Enjoy the twelfth installment of Lemon Tart, a culinary mystery by Josi Kilpack. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in next week's final installment, chapters 37-39.
Note: This week we will be taking down chapters 7-9 of Lemon Tart and continuing next week to take down the next oldest installment. So catch up now!
To read a previous installment, click here.
Madsen shoved her, none too gently, into the same back seat he’d held her prisoner in yesterday afternoon at the library. Then he moved her car to the parking lot of the post office. When he returned, he was stone-faced and offered little by way of explanation for having arrested her; something she was sure was illegal. To say nothing of his telling her to shut up. She added it to the list of things she planned to report to Cun-ningham. Maybe she’d file a great big lawsuit against the entire police department for mistreatment or something like that. Yet, even as she thought about it she knew she wouldn’t. She was not a supporter of frivolous lawsuits, but then again she’d never been treated so . . . well, frivolously.
“I thought the investigation was over now that you have a confession,” she said.
“There are still loose ends to tie up—like you.”
She let out a breath and would have rolled her eyes but for the anger she felt at his wasting any time at all with her. “Every minute you spend with me is a minute taken away from the real investigation.”
“The investigation is over,” Madsen said. “Just like you said. We’ve got our man.”
“But you don’t have Trevor. And if it’s over then why were you at Carrie’s? Why were you asking her questions? And why am I being arrested for interfering with an investigation that isn’t really happening?”
His eyes met hers in the mirror. “Stop talking,” he said blandly before his eyes returned to the road. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“What about Trevor? Aren’t we still trying to find him?”
“We?” he repeated, meeting her eyes again. “We are doing nothing. You are going where you can’t cause any more problems.”
His eyes went back to the road and Sadie adjusted her position—handcuffs were blasted uncomfortable but she offered up a quick prayer of thanks that her hands were bound in front. How would she sit at all if they were wadded up behind her?
Madsen made a right-hand turn and Sadie searched for Jack’s truck on the roads around them. The steely afternoon sky spoke of more snow to come. Carrie was long gone by now, however. It made Sadie’s stomach ache to think what could be happening right now. While she was stuck here, falsely accused, was Carrie headed for the cabin? What were her intentions with Trevor? “I’d like to talk to Detective Cun-ningham. Will he be at the station when we arrive?”
Madsen muttered something under his breath.
“It’s terrible manners to mumble,” she reminded him sternly, fed up with his arrogant rudeness. She reflected on most of her day, realizing she’d been short and snippy with several people—quite out of character for her. Then again, she didn’t usually live under so much pressure. Surely she could be excused for being a little tense.
Madsen sighed. “I said, ‘I’ll just bet you would.’ You seem to think you’ve got Cunningham in your pocket.”
Sadie snorted. “Hardly,” she said, thinking of the very un-pocket-occupying treatment he’d been giving her, though she was curious as to his unofficially telling her to continue with what she was doing. Almost as if he was prevented from doing what she could still pursue. She found herself rubbing her mother’s ring again, searching for calmness, and tried to come up with something she could say. She stared at the back of Madsen’s head, reviewing all their experience with one another, looking for something to make sense of his ongoing poor treatment of her. Something came to mind that didn’t add up just right.
“So what happened to your hearing yesterday?” Sadie asked. He seemed to be taking the long way to the police station.
Detective Madsen stared straight ahead and said nothing—a reaction she hadn’t anticipated. It sharpened her awareness of him, the tightness of his shoulders, the deep breathing. He was taking her into the station, getting her out of his hair. Why was he so tense?
“What are you talking about?” he asked after several seconds. “I went to the hearing.”
“No,” Sadie said, “you didn’t.” Feeling cocky for catching him in a lie, her eyes narrowed and she forgot about the police station for the moment. “You said you were going to one, but then you showed up at . . .” Her sentence trailed off as she realized he might not know she’d been at Susan Gimes’s office. Detective Cunningham knew, but it seemed as if they were working separately now. That was something else that grabbed her attention. Why was Madsen alone? Why wouldn’t he know she’d been there if Cunningham knew? What kind of partners withheld information from one another? Distrustful ones, she answered her own question.
The plot thickened.
He stopped at a red light and turned to look at her over his shoulder. “How do you know where I was?” he asked incredulously.
Sadie gave him a cocky smile; he looked nervous as he turned to face the front again. A shiver of recognition ran through her at the expression on his face. It was so similar to the look Ron had yesterday morning. Madsen was hiding something and whatever it was had caused a breach between him and Cunningham, had necessitated Madsen’s lie about the hearing. She took a breath. Everyone’s secrets were wearing her out, but she was determined to figure out what his secret was. To do so, though, she needed to keep him talking.
“So what brought you here from Denver?” she asked with feigned casualness; she already knew the answer thanks to Susan Gimes and her family history lesson.
His jaw stiffened and the tension rolled off of him in waves. Like a shark in bloody water, her senses heightened even more. He said nothing.
She’d forgotten she had it and maneuvered her hands to the side so she could dig it out of her pocket. But she needed him to keep talking so he wouldn’t notice what she was doing.
“You came from Denver, right?” she pressed as they passed Harmony Street, the route that would take them to the police station. Her heart began thudding in her chest as they headed further toward the outskirts of town and she paused in the retrieval of her phone. He wasn’t taking her to the station after all. Even more alarming, the tension seemed to be leaving him and his arrogance returning. Her movements quickened and she finally had her phone in her hands. She was attempting to flip it open when it slid out of her hands, bounced on her knee, and landed on the floor. She stared at it in horror.
She was trying to scoot it back to her with her foot when instead she sent it under the seat at the very moment Madsen’s voice broke the silence. “Boston, actually.”
If not for the cars and the road still moving outside her window, Sadie would have thought the world had frozen in place.
Anne was from Boston, it was where she met Jack, where she had worked for Riggs and Barker, where Trevor was born. In an instant all her moments with Madsen and his incredible arrogance and determination to find her guilty flashed through her mind. Like a kaleidoscope, all the colors shifted and a whole new pattern appeared before her. It wasn’t often that Sadie Hoffmiller found herself at a loss for words, but she couldn’t think of anything to say.
Madsen seemed to count her silence as a victory and continued without prompting. “I’d had some trouble in Denver, so I went to Boston to stay with a friend of mine. Horrible city, if you ask me,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “Not only is it full of boring history lessons I already had to sleep through in high school, but it’s big and smelly and under continual construction. But it’s got a nice night life if you’re into that kind of thing.” He met her eyes in the rearview mirror and smirked. “I don’t imagine you are though.”
Sadie felt her mouth moving but she couldn’t make any words come out. Her head was buzzing again as all the pieces of the puzzle she’d been working on seemed suspended in the air: filing cabinet, dirty diapers, Trina’s appointment, Jack’s wedding ring, Anne’s book, pink shoes. None of them had anything to do with Madsen. She felt cheated for having given so many things so much attention for no reason.
Madsen continued, the more he talked the more relaxed he became. Sadie had read about that. Serial killers seemed to make a habit of it in suspense novels—wanting to boast of their exploits. Is Madsen a serial killer? she wondered.
“There was this one club, The Barracks, on the north end. Nice place; catered to military and police. I met a girl there, hot little number. We danced, and had a few drinks every weekend for a couple months. She had a kid at home, but hired a babysitter for Friday nights. After awhile she starts telling me about the kid’s dad, some old guy, married, living in my home state of Colorado. He totally ditched her, but was coming around sometimes, still wanting the best of both worlds, ya know.”
“You?” Sadie finally said as everything else she’d already learned funneled through her brain. Carrie . . . well, probably Trina had confronted Anne in the parking lot just hours before Ron had caused her to fall down the stairs. More details rushed through her mind: the lemon tart, a child’s shoe box in the garbage can, Carrie telling Mindy she was taking a trip. Nothing made sense, as if she had taken pieces from eighteen different puzzles and was trying to make something out of them anyway. “You . . . but . . . Anne . . .”
Madsen laughed. They were outside of Garrison now, heading east on the highway which just happened to be the same direction as Jack’s cabin. “It was my idea to have her move out here, ya know. I got hired onto the Garrison force, which wasn’t hard to do with idiots like Cunningham taking up space, and then we waited for a house to come up for rent in Jack’s . . . well, I guess it’s your neighborhood too. Can you imagine the stroke of luck when it was two houses away from Jack?” He shook his head and Sadie had to fight back tears as she absorbed what he was telling her. He was so cold, so uncaring about the whole sordid story. “Almost seems like it was meant to be, doesn’t it?”
“How could you do that?” she said quietly, almost in a whisper. “How could you ruin the lives of all these people?”
He glared at her. “Guilty people, Mrs. Hoffmiller, adulterous, lying, deceitful people who thought they could get away with it.”
“Like you plan to?” Sadie replied, leaning forward. “Have you no shame in the fact that Anne is dead because of your plan?” Sadie spat out. He met her eyes again, narrowed in the rearview mirror.
“That wasn’t my fault!” he roared, making her flinch and pull back into the upholstery of the seat. “We just wanted money. I was sick of playing the politics of law enforcement. I found this place in Costa Rica where, with a couple hundred thousand dollars, we could have a good life together. We were moving toward that goal and then Anne had enough. When I called her on Monday she was acting weird and she didn’t want to talk to me. I knew something was wrong and she finally admitted Jack was coming over that night and that she would get the money. He’d been so generous in his attempts to keep her quiet, we had little doubt he’d do it again.”
It wasn’t making sense. Ron hadn’t said anything about Anne making those kinds of demands. She hadn’t said anything about money that night, just that she was going public and wanted Jack. In fact she specifically said she didn’t want money. And then a few of those hovering puzzle pieces snapped into place.
“Oh,” Sadie breathed as she saw things a bit more clearly than she had—than Madsen had too. “Oh,” she said again, managing a low chuckle. “Did she play you or what?”
His brows furrowed in the mirror and she laughed, thinking about the book she’d read; the way the woman kept trying to be a part of the man’s life. It wasn’t about the money for the woman in the book and it wasn’t about the money for Anne either. Anne was a far better player of this game than anyone had ever expected her to be.
“Carrie already knew about Trevor when you called Anne on Monday,” Sadie told him, watching his eyes closely as they hardened. “The blackmail angle was gone and Anne knew it before she demanded Jack meet her that night. You wanted the money, but even after everything that happened, all Anne ever wanted was Jack.” She paused, aligning her understanding; the clicks of everything coming together was almost audible in her head. “And the lemon tart,” she mused. “My mother used to make that recipe for Jack and me when we were little. It’s been a favorite of his all his life and Anne had asked me how to make it right after she moved in.” There was silence for the space of two seconds as the implication of it all settled, reminding her that everything had been so calculated and yet she’d had no idea. “Jack was coming to see her, or so she thought, and she expected him to stay. She even set the tart to finish cooking so it would be ready when they started a new day—a new life together. Only Jack didn’t come Monday night like she planned, Ron did.” She wasn’t sure yet, however, what part Madsen played in that. But it was coming, she could feel the details lining up in her mind.
Madsen’s knuckles turned white against the steering wheel but he said nothing. Sadie felt her panic rising again as even more questions entered her mind about where they were going, but she tried to keep them at bay. She needed to keep the dialogue going.
“Your boyfriend pushed her down the stairs before she had a chance to tell him,” Madsen said. “That’s all. He ruined everything. That stupid tart isn’t the lynchpin.”
“But it is,” Sadie said quickly. “It was the symbol of the woman she was becoming for him, the proof that she could take care of him better than Carrie, better than any other woman in his life.” She paused. “Wait, how did you know about the stairs?”
Ron had only told her half an hour ago. If only Ron and Anne had been in that house Monday night and Anne was found dead in the field and Ron had only told Sadie . . . “Unless, you were there!” She leaned forward as more and more pieces of the gruesome puzzle fit themselves together. “That’s it, isn’t it? You were there, in the house, and Anne didn’t know because if she had known you were there she’d have had to follow your plan and demand the money. But you figured it out, didn’t you? From where you were hiding in the closet, or maybe downstairs, you heard the whole thing and you—” Ron’s words came back to her, “She was alive when I left her.”
“You killed her for betraying you,” Sadie summarized, shocked at her own words, at the picture they created. “You strangled her with the tieback.”
Madsen was looking ahead now, though she could feel his anger. His whole attitude made sense now, the reason why he’d targeted her from the beginning, why he’d followed her to the library, and why he had confronted Susan Gimes. All along he’d been protecting himself, hiding his own sins while inflating everyone else’s. And now she was his only secret keeper; she was the only one who knew the part he played. In one sense it was absolutely terrifying, and yet in another way, a whoosh of relief washed through her. It wasn’t Jack or Ron or Carrie or Trina. No one she loved had killed Anne. The relief of that realization was overwhelming enough that it tempted her to relax and accept that it was over and she could stop thinking such dark thoughts. Then Madsen took the Grass Valley exit off the freeway—the exit that led to Jack’s cabin. Everything shifted again.
“Where are we going?” she asked. Hadn’t she figured out enough? What was left? Was it a coincidence that he had taken the same exit?
“We’re going to your dear brother’s cabin,” Madsen said. “Carrie’s meeting Trina’s boyfriend there—she thinks he’s going to help her figure things out—another loose end.” They reached the fork Sadie remembered. Jack’s cabin was to the right. Madsen turned left.
Sadie had to clench her lips together to keep from asking the next question out loud. But Madsen followed her line of thought anyway.
“No, Carrie doesn’t know I’m the boyfriend and Trina doesn’t know that the guy she’s been seeing is also a detective on the case. Neither of them know that this guy has been asking dear Trina subtle questions for months about her family, more specifically her father. How much money does he make? What kind of investments does he make with his money?” Madsen shook his head and met Sadie’s eyes in the rearview mirror, his eyes cruel and confident once more. “No offense, but your niece isn’t the brightest girl I’ve ever met. And I think I know more about Jack’s finances than Carrie does.”
“You’re a terrible man,” Sadie said, trying to catch up with this new information. “Trina took Trevor?” Sadie asked, almost to herself.
Madsen laughed and Sadie would have slapped him for being so delighted with what he had to say if not for the handcuffs chaffing her wrists. “Dumb girl,” he said, shaking his head. “I knew she was at her parents’ house so I called her after I left Anne’s. She thinks I work as a security guard on the night shift. I often call her late and she always takes my calls. That’s when she told me about her father’s affair, that she’d found out that afternoon and confronted the hussy—that’s what she called her, is she eighty years old or what?” He laughed and Sadie considered boxing his ears for his callousness . . . after she slapped the grin off his face. “I got her all pumped up and told her a hundred other things she should have done. When I suggested she go over right then and confront Anne with the demand that she leave and never come back, she was all over it. She called me an hour later, hysterical. She’d found Anne’s body in the field. I expected her to call the police.”
“And because of the confrontation that afternoon she thought they’d suspect her,” Sadie filled in. Poor Trina. “But what about Trevor?” she mused, yet even as she said it, she knew the answer. Trina was a girl, but she had a woman’s heart.
“That was stupid,” Madsen said, shaking his head. “Taking that boy was the dumbest thing they could have done. She was supposed to call the police and get it over with. Even if Trina told them about me, she thought my name was Randy Sharp and that I worked for Aglimate Security—they’d never find me.”
“But they couldn’t leave Trevor home alone,” Sadie said, this part making perfect sense. No woman could abandon a little boy late at night after his mother had been murdered. “And they didn’t call the police because they were terrified Trina would be a suspect.” She paused, still sorting through all the information in her head. “The filing cabinet,” she said under her breath, then understood. “They thought maybe they could hide everything, make sure no one ever knew Jack was Trevor’s father. Carrie had already taken the papers from Susan Gimes’s office and then took the filing cabinet, just in case.”
Madsen shrugged Sadie’s assessment off as if Trevor and the filing cabinet were incidental issues. “Stupid.”
This man was a sociopath. “Why didn’t you find Trevor right away if you knew who had him?”
He shrugged again, causing heat to rise up Sadie’s spine. “It was kinda fun seeing people scramble, and I wondered how far Cunningham would get—about as far as I predicted. He’s a lost cause. I figured they’d come up with nothing and the case would go cold—I sure didn’t expect it to get this dramatic.”
His superiority complex, his thinking he was so much smarter then everyone else, was infuriating. And yet she realized that in the right circumstance it could possibly be used to her advantage. She filed it away for later.
“Jack’s expecting Trevor to be found,” Sadie reminded him, wondering how much Jack knew. Surely he knew Carrie had Trevor, but what were her intentions with the child? What did she plan to do with him? Sadie understood that the panic amid everything else Carrie had learned about her husband and his life could keep her from thinking rationally. She’d proved that already.
“He will be found,” Madsen said. “By me. What Jack doesn’t know is that Carrie’s agreed to pay me—or rather, Randy Sharp—a large sum of money to keep Trina out of this, to drop Trevor off where someone can find him and not trace him back to Trina or her mom. When they find out that Randy Sharp is really me, the money will become even more important in order to ensure Trina isn’t implicated. It’s all falling into place.”
Madsen made eye contact with her again. “You, however, have become a real problem.”
Sadie knew there was no way he would keep her alive after telling her all of this—he had too much to lose. Sadie scanned the back seat, looking for . . . something. But of course the back seat of a detective’s car wouldn’t have anything in it she could use as a weapon. She was left with only her ingenuity—something she feared was not quite up to this challenge.
The road they were on was no longer straight, winding one way and then another, causing her to sway with each bend of the road. Huge trees stretched upward on both sides of the car and Sadie’s mouth went dry as she realized how secluded this area was. In fact, they hadn’t passed a single car since leaving the highway. He was going to kill her and leave her in the woods. As if aware of her suspicions, Madsen turned onto a side road, not nearly as well maintained as the other road had been. Sadie was bouncing on the seat like popcorn.
“You killed her, didn’t you,” she said again, straining for him to confirm it once and for all. She pressed herself against the door for stability.
Madsen said nothing, but suddenly pulled over to the side of the road so fast that she flew forward and hit her chin on the front seat, unable to brace herself with her hands still cuffed together. Madsen turned in his seat to face her. He drew a gun from underneath his jacket and pointed it at her face, causing her to pull back. “We’re getting out of this car and then we’re going to take a little walk.”
Sadie stared at the black chiseled metal in his hand. It could have been a child’s toy, something she’d have bought for Shawn when he was younger. “Why on earth would I go willingly when we both know you’re going to kill me?”
“Who says I expect you to go willingly?” he said, half his mouth pulling up in a sadistic smile as though he anticipated her putting up a fight and it made this experience all the sweeter for him. At least she knew now why he’d rubbed her wrong from the beginning, though her own skill at judging character provided her a very small amount of bittersweet satisfaction. Had she figured this out just fifteen minutes earlier, she’d have run into oncoming traffic before she’d have let him put her in the car. It was unnerving how much could happen in fifteen minutes.
Madsen continued, causing her to look away from the gun and meet his eyes. “But as you said, we both know you’ve done all the damage I can allow you to do. And we also know that an old lady like you is no match for a man like me.”
Old lady, she repeated as he got out of the car and pulled open her door. She was barely fifty-six years old—and felt a good fifteen years younger than that even if she was a bit old fashioned at times. She glared at him and drew upon all the fury and anger of a lifetime—those things she usually refused to dwell on. But she called them up and felt them begin to ball up in her chest as she prepared herself. This was something he didn’t have, a lifetime of fortitude a punk kid like himself could never muster. Rather than panic, she felt calm and began taking measured breaths, sending all the oxygen to her muscles and tissues. She balled her fists, still locked in the handcuffs, and got out of the car on her own accord, scanning the ground as she did so.
There was nothing but trees and pine needles covered with half an inch of snow from this morning. He grabbed her arm and began pulling her toward the trees. He didn’t seem to think this would take long enough for him to bother locking up the car. That meant he didn’t expect much—a point in her favor. She noted that he’d left the key ring full of keys—including a small key she assumed was for the handcuffs—in the ignition.
She dug her heels into the frozen top layer of forest floor, prepared to fight it out here and now, but he simply pulled on her arm more sharply, causing the metal cuffs to cut into her wrists. She determined to be more patient—not one of her greater virtues—and wait for the right moment. Good conquered evil all the time. Surely God could spare her a moment or two of his intervention to help her right now. She tried to remember exactly where Jack’s cabin was. If she got away and didn’t make it to the car, could she find her way to the cabin? She didn’t like her odds so she abandoned that idea. She’d have to make it to the car.
Other than their feet moving through the snow and leaves on the ground, there was hardly any sound, save for a rustling wind that caused the tops of the trees to sway in a very languid, peaceful motion that seemed a betrayal of what was happening to Sadie at this moment. They’d gone perhaps fifty yards to where the trees thickened so that there was barely a skiff of snow on the ground, and approached a downward slope. She looked at the incline he was pulling her toward and the tangle of brush at the bottom—the perfect place to hide a body. No one would find her until spring, if they found her at all.
Madsen was a foot or so ahead of her, pulling her forward, when she stopped suddenly and pulled back hard. He didn’t let go of her arm as she’d hoped.
“Don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be,” he said in a droll tone, tightening his grip and yanking her forward, nearly pulling her off balance.
“I plan,” she said, pushing her feet into the ground, “to make this as difficult as possible.” She pulled again, but when he planted his own feet for leverage she took a step, not backward as he expected her to, but forward, throwing him off balance as she pulled hard, managing to get her arm out of his grasp.
“I don’t have time for this,” he growled, forced to take a step back to rebalance himself. The split second his emphasis was not on her, she kicked his hand that held the gun, taking him completely off guard. Thanks to her once-a-week yoga classes she was pretty flexible. Especially for an old lady.
Madsen craned to watch the gun disappear into a pile of leaves and then turned back to her, his face twisted in rage. He immediately lunged forward, and she lifted her handcuffed hands as high and fast as she could, catching his chin with a hard snap and sending him reeling backward down the embankment. Then she turned and ran for all she was worth. She broke out of the trees, stumbling and almost losing her balance, but she caught herself and with her hands held to her chest she focused on her destination. The car was only ten yards away when she heard him behind her. She didn’t dare glance back, intent on the door handle ahead of her.
Oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, she repeated as she got closer and closer. Madsen was shouting behind her but she could barely hear him over the rushing blood in her ears. She didn’t know how far behind her he was, but she knew he could run much faster than she could, even if her hands weren’t cuffed. She braced herself for a gunshot, but knew he’d have had only moments to decide whether to shuffle through the ground cover to find the gun or run after her. Since she could hear him, and she had no bullet holes through her body, she assumed he was without his weapon.
In her mind, she choreographed what she needed to do to get inside the car, amazed at how detailed she could review the plan in the remaining yards and ignore doubts that it might not work. It had to work! She’d only have one chance.
When she reached the car door she pulled up on the driv-er’s door handle with both handcuffed hands, then used her foot to kick it open before turning to jump backward into the driver’s seat. The turn afforded her the first glance of Madsen since she’d sent him careening down the embankment. He was less than a dozen feet away and looked as if he could take one leap and grab her. She practically fell into the car, landing hard on the seat. The steering wheel caught her right shoulder but she leaned forward, grabbed the armrest of the door—he was literally three feet away—curled her fingers around it, tucked her feet inside, and threw herself backward across the front seat to slam the door.
She expected a slam of molded door fitting into molded metal made just for its connection. The crunching of bone and Madsen’s agonized scream took her completely by surprise. With her feet wedged at odd angles between the seat and steering wheel, she felt her stomach drop as she realized that in his attempt to keep her from shutting the door, he’d managed to catch his hand in it.
He looked at her from the other side of the glass, pain thick in his wild eyes as he pulled at his trapped hand. It wasn’t coming out, vised in the door. It made her stomach roll to imagine the crushed skin and bone, but she took advantage of his panic to lock the doors before he realized she hadn’t done so yet. Oh, but she felt horrible. In any other circumstance she’d have done all she could to help a man in a situation such as his—she’d been first-aid and CPR certified for the last thirty years and didn’t take such training lightly. But considering that he had just minutes earlier admitted that he planned to kill her, she felt justified to leave him screaming on the other side of the glass. His feet kicked wildly at the loose ground cover, and he twisted and pulled as if a new position would help his plight. She couldn’t look at him.
It was awkward maneuvering around the car’s interior with her hands still cuffed and she fumbled the keys from the ignition, feeling through them with her fingers to identify the small one she suspected would open the handcuffs. She muttered a prayer as she wriggled her hands around, then poked around for the lock on the cuffs. She felt like singing the Hallelujah Chorus when the ring around her left wrist sprung open.
She righted herself in the seat, her shoulders aching from her acrobatics, and looked at Madsen. He was staring at her, not with the glaring arrogance she was used to, but with the absolute shock of his situation, begging her to help him. “I’m so sorry,” she said as in one fluid motion she unlocked and opened the door so fast and so hard that not only was his hand released, but the door caught him on the side of the head and propelled him to the ground a few feet away. She pulled the door shut, locked it again, and turned the key in the ignition. Without looking back at the man struggling to his feet, cradling his grotesquely misshapen hand, she punched the gas and U-turned sharply. She regained the road and, with the handcuff still dangling from her right wrist, managed to put on her seatbelt. Safety first.
She was back on the dirt road in mere seconds and felt secure enough to start pushing buttons surrounding a CB radio thing as the main road came into sight. She held the wheel with her left hand and picked up the speaker thing, the handcuff banging against the console of the car.
She pushed the button on the side of the radio, then released the button and listened to the static for a minute. “Hello?” she asked. Someone had to be there! She glanced in the rearview mirror to see if Madsen was behind her and though she’d only driven a few hundred yards, the road was empty. Her hands and voice were shaking as she pushed the button again. “This is Sadie Hoffmiller. I just got away from Detective Madsen. He admitted to me that he killed—”
The radio tumbled out of her hand and fell to the floor. She groaned before leaning forward and grabbing at it with her still shaking right hand—taking her eyes from the winding road for a moment as she searched the floor for the radio.
The impact threw her forward for a split second before another force—a big white billowing one that felt like concrete—threw her back against the seat. She heard crunching metal and felt the loss of level ground beneath the car’s tires. Pain shot through her face, head, neck, and shoulders. The entire world spun as that charging force pushed all air from her lungs, leaving her choking on her own tongue and gasping for air that no longer seemed to exist. The air bag deflated just as her lungs had done a moment before, leaving her crushed against the seat, moaning and trying to remember where she was. Her face burned and she could barely open her eyes, but when she did, she could see the trunk of a large tree that seemed much too close. The windshield was intact, but had it been gone she felt sure she could reach forward and pull off a strip of mangled bark.
She’d run into a tree? She’d never hit anything in her life—well other than Shawn’s bike when he was ten and parked it behind her car, but she didn’t count that. It was nothing like this. The stinging in her eyes persisted and she continued to try to blink it—whatever it was—away.
A disembodied female voice seemed to be speaking to her from the floor of the car. “Do you copy? Mrs. Hoffmiller, please give us your location, do you copy?” The voice faded into static.
Copy what? she thought to herself as she continued to blink, trying out the muscles in her body to see if any of them still obeyed her. Most of them did, though not without labo-rious protesting. Where was the voice coming from? She looked around and saw a black speaker attached to a curly wire dangling from the dashboard. Her chest still felt as if it were being crushed into the back of the seat. She reached for the speaker, but something was wrong with her depth perception and she simply brushed through air.
Air! She took a breath, a gasping, painful breath, and was reminded of the moment she’d stood on Anne’s back porch and heard the police say they were calling in a homicide unit. She’d had to suck in air then too, but that was based on shock, not physical inability. The memory filtered through and she wasn’t sure if that had happened yesterday, last year, or this afternoon. Her brain still seemed to be bouncing around in her head.
And then another voice sounded from the speaker still on the floor. This one she recognized and with that recognition the last hour of her life came back to her recollection with startling clarity that caused her newly rediscovered breathing to come fast and erratic.
“Mrs. Hoffmiller!” Cunningham screamed from the floor mat, his voice draining away into static then rising again. “Where are you? Where did he take you?”
“I’m in the mountains,” she said in a gasping voice, still fighting for air. “Off the Grass Valley exit. Jack’s cabin is around here somewhere and Trevor’s there.” Then she realized she’d have to pick up that speaker and push a button in order for him to hear her. She reached for the speaker again, this time catching the cord with the chain of the handcuff still swinging from her hand. The handcuff reminded her of Madsen. The reminder of Madsen made her realize she likely hadn’t made it half a mile before hitting the tree.
He would have heard the crash, which meant . . . she had to get out of there. Now!
Her chest still felt as if it were strapped down in duct tape, but her legs seemed to work well enough. She grabbed the keys out of the ignition and ran for the trees instead of the road, only realizing twenty yards later that she never told her position to Cunningham. Her brain wasn’t working very well. She found a large tree—an oak she thought, due to the fact that there was no growth underneath the branches and the trunk was wide and thick. She leaned against it, leaning forward slightly as she tried to catch her breath. She was naus-eated and dizzy, two things that did not help her come up with a plan.
As she stared at the ground, her eyes moved beyond the tree and she saw the thin layer of fresh snow. She didn’t dare look behind her but knew she’d left tracks. Luckily, it was a very thin layer and patchy beneath the thick trees, but still, it wouldn’t take Madsen long to follow her trail. She looked around and began picking her way deeper into the trees, stepping on the bare patches of ground to hide her tracks, moving away from the car until she found another oak tree, a good fifty yards from the first. The wide trunk was on the edge of a copse of aspens and scrub oak, making it a good hiding spot for the moment. “Think,” she said to herself, just as she heard Madsen’s first call.
“I know you’re here,” he yelled in the distance. She assumed he was at the car. “And I know you couldn’t have gone far, not with that air bag having gone off in your face. I’ll outlast you, old woman, I swear to you I will. But if you come out now, I’ll leave the rest of your family alone. If I have to chase you, I’ll take it out on the people you love. I swear I will.”
You’re already taking things out on the people I love, Sadie thought, trying to keep her breathing slow and quiet. He was allowing Jack to take the fall for Anne’s murder. . . . Her thoughts came to a stop. Why was Jack taking the fall for Madsen? But she instantly knew he wasn’t. Jack must think he was taking the fall for Carrie—and Carrie had let him believe it. Shame for her sister-in-law, sympathy for her brother, and fear for her circumstance dog-piled inside her head. She had to get out of here, she had to get to the cabin.
“Your nosy nature is going to get them killed. Maybe I’ll start with your daughter—Trina told me all about her.”
There was no time to sift through the details that were finally making sense—though a twisted kind of sense for sure. A single word came to mind, keeping her in the moment, keeping her focused on getting out of here. Trevor. She was the only one who knew where he was, and who had killed his mother. Her heart rate increased and she swallowed. Oh, why didn’t she pay more attention to her driving? How could she have hit that tree?
“Ah,” Madsen yelled, his voice a bit closer. “Look at this, tracks in the snow.”
She looked down to make sure she hadn’t left tracks in the last few dozen yards. Her shoes caught her attention and she had an idea. Bending ever so carefully, she began undoing her laces. The handcuff on her right wrist clanged against itself and she quickly quieted it, then removed the keys from her pocket and undid the cuff. She stowed the handcuffs in her pocket; they might come in handy. She went back to work taking her laces out of her tennis shoes, barely able to see them through her burning eyes. She was well hidden and the wind in the trees and his steps in the leaves seemed to mask the sounds she made.
When both laces were free, she tied them together with a square knot and scanned the area, finally finding two scrub oaks close enough together to anchor her self-made trip wire, but far enough apart to make sense as an escape route. As she carefully made her way to the trees she questioned her ingenuity but silenced her own doubts with the fact that she hadn’t been able to come up with anything else.
By the time she finished setting the tripwire, Madsen had been silent for several seconds and she wondered if he’d gone another direction after her tracks had disappeared. She was terrified to move for fear he was sneaking up on her, but she managed to turn around slowly, checking every direction. All she could see through her still-foggy vision were the trees around her. Her swollen face burned in the cold and the wind.
Should she stay? Should she run?
What she wanted to do was make it back to the car and call Cunningham to let him know where she was, but did she dare? What if Madsen was waiting for her at the car? She bit her lip and peered around the tree once more, screaming when Madsen suddenly appeared, ten feet ahead of her.
His face was pale, his dark eyes standing out on the sallow skin and the cut on his right cheek still oozing blood. There was another patch of blood at his hairline, presumably made by the car door. He looked positively gruesome. His hand was wrapped in what looked like the suit jacket he’d been wearing earlier and was cradled across his stomach.
“Told you I’d outlast you,” he said, advancing slowly. The expression on his face was one of sheer hatred. She’d never seen anyone look at her that way and it was frightening. He took another step and she carefully stepped over the shoelaces she’d tied between the two trees. If he’d follow her just right . . .
“How will you explain my disappearance?” she asked, stepping over the laces with her other foot, walking backward, keeping her eyes locked with his. She didn’t want him looking too closely at the ground. “People know me, they’ll wonder where I went.”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Madsen replied gruffly. “But maybe I’ll get rid of Trevor and tell them you took off with him.”
Sadie was horrified and felt her eyes widen. “He’s a child!”
“He’s another complication!” Madsen roared back, the veins standing out on his neck. “Just like you are. I’m tired of complications.”
“Is that why you killed Anne? Because she complicated your plan?”
“If she hadn’t betrayed me, she’d be alive, but she knew in those final moments that I am not a man to be crossed. You’ll learn the same lesson.”
“That’s awful,” Sadie said, moving backward at the same pace he moved toward her. “And you cleaned up the basement?”
“I had to. My fingerprints were everywhere. How would I explain that?”
“I find it odd that you feel so justified, and yet you know you have to hide it. Quite a contradiction.”
“Do you even know who I am?” he suddenly shouted and started moving forward faster. It was all she could do not to look down at the trip wire. She’d kept it low to the ground and piled pine needles and leaves to conceal it. He was only a few feet away from her now. “My father runs this state, my father is the law.”
He took another step and she couldn’t help but look down, holding her breath and already picturing him falling on his face. He followed her eyes and then kicked at the pile of leaves. They fell away from the laces, exposing her pathetic attempt at stopping him. Her heart sank. They made stuff like this look so easy on TV.
He lifted one foot over the trip wire and then the other. He stood there, half a dozen feet from her, looking smug. “I wasn’t about to let some whore like Anne ruin everything for me. Not after she used me to try to make things work with your pathetic brother.”
Sadie didn’t know she had it in her, didn’t know that there was that much anger and that much aggression inside her—she’d always been such a gentle soul—but at the sound of such angry and foul words, she suddenly lunged forward, dropping her head and running straight for his chest the way she used to when she and Shawn played football in the backyard, only she’d never put so much power behind her tackles back then. She’d never wanted to hurt her son, but she very much wanted to hurt this man. She saw him, in the moments before impact, brace himself and reach out his good arm, a look of excitement on his face, as if this was what he wanted—hand-to-hand combat with a woman twice his age.
But he took one instinctive step backward—the one step she needed him to take. His foot hit the trip wire after all and he fell back, twisting in the air and putting both hands in front of him in hopes of breaking his fall, the suit coat falling away. Right before his mangled hand hit the ground, he cried out, realizing what the impact would do to it, but it was too late. Sadie veered right, away from him, as his crushed hand slammed into the ground. He howled as the rest of him fell on top of it. She had too much momentum by then and couldn’t stop until she was a few feet past him.
He rolled on the ground, his feet already scrambling for leverage to help him up. She didn’t give him a chance. Instead she pulled the handcuffs from her pocket, grabbed his good arm and managed to slap the ring on his wrist despite his clawing and kicking at her. Then, as if she too had been officially trained in this, she hooked the other cuff to a scrub oak, a type of brush that though small, was excessively strong. Above where the cuff linked to the tree, hundreds of smaller branches shot out in every direction. He’d have a hard time breaking his way free from the tree. For a moment he stopped struggling, staring at the handcuffs as if not understanding what she’d done. Then he started fighting again, cursing and kicking up leaves like a trapped cat.
She didn’t stay long enough to even look at him, instead she ran for the car as fast as she could, accidentally—of course—stepping on his injured hand amid her flight. She felt the shattered bones slide beneath the skin as he howled in pain once more. It was really quite gross. When she got to the car, she picked up the speaker and pushed the button, her eyes trained on the section of woods where she’d left Madsen.
“This is Sadie Hoffmiller. Is anyone there, er, does anyone copy?”
What did copy mean anyway?
Her heart was thumping like a bongo drum in her chest. She kept waiting to see Madsen come out of those trees. She could hear him yelling, and that gave her confidence that he wasn’t free yet.
“This is Sadie Hoffmiller,” she said, and noticed her breathing was becoming even more shallow than before. Maybe the shock was catching up to her. “Please answer me!”
She waited. The wind blew through the trees and she noticed lazy snowflakes falling from the sky. She looked up at the gray sky above her and sent a silent thanks toward heaven. God had spared her that moment she’d asked for. Would he spare her another one?
The speaker continued in its silence and she wondered if perhaps the damage to the car had rendered it useless, though it had worked earlier. But there wasn’t even the sound of static now. Just in case they could hear her, she gave her location before turning away from the car. Her face was swollen, her eyes still burned, and her chest was difficult to inflate, but she had to get back. She had to get Trevor, clear Jack, confront Carrie, tattle on Madsen, and . . . find someone to teach her Sunday School class on Sunday. Surely the kids would be terrified if they saw her like this.
Then she remembered her cell phone. She opened the back door of the car and found it on the floor. She immediately tried to call Breanna. The words “No Service” blinked back at her and she wanted to scream; she would have if her throat wasn’t still burning. After pausing for a moment, she went into her messaging program and typed out a text message telling her daughter where she was. She sent it to her outbox where it would wait for cell phone service to return.
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