Sarah, Returned--Chapter 20 (A Steemit Original Novel)
Matt squeezes my hand tightly, as if to give me strength. I don’t need it, but I appreciate the gesture. What I need is some clarification.
“Tampering?” I ask, confused. “Do you mean someone did something to my car with the intent to hurt me?”
“Before or after I parked it at the top of Garrison Hill?”
“Before. Wait. So, you actually drove up there yourself?”
“Yeah, to be alone. How else was my car going to get up there? The going missing part happened after that.”
“But, why were your keys still in the ignition?”
“They were?” News to me. It wouldn’t be the first time I locked my keys in a car when I was distracted. The locksmiths of Dover love me. “I had no idea. You realize, I was pretty upset at the time. I probably just got absent-minded and left them in there by accident. You know that’s kind of my thing.” I give him a small laugh, to loosen him up.
“I guess it is,” he says, a hint of a smile appearing on his lips as he remembers. “Well, that’s something. The police will definitely want to know. This whole time, they’ve been thinking you were taken from the car quickly, like when you were getting out of it, or into it.”
“So, car tampering?” I prompt him.
Why would anyone want to hurt me using me own car? That’s weird. Then again, so is time travel. Who am I to say what’s weird anymore?
“Yes. Once the police towed your car back to the impound lot to investigate it for clues to your disappearance, they discovered someone cut through several lines in your engine. The tubes that bring up the windshield washer fluid were cut, as were the lines to the AC. They think whoever did it was trying to cut your brake lines, but didn’t know where they were, so just cut through anything that looked like it might disable the car.”
“Why would anyone want to do that?” I exclaim, offended more than shocked. I’m not sure why. Just the idea of someone wanting to hurt me by cutting my car’s brakes strikes me as deeply offensive.
“The current theory is that someone who knows you wanted to get you out of the way, most likely so they could get your half of the inheritance.”
“Whose theory?" I demand. "This can’t just be the local police.”
“You’re right," Matt admits. "It’s the state police. The FBI even brought people out to give their opinion. Considering the amount of money at stake in Grandma’s will, they considered your disappearance a federal matter as much as a state one, though the state police have been doing most of the work. The local police have been helping, of course. The whole town has, actually. Practically everyone we know, and hundreds we don’t, spent a week combing every inch of the county for you. We even looked into parts of Massachusetts and Maine. Other than your car and the things you left on top of the hill, there was no sign of you. No sightings. Not even an anonymous tip. It was like you vanished off the face of the earth.”
“How much money are we talking about, Matt? I know it’s supposed to be something ridiculous, but the last I heard, the exact number hadn’t been released yet. If anyone knew, it might have given them motivation to kidnap either one of us. Or worse”
“I know. That’s why there’s been 24/7 police protection on the house since you left, just in case the perpetrator tried to get to me, too.”
"Have you talked to Grandma’s lawyer?” I press, suddenly curious about the exact amount of my inheritance for the first time in 14 years.
Matt nods, looking almost guilty. “I wanted to wait until we knew what happened to you, but all the different law enforcement agencies we were working with insisted on it. We brought the lawyer to the house, and all the professionals on the investigation sat in on the meeting. They needed the information for evidence. In addition to half the house and half of Grandma’s personal belongings, to be divided between us as we see fit, we are each inheriting $40 million. That’s enough for someone to want to do away with you, me, or both of us. Because you’re younger, you probably made an easier looking target, but that doesn’t mean I’m not one, too. The whole town knew it was going to be a staggering number. Grandma was a wealthy woman; she didn't flaunt it, but she didn't hide it, either. The perpetrator could be anyone close enough to us or Grandma to think they have a chance at inheriting the money with one or both of us gone.”
“But, how could someone get half the inheritance just by removing me from the picture? It’s not like a random person could just waltz in and say, ‘Since Sarah’s not here, I think I’ll claim her $40 million.’ That doesn’t make sense.”
It’s odd. You would think a figure like $40 million would thrill me; it’s life-changing money. It’s all going to be Matt’s after I return to the past, though, so I don’t feel any emotion about it. It’s just another part of the story he’s telling.
“You’re right,” Matt agrees. “That’s why it has to be someone who knows us personally, and either has an actual legal claim to the money if you’re gone, or someone who thinks they can make a play for it with you out of the picture. Or, you know, with both of us out of the picture.”
“That narrows down the suspects,” I muse. It’s so weird thinking someone tried to kill me. Considering I’ve now traveled through time by accident twice, the fact that I’m flabbergasted by anything at all is really saying something.
“It does,” Matt affirms, and strokes the back of my hand with his thumb. It's his way of trying to comfort me as he drives. “I’ve been questioned more than once by a few different agencies. You understand, right? I have the most to gain from your disappearance, so I’ve always been the prime suspect, from the beginning.”
“You?” I exclaim, and almost laugh. It’s so ludicrous. Matt would never hurt a fly, much less try to kill the cousin he helped raise. “That’s insane.”
“You think so, because you know me. It’s not that obvious to outside observers. To most people, I have the perfect motive and means.”
“But, they think you may be a target, too. You can’t be a target and a suspect,” I protest.
“I am considered a possible target, but since you're the only one of us who has gone missing so far, it's just a theory. If you hadn’t shown up within a year or so, and no one made a move against me in that time, I’m sure I would have been indicted.”
“Wow. I’m sorry, Matt.” I mean it. I never wanted to cause this kind of trouble for him. The fact he would be the prime suspect in my disappearance never once occurred to me.
“I know. And, you being back doesn't mean I’m off the hook. At least, I won’t be until you tell the police what really happened to you.”
“Of course,” I pick up on the hidden request in his tone. “Consider yourself off the list. Was anyone else questioned besides you?”
Matt visibly relaxes at my promise. “Yes. Karen, of course, though she would never hurt you. We both know that. Great-Uncle Jacob, his son and grandchildren, Carter, our housekeeper, a couple of other guys you briefly dated, all of your close girlfriends, all of Grandma’s known close friends and business contacts, our next door neighbors on both sides, and the people across the street. Even some of your professors at the university were questioned.”
“Any idea as to who might have done it? That’s a lot of questioning. Surely there’s been some theory developed by now.”
“Believe it or not, no. I’m still the prime suspect. Everyone they talked to claimed ignorance, of course. And, whoever did it might not have known much about cars, but they were smart enough to wear gloves when they tampered with yours. There were no fingerprints.”
“That doesn’t make me feel great about going home, Matt.”
Not that I’m planning on staying there for long, but returning to a house where there might be someone who tried to off me doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. I have to make absolutely certain I don’t tarry here. Get in, answer whatever questions the police have for me, search Grandma’s room, and get out.
And, whatever I do, for whatever time I spend here, I must not allow myself to be alone with Karen. Matt may still be dazzled enough by her to think she’s a perfect angel, but I know if anyone tried to kill me, it most surely was that witch.
“You’ll be safe, I promise,” Matt assures me. “It’s only Karen and me at the house. No one will hurt you there.”
I almost snort. Just Matt and Karen? Yeah, right, I’ll be safe. I’m going to need a police escort in my own house to keep her away from me.
Staying away from Karen while I search Grandma's room is going to be important. I doubt my disappearance changed her; she will be keeping an eye on every single thing I do. I'll have to be crafty, and do whatever I have to do to get my hands on an object that will open a portal. That woman will not keep me from my husband and children. I will never, ever allow it.
Matt is incredibly gentle with me, holding my hand all the way back to the house. When we finally arrive, I wince as the gears of the garage door opener engage. They’re like nails on a chalkboard to my newly sensitive ears. I’ve heard no machinery in more than a decade; I’ve become used to the silence that used to send me into a frenzy when I first arrived in 1685. I never thought I would be able to accept a world so quiet, where even minor background noise like air conditioning or a refrigerator making ice didn’t exist. Now, I long for it. How did I ever get anything done here with all this ruckus? There isn’t a single space of pure silence anywhere in any developed nation; I would have to go up to the top of an extremely tall mountain or into the depths of a remote forest to find it. In the 17th century, the silence is just a part of life.
Matt insists on opening the car door for me, and even takes my hand to lead me inside. It occurs to me he probably should have taken me to the hospital to get an exam first, to make sure I’m physically all right and haven’t been assaulted or abused. I’m almost sure that’s standard protocol when a missing person returns. He’s not thinking clearly. Did the police tell him to take me there, and he insisted on bringing me home first? It’s possible, and with the type of money he and I just inherited, they may have deferred to him. Money talks, especially in a small town like this, with every agency looking for donations and benefactors.
He’s so eager to get me through the door, it’s like he thinks he can keep me safe in there forever, if only he can carry me across the threshold. There’s that pang of guilt again. If only I could explain why I have to leave once more, forever this time. But, no. Even if he believed the time travel story, which is unlikely, Matt would never understand me wanting to leave him, even for a husband and children. He’s never met them, so they won’t seem real to him. My desire to go back to people who are strangers to him would crush him. I can’t say anything about it, or give him any kind of warning or comfort before I leave, and I hate myself for it.
It doesn’t change anything, though. I can’t stay here. Not as long as they are there. ________________________________________________________________
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