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“Gotcha loud and clear, Porter,” Joyce said over the radio. “Decker?”
“Right here L-T, feeling like I gotta lose a few pounds.” Eric rolled his shoulders to release the pinch of Antonio’s snug-fitting shirt and jacket.
Bette forced a chuckle to ease her tension. It didn’t work.
“Kennard?” Joyce said.
“Loud and clear.”
“We’re taking up position. Good luck.” Joyce and Prichard parked just off the main road while Bette continued down the paved access road to Three Owls Vineyard.
The digital clock on Bette’s dashboard said they had about eight minutes before the deadline. What would the minutes following that bring? Like the last time Bette and Tina were here, would things turn out for the best? Her stomach knotted at the alternative.
Bette gulped when the remains of the main house came into view. In its place stood three brick fireplaces and chimneys, mangled household appliances, and a scattering of cinderblock foundation among a field of scorched, tangled debris.
The two SUVs in front the night of the fire had since been removed and outlines where they ignited remained on the asphalt. She pulled up just short of that spot, the place where she and Tina had left the two guards tied up for their certain deaths. No doubt those men would’ve slaughtered them if given a chance, but she left them helpless, and that left an irrevocable bitterness in Bette’s mouth.
She threw the car into park, then gripped the steering wheel tight, twisting her fingers around the leather wrap. What came next troubled her. In the pool, she sensed she’d come closest to death. Her parents’ car and the exploding drug lab were brief brushes with her mortality, but there in the water, she had hours to consider her demise. Only Tina got her through it. Now, Tina was by her side again.
“I’m glad you’re with me,” Bette said gazing into Tina’s eyes.
“Me too.” Tina scrunched her nose in a faint grin. “Let’s go get our family back.”
“Game time, fellas.” Bette stared in the rearview and Eric and Quintrell both acknowledged her with a nod. “Hey Tina, open the glove compartment and grab the flashlight.”
Tina fished out the metal mini-Maglite.
Bette and Tina each opened their doors and slid out the sedan. The stale odor of weeks-old burned waste laid heavy in every direction, reminding Bette of the hours she spent in the pool.