Gone

By: Elisabeth Naughton

CHAPTER ONE


If Alec McClane had a heart left, it might have been shattered on the floor. As it was, sitting on the cracked plastic chair in the sterile hallway, all he could think about was how someone else’s heart was about to be shattered. And how he was going to have to live through that all over again.

He rubbed his aching forehead with his thumb and first two fingers and waited. He’d known the news wouldn’t be good when he’d gotten the call, but he’d come anyway. Raegan, on the other hand, was probably so excited she could barely think straight. Just knowing all her hope was about to be crushed left a knot in the pit of his stomach that he’d carry with him for at least the next damn week.

Man, he wanted his old friend Jim. Unfortunately, he and Jim Beam weren’t on speaking terms going on close to three years now.

He shifted on the uncomfortable chair, leaned back, and crossed his arms over his chest. A nurse rushed by, stethoscope in hand. Down the hall, a couple of doctors conversed quietly in their white coats and shiny shoes. Pressure formed in his chest the longer he waited. A pressure he knew was rooted in guilt and self-disgust even Jim Beam hadn’t been able to ease.

He leaned forward again, rested his elbows on his knees, and clenched his hands into fists, only to release them in a feeble attempt to take the focus off the heaviness between his ribs. He should have called Raegan as soon as he’d seen the girl. Should have told her not to come. Then, at least, he wouldn’t be sitting here waiting for the love of his life to walk through the door only to leave him wrecked and more empty than he’d awoken this morning.

Holy hell, he needed a drink.

“McClane?”

Alec glanced to his left where an FBI agent strode toward him down the long hallway, a grim expression on the man’s angular face. Slowly, Alec pushed to his feet. “Hey, Bickam.”

Jack Bickam had worked Emma’s case. He was the one who’d called both him and Raegan when the four-year-old in the other room had been found in a park not far from the one where Emma had vanished three and a half years before.

Vanished when Alec had turned his back for two minutes to help a kid who’d fallen off the swings.

His stomach churned with another wave of guilt, and bile rose in his throat. But he swallowed hard and forced both back.

“Glad I caught you before you left,” Bickam said. “Got a minute?”

Alec glanced over his shoulder toward the lobby of the small hospital. Still no sign of Raegan. Nerves rolled through his gut along with the guilt, but there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about either. “Yeah.” He turned back toward Bickam. “What do you need?”

“Sorry the kid wasn’t Emma,” Bickam said, brushing the dark bangs off his forehead.

There wasn’t any good way to respond to that, so Alec shoved his hands into the pockets of his worn jeans. “That what you came out here to tell me?”

“No. I wanted to talk to you about the tip we received on the girl. It came from the Santiam Correctional Institution.”

All the worry and stress faded to the background, leaving behind nothing but a simmering anger that was as insistent as any liquor craving. “Are you sure about that?”

“Yeah, I triple-checked the call records. It came in at one thirty-five p.m. SCI’s a minimum-security facility that transitions inmates back to society. They have access to phones from six a.m. to ten p.m. so long as they’re not out on a work crew. And your father wasn’t on a crew when that call was placed. I just checked.”

A thousand memories of a neglected and filthy childhood rolled through Alec’s mind. The man in that prison wasn’t his father. Fathers took care of their kids. They didn’t knock them around, make them fend for themselves, or use them as mules to move their illegal shit. No, John Gilbert wasn’t his father. He was just the son of a bitch Alec shared DNA with.

He was also the asshole who had every reason to want to see Alec suffer. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“No, you won’t.” Bickam stepped in Alec’s way before Alec could move toward the lobby. “I already sent someone out to question Gilbert.”

“He won’t tell you shit, and you know it. If he knew about this missing girl, it means he had a part in my daughter’s disappearance.”