A harsh knock at the door has me dropping the papers on the floor and racing across the room hoping that what I just read isn’t true and that it’s Layla on the other side of the door, perfectly unharmed, so I can wrap her in my arms and beg her to never leave again. I throw the door open hard enough for it to smack against the opposite wall, my hope sinking when I see Eve standing on my doorstep.
“Where the hell is my daughter? She was supposed to be at the recording studio a half hour ago, and now she isn’t answering my calls,” Eve says angrily. Just like yesterday, she pushes her way right past me and into my house like she owns the place. “I left her ten voice mails from the studio. You did this, didn’t you? You convinced her to go off on her own and ignore me.”
Eve stands in the middle of my living room in her perfectly pressed business suit and not one hair out of place on her head. Her arms are crossed in front of her, and she’s staring at me like I’m the scum of the earth. I almost believe I am until I remember what I just read on that DNA report.
“Layla isn’t here. Finn picked her up an hour ago,” I tell Eve as calmly as I can when all I want to do is fly across the room and choke the life out of this woman for being so conniving and such a liar.
“Nonsense, Finn would have told me if he was planning on picking her up and bringing her to the studio,” she states, pulling her Blackberry out of her handbag and scrolling through the messages.
I take a few deep breaths to try and calm my anger but it’s no use. My blood is boiling and I feel like I’m two seconds away from ripping the doors off of their hinges and punching holes in all the walls. I want to scream and bust every fucking thing in this place right now.
“Really? Finn would have told you the truth? Just like you’ve been telling the truth all these years?” I question her with my jaw clenched, biting down so hard on my teeth that it feels like I’m going to crack all of them.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Eve asks distractedly, still paying more attention to her phone than what I’m saying. Her cavalier attitude is all it takes for me to crack. I storm across the room, grab the phone from her hand, and heave it so hard into the wall that it shatters into a million pieces and leaves a nice size dent behind in the drywall.
“What the hell is your problem?” Eve demands. “That was a brand new phone!”
I see that Gwen picked up the papers that I tossed to the ground in my haste to make it to the door. Her face is filled with shock and anger, her nostrils flaring as she walks up next to Eve and shoves the pages at her roughly.
Eve grapples with them so that they don’t fall to the floor and flips through the pages.
“DNA results? What are these for?”
I finally walk across the room towards her, making sure to stay out of arm’s reach so I’m not tempted to do something I’ll regret.
“Those were the lab reports that were run after the attack on Layla. They were supposed to just bump them up against Finn and Layla to make sure they didn’t confuse the real perpetrator with the two of them. But someone at the lab screwed up. They ran Layla and Finn against each other.”
I’ve never seen someone’s face pale as quickly as Eve’s. She goes from having her cheeks red with anger to her entire face looking chalky and sweaty within seconds. She looks like she might throw up right in the middle of my living room.
“So I assume you know exactly what they found when they accidentally ran that test, don’t you, Eve?” I ask, standing there waiting for her to find her voice.
Her mouth opens and closes but no sound comes out. Her hand goes up to her throat, and I can see it’s trembling uncontrollably. She starts shaking her head back and forth in denial as she stares at the piece of paper in her hand, reading the results and realizing that her world is going to slowly unravel now.
“All this time, you knew. You knew and you didn’t say a fucking word. Does anyone know about this?”
Eve continues shaking her head back and forth, and I’m so angry that she’s not giving me an explanation that I find it impossible to control my temper. I grab tightly to her upper arms and shake her so hard I can hear her teeth rattle.
“SAY SOMETHING GOD DAMMIT!”
Eve just stares off into space, not even acknowledging me. I’m so scared and furious that I don’t care if I hurt her. I don’t care if I snap her neck. I continue shaking her and shouting at her until Gwen finally wraps her hand around my arm and squeezes it just hard enough to pull me out of my murderous rage. I drop my arms from Eve and take a few steps back, my breath coming out in gasps.
“He took her, Eve. He took her and he lied to us about where he was going. Does Finn know about this?” Gwen asks softly, turning Eve to face her to try and reach her through sympathy and a little kindness.
It’s more than this woman deserves, but I keep quiet and let Gwen work her magic.
“Eve, please. Does Finn know about this?” Gwen asks again.
Eve finally stops her manic head shaking and looks at Gwen, her lips and chin trembling with panic. “Oh God! He knows. He’s known since he was in Afghanistan and there were complications with his injuries. When he came home, he was so angry. He broke into my house and threatened to go to the tabloids. He demanded that I hire him or else he would tell everyone. Layla was already huge by then. I couldn’t let anything ruin it. I had to do something. I had already done so many bad things by then, what was one more?”
Eve continues to ramble, spilling her guts about everything. She tells us about Finn and Jack and Ray/Billy. She confesses all of her sins right there in the middle of my living room. She admits to things that will break Layla’s heart into a million pieces and makes me fear even more for her safety. I can’t just sit here waiting for the police to get their heads out of their asses and find Layla. I can’t do it. I may not be active, but I’m still a fucking Navy SEAL, and I’ll be damned if I lose one more person in my life.
I walk away from Gwen as she tries to comfort a woman who doesn’t deserve her kindness while Eve breaks down on my couch, sobbing hysterically and rocking back and forth.
Scrolling through the contacts on my phone, I call the first person I can think of who is always up for a little off-the-books search and rescue mission. The phone is answered mid-ring.
“Hey there, dick bag! Tell me you need me for something. I’m going crazy sitting here on my ass waiting for Uncle Sam to call.”
I’d smile at my friend’s words if I didn’t feel an immense amount of panic suffocating me right now.
“Austin, I need you, man. How soon can you get here?” I ask.
“Already got my go-bag in my hand, and I’m walking out the door. I had a side job two hours from you. I can be there in an hour. Fuck speed limits.”
I thank Austin and hang up the phone, grateful once again that I have friends who will always have my back.
I just hope to God that wherever Layla is, she knows that no matter what, I will come for her.
I blink my eyes into focus and stare up at a ceiling covered in water spots and mold wondering who booked such a shitty hotel room for my tour. Turning my head to the right, a burst of pain shoots across my forehead and behind the back of my eyes with the movement, and I realize that I’m not in a hotel room but what looks like the basement storage room at Hummingbird Records. I’ve only been in here once, and it was years ago when my dad was still alive and he brought me down here to unpack the case for the guitar he’d given me. Twisting to my side on the cold, cement floor, I push myself up so I can try and clear the cobwebs from my head. I lean my back against the concrete walls and glance around at all the old boxes of vinyl records, out-of-date recording equipment, and framed posters of musicians and bands Hummingbird has represented in the last thirty some odd years.
My head feels like it’s going to explode, and I try to think back and remember what the hell happened and why I’m in this basement. I press my palm against my temple, pulling it quickly away when I feel something sticky there and see spots of bright red blood.
Blood, screeching tires, breaking glass, crunching metal…
“Finn, wake up.”
Everything comes rushing back to me all at once: Brady’s brush off, Finn rambling nonsense as we drove, the accident and…oh God, that man, the one who opened my door and stood there with a huge, disturbing smile on his face. It has to be him—the man who wrote all those notes, who attacked me and threw a brick through my window, who watched Brady and me together in his truck. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but he was there at the accident. Did he cause it? Was he the one who ran into us or was he just following Finn and me and by some freak twist of fate happened to be in the right place at the right time? And where the hell is Finn? I don’t remember anything after my door opened and I saw that man standing there.
Using the wall as support, I press one of my hands against it and push myself up so I can stand, every muscle in my body aching from the impact of the accident. I gingerly walk around a few boxes, trying not to jar my throbbing head too much. I have to get out of here and find Finn. As I make my way across the room, I hear the door at the top of the stairs open, and I move faster, wincing as each footstep makes my head feel like someone is taking a hammer to it.
“HEY! Hello? Is someone there? I need help!” I yell as I make it to the bottom of the stairs and look up. “Finn? Oh, thank God! What the hell happened? Why did you leave me down here? Are you okay?” I ramble as he gets to the bottom step and walks right by me.
“Did you see that Ray guy after the accident? That was him, wasn’t it? Did he escape from the police department? Are we hiding here or something?”
Finn still doesn’t answer me or turn around. He just walks over to one of the support poles in the middle of the room, crouches down, and starts securing rope to the bottom of it.
“Finn, what the hell is going on?” I demand, as I stare at his back while his arms work furiously tying knots and wrapping the rope around the pole.
“Yes, Finn. Do tell her what’s going on,” a male voice says as I jump in surprise and turn around when I hear a sinister voice in the room with us.
I watch in shock as the man from the accident strides down the stairs cracking his knuckles, a pair of handcuffs dangling from the front pocket of his pants and clinking together as he descends.
I scramble backward, knocking over boxes of records and tripping over a broken microphone from the sixties and an equalizer from the eighties. I continue falling over all of these things until my back slams into Finn’s chest, and he wraps his hands around my upper arms and squeezes tight, holding me in place.
“Finn, what are you doing?” I question angrily, trying to struggle out of his grip.
“Oh, Finn, I think it’s time to clue the lady in on a few things, don’t you?” the man says as he finally comes to a stop right in front of me, taking the tip of his finger and sliding it up my neck and chin.
I bite down so hard on my lip that I taste blood as the man stands there staring at me with a smile on his face. He’s over six feet tall, and I have to crane my neck to look up at his face. It’s a face that immediately makes me think of nightmares and scary movies. He’s got a scar that runs from right below his eye to his bottom lip, and I can tell that he was most likely on the receiving end of a knife fight. The stubble on his face makes him look dirty, and the dark color of his eyes as he stares down at me reminds me of a black, bottomless pit. The tattoos that run up and down his arms are of flesh-eating monsters, devils with flames shooting out of their heads, and other sinister markings that make my skin crawl. The fingers that he uses to touch me are inked with what look like hand-made prison designs, and I cringe in disgust as he uses a dirty, broken fingernail to scrape the trail of blood off of the side of my face.
“I really don’t like this new look you’re going for with the hair. You look like a whore,” he tells me seriously as he runs his dirty fingers through the short locks.
I jerk my head away from his hand, and he grabs my chin roughly, forcing me to turn my head back and look at him. My fear is quickly being replaced by anger. Anger that this man thinks he has any kind of claim over me. He’s kept me in fear long enough.
I growl at him. “Like I give a shit what you think.”
My boldness is quickly silenced with a backhand across the face. I cry out in pain and my eyes immediately start to water, the hands holding me in place clenching tighter and tighter to my arms as I struggle as hard as I can against them.
“Billy, man, not so rough,” Finn scolds.
My confusion mounts as I listen to Finn talk to this man like he knows him.
“Finn, let me go, please,” I beg him softly. “Why are you doing this?”
He still doesn’t speak to me, and after a few seconds, I stop struggling and immediately let my body relax against him, remembering each and every thing Brady taught me that night in my bedroom.
“You’re so clueless about everything, Layla. All this time, all these years, and you never figured it out. How is that fucking possible?” Finn finally speaks, the contempt for me dripping from his voice right by my ear. “All of this should have been mine. The fame, the fortune… I should have been the star, not you. I came first, I was the one with the talent, but she threw me away like yesterday’s trash.”
What the hell is he talking about? Nothing he says makes sense. Why is he doing this to me? I have to get out of here. I have to get away from these two men who have obviously lost their minds.
While Finn is distracted telling me all the ways he hates me, my body goes limp and his hands loosen on my arms. I close my eyes and throw my head back, smashing it into Finn’s nose as hard as I can. While he screams in pain, I collapse to my knees on the floor, whirl around, and slam my fist between his legs. He lets out another painful shout and drops to his knees right in front of me, holding his hands over his crotch while blood pours down his face from his broken nose.