Tainted cure (the rememdium series book 1) (page 3)

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Mario’s foul, hot breath grazed Benito’s cheek. The sensation brought back disturbing memories of the nights of pain and torture Benito endured at the hands of his mentor when younger. Seething rage pumped through his body, begging to be unleashed. Benito forced his eager hands to wait.

In a last-ditch effort to control the situation, Mario whispered, “You may ascend to the top now, but one day, you’ll be the old dog. The pack is full of scheming members just waiting for the time to strike. They may bow to your whims now, drooling over whatever reward you dangled in front of them to betray me. Yet one day—just as you’ve done—they’ll turn and sink their teeth into you. Do your best. I am not afraid. I won’t tell you a damned thing! My secrets are mine alone!”

Benito traced a slow line with the tip of the blade from Mario’s neck, stopping directly above his belt line. With a flick of his wrist he cut through the material, exposing the flaccid instrument Mario tormented him with for years.

“You’ve never been more wrong,chero. What is yours is now mine. All of it.”

Minutes later, the room still ringing with the delightful screams of his former boss and his own demented laughter after Mario yelled out the combination, Benito ascended the throne as the nextCapoof El Salvador’s largest drug cartel.

Turning to stare at the bloody, unrecognizable pile of flesh in the chair, Benito whispered, “Happy birthday to me.”

 

Even so close to midnight, the unseasonable heat and humidity clung to the night air with a ferocious grip. Though only one week until Christmas, the temperature felt like mid-September. Regina Parker groaned. Enduring one summer per year in Arkansas was enough. The second she turned off the motor, familiar wetness pooled under her arms and vest.

Only three other vehicles were in the parking lot of the small building that served as the PD. The black Dodge Charger was hers, and the tan Ford Minivan belonged to the city of Rockport’s only radio dispatcher, Eugenia “Geenie” Renfro. An old Chevy truck held together by rust and a Southern favorite—duct tape—sat directly in front of the station. At one time, the ancient thing had been red and silver. Time removed the original color, and only those who’d lived in the town for more than ten years could remember what it looked like before. Regina chuckled to herself, wondering how much longer the old hunk of metal had before leaving its owner, Officer Roger Singleton, stranded on the side of the road.

Once inside the station, she could hear Geenie and Roger whining about the warm temperature in the front office.

“Lawdy, I swear I’m just gonna turn into a big ol’ pile of damp clothes! A nice, cool winter is supposed to be our reward for toleratin’ hotter-than-Hades summers!”

“My grandma surely agrees with you on that count, Ms. Eugenia. If I was a bettin’ man, I’d lay money down she’s eaten two whole boxes of popsicles in the last three days!”

Regina walked up to the duo and joined the conversation. “Weather report on the radio earlier said temps should return to normal by Wednesday.” She forced herself not to stare at Roger’s awful haircut. The dark auburn locks looked like he’d stuck his head under a weed whacker. She pictured Roger’s eighty-year-old grandmother snipping away his curls at the kitchen table in the house they shared. “They actually said there’s a thirty percent chance of snow on Christmas Eve.”

Geenie crinkled her nose and laughed. A damp lock of over-processed blonde hair flopped onto her chubby cheek. “This is Arkansas. Weather can change in the blink of an eye! Evenin’, Chief.”

Roger adjusted his hat while wiping a trickle of sweat from his wide brow. He tipped the worn-out Stetson toward Regina. “Evenin’, boss lady. How was it tonight?”

Regina reached past the youngest of Rockport’s two other law enforcement figures and handed her ticket book to Geenie. At only twenty-four, Roger Singleton was young enough to be Regina’s son. A hint of his cologne invaded the space between them, making her nose twitch. The stuff reeked.

“Fairly quiet until around eight. That’s when Kirk Sorrells decided to test out his latest batch of moonshine. I’m never going to get the image of his flabby, naked ass running down Highway 270. Ever. Corralling him into my unit might require extensive therapy to forget. I’m giving serious consideration to adding a plastic cover over the backseat.”

“Is he in the hole?” Roger grinned and motioned toward the single holding cell at the back of the building.

“Yep. Sleepin’ it off. I didn’t feel like drivin’ him all the way to county. Figured the less time he spent naked in my backseat, the better. I cited him for public indecency. When he wakes up, he can go home. At least when he goes before Judge Harmon he’ll have clothes on. Ha, the poor judge will probably have to work at keepin’ a straight face after readin’ my report.”

“You didn’t give him a public intox charge?”

“Givin’ the old fart another expensive charge isn’t going to make him stop drinkin’.” Regina exited the door, fumbling around for the car keys in her front pocket. “Only rehab will. I plan on talkin’ to Judge Harmon about that tomorrow mornin’. The man’s already livin’ hand-to-mouth. Takin’ more money from Kirk’s pocket will just drive him to work harder on his side business, and drink even more.”

Roger’s gaze settled on the hood of his truck, a sad smile crossing his thin lips. “That ain’t like you, Chief. Your change of heart wouldn’t have anythin’ to do with Jesse’s troubles, would it?”

Regina bristled at the name of her daughter.

Most of the time, Regina enjoyed living and working in the small town with a population of less than one-thousand, except for moments like now. The many perks of the quaint town kept her from moving to a bigger city, along with strong family ties to the rural area. She was the fifth generation born and raised in the tiny berg and the first female and second family member to hold the title of Chief of Police.

Everybody looked out for each other and the community was tight-knit. Unfortunately, the flip side was everyone’s business was everyone’s business. The gossip train traveled at break-neck speeds. Within an hour after taking a strung-out Jesse to Bright Waters Treatment Center in North Little Rock two weeks ago, all of Rockport knew. Proof of their knowledge arrived when Regina’s cell phone blew up. Dozens of concerned citizens called, all offering their condolences and support. Several of the ladies from First Park Baptist brought over enough casseroles and salads to last Regina two full weeks. They even held hands and prayed for God to take away Jesse’s cravings for meth.

Shaking off the horrible memory, Regina stepped up her pace and reached her car. “Maybe. I’ve learned quite a bit about how addiction works lately in counseling. One of the top on the list is financial stressors. Addicts don’t handle life’s little ups and downs very well. Money trouble is sometimes a trigger. Ol’ Kirk needs rehab, not jail time or additional bills to pay. He’s been outta work for goin’ on three years ever since the saw mill closed.”

Roger cocked his head, a look of shock across his face. “Well, I’ll be. Never thought I’d hear those words leave your mouth. If anyone asks me about your change of heart, I’ll tell them it’s from this God-awful heat. Wouldn’t want our citizens to think their hard-nosed Chief of Police is gettin’ all sentimental in her old age.”

Ignoring the jab, Regina slid behind the wheel of the Charger. She grinned at the rumble of the 5.7-liter engine. She could tell Roger was still talking yet she chose to pretend she didn’t notice. Regina gave the car some gas, letting the parking lot fill with the Charger’s deep growls from the dual exhaust.

Without saying another word Regina left and headed home. A lump of sadness stuck in the pit of her stomach. Knowing the house would be empty made her want to hit something to release the churning anger inside her mind.

She wouldn’t let the tears come. Enough were shed the day she left Jesse in rehab. Other than Fred’s funeral and the death of her parents, Regina had never cried so hard. The salty mess clouded her vision while she trudged—alone—back to her car. Jesse had bounced between rage-fueled screams of hatred to tear-filled pleas for her mother not to leave her. The look of terror and fear on Jesse’s face when Regina walked out the doors made her chest clench with sorrow. By the time she made it, the wracking sobs were so intense she couldn’t do a thing except lean against the doorframe and squall like a lost kitten.

“Not gonna do it! No cryin’ today!” Regina muttered, cranking up the radio.Catch Scratch Feverblared throughout the interior. At the top of her voice, she belted out the words alongside Ted Nugent, grateful for the distraction.

Five minutes later, she pulled up into the driveway of the small, three-bedroom house she shared with Jesse. Turning off the car, she stared at the place. Visions of the day the ownership papers were signed replayed inside her mind. A week before their first anniversary, alongside her husband Fred, they’d moved in. Less than a year later, Jesse was born.

Memories of Jesse running around in excitement while she watched her parents decorate the roofline with colored lights made Regina’s chest ache. Without the usual over-the-top light display, the house looked dreary and sad, matching Regina’s feelings perfectly.

“Christmas is gonna suck this year,” she muttered while biting her lip. A straggler tear escaped and tumbled down her cheek. “I miss you, Fred. So much. Maybe you could have kept Jesse from usin’ drugs. I sure failed. Damnit! This wasn’t how we’d planned things! I need you here. Doin’ all this alone is gonna break me. Right in two.”

Her cell phone buzzed with an incoming call. Regina exited the car, a wide smile on her face. Ever since they were born, the bond between her and Reed was sometimes eerie.

“Your timing is perfect as usual. I was on the verge of a major pity party.”

“One of the many perks of being a twin is sensing disturbances in our mutual force,” Reed’s laughter was deep and hardy. “So, you home now? How was your shift?”

Unlocking the front door, Regina flicked on the lights and held in a deep sigh. Though she loved Reed with ferocity, hearing his voice made her miss his presence all the more. He’d moved to Laredo, Texas over twenty-five years ago after joining U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. When Fred was still alive, they made the yearly trek to Laredo for Christmas. The tradition ended when Fred died. After Jesse ran away, Regina refused to go, preferring to not celebrate the holidays without her daughter. The plan to revive the holiday visit on her own ended when she found Jesse two weeks ago. She hadn’t seen her brother since Fred’s funeral, and Regina missed him more than she was willing to admit out loud.

“I’m sure not quite as exciting as yours. Aren’t you supposed to be keeping our borders safe from drugs and bad guys?”

“Only on days I’m at work.”

Regina stopped in mid-stride as goosebumps appeared on her arms and neck. “You aren’t in Laredo, are you? Don’t tell me you drove over seven-hundred miles…?”

Racing to the front room, Regina pushed the curtains back and peeked out the window. Headlights blinked twice then shut off. Under her breath, she muttered, “I’ll be damned!”

Tossing her phone on the couch, Regina opened the door and stepped outside. Reed climbed out from behind the wheel of his SUV. In seconds, his hulking 6’4” frame lumbered up the driveway to the porch. He flung his beefy arms around Regina’s shoulders.

“You should have told me you were comin’! You know, given me a chance to cook somethin' for dinner?”

Reed smiled and held up a sack of food with a big, red bow on top. The smells wafting from inside gave away the fact it was Italian. “Which is exactly why I didn’t give you fair warnin’. You can’t cook for squat. Here, take this inside so I can get my bags.”

“Ass,” Regina replied, giving Reed’s arm a playful smack. “Wait, bags? And what’s the deal with the freakin’ bow? Your way of sayin’ Italian take-out is what you got me for Christmas?”

“Yes, bags. They come in quite handy when someone moves. You know, to store all your belongin’s in? Ain’t no way I’d let the movers handle my treasured collection of hats and boots.”

Regina’s heart thudded in her chest. She looked down at the bag and noticed a note was attached. Reaching inside the door, she flicked on the porch light and peered at the paper. Written in her brother’s atrocious scrawl, it read, “An Italian feast to celebrate my retirement with.”

“You…retired? Boots? Hats? Are you movin’ back for good?” Regina stopped as her voice cracked with emotion.  She watched her brother amble up the steps carrying two large suitcases on each side.

“Yep. I need to be here to help my niece. Oh, and her mother. She’s sort of a scatterbrain at times. Then again, the bowl of lemons she’s been handed hasn’t helped much. The way I figured, she needed someone rough and tough to lean on. Remember all the years you’ve given me grief about not marryin’ or havin’ kids and I always said I had my reasons? Well, takin’ care of you and yours would be one of the answers.”

Reed grinned and walked past her, turning his body sideways while passing through the threshold. Dumbstruck, Regina simply stared at his rigid back. She couldn’t believe he was home.