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Two Reasons to Run

Two Reasons to Run

by Colleen Coble


Learn More | Meet Colleen Coble

One

Was anyone watching?

Keith McDonald sat at the computer and glanced around the oil platform’s rec room, but the dozen or so workers were engrossed in watching the final game of a Ping-Pong match. He hesitated, then hovered his cursor over the Send button. Clenching his teeth, he sent the emails. Maybe it was nothing, but if anyone could decipher the recording, it was Reid Dixon.

The back of his neck prickled, and Keith looked around again. The room felt stifling even with the AC cooling it from the May heat. He jumped up and headed for the door. He exited and darted into the shadows as two men strolled past. One was his suspect.

Keith stood on a grating suspended three thousand feet over the water and strained to hear past the noise of machinery. The scent of the sea enveloped him, and the stars glimmered on the water surrounding the oil platform that had been his home for two years now.

“Scheduled for late May—” A clanging bell drowned out the rest of the man’s words.

“Devastation—”

The other fragment of conversation pumped up Keith’s heart rate. Were they talking about the sabotage he feared, or was he reading more into the words than were there? He couldn’t believe someone could be callous enough to sabotage the oil platform and destroy the coast on purpose. He’d seen firsthand the devastating effects from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. And what about the people living on the platform? Deepwater Horizon had killed eleven people and injured another seventeen.

He had to sound a warning and stop this, but he had no real evidence. If Reid Dixon blew him off, who would even listen? Maybe Homeland Security would pay attention, but who did he even call there? He could tell them about the pictures threatening Bonnie, but what did that prove? They might just say she had a stalker and he was chasing shadows.

He couldn’t say they were wrong.

He sidled along the railing, and the breeze lifted his hair. A boat bobbed in the waves far below, and in the moonlight, he spotted a diver aboard. Must be night diving the artificial reef created by the concrete supports below the platform. He’d done a bit of it himself over the years.

For an instant he wished he were gliding carefree through the waves without this crushing weight of conscience on his shoulders. When he was sixteen, life was so simple. School, girls, football, and good times. He’d gone to work at the platform when he was nineteen, after he’d decided college wasn’t for him.

It had been a safe place, a good place to work with fun companions and interesting work.

Until a few weeks ago when everything turned sinister and strange. He’d wanted to uncover more before he reported it, but every second he delayed could mean a stronger chance of an attack.

If an attack was coming. He still wasn’t sure, and he wanted a name or to identify the organization behind the threat. If there was a threat. Waffling back and forth had held him in place. Was this real, or was he reading something dangerous into something innocent?

Though he didn’t think he was overreacting.

He turned to head to his quarters. A bulky figure rushed him from the shadows and plowed into his chest, driving him back against the railing. The man grabbed Keith’s legs and tried to tip him over the edge.

Keith kicked out with his right foot and drove the figure back into the wall opposite the catwalk. He searched for a weapon as the metal walkway clanged and the guy regained his feet. Nothing.

“Help!” Though he shouted, he feared the noise of the machinery drowned out the sound of his cry.

The guy was big and strong. Keith didn’t stand a chance of beating him in a show of strength or agility. He rushed for the end of the catwalk, but the guy reached him first and spun him around to press him against the railing again. He tried to kick his way out again, but the guy was ready for him this time and caught him by the ankle, then used his leg to tip him up and over.

Keith saw the stars as he fell toward the dark water, then his head was under the water. The fall hadn’t killed him, but he felt woozy and a bit out of it. He struck out for the surface, though it seemed impossible to reach. As he kicked out, something grabbed him by the ankle, and he flung out his arms, connecting with a diver’s metal tank.

The diver held him fast and took him down into the depths.

* * *

The air-conditioning in Police Chief Jane Hardy’s office whined like an unhappy dog, and she wiped a bead of perspiration from her brow. The company she’d called to work on the AC was nearly two hours late, and the Alabama Gulf Coast humidity had overpowered the ancient unit by eleven o’clock this morning. Her silky red golden retriever, Parker, lay sleeping with his head on his paws near the vent as if he wanted to get as much of the cool air as he could.

She checked her watch. Two o’clock. Will would be out of school soon, and she’d have to pick him up and take him to his father’s after baseball practice. Her gut tightened at the thought of talking to Reid. She still couldn’t get past his lies, even though a friendly relationship with him would make getting to know her son so much easier.

Her search on the computer ended with a ding, and she reached for her mouse to take a look. Every Monday she ran through the same search, and every week it came up empty. She glanced at the results and sighed. Still no sign of Liberty’s Children and her mother. While the smart and wise thing would be to give up the search, she couldn’t do it. Especially not since she’d found Will. Realizing her son was alive made her compulsion to find her mother even stronger.

Rachel Hutchins, a temp manning the front desk, stuck her curly red head into Jane’s open doorway. She was about Jane’s age of thirty. “Chief, there’s a woman out here who says her son is missing. You want to take it?”

“Is Detective Richards or Officer Brown back yet?”

“No. Richards called in, and she’s tied up with a boat that’s been graffitied. I haven’t heard from Brown.” Rachel tipped her head to one side. “I can’t get over how much you resemble Reese Witherspoon.”

Jane had heard the inane comment before and didn’t bother to answer. Her two new hires to replace her lost officers had just started. It would take a while to get them up to speed, but she hadn’t had time off in weeks, and her fatigue was starting to show.

She reached for her yellow legal pad and pen. “Show her in.”

A few moments later, Rachel ushered in a fifty-something woman Jane recognized as Ruby McDonald, the high school principal. Red eyes and a trembling mouth replaced Ruby’s usual smile and happy manner. She looked like she’d come straight from campus in her demure brown skirt and tan blouse. Her brown curls were frizzy from the humidity hovering at 90 percent.

Jane rose and went around her desk to take her hand. “Ruby, what’s happened?”

Though she didn’t know the older woman well, they’d had several conversations at the high school about Will, who had transferred in during the final two months of the school year.

Ruby blotted her brown eyes with a waterlogged paper hankie. “It’s my son, Keith. He’s missing.”

Jane squeezed Ruby’s hand and led her to the chair by the desk. “Have a seat while I take notes.”

She vaguely remembered meeting Keith in the coffee shop. If she remembered correctly, he worked on one of the oil platforms in the Gulf, a dangerous job. She guessed him to be early twenties.

She settled behind her desk and reached for her pen. “When did you see him last?”

“Three weeks ago. He was supposed to come home for some R & R yesterday, but he never showed up. I’ve called his phone countless times. I tried calling his best friend on the rig, and Mike said he didn’t show up to take the chopper off the platform. He hasn’t seen him since after breakfast on Saturday.”

Two days ago. “Did Mike report Keith missing to security or anyone?”

“He says he did, but I haven’t spoken to the rig manager myself. Mike talked to him and said that a search of the platform failed to find him.”

“They probably called the Coast Guard to help search.” She didn’t want to mention that a man lost at sea would be difficult to spot from the air or from a boat. Accidents on oil platforms happened all too frequently.

Ruby gave a jerky nod. “They’ve been searching the sea.” She wadded her hankie in a tight fist. “I know you’re wondering why I’m here.”

Jane wanted to show compassion, so she’d kept the question inside. “Well, finding a missing platform worker isn’t in my jurisdiction.”

Ruby’s eyes filled with tears again. “I think he might have been murdered.”

Jane stilled. “Why do you say that?”

“He sent me an email. I got it two days ago.” Ruby reached into her purse and pulled out a folded paper. “I printed it out. He said if anything happened to him that it wasn’t an accident.” She slid the paper across the desk to Jane.

Jane unfolded it and the words tumbled into her head.

Dear Mom,

I know this email is probably going to scare you, but I have to tell you something just in case. I stumbled across some information, and I’m not sure what to do about it. If something happens to me—if I come up missing or you’re told I died in an accident—go see Chief Hardy. I believe I’m in danger. I’ll try to get home and talk to her in person, but I’m not sure if I’ll make it or not.
I think an attack on the oil rig is being planned. Terrorists maybe, but I’m not sure who is behind the plot. I was in a storage room, and the door was open just a crack. I heard two guys talking about turning off security to let in a hacker. They said something about each of them coming away with a hundred thousand dollars. I didn’t recognize their voices, but it sounded like the real deal.
Since I’m a resident of Pelican Harbor, I thought Chief Hardy would be the one to talk to first. She can call in Homeland Security or whoever would be in charge of this kind of thing.
I hope I’m not putting you in danger by telling you all this. Be careful and stay safe. Love you!
    Keith

Frowning, Jane put down the printout. “Has anyone else seen this?”

Ruby shook her head. “As soon as I talked to Mike, I came straight here. I didn’t mention the email to Mike. I don’t know who to trust.”

Jane didn’t, either, but she would have to figure it out. “I’ll need Mike’s full name and anyone else you know there I can contact.”

An oil spill would decimate the area. Lost wildlife, destroyed wetlands, lost jobs. She had to help.


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