The Summer Children (The Collector #3)(3)

“Sweetheart, can you tell me your name?”

“Ronnie,” he mumbles. “Are you Mercedes? She said you’d come.”


“She said Mercedes would come and I’ll be safe.”

“Who is ‘she,’ Ronnie?”

“The angel who killed my parents.”


A shrill whine suddenly reminds me that hi, yes, Siobhan is right behind me, Siobhan who doesn’t like to hear about what I do and can’t watch a help-us-feed-children-in-Africa commercial without bawling. “Siobhan? Can you get our phones out, please?”


“Please? All three phones? And hand me my work phone?”

She doesn’t hand it to me so much as throw it at me, and I fumble to catch it against my side with my left hand. I can’t put the gun away until I know the area is clear, and I can’t prowl around the house to check because it would leave Siobhan and Ronnie unprotected. Siobhan doesn’t carry a gun.

“Thank you,” I say, using the Soothing Agent Voice and hoping she doesn’t punch me for it later. She thinks it’s manipulative; I think it’s better than letting someone freak out. “On my phone, can you pull up the notepad? Type Ronnie’s name in, and get ready for an address. Once you have that, call 911, give them both our names, tell them we’re FBI agents.”

“I’m not a field agent.”

“I know, they just need to know we’re law enforcement. Hang on, let me try to get the rest of what they’ll need.” I study Ronnie, who’s damn near hugging the stuffing out of the bear. He hasn’t moved from his spot on the bench swing, and there are no bloody footprints around him or on the steps. There’s blood dried on his bare feet, but no footprints. “Ronnie, do you know your address? Your parents’ names?”

It takes a few minutes to get their names, Sandra and Daniel Wilkins, and enough of their address to be useful, and I can still hear Siobhan whimpering as she types it into my phone. “Call emergency,” I tell her.

She nods shakily and walks quickly down the curve of the path with her phone to her ear, my personal cell lit up in her trembling hand so she can read out the information. She’s briefly out of sight where the path meets the drive, but then I can see her head down the driveway to stop at the curb, just within the cone of light from the streetlamp. Good enough, even if I’d rather she was closer. I can’t protect her from here.

“Ronnie? Are you hurt?”

He looks up at me, confused, but flickers away from eye contact half a second later. Oh, I know that body language.

“Is any of that blood yours?” I clarify, because there are a lot of ways a child can be hurt.

He shakes his head. “The angel made me watch. She said I’d be safe.”

“Were you not safe before? Before the angel came?”

He lifts one shoulder in a half shrug, eyes fixed on the floorboards.

“Ronnie, I have to step away so I can call my partner at work, okay? He’s going to help me make sure you’re safe. I’ll stay right where you can see me, all right?”

“And I’m safe?”

“Ronnie, I promise you, as long as you’re here, no one is going to touch you without your consent. No one.”

I’m not sure he trusts it, or that he gets it—I don’t think consent is something his parents have ever taught him—but he nods, hunching back into himself over the teddy bear, and watches me through his sandy fringe of hair as I walk to the curve of the path, where I can see both him and Siobhan clearly. Keeping the gun pointed at the ground, I wake up the phone and tap “2” to dial Eddison.

He picks up on the third ring. “I can’t get us out of the seminar; I already tried.”

“There’s a bloody little boy on my porch. An angel made him watch her kill his parents, then brought him here to wait for me.”

There’s a long silence, and in the background I can hear what sounds like a post–baseball game analysis on the television. “Wow,” he says finally. “You really don’t want to go to that seminar.”

I bite my lip, not quite fast enough to hold in the strangled laugh. “Siobhan’s calling emergency.”

“Is he hurt?”

“That’s a complicated kind of question.”

“Our kind of complicated?”

“Smart bet.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen.”

The call ends, and for lack of a pocket in my little black dress, I slide the phone under my right bra strap where I can grab it without letting go of the gun. I walk back to the porch, sitting down on the top step. After a moment, I angle my body so I can see both him and the end of the driveway, my back against the rail post. “Help will be here soon, Ronnie. Can you tell me about the angel?”

He shakes his head again, and clutches the bear a little tighter. There’s something about the bear, something that . . . oh. The blood on the fur isn’t spray. It’s castoff, from his arms, from his face, probably the bear’s back is coated, but he wasn’t holding it when his parents were attacked.

“Ronnie, did the angel give you that bear?”

He glances up, meets my eyes for a heartbeat, and then fixes his gaze back on the floor, but after a moment, he nods.

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