Fatal Option

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Fatal Option


A tragic accident. A family in crisis. And a killer watching every move.

Five months after the mysterious death of his wife, Stephen Porter is pulled from a dreamless sleep by a midnight phone call. His 17-year-old daughter Sara is stranded in a blizzard near the top of a mountain beyond their suburban home. She’s terrified and unable to stop crying as she begs him to come to her rescue.

Unfortunately Stephen went to bed just an hour before after a night of binge drinking. With his blurred vision and unsteady balance he knows it’s dangerously irresponsible to get behind the wheel. But he heads out into the snowstorm to bring Sara home.

High school teacher Kieran O’Shea is also behind the wheel, searching for his autistic younger brother Aidan, who is wandering aimlessly through the storm on that same mountain. Kieran is terrified—of the voices in his mind, that Aidan will be taken from him, and that he may soon be arrested for murdering three women.

In a matter of minutes Stephen will encounter Kieran and drive headlong into a collision that will force him to unlock the secret of his wife’s death, avoid prosecution, and protect his children from violence that hits all too close to home.

Prologue

The blizzard winds hit the bedroom windows with brute-force, the wump sounds registering in the recesses of Stephen Porter’s mind as he hugged the extra pillow and yearned for a blackout sleep to take the sad night away. His arms and legs were heavy, his sinuses swollen from the emotions that had struck the moment he had climbed into bed. From downstairs he heard the chimes of the grandfather clock—a lonely sound resonating through the sparsely furnished rooms of his sprawling suburban house.



Wump The windows shuddered again as he slipped into a deeper doze. He sensed a vague threat in the sound—a notion the glass might break as it persisted— WumpWUMP —louder now, nudging its way into the dream-space between wakefulness and sleep, still a part of the physical world of his bedroom and his house…but with a reverberation of the past. No, he thought. Not again— Not tonight— He tightened his hold on the pillow, as if it would slow the backsliding feeling; tried to move against the solid weight on his chest as the sound and the memories took him back to another kind of storm, with gusting winds and thunder and lightning shattering the heat of an August day. Back to the rapid-fire deluge of rain on the roof. And the sight of it overflowing the gutters and pooling in the streets. And the conversation at the front door, riddled with assurances that did not ring true. “It’s 8 o’clock.” “But I have to go—” “It’s not safe—” The voices had a tinny, ethereal tone, and gave way to images triggered by both certainties and imaginings of what must have been: The Lexus, silver-gray in the steely downpour, backing up and driving away.


The rain obscuring visibility as it traveled from the neighborhood streets to the highway and then toward the mountain to the north. The Lexus moving too quickly for the weather or the narrow road as it climbed, up and up toward the mountain’s highest perch. The Bluetooth ringing, the calls ignored as the speedometer needle swept higher, and higher— 50 60 70 “STOP!” He felt a jolt in his neck as his eyes flew open, the sound of his voice—either imagined or spoken—still echoing through his mind as he sat up— And heard the ringing phone, a dislocated sound amid the nightmare images still flickering through his mind as he looked at the clock: 12:13 He rubbed his eyes as the room began a slow turn around him, and listened as the next ring was interrupted by the click of the answering machine kicking in with his own recorded voice: “You’ve reached the Porters. We’re not here right now—” His temples throbbed as he reached for the receiver, and knocked it to the floor. He groaned as he picked it up. “Hello?” He heard nothing in response. The connection had broken. He thought of his son, Kenneth, soundly asleep in his room down the hall, and his daughter, Sara, at her friend Madison’s house, just four blocks away.



Nothing to worry about. He sucked in a deep breath, willing his mind to calm. Everybody’s okay. He gazed at the empty space beside him as the phone rang again. There was a mild tremor in his hand as he answered. “Hello.” “Daddy…” The line filled with static as the windows shuddered from another gust of wind. “Sara?” He pressed the phone against his ear and spoke louder. “I can barely hear you.” “Something happened—” There were several seconds of silence before her voice came through again. “—scared. I don’t know how—” He heard a dial tone. His heartbeat quickened as he turned on the bedside lamp. His cell phone was on the dresser, plugged into the charger. He scrolled to Sara’s number, and went straight into her voice mail. The landline rang again. He snatched it up. “Sara, what’s wrong?” He heard more static. “The Jeep won’t start—I’m stranded. Can you come pick me up?” Stranded? The word hit him wrong.


He heard more static. “The Jeep won’t start—I’m stranded. Can you come pick me up?” Stranded? The word hit him wrong. He remembered she had driven to Madison Reidy’s house; remembered cautioning her about the icy roads. But if she had had car trouble it would have taken no more than five minutes to walk back home. “Is Madison with you?” Sara sniffled. “No.” “What do you mean, no?” “I’m somewhere else. I really need to get out of here.” “Where’s Madison? Where’s her mom?” “I don’t know. I’m not with them.” She paused, and took a deep, audible breath, as if mustering her composure. “I’m really sorry daddy—” And then she started crying—with hard sobs that made it sound as if she was struggling to catch her breath. Stephen pressed the phone harder against his ear as he opened the bedside table drawer and scrambled for a pen. “Sara, tell me where you are. What’s the address?” “I’m…at a house, with a boy from school. It’s 4334 Rolling Road. Off 15 North. Up on the mountain. Can you please hurry?” And then they were cut off again.


He sat on the edge of the bed and tried to process what he had just heard. Sara was not with her friend Madison. She had lied to him about where she was going. And now she was stranded, at a house on the mountain. On Rolling Road Images from the nightmare rushed back—with memories of that same narrow, two-lane roadway, hemmed in on both sides by towering trees, undoubtedly coated with snow and ice— “Hell,” he whispered, his heart racing as he reached for his jeans and pulled on a heavy corduroy shirt. On the table next to the bed was an empty glass, a reminder of the last shot of straight bourbon; one on top of way too many before. He remembered sitting alone and sipping it slowly, doing his best to blot out the sadness that had followed him up to his room.


It had been less than an hour since that last drink and he knew it was still coursing through his system as he went into the adjoining den where he kept his computer. He turned on the overhead light—a bright white flash that sharpened the pain at his temples—went to Google, and typed in the address. A map came up. He recognized the arc of Route 70 and the bisecting line of Route 15, and then the turnoff to Rolling Road, a zigzagging thoroughfare that led up to the top of the mountain. The address Sara had given him—4334—was marked by a green arrow on the screen. He stared at it for a long moment, wondering how tonight—of all nights—she had found her way there. And then he got moving, returning to the bedroom, where he pulled a pair of woolen socks from the drawer and took a wintergreen Life Saver from the bedside table, the taste reminding him of the antacids that he had been downing almost every day. A wave of nausea made him gag as he moved out to the hall and down the curved stairway.


Into the foyer with its green marble floor. Through the kitchen of granite and steel. Into the two-story family room, where the air had grown chilly in the deepening night. He scribbled a note—GONE TO RESCUE YOUR SISTER IN THE SNOW—on the family message board on the extremely unlikely chance that Kenneth would wake up and come downstairs before they got back, then grabbed his barn coat from the mudroom and stepped into the garage.

Harsh overhead lights flickered on as he pushed the button for the automatic door. It rose a few feet and came to a squealing stop halfway up. He cursed and hit the button again. Like every other upgrade in the new house, the mechanized door had been installed by the builder. It had been on Stephen’s mental list of things that needed to be fixed for over a month but he still hadn’t found the time. A gust of wind blew a spray of snow into the garage as the door finally rose all the way. He took the shovel from its hook on the wall and moaned, “Good God Sara, you’re gonna kill me,” and stepped out into the brutally cold air to clear a path from the driveway to the street.

He was panting and sweating when he finished, his vision vibrating as he reached for the handle of the driver’s side door. You drank too much, he thought. Shouldn’t drive……..

Beak



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Chris Beakey