The faintest hint of purple stained the night sky as Chelsea tied the boat to the dock.
Her prisoner stared up at her from the floor. “Are you just going to leave me here?”
She spotted at old T-shirt wedged into a seat. Her hop back into the boat set it to rocking gently. She ripped the shirt and mushed the smaller piece into Bob’s mouth before tying it in place. “You stay here.”
She climbed out once more and made it all the way to her car before her shaking knees gave out. Leaning against the cold metal, she pulled out her phone and nearly called Jackson Hawk. He was on the West Coast, though, three thousand miles away. Her second instinct, Keegan, was nearly as far. Heart painfully tapping her ribs, inspiration struck, and she called Rita Green. Well, her grandson, but the same thing.
Mike worked security at the family bar, and right now, business would be booming as hunters finished up their jobs. Mike still answered on the second ring. “Didn’t think I’d hear from you so soon.”
“Well, I need some h-help.”
All the warmth left his voice. “What’s wrong?”
“A client tried to feed me to a monster.”
“Holy shit. Let me get Nana.”
The muffled sounds of the bar filtered through the phone and in moments Rita’s strong yinzer accent rang out. “Tell me everythin’, girlie.”
Teeth chattering, Chelsea recounted meeting Bob and the short hunt on his boat that ended in his attack. “We just got back. I gagged him and then came to call you.”
“You walked away from him?” The disapproval in her voice was obvious.
“Sorry, I just–”
“Well, get right back out there. You don’t let him get away.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She forced her feet to move. The dock swayed a little under her boots as dread crept up her spine. What if he had gotten away? Would he go to the police? Her fingerprints were all over the boat.
To her relief, he lay where she had left him. “He’s here.”
“Good. Now, I’m gonna make some calls. Git you some help. You jus’ keep an eye on him.”
Rita sighed. “Where’s that dog of yourns?”
“At the hotel. I left him there.”
“Damn. Okay. Jus’ hold on tight then. Help is comin’.”
Chelsea nodded. “Will do.” She hung up the phone, set her eyes on the night sky, and waited. The panic slowly faded, leaving anger in its place. By the time the purples and blues had brightened to red and orange, a fine rage simmered in her veins.
The cop car that pulled up with the rising sun killed it. A door revealed a woman, shorter than Chelsea and stockier as well. A round face and short brown hair sat under her brimmed hat. “Chelsea Childling?” She didn’t wait for Chelsea’s nod. “Rita Green sent me.”
Relief flooded her. “Oh, thank God.”
The cop chuckled. “My name is Julie Baker. Tell me what happened.”
Chelsea tried, but she found herself backtracking and correcting her memories. Julie was calm and helpful. Asking questions and going back over parts of the story. Finally, she repeated everything back to Chelsea in the correct order. “You saw that a friend took this hunt months ago, but she never finished it. So, you decided to see what was up and take care of the monster at the same time. You and Bob met at the coffee shop in town, arranged to come on the boat last night. He took you upriver, claimed it was a hunting spot, then tried to throw you overboard. You threw him in instead, then fished him out because you couldn’t drive the boat. Once he talked you through that, you left him in the boat and called for help.”
“Yup.” Chelsa rubbed at her eyes. “I still don’t know if he hurt Amber. He claims she bailed on the hunt, but that’s not like her at all.”
Julie nodded, staring thoughtfully at the bound man. “Okay, you are going back to your hotel room. I am going to write up an official, if slightly altered, version of events that ends with the obviously spooked victim taking off while I investigated the house, okay?”
Sniffing, Chelsea nodded. “And Amber?”
Julie glared at the man. “Give me a few days. Let me see what I can find. I’ll have Rita give you a call when I know something.”
“Why?” Suspicion oozed through her.
Julie laughed. “Because right now, you, understandably, don’t trust anybody. I’m not about to fight with you about where you are staying or for a phone number.”
Chelsea huffed out a stressed laugh. “Guess you’re right there. And thanks.” She swallowed her fear and headed for her car. The gentle, flat-topped hills held little charm, no matter the beauty of the morning.
No hotel had ever felt more welcoming. She trudged up to her room. As soon as she opened the door, Bentley’s ecstatic mass bowled into her. She sank to her knees and wrapped her arms around the huge mutt, thankful there was so much of him to hold. He licked at her face until she laughed. “I’m okay. Just a little scared.” She took him for a walk and got him food. The act of caring for the dog soothed something in her. She was still worried about Amber, but the stress had turned manageable.
She slept on and off for the next two days, Bentley always at her side. What she didn’t do was look for monsters. On the third day, a text came from Rita. Julie had some news and wanted to meet for breakfast.
Chelsea was grateful for the outdoor seating at the coffee shop as she could leash Bentley to the fence. Immediately, a crowd of kids and dog lovers surrounded him.
Julie sauntered over a few minutes later. “Breakfast is on me, okay?”
Chelsea sucked in a scared breath. “News is that bad?”
“Not really.” Julie waved to the barista. “Not really any news at all. Bob was raving about feeding Kipsey to bring back business. Which was really convenient. It meant nobody questioned why someone would tie him up or be spooked enough to run off.”
Chelsea grimaced. Her own time in therapy gave her heartburn at using mental illness as a scapegoat, however convenient for everyone involved. “What’ll happen to him?”
“For now, he’s under supervision.” Julie stopped suddenly as the barista came over. “I’ll take a drip coffee, black, no sugar, and half a dozen blueberry muffins.” She nodded to Chelsea.
“Triple shot, black, pour in what you consider to be too much sugar and bring me more.”
The barista laughed on her way back inside, and Julie cracked a smile that faded immediately. “There’s no word on your friend.”
Chelsea sucked in a deep breath. “Okay.”
“There’s all kinds of fingerprints everywhere, but he ran a rental boat business. Hers might be there…” Julie shrugged. “We’re dredging for bodies. I’ll let you know if we find someone who meets your friend’s description. But we’re talking days, if not weeks, of work here.”
A wave of ice washed over her. Weeks until she might have some word. She forced a smile. “I’m going to have to give you my number. I’m not sure where I’m going to be tomorrow, let alone in few weeks.”
Julie shook her head. “I had a feeling. You take those extra muffins to go.”
Chelsea wanted to thank the woman, but she didn’t feel much like talking anymore.