Looking at my broken boy laying there in the hospital brought me back to when I had to see my father in a coma all those years ago. I was so frightened, and it has haunted me ever since. My heart ached for my son. Who could have done this to him? Seth said he'd suffered head contusions, a concussion, and five broken ribs. Luckily, there was no internal bleeding.
"Do you think he's going to be all right?" I asked Seth. "We need to talk to the police about it." Briar told us she found him basically dropped on her doorstep by someone but she didn't know who. She called 911 and had him taken to the hospital then contacted us.
"Mom?" August's raspy voice broke through my thoughts.
"Oh, hi...you're awake." I rubbed his hand, so many questions flooding me, but I didn't want to overwhelm him. "Are you feeling better? Dad gave you some pain medicine."
Seth added, "We're going to keep you here to give you fluids and for observation. But since nothing else seems wrong, we'll get you home tomorrow. You're going to be in pain for a while. That means no MMA training and I want you to keep taking your pain meds. I'm going to be on your case because if you don't, you could get pneumonia. Understand?"
There was an edge to Seth's voice. I could tell he was concerned but also mad that August got himself in this situation. I told him it could be anyone who might have done this. We didn't know the particulars, but he seemed to think August might have been fighting, using his capabilities somehow. That was something Seth didn't like about our son participating in the MMA.
"What happened, son?" he asked. "Who did this to you? And did you leave someone else in worse shape?"
August closed his eyes then opened them, looking at me and avoiding his father's angry face. "I...um...I got jumped by some thugs. There were five of them. They robbed me in an alley by Crabby's. I didn't get a good look at them. And no. I didn't do a thing to them."
Seth gave me a puzzled look and I shrugged. Five thugs jumping a boy for pocket change? Sounded highly unlikely. I told August we had to contact the police, but he said he couldn't give any descriptions and he wanted me to leave it.
I gave it two weeks, but my concern for hoodlums running the streets of our quiet town horrified me. And so, I called the authorities. They were very helpful. I told them exactly what my son told me and that we obtained pictures of August's injuries even though he'd healed up somewhat since then.
The doorbell rang and Officer Landon and Detective Briggs entered. I'd spoken to the detective myself when I set up the meeting. He was so kind. As soon as he'd heard of the situation, he told me he'd see to the case personally. I had August come to the door with me and I introduced them, saying, "This is my son, August. He can tell you exactly what happened."
Detective Briggs said, "Hello, August. It's very nice to meet you."
August's response was strange. He looked as if he'd seen a ghost. I guessed the thrill of meeting a real detective was a lot for him. He'd always wanted to become one and idolized them.
No wonder people said the Fortners owned the police. The chief detective, Marlon Briggs, was the guy who'd put a gun to my head. I was stuck. Clearly, Daniel Fortner could get away with anything, including beating up Briar and manipulating her. I just had to get something on him to take to the FBI. And although having a shady cop at his beck and call was something, what proof did I have? It was my word against theirs. I needed more.
I decided to talk to Amber about what I saw with Etoile. Maybe she knew more about what was going on there. I figured Daniel had to be running a prostitution ring or maybe worse.
Amber was all too happy to talk to me since she'd heard what happened to me. We needed privacy, so we walked toward the north pier. Unfortunately, it started to rain, but the shower was warm, and I'd brought my umbrella. The rainstorm was kind of a good thing, too, since no one would hear anything in this downpour.
"I'm so sorry about what happened to you, August. In some ways, I feel like it's partly my fault." The rain seemed to hiss all around us.
Squinting, I asked, "Your fault? How?"
"You can't tell anyone. Not even your parents. Promise?"
"Look, Amber, I'm not here to tell my parents. If what I think is happening around here is true, I'm going to the FBI."
"No, August you can't!" Her face pleaded with me.
"If you do, it could hurt my parents. Please...just hear me out. I've got to tell someone, but you can't go anywhere with this information. Promise?"
God. How could I promise that? "But what if Daniel hurts Briar again? Or Etoile? We can't allow Daniel Fortner to get away with these crimes, Amber."
"It goes deeper than just Daniel. My parents are working for the Fortners. I think their restaurants are a front for laundering money. I've overheard my father talking to Daniel's dad a few weeks ago."
"You're kidding." I shook my head.
"So, if you go to the FBI, then my parents will go to jail."
Dropping down, she said, "I just can't believe they're involved like this. My parents restaurant has never been that popular. And then all of a sudden, they started building more."
I didn't know what to say. It was like the Fortners pulled people into their twisted web, forcing them to commit crimes with them and then once they try to get out, they disappear. At least, that's what happened to Beau and Briar's dad. "But how can we stop them if we don't do something about it?"
She started to cry a little then said, "I hate the Fortners. I hate that they own everything and everyone. There's nothing we can do." Wiping her eyes, she continued, "They took Ethan from me, too. I know they did. He stopped dating me as soon as he spoke with Daniel."
This shocked me. "Spoke with Daniel? They're friends?"
She nodded. "Ethan is friends with everyone."
My mind raced to my confession of how I'd beaten up Daniel and then that very night, his goons were on me. My heart sped up as anger flooded me. "Are you sure, Amber? I thought Ethan didn't have anything to do with Daniel."
She shook her head. "Oh, you're wrong. They're close. Almost as close as Wilder and Daniel. I wouldn't trust any of them now. Or Etoile since she's working for him. Her mother was murdered. I just know it. I'm so scared, August. I don't want anything bad to happen to my parents. Or my friends. I wish...I wish..."
"You wish what?"
Covering her face, she whispered, "I wish they'd all die and go to hell where they belong."
Staring at her, stroking Amber's head, my body grew cold like the air cooled thirty degrees. Ethan was mixed up with the Fortners, but how? And why? I didn't dare ask him any more questions, and I couldn't let on I knew about him. Ethan was always there, observing everything. He held this mysterious vibe about him. But it was time I was the observant one. I'd be in the shadows now, watching.
And Wilder. What was up with him? Was he embroiled in the shady dealings with the Fortners, too?
It seemed like the more I dug, the more it stunk. Like searching for a few rocks but unearthing a decaying pile of unrecognizable bones. But one thing was for sure. I was going to do everything I could to bring the Fortner's down.