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That had to be it. But why, if he killed Nikki, wasn’t I dead as well? Why did he spare me and not her?

Nothing made any fucking sense.

After thinking I was seconds away from death more than once in the past thirty six hours, freedom was something I never thought I’d have again.

But being back on the streets was a captivity of another sort. Freedom meant you had choices.

I still had none.

I stumbled into the apartment complex. Old and unkempt, the building had about ten units and a dark shaker style roof. Half the shingles had been replaced with mismatched plywood. Knee-high weeds grew through cracks in the concrete walkways.

Unable to take another step, I collapsed against the wall of the breezeway and slid down until my butt hit the sidewalk. Finally sheltered from the blistering sun that still felt as if it were searing into my scalp through the center part in my hair.

I just needed to sit a while, catch my breath, and collect my thoughts.

“You can’t stay here, girl. Move along.” A husky man appeared, wearing a t-shirt three sizes too small that depicted a unicorn jumping over a rainbow. He stood over me and folded his arms across his chest. “You some kind of deaf, girl? You can’t stay here. I can’t be having the riff-raff lingrin’ about.” He nudged my thigh with his sneaker like he was trying to rouse a lazy dog. “Move along, now.”

“Please. I just need to use your phone. Please?” I begged, my voice dry and scratchy. I didn’t even care about the fact that when I called the police they would probably throw me into another group home.

I thought about one thing and one thing only.

I had a murder to report. Nikki may have been a whore and a thief, but she didn’t deserve to die for it. Somedays, I didn’t think she even liked me all that much, but she was all I had.

If there was such a thing.

The man sighed, clearly annoyed. “What you need it for?” He dug into the party-sized bag of Cheetos he’d been holding. After shoving a handful into his mouth, he sucked his fingers clean of orange powder.

“Please. You have to help me. I’d been kidnapped. I was locked in a room, handcuffed to a bed. I escaped and I spent the night in the woods. I’ve been walking all day. I’m thirsty and sunburnt and tired, and this is the first place I came across. Please, I have to call the police. My friend, my friend Nikki was murdered by the same man who held me captive.”

He shoved another handful of Cheetos in his mouth and wiped his hand across the unicorn. “Oh yeah? Well, you’re in luck, I’m the deputy in these parts. Name’s Crestor. So, you can report it to me.” He lifted the fat of his stomach and pointed to a previously hidden badge attached to his belt. Cheese sprayed from his mouth when he spoke. “And who is it that you’re thinkn’ killed your friend?”

“I don’ think he killed her. I know he did. I heard him confess. And I don’t know his full name, or even if it’s his name at all. I only know what they call him.”

“And what would that be?” He leaned up against the wall, focusing on a light bulb in the ceiling that turned off and on every few seconds on its own, completely disinterested in my story.

“They call him King.”

His eyes went wide and his fingers loosened around the bag. He dropped the Cheetos to the ground.

Within a second, he’d bent over and grabbed me under my arms, yanking me to my feet. “Wait, what are you doing?” I asked as he shoved me toward the parking lot. My right foot twisted when I stepped on an uneven section of pavement, and I fell forward onto the road, skinning my hands and wrists.

“Go on and get! And don’t you ever fucking come back here!” he shouted. With his hands on his head, he spun around and waved his arms in the air in frustration. “I don’t need that kind of trouble here. Go, girl! If I see you again, next time it’ll be my shot gun escorting you out.”

He left me on the road and hustled back to the building, his back fat bouncing up and down as he disappeared behind a door with a window marked OFFICE. He drew the shade the instant he stepped inside.

I stood on shaky legs and wiped gravel from the wounds on my hands onto my t-shirt. The bottoms of my feet stung. My twisted ankle sent sharp pains through my shin with each step. My already bad limp became much more severe.

King apparently had reach. But how far? If I had any chance of seeking help for myself, or for Nikki, I had to get the hell out of Logan’s Beach, but I didn’t even know if I was going the right way.

My foot dragged behind me as if it were no longer attached to my body, but hanging on, like cans tied to the bumper of a car.

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