Hiding Her Brother's Body
Maize and Blue were running around the police car, wagging their tails, and Blue was barking in anticipation of a scratch on the head from the sheriff. And maybe playing catch with the slobber-covered ball Maize held between her teeth.
Steph Campbell darted away from the living room window.
A couple of throws and fetches is all the time I need to hide CJ. She slid the coffee table to open a path between the love seat and the couch, grabbed the back of CJ's La-Z-Boy recliner, and yanked a couple of times to get it moving. They'd splurged on some chair coasters so dragging it across the maple floor was much easier than it used to be, especially with her unconscious brother in it like four-no, three now-sacks of potatoes. Still, it was no picnic, and soon she was breathing heavily. A crumpled Muskegon Chronicle , tufts of dog hair, and a chewed-up squeaky toy collected at the back of the chair as it plowed through the detritus of their lives. She was panting like a dog on a summer day when she finally reached the door to their parents' room, throwing it open and pulling her brother inside. When the chair reached its usual hiding spot, she pushed the door shut.
Muffled farts sputtered inside CJ's diaper, causing her gaze to swing to her brother's blanketed body.
As Steph turned to leave, the inside mirror greeted her with flushed, pudgy cheeks and a sweaty brow. Nothing a little hard work can't explain. Several strands of her brown hair had worked themselves out of her ponytail, dangling almost to her shoulder. She tore off the black elastic band and tidied herself before sealing her brother behind the bedroom door and heading back to the living room. A mouse-sized squeak from the front step warned her that the sheriff had reached the porch just before he knocked. As she opened the front door, the dogs whined excitedly and tried to push their way onto the porch with him, but Steph shooed them away.
"I'm sorry, Sheriff. I was in the kitchen. I wasn't expecting you until later this week," Steph said with slow, measured words to hide her heavy breathing.
The sheriff smiled. "Everything okay?"
She nodded, still catching her breath and trying not to show it.
"The FBI got a reliable sighting of Lauren near Detroit," he said, limping into the living room. "And e-mailing attachments leaves a trail computer techs can follow, so instead, I brought out the security camera stills they're circulating." Removing his cowboy hat revealed matted silvery hair. Even with his hat off, the sheriff towered over her. He paused, noticing the jumbled furniture.
"What's going on?" He leaned a little on the couch.
"I'm going to mop, as you recommended."
The sheriff nodded. "About time. Stuff like that's good to do when you're trying to reduce the 24/7 stress of a search and rescue. You can't be on all the time, or you burn out." His face grimaced more than usual and his breathing seemed a little labored.
"Why don't we sit down?" Steph suggested. "I'm exhausted. You must be tired after that long drive out here," she said sarcastically as she gestured at the sofa.
"You bet. It took fifteen minutes today. Thirty years ago it took half that." He grinned a little at her jibe and hobbled to the end of the couch, where the springs were firmer.
Steph knew the sheriff's face hid the severity of his pain. CJ had told her of the agony that stretched from the sheriff's right knee through his hip that was now a rusty ball and joint without grease. Every grinding step was torture, especially when a snowstorm was headed across Lake Michigan toward the island.
"I also included pictures of several more suspected members of the cult that the FBI is certain kidnapped her, and the latest info on their leader, Melvin Rieter, a.k.a. the Archmessiah," the sheriff s