Careful little eyes an a.., p.25
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       Careful little eyes: An addictive, horrifying serial killer thriller (7th Street Crew Book 4), p.25

           Willow Rose
 
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  Tim was watching one of the neighbors across the canal, Henry. Henry was fishing from his dock and that usually only meant one thing: he’d had a big fight with his wife. Tim chuckled and ate an apple while watching Henry drink from his beer can. Tim knew that fishing was only Henry’s excuse for drinking beer, and by going out in the yard, he knew his wife would never yell at him where the neighbors could hear it.

  Tim heard Ava’s steps on the stairs and a few seconds later she peeked in. “Did you?”

  He turned and looked at her. He could never get over how stunning she was, even after all these years. How did she do that? She walked up to him and he grabbed her around the waist. He pulled her close and kissed her rosy red lips.

  “I sure did.”

  Ava looked him in the eyes while touching his scars, running a finger along them, like she always did.

  “Excellent, Scar-face.”

  She laughed when she called him the nickname he had been called all through high school. Tim had earned a lot of respect after surviving being struck by lightning.

  On the same day that Damien vanished from the face of the earth.

  They had searched the house. The sheriff and his men had kicked in the door to the old ladies’ house and searched every corner, but found no trace of Damien. Nor that of the two old ladies or even their 1955 Cadillac. They couldn’t even find any proof that anyone had lived in the house, nor did they see any records of anyone living there for decades. And no one, not one single person, except Tim, remembered seeing the two old ladies.

  For a little while, people in town looked at Tim and said he killed the kid, then was struck by lightning as a punishment from God afterwards. Most people found it fair. They believed Tim had gotten his punishment; it was, after all, from God, and there was no need for further action. Others, on the other hand, believed he was let off too easy by the sheriff, who could never prove that the kid was even dead or that a crime had been committed. No body, no crime. Besides, Sheriff Davey had a crush on Tim’s mother ever since elementary school and would never think any offspring of that gorgeous lady could be evil enough to kill his best friend.

  When the body never showed up, people slowly came to terms with Damien having probably run away, and everything else was just a story that the odd kid with the scarred face had made up, or maybe dreamt. But, it still nagged Tim. At some point, he had decided they could be right, that he had probably dreamt it all, but that still didn’t answer the question: Where was Damien? What had happened to him?

  The sheriff and his men searched for him for about a week, then decided there were no more areas of the small town they could search. They told Damien’s mother that Damien had probably run away or maybe drowned in the lake.

  Damien’s mother took it hard. Every time Tim saw her after that day, she was crying. She grew old really fast and Tim avoided her at any cost, because she always turned to him for answers and he didn’t have any.

  After high school, he went to Orlando for college, where he met Ava who wanted to live by the beach, Cocoa Beach where she had grown up. Tim went back to Fellsmere very rarely, only for his mother’s birthdays and then for her funeral when the cancer finally got the best of her six years ago. Sam had found some new woman that he lived with now, and Tim saw no reason for them to keep in touch.

  “So, are you ready for the big night?”

  Tim sighed. “Do we have to go?”

  “Well, yes. You’re the one who is getting a medal, remember? You’re kind of the man of the hour.”

  Tim was, with some difficulty, suppressing a smile. He had to admit, he kind of enjoyed the fact that he was going to be honored. He kissed his wife. Their son Damien appeared in the doorway. Tim had asked that he’d be named after his lost friend, and luckily Ava hadn’t objected to it. She had believed it to be sweet and thoughtful of Tim.

  Damien was ten now. Like all other parents in this world, Tim couldn’t believe how time flew by.

  “So, when am I going to Liam’s house?” he asked. They had arranged for a sleepover for him at his best friend’s house, so they could go to the party at city hall alone.

  “I’ll take you there in half an hour,” Tim said and looked at his watch.

  Chapter Nine

  The ceremony at city hall was long. Everything about it felt long. The music, the speeches, especially Sheriff Harlan’s speech dragged out forever. Every now and then, Tim felt like he was in one of those movies that Ava sometimes made him watch, where everything moved like slow motion and nothing happened. Tim hated this stuff. Yes, he was proud of himself for saving that woman from drowning in the Intracoastal Rivers. Yes, he was honored that he was getting a medal, but when push came to shove, he didn’t really feel that good about receiving it.

  They all believed he was this hero, but to tell the truth, he didn’t really deserve the honor. He had been patrolling on land when the call had been made. Someone, a guy fishing at the shore, had seen a woman in the water, looking like she was in distress. The man had called 911 and Tim’s car had been the closest.

  The fisherman had explained to him where he saw her, but there was no sign of her anymore. Dispatch told him the fire crew was on the way and so was the coastguard, but Tim feared it would be too late and decided to take off his hat and shirt, then dive in to see if he could find her. Now, the Intracoastal waterways are known to be filled with all kinds of Florida wildlife, so that in itself was a bit of a heroic gesture; Tim would agree to that.

  Once he started swimming in the murky water, he spotted the woman further out. He reached her where the water gets really deep.

  “Don’t worry, lady. I’m an officer. I’m here to help you,” he told her, and grabbed her around the neck to be able to drag her to the shore like he had been taught at that lifeguard course they had to take a few years ago. But that was when the lady started to scream.

  “What the hell are you doing?”

  “Lie still,” he growled, and started to swim with her, holding her tight so she wouldn’t get loose.

  “Stop it. Let go of me!”

  She writhed, but he was stronger than her. He figured she had to be in some state of shock and remembered the lifeguard telling them about it at the class, that some people go into such a state of shock that they would fight you when you tried to save them. Something like that, he believed.

  “It’s okay, lady. I’ll get you back to safety,” he groaned.

  “What are you talking about?!” she yelled, but swallowed water and started to cough.

  “Just a little longer,” Tim said, and looked towards the shore, where a fire truck and paramedics had arrived. “And you’ll be safe again.”

  “But I don’t need to be rescued, for crying out loud,” she said, gargling, coughing, and still fighting his grip.

  And that was when he saw it. He should have noticed the Nike swimming cap and the goggles beforehand, but he hadn’t.

  Tim was still holding her and swimming with her, as the realization slowly sank in. This woman isn’t in danger. She doesn’t need saving. And that was when the event took a terrible turn for the worse.

  The woman managed to reach her arms up and grab Tim by the throat and press hard.

  “Let me go, you idiot!” she yelled.

  Tim panicked at that moment. He later blamed it on the lack of oxygen, or maybe it was just fear of dying right there. The woman was screaming and yelling, and he let go of his hold on her, but in her anger and frustration, she didn’t let go of his throat right away, and in order to make her, he pulled her under water. Just for a few seconds, but enough for her to get water in her lungs. As he let go of her, she sprang up, coughed insanely, splashed in the water, and gurgled. At first, he thought she was crazy and swam away from her, but then he realized she was actually now in real distress. It took him awhile to react, and once he did, she had been under water a few more times, and the last time, she didn’t come back up.

  That was when he dove down, grabbed her once again by
the neck, pulled her up, and swam her to the shore. When he brought her on land, she was passed out and they rushed her to the hospital, where she was still in a coma, they said.

  He later learned she was a triathlete and liked to train in the river. Everyone assumed he saved her life, which he maybe kind of did, but Tim couldn’t stop thinking that if he hadn’t tried to save her in the first place, then maybe, just maybe she wouldn’t have needed saving at all.

  He tried not to think about it too much. Especially the part when she woke up and told everyone the truth. If she ever woke up.

  “And that’s why we’re all gathered here today,” Sheriff Harlan interrupted his reverie. “To celebrate a man who always goes above and beyond what is demanded of him in the job. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our local savior and hero, Tim Robertson.”

  Chapter Ten

  They expected him to make a speech. Of course they did. Once he had received the medal from the town’s mayor, they wanted him to say a few words. Tim had prepared something, but as he stood and looked at the crowd of Cocoa Beach’s finest citizens, the words didn’t seem to want to leave his mouth. All he could think about was the poor woman out there in the hospital in Cape Canaveral who was in a coma. Is this what it was supposed to feel like to be a hero?

  “Thank you, everyone,” he said, his voice shivering slightly. “This means a lot to me.”

  Tim looked at the medal, but it only filled him with disgust. He stared at the crowd of well-dressed people in front of him and his eyes met those of his wife’s. She too had been so proud to learn that her husband was a hero who would lay his life down for others. It was while looking into those beautiful eyes that he decided he couldn’t live with himself any longer. He had to tell the truth. He had to come clean. Or else he wouldn’t be able to live with himself for much longer.

  “I stand here today before you as a hero. A hero, you call me, but the fact is…I am not.”

  A gasp went through the crowd.

  “I guess you all think, that’s what they all say. You probably think that it’s just me being modest…”

  Tim paused and saw how people around the round tables nodded at each other. Sheriff Harlan rose to his feet and clapped. Others followed.

  “Only a true hero would say he wasn’t one,” Harlan yelled. The crowd agreed. Tim felt like screaming.

  “But…” The clapping continued and even accelerated. “Please…stop…I don’t deserve…”

  He didn’t make it any further before the front door was opened and Tim’s colleague, Frank Hine, stormed in, still wearing his uniform, sweat marks under his arms. All spectators in the hall went quiet and turned to look at him as he walked to Sheriff Harlan and whispered something in his ear. Tim stared at the scene from where he was standing, still leaned over the microphone stand.

  Oh, my. She’s awake, isn’t she? She’s told everyone the truth before I could and made a disgrace of me.

  Sheriff Harlan’s expression changed drastically as he looked at Tim. Tim felt his cheeks blushing.

  What shall I do? Run?

  Again, his eyes met those of his wife’s and she looked baffled. She mouthed a “what’s going on?” but Tim could only shrug. He felt his hands start to sweat and his ears were burning.

  What am I going to do? They’re all going to hate me. Ava is going to ask for a divorce, isn’t she? Who’ll get Damien? Will they take my uniform as well? Just because of this?

  He might have been a slow speaker, but he sure was fast at everything else when he needed to be. Seconds later, Sheriff Harlan walked to the microphone and grabbed it. Tim stepped aside thinking, this is it. Here goes everything.

  Sheriff Harlan leaned over the microphone and said, “I am afraid we need to stop this celebration.”

  Here it comes.

  “Something has happened and we need all our men in uniform ASAP,” he continued, then turned and looked at Tim. He spoke to him with a low voice, holding a hand over the microphone, so no one else could hear him but Tim. “I’m afraid that means you too.”

  “W-w-what’s going on? Harlan?”

  Harlan sighed and rubbed his forehead.

  “They pulled a body out of the river.”

  Chapter Eleven

  He was still on the stretcher when Tim arrived at the bridge. They had blocked off one side of the road to be able to work, while the other side still had traffic going through. His colleagues were directing traffic around the scene. Tim got out of the car and walked to the paramedics, where Sheriff Harlan was waiting for him, talking to one of them.

  Tim walked past the body on the stretcher and caught a glimpse of the face. Half of the right side looked like it had exploded. Tim tasted the shrimp from the dinner at city hall once again.

  “Tim! Come here,” Sheriff Harlan said and lifted his cap to scratch his forehead.

  “So, it’s true,” Tim said, as he approached him. “It is Steven Chambers?”

  “Yes, half of his face is blown to pieces, geez, but yes you can still see it’s him.” He sighed and looked at Tim. “Hell of a way to end your celebration night, huh?”

  “That’s okay,” Tim said and he meant it. “So what are we looking at? Suicide?”

  Harlan scratched his forehead again. He was sweating heavily under his cap, as was Tim. It was a hot night out and had been even hotter during the day.

  “I don’t know what to believe,” Harlan said. “Shot in the face, floating in the water. Sure, it could have been suicide, but where is his car? How did he get here? We found blood over there at the guardrail that I can only assume is his. He was found almost right underneath here. There is no wind and the water is almost completely still under us, so he didn’t make it very far. Got stuck between some rocks too. You and I have seen our share of suicides from this bridge, right?”

  “Sure have.”

  “How come this one doesn’t look like any of them?”

  “Sheriff?” A voice said from behind them.

  Frank Hine approached them.

  “What’s up, Frankie?”

  “A patrol found his car,” he said.

  “Really? Where?” Harlan asked, and wiped sweat off his upper lip with his sleeve. It left a wet mark on his shirt.

  “Rockledge,” he said. “Just a couple of miles inland.”

  “And they’re sure it belongs to Steven Chambers?”

  “Who else around here owns a Tesla?” Frank said. “That’s why they stopped. It was parked in a parking lot in front of a restaurant. Could have taken ages before it was found if they hadn’t spotted it. They ran the plates and it was his.”

  “Well, what are you standing here for?” Harlan asked Tim. “Go with Frank and check it out.”

  They went in separate cars, and Tim arrived at the parking lot before Frank, who stopped to get a drink at a gas station. The patrol from Rockledge was still there, parked right behind the Tesla, lights turned on, and an officer was standing, arms crossed, in front of his car.

  He nodded at Tim. “About time. I’ve been waiting forever. It’s all yours.”

  The officer got into his own car and drove off, leaving Tim alone. Tim stared at the black Tesla, as Frank drove into the parking lot as well. Tim walked to the door of the Tesla and grabbed the handle. He opened it and peeked inside. The smell that hit his face was so strong it made him recoil. Tim gasped as he remembered where he had smelled it before.

  Frank peeked inside too, then pulled his head out, covering his mouth and nose with his sleeve.

  “Ew, it smells like old people in there.”

  Tim swallowed hard, while childhood memories he had tried so hard to suppress overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes and counted backwards from ten as his mother had taught him to do whenever he felt overpowered by images and emotions of his best friend Damien.

  …four…three…two…one.

  Tim opened his eyes again, feeling calmer, when he looked into the street just as an light blue Cadillac drove by. A 1955 four-door sedan wit
h bolder pointed bumper guards, outboard parking lights, and an L shaped side trim, which ended at the rear door.

  Tim couldn’t breathe. It had been years since he last saw this car, but he knew it. Oh, did he ever know it. He remembered every detail of it. He held his breath as it passed him. Through the rolled down window, he spotted an old lady, the old lady, one arm leaned out, a cigarette burning in her hand.

  This can’t be! There is no way!

  Thinking he was dreaming, that the smell had triggered this image in him, Tim blinked, and as he looked again, the car and the old lady were gone.

  He sighed, relieved.

  Just your imagination acting up again. Always happens when you don’t get enough sleep or you’re under too much stress. That’s all it is. That’s all it is.

  Chapter Twelve

  “Lie still, Mable!”

  Ava grunted, trying to hold down the dog’s head while trimming her beard. The old goldendoodle kept moving around and made it impossible for Ava. At first, Ava had loved the idea of getting a dog that didn’t shed. Who wouldn’t love that? But, soon after they got the dog, her fur started matting up and they realized it had to be groomed and brushed every day if they didn’t want her to be shaved short. It was quite a lot of work, but Ava refused to spend the seventy dollars every month to get the dog groomed. It was too much money, especially after they bought the house. It was one of the things they had decided to cut out of their budget.

  Mable was white, but the fur around her mouth always turned brown from dirt and leftover food, and Ava tried to keep it very short, because it was so disgusting.

  Ava grabbed the brush and brushed the dog’s face. For that, she would lie still, but as soon as she spotted Ava grabbing the scissors, she would pull away.

 
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