Eastern Slopes

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Relief from Shelly’s disruptive outbursts had been brief.

Fellow patients had shared her joy and determination to work the program after her family’s visit less than a day before. However, their short-lived camaraderie quickly reverted to contempt when her Sunday morning diatribe began.

Shelly had always peppered her staff insults with condescending language that bordered on abusive, but this time was on an entirely new level. Had the other patients known the scene was triggered by news of Mark’s accident, they might have cut her some slack. But they still wouldn’t have excused the things she said.

One by one, they left the day room while Shelly’s counselor and others tried to calm her down. Nothing worked. Not even the reminder that her departure would be reported to those members of Yakima law enforcement so desperate for their interview.

Red-faced and exhausted, she finally agreed to sit down and remain quiet until someone in her family was contacted for more information.

But true to form and determined to have the final word, Shelly demanded a time frame to complete the task.

She gave them 15 minutes.

Back in Yakima, Amanda had long since finished all the calls she planned to make. The last one had been to her favorite cousin, who insisted she would leave Seattle immediately. Assuming the pass was clear, she anticipated arriving by morning and promised to take care of everything when it came to the difficult days ahead.

At a loss, Amanda pulled on a thick coat and left her apartment. She drove to the only place she could think of — the site of so many recent happy memories with her baby brother, Eric.

A police officer later found her there — crying uncontrollably on the sidewalk outside Gasperetti’s. Recognizing her from the hospital, the officer helped Amanda to her feet. In spite of the bitter cold, Amanda refused to get warm inside her car so he remained there with her until she’d calmed down.

In the apartments on North Front Street, the ring of Shane’s cellphone woke him from an alcohol-infused sleep. He’d meant to have only one drink, but he’d poured a second glass of Pendleton and passed out midway through his third.

Shane answered the call with a guttural bark, then listened intently as the caller filled him in on Mark’s condition.

In less than a minute, he was fully awake and fighting any visible emotional reaction threatening to overtake him as he scrambled from the apartment and rushed to the hospital.

On the other side of the wall from where Shane had been sleeping, Kristin rose from the floor in Joey’s apartment. She poured herself another cup of coffee before returning to the file she’d been reading.

Following Lula Mae’s late night walk, Kristin decided to catch a few hours sleep there before taking the dog to her apartment.

The sight of the air mattress — a reminder to reschedule the furniture delivery Mark and Joey had been headed home to receive — was oddly appealing to her overly fatigued brain and body.

Lula Mae watched Kristin kick off her shoes and pull her hair into a bun. Smiling down at the little dog, Kristin’s eyes stopped on a corner of newsprint hanging from inside a leather-bound journal. Thinking it was an old story Joey wrote before coming to Yakima, she walked over for a quick look.

Nearby was a haphazardly stacked assortment of similar tomes and densely packed file folders beside an opened wooden crate.

Kristin opened the journal to remove the clipped article from inside.

She unfolded the page and immediately froze.

Joey’s face stared at her below a headline — “Body of missing Yakima reporter found” — and she suddenly felt very sick to her stomach. Her eyes darted to the cutline below the photo. “Daniel Sheridan, 34, was an investigative reporter who came to Yakima early last year. He’d been missing for two weeks when his body was discovered early Friday on a remote hillside just outside Selah.”

Her eyes moved back to the picture she’d thought was Joey.

Uncanny, she thought. Incredible, really. There were undeniable similarities between this Sheridan guy and Joey. And she wondered what the chances were for something like that.

Kristin began reading the story — the byline belonged to one of her current coworkers — before bothering to wonder what the clipping was doing in Joey’s apartment in the first place.

Engrossed in the details, she read quickly. But she dropped the page and the journal when she was literally startled by the mention of Mark Van Meyers several paragraphs down.

Leaning forward to retrieve both items, she frowned at other items in the crate and on the floor.

What the hell, she thought as she lowered to her knees to dig around.

By the time Shane bolted from the apartment next door, Kristin had been reading for hours. Although she’d finished the journal, pored through several files filled with investigative notes and read most of the stories clipped from pages of the local paper, she’d barely made a dent in all that was there.

Kristin took a sip from her fresh cup and returned to the floor. She checked her watch and decided another hour there wouldn’t hurt anything. She’d take Lula Mae back to her place, get a quick shower and then head to the hospital to check on Joey.

She hoped he wouldn’t be too groggy from the surgery — she had a lot of questions to ask.

Kristin bent forward and opened the folder to a 12-page report to begin reading.

Had she reached the signature on the report’s final page, she might have realized the case’s connection to several recent events a little more quickly.

But Lula Mae interrupted her reading by nudging her hand for a trip outside.

Kristin took it as a sign to be on her way. She gathered her things, everything she needed to care for the dog and headed out the door.

Finding the signature of Detective-Sgt. David Zamora — lead investigator on the case — was going to wait.

At the moment Kristin climbed into her car, Zamora himself was inside the hospital Kristin would frequent throughout the days to come. In a chair facing his hospitalized — and detained — son, the detective was only one floor from the frenzied activity scrambling around Mark’s battered body as Madelaine sobbed hysterically just outside her son’s room.

Devoid of expression, Zamora listened intently as David Jr. — DZ to many of his closest friends — explained how he’d come to steal his father’s SUV before crashing it into the passenger side of Joey’s Volkswagen.

It was a tale that began at a party he’d attended more than a year ago with his best friend, Eric. It was there that Eric introduced him to someone he’d known his entire life — his sister’s best friend, Shelly Van Meyers.

Zamora’s attention was rapt as David, clearly traumatized from Eric’s death, continued and they waited for their family attorney to arrive.

David’s story reached its most critical point when he described a house party he’d thrown while both parents were out of town earlier that month. It was the same weekend one of David’s party guests, Tiffany Parks, had last been seen alive.

Zamora leaned forward, urging his son to continue.

Just one floor above, Joey slowly emerged from the haze of anesthesia.

The surgeon came by to check on him. Nurses followed, sweeping in and out of the room, where something both unfortunate and unseen by the naked eye was taking place.

After nearly five years without a drink — even longer totally free from drugs — the sleeping beast inside Joey began to reawaken.

Each time a nurse pushed something into an IV to keep his pain at bay, the beast’s eyes opened just a little wider.

It was happily emerging from hibernation.

And it smiled.

To be continued...

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