One Minute There ~ Hollow Fissure - Max E. Stone - ebook
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ONE MINUTE THERE:RUN...Two torturous months came and wentDetective Bennett refuses to give up on finding his daughterEven as the authorities of New England and beyond, trailing the blood in the girl's wake, devised a ruthless manhunt to bring her back.Well aware of the young woman's fragile state, Bennett is determined to locate her firstAnd terrified to learn that he and the officers aren't the only ones looking...FOR YOUR LIFE...Tucked in a hideaway past America's borders, courtesy of her only trusted connect as of late, Melissa is sure she's safe.That is until the hammering knocks at her door threaten her world, her sanity…And her life.THERE'S ONLY ONE WAY OUT...HOLLOW FISSURE:The well-meaning and meddlesome Mr. and Mrs. Aden want nothing more than to protect their only daughter, Hannah.After her childhood kidnapping in Somalia and a final showdown in Italy against the monster responsible, nineteen-year-old Hannah just wants back the life stolen from her.She isn’t naïve like her mother believes. Frequent flashes of past terrors assure her that the healing process is far from over. At the same time, she’d hardly use her dad’s words and call herself “strong” or “brave.” That description belongs to Melissa Bennett, the woman who almost died saving her.~~~Melissa doesn’t feel much like the hero she’s being hailed.While she is glad to have saved a life for once, the one she’d almost taken continues to haunt her dreams and stall her recovery.Despite her good deed and continuous help from friends and family abroad and Kyle—the father of her little girl—she knows her days of freedom are numbered.

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Max E. Stone

One Minute There ~ Hollow Fissure

A Warren-Bennett-Johnson/New England Bundle

First published by Max E. Stone in 2018

Copyright © Max E. Stone, 2018

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without permission.

This book was professionally typeset on Reedsy Find out more at reedsy.com

Contents

License Notes

One Minute There

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Hollow Fissure

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Thank You

License Notes

Copyright © 2018 Max E.Stone

All rights reserved

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination and/or used in a fictitious manner.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, organizations, or actual events is purely coincidental.

All trademarks, service marks, registered trademarks, and registered servicemarks are the property of their respective owners and are used herein for identification purposes only.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

One Minute There

RUN…

Two torturous months came and went.

Detective Bennett refuses to give up on finding his daughter

Even as the authorities of New England and beyond, trailing the blood in the girl’s wake, devised a ruthless manhunt to bring her back.

Well aware of the young woman’s fragile state, Bennett is determined to locate her first

And terrified to learn that he and the officers aren’t the only ones looking…

FOR YOUR LIFE…

Tucked in a hideaway past America’s borders, courtesy of her only trusted connect as of late, Melissa is sure she’s safe.

That is until the hammering knocks at her door threaten her world, her sanity…

And her life.

THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY OUT…

Prologue

“This is the police!”

And then…

Bam! Bam! Bam!

Hammering knocks fired Melissa Bennett to her feet.

Her mind jarred.

Oh God…Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!

The stench of copper impaled her senses.

Broad blue eyes locked on the hardwood floor slicked with blood.

And the body in the center of it all.

That of a friend whose fight and agonized shrieks now dulled to spasms and murmurs, low and indistinct.

“…mm…my…ba…baby…h…help”

Holding fast to her sliced abdomen, the bleeding woman heaved the groans past her mumbles. She moved to speak again but a wheeze and wet cough stole her cries for help.

Then, more blood bubbled to her mouth’s surface.

She would die soon.

Her and her unborn child.

“Shit!” Melissa grated, fault and fright feasting on her insides. “Shit! Shit…shit!”

She jumped back.

The soiled knife dropped from trembling, blood-stained hands to the ground with a clang. “Oh, no…no, no!”

The damned voices…

She shouldn’t have listened to them.

Why did I listen?! Why! Why did I listen?!

Hours ago, the voices were her salvation.

The voices were her direction.

Now, they taunted her, berated her for doing the very thing they’d wanted from her all along.

Oh God…I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean to…

Bam! Bam! Bam!

The thrashing knocks again.

“Open up!”

Another order.

Swift kicks went to work on the wooden door, one after another, severing decrepit hinges with each fatal blow.

Grabbing up her weapon, Melissa ran toward the exit through which she had first come with her victim—restrained and unconscious from an unexpected bash to the head—as the barrier came undone.

Sirens exploded. Footsteps closed in.

“Mommy! Mommy, wait! Please!”

A little girl wailed.

For her.

“Stop! Mommy! Please! Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”

Those cries, desolate and pained, faded with each pound of Melissa’s path to a freedom somewhere in the darkness.

If she could just find it…

Come on, come on…it has to be somewhere around— “Mommy, please! Come back!”

Tears sprang to her eyes. She should go back and get her.

After all, she did this to keep her daughter safe and out of the way of a harm she believed would wind its way back into their lives if she didn’t do…something.

The voices, magnified by pictures of a dark and ever-present past, told her so.

“Do you love your daughter?” they’d challenged. “Do you?”

As if they didn’t know.

As if they needed the proof.

She would do anything for her.

If danger lurked anywhere around her little girl, she couldn’t take the chances.

She had to heed the warning now and get moving; leave the consequences for later.

Kill if necessary.

Melissa hoped one day the precocious little redhead named Abigail, who never left her side, would understand and, perhaps, forgive her.

But, for now, the child didn’t deserve a life on the run.

That much she knew for sure.

“Abby, honey…I can’t. Mommy’s sorry,” the mother whispered in tears, still running fast and blind, right and left down pitch-dark and dingy halls in search of the way out. “Mommy’s so sorry for getting you into all of this.”

As she ran, the bottom of one of her sneakers caught the shoelace of the other. Ignoring it, she kept running and, somewhere in the madness, the lace loosened.

She nearly tripped when the shoe came off.

Keep going, she thought, kicking the sneaker out of the way as she did just that.

Go, go, go!

Don’t get caught! Don’t get caught!

More heavy tracks melded with Abby’s sobs and barreled behind her. They came closer, gaining fast.

She sped up.

“Police!” another voice boomed. “Stop!”

She looked around. Nothing but dark, pierced by the thin beam of a flashlight, greeted her. She ducked in evasion of the light.

Feeling around in the blackness, she found the knob to the structure’s back entry, turned it, and, huddled to the floor, escaped.

Once outside, she found one of the many hiding spots the area offered and—from tormenting memory—selected the tall, thick tree a few feet away.

Thunder indicating the start of a downpour quieted Melissa’s climb up the branches.

No cop heard or saw a thing.

In the bushel of leaves at the top, she pulled out her cell and dialed the number of the lone person she knew would help her now, praying she’d be right in her assumption.

She hadn’t spoken to him in years, but he had always been one of the good guys that were few and far-between in her life.

If nothing else, he would at least hear her out.

And listen…Right?

She hoped so. Her life depended on it.

The other end’s incessant rings threatened to drive her mad until…

Click.

“Hello?” a man yawned.

Thank God…

“P…please,” Melissa panted, terror and tears ripping at her throat.

She cleared it to project a confidence she didn’t feel and pleaded, “You have to help

me.”

“Who is-,” he started to ask then recognition seemed to hit him like a ton of bricks as he added “Melissa? Is that you?”

He sounded puzzled. And a bit…annoyed? Was that it?

Can’t say I blame him…

“Y…Yeah, it’s me. Thanks for picking up. I appreciate it,” she said, gaining back the shredded threads of her bearings inch by inch.

No time for a breakdown…

“Look, I can’t say much right now, but you have to help me. I mean…I…I need your help. I don’t have anywhere else to go and-”

“Whoa, Mel. Hold on. Slow down a minute and take a breath. Let’s start over. Where are you right this second?”

She bit her lower lip and debated what she could say and how much time she had to say it.

Not much, on both counts.

She trusted him, but not that much.

Not right now. Not in this. Not yet.

Down below, an ambulance sped through the dirt road then stopped in front of the building on the grass amidst the cops’ cars.

Paramedics jumped out and sprang into action.

As they bounded to the entrance, a woman detective Melissa recognized came out, cradling a crying redhead to her chest.

Abby…Oh, sweetheart…

She shut her eyes, closing out the scene.

“Melissa! You still there? What’s going on?” the man on the phone pressed, his compassion laced with impatience. “You in some kind of trouble?”

“Yeah, some kind of,” she said, eyes back on the commotion below.

Now, the medics brought out the woman, her friend—brown skin fused in the blood around her dissected belly—a shaking hand caressing leftovers of torn abdominal flesh— and loaded her into the back of the truck. Melissa’s stepfather, Detective Stephen Bennett, never left her side.

“I…I’ll be in Jersey in a few hours.”

“You still haven’t told me what the hell’s going on or, for that matter, where you are!” he demanded, harsher this time. “And are those sirens I hear?”

“You still live in the same apartment, right?” she asked, changing the subject and hoping he would go with it for the time being. “In Short Hills?”

“Don’t do that. Answer me,” he urged, not falling for the ruse. “What’s happening? Where are you?”

“Please!” she begged. “I know I have no right to ask for anything from you and, normally, I wouldn’t. You know that, but…I have nowhere else to go and I really, really, really don’t have time to talk about this right now. Okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” he exhaled, giving in and, no doubt, wondering why he wanted anything to do with her. Again.

“I’m at the same place. Door’s open. And you better be ready to talk when you get here.”

Chapter 1

“Where the hell are you?”

Captain Thomas Abell spent the better part of the day—and many a sleepless night—asking himself the two-month-old question about Melissa Bennett.

He and his team at the Detective’s Bureau in Providence, Rhode Island, along with the authorities in Exeter—despite an exhaustive and intense search—had yet to find the answer.

At the captain’s persistence, law enforcement higher-ups permitted the jurisdictions’ partnership to find her and piece together the events involving her escape.

Yet again standing in the heart of the crime scene—a large, ramshackle room in a darkened and dirty dump he nicknamed “hell” for the horrors that occurred there—he thought back to the day he’d last seen her.

A hellish day it had been indeed.

The kidnappings.

The searching that led to…

The little girl…screaming.

For the life of…

The woman on the floor, her pregnant stomach cut to ribbons, dying a slow and painful death.

And Melissa Bennett—the daughter of one of his best detectives—a fugitive.

For months, officers, detectives, and crime scene techs observed, photographed, and prodded every inch of the area, grasping for any evidence that horrid evening’s rain hadn’t washed away.

Over and over again.

And, still, they’d found the same things.

All of the blood found at the scene belonged to the victim.

The prints, shoe and hand, in the victim’s blood belonged to Melissa. They got lucky with that.

Due to her job at the station, her prints were already in the system and eyewitness testimony from the two shaken and, unbelievably, living victims helped them identify the shoe as hers.

Abell surveyed the room.

In the corner, desiccated bile and round, darkened circles littered the floor.

Abby…

In fear at the horrific actions of her mother, the child vomited and wet herself. His gut clenched as he took in the remnants of what the five-year-old must have seen.

The Melissa he knew would never have done this. Would never hurt a fly. Or her child.

She loved Abby.

In his mind’s eye, he recalled the day he hired the young woman as the precinct’s secretary.

During their discussion of her hours, benefits, and the like, she held her ground on picking her daughter up from school and calling her throughout work hours to ensure the girl had everything she needed.

“I want to see her and make sure she’s all right every single day,” she told him, legs crossed and arms folded as she sat before him in his office. “That is non-negotiable.”

That didn’t sound like a terrible mother. An overprotective one, yes.

But terrible?

Not even close.

So, what changed?

Derek Warren’s cold eyes crept from the back of his mind and he shivered.

That changed…

Loud barks broke into his thoughts and filled the air.

The captain followed the noise to members of the K-9 unit outside; one in particular that sniffed with fervor at a broad tree near the building’s back door.

Two others joined the dog; officers holding tight to straining leashes as the hounds stretched up against the tree.

Pawing at the bark, they howled louder.

“She was definitely up here,” Abell confirmed, looking from the dogs to the branches and leaves above.

He thought of asking if anyone had seen her go up there that day but changed his mind.

With two terrified kidnap victims—one under ten years of age, the other almost dead—he doubted anyone looked.

Orders were, first and foremost, to get everyone out alive.

Of the three yelping and scratching dogs, one broke away from the pack at the tree, its wet nose pressed to the ground.

The officer holding its leash followed until both of them reached the path of high weeds leading to the woods.

The dog stopped and dug, wild and fevered, dirt flying with each strike of its paws to the earth.

“We got something over here!” the officer at the animal’s leash shouted. Abell, techs, and others followed the commotion.

When they reached the ruckus, the dog stopped moving; a dirt hole set before the mutt.

With gloved hands, a tech named William leaned down to pick up the object left in the hole the dog had made and held it up for his comrades to see.

“That’s Melissa’s phone,” Abell declared, recognizing the silver mobile device as one she’d brought to work each day.

William pressed down the power button and waited.

As expected, it didn’t yield.

He turned and handed it to a co-worker behind him who bagged it. “Probably filled with water by now,” William said. “We’ll see what we can do to get it started.”

Abell nodded in thanks and the two techs stepped away while the others continued the search.

Looking toward the forest of trees straining toward a darkening sky, the captain remained sure of one thing: Melissa had long since passed New England and would, if provoked, strike again whether she meant to or not. He hoped to God she’d be captured before then.

* * *

Alone at his desk at the precinct in Providence, Detective Stephen Bennett combed the details of a case that both boiled his blood and chilled his soul.

You’ve only scratched the surface…

“The leader” told him that.

There were others in this. He knew it. More than the ones they captured. Despite naysayers in the department who wanted the case closed and the nightmares behind them, he remained certain that there had to be.

The overall case commenced over a decade ago and involved his son, Jon, his daughter-in-law, Leeann, and the stepdaughter he came to love as his own flesh and blood: Melissa.

“It’s not over,” he groused, sifting through accordion files representing years of evidence. “And it all started here.”

He picked up an eight-by-ten photo of a battered room’s bloodied floor from his desk and stared at it.

It only told part of the story.

Some years back, Bennett’s wife, Jennifer, first told him of the graphic, illicit room’s history; the place where Melissa’s biological father conducted a fraction of his illegal activities.

And his punishments when the young woman, then a child, snuck into his private home office.

The prick wanted to “teach her a lesson” in “obedience.”

Goddamn, fucker…

The sudden memory of the dark secret, revealed in the utmost of confidences, saved lives that horrible day.

Intense green eyes still locked on the picture, Bennett made his mental calculations. Melissa disappeared somewhere through a door or, maybe, a tunnel that everyone else missed.

He found more snapshots from the scene in another file and held them up, hoping to pinpoint through where she could have escaped.

Doors, walls, dirt, and blood mixed together on the photos and stared back at him.

Melissa’s own little slice of hell.

“She knew that place back and forth,” Bennett muttered at the memory of her, in the face of determined authorities swarming the godforsaken place, slipping away unnoticed. “Probably saw that shithole in her nightmares.”

“You were told to let the pros handle this.”

The voice of his partner, Detective Porscha Councill, startled him.

He turned to find her standing in the doorway, a leather jacket draped over the blazer of her black suit.

“I thought I was the pros,” he challenged before switching his attention back to his desk. Councill walked to him, heels clicking in her wake.

“For this,” —she reached his desk and motioned to the Melissa-centric crime scene photos and documents scattered about—“you’re not. Captain’s orders, remember?”

Bennett rolled his eyes and raked a hand through graying black hair.

He didn’t need the reminder.

“Personal involvement” with the “perp” had been his boss’ exact words.

Perp.

His daughter was nothing more than a criminal to Abell.

How fast things change…

“I don’t give a damn what Abell says,” he spat. “She’s my daughter. I’m not putting this in somebody else’s hands so either help me or get the hell out and say you never saw me.”

Tucking a red curl behind her ear, Councill bristled.

“I didn’t come here to shitted on,” she gnashed then softened, “Or to tell you to give up. I know you’d never do that so I wouldn’t waste my time and, just so you know, I’m not on the case either.”

Bennett turned to her. “No?” he probed, eyebrow raised. “Why not?”

“If I was, the minute I found out something, I’d be going straight to you,” Councill asserted, pulling up a chair alongside her partner’s desk. “Abell’s not an idiot. He knows that.”

Bennett nodded, knowing his partner told the truth.

They worked together for years, trusted each other with their lives. If a case involved his loved one and she worked on it, she’d never hide her findings from him. Nor would he from her, rules be damned.

“So shouldn’t you be on your way home?” he asked. “Snow’s coming. It’s gonna be brutal.”

“I know,” Councill said. “But I knew I’d find you here.”

Then, tamping down coming emotion, she asked, “How’s your granddaughter?” Months ago, Councill spent hours after the gory nightmare assuring the little girl

that no one blamed her for the affliction dealt by her mother and that everything would be all right. The detective loved kids and, when they hurt, so did she.

“Hangin’ on,” Bennett admitted but refrained from adding 'Just barely.'

The little girl almost never talked to anyone and her nightmares, though not as frequent as they were days after the incident, were frightening at best. Terrifying at worst.

“Let me help you,” Councill pleaded. “Abby’s been through hell and you can’t do this by yourself much longer. Look at you. You look like shit.”

Bennett couldn’t argue with her there. His wrinkled clothes and tired green eyes testified to excessive late nights staring at files and computer screens, searching for a clue.

Any clue.

And his reasoning for not allowing his personal investigation for Melissa to take him too far from home centered on Abby.

“With two of us, there’s a better chance of finding her and getting her home in one piece. You and I both know Abell won’t be easy on her if he finds her first, no matter what her mental state is,” his partner told him. “So, what do you say?”

“All right,” he agreed, voice hoarse, as he grabbed his mug from the desk and gulped down his sixth cup of coffee within the hour.

“Good. Now, tell me what you found so far,” Councill said, picking up a couple of documents from the desk and reading them without a sound as her partner cleared his throat and spoke.

“Crime scene photos, prints, testimony from the victims, basically the same stuff the lab and department already have,” he briefed. “I got nothing from her room at home. It’s just like she left it. And no note. ”

“What about her place in California?” Councill asked, thinking back to the young woman’s arrival from the state not long ago. “She moved here from Long Beach, right? Maybe there’s a clue there?”

“First place I thought of, but I don’t know how long I’d be gone and I don’t want to chance it, especially not with Abby.”

Councill nodded, understanding then said, “I’ll go. I’ve got tons of vacation time saved up and the captain can’t get up my ass about what I do on my own time. You have the address?”

“Already on your phone,” Bennett said, nodding to the mobile device sticking out of Councill’s jacket pocket. She pulled it out just as it vibrated and checked the message.

“Good,” she said, taking the journey to her own desk across from his. “Now, go home. And give Abby a hug for me.”

Chapter 2

The wall clock’s wands signified eleven at night.

Kyle Brandon left the cold of winter for the warmth of his Short Hills, New Jersey apartment after yet another unproductive day of work.

Recurring thoughts of Melissa Bennett and her whereabouts left him idle and useless. He couldn’t get her out of his mind.

Nothing new…

Cursing himself, he wondered, once more, how he could have been so stupid to concede to her pleas.

She called him out of the blue months ago, begging for help, then showed up at his door hours later, drenched in soot and rain, covered in blood.

Scared shitless.

Without so much as a second thought, he gave her the cash she claimed to need— over two thousand dollars in unmarked bills, courtesy of a trusted source in the banking industry—and a private flight from a childhood friend, a pilot and entrepreneur, to take her wherever her heart desired.

When he asked why she needed his help all of a sudden, she told him “I’m in trouble” and nothing more.

“Damn it, Melissa! I know! I can see that,” he shot back then fired question after question at her. “What kind of trouble are you in? Why is there blood all over you? What did you do? What the hell happened? Where did you come from anyway? How did you get here? Did you go to the police? What about the sirens I heard on the phone? What was that?”

He had more to ask but stopped when Melissa crumbled to her knees in tears and retched on his living room floor. Kyle lifted her in his arms, took her to the bathroom, and helped her to clean up as she explained more.

And nothing at all…

“I…I did…something really bad,” she whimpered, heaving the remaining contents of her stomach into the toilet.

Kyle crouched down at her side, holding her hair with one hand while gently stroking her back with the other.

“Calm down, it’s okay,” he soothed. “Just tell me what you did. We can…I can fix this. I’ll try my best to fix it. I promise. Just…You have to tell me what it is I’m fixing.”

“No, you can’t. You can’t fix this,” Melissa wept after another bout of vomiting then finished speaking. “I can’t tell you what it is. I’m in enough trouble already and I don’t want you in it, too. Please. Just help me go and I’ll be out of your life. For good, this time. I don’t want you mixed up in this!”

Too late for that…

Since their one night together a little over five years ago, he endured dreams of the feel of her body on his, coupled with her pleasured whimpers and moans in his ear, and woke with a perpetual hard-on he fought like hell to keep down.

Her arrival at his door and cries for help brought the memories rushing back and spurred him into action.

He had, indeed, been “mixed up” in her problem whether she wanted him to be or not.

Whether he wanted to be or not.

Now, Kyle dropped his briefcase and coat on the couch by the front door and took his usual place at the desk in his office off of the front room. He powered his desktop computer to life and went about his evening search.

For something.

Anything.

Any piece of information that would give him the slightest clue on Melissa’s situation.

And why she had to get away so fast…

It had to be big.

She’d been covered in blood when he saw her last.

He’d gotten nowhere in tracking her down.

He kept a close watch on the news and other media, both of which showed the norm with no mention of Melissa or anything that could possibly be connected to her.

To boot, the source Kyle used to get the money remained out of contact with him since their last talk.

And for good reason.

Losing his job at the bank would have been the least of his worries if the guy’s bosses found out.

Hell, if Kyle’s own bosses found out what he’d done…

He couldn’t think about that now.

He could always find another job.

The important thing was Melissa.

The friend with the jet, a pilot named Addison Grainger who operated her own business servicing wealthy clientele for years, helped a bit more with “Europe.”

Not much.

But something.

Better than nothing to work with…

Then, promising an update as soon as possible, she hung up.

Addison remained unreachable ever since.

Whether the reason lied with work or something else, he didn’t know. So, Kyle resumed the search on his own, still monitoring the news and using as many personal resources as he could without tipping off anyone.

The law in particular.

Melissa’s descriptions of her “trouble” were vague at best and, while he wanted answers, he didn’t want to add to her problems.

Hours passed, words blurred, and the bags under his vivid blue eyes deepened. Making a stop in the kitchen for the recharging rush of instant coffee, he mentally continued the recap of what he had so far.