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Authors: Liz Crowe

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Mutual Release (56 page)

BOOK: Mutual Release
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Julie half-assed her way through the work day, which pissed her off. But she was very happy with her new sales manager and was getting confident about turning things over to the woman during her maternity leave. They finished up a meeting by mid-afternoon as Julie seriously contemplated going home for a nap. “Okay, Leslie, I think that’s it.
Ow
.” She clutched her side as a sudden, bright pain shot through her lower left side.

“You okay?” Leslie had two boys and was a font of pregnancy practicalities. “Side ache?”

“Yeah.” Julie rubbed it, sipped water, and tried not to throw up for a few more hours. Tears sprang to her eyes as a wave of self-pity threatened. She wanted to hear Evan’s voice so badly it nearly crushed her chest. But she would be damned if she would ask him for anything, ever. Mr. “you can trust me I’m always here for you” indeed. Fucker.

She glanced up at the security panel he’d had installed inside her office. It matched the one in her big new house. Neither of them had been activated. Her one little snub to his need to control her, a small one, but one that made her feel good, so she let the damn things sit, dark and silent and useless.

* * * *

Evan stared at his computer screen. He saw nothing, really. Running a hand through his hair, he gave focus the old college try. Then gave up. The last few weeks had been an utter blur. He sat, still processing Julie had admitted her desire for children and he had ignored it, fucking the woman six ways to Sunday as if he possessed no control over himself whatsoever. Fighting with her just as enthusiastically over everything from paint colors to cable and internet providers. Useless, all of it. Maybe he was not the marrying type after all.

The desk suddenly seemed like the perfect place for a nap. He put his head down, trying to still his brain, which hardly gave him a moment’s peace anymore. The depth and breadth of his failure with Julie left him a breathless insomniac – a walking zombie most days. He missed her so much his whole body hurt, but the fury at her drastic change of heart about kids smothered that. Which left him quivering and useless, unable to deal with anything other than the basics.

“Hey.” Suzanne rapped on his door. “You got a second?”

He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and tried to give a shit about anything. But it proved hopeless. “Yeah,” he said. “But I can’t promise I’m worth much.”

“Well, that’s fine because I’m taking you out. Actually, Jack and I are. So turn off the computer. Let’s go.”

He groaned and stood, stretching out his back which was sore from sleeping on the couch of the stupid extended-stay hotel. “Why? I’m bona fide no fun these days, trust me.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” She smiled and held out a hand. He squeezed it, then grabbed his phone and keys before following her out.

She drove them downtown in silence, parked, and climbed out. He did the same, unsure where they were going but not really caring much. They walked side-by-side to one of Ann Arbor’s less known underground hangouts and entered the dark bar. The soothing, liquor-infused odors made Evan’s heart stop pounding for a moment. Jack motioned them over from a booth. He had a bourbon in front of him already.

“Damn, Adams, you look like day-old shit twice warmed over.”

“Fuck you. Thanks.” He slid into the booth across from his friend. The waitress took their orders and left them to stare at each other.

Suzanne took his hand. “Evan, you can’t live like this. I don’t know what is going on, but you helped me when I was falling apart a few years ago, and I’ll be damned if I let you go down this drain now.”

He waved her off. Asking for or accepting help on any sort of emotional level was not his thing. It never had been. He didn’t even know where to start – the whole mess was so convoluted and ridiculous. He tried not to sigh too heavily.

“Dude, what the fuck?” Jack asked, sipping his drink. He held up a hand and ticked off his points. “A hot wife. A great house. A business where you make beer. A hot wife. And…” He raised an eyebrow. “A hot wife. What am I missing here? Did you forget we men are simple creatures?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He glowered into his drink, aggravated by their nosiness all of a sudden.

“Would you please shut up, Gordon? You’re really not helping,” Suzanne said. She stared into her martini, and a distinctly uncomfortable silence fell over the table. Finally, Suzanne spoke again. “Okay, listen, I get you don’t want to talk about whatever has you living in a hotel, but can I just maintain we are here to listen? When you are ready to talk about it?”

“Julie is… She…” Evan shut his eyes for a moment.

Jack touched his hand. “It’s not that complex. Stop trying to make it that way.”

“You are hardly the right man to be telling me that,” he scoffed, happy to deflect some of the attention away from him and onto a man who loved the spotlight. “Julie’s pregnant,” he muttered into his drink, already feeling like a hundred kinds of shithead for being so pissed about the fact.

“Oh,” Jack said, sitting back.

“Great!” Suzanne declared, patting his shoulder. “Congratulations.”

He scowled at her again. “It is not great.”

“Why not?” Her question was straightforward, without irony or guile. It made him bite back fury at himself.

“We had an agreement. No kids. I don’t want the… worry or hassle or expense or any of it. Ever. I told her so, years ago. And she agreed. Now all of a sudden… oh, fuck it. Never mind.” He hated the sound of the words and of his own voice. His chest hurt so bad he pondered getting himself to the hospital. But he knew it was for one reason: he missed her, and it translated to actual, physical pain.

“Wow.” Jack held up a hand for another round of drinks.

“You are just a wealth of helpful commentary, aren’t you?” Suzanne glared at him.

He shrugged. “I’m definitely not the right guy to comment about the timeliness, or not, of having kids.”

“C’mon, man,” Evan said, his voice tight. “I figured you would be the one to lay all kinds of knowledge on me. So I can figure a way out of this mess and get back with my wife – or better yet, so she will let me back in my own fucking house.”

Jack burst out laughing, but it was bitter and without a trace of humor. “You figure
me
for the one to tell
you
about the mysteriousness of the female psyche? And I suppose I can fill you in on why we are so taken by those who seem destined to make us insane, or perhaps just alcoholics?” He shook his head and sipped his second drink. “You are a sorrier motherfucker than I thought.”

Evan elbowed Suzanne. He had to get out of here. But Jack put a firm hand on his arm.

“Calm down, Evan. I don’t mean to be a jerk. It’s just…” He looked up at the ceiling. “I’ve got nothing. And you know it. So let’s just have a few drinks with the one woman on the planet we do get, most days.” He tipped his glass in Suzanne’s direction. She rolled her eyes but held hers up, and they clinked and drank in yet more silence.

“I will say this,” Jack said after they got a few appetizers in them. “Julie is something special. I know that and I know you do too. Don’t let her go, man. Just… don’t. Of all people, I know that’s easier said than done, but you guys are… I don’t know… the one thing that was stable, normal, for me. You were the one couple who made it.”

Evan sighed and kept nibbling at whatever food had been placed in front of him. But after another few minutes, his innate restlessness got the best of him. He nudged Suzanne out of the way. “Gotta go take a leak.”

The back hallway was a little wonky, considering he’d had two strong drinks on a very empty stomach. At one point he stumbled, righting himself with an angry curse. A hand touched his arm. A distinctly feminine touch and scent invaded his booze and exhaustion-addled brain. He smiled at the woman, not even seeing her.

“You all right?” she asked, her body language screaming messages to him he tried very hard to ignore.

“Um, no, but thanks,” he muttered, shouldering his way into the men’s room. It was no real surprise when he emerged to find her still there, ostensibly fiddling with her phone.

She smiled and said something. He didn’t even compute it. He was on full shut down, the agony of separation and the fury at his own stupid behavior making his teeth ache. He grabbed the woman, shoved her up against the wall, and dove into her mouth, once. As she started to respond he felt firm hands on his shoulders, tugging him away.

Jack smiled at the breathless girl. “Sorry, sweetheart, my friend here is a little confused.”

“Get me out of here.” Evan yanked himself away from his friend’s grip, downed his drink, and plunked the empty glass and a bunch of cash on the table.

Chapter Eight

The hangover routine had become way too familiar. Evan inhaled painkillers, water, coffee, and took the hottest possible shower before heading to the brewery. He had a couple of crucial meetings with city inspectors. He clutched his phone, willing Julie to communicate with him but not surprised when she didn’t. If anyone could beat him in the
stubborn
game, it would be her. Of course, he didn’t blame her. Much.

His phone rang a couple of times on the way into work, but both calls were from unfamiliar numbers. One left a message. When he stopped at a red light, he listened and had to pull over to the side of the road to catch his breath.

“Hello, Mr. Adams, this is Detective Walters with the Detroit Police department. You gave me your information a few years ago and said if we had any leads on a potential serial abuser in the area to contact you. Can you call me today? We need to talk.”

Hands shaking, he hit the call-back button on that number after squelching his knee-jerk desire to call Julie and tell her about the message. The conversation was clipped and to the point. Evan agreed to come in and read a report involving a young woman who had wandered into a suburban station, emaciated, black and blue, and claiming she had escaped her “Dom” after being locked in a basement for six weeks. His physical description matched Damian Slate’s to a tee.

Evan asked if he could meet the girl, talk to her. But the cop wouldn’t say one way or the other. All the crazy bullshit he’d been through in the last few months crashed in on him, making his voice quake as they spoke. But by the time he hung up he felt a small flicker of hope.

Maybe they could nail the son-of-a-bitch this time. At least that was one thing he could get right.

* * * *

Evan stood at the one-way glass, observing as a social worker interviewed the woman – the girl – Damian had held a virtual and finally real prisoner for nearly half a year. He narrowed his eyes at the sight of her thin frame, her huge eyes circled by healing bruises, at the way she clutched her arms and kept looking down at the floor. The artist had a rendering based on her description, and Evan had no doubt it was the man who’d raped Caroline all those years ago before emotionally and physically abusing his sister.

He kept his voice calm and asked questions as he watched the girl, who was now six months pregnant by her abuser, assume submissive positions. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to yell and beat his fist against the wall. This was his. He owned this girl, little more than a teenager. Because of him, his inability to pursue Damian after his mother’s funeral, she sat there, shaking and terrified and hurt.

“Can I talk to her?” he asked again, jaw clenched. He could not tear his eyes from her.

“I doubt it,” the detective said. “But we’ll check with the social worker in a minute.”

Evan was already mentally compiling his witness list. Caroline had said a few years ago she would gladly testify now. And even Rachel from high school had emerged when he’d sent out a bulletin to their graduating class seeking witnesses or even victims of Damian’s early forms of abuse.

He sat for another hour observing the poor girl break down and cry, as her “training” kicked in, and she retreated to a corner, punishing herself for losing control. His gut clenched. He tapped his fingers on the table. He sent his wife a text, hoping to hell and back she would pay attention.

“Put on the alarm at your office and the house. Right now. I’ll explain later. Please just do this for me, Julie, if you value anything about our relationship.”

He stared at the screen but no response emerged. He nearly passed out from terror. Damian was close by. He was in Michigan or had been as late as a few days ago. Jesus. He ran a shaking hand over his face, trying to dispel the memory of the man’s stare – the one he trained right on Julie, his now pregnant wife. He willed her to answer, begging her in his head so he could know that she was fine.

Cursing under his breath, he sent Jack a text, telling him to make sure she did as he asked, resisting the urge to have Jack call him and reassure him Julie was okay. That would never fly with Jack and Evan knew it. Finally the social worker emerged, looking frazzled. He was allowed in to visit with the girl, Nina, for a few minutes, under observation.

Evan entered the room, strode over to the shivering girl in the corner and stood, waiting for her to acknowledge him. If he knew Damian, the girl was likely hardwired to cower to a man like himself. He took a deep breath and tried to force her to let his presence calm her. Finally, he sensed her move and get on all fours. He dropped down to her eye level and tilted her shaking chin up. “You don’t have to do that,” he said as sternly as he could manage.

BOOK: Mutual Release
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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