell me otherwise.”

  “No…!” I said, reaching for the handle. “My mother stayed with the man who tortured her. I’m not going to stand back and watch it happen again. I can’t I won’t!”

  Josh pulled me back and set me down on the chair in the hallway. She crouched down so only I could hear here. “You need to realize they aren’t all as strong as you.”

  The door opened and the familiar feeling of dread dripped down my spine as the men walked past me. I couldn’t bother looking up at them. I was too disgusted to give them that much. “We’ll be back,” Bridget’s husband said almost cheerily, like he was bragging. “To bring her home.”

  When the bell chimed and the doors slid open, both men climbed inside. Before they slid shut again the other man spoke. The one who’d lingered in the shadows.

  “Yes. We will be back. To bring them home.”

  Chapter 14

  Finn

  I wish I could unsee the mangled girl lying between the reeds in the swamp. I wanted to wash Bridget’s image from my brain because it was all I could see except every time the image came to me it wasn’t Bridget I saw lying there bloodied and broken.

  It was Sawyer.

  The thought made me sick. I had to pull over twice on the way to Critter’s to purge the thought via the entire contents of my stomach. After heaving onto the road, I banged out my frustrations with my fists on my steering wheel. Screaming my rage out to absolutely no one.

  Critter was out back of the bar puffing on his cigar and directing a liquor truck that was backing up to the door.

  “A little early this morning?” I asked him as the driver of the truck hopped out and handed him a clipboard before sliding open the back door and pulling out the metal ramp.

  “Is it? I hadn’t noticed,” Critter said.

  “Maybe, if you got some sleep you would.”

  “Too busy thinkin’ to sleep.” He said, taking a puff of his cigar.

  I’d known the man my entire life. I used to steal sunflowers from the field around his house when I was still in diapers. Never once do I remember him appearing tired until that morning. I was too young when Sawyer’s mother left to remember how he handled it all although I’m sure he looked just as tired then.

  “Anything you’d like to share with me?” I asked, hoping that maybe by talking I could ease his mind a bit.

  Critter followed the drive ramp and inspected the shipment. He scribbled his signature on the paperwork, handing it back to the driver who tucked it away and started unloading. Critter, never one to sit idly by, grabbed a box and followed him into the bar, dropping it in the storage area next to the office. I followed and did the same. “Nothing you’d want to hear,” he grumbled.

  “Try me,” I said.

  Critter grabbed another box from the truck. I was bending over to grab one myself when he turned to me, dropped the box and reached into his pocket to pull out his phone. He pressed a few numbers and held up the screen so I could see his contacts pulled up to someone listed only as 911-B. “What is that? Or who is that?”

  “This,” he said, tucking the phone back into his jeans, “is a number I could call and with one flick of my thumb I could have Richard Dixon wiped off the face of the fucking planet now that I know where he is.”

  “Then, why haven’t you?” I asked curiously.

  “Because she asked me not to,” Critter said, rubbing his hand on his face.

  “What?”

  Critter grabbed another box. “Caroline. Last night she had a moment of clarity. A longer one than usual. She told me it wouldn’t make me no better than him if I had his filthy blood on my hands. She made me promise I wouldn’t and now I gotta figure out how to put an end to that son of a bitch’s reign of terror some other way.”

  “We,” I corrected him. “WE have to figure out how to end it.”

  Critter grunted. “How’s Sawyer holding up after seeing him at the hospital?”

  “She keeps saying she’s okay but I know she isn’t. I wouldn’t be if I was in the same room as the very man who kidnapped her mother, threatened both of their lives, and tormented for years?” Even saying the words made me downright murderous myself, but I saw how Critter was teetering on the edge and didn’t want to be the one to tip him over and have him break his promise to his wife.

  “Yeah, I’m aware of the man’s resume,” Critter snapped. “But thanks for the update though. It’s always nice to have a refresher course in all things awful about the man I’ve imagined killing for a couple decades plus.”

  “He ain’t exactly on the list of people Sawyer and I will be inviting to our wedding,” I said without thinking.

  Critter turned to me and shot me a glare like I was the enemy. I turned around to make sure Richard wasn’t standing behind me. “What?” I asked.

  He narrowed his eyes at me. “You serious about that? You thinking of marrying my daughter?”

  I thought about my next words carefully, but the answer was a simple one and it wasn’t a day to be lying to Critter. “Yeah. Yes.” I grimaced. “Sir?”

  “Son…”

  “It’s son now?”

  “Ye
ah, it is.” Critter pointed at me, wagging his finger as he spoke. “Son, if you go and hurt my girl in any way I’m telling you right this fuckin’ second that I’ll skin you alive, feed your carcass to my hunting dogs, and mount what’s left of you above my front door as a warning to others.” He ruffled my hair like he used to do when I was a kid and I didn’t like it now as much as I hated it back then. I smoothed it back down and Critter smiled, going about wiping down the bar and glasses like he didn’t just threaten my life in a very real and gruesome way.

  “Wow, Critter. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten a good dad-style talking to. I have to say though, I never expected it from you.” I said, going back to the business of helping him and the delivery man carry in the boxes.

  “Well, don’t be expecting it again, ‘cause that was a courtesy warning. You’ll only be getting the one.”

  “Noted.”

  “What’s this?” Critter asked when the driver handed him a bottle of whiskey that hadn’t been in any of the boxes. He turned the clear bottle around in his hands.

  The driver shrugged. “I was told to give it to you by the boss. It’s a gift. A sample for you to try. Something new he’ll be trying to sell you I suppose. Not sure. I just deliver the booze impregnate my wife and keep paying for these damned kid’s tuition. Not necessarily in that order.”

  “Thanks, Pete. Tell Mike this better not be no Yankee shit. The last bottle he sent me I used as target practice in my field.”

  Pete turned the bottle over in Critter’s hand. Taped to the back was a note that said. NOT YANKEE SHIT.

  Critter chuckled.

  “Southern all the way, Critter.” Pete said. He jogged off and climbed into his truck. I followed Critter into the empty bar.

  He placed the cigar in his mouth and opened the bottle of whiskey, setting down two glasses. He filled them both over half way. He slid one toward me. “It’s a whiskey kind of morning.”

  “I’ve never known you to be a whiskey for breakfast kind of man.”

  “You also never knew I was married and had a daughter.”

  “Good point.”

  Critter clinked his glass to mine without waiting for me to pick mine up. He emptied it in two large swallows, slamming it down on the bar so hard I was surprised it didn’t break.

  I spun around the glass I’d yet to take a sip from while Critter was already pouring another. “What about the name that Bridget girl gave Sawyer?”

  “Sandy Bennett.” I said. “Josh is on it. Running the name through as many agencies as she has access to.

  Critter drained his second glass. He sighed. “You know, from the second I found out Caroline and Sawyer were alive I had to put my need to hurt that motherfucker second to my need to want to crack his skull open. You know why? Because family comes first. My girls come first. But unfortunately, Caroline was right. You were…well, sort of right. I ain’t going to prison when I just got my family back. I ain’t living without them again.” His expression softened. “I can’t.”

  I looked up to him. “I get it,” I said, running my hand through my hair and blowing out a breath of frustration. I’d had the same thought myself a thousand times. My chest panged. I remember the hurt I carried around after Jackie died. Enough to send me into years of solitude. Critter had known what that felt like and he’d reached out to me but even he couldn’t break through to me.

  “The way I see it is that you and I are in the same boat. We’ve both had some horrible loses,” Critter said, echoing my thoughts. “I think it’s about damned time we’re due for a win. Or a break. Or something.”

  I shook my head and traced my finger around the top of my glass. “It’s insane how one man could cause all this grief. All this heartache. You’d think there was an army of him out there. Or that he was the devil himself.”

  Critter rested both hands on the bar and closed his eyes for a moment like he was wrestling with something. When he opened his eyes again he spoke with more conviction than I’d ever heard him talk about anything before. “I have news for you,” Critter said. He coughed and tapped his chest with his closed fist. “Richard Dixon is the devil himself.”

  Critter’s face paled and his eyes went wide. He started coughing. When it didn’t subside, I stood up and rounded the bar. He was pounding on his chest with his closed fist. He grabbed the counter for support but lost his grip and I caught him as he fell, lowering him to the ground as he gasped for air. His eyes glazed over. I reached for my phone in a panic. My mind not able to catch up to the events at hand.

  “Stay with me, Critter. You’ve made it through so much you will not give up on me now, old man.”

  Critter stared up at the ceiling, unfocused. His eyes began to close.

  The tings overhead fluttered all around the ceiling indicating the door had been opened. With my phone to my ear I glanced up to find Sawyer standing next to me looking down at Critter.

  She choked back a sob. “Nooooo!” she cried.

  My heart sank. For him. For her.

  Then…he stopped breathing.

  Chapter 15

  Sawyer

  The hospital was the last place I wanted to be again.

  Seeing Critter

  Critter was strong. Healthy. The most stubborn man I ever knew. But also, the most caring. The most loving. I loved everything about him from his deep baritone voice to his ridiculous moustache, which only he could pull off.

  When I was there to see Bridget, I wanted to help her save herself.

  With Critter lying there. Hooked to the tubes and machines. I wanted to not just save him, I wanted to breathe life into him. I wanted to pound on his chest with my closed fists and scream at him until he woke up and told me he was going to be okay.

  He had to be okay.

  HAD. TO. BE. OKAY.

  Finn stood in the corner talking to Critter’s doctor while I sat by Critter’s bedside, holding his hand with my head on his chest.

  “So that’s about it,” The doctor said. I’d been so involved in my own devastation that I hadn’t heard a word she’s said to Finn.

  “I’m sorry, I don’t understand, what exactly are you saying?” I asked. “Was it a heart attack?” I picked my head up from Critter’s chest but kept my fingers laced through his.

  The doctor looked at me over the rim of her glasses. She tucked her clipboard underneath her arm. I knew whatever she was about to tell me wasn’t going to be good since Finn was now leaning on the wall for support. His face several shades paler than it had been when we got there.

  I stilled. I could hear my heart beating when she spoke.

  “The short version?” The doctor asked, like she was in a hurry.

  I nodded and held my breath.

  “Your father was poisoned.”

  Chapter 16

  Sawyer

 
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