(Not Professionally Edited)
The instant C.J. told Ethan where to drive he’d been inundated with questions. Not wanting to tell him everything, including the part where Sam communicated with the dead, C.J did his best to work around it.
“So you’re telling me that Samantha has been investigating missing children and through this investigation she came upon this Bennett fellow. Why exactly was she investigating these missing children?”
C.J. wished the man would drive faster and talk less. “If you knew Samantha you would know she has a very inquisitive mind and having grown up with two investigators, she’s inherited the knack. She read about the missing children in the paper and felt compelled to help. It’s just who she is.”
“I’m sure the cops are doing everything in their power to find the man responsible.”
C.J. tapped his knee restlessly. “They are, but that doesn’t stop Sam. She’s a determined woman and because of her tenacity, she happened upon Bennett as he was lighting his paddock on fire. When the police and fire arrived, Bennett accused Sam of setting the fire. Sam tried to attack Bennett and in doing so, a lighter fell from her pocket which, given the circumstances, made her look guilty. She was immediately taken into custody.”
Ethan signaled and turned left on the highway leading out of the city as C.J. had instructed. “But she was released.”
“Yes and since then the discovery of the missing children’s bodies has put the focus on Bennett. Unfortunately, he’s vanished.”
“And you think Samantha has gone to his farm to see if he’s there? Why would she do something so stupid?”
“Watch who you’re calling stupid, buddy,” C.J. warned evenly.
“I wasn't referring to her as stupid but her actions. Why wouldn’t she just let the police deal with it?”
“Because she’s Sam. If you knew her you would know this is what she does.”
“I understand that you disapprove of me, but can we leave the animosity out of it until after we find Samantha. She could be in real danger if this Bennett character finds her.”
C.J. bit his tongue. Now was not the time for a verbal fighting match. “The farm is up ahead to your right and you don’t have to tell me about her being in danger.
Ethan came to a stop by the house.
“Damn it! Her car isn’t here.”
“He could have ditched it somewhere. We should go inside and check if she’s here.”
She isn’t here, Dad. Alexis isn’t here. C.J. remembered the way Sam had been so distraught that the little girl hadn’t been with the other missing children. She wouldn’t come here because Alexis wasn't here. The bells are so loud. Sam had mentioned Church bells. Of course! “She isn’t here. Head back onto the highway and to the church down the road.” Sam had to have gone there to look for Alexis.
“A church? Why a church?” Ethan asked as he turned the car around and headed back onto the highway.
“Bennett worked at the church. She may be thinking that he’s hiding out there.”
“We should call the police.”
“Let’s make sure she’s there first. Might be no reason to involve the cops.” He prayed to god he was right. “Right here,” C.J. instructed, pointing to his right.
“That’s Sam’s car.” Ethan pulled into the church parking lot, stopping beside Sam’s Malibu.
There was another car parked beside hers. Was it Bennett’s, C.J. wondered as he hurried from the car, Ethan right behind him. He came up short at the hood of Sam’s car. “Damn it!”
“What?” Ethan stopped and, following C.J.’s gaze, gasped. “Is that…blood?”
C.J. knelt down to get a closer look. It was blood, and fresh. His heart raced and he prayed for his daughters’ safety.
“It is blood. Oh my God, Samantha!”
C.J. stood, took a deep breath, and turned to Ethan. “We won’t do her any good if we get upset.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Bob. After giving the details, and was reassured the police were on their way, he hung up and headed for the front doors of the church.
“Where are you going?” Ethan asked when C.J. started for the church doors.
“To look for her.” Racing up the steps, C.J. pushed the large wooden doors open and stepped into the church. He felt it the instant he entered. Death was present. Spotting a priest near the confessionals, C.J. called out to him. “Excuse me, Father,” These places never made him comfortable, so many dead voices calling out to him, even on holy ground they called. “Could we have a moment of your time?”
“Yes, of course. How may I be of service?”
The instant the man turned, C.J. recognized him from the police photo. He was the killer. It was Bennett. But then the waves of the dead swirled over him. Out of the corner of his eye, C.J. spotted the gentleman as he stepped out from behind Bennett.
“He isn’t what he seems,” the dead man spoke, his voice weak from the slice across his throat.
“I know,” C.J. reassured the spirit.
“Excuse me?” Bennett asked with confusion.
“You have to stop him,” the spirit insisted.
“I will,” C.J. promised and it was then that he realized whose blood was outside and whose car was parked by Sam’s. The man who stood behind Bennett, dressed in a priests garb bled through the wound across his throat.
“What the hell are you babbling about?” Ethan asked C.J., giving him a baffled look.
I think you gentleman need to leave,” Bennett insisted.
“Where is she?” C.J. stepped closer to the man dressed in a priests outfit, knowing he was not. “Where is my daughter?”
“Excuse me? You have me a bit confused.”
“He has a knife, behind his back.”
C.J. acknowledged the deceases warning. “I think you know perfectly well what I’m talking about. Where have you put my daughter, you bastard?” C.J. was quick on his feet, which was a good thing because if he hadn’t been, the knife that grazed his arm would have sunk into his gut.
“Jesus.” C.J. fell backwards into Ethan, sending them both stumbling into one of the pews. “What the hell is going on?” Ethan demanded, pulling C.J. to his feet.
“Don’t let him get away. He’s the killer and he has Sam.” C.J looked down at his arm, frowning at the blood. It wasn't deep, thankfully, but still…
Without hesitation, Ethan barreled after the priest, knocking him down, the knife falling onto the floor beside them. There was a struggle but Ethan managed to get control, which C.J. admired. The man could hold his own.
“How the hell do you know he has her?” Bennett struggled as Ethan brought him to his feet, shoving his arms high up to his back as he held him in place.
“Just trust me.” C.J. turned to the apparition. “Where is she?”
“I can’t see clearly. My vision is…it’s so bright.”
Damn it! Now wasn’t the time for the priest to be called up. “I need your help, please, tell me where she is.”
“I think you’ve lost your mind. Did you hit your head or something?” Ethan asked as he struggling to hold Bennett in his grasp.
“She’s here... I must go now.”
“No,” C.J. cried out. He needed the priest just a bit longer. But it was too late, the priest vanished. “Damn it.”
“What is going on?” Ethan looked at C.J. as if he were insane.
Ignoring Ethan, C.J. turned to Bennett. “Tell me where you have her or I will beat it out of you.”
“Fuck you,” Bennett spat out, tugging his arms, but having no success.
It was enough to send C.J. over the edge. Lifting his fist, he smashed it into Bennett’s face. “You bastard, where is she?”
Ethan held Bennett up, shifting him when he’d slumped from the blow.
“You’ll never find her.” Daniel laughed, blood trickling down his lip.
Now it was Ethan’s turn to get aggressive. Spinning the man, he slammed him into the wall, pinning his neck with his forearm. “If you killed her I’ll—”
“She’s alive,” C.J. reassured Ethan. The sound of approaching cars couldn’t have pleased him more. The cops had finally arrived. About damn time. Any more of this action and C.J. was sure he’d end up in the bloody hospital again hooked up to the damn machines.
“How do you know she’s alive?” Ethan wanted to know, still pinning Bennett to the wall.
“Just trust me.” He’d be the first to know if she were dead. And that gave him reassurance. “In here, officers,” C.J. called out. “We’ve got your man.”
“What the hell is going on, C.J.?” As Bob entered the church, he pulled out his handcuffs, officer’s right at his side, and rushed to Bennett. “Jesus, how did you find him?”
“I’ll fill you in later.” C.J. sneered at Bennett as his hands were cuffed. “He has Sam, Bob. That’s her Malibu out front. She has to be here, but he won’t tell us anything. Help me find her,” C.J. pleaded. Sam was alive now, but he feared if they didn’t find her soon…They had to find her. Now!
“Call for back up,” Bob ordered his men then turned to C.J.. “You’re bleeding. Do you need an ambulance?”
C.J. shook his head as he glanced at his arm. It wasn't so bad now. “I’m fine, or I will be after we find Sam.”
Bob nodded then turned to Ethan. “And you are…?”
“Ethan Montgomery. A friend of Samantha’s.”
Acknowledging him, Bob turned back to C.J. “We’ll find her. You need to get that checked out.” He pointed to his arm.
“I’ll be fine,” C.J. insisted.
“If Jess finds out I did nothing for you, she’ll have my hide.”
C.J. laughed, knowing it was absolutely the truth. “If you save her daughter, this will only be an after-thought.” He held up his arm.
“All right. Let’s cover the perimeter, boys,” Bob instructed his men.
“Bob.” C.J. stopped him. “The priest is here somewhere. Bennett got to him.”
Bob nodded then turned to one of the officers. “Do a search for the priest. Let’s roll, people.”
“I’m helping,” Ethan insisted. “And don’t argue, it will only waste time.” He strode off, his head held high.
“I’m with him.” Holding his bleeding arm, C.J. headed out to search for his daughter.
Coming awake, Sam blinked her eyes, trying to focus. The darkness still surrounded her, like a veil over her eyes. She felt the cool damp ground beneath her and focused on it, trying to keep herself awake. Bennett had gone and she had no idea if he would return. She prayed he didn’t. Disoriented, she had no idea where the door was.
And somewhere in this dark room the remains of a little girl sat staring back at her. It had been well over eight months since Alexis had lost her life, lost everything she had held dear. Sam felt horrible at letting the little girl and all the others down, because she hadn’t been able to give them what they wanted most. Justice.
Because she’d been stupid and had run off without telling anyone where she was going, not only would she lose her life, but eight children’s lives would forever hang in the balance, their killer roaming free to do it again. She was a failure, pure and simply.
Closing her eyes on a sigh, Sam felt the presence before she saw her. “I’m sorry,” she thought. She didn’t jump when the hand touched her arm, and slowly opened her eyes. Before her was not that of a dead child, but one that looked as real as Sam herself. But she knew better. “I tried to help you, but I was foolish. I am so sorry,” she thought, hoping Alexis could hear her. She wished her mouth wasn't taped up.
Alexis knelt down to her, touching not just Sam’s arm but her heart as well. She shook her head as she looked down at Sam with wide blue eyes. “You didn’t fail.”
“But I did,” Sam continued, glad the ghostly girl could read her. “We’re both stuck here and your killer is out there, free.” The tears stung her eyes as she stared at the little girl before her. She was so adorable, so sweet and it tore at her heart to know the horrors this poor young girl had endured before her death.
“It’s not over for you. Fight!”
“How can I fight? I’m bound and gagged.”
“You can fight because you are a fighter. That’s why I came to you.” Alexis smiled showing off her missing tooth. “You’re as strong as my mommy and I knew you wouldn’t give up easily. Don’t give up now.”
Sam closed her eyes again and could almost hear her father saying the same thing. Don’t give up, Sammy girl. Fight. And she knew they were both right. She needed to fight. Samantha Dowling did not give up.
She opened her eyes and nodded to Alexis. “I wish I had known you before…before,” she said at last.
What she needed was to remove the tape from her hands and mouth, then she could crawl around in search of the door, screaming for help. So she struggled, wiggled her hands behind her back, shifting until the skin burned like fire and the tears stung her eyes. The tape on her mouth tugged and burnt. Twisting her fingers, Sam continued desperately to pry the tape from her wrists.
She wasn’t inside. He and the officers had practically turned the place upside. He would have wrung the neck of the bastard that took her if the cops hadn’t pulled him free. And still the creep refused to tell them where he had Samantha.
Needing fresh air, feeling utterly hopeless, Ethan walked around the building, his heart aching something fierce. He was not going to lose her. He couldn’t lose Samantha now. For the first time in a very long time he felt whole and he knew it was because of Samantha. He loved her. C.J. was right, he didn’t really know Samantha, but he desperately wanted to. He had no idea she’d been investigating these missing children. Quite frankly, he’d had no idea about the missing children to begin with. She had such a kind heart, was it any wonder she would want to do more for the families who were missing their children. Though he hadn’t known her that long, he wished she would have felt comfortable enough to tell him about her investigations. He might have liked helping her.
With a heavy sigh, he walked around the building. He’d made such a mess of his life and now that he had finally found someone he felt a deep connection to, she might very well be snatched away from him. Why was life so cruel?
Then the broken brush up ahead caught his attention. Rushing to them, he saw the cellar door and the footprints leading to and from it. His heart sped up as he pulled the door open.
“Samantha? Samantha, are you in here?” His heart raced as the light shone down on her, kneeling on the dirt, tape on her mouth.
“I’ve found her,” Ethan called out as loud as he could while he darted down the rickety wooden steps to the cellar. “I’m here, love. I’m here now.”