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Killer Deadline
Author: Lauren Carr

Prologue


   Twenty-Three Years Ago

   “Where’s your father?”

   Twelve-year-old Nikki Bryant looked up from where she was admiring the latest “battle scar” on her knee. She had earned it while trying to steal third base.

   The umpire called her out. Nikki suspected that he had accepted a bribe to make sure her team lost.

   Instead of seeing the kind face of Camille Addison offering to drive her home from the softball game, she saw her daughter smirking behind her.

   “I guess he got hung up at the station.” Nikki tucked a stray lock of blond hair behind her ear. “He’ll be here soon.”

   Camille glanced around the ball field. Most of the softball players and their parents had left. In the late spring season, the sun was setting behind the Allegheny Mountains that cut a path through Pine Grove, a tiny town in central Pennsylvania.

   “Get in the car, I’ll take you home.”

   The two twelve-year-old girls’ eyes met. It was bad enough that their mothers were best friends. Not only that, but they were stuck going to the same middle school, being on the same softball team, cheerleading squad, and band.

   Riding home in the same vehicle was the last straw.

   Ashleigh tossed a wave of her silky blond hair behind her shoulder in a move that she had perfected. “Mom, Mr. Bryant will be here in a few minutes.” She rolled her blue eyes trimmed in long black eyelashes.

   “Most likely he got held up at the station and forgot about the time.” Camille gestured for Nikki to get up from the bench. “We’ll take you to the station.”

   “He’s probably on his way here now.” Nikki picked up her athletic bag. She saw Ashleigh roll her eyes once more in the other direction.

   “If he is, then he’ll see us drive past on our way to the station,” Camille said while herding the two girls toward the near empty parking lot. “Come along, Nikki.”

   The twelve-year-olds exchanged hate-filled glances before shuffling toward the Addison’s light blue Cadillac. Along the way, they passed two boys waiting while their fathers chatted about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season line-up.

   One of the boys smiled a toothy grin. “Hi, Ashleigh.”

   She met the greeting with a toss of her hair over her shoulder and the batting of her eyelashes. “Hello, Conner.”

   The boy wet his lips while eying the pretty blond.

   After several innings of softball, Ashleigh looked like she had just stepped out of the pages of a teen magazine. Her clean clothes hugged all the right places. She wore her athletic shorts short to accentuate her long legs. Her lips were plump and dewy.

   Nikki looked like she had been dragged around the bases. Her long hair was on the verge of success in escaping its worn purple elasticized bondage—generally called a scrunchie. The dirt from second base appeared to be superglued to her uniform and face.

   While Conner eyed Ashleigh, his tall, lanky friend greeted Nikki. “That was a great slide into third base.” The smile on his face reached his blue eyes hidden behind thick eyeglasses. The braces on his teeth sparked off a ray of the setting sun. “Too bad you were out.”

   “Thanks, Ryan,” she replied, “but I was safe.”

   “No, you weren’t. But it was a great try. No one can kick up a cloud of dirt like you.”

   “I beat that ball by a mile! The only reason Mr. Logan called me out is because he’s on the take from Mr. Williams because he couldn’t stand to see his darling Tanya lose.”

   “Nice try. Tanya tagged you before your foot hit the base. I saw.”

   “How could you see? You’re half-blind!”

   “Get in the car, Nikki,” Camille called to her from the other side of the car.

   “I was safe,” she hissed at Ryan as she turned to the car.

   “You were out,” he replied.

   “Safe!” Nikki yanked open the door.

   “Out!”

   Nikki spun around to advance on him. “Safe!”

   “Out!”

   “Nikki! Get in the car!” Camille shouted.

 

 

Nikki rode in silence. Ashleigh stewed about the detour while her mother drove to WKPG-TV, the television station owned by Ross Bryant, Nikki’s father.

   “How’s your grandmother?” Camille asked about Nikki’s grandmother in Florida. Nikki’s mother was caring for her after she had had a heart attack.

   “Mom should be coming home this weekend.” Nikki sat up in her seat when Camille turned into the parking lot to find a fleet of police cruisers. Her father’s van was parked in his reserved parking space.

   A uniformed police officer stepped in front of the Cadillac and held out his hand in a signal for them to stop.

   Camille rolled down her window. “What’s going on, Ray?”

   Nikki leaned forward to hear his response.

   The officer froze when he saw Nikki. After a long pause, he gestured for Camille to pull up behind the sheriff’s cruiser.

   “What’s going on?” Ashleigh craned her neck to watch the police officers and plainclothes detectives rushing in and out of the television station.

   Nikki watched the officer talking to Sheriff Daniel Van Metre. He was a good friend of her father. The two of them often went fishing together. The sheriff glanced over at the Cadillac and hung his head.

   Nikki’s heart sank.

   Sheriff Van Metre rubbed his face with his hand and slowly made his way across the lot in their direction.

   As he drew closer, Nikki’s heart dropped into the pit of her stomach.

   His words sounded like a series of noises as the news hit home.

   Life as she knew it would never be the same. Her father had been killed.

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