The incessant repeated rings invaded Gabby’s dream. It was a nice dream too, about talking donuts and ice cream cones performing an interpretive dance of spring.
She rolled over and pried one eye open to see her phone illuminated with each ring. No, not the chlorinated phone. That one was toast. What filled her room with rhythmic glowing as if from a miniature lighthouse was an old, not-so-smart phone three generations past cool. A relic she had left in her dresser. She was fortunate her waterlogged SIM card still worked in her scuffed-up replacement. Even though it didn’t have all the bells and whistles, it rang, glowed, texted, and took blurry pictures. It would have to do.
Each shimmering pulse of her phone pulled Gabby back into the land of the conscious. She turned her head and examined the incoming number. She didn’t recognize it, but she did recognize the time. 3:47 in the morning. If this was another one of Hamilton’s butt calls, they were going to have words.
“Hello?” Gabby’s voice cracked.
“It’s 3:47… no eight, in the morning.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Who is this?”
“Mel, I’m too tired to find your lost dog, recover your homework from your tablet, or get the ding on your dad’s car fixed before he finds out you took it without permission.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m saying I’m tired. And it’s 3:48 in the morning.”
“Gabby. I don’t know who else to turn to. Please. I need your help.”
“Because I think my friend is going to kill himself.”
Considering how she had just disappointed her father, Gabby hated following that up by sneaking out of the house at four in the morning. But it wasn’t just Melanie’s call that really woke her up. It was the other one. The divine call, task, request, or whatever it was that God tossed her way whenever he felt like it. It had raised her from her slumber the moment before her phone rang.
So here she was, trudging through Safety Harbor in the middle of the night, a palatable dread growing within her. God’s requests were never without sacrifice. Even though she had promised to answer all of his calls, repayment for him saving Emma, she still wasn’t looking forward to what awaited her. She had enjoyed the few months of living a life under God’s radar, if that were possible.
She should have been grateful. When she openly complained to God about how she needed time to heal, he gave it to her. The quiet almost felt normal until—bam. Wake up and answer the phone.
Whatever Mr. Creator had in mind, he’d have to get her home before her dad’s alarm went off at five AM. All the town’s rebuilding projects were giving the family much-needed cash at the store, and he liked to get an early start. If she got home in time, she could throw together a breakfast for her dad and force him to make eye contact. Just a few weeks earlier, she could make funny faces that had brought him to laughing tears. She needed to do something before his disappointment in her became the norm, not the exception. If she could help God, he could return the favor.
The cool breeze hinted at the end of Florida’s long summer season, and Gabby watched the cracks in the sidewalk pass under her feet. Main Street was quiet, empty of people and cars. Each open parking spot reminded Gabby of how different she and Melanie were in this small town. Gabby had just lost her rust pile with broken spokes to Logan’s tantrum while Melanie’s family could buy an entire parking lot full of cars. No doubt, when Melanie finally got around to getting her permit, her father would take her to one of the elite car dealerships and say, “Pick one!”
Gabby? No such luck. Even with the recent, but temporary, cash infusion, Gabby’s dad couldn’t even afford a new bike for his disobedient daughter. And why would he? She was the schmuck who forgot his birthday. No, she’d have to save up to replace her pedal-powered ride on her own. Which meant she’d have to start charging for her services.
“Oh, well,” Gabby said to herself, knowing that wasn’t going to happen. Sure, Melanie would have been the perfect candidate to initiate her capitalistic endeavor, but it just wasn’t in her nature to send people a bill for something she’d do for free. If God gave her the gift without a price, then she shouldn’t charge for using it.
Gabby’s squeaking, damp sneakers stopped in the middle of an idle intersection.
Wait a minute, she thought.
Maybe her gifts weren’t really free after all. God gave them to her with strings attached, wanting to use them for his own ends. Okay, he wasn’t really making her pay, per se, but maybe that was what God wanted all the time, for people to use the gifts he gave them for him every once in a while.
She looked to heaven, joking. “I’d like to see the terms and conditions of this arrangement. On second thought, maybe I don’t. I’ll have blind faith instead of knowing just how sucky you’re about to make my life.”
Gabby figured Father Peters wouldn’t approve of her flippant conversations with the big guy, but it was the way she coped with the demands he placed upon her. If Father Peters was right and God really did know our hearts, then he’d know she meant no harm by sounding like a petulant child. Besides, if God gave her the gifts to be a teen sleuth, he also gave her an abundance of inappropriate sarcasm. She figured he couldn’t expect to get one without the other.
She told Melanie to meet her at the newly rebuilt gazebo on Main Street. The wooden structure had been replaced with metal and the floor was polished cement. It didn’t have as much charm as the original version, but it would probably last longer.
It also served as the cities delineation between the haves and have-nots. Melanie’s mother and father had been replenishing their lavish home with the finest replacement contents a wealthy ex-lawyer could buy. Yet, Gabby wasn’t sure when Melanie was planning to move back home. From what Gabby could tell, Melanie seemed happy at Scott’s house with his family. No, more than happy. Joyful.
She never looked that way living in the Collins’ mansion. Now that her house was nearly finished, Melanie would soon run out of excuses for not returning home. Her absence in the mayor’s house would create doubt in voters’ minds. If he couldn’t keep his family together, how would he get the city council to agree on anything? Such defiance by Melanie would be unacceptable to their narcissistic city leader, no matter what impact it had on his daughter.
Gabby also picked the gazebo because it was her home turf. It was where The Gang spent all of their time together. Even though Melanie and Scott were dating, she hadn’t completely integrated into her close-knit group of friends yet. But she was familiar with the location and promised to be on time.
It was nearly four-thirty before Melanie arrived on foot. Gabby had already fallen asleep on the gazebo’s cement floor, her favorite fedora covering her eyes.
“Gabby? Is that you?”
Without moving her hat, she grunted and said, “You’re late.”
“I know. I’m sorry. It took me longer to walk here than I thought.”
Gabby sat up and slid back against the metal railing, readjusting her hat back to its proper position. “Why didn’t you ask Scott for help?” Gabby asked.
“Why come to me?”
“It’s a long story that I can’t really get into right now.”
“That’s not the way it works, Mel. I need to know what I need to know. If you keep anything from me, I’m walking home right now.”
“We don’t have time. At least, I don’t think so.”
“We had time enough to meet in the middle of the night,” Gabby said.
“I’m not trying to be evasive. It’s just…” Tears pooled at the base of Melanie’s eyes, her shaking hand wiping them before they fell across her cheek.
“All right, fine,” Gabby said. “You can tell me how we got here later. Who do you think is considering offing themselves?”
“A childhood friend.”
“Why do you think that?”
“He texted me.”
“If someone texted me at, let’s say, 3:47 in the morning, I think I’d want to kill him too.”
“Gabby, I’m not joking.”
She stood, extending her arms in a long stretch, and shook herself awake. “I’m sorry. Okay. What did he text you?”
“Skyway? As in the Skyway Bridge?”
“Right. See, Sonny—that’s his name—his family and mine have been friends for a long time. His father made a fortune in real estate, and my dad did a lot of law work for him back then. Sonny is a little older than I am, and I used to have a crush on him. He’s charming in a mischievous sort of way. We’d hang out a lot, talking about these great lives we were going to live when he turned eighteen.”
“That’s when he got access to his trust fund. He always said that when it was his time to go, he’d want to go out in style. In a hail of gunfire. Or jumping off the Skyway Bridge. Something memorable. It was just talk really, but Skyway became our shorthand for dying with flair. Over the years, the stories got more and more ludicrous. Being eaten by cannibals. Dying while saving puppies from a burning building. It was silly…”
“But something changed?” Gabby asked.
“After he got his trust-fund money, he kinda went a little crazy. Started indulging a lot. Drinking. Parties. Dropped out of college. Traveled through Europe last summer. Almost got arrested a couple of times. He was kind of out of control. He’d disappear for weeks at a time. When he came back, he looked different. Harder. Older, but not in years, in life. Sometimes, he’d have bruises on his face. He looked thin, like he wasn’t eating right.”
“Sounds like he needed a twelve-step program.”
“Maybe. Probably. I tried to talk to him about it. Find out what he was really up to. I tried to convince him to just come home and hang out together, like old times. He said he was having too much fun, but I could tell he wasn’t. I could see it in his eyes. No matter how much he smiled, his eyes always looked sad. Haunted, somehow. Like he had seen too many things he wished he hadn’t.”
“When was the last time you talked to him?”
“I don’t know, maybe a month ago. He was somewhere in California, I think. Maybe Vegas. He wasn’t clear.”
“What makes you think his life is in danger?”
“Because I got a text from him tonight. Just that single word. Skyway. I tried to call him right back, but he wouldn’t pick up. Or he couldn’t. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. And you were the first person I thought to call.”
“How do you know he hasn’t killed himself already?”
Melanie’s eyes started to glisten again.
“I’m sorry,” Gabby said. “I know that sounded callous. It’s just that people don’t usually take a lot of time between deciding to commit suicide and actually pulling it off.”
“I know. Unless they were going to do it in a memorable way.”
“Hail of gunfire. Saving puppies.”
“Melanie, you should call the police.”
“You know Emma’s dad. He wouldn’t listen to me just because I got a one-word text. I don’t know where Sonny is or what he’s planning. I don’t know anything.”
“And you think I, your lovable high school sophomore, can track down Sonny somewhere on the planet and stop his memorable exit?”
“I know it sounds impossible. Maybe it’s already too late. He…” her voice faltered, “…he may be dead already. But if there’s a chance we could stop it, save him somehow…”
“What about your dad? He’s got a lot of pull. Could you ask him to help?”
“He kind of hated Sonny. Didn’t live up to his standards. I may be able to get him to help without him knowing why, but I… I don’t even know what to ask.”
Gabby looked down at the ground. “Melanie…”
“I’ll pay you!”
“I don’t want your money. I wouldn’t do it for that. I just… I don’t like to take on things I don’t think I can finish.”
“I’m not asking you to promise me you’ll save his life. I’m just asking you to try.”
Gabby noticed the dark sky hinting a shade of gray. “Look, I gotta go. My dad’s gonna be up soon. Tell you what. I’ll see what I can find out, okay? I’ll call you later.”
Melanie reached over and hugged her. “Thank you.”
“I haven’t earned that yet.”
“Yes, you have.”
As Gabby left Melanie at the gazebo, she tried to think of a word that was more impossible than impossible. Somewhere on the planet, Melanie’s friend was about to die, and Gabby had to find him.
Thank you for reading these free chapters of Sins & Suicide, the third Gabby Wells Thriller. If you want the complete novel, you can purchase it at Amazon or read it free with your Kindle Unlimited membership.
This novel follows up almost immediately after the events which unfolded in Kneel & Prey and Lost & Found. If you haven’t read the first novel, download it for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this free sample and let me know what you think in the comments.