This is the 35th installment of my new book, Lost Days. The Advance Reader Copies have been printed and are on their way to me. I’ve giving some free copies out to the folks who have joined the Lost Days Facebook group. They’re also the only ones eligible to enter a drawing for a free laptop computer. Join the group today and get in on the fun!
Uncle Crew wasn’t home. I changed into a pair of sweats and a Chicago Cubs t-shirt shortly after my mom chewed me out for borrowing her boots without asking. I was so shaken by the funeral that I wrapped my arms around her and begged for her forgiveness. She agreed after looking at me like she’d just found out I had a brain tumor.
I decided to crawl in bed and sleep for the rest of my life. The covers had barely settled over me when Grover and Owen walked in. I yelped in surprise.
“Owen’s here,” Grover said.
“I can see that, dink,” I said sitting up.
Owen, still dressed in his suit, examined me wide-eyed. The way I reacted when he walked in, he must have thought he caught me in the nude.
“You okay?” Owen asked.
“Hold on,” I said. “Get out of here, Grover.”
“No,” he said. “It’s my room.”
“It’s my room,” I said. “I just let you sleep here.”
He folded his arms over his chest and grimaced. I was never going to get him to leave. “Okay, you can stay, but it just means that I have every right to beat the living crap out of you if you repeat one word of what we say.”
He put on a stoic face and nodded.
I returned my attention to Owen. “I’m fine. Pissed off, but fine.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Wait for Uncle Crew to get home and talk to him.” I noticed my laptop on the night stand, and suddenly remembered what it contained. “The pictures,” I said opening it and turning it on.
“Pictures?” Owen said sitting on the bed.
I looked at Grover. “Last chance to leave because I promise you, I will give you the beating of your life.”
“I won’t say nothing,” he said.
I clicked on the image viewer and opened the album of pictures from Elizabeth Starling’s camera. I handed the laptop to Owen without telling him where they came from. He started to click through the images. He turned to me when he got to the picture of Ginger Starling.
“Is this…?” was all he could bring himself to say.
“Where did you…?”
“Uncle Crew,” I said.
Grover looked at us dumbfounded. “Stop talking in code.” He walked over and sat next to Owen. “Who’s the girl?”
We didn’t answer. Owen continued to click through the pictures. He didn’t make any comments. He got to the last one and started scanning through them again. At one point he pursed his lips together, and I could tell he was going back and forth between a series of pictures. He turned to me with a furrowed brow. “There are some pictures missing.”
“What?” I said darting forward and looking over his shoulder.
“You see this file name?” He asked as he pointed to the upper left hand side of the screen.
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s IMG00012,” he said.
“Yeah, so,” Grover said.
Owen clicked to the next image. “This one is IMG00026.”
“So,” Grover said again.
“It should be IMG00013,” I said in a haze.
“Right,” Owen said. “It’s the default naming protocol. Images have sequential numbers.”
“Sesquent-what?” Grover asked.
“In order,” I said. “The images should be numbered in the order in which they were taken. It jumps from 12 to 26.”
“Which means someone deleted 14 images,” Owen said.
“Oh,” Grover said yawning. “Guess they were bad pictures.” He stood. “I’m leaving because, for top secret stuff I’m not supposed to tell anyone, it’s pretty boring.” He stomped out of the room.
“Image number 12 is a picture of your uncle,” Owen said. “Picture number 26 is of that other guy.”
“J-Rob,” I said.
“Which means 13-25 were probably of them, too.”
I turned and sat back-to-back with Owen, pressing my feet against the wall. “Uncle Crew deleted them.”
“Looks like.” I could sense him turn his head toward me. “You okay?”
“That’s the second time you’ve asked me that since you got here.”
I heard a car pulling into the driveway. I jumped up and nearly knocked Owen to the floor. I darted out of the bedroom and headed down the hallway to a window overlooking the front yard. Owen wasn’t far behind. It was a police car. Owen’s cousin was helping Uncle Crew out of the backseat.
“What’s going on?” I asked Owen.
He looked at me dumbfounded and simply shrugged.
I ran down the hall and bounded down the stairs. I was on the front porch so fast I wasn’t even sure how I got there. I looked to my left and Owen was standing right beside me. He hopped off the porch and made a beeline for his cousin. Uncle Crew made brief eye contact with me and then quickly dropped his head. He stomped awkwardly down the driveway toward his FROG.
I heard the door to police cruiser shut, and turned to see Owen climbing back up the porch steps. “Well?” I begged.
Owen looked at me sheepishly. “My cousin brought your uncle in for questioning. There was a call to 911 the night Mrs. Starling… died. The server crashed and they thought they lost it so nobody heard it until this morning when some IT guy was able to recover the call from one of the corrupt hard drives.”
“I don’t understand. Are you saying someone called 911 about Mrs. Starling the night she was killed?”
“Yes. The best they can determine the caller used Mrs. Starling’s cell phone to make the call. My cousin said the second he heard the voice he knew who it was.”
Owen nodded. “Apparently, he wouldn’t talk, and they didn’t have enough to hold him.”
I leaned back against the porch railing and folded my arms over my chest. “They think he killed her,” I said to no one in particular.
Owen rested on the railing next to me. “Do you blame them? I thought you were leaning that way, too.”
“I was… this is all my fault. I should never have said anything to anyone.” I grabbed Owen’s arm and squeezed. “You can’t tell anyone about the pictures.”
“Okay, but honestly, Hayley, it’s not looking too good. The three guys last night, the camera, the missing pictures, your uncle is mixed up in something. And, even if he didn’t kill Elizabeth Starling, it’s pretty clear he’s involved in some way. You’re going to have to tell someone sooner or later… someone besides me.”
I didn’t say a word. I knew he was right. I didn’t want him to be, but there was no sense denying it. Uncle Crew was hiding something. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I felt an obligation to Ginger Starling to find out what he was hiding because I was pretty sure it would lead to the truth of what really happened to her mother.