Read Heart Failure Online

Authors: Richard L. Mabry

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Medical, #Christian, #Suspense, #ebook, #book

Heart Failure (2 page)

BOOK: Heart Failure
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Carrie studied Adam as he drove. Most men would be shaking after such a close encounter with death. But he wasn’t. Why would that be? Was he used to being shot at? She shook her head. That was plain silly.

She thought she knew him—after all, they were engaged.
Carrie glanced at him again. Maybe she didn’t know Adam as well as she’d thought. That scared her even more than what they’d just experienced.

They rode in silence for a few moments, and during that time Carrie recreated the shooting in her mind. Then something clicked—something she hadn’t realized until then. She turned to Adam. “You pushed me down before the shots were fired. You didn’t react to the shots. You knew they were coming.”

Adam glanced at her but didn’t respond.

Carrie thought about it once more. “I’m sure of it. You shoved me below the dashboard, then I heard three shots. How did you know what was about to happen?”

He continued to peer into the night. “I was backed into the parking space so I had a good view of the cars moving down the aisle in front of us. A black SUV pulled even with us, and the barrel of a pistol came out the driver’s side window. That was when I pushed you down.”

“Lucky you saw it.”

Adam shook his head. “Luck had nothing to do with it. I’m always watching.”

His response made her shiver. She hugged herself and sat silent for the balance of the trip.

When they slowed for the turn into Carrie’s driveway, Adam said, “Is there room in your garage for my car?”

“I suppose so. Why?”

“I don’t want to leave it at the curb or in the driveway where someone can see it. Open the garage and let me pull in. We’ll talk once we’re safely in your house.”

Carrie found the garage remote on her key ring and raised the door. When they were inside the house, with the garage
door closed, she took a seat on the living room sofa. Adam went through the small house, drawing drapes, closing blinds, and making sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Finally he returned to where Carrie waited. He started to sit beside her on the sofa, apparently thought better of it, and sank into a chair. “I’ve wrestled with this all the way home. I thought I was finally safe, but maybe I’m not. I know what I’m going to tell you may change things between us, but you deserve an explanation.”

That was the understatement of the year. Thirty minutes ago she and Adam were a newly engaged couple, winding down an enjoyable evening. By now they should be feeding each other ice cream like two lovebirds, talking seriously and making plans about their future together. But instead . . . “Yes,” she said, “you owe me an explanation, a big one. So explain.”

“Let me say this first. What I’m about to tell you started long before I met you. My life has changed in the past eight months. I’m different, and it’s because of you. I’m . . .” Adam leaned toward her. He clenched and unclenched his fists. “To begin with, Adam Davidson isn’t my real name.”

TWO

“TO BEGIN WITH, ADAM DAVIDSON ISN’T MY REAL NAME.” IT seemed to Adam as though all the air went out of the room as soon as those words were out of his mouth.

Carrie took a deep breath. “What do you mean?”

Adam swallowed . . . hard. Then, like a diver finally deciding to plunge off the high board, he said, “My real name is Keith Branson. I’m on the run. If the wrong people find me, I’m a dead man.” He swallowed again. “I hope and pray I’m wrong, but what happened tonight may mean they’ve found me.”

He watched emotions trace across Carrie’s face like words running across an electronic billboard: puzzlement, disbelief, fear, anger. The ache in his heart grew with every passing second.

He’d thought maybe he’d finally found safety. He’d hoped he’d never have to share this information with her. But his hopes were dashed when the bullets flew through the windshield.
Maybe he’d never be safe. And now he’d brought Carrie into it. He had to tell her, no matter the cost to their relationship. He loved her too much to let her keep believing the lie.

“What have you done? Are you running from the police?” She almost shouted the next words. “What’s going on?”

“Long story,” Adam said. “First, I’m not running from the police. But I’m not who you think I am either. I’m not a paralegal, although I’m working as one. I’m a lawyer, and I’m running away from some very bad men—men who want to kill me.”

“If you’re hiding from criminals, wouldn’t the police protect you?”

“Maybe, maybe not. But that would mean letting them know my real identity. And no matter how the police may try to keep it confidential, somehow that information is going to leak out. It has before. If it reaches the wrong ears . . . I’m dead.” He shook his head. “Of course, it may already be too late.”

The color drained from Carrie’s face. She snatched a ragged breath. In a low voice she said, “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me you’re living here under a false identity. But it’s not because you’ve done anything wrong.”

“Right, I—”

Carrie continued as though Adam hadn’t spoken. “When you didn’t want to call the police after someone shot at us, I thought maybe you had a bunch of unpaid tickets, unpaid alimony, something like that.” Her voice rose with every word. “But now you tell me you’re hiding from someone who might kill you?”

“Yes,” he said. “Now can I explain?”

“Go ahead. I want to know everything, Adam. Or should I call you Keith?” She clenched her fists. “Or is there another name for me to learn?”

He took a deep breath through his nose, let it out through his mouth. Repeated the process.
Be
calm. You fouled up, but maybe you can salvage things
. “Please, call me Adam. I came here for a fresh start, and that’s when I became Adam. That’s when I met you. That’s when I fell in love with you.”

“If you’re in love with me, why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Carrie lowered her voice to a quiet tone that pierced Adam’s heart more than any shout could. “Why did you—no, why did
we
almost have to die before you told me about your past? Why did it take a shooting to make you tell me that everything I know about you is a lie?”

“When I first met you, I told you the same story I’d told before, in so many other places. It had become a habit, a way of life for me. Then when we got to know each other, after we fell in love, I didn’t want to spoil things by telling you the truth.” His mouth was dry, his throat threatened to close off his words, but he didn’t want to interrupt his story by asking for water. “I was wrong to keep all this from you. I admit it. I’ve been agonizing since you accepted my proposal, wondering when and how I’d break the news to you.”

For a moment Adam couldn’t read her expression. Then her words removed any doubt. She was hurt—hurt deeply. “And you think now is the time?”

“What happened tonight may mean that the people who’ve been hunting me for so long have found me.” He looked down. “I’m sorry I waited, but I have to tell you the truth now. I love you too much to keep it a secret any longer.”

“You say you love me, yet you hid your past from me. It took a
shooting
to change your mind. That doesn’t sound like love to me.”

Adam felt like one of the early Christians, the ones whose limbs were tied to horses that literally pulled them apart. “I admit it. I’ve put off doing this. I was afraid, because telling you who I am . . .” He took a deep breath, then another. There was a catch in his voice when he spoke again. “I love you, Carrie. More than I’ve loved anyone in my life.”

Carrie hugged herself like a woman trapped in a deep freeze. “So what happened tonight? Was someone trying to kill you?”

“I can’t be totally sure. Maybe someone’s found me, maybe it was a random drive-by shooting. But I know one thing for sure. If my true identity gets out, even in the most innocent fashion, Charlie DeLuca will find me and try to kill me . . . and you too, once he discovers that I love you.”

Carrie’s expression shifted from puzzled to terrified. “So just being with you puts my life in danger?” She almost whispered the next words. “How could you do this to me? Were you using me? Did being part of a couple let you blend in to the population?”

“No! Absolutely not.”

Carrie turned away from him and stared at the opposite wall. “What are you going to do next?”

“Tomorrow morning I’ll call the police and tell them I found my car parked at the curb with three bullet holes in the windshield. I’ll do my best to make them believe this was a case of malicious mischief. I can’t have them digging too deeply into my identity. Because if they do, I might as well pack up and get out of town.”

Her back still to Adam, Carrie said, “What if the police want to talk to me about the shooting?”

“They won’t. Not if I tell it the way I’ve described.” Adam
rose and began pacing. “Believe me, more than anything I want to keep you out of this.”

Carrie spun to face Adam. When she spoke, her tone was cold. “I think you’d better go.”

Adam stood, then stopped. “Carrie, I’m really sorry. I hope you can forgive me.” He looked directly into Carrie’s eyes. “I meant the things I said when I proposed. I still mean them. I love you.”

For Adam time froze as Carrie stared, first at him, then at the ring on her finger, then back at him. Finally she put both hands in front of her, and Adam’s heart dropped when he saw the twisting motion she made.

“Carrie, please don’t—”

She took two steps toward him and held out her hand, the engagement ring in her open palm. “I don’t know what to think right now. But it doesn’t seem right for me to keep wearing this. I don’t know whether I love you, or fear you, or feel sorry for you, or . . . I don’t know.” She shook her head. Tears streaked her cheeks.

Adam took the ring and noticed that her hand, like his, was trembling. He couldn’t let it end this way. He had to make it right. “Carrie, please, we need to talk again. Will you call me?”

“I don’t know.” Carrie shook her head. “I honestly don’t know.”

Carrie listened to the hum of the motor as the garage door closed. She wasn’t sure whether it was closing a chapter in her life or opening the door to an entirely different one. She was tempted to go to the window and peep through the blinds to watch Adam
drive away. Maybe she should do that, a visual punctuation mark to the end of their relationship. But she wasn’t sure she wanted it to end. She wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

She took out her cell phone and punched in a number she knew like her own. It was late, but she needed to talk with someone. No, not just someone—to Julie.

The phone rang four times before a sleepy female voice said, “Yates residence.”

“Julie, it’s Carrie. I’m so sorry for calling—”

The voice dropped to a whisper. “No problem. Let me take this into the living room. I don’t want to wake Barry.”

Carrie had been pacing when she placed the call. Now she slumped into an easy chair and dangled her legs over the arm, unconsciously assuming the posture she’d taken so many years ago when she was a high school student chatting on the phone for hours on end with her best friend.

“Okay, now I can talk,” Julie said. “What’s up?”

“I’m sorry for calling so late, but I had to talk with someone. I was almost killed tonight.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, just shaken.”

“What happened?”

“Someone shot at the car where Adam and I were sitting. They missed, but my world’s been turned upside down.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Julie said. “I mean, having someone take a shot at you—”

“There’s more. It’s Adam. He’s not the person I thought he was.”

Who did I think he was?
Carrie thought back to her first meeting with Adam, and it made her heart ache. A little more
than eight months earlier, she was talking with friends in the foyer after church when a man she knew slightly approached. “Excuse me, Carrie. This is Adam. He’s new in town, and I’m trying to introduce him around.”

The man called Adam was prototypically “tall, dark, and handsome”: a bit over six feet tall, olive complexion, brown hair with a slight wave, guileless gray eyes. He told her his name was Adam Davidson. He was a paralegal, recently out of a messy divorce, looking to start over in a new location. They exchanged handshakes and phone numbers, and Carrie forgot about it until he called the next day . . . and the next. Finally she agreed to show him around town. Then they had lunch at a restaurant she liked. Lunches led to dinners, and soon Carrie realized she was no longer a tour guide. She and Adam were dating—and getting more serious with each date.

During that time he was never anything but attentive, charming, and apparently taken with her. And she’d felt the same way. He listened to her talk about her late husband. She cried on his shoulder. And she experienced something she never thought she’d have again—love.

Carrie forced herself back to the present. “I don’t know if I should tell you . . .” She snatched a deep breath, afraid for Adam, yet feeling the desperate need for her friend’s assurances.

“What is it? This sounds ominous.”

“You have to promise not to tell a soul, not even Barry.”

“Okay . . .”

Carrie tightened her grip on the phone. “I’ve already told you that someone took a shot at Adam’s car after we left the last show at the movies. Well, Adam refused to call the police to report it. When I pressed him, he told me his real name wasn’t
Adam Davidson. He’s on the run—not from the law but from what he calls bad men. And it’s critical that his true identity be kept a secret.”

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