Nine

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We stood in front of a bank that was on the corner of South Main and First. I held the envelope in my hands as I wondered what kind of game Paige was getting at. What the hell had she brought me here to see? What did she gain from this?

"Are you gonna open it?" Melissa wondered.

I peered down at the envelope and nodded stiffly.

My trembling finger slid and ripped the seal. Inside, there was a newspaper clipping that dated back ten years. I feared I already knew what this was.

"A bank heist ends in shooting, leaving one dead and three injured," I read. "Patrice Stanley, a local woman who worked at South Main Bank, heroically lost her life when she called for backup..."

My voice trembled as the knot in my throat tightened. Things were getting personal. This couldn't just be a coincidence.

Melissa took the news clipping from me and read the note Paige had left at the bottom.

"People like you don't deserve happy endings. People like you deserve to suffer, because all you do is take."

My jaw flexed as I held back the tears of pain and anger. The first and only time I had ever hurt someone on a job was the night we had gotten caught by Chapman. It was never supposed to happen. No one was supposed to get hurt, but unexpected things happen.

Yet, I knew it wasn't an excuse. I was a criminal. I had been breaking the law and that guard was only doing his job. Had he died? Did he have a wife? Kids? A mother and a father?

Then I realized, Paige was right.

I didn't deserve a happy ending. I didn't deserve happiness. I didn't deserve any of it... but that didn't mean Anna deserved to be punished for my mistakes. Was this just Paige's way of toying with me before she inevitably ripped away my family too? Was she planning to hurt Anna in the end to make sure I lived a miserable life?

The rage seemed to overpower the sadness as I looked at Melissa.

"Give me that cellphone," I demanded.

She handed it over.

I turned it on and waited until it was fully awake before making my way to the contacts list. There was only one number, and it was labeled as none other than Paige Stanley.

I typed: "Look bitch, if you want me, I'm here and I'm ready."

Then I hit send.

It was like I expected an immediate response, but I should've known better. This was a game to her. This wasn't life or death like it was to me. She wanted me to suffer for as long as possible before she gave in. I shoved the phone into my jacket and stared up at the bank.

So, her mother had been murdered when she was a young girl. Was she telling me something? Did she want me to see what her life had been like? What was the point of all this?

When I lost interest in the bank and looked back towards where we had parked the car, there was a lingering figure that somehow seemed familiar. Was that...?

But they turned away and swiftly headed down the street.

I found my feet carrying me towards them.

"Alexa, where are you going?"

But I kept walking, desperate to prove myself wrong. Why the hell would he be here? Had he followed me and Melissa?

I crossed the street without looking and probably cut off a car hence the honk I received. Melissa most likely threw them an apologetic smile and wave on my behalf. My eyes were trained on the figure who rounded the corner.

"Alexa, what the hell-?!"

"Be quiet," I demanded. "Someone's following us."

I could tell by Melissa's silence that she believed me. Even though I wasn't completely positive, and was surely losing my mind, I pursued the figure. If it was really who I thought I saw, there was either something wrong or he wasn't who I thought he was.

The man turned down an alley between the grocery store and a house, but was cut off by a chain-linked fence. His hood covered the back of his head as I approached him. Jeez, was he contemplating jumping it?

"Where's the fire?" I asked him.

I watched his shoulders slump in disappointment at the realization that he was caught. I was just eager to hear why the hell he had followed me.

Alvin turned around, his frantic eyes peered through his glasses and looked at me. There was an expression on his face that pled guilty.

"It's not what it looks like-"

"Oh yeah?" I stepped closer to him. "Then why the hell were you running away from me?"

"I just wanted to keep an eye on you and Melissa," Al claimed, his hands raised into the air. "I swear it."

"Why? Are you one of Paige's little minions too? Were you making sure I found what she wanted me to find? Are you letting her know that I made it to her hometown?"

I knew my paranoia was getting out of hand, but I couldn't help it. As much as I wanted to believe Alvin had been on our side, it would make more sense if he wasn't.

He had given me the clue about the bible verse. He had offered to "scan" my cellphone to find Paige's location but "couldn't find anything". And now he was here, watching me follow Paige's clues to find my sister.

"Alexa..." Melissa said. "He's telling the truth."

I felt the adrenaline subside at Melissa's voice. My eyes studied Alvin, and I mean really studied him. I forced myself to look past the blinding anger and paranoia only to see a frantic old man with worry lines on his forehead.

I stepped back.

Al sighed in relief as I gave him some space.

"I wasn't necessarily following you," he claimed. "I was following a black van that was following you."

The black van. Was it here? Were those men closer than we thought? Did they know we were coming to Myrtletown?

I looked back and checked the coast.

"They're not around," Alvin revealed. "I lost them in Kings County, but I knew you were coming here so I made the trip..."

"Why didn't you just tell us you were here?" Melissa wondered.

"Was I supposed to telepathically relay the message?" he mocked. "I didn't know your cellphone number and Alexa left hers at the tattoo parlor."

Suddenly I felt stupid.

I looked up. "How do you know we're being followed?"

"I passed by your house after you two left this morning," he said to Melissa. "When I got there, they were waiting in your drive way. Then I followed them to some other house before they led me to Kings County."

He had caught them staking out Derik's, and then they had followed us to Kings County where we had visited Dave Stanley. And if they knew about us visiting Dave...

There was no way they didn't know about Myrtletown.

"We need to go," I claimed. "We need to find a safe place to stay."

"There's a motel about fifteen minutes from here." Al fumbled with his car keys. "I already booked myself a room."

I looked at Melissa but she seemed already sold on staying there tonight. Figured if Alvin trusted the place enough, we would be alright. Plus, it was nearly dark.

"Fine,"I agreed. "Let's go."


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