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  C. M. Adams

  Book one. An in depth introduction to what will become a series.

  Former FBI agent Amber “Birdie” Farran wakes up in a community of people called Proprietors, on a part of Pritchards Island that no one else knows exists. They’re there for their own protection; a people created by a government-legislated experimental trial gone wrong. They’re protected from the outside world, from people who wouldn’t understand and would destroy them all if they knew the truth.

  Or would they?

  Join Birdie on her journey of discovery, both of her people and of herself. Unanswered questions will lead her down a path toward answers she was never meant to know.

  C.M. Adams

  VERSION 2.0

  To my brother, my best friend. Until we meet again on the other side.

  ONE

  2013…

  Officer Amber “Birdie” Farran was running steady in pace, but quite fast in pursuit of a young man suspected of bringing cocaine, among a long list of other things, into her quiet little hometown of Dagsboro. The fact that the kid was running spoke for itself. She’d simply approached him in Glata’s Diner, where she happened upon him drinking a cup of black coffee at the bar. As soon as he’d seen her uniform and the fact that she was obviously approaching his direction, he scurried off as if he was a garden rabbit who’d just been spotted by a house cat.

  Artie Finkle. That was the kid’s name. Or at least that’s what the high school boys told Birdie when they approached her with the information. He went by “Ice King” now (though the boys referred to him as ‘Icing’, which apparently was more acceptable for the kid’s personality), and it was deftly obvious that he, himself, was using his product, to have come up with such a ridiculous nick name. Although his given wasn’t much better.

  Finkle was born and raised in Dagsboro. He’d moved about a year ago to The Big Apple, and clearly had become influenced somewhere along the line. He was a good kid; used to be, anyway. He’d been gifted from a young age, in art. Beautiful sketches and paintings still decorated some of the halls in the local school. Artie had left Delaware to go to the big city and become famous. Certainly, that hadn’t worked out as well as he’d planned.

  Birdie was saddened by his case in particular. It reminded her of everything she’d come to this town to escape from. Amber Farran had, at one time, been an officer with the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency. She was good at her job. Great, even; one of the best. Something happened, however, five years ago, that changed her life forever…

  2008…

  “Brian! You need to stop ignoring me, jerk,” Birdie spoke playfully, into her cell phone, wedged between her ear and shoulder as she balanced a paper cup of coffee and juggled with her keys to get into her car. “I know you work like crazy on the weekends, but seriously! It’s been two days. Call me!” She ended the call and stuck the phone into her jacket pocket, allowing her to get her car door open.

  Brian was Amber’s younger brother. He’d been the one to give her the nickname, “Birdie”, at a very young age. Their mother always assumed it had been easier for him to say in his toddler years, and the name was sort of picked up by everyone around them. That aside, the two were the best of friends their entire lifetime together, which at this point was a mere twenty-seven years.

  Though their career choices were vastly different, Birdie being a DEA Agent, and Brian being a freelance writer, almost every other aspect of their interests, likes and dislikes, were similar, or at least arguable and respected by both parties. In other words, even if one of them wasn’t much into something the other was, if they were doing said thing with the other, it was mutually enjoyable.

  Brian loved his sister; looked up to her, yet stayed respectfully and stubbornly away from the aspects of being “wholesome” or “safe”, as he’d call it. In the same respect, Birdie loved her brother; sometimes more than anything else in the world. He drove her mad, at times; did things that made her want to scream in frustration. Things like taking drugs, prescription or not, in order to get his work done. Yet, even with the power of her job title, she let him do as he wanted. A firm “talking to” now and then, trying desperately not to sound like a parent. But trying to use his respect for her, however much there might be, to maybe get him to realize that it scared her for him to do things like that. Especially with the things she saw on a regular basis in her job.

  At this point, Brian had been clean for a good while. It was nice to see him back to his normal, non-drug-induced self. They’d even taken the previous weekend off and driven up to visit their parents together. Leslie, their mother, and their father, Brian Sr., were separated. Senior was in a home; had been for years. Visiting him had not been on Brian’s list of things to ever do again. To him, his father was already dead. He’d done his mourning and he didn’t want to do it again.

  Senior was essentially dead to the world. His mind was so far lost in the depths of the seas of dementia, that it’d been two years since he was even able to realize someone else was in the room with him. It had been hard enough knowing he didn’t really know who they were. But not even being able to have some sort of conversation, was a different story. So in a way, Brian was right. But Birdie wanted to go and see him for the simple fact that it had been two years, and she felt like a neglectful daughter. She wanted to go alone. But once Brian got wind of this, he insisted on going with her.

  Why he seemed so adamant about that, she would never know. He’d said it would make her sad to see him, and he wanted to be there for her, which was understandable. But Birdie was a strong person; never showed when it really hurt. So it was a bit of a lost cause for someone to want to tag along in the event of something that she was always determined never to expose.

  He went with her anyway. Senior was as they’d expected, though Birdie had hoped for a moment of recognition. Just one. There was nothing, however. They left that place and got into the car. Brian turned to his sister in all seriousness, “I want you to put me out of my misery if I ever get like that.” Birdie scoffed at the request. Brian had always been terrified to end up like his father. Mortified of the day that his brain would start to deteriorate and he’d no longer be able to write. “I’m serious,” he continued.

  “You want me to assist you in killing yourself,” she replied, not so much as a question. “You realize I could lose my job; go to jail…”

  “So do it without getting caught. Can’t be that hard. You’re a Federal Agent. You know what they look for.”

  “I’m a drug enforcement agent, not a murder investigator!” she looked at him, incredulously.

  “Yeah, but you’ve gotta know something about this stuff!” he retorted. She did, of course. But she’d wanted the subject to be dropped. “Either way, I’m sure you can figure out something before then.”

  Birdie shook her head, rolling her eyes as she let out a frustrated breath. “You’re an idiot, you know.”

  “Just promise you’ll do it,” he sternly voiced.

  “Fine,” she replied, looking out the window.

  “Say you promise!” he raised his voice.

  “Fine! I promise!”

  “Look at me and tell me you promise me that you’ll kill me if I get like that.”

  Birdie took a couple of breaths, angered at the fact that her brother knew without a doubt that she’d never break a promise; especially not to him. She turned her head and met his eyes. “I promise, I’ll… kill you, if you ever get like that,” she recited.

  “Thank you,” he replied in an impatient way as he turned the ignition to start the car.

  “You know, you’d probably do a better job of avoiding destroying your brain if you stay off the drug
s,” she chided, playfully.

  “I know. Shut up,” he put the car into reverse.

  Brian had dropped Birdie at her mediocre apartment in Georgetown, and headed back to Arlington where he had a nice town home, much bigger than he’d ever need. The point in having it, he’d said, was to entertain guests when the time would arise. In the three years he’d lived there, two such occasions had ever occurred.

  The weekends were Brian’s chance to get a lot of projects finished; meet deadlines, and things of that sort. He wrote for several different magazines, articles that were due in the middle of each month. He hated deadlines and he hated not having the time he really wanted to work on his book. Alas, writing doesn’t pay until it’s written. Taking on these smaller projects paid for his over-sized apartment, kept gas in his car, and allowed him to be comfortable enough to buy pretty much whatever he wanted. But because of these habits, he really had nothing to show for himself. There was no savings; no plan. The plan was only going to be a plan after he finished his book and became the rich man he knew he’d be.

  It had been two days since she’d heard from him, now. She’d had little time to focus on that fact as she’d been not only busy at work, but toughing through the pain of unexplainable illness that had suddenly and inexplicably washed over her a couple of nights ago. The symptoms were so strange and unrelated to anything she could think of, she passed it off as the stress she’d endured the previous weekend while visiting her parents.

  Today, she’d left work after a dizzy spell, refusing a lift home from her partner, and grabbed a coffee at the little cafe down the street from Brian’s place. Her plan was to show up unannounced, bringing the coffee as a preemptive apology. Although, his not returning her calls should’ve given her the right to barge in, anyway.

  It was a short drive from the cafe to Brian’s place. Birdie pulled into the steep driveway, rolling her eyes when she saw the back end of Brian’s damaged Z28 at the end of it; a fit of road rage never really could be topped from her little brother’s. She was just happy he had no desire to own a gun.

  Birdie parked and got out of the car, making her way to the door as she dialed his number again. And again there was no answer. She knocked on the door and rang the bell a few times in attempt to wake him from what must have been a medicated slumber. She tried to peek through the windows, but the blinds were all drawn closed.

  Rolling her eyes once more, Birdie set the coffee down on the porch, and pulled out her lock-pick kit. Crouched down at the doorknob, she had the lock picked in less than a minute. Being a Federal Agent had its perks now and then. She grabbed the coffee, tucked the set back in her jacket pocket, and let herself into the house.

  “Brian?” she called out, then took a breath in and gagged. Letting out a disgusted cough, she made her way to his office. Moldy mugs of discarded coffee surrounded dozens of empty packs of cigarettes and general disarray. The smell was awful, and she wondered how Brian could tolerate it. But he wasn’t in there, and his computer wasn’t, either. Which could only mean that he was working downstairs again.

  Birdie closed the door of the office hoping the smell hadn’t permeated the entire house, before heading downstairs. “Brian, come on,” she called out. “I brought you some coffee, but I’m highly considering not giving it to you, since you’ve been blatantly ignoring me all weekend.” Almost down the flight of stairs without a reply, she let out a small laugh. “You really need to lay off the sleep meds. Just because it’s a prescription, doesn’t mean it’s okay to take half the bottle at a time,” she stepped off of the staircase and turned the corner into the kitchen. “This place is a disaster, as usual,” she commented, setting the coffee on the counter before turning to get the milk from the fridge.

  “Did you have a party last night?” she asked, bypassing a pile of empty pizza boxes to get to the milk, before turning to pour some into the coffee. “Seriously, wake the hell up, Bry,” she called out as she brought the coffee into the living room.

  She stopped there where the tiled floor met the carpet of the living room area, frozen in place at the sight of the still form on the couch. Beside him, a dinner plate with lines of cocaine. Surrounding it, were eight-balls of even more of it, tipped over prescription bottles, candy wrappers and cigarette ash and empty cans.

  His computer was beside him on the couch, as if he’d finished working for the night and simply turned over to go to sleep. Only, he was holding a pipe in one hand and a lighter in the other. And he was perfectly still. There was no rise and fall of his chest. There was no color to his face.

  As an Agent, Birdie knew exactly what she was seeing. She’d seen it many times before. Yet nothing in the world, no crime scene or tragedy she’d ever witnessed, had ever made her chest hurt the way it did right then.

  With shaking hands, she set the coffee cup down on the table, reached into her pocket for her phone, and called her partner. She wasn’t entirely sure what he said in response on the other line, but she was fairly certain it was something about coming right over. She hung up without acknowledging whatever it was.

  Birdie’s gaze never left the form of her brother. She didn’t know what to do. Really, there was nothing; there was no answer. She felt the burning, insistent stinging in her eyes that was followed by tears that she couldn’t stop if she’d had the desire to try. “What have you done?” she asked him in barely a whisper. It wasn’t, perhaps, to his body, but wherever his spirit might be. She said again, louder, screaming in frustration, “What have you done!”

  * * *

  She was sitting on the porch when Agent Ashton Sinese, her partner, showed up with an ambulance and officers in tow. Her elbows were perched on her knees. Her gaze fixed on the gravel of the driveway, she only recognized their presence through her peripheral vision.

  Ashton wasn’t sure what to expect when he’d show at the property. Birdie was always strong; emotionally and stomached. He’d never really seen her in pain. But he knew how close she was to her younger brother. This would be devastating, surely, for her.

  He parked his car beside hers, and spotted her on the porch. What he could see of her face seemed to be forced stoicism, though he could tell that she’d been crying at some point before they’d arrived. Her expression now, however, was barely readable. He approached cautiously after directing the officers inside, and sat down beside Birdie.

  “Farran… uh, Birdie,” he started.

  She let out a small huff of what might’ve been laughter, “You calling me by my first name… sounds funny.”

  “Shut up, Farran. I’m tryin’ to be supportive, here,” he playfully replied. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly, and she nodded. “Hey,” he said, more seriously, and cupped her chin, making her look at him. “I’m so sorry,” he told her as she met his eyes; his own, moist with sudden tears that he must have acquired through some strange connection of touching her and feeling the pain she’d been hiding so well.

  Birdie’s brows pinched at the sincerity in his voice, and she nodded in thanks and then found herself wrapped in an embrace. A little of her resolve broke and she found herself wondering, as a distraction, when the last time was that she’d gotten a hug from her partner.

  Ashton’s heart broke a little when he felt Birdie’s body shake with a few silent sobs. But just as soon as it had started, it was over and she was pulling away; stoic face back in place. “There’s so much I need to do right now,” she told him, looking away toward her car. “I need to get everything in order; figure out if he had any kind of insurance. I… I need to tell my mother…”

  “Farran, hey, listen,” he gripped her shoulder, and she looked over at him again. “I’ll take care of things here, okay?”

  “Brian had this place month-to-month. The landlord is a real tool, and he’ll want everyth—”

  “Hey, I said I’ll take care of it,” Ashton repeated. “I’m good for something other than DEA work, ya know. I’ll come back tomorrow; make sure everything is packed up real car
eful. I know you don’t have room at your place, but there’s a storage building maybe three blocks from here. We’ll get everything put in there and you can go through it when you’re ready. Alright?”

  Birdie looked at him at a bit of a loss for words. Part of her wanted to do this herself. The other part never wanted to set foot in that place again. “Okay… you’re sure?”

  “’Course, Farran. Least I can do,” he laid a gentle hand on the side of her head, brushing her hair back comfortingly, though he knew some part of her was cringing on the inside from it. “You need a lift home?” he asked.

  She shook her head and pushed herself up to stand. He followed suit, a bit nervous about letting her drive, even though she seemed to be fairly okay. “Thanks, Ash,” she said.

  He grinned, “You’re right. It does sound funny, us usin’ our first names.”

  Birdie gave a small smile back, placing a hand on his arm. “Thanks for this, really. I mean it.”

  “You call me if you need anything. Anything, Farran.”

  “I will.” She turned and headed to her car.

  Two weeks passed, before Birdie was up to going to that storage unit. By that time, her mother had hired people to bring it up to her house in Manchester, and Birdie regretted ever telling her about it in the first place. She was still taking time off from work, having a difficult time accepting her usefulness in the field after what happened. So, driving up to her hometown wasn’t interfering with anything but her ability to not leave her apartment. She remained, however, annoyed.

  Four hours worth of driving time there and back, left her with about an hour of time to go through what was being stored in the basement. Or at least that’s where she’d assumed it would be. Upon letting herself into the house with her key copy (she’d intentionally showed up at a time she knew she’d have the house to herself), she found the basement bare of anything but a few pieces of furniture from the townhouse. Instead, she found Brian’s belongings stored in his old bedroom; some in Kaitlyn, their adopted sister’s, old room. That little detail probably angered Birdie the most out of all of this current situation.

 
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C. M. ADAMS SERIES:

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