“What about Melanie Deets, Vince?”
“She didn’t die. I saved her. They—they named a park after me. Ask anyone.”
“She used to be a gifted student. Now she struggles to learn.”
“Sometimes there are aftereffects,” he said. “Why are you blaming me?”
“And Billy Duran?”
“I didn’t want him to die, either. I’m—I’m a doctor, but I can’t save everyone.”
“I’m not asking you to save everyone. I’d be happy if you didn’t kill them.” They’d reached the living room. “Turn on the lights,” Preston said.
When Vince did as he asked, a ceiling fan came on at the same time and whipped softly around. “If you won’t listen to me, what are you going to do?” he asked fearfully.
“Get out a piece of paper. You’re signing a full confession.”
Vince retrieved a piece of paper and a pen from the built-in desk between the living room and the kitchen. “I—I can’t go to jail, Preston. It’d k-kill me. I’d d-die there. I know I would.”
Preston grimaced at his whiny tone. “Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you made my son sick.”
“Okay, Preston. You—you’re right. I might have…you know…made Dallas a little sicker than he was, but there’s something wrong with me.” Tears began to roll down his cheeks, but they elicited no sympathy from Preston. Vince was crying for himself, not for what he’d done. “After Billy died, I told myself I’d never take that risk again,” he continued. “I was doing well, too. W-we were happy, remember? We had fun together. Then Dallas got the flu, and you c-called me over, and…” He raised a shaky hand to his head. “The temptation. The temptation was terrible. I k-kept picturing how it would feel to do s-something really great for you.” He hiccuped as his tears turned to wracking sobs. “It—it got the best of me. I didn’t want to hurt him—”
Preston banged the butt of the gun on the counter with one whack. “You didn’t want to hurt him? You killed him, you son of a b***h!” Suddenly, Preston knew he’d have no trouble pulling the trigger. It was almost frightening how easily he could do it, despite Vince’s sobs. All he had to think of was Dallas. Vince’s total disregard for the lives he’d taken, the suffering he’d caused, enraged Preston. How could a man like Vince expect leniency?
Vince sank onto his knees. “Please, Preston. We were friends once. You—you don’t know how much you mean to me. I—I only wanted—I only wanted you to…to l-like me and admire me half as much as I admired you. I only w-wanted—”
Preston aimed the gun at his heart. “Write the confession.”
Sweat rolled down Vince’s face. His eyes widened, but he didn’t move. “It w-won’t do you any good. D-don’t you understand that? It’ll be given under d-duress.”
“It’ll work if you provide enough details, Vince. I want the information only you would know. How you did it. Why. I want you to lay it all out, step by step. It’ll probably take you a couple of hours, so I’ll just pull up a chair. But you’re going to get it all down. Explain what you did to Melanie Deets, what you did to Billy Duran and—” his voice cracked “—the boy I loved more than life. The boy you took from me.”
At Preston’s words, Vince managed to climb to his feet. He started writing, but he didn’t get past the first paragraph before he stopped. “I’m begging you, Preston,” he said, and slipped off the chair and back onto his knees. “I’m not right…in my mind. I—I admit that. I have a problem. I need help. But I c-can’t go to prison. They’d kill me in p-prison.”
Disgust made Preston clench his jaw. “Stand up and take responsibility for what you’ve done!”
Instead, Vince shielded his head with his arms, and began crying again. “Help me, Preston. I’m your friend, remember?”
Preston’s hand began to sweat on the butt of the gun. He wanted to shoot. The desire grew so strong he could imagine the jolt of the gun traveling up his arm.
But before he could make a decision, he heard what sounded like a shot. The window shattered. Then something hit him from behind, knocking him flat on his face.
PRESTON’S RIGHT ARM FELT like it was on fire. Rolling over, he pulled himself into a sitting position and used his opposite hand to check the arm. His fingers encountered something wet and sticky. He was bleeding pretty badly. It took him a moment to absorb that and to realize why. He’d been shot. But how? Vince didn’t even have a gun.
Dimly, he remembered that the shot had come from outside. He turned to stare at the shattered window behind him. Who would be shooting at him?
“You shot me!” Vince was screaming. “I can’t believe it. You shot me, and now I’m going to die!”
Preston’s jaw dropped. Sure enough, Vince was lying on the ground several feet away, bleeding as badly as he was. Or worse.
“I didn’t shoot you,” Preston said, trying to convince himself at the same time. He searched for his gun, then realized he’d dropped it when he fell forward. It had slid across the hardwood floor and was lying next to Vince, who was now covering a small hole in his chest and struggling to get up.
“Yes, you did,” he said, gasping for breath.
The peaceful strains of the classical music playing in the background seemed to mock the ugly violence. Preston edged closer, wanting to get hold of the gun before Vince could. “No. Someone shot me, too.”
Vince seemed to register this information about as slowly as Preston’s mind had been working a few seconds earlier. They were both wounded. But Preston had a feeling Vince’s injury was worse. Preston’s arm hurt like hell, but a person didn’t usually die from a gunshot wound to the bicep. Vince had been hit in the chest. Blood streamed down his bare stomach and onto his pants.
“Who?” Vince asked incredulously. “Who else wants me dead? Christy?”
Preston winced at the pain throbbing through the entire right side of his body. “No. Christy doesn’t know you the way I do.” He was nearly at the gun. He reached for it, but Vince saw what he was doing and grabbed it first.
“Looks like you’ve lost it, huh?” he said, and tried to chuckle.