A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty-Two

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Ryan Thunderhawk crouched next to the fire building a teepee of kindling in the hot coals remaining after they had roasted marshmallows. Marshmallow bubbled on the rocks.

Melanie sat in the camp chair watching the flame come to life with her knees pulled up to her chest. Daisy scratched at the dirt, circled a couple of times, and finally laid at Melanie’s feet.

“You’ll be leaving tomorrow?” he asked waiting for the flames to get large enough to place the log.

“You don’t think the fire will wake anyone?” she asked. “I can’t tell you what I have to say if anyone else is here.”

He smiled at her. “Have you ever woken up? It’ll be alright. No one has ever stirred.”

She didn’t like her thoughts. She didn’t want to say the words, but she knew she had to protect her family. It was what her father would have wanted her to do. It was what he would have done.

It felt like she had been hit with a sledgehammer. She fought the urge to vomit. She couldn’t believe she was going to say it, but Mitchel’s rage had shown her it was a possibility.

She stared into the growing flames as they began to consume the log. “We are either being hunted by the butcher or he is with us.”

He didn’t react to her words. His police training. She was grateful for that at least.

“The first one was in Blue River. Mitchel and Seth’s father, Evan, was found butchered in the churchyard after Evan had killed their mother in a rage. I thought it was Father Chris who had done it. I even confronted him. Evan was a sinner. He was a dangerous man and everyone in Blue River knew it.”

Ryan stirred the fire not looking at her.

“The people of Blue River, our neighbors, drove us out of town because my mom took Seth and Mitchel in. She has always had a kind heart, but naïve in her belief that all people are innately good.”

“She reminds me of my mother,” Ryan said giving her a sad smile.

Melanie struggled against the desire to change subjects. Had he meant to give her the opportunity to back out of this disclosure? He had spent the last few weeks with them, maybe he had a suspect and knew it wasn’t them. She wanted to believe it so much, but here chest squeezed her heart. She had been fighting this war within her mind since they left Denver and were stopped by Homeland Security as soon as they arrived in Utah. No, she was too far into this. She needed to finish what she started. Her mom’s and Sam’s lives could depend on it.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, steeling her resolve. “More bodies showed up in Denver. Including my best friend, Holly, and her parents.” She had to stop and swallow the tears as the memories of that day crashed down upon her. Didn’t therapists always say it was good to talk about loss, to get it out and not carry the burden alone? What crap.

Ryan waited, ever patient.

“They were butchered in the same fashion. They were all within a few miles of where we were staying. I didn’t know where either Seth or Mitchel were during the time those people were killed. But Holly…”

She paused again. Lost in the dancing of the flames, she continued.

“They were staying in their fifth-wheel trailer in the driveway of the house we were staying in with my mom’s friends. There were three security guards patrolling the yard. They didn’t hear or see a thing. I hadn’t seen Holly since returning from the hospital, so I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Blood dripped down the walls. We were all questioned for a long time. My mom, her friends, and Sam were released first. But Mitchel, Seth, and I were there for much longer.”

He laid his hand over hers. She hadn’t even noticed that he had come over to her.  She looked at their hands. Her’s was much smaller than his, like her’s and Michel’s.

“And then when we reached Utah, we were stopped by Homeland Security. As if they had been following are movements the whole time. They denied that, but it was too much just to be a coincidence.”

She looked up into his brown eyes. The yellow and orange flames flickered in his pupils.

“Mitchel and Seth grew up in a violent home. Their father was an alcoholic. He beat their mother. He killed their older sister. And he abused them.” Her last words came out as if she were pleading for it not to be true.

“That’s a hard way to grow up,” he whispered.

There it was, laid out before him, all that she knew. It sat between them, a dark churning mass of destruction. She threw up then. Ryan pulled her hair up away from her face and laid his hand on her back.

They sat there watching the sun come up.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Fifty

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

She realized then how little she knew of Mitchel’s childhood. Seth talked about it more than Mitchel did. Mitchel usually walked away whenever Seth brought something up or asked Mitchel directly about it. He wanted to forget, she knew. It was why he didn’t miss Blue River. When he left Blue River, he hadn’t looked back. He was glad to never see it again. For him, it held only death, hatred, and horror.

Melanie had taken an advanced placement psychology class and she knew that being raised in a home like Seth and Mitchel had been raised did things to a child’s developing brain. It laid the foundation for them to become horrible people, but that’s not what they were. Both of them were caring and dedicated to their family.

The door to the cabin banged open behind Melanie. Sam darted out into the sun with Daisy on her tail. “Come on Beauty let’s run!”

Melanie watched her little sister run and run with Daisy chasing her. It was their favorite game.

“She’s such a great kid with a good life, Right Mitch?” Seth said leaning against the doorframe.

Mitchel looked from Seth to the laughing and skipping little girl, but said nothing.

Seth pushed himself off the doorframe. “You two need some privacy in the cabin?” He grinned and arched his eyebrows.

Melanie rolled her eyes. “You know our relationship isn’t like that,” she said emphasizing the last word and arching her own eyebrows.

“It’s a shame really, maybe Mitchel would loosen up if it were like that.” He laid a consoling hand on Mitchel’s shoulder.

Mitchel pushed his hand away. “I think you’re relaxed enough for the both of us.”

Seth laughed, not as if his twin’s words were amusing but ironic. Seth smiled. “Yeah, spending time with little Sammy adds a little brightness to the shadows that hang over my thoughts. You should give it a try if you’re not going to add in other physical activities to take the stress off.” Another smile, wider this time.

Mitchel glowered at his brother.

Seth slid his hands into his front pockets and kicked a rock across the dirt driveway.

Melanie watched him walk away.

Seth turned back to them when he was nearing his car. “You guys are boring. I’m going into town today. Do you need anything? Like a box of condoms? Oh wait—”

Seth’s eyes grew wide along with his stance and Mitchel’s shoulder slammed into him. They both went down sending up tufts of dirt as they wrestled flipping one another over.

Daisy started barking and growling protectively at Sam’s side.

And then the punches started.

“Stop it!” Melanie screamed.

Sam started crying. “Mom! Mom!”

Jennifer and Zachariah came running from the garage.

Jennifer reached them first, but not wanting to get hurt by two full-grown men fighting, she stood back. “Mitchel and Seth, you knock it off right now!”

Jennifer pulled Sam to her who buried her face into her mother.

“Do you hear me?” Jennifer yelled in her mom voice.

Zachariah had reached them. He didn’t hesitate before jumping in the thick of it. He caught an elbow to the stomach, but was able to pull the two apart.

He held each of them by the forearm. They were covered in dirt sticky with sweat. Blood ran from Seth’s nose and into his grinning mouth. He wiped it with the back of his hand, which smeared it across his lip and cheek. Mitchel hung his head, ashamed it had gotten so out of control. Blood ran from his lip. He spit the blood from his mouth.

Zachariah looked back and forth between the two boys. He released his hold on Seth who took a few steps back. Zachariah turned to face Mitchel.

Seth laughed. “See now don’t you feel better, Mitch?” Seth wiped his hands on the front of his jeans.

Melanie had never seen Mitchel so angry. She tried to go to him, but Jennifer caught her arm.

Mitchel turned to his twin. “You’re a dick, Seth,” he shouted over Zachariah’s shoulder.

This made Seth laugh even harder. He tried to respond, but could only get out a few syllables. “I….dick…use.”

Mitchel yanked his arm away from Zachariah and stalked toward the trail leading toward the lake.

“Seth you ought to let the wolf in your brother cool off. You going into town, you said?” Zachariah asked.

Seth nodded, and his eyes narrowed and the mirth drained from his features as he watched Mitchel scoop up a branch and beat the hell out of a tree as he passed. “I’m a mountain lion not a deer. I’m not afraid of the wolf.”

Jennifer released Melanie’s arm as well.

Melanie took off at a run toward Mitchel. She glanced back once. Seth was climbing into his car and Daisy was bounding after her. In a few more steps, she heard the car come to life and spit gravel as he accelerated down the road.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Eight

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Melanie and Mitchel sat at the white pine breakfast table across from Detective Ryan Thunderhawk. Melanie watched him move his eggs around on his plate, dipping his toast into the yoke and setting it back on his plate. He pushed it away and took a deep breath. Dark circles hung below his blood shot eyes. He hadn’t slept last night she realized. She wondered if nightmares kept him awake at night too.

“Do you want more coffee, Ryan?” She asked reaching for his cup. She hesitated when he didn’t answer. She cast a sidelong look at Mitchel, who frowned and shrugged his shoulders.

“Ryan?” she said again holding his cup a few inches off the table.

He looked up at her.

“More coffee”

“Yes please.” He reached for his cup. Melanie wiggled it and smiled at him. She scooped up her breakfast plate as well. She stepped around her chair and moved to the counter. After rinsing her plate, she poured the nearly black coffee.

It was decent coffee, Melanie thought, as she lifted her cup to her nose. Not something she would get used to drinking, but it didn’t make her gag either.

“Long night?” Mitchel asked Ryan as Melanie returned to the table.

Ryan’s head was in his hands with his fingers laced through his short black hair. “Very long and I have to be back at the department in an hour,” Ryan said and rubbed his eyes with his fingers.

“Big case?” Melanie asked and slid the creamer and sugar toward him.

“Yeah, a double homicide. At least we think it was a homicide, with this new Justice Law, you don’t know until the system check comes back.”

“How does that work, the system check, I mean?” Melanie asked. Death was everywhere. She felt like it was more common now than it had been when she was younger, but that probably wasn’t true. It was just more visible, more in your face.

Ryan poured in some cream stirred his coffee and then added sugar. “Well, my understanding of it, is that when a both the heart and neurological activity stop the SAFE chip sends out a communication signal. It logs the identification of any chip within such and such a range of the body. It also logs the location, date, and time of death. The chip’s final communication signal goes to the local police department. The police then find these people who were identified by the deceased’s SAFE chip and investigate.”

“That sounds like a pain,” Mitchel said looking up from his pancakes, which were swimming in maple syrup and butter.

“It’s not usually too bad. If there is only one other person present, it is typically a Justice Kill. Then we just verify that they don’t have more than three. If they do, we take them in and charge them with murder and then sort out the details.”

“But what if there are a ton of people there?” Melanie asked. “Do you have to check into each one?”

“It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The date, time, and location tell us if it was in a hospital or something like that. We can usually skip those.”

Melanie thought back to Dr. Binkard in Denver. No wonder she would never be caught. The police just pass those deaths over since it happens in a hospital.

“…Witnesses of the death generally all tell the same story, reducing the investigation time for us. It’s the scrubs who cause problems— ”

“What if someone were killing people in the hospital?” Melanie asked.

Ryan stopped and raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips.

“Like a mercy killing or something?” Melanie said waving her hand and looking away. Mitchel was looking at her.

Ryan nodded his head. “That would be difficult to identify using the SAFE System.”

“Can’t you just investigate like you used to do?” Melanie asked.

Ryan sipped his coffee. “Not enough man power I’m afraid.”

“What about police?” Mitchel asked. “How do you track their Justice Kills?” He put air quotes around Justice Kills.

Ryan stared at his coffee. He swirled the last drops in the bottom and stood to refill his cup, but the French press was empty. He popped the silver cap on the teakettle and filled it with water from the tap.

Mitchel rubbed Melanie’s back and ran his fingers through her hair. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Ryan turned back to face them. “Police kills are also very difficult for the system to track because their job requires them to use deadly force, which at this time is not an uncommon occurrence.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Seven

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

The next morning brought more heat. Growing up in the mountain valley of Blue River hadn’t prepared them for working in the heat. The only person it didn’t seem to effect was Sam.

Melanie smiled as she ran around the cabin with a stick in her hand with Daisy chasing her barking.

“Be careful running with that stick,” Melanie called and sunk the shovel into the dirt. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.

Her mom had decided this morning that since Zachariah was providing them with room and board, they would dig out his garden and flowerbeds, which were overgrown with weeds like sardines in a can.

Melanie had tried to explain to her mother that it was near on autumn and harvest season not planting season. But Jennifer had insisted they do something and since Zachariah was getting on in years he shouldn’t be digging out all these weeds.

“Cleaning out his garage and house seems more sensible and useful,” Mitchell had offered.

“That’s for tomorrow,” Jennifer smiled and handed him a shovel.

Somehow, Melanie had ended up with the shovel and Mitchel had snuck off to help in the garage. Jennifer stood up from sitting in the dirt throwing weeds out of the garden and into a pile. She brushed her hands off onto her pants.

“I’m going inside for some water. Do you want some?”

Melanie dropped the shovel. “I need to get out of this heat for a few minutes, mom.” She could feel the sweat running down her back and her legs.

“Come get some water Daisy and Sam,” Melanie called and followed her mom into the house.

Melanie flopped into a chair in the kitchen and Jennifer set a glass of ice water in front of her. She drank the whole thing and got up for more.

“Where is Seth?” she asked.

“He got up early and said he was going fishing in the river. I thought it was a good idea, so we don’t eat Zachariah out of house and home.”

Melanie rolled her eyes.

“What? I thought it was a great idea. Anyways, there has been some tension between you and he.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows. “Tension?”

It was Jennifer’s turn to roll her eyes. “It’s pretty obvious Mel. You can’t look at him without disgust or hatred in your eyes. You want to talk about it?”

“No.” Melanie stood up and went back outside. That’s probably why Mitchel has been acting a little off center. Melanie took a deep breath. No more, I’ve got to let it go. Seth is Mitchel’s brother. If we are going to stay together, I need to let my suspicions go. I can’t deal with a wedge between Mitchel and me.

Melanie continued to dig. It felt good actually. It was progress right before her eyes. She could see the results of her hard work. It was empowering in a sense, that she could make a difference, even if it was only turning dirt and eradicating invasive weeds.

When the sun began to dip below the horizon, Melanie stood at the sink washing the dirt from beneath her nails. Mitchel’s hands moved around her waist and he kissed her neck. She smiled. She missed being close to him as much as they had been, before her mom was always hovering.

“Come with me on a walk to the river?”

She turned in his arms and kissed him on the lips. He brought his hands up her back and tangled his fingers in her hair.

When they broke off from one another, she took his hand and smiled her crooked grin. “Let me tell my mom where we’re going so she doesn’t freak out.”

His smile grew and he squeezed her hand. “I’ll be out front.”

After telling her mom where she and  Mitchel were going, Melanie rounded the corner of the house and found Mitchel and Seth speaking in hushed angry voices. Mitchel was gesturing with his hands. His back was to her. Seth saw her first and stopped talking. He nodded to Melanie and walked away toward the back of the house.

“What was that about?” She asked watching Seth disappear.

“Nothing, let’s forget about all this,” he waived at the house and all around it, “and think only of you and me while we frolic in the woods.” He smiled and brushed a strand of her hair out of her face.

She stole a quick kiss and ran down the trail laughing. He chased after her.

Melanie hadn’t run for a long time. The wind pulled at her hair and her body fell into its rhythm. Yes, it seemed to say, we remember this. She pushed harder pulling away from Mitchel.

He laughed. “You’re not getting away from me that easily.”

Not wanting to slip on a rock, she slowed down when she reached the river there was a rock bridge and only a few inches of water flowed over it. She risked a quick glance back before stepping into the water. He grinned at her like a wolf closing on its prey. Mitchel didn’t slow at all. He was always more reckless than she. It was one of the things she loved about him; his willingness to take risks to get what he wanted. And that’s when he caught her, and they both fell into the pool created by the rock bridge.

She let out a gasp as they hit the cold water. She got a mouth full of river water for her girlish sound as their heads plunged below the water. Mitchel pulled her to the surface with him. Her hair was plastered to her face and he began laughing, a full and deep laugh, that waved through his entire body.

Melanie splashed water at him. He grabbed a hold of her and pulled her to him. She hadn’t realized how much she missed this or even that it had been gone from their relationship.

She looked up into Mitchel’s eyes.

He wrapped his hands around her face cupping her chin where the base of his palms met. “I love you so much.”

Never again would she allow the retched chaos of this world steal the precious happiness she felt in his arms. It was that feeling that made all of this, each day, worth struggling through no matter how nightmarish it was.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Six

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Mitchel, Melanie, and Seth stood there looking at the doe that Mitchel had drug from behind the rock.

Melanie lowered her gun, but she didn’t holster it. It hung at her side a reassuring weight cradled in her hand. Something inside her told her not to holster the gun just yet, maybe it was Daisy’s reaction to Seth. Why would Daisy growl at Seth with a dead deer so nearby? She didn’t know. Something wasn’t right with this situation.

Mitchel stepped in front of her putting his hands on her shoulders. His eyes met hers. “Let’s go see how the cabin is coming along.”

She nodded and slipped the gun back into the holster. She turned to go with Mitchel behind her. Daisy didn’t follow right away. After Melanie and Mitchel had gone a few paces back through the brush, Melanie felt her nose her fingers.

The cabin greeted them first. It was small and built from pine logs. Melanie could see Zachariah’s house further on through the trees. It was about three times the size of the cabin and also made from pine logs. Daisy sniffed around the door and squatted to pee. The near black eyes glanced up at Melanie.

The cabin smelled of Pine-Sol and Jennifer had made up all the beds. There were two sets of bunk beds against either wall. Jennifer and Sam had moved a suitcase for each of them into the room and slid them beneath the bed. The curtains were tied to the side and the windows were open. A hot breeze stifling blew into the room.

Daisy jumped up onto one of the lower bunks, circled twice, and laid down. She wagged her little nub of a tail and closed her eyes. Melanie turned to Mitchel and buried her face in his chest. He wrapped her in his arms. She squeezed silent tears from her eyes. She didn’t know who to trust anymore. Seth was Mitchel’s brother he wouldn’t hurt any of them. He wouldn’t have hurt Holly, would he? She wasn’t sure.

She was tired and hungry. She wanted to sleep until all this was over and wake up into her past in Blue River. Three months had gone by since the passing of the Justice Law. She and Holly should be starting their senior year of high school. Mitchel should be a freshman in college. It all seemed like a dream from so long ago.

Mitchel stroked her walnut hair that nearly reached her butt now. She looked up into his brown eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said.

He kissed her head. “Everything is a mess and we’re all tired.” He pulled her even tighter to him. They melted into one another.

That evening, they sat around Zachariah’s dining table. Seth served up the doe he had killed that afternoon and butchered himself. Zachariah had given them full access and use of his home. Melanie couldn’t understand how or why he would do this for total strangers. Even before the Justice Law passed such trust and hospitality was near gone from the world. Ever since the war, people had grown more and more suspicious of one another. And who could blame them things had gone downhill fast and as far as Melanie could tell they continued to plummet without the bottom in sight.

Zachariah’s son, Ryan Thunderhawk, joined them for dinner. He sat across the table from Melanie and Mitchel. He was a Weber County police detective on the homicide unit.

Ryan hadn’t been surprised that his father had invited them to stay in the cabin apparently this was not the first time Zachariah had invited travelers the sanctuary of his land while they waited for repairs to a vehicle.

The food was good. The best they had eaten in a long while. Everyone, but the Thunderhawks, went for a second plate.

Melanie poured gravy over her potatoes, green beans, and the venison while listening to the laughter behind her as Ryan told another story about when he was a new officer. She smiled forgetting the world outside that one room at least for a time.

Seth stepped up to the counter beside her. “How do you like my kill? Pretty good, huh?”

Melanie turned to face him. She looked him straight in the face. “You’ve always been a good hunter Seth. No one’s every questioned that.”

He broke off the eye contact to slide another slice of venison onto his plate with his knife. “Yeah, but I think this is the best doe I’ve brought down.”

He scooped mashed potatoes onto his plate and started pouring gravy on everything. Melanie watched his hands move. The left one terribly scared by the same flames that had burned Mitchel’s right hand. One of their father’s gifts, the only thing he really left them after his brutal murder in Blue River.

Seth glanced up at her. “I’d never hurt you or Mitchel, Melbelle. I hope you know that. Never.”

He looked sad when he said it and she wanted to believe he wouldn’t hurt any of them, but that wasn’t what he had said.

Filling the effects of eating too much, they all said good night and thank you to the Thunderhawks and walked the short distance to the cabin. The temperature outside had only dropped a few degrees. Sleeping would not come easy with the heat.

Sam clambered onto a top bunk bed. “This is my spot!”

“You’re sleeping down here with me, silly,” Jennifer said moving to lift her off the bed. “That’s Melanie’s bed.

Seth jumped onto the other top bunk and turned his back toward them.

“It’s okay mom. I’ll sleep down here next to Mitchel.”

Jennifer pursed her lips and forced air through her nose, “Well, Daisy will need you down here too, I suppose,” and she let the issue drop.

As Melanie snuggled up to Mitchel on the bottom bunk, she couldn’t erase the image of Seth covered in blood. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right with the situation. Daisy kicked her feet and growled in her sleep. Melanie draped her arm over the side and caressed the Rottweiler’s smooth head.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Four

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

They arrived in Ogden at one in the afternoon. Melanie was riding with her mom giving her directions using her phone to the nearest car repair shop.

“Find one near the edge of town,” said Jennifer. “I don’t want to be in the middle of the city.”

“I’m looking mom.”

“Are we there?” Sam asked from the backseat.

“Not yet pumpkin,” Jennifer said.

“Get off the freeway here and take the second left.”

Mitchel and Seth followed them off the freeway.

As the van slowed down, Daisy got up off the floor and whined at the sliding door. “We’re not there yet Daisy,” said Sam.

Melanie glanced back, Sam was coloring on her iPad. Daisy wagged her little nub of a tail and licked Sam’s hand.

“Turn right here,” Melanie said turning back forward. “It’s on the right in a mile.”

The garage was on the edge of town surrounded by rundown buildings that look deserted. Melanie hoped they were deserted. The drove over a bridge a rumbling river ran beneath it. A small lake glistened through the bright green willows and pale olive trees.

There were two other cars in the dirt parking lot as they pulled in. The bay door of the garage was open and a third car was in the garage on blocks.

A man wearing a straw cowboy hat walked out of the garage as they rolled to a stop. Melanie glanced over the needle was creeping into the red. They had pulled over four times and had to wait a half hour for the van to cool down before continuing on their way.

His pace was slow and cautious. He came to a stop and waited for them to get out of the van. Mitchel and Seth pulled in and parked on either side of the van. The man put his thumbs through his belt loops on his light blue jeans. His dark blue t-shirt was stretched over his rounded stomach. It was a little small and he was a little big, Melanie decided. Not like the golf ball at the gas station who was just big.

Mitchel got out of his truck. Melanie quickly tucked her handgun into her holster and got out of the van. Mitchel was unarmed. What was he doing?

The man nodded his head toward Mitchel. His nut brown skin, wide cheek bones, and black hair protruding from beneath his hat marked him as Native American. Melanie tried to remember which tribe was in Utah.

Mitchel glanced back at Melanie and then back to the man.

“Good afternoon,” Mitchel said as he approached. “You know anything about overheating vans?”

The man nodded and turned to walk back inside the shop. Mitchel cast Melanie a glance, eyebrows raised in question.

She shrugged. “Guess we should follow?”

Mitchel followed and she was right behind him.

The old Indian was seated behind a metal desk with his feet kicked up on the desk. “My name’s Zachariah Thunderhawk and this is mine and my son’s garage.”

“I’m Mitchel and this is Melanie. Out in the van is Jennifer, Sam, and by brother Seth.”

He set his straw hat on his desk. “What year is the van?”

“It’s a 2015 Mazda,” Melanie said.

“How many miles?”

“About 42,000 I believe,” Melanie said.

“You have family here?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head.

“You on your way to the safe zone then?”

Melanie nodded. Her stomach sunk. Why did that thought make her so sad? She took a deep breath. Jennifer walked into the small office. When the door opened, a laugh from Sam mingled with the bell hanging on the door and was accented by a bark from Daisy.

“It’s like a furnace out there,” Jennifer said wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Her shirt was clinging to her. They couldn’t run the air conditioner when the van was overheating. Sometimes they had to run the heater.

He smiled and began to laugh showing his white teeth. “Yes, it is damn hot out there. Let me pull this clunker out of the garage, and I’ll have a look at your van. It shouldn’t be too serious with only 42,000 miles on it.”

“How long do you think it’ll take?” Jennifer asked.

“Hard to know,” he said. “There’s cold water in the fridge at the back of the garage, help yourselves.”

Jennifer handed him the keys to the van and walked into the garage. Zachariah backed the car in the garage off the blocks and into the yard.

“Where did Seth go?” Mitchel asked Sam as she streaked past him with Daisy on her heels. Sam pointed toward the lake.

Melanie turned toward the trees and the water. A swim would be so nice in this heat.

Melanie followed Mitchel into the garage. Zachariah was bent over the engine.

“Has it been leaking?”

“We’ve been moving around a lot,” Mitchel said.

“I’m going to have to let it cool down and then run a few tests. You may be stuck here a few days. I’ve got some ham and cheese you’re welcome to it if you are hungry.”

“Thank you,” Mitchel said.

“Everybody’s got to eat.” Zachariah closed the hood of the van. “You got some place to stay?”

“We stay in the van,” Melanie said.

“You’re welcome to stay in my cabin out back with two sets of bunk beds. There’s no heater, but I can’t imagine that matters right now,” Zachariah said.

“That’s very kind of you—” Melanie began.

“We’d love to stay there,” said Mitchel. “We haven’t had a bed in a week.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Forty-Two

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

The van began over heating in the afternoon the day they left Denver. They had to pull over half a hundred times and wait for an hour for it to cool down enough for them to continue toward the safe zone.

“How far is the next place where we could stop and have the van looked at?” Jennifer asked.

Melanie stood up from a park bench and walked into the shade. Rivulets of sweat ran down her back. They were sitting in a park in Price, Utah, a small town with few people on the streets and many boarded up windows. At least no one was patrolling the street with semi-automatic firearms.

They were stopping every hour now to let the car cool down.  “Four or five hours, but if we have to keep stopping like this, we won’t get to Ogden, Utah, before tomorrow night.”

Jennifer rubbed her fingers on her temples. “We have to get this fixed, but I don’t want to do it in a small town where we will have to pay double and wait for parts.”

“Agreed,” said Mitchel and Seth at the same time.

Melanie smiled and shook her head. Twins.

The talking stopped and everyone watched Sam.

She was throwing a dirty tennis ball for Daisy on the grass next to the playground. They had tried a Frisbee, but Daisy was much better with the ball. “Go Daisy, go,” called Sam as the huge Rottweiler lumbered after the ball.

Sam stretched out her arms and spun in a circle, faster and faster, until Daisy was barking at her. She tumbled to the ground and laughing. Daisy bounded over to her and began licking her face.

“Stop Daisy,” Sam said laughing and pushing Daisy’s square head away from her.

Jennifer smiled. “Well, it can’t be helped. Why don’t you three go find lunch and pick up some antifreeze and water?”

Melanie made pursed her lips and looked around.

“I’ll stay with you,” said Seth. “I didn’t sleep well and should take a nap while we’re waiting.” Seth kicked off his shoes next to the blanket laid out under a big maple tree.

Mitchel slipped his hand into Melanie’s and they turned to go to the truck. Melanie touched Seth’s arm and mouthed, “Thanks.” He just nodded his head.

She wouldn’t leave her mom and Sammy here by themselves, small town her not, automatic weapons or not. The world just wasn’t safe any longer.

She and Mitchel climbed into his truck and backed out of the parking lot and onto the road. There was an Arby’s on the other end of town. Melanie had seen it when they came through.

“Arby’s?” she asked.

“Mmmm. A Jamocha shake and curly fries.”

It didn’t take them long to get food, stop at the Walmart, and get back to the park.

Jennifer and Sam were throwing the Frisbee with Daisy barking and running back and forth between them.

Melanie slid out of the truck and pushed the door closed with her shoulder. Shifting both bags of food to one hand, she laid her hand on the hood of the van. It was cool. Good they could leave after they ate.

“Come and get it,” she called.

On their way out of town, they filled up both gas tanks. It was a ways before they would reach another city and being stranded in the middle of the mountains was not anyone’s idea of a good time. Melanie shuddered at the thought of having to hitchhike. Who would pick them up with shotguns strapped across their backs anyways?

They didn’t make it very far before they had to pull over again to let the van cool off. There had been a huge climb getting out of the valley were Price was.

They stopped several more times as they made their way through the mountains. It was the middle of the night when they could finally see city lights in front of them, but instead of the lights being a relief the sight of them made Melanie’s stomach twist into knots.

“Here we go,” she said to Mitchel.

“It’ll be okay, we’re not stopping in the city.”

The words had barely left his lips when the blinker on the van began to flash.

“Damn it. What is she doing? She can’t be over heating already,” Melanie said.

Mitchel flipped on his blinker and followed the van into the parking lot of a brightly lit gas station.

Melanie took a deep breath and let it out slow as she closed her eyes. She clenched her jaw and opened her eyes again.

Jennifer was at Mitchel’s window. “Sam needs to use the bathroom.”

“Wait, I’m going with you.” Melanie reached under her seat, wrapped her hand around her nine, and pulled the black handgun out. She slid it into the holster and opened her door.

Melanie wore the gun out in the open where everyone who approached them could see it. The bell over the glass door jangled as they pulled it open.

“Good evening, ladies,” said a man from behind the counter. His body engulfed the stool he was sitting on. He looked like a baseball on a golf tee in his white polo shirt stretched to capacity.

“Restrooms?” Jennifer asked.

“In the back on your right.”

Melanie quickened her pace opening the door before her mom with her gun drawn at her side. She flipped the light on. It was a one seater. She held the door for her mom and sister.

“I’ll be right outside.”

She walked down the hall making sure there wasn’t a back door. She checked the men’s restroom and then walked toward the front.

“Is your coffee fresh?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Melanie filled two of their largest cups with coffee and cream. She stuffed a handful of sugar packets and two red straws into her jacket pocket. Leaving the coffee on the counter, she went to the refrigerated section and pulled out chocolate milk and some fancy tea. She set them next to the coffee and waited at the end of the hall until her mom and Sam came out.

“Ready?” Jennifer asked.

Sam bounced up and down trying to grab the chocolate milk from Melanie.

“Just give it to her. You can’t carry all of that.” Jennifer picked up the tea and one coffee.

Melanie walked to the register and waved her wrist in front of the scanner paying for the drinks.

“You all have a safe drive.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-nine

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Mitchel looked back at her. She could see the question in his eyes, and the fear. There were only a few reasons Richard and Pauline wouldn’t answer the door. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. They could have left in the night. No then, Erik would have known. They could be asleep or they could be, no not with the security.

Erik laid a black gloved hand on Mitchel’s shoulder and she and Mitchel stepped back from the door. This couldn’t be happening. Everything was fine. Holly was fine. There was security. Melanie couldn’t breath. Her throat had become a little red coffee straw. The world narrowed and blurred.

Mitchel was shaking her by the shoulders. “Melanie. Melanie. Breath. It’s okay. They are okay. Breath.”

She took a ragged breath.

“Maybe you should take her in the house?” Erik said.

“She’s all right.” Mitchel said pulling her into his arms. She took a slow deep breath and nodded her head. “I’m okay. Everything is fine.” The words echoed in her head. I’m okay. Everything is fine.

Erik was talking on his radio. “Josh, Braxton, clear your area and come around to the Stein trailer.”

“Ten-Four.” Came the first response.

Everything is fine. I’m okay. Melanie breathed.

“Ten-four.” Came the second.

I’m okay. Everything is fine. Melanie took as step  back from Mitchel.

The other two security guards clad in black fatigues came around opposite corners of the house.

They held up their thumbs, all clear.

“You two will have to step back or go in the house, I’d prefer you go into the house,” Erik said.

“I’m not going anywhere until I know that Holly is safe,” Melanie said.

Erik turned toward the other security guards. “Josh you open the door. Braxton at my back.”

Both men nodded and drew their guns. One of them, Josh, stepped over to the door. He placed his black gloved hand on the doorknob and waited for the signal from Erik.

Erik gave him a nod.

Josh pulled the door open. Erik and Braxton moved silent and swift up the two steps and into the dark trailer.

Josh locked the door back against the exterior wall and stood at the door waiting for Erik’s command.

The smell hit Melanie in the face like a wrecking ball.

Sweet rotting meat.

She crumbled to the ground. Mitchel turned to catch her, but it was too late. The world swam in front of her. Mitchel was trying to get her into the house. He was talking but he sounded so far away. He grabbed her face with his hands. They were cool against her skin.

She saw the black boots of Erik and Josh as they came back out alone. Erik scooped her up and took her into the house.

Mitchel wrapped her in a blanket. He wrapped his arm around her.

I’m okay. Everything is fine.

He brushed her hair back out of her face. “Melanie.”

She was dreaming. This had to be a dream.

“I need everyone to stay in the house,” Erik called out.

“What’s going on?” Karalynn said as she bounded down the stairs.

Melanie turned her head toward Erik who was standing blocking the front door. Braxton had gone into the kitchen. Melanie could hear his muffled voice through the wall. He was on the phone. Josh stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

Erik looked at Melanie and then turned back to Karalynn. “We have a situation.” His voice was low, but Melanie heard the words anyway.

Melanie stood. Her head spun. She grabbed onto Mitchel’s shoulder, and he clasped her hip in one strong hand.

“A situation?” Melanie yelled. “My best friend and her family have been butchered in the driveway.”

“What?” Karalynn asked, “What’s happened Erik?”

“Yes Erik, What happened?” Melanie asked. “Why didn’t you guys stop that from happening?” Melanie took three stumbling steps toward him. Mitchel stood and stepped in front of her. She tried to push him aside, but he didn’t budge. She tried to step around him, but he placed his other hand on her other hip.

“Where were you when they were screaming!”

Tears ran down Melanie’s face now.

“Where were you when they were bleeding to death!”

She wiped her face.

“I’m so sorry, Melbelle,” Jennifer said in whisper from the bottom of the stairs.

Melanie looked at her mom. “Not Holly, mom. Not Holly.”

Jennifer shuffled over to her daughter and took her in her arms.

Homeland security arrived in their black SUV within twenty minutes.

There hadn’t been any screaming said the man in the grey three piece suit. Their throats had been slit starting with Richard and Pauline who were nearest the door. Holly had died last. She had choked on her own blood. The butcher then opened up Richard from Adam’s apple to groin hauling out his innards.

Melanie had thrown up more times than she could count before the man in the grey suit had finished speaking.

They don’t know who did it, but everyone in the house is a suspect along with the security guards. No one will be leaving until they are cleared by Homeland Security.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode 33

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Melanie spent the day pushing Sam in the swing in the back yard and watching her go down the slide splashing down in the pool. She couldn’t help but laugh when Daisy jumped into the pool with Sam, bucking like a bronco with glee. Just for a moment, Melanie was able to forget that the world was coming down around their ears.

That evening she returned to the hospital and her vigil at her mother’s bedside. Jennifer was still awake when she arrived. “How is Sam?”

Melanie smiled. “She is doing good. It amazes me how everything that is going on out in the world does not affect her.”

Jennifer smiled. “That is a blessing and a gift. It also says you are doing a good job protecting her from all of this.”

Melanie looked out the window. The sun had gone down, but a few rays still clutched at the sky. She disagreed with her mom. If she had be doing a good job protecting any of them they wouldn’t be in Denver in the first place or at least this long, they would have been to the safe zone already.

Jennifer rested her cool hand on top of Melanie’s. Melanie turned back to her mom whose face was grave.

“You’re not responsible for all this Mel.”

Melanie nodded. “I know mom, but I can’t help feel like I am, somehow, or that I should have done more.”

“You’ve always been that way, too grown up for your own good.”

It had been a while since they had talked like this, open and honest with one another. Over the last year, they had clashed as Melanie had torn away from the shelter of her mother’s arms and Jennifer had grasped with desperation at her little girl. Melanie wondered what had disarmed them now, was it that they gave up the silly struggle for something bigger, or just the clarity that the looming specter of death can leave behind when he decides it’s not quiet time for them to leave this world.

Melanie and Jennifer played a few card games, and then the nurse came in to check Jennifer’s vitals and help her take a shower.

Melanie went for a walk around the hospital. She stopped in the hospital chapel and lit a candle for her mother and another one for Dr. Brinkard. She continued down the white washed hallway glancing into rooms as she passed.

She saw Dr. Brinkard in one and stopped. Melanie leaned against the wall waiting for her to come out. She was bent over a young man, maybe, thirty years old. He didn’t look well. No one else was in the room with them.

“It won’t hurt a bit. You’ll just go to sleep,” Dr. Brinkard whispered and brushed the man’s hair back as if he were a child.

“No more suffering, I can’t stand the way they look at me. Not wanting me to die, but not wanting the bills to continue to roll in. I’m dying. I can feel it.”

Melanie leaned wanting to hear better, but not wanting to be seen.

“I know. It’s okay. I understand. You’re doing the right thing.” Alyson cooed.

Melanie stomach sank. She didn’t want to believe what she was hearing. Euthanasia was illegal. It was considered murder, which was ironic given that a person could legally kill three people in cold blood.

She shuffled back away from the door, and hurried down the hall back the way she had come. After ten steps, she heard footsteps behind her.

“Melanie?”

Melanie stopped, she breathed in and out, and then she turned toward Alyson who was walking toward her.

Alyson greeted her with a smile. “How was your sister?”

The all too familiar tone of a flat line followed Dr. Alyson Brinkard down the hall.

Melanie raised her hand pointing toward the sound, but not uttering a word.

Alyson waved her hand. “Not much I can do for him now. Coffee?”

Nurses rushed into the room where Melanie had seen Alyson hovering over the man. Alyson glanced down the hall, made the sign of the cross over her body, and then wrapped her arm around Melanie’s shoulders leading her down the hall.

Melanie let her lead her around the corner. She didn’t know what to say or do. Words tumbled from her mouth as she stepped away from Alyson.

“I have to get back to my mom. She should be out of the shower now.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Melanie said and turned to go down another hallway.

She glanced over her shoulder. Alyson was still in the hall watching as they wheeled the man’s body out of the room covered with a white sheet. Alyson bowed her head.

Melanie turned a corner. She didn’t know how to feel about what had just happened. She knew that Alyson, sweet little grandma, Alyson had just killed a man. He was dead and it was her fault, but he said he was dying anyway. So had Alyson really killed him? Aren’t we all dying was her mind’s comeback. Of course, we are, but this had to be different then killing out of cold blood. It was different then the justice law. Melanie’s heart told her it was different, but her mind continued to ask hard questions, questions she wasn’t sure she could answer.

Was the man really going to die? Was there nothing more they could do for him? Was it right to end his life earlier than when his body would have shut down on its own? Melanie didn’t know. No one knew.

Melanie did know that she wouldn’t tell anyone, she didn’t tell on Father Christopher after all, and what he was doing was worse than what Alyson had done. Was there a just reason to take a life?

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-Two

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Melanie’s dreams were haunted with massive holes brimming with the bodies of nameless women and children. Their grey faces with dark circles around their eyes. Hair matted with blood and dirt. She stood at the edge of the pit, watching dirt fall like rain slowly covering the little faces.

She jerked awake startling Sam, who was curled up beside her. She stroked her sister’s honey hair. “It’s okay, go back to sleep,” she whispered.

This was the first time she had returned to Karalynn’s since her mother had be shot. Alyson had convinced her to go home and get a good night’s sleep. Alyson said she would stay the night with Jennifer, and make sure she was comfortable and had everything she needed. Jennifer had encouraged Melanie to go home too, saying, Sam and Mitchel needed her. So, she had called Mitchel to come and pick her up.

The three of them spent the night wrapped in blankets watching movies and eating popcorn just as they had done so many nights back in Blue River. For one evening, Melanie forgot the rest of the world. Now, the nightmares and collided with the memories from the night before. She felt sick and hollow. She ached with the knowledge that the children and mothers in the mass graves would never hold one another again.

There was no going back to sleep for her. She didn’t want to return to those grey faces with all the life drained out of them. Melanie wrapped the blanket around Sam and snuck out of the room. Daisy followed her, nudging a toy into her hand. Melanie rubbed the broad black head. “In a minute girl.”

She went into the kitchen and started the coffee. The newspaper from yesterday was spread out on the counter. She scanned the headlines.

“Thousands Fleeing to Safe Zones and Turned Away”

President *** reminds citizens that you must be free of any felony conviction and free from any Justice Kills to enter the Safe Zones. No weapons are allowed inside the walled cities…

Melanie skipped down the page.

“Death Toll Climbs: What was Washington Thinking”

Lobbyist, Melissa Sanchez, presented numbers of dead from the major cities across the United States to Washington asking, “What did you think would happen by sanctifying murder?” Washington has made rich men out of security guards and morticians…

Melanie’s fingers turned the page over.

“Killer Scrub Hunting in Denver”

Governor Marcus Tibbets of Colorado announced that his office will be cooperating fully with Homeland Security to locate the killer lurking in Denver. A second body in the last five days, was found mutilated and gutted in a rundown hotel in the slums of Denver.

“It reminded me of when my husband hangs a deer after the hunt and guts it in the garage,” said the hotel maid who found the body. “I am lucky I didn’t eat breakfast or I would have vomited on the floor.”

The first body was found two days before at another hotel in the same neighborhood. The condition of the corpse was similar. Both victims are middle aged males.

“Because there is no registered justice kill and nothing on the the SAFE chip of the victim, we believe that the killer is a scrub himself,” reported Lieutenant James Murphy from Homeland Security.

Governor Tibbets is asking for information from the community to be called into the local Denver Police who are putting nearly entire force on this case.

“Our streets are dangerous enough. The people need to know that despite the legalization of killing, murder is still a crime in the State of Colorado,” said Governor Tibbets.

Melanie jumped at the sound of steps behind her. She turned around with her hand on her gun, which wasn’t there. She had not worn it for a few days since she couldn’t have it on at the hospital.

She let out a breath. It was Mitchel. He handed her forgotten gun and she slipped it into the back of her jeans.

“You haven’t missed much while at the hospital,” he said. He walked over to the cupboard and poured them both a cup of coffee.

They went out onto the back porch and sat on the swing watching the sun begin to color the sky. Daisy followed them the tags on her collar clinking together.

“How much longer until your mom’s released?”

“A few more days.” Daisy rested her chin on Melanie’s knee a yellow knobby ball clutched between her teeth. Melanie took the ball and tossed it across the yard.

“Richard wants to leave today. I told him to go and we would meet up with him later if we could,” Mitchel said. “He thinks you should check your mom out of the hospital and get out of town with this killer roaming the streets.”

Melanie watched birds flutter from one tree to another.

She turned to look at him. “I will talk with Dr. Brinkard tomorrow about moving her.”

Daisy pushed the wet ball into Melanie’s hand. She threw it again and Daisy romped after it, ears flapping and nubby tail wagging.

“We can wait Mel. It’s not worth risking your mom’s life.”

Melanie put the mug to her lips. There was that question again. What was a life worth? How much of a risk did this killer actually pose to her and her family?

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