Chapter 2

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The man Barlow thought had drowned was alive!

Startled, Barlow jumped backward, tripped, and fell onto his butt. He crawled to the man who lay on his side suffering from fits of coughing.

He got to his knees and bent over the man, trying to figure out how he could help. "You're going to be okay."

The man stared at him, his face porcelain white with bulging Gollum-sized eyes.

"My house is nearby. I'm going for help. I'll be right back." Barlow ran to the house as fast as the uneven terrain would allow.

He burst through the backdoor, breathless and shivering. At the foot of the staircase, he yelled up toward his parents' bedroom, "Mom, Dad, there's been an accident. A car is in the river. A man has been hurt."

His mother appeared in a nightgown at the top of the staircase. "What did you say?"

Barlow repeated the news and ran to the phone, dialed 911.

He heard his mother shout, "Forrest, you'd better wake up."

By the time Barlow reported the accident, his father had come downstairs, fully dressed. "Where is the wreck?"

"Just this side of the weeping willow tree. The car is in the stream, and I pulled the driver up onto the bank. By now he's probably in shock."

"Better take a blanket for the poor man," his mother said. She grabbed a quilt from the hallway closet and handed it to her husband.

His father started for the door.

"I'm coming with you," Barlow said.

"No, boy, you're soaked and liable to get sick if you go back outside. You have an early flight tomorrow. Go to bed. I'll take care of this."

Did the old man actually think he would be able to sleep after everything that happened to him tonight?

His mother laid a hand on his shoulder. "Change out of those wet things, Barlow. I'll heat up some milk for you. It'll help you sleep."

He climbed the stairs to his room and stripped, took a quick hot shower, and pulled on some sweats. He returned to the kitchen and sat, waiting for his father to return.

"Drink your milk. Your father might be gone a long time. Then you should go to bed." Barlow noted her diplomatic tone. His mother had mastered the art of diplomacy; it was the only way she could deal with her husband. Although his father never raised a hand to her, Barlow had often witnessed his verbal tirades.

The last time his father used a belt on him, Barlow had been twelve. Although he no longer suffered from beatings, the old man abused him in other ways. He wouldn't allow Barlow to get a driver's license, made him haul bundles of shingles up a ladder all day long at construction sites, and had kept him from engaging in after school activities with his friends.

If it weren't for Pet, Barlow figured he never would've survived until graduation.

"I'm not going to bed. The cops will probably want to talk with me since I was first on the scene."

His mother considered his words and nodded. "I suppose that makes sense."

Barlow dozed at the kitchen table while waiting. His mother woke him when his father returned. The man looked between the two of them and shook his head. "The police measured the skid marks. The dumb ass was going too fast to make the turn. Ended up in the river."

Just as Barlow had suspected. "Is he going to be all right?"

His father shot him a sideways glance. "The man's dead. Drowned."

Barlow took a moment to process what his father had said. "What do you mean? I pulled him from the car and up onto the bank. He was recovering when I left him."

"Don't you go making up lies. That man was buckled into his seat and underwater. I watched as the EMTs pulled him out."

"That can't be. What about all the money?"

"What money?"

Barlow scoffed. "A steamer trunk filled with bills."

His father's face reddened. "I don't know what game you're playing, but by god, you'd better drop your disrespectful tone."

Barlow pushed back from the table, stood, and glared at his old man. "I don't play games. I saw what I saw."

"I don't know what you think  you saw, but I'm telling you the man driving that car is dead and there is no steamer trunk. No money."

Barlow thought about it. Was it possible? Could his old man really be that much of a bastard? "Who got to the scene first, you or the cops?"

"I did."

"How much time did you have before the police arrived?"

His father narrowed his eyes and took a step forward. "What are you trying to say, boy?"

His mother stepped between them. "Forrest, you've been out in the night air a long time. Let me pour you a cup of coffee."

Barlow ignored his mother's attempt to de-escalate the situation and continued the staring contest with his father. "You go on and on about how slow things are with the business. An infusion of cash would solve a lot of problems, wouldn't it?"

His father's jaw trembled and his face turned beet red. Barlow wondered from anger or guilt? The man's words came out as a growl. "You'd better watch what you say. You may be eighteen, but I can still put you on your ass."

"Think so? Why don't you go ahead and try?"

In a panicky voice, his mother said, "That's enough. Both of you stop this."

Except Barlow didn't want to stop. This showdown had been brewing for a long time. "Why are your clothes soaked, Dad? Did that happen when you waded into the river to steal the trunk?"

The old man glared but said nothing.

"Let me guess," Barlow went on. "The guy on the bank objected to your taking his cash. Things got physical—"

"—Not as physical as things are about to get—"

"—But in his weakened state, you easily overpowered him. Then what? You held him under the water? Put him back in the driver's seat? No one would ever know, right? Where did you hide the money?"

The old man took a stuttering breath but said nothing.

Barlow went on. "You killed him, didn't you? You staged the body and hid the money."

His mother looked at him in horror. "You can't believe your father would do such a thing."

"Can't I? Why has he suddenly gone quiet? Why won't he defend himself? Probably because he can't."

Barlow's father pointed at the door. "Gather your things and get out. I don't ever want to see you again. You're no longer welcome in this house."

Is Barlow's father lying? Is he guilty of anything? Any theories as to how the stranger ended up back in the car or what happened to the cash?

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Is Barlow's father lying? Is he guilty of anything? Any theories as to how the stranger ended up back in the car or what happened to the cash?

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