If you are new to Darlene’s Story, here’s the gist: Darlene Whitman always heard that you can pick your friends but not your family. She realizes the lie in this statement when nosy eighty-two-year-old neighbor, Myrtle Crawford, insists on helping unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of her husband and father. Darlene discovers her father’s involvement in illegal cancer drug testing, which is also linked to her husband’s courier business. Her ties to Myrtle are more complicated than she thought, and now, she must piece together the truth before it’s too late to save either of them.
The last segment left off with Darlene talking to Jeff, Darlene’s pseudo uncle, and her father’s former business partner.
And now, for the next segment in the story:
Darlene had stayed up most the night reading. Myrtle’s notes corroborated much of what he’d claimed. She’d told Jeff to meet her at the Albuquerque Indian Cultural Center at 8am.
Plans changed. She glanced at the dashboard clock- 6:21. She took another swig of her tar-like convenience store coffee and bumped the cruise control up a couple notches. She’d be in Phoenix by eight. Questions swirled in her mind and the only way to find peace was to ask the only man with answers.
She pulled into the West Phoenix apartment complex that Jeff said her father had been renting for the last year. The stucco needed paint; patches of gray peeked through the terra cotta hue. The roof tiles had faded under the unforgiving summer sun.
After climbing three flights of stairs, she stood in front of the weathered door labeled “312C.” She almost lost her nerve. She raised her hand to rap on the door just as it flung open. Darlene and her father gasped at the same time.
“Darlene.” A tight smile followed.
“Can we talk?”
He stepped aside and she entered the sparsely furnished one-bedroom. As he bolted the three locks, she put Jeff’s gun to the back of his head.
“Here’s how it’s going to work. I ask questions, you tell the truth. You lie, it’s over.”
He turned. “Darlene. This isn’t you.”
“I don’t know anymore.” She took a deep breath, prepared to expose the phantom of security urging silence to preserve her past. “Were you involved with mom’s death?”
Anger flickered in his eyes. “Jeff. I knew that bastard wasn’t dead.”
“Did you inject Myrtle with cancer?”
“Are you involved in illegal cancer research?”
His jaw clenched.
Darlene leveled the gun.
“The laws are archaic.”
“Did you embezzle federal grant money?”
“Can’t be proven.”
“You tried to kill me in the cabin fire.”
“It was for your own good.”
“So is this…” She flashed the digital recorder. “You’ll be front page.”
Scroll down if you want to read the final piece of Darlene’s Story. The ending is a little vague but will be filled in in the longer version of the story. Thanks to everyone who has followed this story at any time since I began writing it- in January!
This is my response to the Trifecta weekly challenge, which is to write a 33 to 333-word response (mine is 331) using the following word/definition: PHANTOM: (noun) – 3: a representation of something abstract, ideal, or incorporeal <she was a phantom of delight — William Wordsworth>
If you want to read other responses, or try the challenge yourself, click here to view Trifecta’s site. Happy writing (and reading!)
Darlene tucked the recorder back in her pocket. “No need trying to stop me. Our conversation has already been transmitted.”
Her father’s face went ashen. She undid the three locks and glanced back at her father, who’d collapsed into the only chair in the room- an armchair covered in a worn floral pattern, obviously not his taste. She felt a flicker of guilt, but slipped out the door anyway.
She sprinted to the rented Camry and pulled onto Thomas Road, heading east. She called her best friend, Jen.
“Well, how did it go?”
“I got some answers, mostly excuses. I think he bought it, anyway.”
“So what now?”
“I wait, I guess.”
After a couple beats of silence, Jen said, “Okay, don’t be mad, but I called my old friend, Melanie Sorensen. She works in sales at the Republic now and she talked to Alex Curtis. He wants to break this story.” She took a breath. “He wants to meet with you.”
Darlene felt light-headed. She hadn’t considered taking this anywhere. It was supposed to be a bluff; pulling the trigger without actually pulling the trigger.
“Uh, I don’t know…”
“You want justice for your mom, and Myrtle, right?”
“Of course. But when my father is dead, that will happen.”
“What if your meeting this morning just spooked him enough to run? There’s no closure in that.”
Darlene sighed. “He’s a coward. He will kill himself before he lets his reputation get dragged through the mud.”
“It may take seeing the first specks of dirt to push him to that point,” Jen said. “You’ve gone through too much to let it go at this.”
Jen continued, “I’m sure there are others. What about their families? MEG is a big corporation… they will go on with or without your father.”
“I’ll meet with Alex.”
“Good. He’ll be at Cooperstown at one.”
Darlene ended the call and dropped the phone into her purse. She pulled into a QuikTrip station. She retrieved a duffel bag containing “Evie’s” clothes from the trunk and headed for the bathrooms. Four hours would be enough time to transform herself into Myrtle’s niece and visit her old neighbor again.
Time weighed heavily on Darlene. She had to tell Myrtle she’d read all her papers. She had to tell her she knew everything- before it was too late.
Click here for Darlene’s Story page to read the entire piece.
This post is already too long, but I didn’t want to close out without a proper “Thank You!” to everyone who read, commented, and voted on my Trifecta challenge response last week. Love Song ended up first place in the community-voted challenge. As an added surprise, I received a $33 Barnes and Noble gift card from the editors.