“No time for teary reunions.” My father sneered, looking at both of us with disgust. “Yes, yes, your darling brother is alive and well.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say ‘well’, Dad.” Toby shot back, spitting blood onto the floor at our father’s feet.
Dad snorted at him before kicking him in the knee. “You’re still breathing, that’s well enough.”
“What is going on?” I demanded, unable to believe they were interacting this way. My hands were beginning to sweat around the handle of my gun and I just wanted to run and embrace my brother.
Toby began to speak, but dad backhanded him across the face with his free hand, the one that doesn’t have a gun trained on him. “You stay quiet.”
I readjusted my grip on my gun, moving forward a step.
“Years and years ago, I began to hate being a stockbroker. Same damn boring thing everyday. So I decided to make a change. A couple of the guys at work felt the same, and one had some connections. It started so small, and grew beyond my wildest dreams. We became number one- Armana. Every criminal wanted in, we were the big shots. They gave me the title of ‘Casper’ and made me their leader.”
He paused, looking so proud I wanted to shoot him right where he stood.
“Everything was going well, we had a nice headquarters where no one suspected us. Silly me. I should’ve known it was too good to be true. One day, one of my men told me he had a new recruit. That wasn’t unusual, there were new recruits almost everyday. But who walks in? My precious son, my only boy, my pride and joy. That’s when I knew something was really wrong. Why was my boy, who was supposed to be overseas fighting for his country, standing before me?” His hands were shaking with anger, face red as a tomato, sweat coating his brow.
“I should’ve killed him then and there, but I didn’t and that was my mistake. I grilled him for information, but he wouldn’t give me anything besides lies. I let him go…” Dad looked so outraged at himself in that moment that I almost felt sorry for him, until I remembered he was talking about killing my brother. “Days later, we got notice from his supervisors that he was MIA. It didn’t make any sense. So we did some investigating once we relocated. I have connections, you know.” He grinned and I felt bile rise in my throat.
“It took months, but it all lead back to ‘Carnan Incorporated’. That just infuriated me further. Why would he be trying to join Armana for a car manufacturer? Why was he working for a car manufacturer, when he was in active duty? Nothing made sense. What could I do? My abilities only went so far. Then we were told he was dead. Now, wasn’t that suspicious? I grieved for my son, because what else could I do? I had no reason to believe otherwise. I was left wondering.”
He turned his harsh eyes to me. “Then you came home, telling us you’ve got this great new job at ‘Carnan Incorporated’. Very suspicious. So of course, I had to get information. I didn’t count on you catching me, but no matter. I wasn’t very worried about you figuring anything out. You were never quite as smart as Toby.”
“Thanks.” I scowled at him, tightening my slippery hands on my gun.
“That’s not true.” Toby spoke up, looking offended for me.
“Shut up!” Dad screamed, shoving the barrel of his gun against Toby’s temple.
“What happened from there?” I asked, knowing I had to keep him talking. I had to keep him distracted until I figured out what to do. I couldn’t tell where his head was at. Why bring Toby here? What was his plan?
“I had to be careful around you.” He replied. “I stationed one of my men outside of your apartment building to watch you closely. One day, he noticed an extra set of eyes. A select few knew about Toby, and he was one of them. He knew him on the spot.” He turns to Toby. “Tsk, tsk. You should’ve known to be more careful, son.”
Toby looked like he had a lot to say, but he held his tongue. The heat from the fire was making the cabin stiflingly hot. I began to hear popping sounds coming from the back. Papa’s gun room. The flames must be reacting with the bullets. I had to think. Toby and I needed to escape.
“I waited patiently.” Dad continued, seeming as if he didn’t hear the bullets exploding. Was that part of his plan? There was so much going on, my head was spinning. There were too many thoughts to process at once. “The next time he stopped by your apartment, my men… apprehended him. How does that make you feel, Penelope, knowing we buried an empty coffin?” Dad said, seemingly trying to turn me against my brother.
“I’m ecstatic.” I replied easily, because I was thrilled to see my brother living and breathing. “I’d feel even better if you’d put your gun down, Dad. It doesn’t have to be like this,” I lied. The flames were visible now, eating up the house more rapidly every second. The exploding bullets were becoming louder. Things would just get worse when the flames reached the left side of the house, the forefront of the gun room. Toby began shifting restlessly, likely thinking what I was.
Dad snorted at me condescendingly. “I don’t think so, Penny. This traitor,” He gestured to Toby as he cocked the hammer on his pistol. “Must die. You too, really, but he’s a priority. You understand, don’t you? He could be the end of me, my business, our family! Think of your mother, Penny. She wouldn’t even have to know.”
He clearly wasn’t thinking, because that could never happen. He was already busted. Carnus and the police already knew that he was Casper, leader of Armana.
“Dad, that can’t happen. You’re in too deep. They know it’s you. You’d never be able to go home to mom. They’d have the police waiting for you.” I tried to reason. “Toby is alive, right in front of you. Doesn’t that matter? Isn’t our family more important than Armana, or Carnan?” I was still careful to keep Carnus secret. The less he knew, the better.
Dad’s eyes darkened, and I knew this wasn’t going to end well. “I don’t know, Penny. Why don’t you tell me? You’re the one with a gun pointed at your father.”
Guilting me wasn’t going to work. “What’s your plan, Casper?” I could tell that stung him, coming from me. “How’s this playing out in your head?”
“Simple. You’re both going to die, and I’m going to run. I’ve done it before. I’m too smart for them, don’t you see?” He chuckled darkly, tossing his head back. I began to wonder about how deranged he was. I’d never let that happen. “I’ll start a new life, form a new Armana. I’ll be known across the country. That’s what’s important. Clearly, I don’t know my ‘family’ anymore. I can’t trust any of you. You were both so quick to turn on me.” The popping was becoming louder still.
I wanted to tell him that wasn’t true, we didn’t know it was him behind Armana, we were just doing our jobs, but Dad turned back to Toby, shifting his feet, getting ready to shoot. I cocked my gun and fired before I could even think about it. Dad fell forward and Toby shoved himself out of the way. I rushed forward and grabbed my father’s gun, not bothering to check if he was still breathing or what. I holstered my own gun quickly and kept the other in hand as I hurried to get Toby to his feet.
We pressed for the door hastily, Toby leaning heavily against me as he limped. “We’ve gotta hurry, Link. The gunpowder-” Toby breathed heavily as we sprinted out the door and down the steps.
“I know!” I shouted over the growing popping sounds. We’d made it to the driveway and I’d barely gotten the words out before there was an explosion behind us. It threw us forward and my world went black before I hit the ground.
“I woke up in an ambulance. Hugo had a tracker on my car, of course, and once they realized what I was likely doing, they followed not far behind. One of your officers brought me in once the EMTs cleared me, and now here we are.” I say, concluding my story. “I don’t have any injuries, apparently I was just knocked out by the blast.”
“Why was the cabin loaded to the nines with ammo?” Olger asks, closing the folder in front of her and crossing her arms over her chest.
I shrug. “That’s just how Papa was. He used to love hunting. He spent more time in that cabin than he did in his own home. It used to drive Nana crazy.” I smile fondly at the memory of them. “Papa liked to stock up, even though it wasn’t necessary. Every paycheck or social security check, he’d buy a little more. He had loads and loads of gunpowder stocked up too. He liked to do his own reloading. He’s been in a nursing home since Nana died. Mom didn’t have the heart to clear the cabin out, so we haven’t.”
“You don’t have any idea why your father would pick that cabin?” Jacobs asks gently.
“I’ve thought about it. I don’t want to demonize my father too much I guess, because I really don’t understand him. I realize that more and more with each passing second. It keeps getting harder to believe. That man raised us. We lived with him, laughed with him, cried with him, and the moment he died, I didn’t know him at all.”
Tears spring to my eyes but I push them away. He doesn’t deserve them.
“I think he picked it because of the gunpowder. Why else would he set it on fire? I can only guess that it was his plan to kill or wound both myself and Toby, then he could’ve fled and the explosion would’ve gotten rid of any traces to him, except our bodies. He’d have been long gone before anyone figured it out. But really I don’t know. I guess I never will.”
Any further questions are halted when we hear Holly yelling outside the room.
“Where is Penelope Foster? I think you’ve held her long enough.” No one would dare cross her when she’s using that tone of voice. I smile when the door swings open, a uniformed officer standing aside as Holly sweeps into the room in her pastel pink pantsuit, looking ready to argue.
Before she can say anything, Olger stands and reaches her hand out to me. I stand and take it, her giving me a firm handshake. I’m shocked into silence and I return the handshake before doing the same to Jacobs. They each shake Holly’s hand as well.
“We appreciate everything you’ve done. You’ve helped us a great deal. We’ll continue keeping an eye on Armana. It’s unclear yet whether they’ll continue with or without Casper as their leader.” Olger says, adjusting her jacket awkwardly. “You’re free to go. We’ll be in touch if we need anything further.” She smiles, and I beam back, glad to know she isn’t a total stick in the mud.
Holly takes my arm with a grin and we leave the police precinct. “Let’s go see Toby.”