Don't go near the drop off...
As she guided the Ford Bronco down the gravel side road, Holly Ortega distinctly heard her father's warning from over two decades ago.
Holly clearly remembered the price she'd nearly paid for not listening and shuddered with the memory.
She checked her rear view. No one following; that was good news. Her father cautioned her against wading in that part of the lake, this she remembered. A muggy summer afternoon, July. Of course, being stubborn, Holly had shrugged off her father's concern. She wasn't near the water that much, what with school, and spending time with her mom in New York, so she'd never learned to swim. Father was always silly talking and besides, she was an independent woman, like her mother. Then, she'd just pitched forward suddenly, her feet no longer touching ground, her body seized by inexplicable terror, unable to scream as the water pressed over her.
So vivid was the memory, Holly caught herself gasping for breath. She spotted the lake through the trees. Her father had saved her then, just as he was saving her now.
She pulled into the side yard of the cottage. Nobody around for miles. "Utopia, Me-topia," Father often said. "Solitude, peace."
Stepping out of the Bronco, Holly stretched her long legs and wrapped her arms around herself. Getting colder. Fall leaves, red and deep oranges, saturated the trees. The air smelled clean, fresh.
This morning had started out so ordinary that Holly scarcely believed everything had fallen apart so rapidly. She'd been heading to the family beach house for the weekend, the property her father referred to as the 'Scenic Site', when her cell phone chirped.
The feds had busted her father, the family lawyer told her. They had nothing substantial, no bodies, nothing. Small racket shit, really. Her father had scapegoats, even Holly knew that. She was to head to the cottage where she'd find enough money to get lost until things blew over. Her father's orders.
Two hours of driving to get here, and she had no idea where to look for the money. I must know where it is, she thought.
Father's ancient wicker rocker still sat on the porch, she saw; wasn't worth two bucks at a garage sale and she'd always laughed when he called it his million dollar rocker.
She smirked, slipping off her high heels. Grabbing a tire iron from the cab, Holly ran to the stoop, slid aside the chair, then pried up two floor boards.
A briefcase lay beneath. Inside, a laptop. A couple bundles of cash and a folder. Scanning the few papers inside she found names. People who would ensure her passage out of the country if necessary.
And here...the access code for a Cayman's account. Nice.
Briefcase in hand, Holly started towards the Bronco when she heard the growl of an engine charging down the roadway toward the cottage.
Dammit! She'd been so careful about being tailed...
Quickly, Holly sprinted back to the security of the cottage. The front door creaked as she flew inside.
Crouching down, Holly pulled back the musty drapes, and peered through the grimy window by the front door, eyes fixed on another Bronco like her own swinging into view around a copse of trees. The vehicle ground to a halt behind her own and she could hear the ticking of the engine. Tinted windows hid the passengers. How many Feds inside?
She cursed, remembering her handgun still in the glove compartment.
The driver's door flew open -
Carlos stepped out.
Carlos! Her brother. Relieved, Holly stood, and as her hand fell on the front door handle, prepared to run and greet him, her father's booming voice inside her mind, intruded.
"Like a fox, your brother," Father remarked two years ago. "Sneaky, thinks only of himself, which is why I only trust him with small time crap."
In secret, Father had named Carlos The Fox.
Carlos pulled out his Glock handgun, yanked back the slide, then let the barrel hang down, finger on the trigger.
Carlos had set their father up! The realization that he'd been working with the feds sickened her. Now, he'd come to the cottage for the money. He'd never trust anyone to protect him, but with a couple million he could disappear.
...thinks only of himself...
Small eyes swinging to the chair on the porch, Carlos let a sly grin pull across his craggy face. He knew where the money should be!
"So," Carlos shouted. "I knew if I followed you you'd know where the money was. Don't surprise me, sis. He'd die for you."
Holly remained quiet, wary of revealing her location.
Carlos walked towards the cottage, eyes shifting, ready for attack. "Never trusted me, no. I was never good enough. He'd die if anything happened to you. Well, guess what? Today his little, Holly-Dolly, dies!"
Holly-Dolly. A lump formed in her throat at the mere mention of her father's pet name for her.
The warning from years ago resurfaced, mixed with the terror she'd felt. Don't go near the drop off, Holly Dolly...the undertow men'll get ya...
Cold darkness sealing above her, lungs aching, filling with water. Oh, the pain, the terrifyingly endless seconds.
She was again struggling. Then -
Oh, how she'd love Carlos to feel that kind of terror.
Within seconds, Holly crept out the back door, scooted to the nearby trees and circled the cottage quietly until she could see Carlos. Through the thick foliage, she caught a glimpse of him standing by the cottage's front door. And that's when she started to run, being as noisy as possible, branches snapping beneath her bare feet.
From her peripheral vision, she watched Carlos's head snap around, hearing her. He jumped from the porch, and started sprinting her direction, long legs gobbling up the yard, before thrashing into the forest.
The fox in pursuit of his chicken...
Sweating, lungs hurting, feet bloody, Holly burst from the trees, eyeing the water before her. This was it!
This is for you, Father!
She held the briefcase over her head, wading out, the freezing water soaking her dress -
She turned. Carlos, gun held with both hands, leveled the Glock at her forehead. Unless Holly was mistaken, she hovered near the edge of the drop off. Despite her resolve to dispatch Carlos here, her skin crawled at the thought of becoming a victim of her own cleverness.
Carlos splashed closer until he stood a few feet. He was breathing hard.
"The briefcase, Holly."
She dropped the briefcase from her fingers.
Carlos glanced slightly as it hit the water.
She moved. Holly's hands instantly locked hard around both of his, pulling his gun sideways. A bullet harmlessly spit at the water, missing her side. She refused to let go now, attempting to draw Carlos around to where she'd been standing. He budged slightly. With her right hand, she raked her ruby fingernails right down his face. Just had them done, too...
He yelped as she pulled away. With teeth gritted, jaw tight, he lifted the Glock her way again.
Holly spotted the briefcase at her feet, hauled it from the water as Carlos aimed. Using the handle, she swung hard, smashing the case against Carlos's wrist.
The gun plunked into the water.
Holly raised the briefcase for another attack, as Carlos stepped away, searching for his lost weapon...
He suddenly plunged out of sight.
Carlos screamed, feverishly pawing the water, panic on his face. Such absolute terror visible! He slipped under, pleading...and within seconds his body disappeared into the murkiness below.
Listening to her rapid pulse against her temples, Holly felt deep satisfaction. The Fox had paid for his deception.
"Put the briefcase down."
She spun. A blue suited man stood on the tree line with a gun aimed at her. Carlos had clearly been tailed. A Fed, no doubt about that.
"Good. Now, hands up," he said.
She said nothing.
"I figured Carlos had something up after we got your old man. If his father thought him sneaky...."
"My father's part fox himself, don't forget. You have nothing."
"Partly true," he said, "we don't know where the bodies are buried, but maybe you do. That would cinch our case."
Father never discussed such matters with her. Besides, she would never betray...
"Between us," he said. "You could leave here with all that money. Give me what I want, Holly. Your father would want you to save yourself."
She stared into his eyes, didn't blink.
"Okay," he sighed, motioning with his gun to the woods. "Let's go."
She stopped, glanced back at the water.
Father always spoke in riddles. Why hadn't she, Father's Holly-Dolly, seen it till now?
She faced the agent, mouth dry. "I walk free? If I give you what you want?"
"Bodies, sweetie. I never found you."
Bodies, decades worth. Her mind reeled. Perhaps she could trust this man...well, what choice did she have?
Father was forever saving her life.
"Check the drop off," Holly said.
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