Yes, I’ve been real busy here. I’m sorry. Tell me your last name, Autumn, and where you are. Who is Ethan?
I’m Autumn Backman, and my mom and I are in Titusville, Virginia, with Sheriff Ethan. He’s real nice and wants to help us.
Can you turn on a light, Autumn? I can’t see you as clearly as I’d like.
No, my mama’s asleep next to me. I don’t want to wake her up.
A beat of silence, but she saw a brief smile on his mouth. Tell me what’s been happening.
She told him about Sheriff Ethan Merriweather and his three pets, particularly all about Lula, who always caught the most kibble. She told him how maybe the sheriff really believed now that she was talking to Dillon, but…He doesn’t want to believe me because it’s weird and I’m a little kid. People don’t want to believe you when you’re only seven.
She told him how Blessed put the whammy on Ox, but Ethan had helped snap him out of it with a hard kick to his chin, how they’d been looking for Blessed, but he was hiding real good.
I need you, Dillon, my mama needs you. You’ve got to catch those bank robbers so you can come here and help us. Things are bad. Blessed is here. Blessed is scarier than the Phantom of the Opera.
Then she floored him. She told him about the dead people in Bricker’s Bowl, told him about Shepherd and Grace. She didn’t wink out once, her voice and face steady. Mama and I got away and drove to Titusville, but Uncle Tollie wasn’t here. He knows a lot of people, Dillon, but he’s old, maybe too old for you to know him.
What’s his full name, Autumn?
She saw him scratch his chest. Then he smiled at her, sort of embarrassed because he’d forgotten she could see him. I know about Tollie Tolbert. He was an FBI agent, just like me. Everyone called him T Squared, you know, because both of his names begin with a T. So he lives in Titusville, Virginia, and you and your mama know him. I’m relieved, Autumn, because Tollie’s tough, doesn’t take grief from anybody. He knew my dad, worked with him occasionally in New York. My dad always said Tollie could make a witness talk faster than opening a can of tuna fish. He had this evil-eye thing going. Where is he, Autumn?
In a place called the Everglades. That’s in Florida. He hasn’t come back yet. We’ve been waiting for him.
Okay. Ah, maybe I’d better give you my cell phone number. Can you memorize it so you won’t have to turn on a light and wake up your mama?
He repeated his cell number three times, listened to her repeat it after him each time. Good. Now, Ethan was right. I’m up to my neck here in a pile of bad guys. I’ll call him in the morning, maybe get to Titusville in the next couple of days. How’s that?
I wish you were here right now. I don’t know if Ethan’s a hero like you are.
I’ll bet you Ethan is a real big hero. He’s watching over you and your mom now, isn’t he?
Savich clearly heard a woman’s voice say, “Autumn, sweetie?”
And Autumn said, “Mama, I’m talking to Dillon like I told you.”
He heard nothing else. Autumn said, Mama doesn’t want to believe I’m really talking to you, Dillon, but she says hello.
Hello to your mom too.
Will you get Blessed?
I’ll do my best.
Thank you, Dillon, and she was gone.
“THAT WAS AUTUMN?”
“Yes.” Savich looked up into Sherlock’s face, then turned off the bedside lamp. Her face was shadowed, since there wasn’t much of a moon to light their bedroom. He touched her hair and smiled. “She and her mom are in Titusville, Virginia, with Sheriff Ethan. She didn’t tell me his last name. They’re in trouble, according to Autumn. At least they’re staying at the sheriff’s house, deputies everywhere.” And he told her everything Autumn had told him.
“You never mentioned this Tollie Tolbert—what a name. He really knew your dad?”
Savich nodded. “He’s been retired quite a while now. Last time I saw him was at my dad’s funeral. I’d feel a whole lot better if he were there, but Autumn said he was visiting the Everglades. The sheriff sounds like he’s doing all the right things—of course, this is all from a seven-year-old’s perspective.
“I’m thinking given this special ability she has, Autumn has had to be growing up a lot faster than normal. She was pretty cogent, Sherlock, she spoke really well, but you know what, when I looked at that beautiful little face of hers, I wanted to drop everything and pluck her out of harm’s way fast. She’s in fear of some very strange relatives.”