Someone laid a hand on Zeb’s shoulder and he jerked away, fists up to defend himself. The startled nurse took a step back, her hands out and eyes wide. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Your friend is asking for you.”
“Rob’s awake?” Zeb relaxed his posture wearily. Apparently, he had dozed off in the waiting room at some point. The last he knew, Rob was still in surgery. No one woke him when he came out.
She nodded. “This way, if you’ll follow me.”
He got up somewhat shakily. When he’d first gotten to the hospital and was briefed on Rob’s condition – car accident, multiple fractures and internal bleeding – he had a full-on migraine. They’d given him something to help with the pain and shown him to the waiting room to rest. Now that he had rested, however, all the adrenalin he’d been running on the last few days had gone, leaving him wiped out.
The nurse, a lovely older woman with silver-touched blonde hair and intelligent green eyes, stopped beside one of the rooms and gestured for Zeb to wait a moment before going in. “I can only let you stay for a little while. He needs his rest.”
“Of course. But it’s a good sign he’s awake so soon after the surgery, right? I mean, he’s going to be okay?”
“He’s been making incredible strides in the last eight hours, yes. I’d say-”
“Wait- sorry, but did you say eight hours? What time is it?”
“It’s going on six-thirty,” she replied. “Technically, visiting hours aren’t until eight o’clock, but since you are the emergency contact and he was emphatic about seeing you right away, we’re making an exception.”
“Thanks,” he said absently, though he wasn’t really listening to her anymore. Eight hours? Why hadn’t Zoe called yet? Then a thought: “Have the police been in to see him yet?”
She nodded. “Yes, they just left.”
He bit his lower lip. “Um, okay, thanks,” he then said. “Can I see him now?”
She opened the door and stepped aside. “Remember: please make it quick.”
Zeb nodded and stepped into the room. Rob lay in the bed, half-propped up. His right hand and leg up to his knee were in casts, a large cut over his left eye had been stitched shut. He hugged a pillow to his abdomen. A heart monitor beeped a steady rhythm.
Guilt and fear gripped Zeb’s heart. He had done this to his best friend. This was his fault.
Rob opened his eyes and looked over at Zeb weakly. “Hey, brother,” he said with a faint smile.
Zeb covered his mouth with one hand and stifled a sob. He came to the side of the bed and sat in the chair waiting there, forcing a smile. “Hey,” he replied, gripping Rib’s hand for a moment. “Are you all right?”
Rob grinned. “I’ve been better. But I have to say, the meds here are pretty amazing. Maybe I’ll write ’em a review for my next column.” He chuckled weakly, then grimaced in pain. Then he turned to Zeb with widened eyes, his heart monitor’s beeping increasing slightly. “He took it, Zeb. He took all of it. I’m so sorry, I couldn’t stop him. I didn’t get them to the authorities.”
Zeb shushed him. “No, it’s okay, man. I’m just glad you’re alive.” He rubbed a hand across his eyes wearily. “You know, he told me he killed you. I’ve never felt so lost and angry – or guilty – in my life.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “This is all my fault, Rob, and I am so sorry. I know I can’t ever make this right-”
“Hey, stop that,” Rob ordered. “This was not your fault. It’s the Spaniard’s fault.” His eyelids drooped a bit, then he looked around in apparent confusion. “Where’s Zoe?”
Zeb’s heart clenched. “She hasn’t called,” he said, fighting tears. “I don’t know why she hasn’t called. Dos told Uno to let her go, I should have heard-” he broke off and buried his face in his hands.
“Hey, she’ll be okay,” Rob said. Zeb nodded, but did not look up. Then a change came over Rob’s voice, a dread stillness. “Zeb, I never spoke to Harriett.” His heart monitor beeping sped up. Zeb looked up. “The story…”
“No,” Zeb whispered. “If they see it, they’ll kill her. All of us.” He and Rob exchanged a dire look. “What did you tell the police?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just that some guy ran me off the road and took off.”
Zeb drummed his fingers nervously on his lap. “Okay. Okay…I gotta go, man. I gotta go find my sister.”
Rob nodded. “Go,” he agreed, just as the nurse came in.
Zeb shot to his feet and nearly ran into her on his way out. “Sorry,” he called over his shoulder. He ran out to the parking lot and got into his car, driving away as fast as was legally possible. He got caught by a red light a few blocks away from the hospital and sat impatiently drumming the steering wheel with his fingers. “Come on, come on, come on,” he said repeatedly under his breath.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and startled, but it was only a teenager on a bike going along in the bike lane. But just beyond that, in front of a corner restaurant – a Subway – was a newspaper bin. And on the front cover was one of Zeb’s photos. The headline read: “Spanish National Soccer Star Murder Coverup”.
Zeb caught his breath. If Zoe wasn’t far away from those guys by now, there was every chance he would never see her again. “Lord, please, please bring her home safely.”
He realized a few blocks later, that he had no idea where he was going, except home. He had no idea where to even start looking for Zoe, or if he should go to the police now and hope that they can somehow help him. He parked on the street, gutted by the sight of Zoe’s car in the drive. There was room to park next to it, but he just couldn’t bear to.
He was greeted by the same headline and photo on the newspaper that sat on his welcome mat. He bent and picked it up, sliding off the rubber band and letting it shoot off into the bushes. He stared at the picture, the one that might very well have cost his best friend his life, and could potentially do the same for his sister and wished with his entire being that he had never been on that rooftop to take it. If only he had still been inside visiting with his family, if only he had gone back downstairs with them.
Then came the whys. Why had God led him to this? Why was he, of all people, the one to witness this horrible crime? Why couldn’t it all be over and he could go back to his normal life with his sister and best friend by his side?
Why hadn’t Zoe called?
But just then, she did.
He quickly answered it. After accepting the charges for her collect call, Zeb said in a deliriously happy rush, “Zoe? Thank God.”
“Zeb,” she said, crying. “I need you to come get me.”
He was already headed toward his car. “I’m on the way, Zoe, just tell me where you are.”
“I don’t really know,” she sniffed. “But can you take my car? I need my first aid kits.”
He stopped in his tracks. “What did he do to you? Are you okay?”
“It was Seve – Dos, not Andres. Not Uno, do you understand? He didn’t do anything. It was all Seve,” she repeated firmly.
Right now, Zeb didn’t care which of the two had hurt his sister, or what their names were, he wanted to see them both punished severely. He tried to push away that thirst for vengeance, trying to keep his heart from wanting blood. “It doesn’t matter,” he told her, getting into her car and tossing the newspaper over onto the passenger seat instead. “Just tell me how to find you.”
“Ummm, it’s a truck stop…on Forest Top Highway, just outside of Mesa Forest.”
“Mesa Forest…that’s an hour away! How did you end up there?” he asked, starting the car. “You know what? Never mind all that now. Just stay inside, stay with people, okay? I’m coming to get you right now.”
She laughed a little in relief. “Okay, I’ll be waiting in the diner.” She paused for a second. “I love you, Big Brother.”
“I love you, too, Little Sis. I’ll be there quick as I can, I promise. See you soon.”
“See you soon,” she replied before disconnecting the call.
Zeb hung up and began backing down the driveway. He had to stop, however, as a taxi pulled up at the end of it, blocking him in. “What now?” he asked in frustration.
The rear passenger door of the cab opened and Zeb let out a gasp of shock. “No way,” he whispered in disbelief.
Inspector Espinal paid the driver and walked up the driveway, coming up to Zeb’s window. He rapped his knuckles on the car window. Zeb rolled the window down, but only an inch or two. “What are you doing here?”
Espinal leaned over and peered at him through the window’s narrow opening. “I know you were telling the truth now, Mister Martin,” he replied. “I believe your story. I did some digging-”
“You believe me now? Now?” Zeb demanded. “I don’t have time for this right now, I have to go save my sister- whose life was endangered because you didn’t believe me when I first came to you!”
“I assure you, you have my deepest-” He happened to glance over and saw the newspaper, photo and all, and whatever he was going to say withered on his lips. He pressed his mouth into a thin line, glaring at Zeb. “Where did that come from?” He pointed at the photo, “Why didn’t you tell me you had that? Let me see that,” he demanded, pushing his fingers through the windows’s narrow opening.
Zeb handed him the newspaper with angry, jerky motions. “Here! You wanna know why I didn’t tell you? He rolled the window down further and jabbed his finger at the insignia on Uno’s shoulder. “That’s why. I didn’t know what it meant, or who I could trust. I still don’t,” he added.
Espinal looked like his world was falling down around his ears. He paled visibly and the hand holding the newspaper began to tremble. “Oh, señor,” he breathed, “I wish you had shown me this picture long ago.” He looked at Zeb. “I can help you and your sister. I know this man. I know Andres.”