Sam stared at the knife pointed at her and dropped the sweater she was holding, raising her arms in defense. The blade was rusted and dirty with jagged edges that curved out into tiny, spiked tips. It was perfect for slicing into soft, smooth skin and ripping out chunks of flesh as it tore its way through nerves, veins, ligaments and muscle. But the most effective damage was invisible to the human eye. It occurred at the microscopic level, where pathogens lived and multiplied and killed with covert efficiency, silently, unexpectedly, painfully, indiscriminately.
Aiden spun around, his head shifting from side to side, trying to keep both Steve and Sam in view. His arm waved wildly around with him, the blade in his hand narrowly missing Sam’s fingers as she jerked her arms closer to her body. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the knife, but in her peripheral vision, she noticed Steve circling slowly around Aiden.
“Put the knife away, Aiden. If you want to go, then let’s go.”
Aiden swiveled to respond to Steve, swinging his arm in an erratic attempt to fend him off. But before Sam could move a muscle, he whirled back to his original position with the blade aimed directly at her.
“Hurt her and you’ll to regret it, Aiden. They’ll lock you up for good this time. Is that what you want?”
Sam saw a flash of fear on Aiden’s face. He let his arm drop, like he was unsure of what to do. She saw his indecision as an opportunity and took a step backward. Triggered by her movement, he pointed his knife at her again. This time, his eyes looked angry and determined.
“She’s following us, Steve. Didn’t you see her over by the vet clinic?”
“Aiden, come on. We have to go, man. Take a look around you! Everybody’s watching.”
Aiden’s head didn’t move, but Sam could see his eyes survey the people around him. As quickly as he had erupted, he deflated, his arm collapsing to his side, his shoulders slouching forward, his face sagging and hollow. With one last glance at everyone around him, he darted away without a word.
“Sorry,” Steve spat out before pursuing Aiden.
Sam pulled out her phone and texted Penelope.
“Are you kidding?” Penelope suddenly appeared next to her, reading the text Sam had just sent. “We’re not chasing after them now. You almost got shanked!”
“Pips, they’re getting away. Let’s go!”
“No way! It’s not worth it, Sam. I called your dad. He said to stay put. He’s on his way.”
Sam could feel a spark of anger flare in her chest and she glared at Penelope. “Why did you do that?”
“Because this is not worth getting killed over?”
“Fine. You don’t have to get involved. I’ll do this myself.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Don’t worry about me, just take care of yourself and go home. Or stay here and have a nice chat with my dad.”
“Sam, if they’re after you for the kidnapping, they have to prove your guilt. Let them try! They’re not going to be able to. But you trying to prove your innocence is going to get you hurt, or killed!”
“They don’t have to prove anything! Everyone already thinks I’m guilty. You have no idea because you’re not the one getting BS articles written about you every day and dirty looks from everyone everywhere you go. Even Drew is blasting me all over the Internet as the prime suspect. If I don’t find out who really kidnapped Ben, I’m going to get blamed for it for the rest of my life!” The spark inside Sam had ignited a fire and the flames were rising. “Go home, Penelope. Clearly, there’s no ‘we.’ There’s just me.” Her words were cold, even though the fire inside her was raging. She wasn’t sure why she had gotten so mad at Penelope, but she could feel the heat rising from her chest and burning through her face. She ran onto the Ice Bridge, desperate to find the two men.
Dan was driving into the village after investigating another auto theft on Diamond Ridge when he saw a white Porsche spinning out of control on the other side of the highway. The barrier between the northbound and southbound lanes prevented a quick U-turn, so he pulled off at the next exit. Twisting sharply through side streets, he re-entered the highway to make his way back to the accident.
He had just accelerated to highway speed when he saw his dead wife in her bright orange jacket walking in the opposite direction. Dan’s heart jumped. He braked hard and came to a sudden stop on the shoulder, his tires screeching in protest. His pulse now racing, he lowered his window and looked behind him, but the figure had disappeared. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. The deep ache in his heart intensified as his thoughts drifted to random memories of Elaine, moments that had reminded him that he was the luckiest man in the world. Her slim figure in her orange jacket hiking ahead of him. Her light, musical giggle. Her dark, mischievous eyes. Her wide, dimpled smile. Her soft lips. He focused on his breathing again, but gave up after a few minutes and drove back onto the highway, his blood still surging through his veins.
Dan parked behind the immobilized Porsche and knocked on the driver’s side window.
“Are you okay?” he asked the boy inside as the window slid open.
“Oh, hello sir.” Drew’s eyes widened with alarm. It was a reaction Dan was accustomed to seeing, most often when drivers looked into their rearview mirrors and realized that a police cruiser was behind them.
“Are you hurt?” he asked again, leaning towards Drew and noting that there was no scent of alcohol or marijuana.
“Oh, no sir. This wasn’t my fault.” Drew’s eyes continued to widen.
“It’s okay, son. I know what happened. I saw it from the other side.”
He was sure he saw Drew breathe a sigh of relief, but something was still a little off. Dan peered into the cabin of the vehicle.
“I’ve called a tow truck already. He’s on his way,” Drew said, pointing out the window. Dan ignored him and repositioned himself so he could see into the backseat.
“Did you think that you would be able to get away with this by removing your ‘L’ sign?” There it was. A flash of panic flickered in Drew’s eyes. The telltale patch on the rear of the car had given him away. It was clean and dry, contrasting almost unnoticeably with the surrounding area, which was splashed with a thin layer of dirt. Had he been a novice driver, there would not have been a restriction on driving alone and no need to remove the sign.
“I’m sorry, sir. I know it was wrong. There’s no excuse, but honestly, I only removed the sign after the accident.”
“Your licence, please,” Dan asked as his mobile phone rang. He answered it with one hand and looked at Drew’s licence with the other. After a moment on the phone, he handed Drew’s licence back. “Stay in the car until you get towed,” he instructed. His voice was calm and cool even though he did not feel calm and cool at all.
Reason told Dan to take two seconds for a deep breath, but experience argued that it wouldn’t matter. Dan raced to get back to his car. He was furious.
Sam jogged along the Ice Bridge, searching for the two men. Zigzagging from one side to the other, she popped into shops and doubled back to check around crowds and blind spots, but she couldn’t find them. She had almost given up when she spied the colorful jacket up ahead in the distance. Excited, she sprinted forward, but a strong yank on her arm spun her around. Her dad’s lips were drawn tight.
Dan led Sam down off the Ice Bridge to a surrounding trail without a word. After a few minutes, he stopped abruptly in front of her and turned around.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” He wasn’t yelling, but his voice was raised. Sam knew she was in trouble, but the fire inside her was still burning.
“Every day, a new article comes out in the Times pointing a finger at me. They’re saying I should be in jail, they’re trying to kill my dog and I’m just supposed to sit back and take it? Where is the justice in all of this?” Sam’s voice was just as loud as her dad’s. “Chief Constable Joe said that the whole thing would blow over, but he didn’t even ask me any good questions. If I’m not a suspect, why won’t he tell that to the Times? Why won’t he say anything publicly? There are no statements from your department regarding other suspects or even if there’s an investigation! And you … I asked you for help, but it’s like, even you aren’t interested. If I don’t try to prove my innocence, no one will.”
“Sam, a picture of someone in the background of your camp near a popular walking trail is not a credible lead. You know how everyone loves the outdoors around here. There’s always someone out for a walk on the trails. And do you think that whoever kidnapped Ben was smart enough to get away with taking him and receiving the ransom without getting identified, but that they were also so stupid that they stole his unique gloves and are now walking around the village wearing them?”
“At least I’m trying to figure out what happened. Why aren’t you doing anything?”
“You know that I don’t get to pick and choose which cases I work on.”
“Well, who is assigned to this case then?”
“From what I can see, the Chief is handling it himself.”
“And what is he doing?”
“Sam, it’s policy not to discuss ongoing investigations, you should know that. And he’s my boss, not the other way around. He doesn’t answer to me, but you do. I thought we went through this already. I asked you to stop.”
“I am not stopping.”
“Even if it gets you killed?”
“Yes. I’d rather die fighting than hoping for someone else’s mercy because we both know how far that got Mom.” The word “mom” stuck in Sam’s throat and punched her in the gut at the same time. The image of her mom lying in a pool of her own blood flashed through her mind and she suddenly noticed that her breathing was rapid and shallow.
Dan’s eyes hardened with anger. “I know you were in that car accident on the highway with what’s-his-name … Drew McConnell? I recognized your travel mug in the cup holder. There were two cups of hot chocolate in the car, one spilt on the passenger side, and the blood stain on the window matches up with that cut on your head,” he said, eyeing Sam’s forehead, “which, I can see, hasn’t received any medical attention. So, you start the day illegally joyriding and go straight to street fighting with men armed with knives. This is what I was talking about the other night. Just try to think about how your actions affect other people. Don’t you care about how I’d feel if you got seriously hurt, Sam?”
“Don’t you care about how I feel when you lie to me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why did you really go to Vancouver?”
Sam watched her dad sigh and take a pause. She knew she had him.
“I told you the reason. I wasn’t lying. Sam, you have to trust me.”
“You weren’t telling me the whole truth, then. How am I supposed to trust you when you don’t trust me enough to tell me what’s really going on?”
“Listen,” Dan said, the muscles in his jaw tensing up, “I don’t have to tell you everything. I’m the adult here. I’m your dad and for your safety, I can’t tell you everything. You have to live with that. I’m sorry, but that’s the end of it.”
“Good talk,” Sam said, shaking her head in disgust and walking away.
“Wait. Come back here,” Dan said in a softer tone. He took a minute, blinking at Sam with a look of frustration on his face before continuing. “Aunt Marjorie has got Alzheimer’s.”
“Okay,” Sam responded slowly, unsure of what to make of the news.
“It’s the same disease that took my mom and her three brothers. I have some cousins who aren’t much older than me, one is even younger. They’ve been diagnosed with early onset. And there’s—” Dan paused.
Sam watched her dad’s throat move as he swallowed. His lips twitched but he didn’t speak. She knew that whatever he was about to say was extremely difficult for him.
“There’s a possibility that I may also be susceptible to the disease.” They stood in silence for a moment before he continued, “Nobody can know about this, do you understand?”
“If anyone at the station suspected, I could lose my job. It’s not just the income that’s at stake. I need this job. I cannot lose this job.”
“Of course, Dad. I understand. I won’t mention it to anyone. Not even to you, unless you want to talk about it.”
“No, no. If you have questions, just ask. But that also means you have to talk to me about what you’re doing. No more stupid risks. Deal?”
Sam nodded again.
Her dad’s behavior — it suddenly made sense now. Why he had been so secretive. Why he was always playing “brain games.” Why he had lied to the Chief and to her. And why he suddenly seemed so much more distracted. His confession was slowly sinking in. She would have to be more careful because her dad needed her. She was the only family he had who would take care of him. And when that day came, she’d be there for him. But, at least for now, he was okay, she reasoned, and she still needed to take care of herself as well. And right now, that meant finding whoever was responsible for kidnapping Ben.
Sam spotted Penelope through the window at Glacier Surge. She didn’t look up when Sam entered, but she had no choice when Sam pushed a mug of hot chocolate in front of her on the table.
“I’m really sorry, Pips. Forgive me?”
“Sit down, silly. I just got scared, but I wasn’t ratting you out. I mean, I did, technically, but that’s not what I meant to do.”
“How’d it go with your dad?”
“I was right behind you, sister. You think I would let you go after them alone?”
Sam smiled. “I’ll never doubt you again.”
“You’d better not! You are still a ‘we,’ okay?”
“We’re a ‘we.’”
“And guess what we just found?” Penelope said with a twinkle in her eye. “Proof from Wesley’s own mouth that Trax is innocent.”
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