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PART SIXTY-NINE

“Karla?” Manny demanded, “Manny Taisto. Our friend Suzann tells me you’re in a hell of a lot of trouble. What’s up?”

“Uhm, hi, Manny. Yeah. A lot of trouble. I’m afraid for my little girl.”

“Yeah. Suzann mentioned that you may have a, what? That you slipped away with her, shall we say? What’s this about being afraid of your husband? Can’t we just call the cops?”

Karla looked at Suzann, head tilted to the side eyes brimming with tears, and turned her hands palm up as unspoken interrogative.

“Just tell him the truth,” Suzann said softly.

“It’s a really long story,” Karla replied, “but I, I took our daughter while Caleb was in prison. I’d a called the police but he’s part of this skinhead bunch a crazies called Elohim’s Army-”

“Whoa, wait. Your husband’s an Elohim warrior?”

Stacie and Suzann exchanged glances while Karla nodded to the phone. “Yes. Yes, he is. Has been for, oh, Lord, over seven years now.”

“Okay,” Manny said, “I can see how you might not want to call the cops. Pretty rough set of dudes. So, how do you know he’s after you?”

“Because he’s been following me ever since I left Birmingham. He’s tracked us down like, half-a-dozen times, but today he showed up at Skylar’s, that’s my daughter’s, school.”

“Suzann,” Manny asked, “so, like what? He comes into the office asking for his little girl?”

“No,” Stacie replied, “this is Stacie Shannon, by the way, I’m Skylar’s teacher. He showed up at the playground during recess. Karla has told us some very disturbing things concerning Caleb, including her fears that he’s murdered people in the past. We’re very concerned for Skylar.”

“Yeah. Sounds like you should be. Where’s Skylar now?”

“At a friend’s house,” Karla replied. “But I’m afraid he’ll find my house and steal her from there or school.”

“Okay. This sounds pretty damn serious, but what do you want me to do? I can help you with the cops, but we need to call them.”

Karla hesitated. “Do we have to tell them everything? Couldn’t we just, I don’t know, tell them there’s a known killer hanging around my daughter’s school? I’m about ready to go grab Skylar and run again so’s I’m far away from him.”

“Yeah?” Manny asked sarcastically, “how’s that working for you? You said he’s found you in the past, and them Elohim’s bastards don’t quit. They got skinheads all over working for them. We need to solve the problem, Karla, not run away from it. And the known killer bit? Convictions? Arrests? What?”

“No. Not for murder. Convicted of aggravated assault. He was in prison for that when I took- He was in prison for that when me an Skylar left Gadsden.”

“Gadsden?”

“Birmingham, Gadsden. Gadsden’s bout a hour northeast a Birmingham. He was in Birmingham prison when we left.”

“Aggravated, huh? That might be enough if I talk to the right people. When you say you know he murdered people, what’s that mean? He tell you?”

“Oh. No. But three times there was reports on the news about people getting beat to death and he’d left a Google search of the area on the computer. The exact area on the same day. Like he’d been doing street view? Same place, same day, three times. You gonna try’n tell me that’s coincidence?” Karla asked petulantly.

“Whoa, sister. Cool down. I ain’t doubting you, but if you want me to get some of my old Pasco pals involved I gotta give ‘em something. So, murder’s good. I just gotta give it to ‘em in a way that allows them to act. Give me your phone number and address. Where the hell are you, anyways? Lot of noise.”

“At a little place called Craft Street down at Little and Fifty-four,” Suzann said. “They make great Moscow Mules.”

“Good to hear it. Have one for me, I quit drinking when Sammi was born. Let me call my buddy. I’ll call you back.”

“Okay, Manny,” Suzann replied. “You’re a good man.”

“Yeah. Just don’t let it get out.”

“Thank you, Manny,” Karla said. “Thank you so much!”