Carrieann Creighton was one of the sturdiest women Josie had ever met: six feet tall and muscular in all the places most women were soft and curvy. She looked like a female version of Luke. They weren’t twins. Carrieann was five years older than him and lived three hours away in a county so rural it only had one traffic light. Josie had only met her twice before. They’d gotten along well in spite of Luke’s warnings that Carrieann could be tough and stand-offish.
Josie found her in the small family waiting room outside the surgery wing, pacing in her faded, torn jeans, muddied steel-toed men’s work boots and a denim jacket layered over a flannel shirt that had seen better days. Her blond hair, just starting to show the first strands of gray, was pulled back in a ponytail. Her face was drawn, her eyes red-rimmed. The moment she saw Josie she strode across the room, devouring her in a hard hug. Seeing Carrieann in distress made it more real.
During the ride to the hospital Josie had kept her hysteria at bay by cataloging all the questions she had. She was Josie the police officer, not Josie the police officer’s fiancé. It was the only way to keep her foot on the gas, to keep moving forward, to keep her from pulling over and losing it completely on the side of the road.
Before her knees
could buckle, she stumbled backward and fell into the nearest chair. Carrieann
dropped into the chair beside her and reached over, squeezing Josie’s hand in
hers. It was odd and somewhat alarming to see her so affectionate, as though
they’d been sisters-in-law for years, but she got the feeling it was more to
comfort herself than to comfort Josie. Either
way, she would take it. This was uncharted territory for her. The only two people
Josie had ever truly cared about before Luke
were her grandmother and Ray, and neither one of them had ever been in danger.
Luke had come into her life like the air she needed when her
shitty life threatened to suffocate her. She’d been surviving her suspension in large part because of him. She loved his good humor, his smile, his body—his body that was fighting to stay alive at that moment. She wished she hadn’t left that message earlier. It seemed so trivial now. She hoped those words wouldn’t be the last ones he ever heard from her.
“What happened?” she asked Carrieann.
Luke’s sister looked around the room as though she had just realized they were there, alone among the vinyl upholstered chairs and old, discarded magazines. In one hand rested a balled-up tissue. She squeezed it. “They said he was in the parking lot at the barracks. He had just finished his shift. He was ambushed. Someone shot him twice. In the chest.”
Josie closed her eyes. All she could think of was his heart. It was a kill shot. How was he still alive? Tears streamed down her cheeks in hot, salty streaks.
“Oh, hon,” Carrieann said huskily as she slung an arm around Josie’s shoulders and pulled her into an awkward side hug. “He’s strong. He’s going to survive this.”
But Carrieann didn’t believe that any more than Josie did. It was just something you told yourself while you waited for an outcome that no one had any control over. “What caliber?”
“What?” Carrieann said.
“What caliber were the bullets?”
Most people would never think to ask, but Carrieann and Luke had been shooting targets and hunting game since they were old enough to hold a gun, which was younger than most people were when they first held a gun. “30-30,” Carrieann said.
“A hunting round.” Carrieann nodded.
Nearly every household in rural Pennsylvania had a hunting rifle that took 30-30 ammunition. A hunter would know the immense damage the round could do to a human being; depending on the type of round, it could shoot straight through a person or it could fragment inside and destroy everything in its path. Luke was lucky to be alive. For now.
Carrieann said, “They said the shots came from the woods.” “Oh God.”
It must have been
close to the place they’d hooked up the other day. The barracks was surrounded
on three sides by forest. Someone had intentionally hidden in the trees and
waited for him to finish his shift. Him? Or any trooper, she wondered. She
thought of the manila envelope
on her kitchen table. The Ginger Blackwell file with all of its missing information. The other envelope in her car showing that Ginger had been raped, just as she had said. Had Luke been targeted because he’d been nosing around in the matter? It sure felt like it. Or was she reading too much into it again? No. She was sure that she wasn’t. He had been picked off in the parking lot at the end of his shift. It was intentional.
Who could have known that he was nosing around in the Blackwell file? Obviously, Denise had some idea that he’d been looking into it, but she seemed much more interested in him personally. Since he had accessed the physical file, it had to be someone in his barracks. They might not even know he’d passed it on to Josie or that he’d called Denise about the rape kit.
But if someone did know that he’d given it to Josie and that she was looking into the Ginger Blackwell case, was she next?
She looked around. She’d seen two state troopers at the entrance to the hospital and one outside the doors to the surgical wing, but that was it. Usually when a member of law enforcement was shot, their brothers in arms were everywhere. Standing guard. Keeping vigil. “Where is everyone?” she asked.
“Scouring the woods,” Carrieann answered. “Trying to find the person who shot Luke.”
But they wouldn’t find him. Because it was one of them. He would know how to cover his tracks. He was probably out there with them right now, searching for himself. Everyone would be fooled. No one would expect that one of their own would turn on them. Unless the killer had help? Unless it was more than one person? She thought of the DA and Jimmy Lampson and their shady report on the Blackwell case. Then there were the four state troopers who were transferred soon after working on the Blackwell file. So they wouldn’t ask questions? So the men responsible for Ginger’s abduction would never be called to account for their crimes?
None of the Denton PD officers who had worked on the Blackwell case had been banished, and there were three law enforcement agencies involved in the Blackwell case. The state police, Denton PD, and the district attorney’s office. Which meant that if law enforcement was either complicit or involved in Ginger Blackwell’s abduction, there was no way of knowing exactly who was involved or how deeply it went.
“You okay?” Carrieann asked. “You
look really pale.”
Josie waved a dismissive hand, her mind running on overdrive. “Fine, I’m fine.”
What if Blackwell’s case was connected to the Coleman case, as Josie suspected? She thought about Ray repeatedly telling her to leave the Coleman case alone. Was Denton PD involved? What about the chief? Did he know who was behind the missing girls? Was that why he hadn’t called in the FBI in the Coleman case? Was that why he had changed Josie’s status from paid suspension to unpaid suspension right after she had brought him the lead connecting Coleman to June Spencer?
Carrieann clamped a sweat-damp palm onto Josie’s forearm and whispered urgently, interrupting her thoughts. “It’s the surgeon.”
Josie looked up and, sure enough, a tall, burly man in blue scrubs and matching blue surgical cap was coming through the door. With a grim, fixed expression, he walked toward them. Carrieann’s fingers tightened on Josie’s arm. Together, they stood to greet him.
“You’re here for Luke Creighton?” he asked.
Josie opened her mouth to speak, but her lips were so dry she could barely part them. Carrieann pulled Josie closer to her and spoke for both of them. “Yes,” she said. “I’m his sister and this is his fiancée.”
The man introduced himself. “I’m the attending trauma surgeon. My team is closing Mr. Creighton up as we speak. He is stable, for now, but there was a lot of internal damage. Two bullets to his chest.” He pointed toward his right side, in the area just below the collarbone. “The first one missed his heart, but it fragmented once inside—both bullets did—and caused a lot of damage to the surrounding structures.” He pointed lower and more toward the center. “The second bullet lacerated his spleen, so we had to remove it. We were able to remove most of the fragments and stitch up what we could. He is very lucky to be alive. We’re going to move him to the ICU and keep him there in a medically induced coma until his body begins to recover from the trauma. I have to warn you though, his injuries are extensive and severe. He—”
“What are his odds?” Josie blurted. She couldn’t take any more of the doctor’s words. Severe. Trauma. Extensive. Fragmented. It was too much. All she wanted to know were his chances of survival.
The doctor grimaced. “I can’t really give you odds.”
“Guess. Your best
guess. A percentage. Something. Anything. We won’t hold you to it. We already
know that he is in very bad shape. We knew that the moment he was shot.
The only reason
he’s alive is because
of you and your team. We understand that the rest is out of your control. But
please. What are his chances?”
He stared at the two of them for a long moment, clearly uncomfortable with the scenario. Then he said, “Fifty-fifty.”