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“You may need this.” Eric pulled his backup firearm from his left pocket and handed it to Quintrell out of view of the others.
A puzzled expression formed on Quintrell’s face. “Why are you doing this?”
“We all figure this is a trap and your future doesn’t look so rosy. Considering we arrested you, Padrino won’t expect you to have a gun. That could be the best thing in our favor.”
Quintrell nodded and tucked it into his jacket pocket.
“Don’t make me regret it,” Eric said.
With the rear door interior handles disabled for transport, Bette opened one for Eric and Tina opened the other for Quintrell. Eric went into character, assuming a poor posture, and slapping a hand against his thigh with a thumb and two fingers pressed together. Quintrell circled around the trunk to Eric’s side and took him by the arm.
“This way.” Tina waved her arm at the rubble, taking point with the flashlight to illuminate a path toward what used to be the back of the house.
The four waded through the debris field in a single file with Bette in the rear. Stretching over piles of soft ash, sidestepping twisted metal, and crunching sections of singed drywall, they reached what once was the terrace. Just beyond lay the pool.
Bette caught up and glimpsed at the pool for the first time, causing her to come to an abrupt halt. An unnerving silence had replaced the crackling wind-whipped flames when she and Tina were last there.
Her eyes now adjusted to the dim moonlight, Bette made out the water had turned murky, made worse by floating rubbish. For hours, she and Tina clung to life there under their soaked jackets, convinced that would be their watery tomb. She rubbed each hand, remembering the searing heat that nearly boiled her skin away. If not for her and Tina’s two coats, she doubted they’d have much skin left from the neck up.
Despite the uncertain horror while beneath the coats, with Tina’s help, she shed the painful shackles of her past. Surviving the flames and breaking the curse, she and Tina unlocked her decades-old guilt and pain of witnessing her parents’ death in an accident she created.
“Where do you think Padrino wants to make the exchange?” Tina asked.