Dan arrived at the station at his usual time, sipping coffee from his usual travel mug, packing his usual lunch, chatting with the usual colleagues and settling down to work as he usually did. He had gone to bed the previous night working on his breathing. Deep breaths in through his nose followed by slow breaths out through pursed lips. He had repeated the exercise until he fell asleep around 4am and when his alarm went off at 5am, he realized that the breathing exercises hadn’t worked at all. He was still angry.
Dan clicked away on his computer, unaware that he was tapping the mouse with more force than necessary until he looked down and found his left hand balled up tightly in a fist. He rubbed his hands together, massaging the muscles in his palms to release the tension in his body and when he looked up, he saw the wall clock strike ten o’clock and Chief Constable Joe saunter into the station. The Chief poured himself a coffee and helped himself to a handful of Timbits, popping one donut hole in his mouth while he chatted with Maureen.
“Dan!” the Chief called from across the room, blowing a cloud of powdered sugar out in front of him. “In my office. Let’s have a chat, okay?”
“Yes, sir.” Dan took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds as he walked to the Chief’s office.
“Come in and close the door. Have a seat, Dan. Timbit?”
“No thanks, sir,” Dan replied with a courteous smile.
“Listen, Dan. I wanted to talk to you about all this hoopla with your daughter. It looks bad now, but you have to trust me. Nobody here is looking at your little girl for the kidnapping,” the Chief said, stuffing another donut into his mouth. “We juff needed to fop the colff fomm comin’ in.” He swallowed. “To stop the people from thinking that we weren’t doing our jobs. We had our little parade and now it’s over. Everyone’s going to forget about it with a bit of time.” He took a bite of a jelly-filled donut and red jam spilled onto his hand.
“Of course, sir. Whatever is necessary to protect the department and our brothers and sisters. That’s one of the only things that matters to me in my life.” Dan’s voice was sincere as he looked the Chief in the eye, shook his sticky hand and gave him a reassuring nod.
Leaving the Chief’s office, Dan stopped in the men’s restroom to wash his jelly-stained hand, but no matter how hard he scrubbed, he couldn’t wash away the feeling that his hand was still dirty. There was a time when Dan truly believed the words he had just said to the Chief, a time when he meant them with all his heart. But that time was coming to an end.
The mirror in front of Wesley’s face was covered in steam. He had taken an extra long shower in preparation for his big date today, scrubbing all the important bits a little harder with soap. His armpits and feet were now bright red from the extra friction. He wiped the mirror with the palm of his hand and gave his clouded reflection a nod of approval as he stroked the peach fuzz on his upper lip.
Wesley knew that he was late, that Elle MacTavish was waiting for him in his games room and that she would wait there for as long as he wanted her to. She had requested another interview and he figured that a photo of him on his gold throne gaming chair with his massive video game collection behind him would be perfect for the article. Maybe, he hoped, she would look around and see that the record for highest score in every arcade game machine listed his name at the top. Ben’s scores weren’t even close to what he had achieved. Maybe she would start to see what he always knew: that Ben didn’t deserve all the privileges and recognition he received just because he was older, that Ben was lame and shouldn’t be put in charge of him when Dad wasn’t around since, clearly, Ben was not as smart and skilled as he was, and that only he, Wesley Black, was in a class of his own and could do things others could only dream of.
Wesley had wanted to be fashionably late and by the time he entered his games room, Elle had been waiting for over an hour.
“Hey, hi, Elle.” Wesley was surprised to feel an uprising of frantic butterflies in his stomach.
Elle looked up from her phone, smiled brightly at him and readied her voice recorder. “Hello, Wesley. Thanks again for meeting with me.”
Wesley glanced around the room and was disappointed to see screensavers on all of his machines. “D-did you get a chance to play any of the games? We could play together, if you want. Or you could watch me try to get a new all-time high score?”
“Oh, um, well, maybe we could chat a bit first? Get started with the article?”
Wesley could feel himself deflate almost instantly, but then he remembered the money shot he had in mind for the article. “Ya, I thought you could take a picture of me sitting here.” He climbed into his throne and crossed his legs.
“Oh. Yeah, okay, we can do that.” Elle snapped a few photos of Wesley and turned her voice recorder back on. “So, the last story we did on you went so viral, our website couldn’t even handle the traffic!”
Wesley watched Elle’s lips part into a beautiful smile, revealing perfect, white teeth. He felt a surge of energy and pride fill his chest and he knew that he was beaming. He shouldn’t have been surprised with what she had told him. Not only was he finally getting the recognition he deserved, but his popularity was so huge that it broke the Internet! He felt so light and jittery with happiness that he was sure he’d be able to jump up and touch the sixteen-foot ceiling if he tried right now.
“So, Wesley, I thought maybe you could tell us what Ben has told you about his kidnapping?”
The lightness inside him disappeared as he thought about her question. Why was she asking about stupid Ben? He looked down at his lap as he tried to figure out what to say. He noticed a small scratch in the leather beside his left arm and picked at it out of frustration.
“Or, maybe we could continue our conversation from before?” Elle said after a beat. “You could tell me more about Samantha Shepherd and all the other questionable things she’s done?” Wesley looked up from his chair and saw that her face had suddenly changed. She had creases in her forehead that made her look worried and nervous, but she was still as gorgeous as ever. Her eyes were more greenish today and he counted three black specks in her left eye.
“She’s the worst,” Wesley said, cringing at the memory of Sam seeing him cry on the mountain and feeling humiliated all over again. If only she hadn’t been there. She was the reason that nosy, old Bloom lady had called him out in the village too, saying his full name, like she was his mom or something. His embarrassment was transforming into anger. “Look at what she did to my hand,” he said, holding up his cast.
“She did that to you?”
“She might as well have.” And with that, all of Wesley’s frustration and bitterness spilled out. Maybe not everything he was telling Elle was completely accurate, but Sam deserved it. This would teach her not to try to tell him what to do.
“Wow. Wesley. That is quite a story.” Elle looked very impressed.
“And she’s putting everyone in Glacier Village at risk of a fatal disease. Even tourists! What happens when word spreads across the planet that Glacier Village isn’t safe? When little kids walking down the Ice Bridge get bitten by rabid dogs and die? Say goodbye to tourism and every business here. This place is going to be a ghost town before you know it.”
“Okaaaay. Yeah, yeah. I definitely see what your saying there. Wow. That’s a really great story. Do you think we can just touch on what happened to Ben on the mountain? Did he tell you who kidnapped him or what they looked like?”
Wesley’s eyes shifted back to the scratch in his chair and peeled off a small strip of the top layer, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. Why was she asking about this again, he wondered? Didn’t he already give her enough juicy information for another viral story? He flicked the piece of leather away and stared at the tiny white spot on his chair where the top strip was missing. Without looking up, he said, “I think your story should be about me and my fight to keep Glacier Village safe from evil.”
Elle didn’t respond right away, but as he started peeling off a long strip of leather, he heard her say, “You know what? You’re absolutely right. This story is fantastic. What do you think — if we run it — would you be able to dig up information on Ben’s kidnapping to help save other villagers from suffering the same fate as your brother?”
Wesley tugged at the long strip, his eyes locked on the destruction. Now Elle was asking for his help to find Ben’s kidnappers? Who else in the village would be worth kidnapping? Nobody! Which other family would be able to pay off a big ransom? No family was richer than they were. The only person in Glacier Village at risk of being kidnapped was his soft big brother. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea if Ben got taken again.
“Why don’t you just publish this story first and we’ll see what happens? And if you follow up this story with one that has Sam crying or going to jail for what she’s done, then I think you might be pretty happy with what I can give you,” Wesley said, looking over Elle’s shoulder at the poster-sized image of himself that had been used in her last article. In front of it was a thick gold bracelet he had intended on giving her, but had now decided against it after her questions about Ben had popped up. His brother’s kidnapping had served its purpose and it was time to move on. Now it was his turn to shine and if he happened to get a little bit of sweet revenge in the process, then everything will have worked out perfectly.
Sam watched people strolling along the Ice Bridge from her table beside the window at Glacier Surge. The barista had shaped the whipped cream on top of her hot chocolate into an adorable pig and she didn’t have the heart to destroy it. She watched the little pig melt slowly into the drink and, after realizing that it was drowning, scooped it up with her spoon and swallowed it with one bite. Better a quick end than slow, painful suffering, she thought.
The clock on the wall read three twenty-five. Five more minutes, she thought. Sam took a sip of her drink and rehearsed her pitch in her head.
“Hey!” Dr. Henry Chow’s slim frame burst through the entrance, his arm in a cast. “I am so sorry your dog is gone, Sam. You know, he just bolted out the door as soon as I opened it. Caught me by surprise and now I have to wear this for six weeks.”
“Oh no, Dr. Chow, are you okay? Did he hurt you? And don’t worry, I found him again. Or, actually, he found me.”
“No, no, no. It… it was so stupid. I… nevermind, nevermind. It’s okay. I’m fine. Oh, oops, sorry there.” Henry had backed up into someone standing behind him. “Okay, I want a follow up. Bring your dog in this week?”
“Sure, Dr. Chow,” Sam said, waving as he left the cafe.
“So you have the dog, huh?” Drew said as he sat down across from Sam. A playful smirk spread across his lips. “I’m surprised you called. Ben is my best friend, after all. And your name is all over the news, Little Miss Snatchy McKidnapface. You’re lucky Jefferson Black didn’t pull a Liam Neeson on you.”
Sam felt the smile on her face, leftover from her chat with Henry, disappear completely. Had she made a mistake in calling Drew? Did he actually think that she was behind Ben’s kidnapping? “Wow. I didn’t know you liked Kool-Aid.”
“Facts are the facts.”
Sam felt a flicker of disappointment. He was on Wesley’s side. Of course. She should have known. Still, maybe he could be convinced to see the truth. “Are you sure you have the facts? Did you talk to Ben yet, or do you get all your information from the Times?”
“Ben says he doesn’t know who took him.”
“What? He has no idea? Number of people? Men, women? Voices? Nothing?”
“Or could have been a girl and a dog. You’re a strong independent woman who don’t need no man,” Drew teased with a wide grin.
Had Drew been joking this entire time? Or had he already picked Wesley’s side and was just being friendly? Maybe he was just gathering information for Wesley, like a spy would. Sam took a deep breath. There was only one way to find out.
“If you are so sure that I kidnapped Ben for ransom, then prove it. Or, you could help me prove my innocence by finding whoever really took Ben. After all, you are supposedly his best friend, aren’t you? Don’t you want to get justice for Ben? Or revenge? Whoever took him broke his leg and left him for dead, Drew.”
“Alright, alright. I see what you did there. All joking aside, Ben is like a brother to me. So, I’m in. Where do we start?”
A small wave of relief flowed through Sam. Perfect, she thought, her pitch had worked. Now Drew’s actions would reveal whether he was trustworthy. But even if he was on Wesley’s side, she needed his help. And maybe he would help her, even if it was just to maintain his cover.
“Right here,” Sam said, unlocking her phone. “Who is this in this video?”
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