Out of the Shadows [Nick Barrett Series Book 1] [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Sigmund Brouwer & Timothy R. Botts
eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: After years of exile, Nick Barrett has returned to Charleston. He wants more than justice and revenge. He wants the love and inheritance that was taken from him. And he wants the truth about his childhood. The man who can give him the answers is dying of cancer, planning to take the truth about Nick's mother's disappearance to the grave. A secret he has kept, among other sins of the city, for nearly a quarter century. Out of the Shadows is a psychological mystery thriller that shows how the courage of the human heart can shine in any darkness
eBook Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers/Tyndale House, Inc., Published: 2001
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002
This eBook is part of the following series:
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When I opened my eyes into the searing pain of consciousness, white-hot knives of agony drew my total focus to the leg I could not see, folded somewhere beneath me. My left arm was jammed into the spoke of the steering wheel, and my other arm lay neatly in my lap.
I lifted my head from my chest. Confused and lost in the black of the night, I found it difficult to orient myself. Gradually, I understood that the car was tilted sideways, tipping me slightly toward the driver's side door, which was ajar and hanging down into tall, thick grass. The menacing, eerie shadows that frightened me further, I realized, were caused by the dying dome light, triggered by the open door. My focus improved, and I saw a tiny pale light shining at me from the ground outside the car, the reflection of the moon. It took me a few more seconds to realize the reflection came not from soggy ground but from the slowly rising tide, weaving into the grasses of the marsh, now almost up to the car's floorboard.
I was trapped. My first reaction was to push away from the steering wheel. I screamed at a new burst of torment and fell back against the seat.
Slowly, I pieced more of it together, the fragments of memory that I could find. I looked for the others. We'd been traveling to Charleston, coming into town from Highway 17.
I was not alone in the front of the car. On the opposite side, against the passenger door, was my cousin Pendleton, motionless, unmarked.
With all the strength and resolve that I could muster, I strained to turn my head to look over my right shoulder. Even that slight movement took its toll, and shards of pain detonated along my leg, roiling over me in waves.
I sucked for air, fighting unconsciousness. In the dim light, I saw too much. The passenger on the opposite side of the backseat -- Claire's younger stepbrother Philip -- was slumped on his side, hair matted with blood, his face shattered beyond recognition, the window beside him mashed against rough concrete. As Philip fought to breathe, bubbles of blood snapped from his nostrils.
I yelled again for Claire.
Still no answer.
I twisted to look behind me to the left side of the backseat, disregarding the new dimensions of agony. Was she there?
With a wrench of desperation, I finally saw it was empty.
I yelled one more time. Only the night noises of frogs and insects answered.
Blinded by a car's headlights that swept the corner, showing the serrated edges of the marsh grass waving in the night breeze, I was unaware of the passage of time as I faded in and out of my torture. I fought for clarity, and as the beacon showed me the crumpled mass of the front end of the car that trapped me, I was able to take it all in, seeing the hood sprung, bent and twisted where it had slammed into the base of a bridge.
How long have we been here? Where is Claire?
When a second set of headlights flashed over the car through the open door, I briefly saw my leg and realized that my foot was twisted at the wrong angle, almost straight backward. Just below my knee, jagged bone protruded from the fabric of my pants.
I retched dryly.
The cars pulled to a stop close to the wreck that held me. One door opened, then another. A man from each car stopped in front of the headlights nearest me.
"You did right, calling me," one voice said softly. "I'll remember that."
"Thought you wouldn't mind getting woke out of bed, Chief. Her being a deMarionne and all."
"Sergeant, I already told you I'd remember. Now get a flare a hundred yards north and another a hundred yards south. Last thing we need is another idiot driving into a bridge abutment like this. Miracle this car didn't flip and drown them all."
The sergeant immediately moved to the trunk of his patrol car, using his flashlight to locate the flares.
Both cars were parked on the slightly higher ground. I wanted to call up to them, to plead for help to get me to the safety of dry ground. But my voice would not obey me.
I heard the man speak to the woman in the backseat of his own car. "Miss deMarionne, it would be best if you waited inside."
Claire was safe. She'd gone for help.
My relief lasted only until my next thought. And she's left me behind the steering wheel. In the marsh. With the water rising.
Claire did not answer the man's voice. She had begun to sob. I tried to call for her again but could not direct any sound from my throat. My mouth moved in silence, my head tilted back as if I were a fish gasping in air.
"You sit pretty," the voice continued to her.
I knew this man and his voice. Police Chief Edgar Layton. We had first met when I was ten, shortly after my mother had abandoned me. He'd interviewed me, unkindly, standing tall above me, asking terrible questions about my mother and making notes in a pad dwarfed by his large hand.
He once watched as my uncle beat me at the police station. And, in my teens, I'd heard the rumors about him, simply because his power depended so thoroughly on the parents of the other teenagers around me. It was commonly known that when the individual involved required the special diplomacy granted to a certain type of citizen, Police Chief Layton took personal charge of the crime or accident to rearrange the details.
Like now. Out here in the dark, out here in the low country. Armed with a flashlight of his own. And with a camera.
I continued to try to call out Claire's name. Why hadn't she come for me? Why was she in the car, ignoring me? I needed her.
As I heard the siren of an approaching ambulance, Layton's large strides brought him to the side of the wreck. He moved to the driver's side of the car and slid his flashlight beam over the windshield. In front of me it was clear; on the opposite side, shattered and opaque.
Layton took one step to stand even with the driver's door. This side of the car was undamaged; the other side had taken the brunt of the impact against the bridge. The driver's door opened farther only with difficulty. Layton grunted as it scraped back along the mud and torn grass. He flicked his flashlight beam over the interior. Over me.
Once again, I started to shout Claire's name, but still I had no voice. Shock had reduced me to a catatonic state. I was aware of my surroundings but helpless to react. It felt like I was in one of those dreams where you fight to walk or speak. I doubt I even blinked. To him, perhaps, with the light bouncing off my eyes, I was a corpse, with my hands still on the steering wheel. A gleam of gold showed from my new wedding band. My marriage to Claire was still a secret.
The flashlight beam moved through the interior like a searchlight in a prison yard. Layton took in every peculiarity.
I heard Layton take another step, his feet squishing through the mud and rising water.
He opened the rear door. He did not spend much time assessing Claire's brother. Layton moved inside the car, resting his knee on the empty space of the seat directly behind me. I felt his weight as he rested his elbow on the top of the front seat, touching my neck lightly, as if checking to see if I was warm or cold. To me, there was a curious intimacy about that.
His hand left me, and the flashlight beam played over Pendleton on the opposite side of the front seat.
Layton grunted. In spite of the smothering odor of salt-water marsh mixed with spilled antifreeze, the repulsive smell of alcohol and blood in the close quarters of the car was obvious. Light bounced back at Layton -- the reflection off the glass of a bottle of bourbon in the lap of Pendleton, who was neatly cradled by the imploded door on the front passenger side.
The sirens were closer, maybe a mile away.
Layton lifted his camera. Popped a shot of the interior of the backseat. Without waiting for the bulb to cool, he pulled it from the camera attachment. If it burned his fingertips, Layton didn't flinch. He had a job to do. More photos to take.
In the darkness, each new snap of the shutter was a white flash that outlined the interior of the broken car, showing in my waking nightmare the large form of Police Chief Edgar Layton hunched over like a gargoyle.
Five more shutter snaps. Five more flashbulbs -- glass milky from searing heat -- hastily torn from the camera. By the time the ambulance arrived, Layton had returned to the patrol car.
He stood in the headlights of the patrol car, waiting for the ambulance driver. I saw him delicately lick the tips of his fingers.
"What's the call?" the ambulance driver asked.
"Kid on the passenger front is fine," Layton answered.
He blew on his fingertips, his breath cooling the moisture on his skin. "Driver needs help. Kid in the backseat probably beyond help. Do what you can."
Layton slipped inside his patrol car again.
The ambulance attendants had returned to the ambulance to get a stretcher. It was silent. Silent enough that I could hear Claire still crying in the backseat.
I desperately did not want to die. A desire not based on fear. But because of the love Claire and I had. As I began to fade, sadness overwhelmed me. Would I die, this close to Claire but utterly alone, without her touch to comfort me?
Claire, I tried to say. Claire.
But it was another voice that spoke to her as I approached the abyss of unconsciousness. "Start from the beginning," Layton said in a soothing voice.
"I was asleep ... the crash must have knocked me out ... I was able to crawl out the back door and--"
"You ran for help. I know that. What I want to know, was it like this when you left the car?"
"Like this?" Claire asked between sobs. "With Nick dead?"
Tell her, my mind shouted uselessly at Layton. Tell her I'm not dead.
"Was Nick at the steering wheel?" Layton said. "That's what I want to know."
"Tell me," he said. "I need to know everything."
That, as I would come to understand, was Edgar Layton's way. To know everything.
"When you woke," he said, his voice getting colder, "was Nick at the steering wheel?"
"Yes," she answered, so softly that I thought I had imagined her answer. "Yes, he was."
I thought I was dying. I thought the blackness closing on the edges of my awareness was the blackness of death. I hated the final thoughts I believed were now about to escort me into death.
Why had she lied?
Claire's betrayal, as I slipped away, hurt far more than my shredded leg.
Copyright © 2001 by Sigmund Brouwer