Copyright © 2012 Dreamah H. Lockwood
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
To all the missing children; may they some day find their way home.
To my mother, sisters and friends for all your encouragement and support
Eleven Years Earlier
He was dead. The son of a bitch was finally dead. How ironic, Sarra Gray thought, that the top of the Christmas tree lay within reach of his one outstretched arm, the hand reaching for the white tree top angel just inches from his fingers. Maybe he was reaching for salvation, she thought bitterly. But, only the devil would want Homer James.
There had been a knock at the door, and two men had entered the apartment to face Homer. POP had come from the gun in the killer’s hand.
That was the only sound that she had heard from her hiding place behind the partially closed bedroom door. Through the crack, she had watched as Homer dropped to the floor, his knees buckling first, the rest of his body twisting to fall backwards onto the beige carpet. While the killers ransacked the living room, she had rushed silently to hide behind the false wall in the closet where Homer hid his safe. There was nothing she could do but breathe as quietly as possible and pray the men did not find her. If they did, they would kill her too.
Immediately after closing the door to her hiding place, she heard them enter the bedroom. Drawers, jerked from the dresser, hit the floor. The sound of ripping fabric was easily heard behind the thin plaster of the drywall. She held her breath, terrified that if she could hear them, they might hear her as well. Then, they were in the closet. Voices muttered low, indistinguishable words. The noise of hangers raking back and forth along the rod was far too close. Sarra prayed and waited in terror to be discovered.
Suddenly, everything went silent. Not a whisper, not a sound did she hear to indicate the men had left the room. Nor did a door slam to let her know they were gone from the apartment. There was only the absolute quiet. Trembling with fear, she waited what seemed like two hours before daring to emerge and peek into the other room. They were definitely gone.
Hurriedly, she returned to the closet and grabbed a bag from the floor. Slipping behind the wall, she worked the carefully learned combination. Into the bag, she dumped the numerous stacks of one-hundred dollar bills, a stack of DVDs, several ledger books plus two large brown envelopes, contents unknown. Even though the bag was heavy, she picked it up and returned to the living room.
Outside, the wind howled and whipped sheets of snow into dancing dervishes across the penthouse balcony. Lamps, toppled from end tables, cast bright yellow oblong shapes across the floor. Slashed sofa cushions were tossed in a heap before the balcony doors. Books with ripped pages and bindings were everywhere. Jerked from wall hooks, the back paper covers of the paintings had been slashed open. Sculptures had been broken and tossed in pieces to land on any available surface.
Homer lay just as he had fallen. A dark red stain had spread across the front of his white shirt and oozed in a widening circle beneath his body. The crotch of his gray trousers was stained by urine and his bare feet looked pale next to the beige carpet.
She wasn’t sorry he was dead. She knew all too well how he took people and twisted them into monsters, trapped them and drained them of all hope, then tossed them out like garbage. “That bullet deserved a better target, you bastard,” she hissed. “You got an easy death.”
She had to get out of the apartment. It was only a matter of time before the killers returned to find what they were looking for. Hurrying across the butchered living room, she stopped a moment to stare down at the body, stunned that she felt so little grief for the man. She expected to feel something other than jubilation at his death. After all, he had saved her from her father. But, she felt nothing. Not even a twinge of regret.
The odor of blood, sharp and coppery, mixed with the smell of evacuated bowels and bladder emanating from the body, made her gag. Nauseated and repulsed, she crouched down and forced herself to search Homer’s pockets for the car keys. She hated to touch his body, but she had to have those keys. There would be two sets, one for the Mercedes and one for the old Chevy. Cringing, she reached into Homer’s right trouser pocket. Luck was with her. The key ring was in the first pocket she explored. Pulling them out, she flinched as the jingle of the keys sounded abrasively loud in the quiet room. She clasped them tightly, then hastened to the front door and set the tattered blue flight bag on the floor.
Quickly, she jerked a jacket off a hanger from the coat closet. Her hands shook so much she almost dropped the old Navy pea coat, but snatched it in midair and slipped her arms into the sleeves. She pulled a black knit cap down over her ears and made sure every long strand of dark hair was tucked securely beneath it. At this late hour, it would be bitterly cold and her clothes were not the warmest. What she was wearing would have to do. Time was too short.
A gray Angora scarf wrapped around her lower face and neck for added protection against the frigid night air, she stuffed the bottom of the gray wool sweater she wore into the top of her jeans and tugged the thick coat closer, buttoning it over the scarf. Lastly, she put on her leather gloves, thankful for the cashmere lining. Apprehensive, she cracked the apartment door, glanced up and down the long corridor then sighed with relief. It was empty.
The hall lights seemed dimmer than usual, and at each apartment doorway the shadows looked darker and more menacing. With a quick gulp of air to quell the fear knotting her stomach, she heaved the large blue flight bag over her shoulder and slipped out the door, closing it quietly. She sprinted toward the red neon exit sign at the end of the hall and thanked God for the carpet that muffled the sound of her boots as she shot past paintings, potted palms and shadowed thresholds to the end of the hall. No doors opened. No one peered out to check. The exit door opened silently. With another prayer of thanks, her feet flying, she bounded down twenty-five flights of steps, her hand sliding along the railing to keep from falling. She did not stop until she reached the underground parking garage and only then paused to catch her breath. Her heart pounded in her ears and, inside the leather gloves, her palms felt sweaty.
The garage door was all that now stood between her and escape. She hesitated for a second, and then cautiously opened the door. Now was not the time for her to meet a neighbor returning home late from shopping, or a noisy security guard checking the garage. Tonight, she was lucky. The vast gloomy parking cavern was filled with cars, which meant that most of the building’s occupants were in for the night. Still, she waited a few more minutes to make sure.
When she did not see anyone, she dashed to the far side where Homer’s white Chevy was parked beside his large black Mercedes. Her hands were shaking so much it took three attempts before she succeeded in unlocking the Chevy’s door. Tossing her bag into the passenger seat, she climbed in and started the engine. As she backed out of the parking space, she cringed as she swiped the back fender of the Mercedes. It didn’t matter. The Mercedes belonged to Homer. He would not be filing a police report.
At the street exit ramp, she was forced to stop for traffic. The flow of cars was not bumper to bumper as usual, but heavy enough to impede her getaway. She froze in terror for a second, her gloved hands clenched on the steering wheel. A dark sedan was parked against the curb across from the exit. Her headlights illuminated the faces of two men in the front seat. It was just a brief glimpse, but enough for her to identify the man behind the wheel as the one who had put the bullet in Homer.
She hunched down at once. Her only chance depended on their not seeing her face behind the wheel or recognizing the vehicle. She merged into the traffic as slowly and casually as she could so as not to attract attention. The two men appeared to be studying the main entrance to the apartment building, and they did not so much as glance in her direction. Body trembling, she drove away, praying she was leaving all her nightmares behind.
Once she crossed the river into New Jersey, she ditched the car in an alley then took a taxi to the Newark Greyhound Bus station. There, she bought a ticket to California. After the bus had left the depot, she leaned back in the seat and tried to relax.
Her freedom had come at a terrible price. Three people had died so that she could escape. Anyway, only three that she knew about, two women and one gutter rat. All she could do was pray that no one else had been killed. Death was an appropriate punishment for Homer, but her only friend, Rose Ann, had not deserved the death she had received. Ro had been just as innocent a victim as the other woman. Thinking about that made Sarra’s heart ache.
What punishment would be extracted for her part in all of it? She didn’t know what it would be; but she was certain that somehow retribution would find her. Her loss was nothing. The others had lost everything. Still, the giddy awareness of her freedom bubbled up within her and would not be smothered. If that joy would always be mixed with pain and guilt, at least now, she was in charge of her life and future, and no longer being controlled by a madman.
One other thought nagged at her. What if Homer’s body was not discovered until someone was attracted by the foul odor of his decaying corpse? Maybe, a small spark of compassion still burned within her. She decided she would telephone the police at the first stop. It was a small act of redemption, but the right thing to do, she thought.
As the bus headed west, she gazed out at the moonlit, snow-covered landscape, passing homes with roofs outlined in colored lights. Wreaths hung on doors, and decorated trees blazed in the windows of happy homes with normal families. She felt a surge of envy for all the warmth those exteriors portrayed. In three days it would be Christmas, and she was alone.
Still, she had reason to be grateful, and was thankful to be alive and to now have her freedom. She knew, however, that although Homer was dead, the men who had killed him were still alive. Because she now possessed the contents of Homer’s safe, she would always need to be on guard, no matter where she managed to hide.