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The Free Friday Read

Here’s your Free Friday Read

 October 1, 2021

By  Lorhainne Eckhart

It’s the Free Friday Read!  Tonight I have a Friessen family throwback short story for you which followed The Homecoming and features a young Brad, Jed, Neil and Robbie.  Read When They Were Young below.  Plus don’t forget to check out the newest Billy Jo McCabe mystery, now available everywhere, and grab some free Audible codes, too.  Happy weekend!

Chapter 1 

This would all be his one day. 

Being the eldest of three boys, twelve-year-old Brad Friessen knew that this cattle ranch outside Hoquiam, Washington, which encompassed three hundred acres bordering the state park and had been in the family since the first Friessen settled in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s—1859, to be exact—would all be his to run, to own, to have. Over the last few years, his father had aggressively bought up the surrounding land and property before developers could get their hands on it, amassing another hundred acres. Brad made a point of listening when his mom and dad were talking. His dad was a brilliant man, and Brad believed he would soon own everything on this side of the peninsula. It made him feel proud to have that kind of power behind him. 

It was a history few families had, but as his father, Rodney Friessen, had told him many times, the Friessen name meant something here. Brad’s grandfather, Angus Friessen, had been a state senator and president of the Cattlemen’s Association. Although Brad had never met him, considering he’d died before he was born, he had heard stories about how he could make anything happen. Angus Friessen had been a powerful man. This was his part of the country. 

“Brad,” his dad called out to him, stepping out the back door of the house, his blue jeans tucked into gumboots. He was tall, strong, dark haired, and the kind of man Brad wanted to be. 

Brad held the reins of his quarter horse, Bucky, already saddled, and took in his dad heading his way. 

“Where’re you off to?” Rodney said. “I thought I told you to clean out all the stalls in the barn.” 

Of course he had, and Brad had done just that. He was about to reply when he heard the clomping of another horse and turned to see Neil coming out of the barn, leading his nearly all-black Arabian. Neil was a little shorter than Brad, but he had the same dark hair and amber eyes, and they’d always been unbelievably close. 

“We did. I helped Brad,” Neil said, stopping beside him, holding the reins. His horse had an attitude, and depending on the day, the season, or his general mood, he had thrown Neil a time or two. Brad suspected the horse was really a mirror to who Neil was at times, the brother who stood out and had to take center stage. “We’ve got things to do, Dad,” Neil continued. “We’re taking a ride out to our treehouse down at the ravine. We need to finish the roof. Robbie’s probably already there. Come on, Dad, we can’t keep him waiting. We’re late now.” 

Brad wasn’t sure what to make of his dad’s expression, the way he took in Neil and then him. His face hinted he could say no just as easy as yes—just a feeling he had. “Dad, I’ve done everything you’ve said to do…” he started. 

“Actually, you had your brother help you. That’s different than doing it yourself. Neil, you were supposed to herd up all the horses, bring them in, brush them all down, and clean out their hooves. I’m pretty sure you didn’t get to that,” Rodney said without even a smile. 

“You said over the weekend, Dad,” Brad said. “It’s only Saturday. I’ll help Neil with the horses tomorrow.” He was careful not to challenge his dad too much, which he’d done on more than one occasion, as his mom had pointed out. They were too much alike in too many ways. 

“So you’re meeting Robbie Davis,” Rodney said. 

Of course they were. They hung out all the time. They were friends. Brad just looked at his dad, seeing the way he seemed suddenly angry about something. 

“Not sure I want you to hang out with him all the time,” Rodney said. “It seems he’s the only one you’re ever with. And that’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about…” 

“Dad, Robbie is my best friend,” Neil said, cutting in. “You’re not going to tell me I can’t see him?” 

Brad wasn’t sure what to make of his dad, who pulled in a breath and settled his gaze on Neil. 

“I’m just saying that I don’t want you going over to Robbie’s, not right now. I’ve got some business with his dad, so I want you to just steer clear for a bit.” His dad took him in next as if letting him know it was up to him to get Neil to listen. 

“Fine, can we go?” Brad said without elaborating on the fact that Robbie was going to be waiting for them. His dad gave him that heavy gaze and then nodded. 

“And what about your brother?” 

He knew his dad meant Jed, the baby, who was eight and always dogging his heels. “Dad, it’s just me and Neil. We don’t want Jed tagging along. We want to move fast.” He didn’t want to have to look after his brother, but he knew that was what his dad was going to say next. 

“Too bad. Take Jed with you and look after him, or you don’t go.” 

Brad was about to argue when Neil nudged him and said, “Sure, Jed can come if he wants to, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to hang out with us today. Considering the roof we still need to put on the treehouse, I don’t think Jed’s going to be too interested in helping.” 

There he went. Neil could talk his way, or rather their way, out of anything, and it always sounded damn frickin’ convincing. Brad had to fight the urge to laugh, considering he’d basically told Jed to get lost just that morning, though not in those words. He’d even dropped the “F” bomb, knowing his mom would likely give him an earful if she heard, but Brad had been brushing his teeth after breakfast, and his brother had wanted to hang out with him. 

Brad had expected Jed to go tell their mom, who would, he knew, make him include him. That was what she always did, thinking that all of them had to hang around together all the time, being brothers. And then there was Brad’s mouth, as if swearing wasn’t something he’d heard his mom and dad both do. The fact was that Jed was so much younger that hanging out together felt like looking after him. Instead, he wanted to move fast and not have to worry about Jed giving his mom a blow by blow of everything they weren’t supposed to be doing. 

His dad gave an odd laugh under his breath as he stared down at Neil. The terseness of his lips had the hair on the back of Brad’s neck standing up. 

“Jed…” Rodney called out, and they didn’t have to wait more than a second for the screen of the back door to squeak open. 

“Yeah, Dad?” he answered, and Brad could feel his afternoon with just Neil and Robbie, hanging around with the freedom to do things he didn’t want his parents knowing about, slipping away. Namely, they had planned to check on the cougar den they’d found under a huge uprooted tree, but Jed would definitely tell their mom, who would tell their dad, and Brad would likely be grounded for the next month. He just loved the challenge, the danger. It was what drove him and excited him. 

“Your brothers are going out to the treehouse down at the ravine,” Rodney said. “You know the one you helped build? They said you weren’t interested in tagging along. Is that true?” 

Jed stepped out of the house in his old cowboy boots, pulling at his jean jacket, his hair a lighter brown than his and Neil’s and a scowl on his face as he strode their way. “If they’re going to the treehouse, so am I. They didn’t invite me,” he added. 

Brad was about ready to kick his brother, but the way his dad was staring down at him, he knew he’d figured out what he and Neil had been up to. 

“I suggest you two give your brother a hand saddling up his horse,” Rodney said, “and stay away from that cougar den. I know you, Brad and Neil. You two are always poking into trouble, not thinking it can hurt you. But hear me well: That mother cougar will go after Jed first, the smallest, so you make sure he sticks close.” 

Then his dad was walking into the barn and saying something to Jed, whom he could hear already opening the stall door of his paint, Trudy. 

“Well, it could be worse,” Neil said as he tied the lead rope of his mare to the ring on the side of the barn. 

“Oh, and how is that? Because as I see it, having Jed tag along means we won’t be having the fun we want to have today.” 

Neil just shrugged. “It’ll be fine. Jed won’t bother us. He just wants to hang around. We’ll make him do all the hard stuff. He’s smaller than us and can get up into those tight places.” Neil had a wicked side at times, but at the same time, he didn’t have the same responsibility on his shoulders as Brad did. He wondered if his brother would ever understand what it was like to be the eldest. 

Chapter 2 

“Hey, it’s about time you got here,” Robbie called out from the platform, which was about five feet off the ground, built from branches and old pieces of wood they had dragged out that way. The ladder was a rusty metal one that he and Neil had taken from the pile of old farm equipment over by one of the sheds that stored the winter hay. Neil had said their dad would never miss it. Robbie wondered, though, considering he’d heard his dad talk about the problems he was having with Mr. Friessen. His dad had called him an asshole, so of course he was curious. 

He watched as Brad, Neil, and Jed rode up on their horses and tied them in the little clearing they’d made below the treehouse. 

Robbie squatted down in his bare feet. His shoes and socks were soaked from the walk over. He and his dad’s small house was on the east side of the Friessen land, and they had always lived there. Neil, Brad, and Jed had always been his friends—well, mainly Neil, since they were the same age and in the same classes, and he thought they shared the same dreams. He was his bestie. 

Brad was arrogant at times and loved telling them both what to do, and little Jed was a pissant with a mouth on him, not scared to tell his older brothers where to go. Just last week he’d flipped Brad the bird after dragging a huge branch that had to have weighed three times more than him to the fort and helping get it up the ladder. Robbie had no idea where a kid that size summoned the strength. His contribution had become the main part of the floor, and afterward Brad had told him to get lost. At the same time, he idolized Brad. Robbie knew that Brad didn’t have a clue. 

“Looks like you’re almost done,” Brad called out to him. Neil was already climbing up the ladder, carrying a small backpack he’d untied from the back of the horse, Jed behind him. 

“Well, I waited hours for you guys. You were supposed to be here after breakfast. Got tired of waiting, so I managed to slide up the rest of the branches for the roof myself. Just need to do the one side and then we’re done.” 

He could hear Brad on the ladder as Neil dumped the backpack on the floor and Jed crawled in on his knees and sat down. 

“I brought snacks,” Neil said. Jed sat beside him, waiting patiently. 

“That’s good, because I’m starving,” Robbie said. Since his dad had left for work early that morning, he’d downed a bowl of Cheerios and then started walking. His dad was supposed to pick up groceries on the way home when he got off at the lumber yard. Otherwise, Robbie would’ve packed a sandwich, but the bread was gone, and all that was left were frozen hamburgers, canned peas and corn, a bag of potatoes, and cereal. Yeah, he’d finished the last of the milk, too. 

He took in the bag of Doritos, a block of cheese, three apples, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies that Neil pulled out before handing him a can of cola. “Oh, nice,” Robbie said as he popped the can. “Can always count on you, Neil.” 

Brad climbed onto their makeshift floor, feeling the creak. They’d never tested the weight with all of them up there, and Brad squatted down as if overseeing all of it before taking a look out and down to the horses. 

“This is a great view. We did a great job. Maybe next weekend we can bring our sleeping bags and sleep up here for a night,” Brad said. 

“That would be so much fun,” Jed called out, ripping open the bag of Doritos. He shoved his hand inside and stuffed a handful in his mouth. 

“You’re not coming, Jed,” Brad said. “You’re too young and little, and I’m not looking after you overnight. Besides, this isn’t big enough for all of us to sleep up here, and this is our treehouse, not yours.” 

Oh, here we go. The Jed and Brad thing was about to start up again. 

“I don’t take up much room, and I’m not too little—and I helped build this, so it’s as much mine as it is yours. Besides, Dad will say no. You’re not sleeping out here, either.” 

Damn, Jed was smart. Robbie had to give him that. “Jed, you’re right,” he said. “It is all of ours, and we couldn’t have built it without you. Brad, stop arguing with Jed. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be almost done.” 

Brad was evidently ready to argue some more. It wasn’t lost on Robbie how he was always trying to take charge, tell them all what to do. “I’m the one who found the spot, and this is all going to be my land,” he said. 

Neil gave him a look that said he’d crossed a line. “Maybe so, Brad, but this treehouse is a shared project. It’s all ours and will never be just yours. And, just for the record, this property isn’t yours yet, and it’ll be a lot of years before it is.” Neil sat cross legged, reaching his hand in the backpack again. “You don’t get to tell any of us who can come and who can’t.” 

Neil did have a way of putting Brad in his place, Robbie thought. He expected Brad to start arguing. 

“Jed, if we sleep up here, yeah, you can come too,” Robbie said, knowing that would really piss off Brad. He could see the way Brad firmed his lips, ready to argue. Yeah, Robbie had gotten on his bad side a time or two. 

“Cut it out, Brad,” Neil said. He had pulled out a cutting board and a small sharp paring knife. “Let’s just sit down, enjoy the snacks I brought, and stop bickering—because you both know Mom will likely be the one to say no, not Dad. I for one don’t want to spend the few hours I get to spend out here arguing. You’re not the boss.” 

“Neil, is that Mom’s good knife?” Brad said as he reached for a ginger ale and popped the top, then sat down, crossing his legs and taking in Robbie’s wet shoes and socks. 

“I suppose. She won’t miss it, though,” Neil said as he sliced through the block of cheddar and then turned to Jed, who was watching him, and pointed to him with the knife. “And don’t you go telling her.” 

Jed just nodded, looked over to Robbie, and smiled. Then he opened the bag of cookies and held it out, offering one first to Brad, who took it, and then Robbie. 

“So what’s going on with your dad?” Brad said as Robbie took a bite of his cookie and chewed. He could see the way Neil looked up. There was something going on, something he didn’t know. 

“Brad, I don’t think we should be talking about this,” Neil said. 

Brad shrugged. “Why not? I’m kind of curious why Dad said what he did, making it sound as if he’s got a problem with your dad. He actually told us to stay away, so I’m kind of wondering if you know what’s going on.” 

Robbie lifted the cola and took a swallow, then looked over to Neil for a clue. Neil only shrugged, so Robbie said, “I don’t think it’s my dad. I’m pretty sure it’s yours. I know mine called yours an asshole, and I heard him say that your dad thinks he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and he was having none of that.” 

Actually, his dad had said Rodney Friessen was an entitled asshole who took from anyone and everyone. He had more than his fair share and should spread the wealth around, but he was just a greedy bastard. He’d thought that was just his dad blowing off steam, as he’d said the same about his boss at the lumber yard and the lady at the bank. Everyone, as far as he was concerned, was a crook. 

“My dad wouldn’t be the bad guy here,” Brad said. “I’m sure your dad did something.” 

Robbie could feel the anger start right in the pit of his stomach as he looked over to Brad. He wanted to hit him. 

“Hey, how about you both knock it off?” Neil said. “Let’s stop talking about our dads. This is supposed to fun.” 

Jed was frowning as if he was considering what Brad had said. 

“Sure,” Robbie said, “but just the same, my dad isn’t the kind of man who’s going to let your dad get away with anything or push him around.” He didn’t know why he’d said that, mainly to have the last word and wipe that smug look off Brad’s face. Brad thought he was the king of the castle or, in this case, the land. 

“Robbie, seriously,” Neil snapped. 

He took in his friend, whom he’d shared just about everything with, and saw that he’d said too much. “Fine, truce. How about we all agree to not talk about our dads?” 

Brad seemed a little too pissed, though. Jed said nothing as he looked from Brad to Neil and then over to him. 

Neil finally held up the cutting board, offering Robbie the cut pieces of cheese, and said, “Yeah, no dad talk—and no one tells Mom I also took the block of cheese she just bought.” 

Chapter 3 

“Go and make sure the coast is clear, Jed, so I can put the cutting board and knife back before Mom sees,” Neil said after unsaddling his horse, brushing her down, and putting her in one of the stalls with a fleck of hay. Brad was already walking with his and Jed’s horses to the paddock outside, where his dad’s other six horses were grazing. 

“Okay, that was so much fun. Are we going to go again tomorrow?” Jed said, walking beside him. 

Neil leaned down and picked up his backpack from where he had rested it against the barn. “We’ll try. Have to finish the horses first, so if you give me a hand, then we have a better chance of going. Dad said I had to get all the horses groomed this weekend.” 

“Yup, I’ll help,” Jed said before running toward the house and pulling open the screen door. Neil could hear him talking to someone—his dad, he thought, who stepped out of the house and down the steps, walking his way. 

“You were gone a while. Any problems out there?” Rodney called out. 

Jed peeked out the back door and held up his little hand for Neil to stop. Evidently, the coast wasn’t clear. 

“No, it was fun. Kind of lost track of time,” Neil said. Behind him, he could hear Brad walking through the barn, his boots scraping the concrete. 

“So you were hanging out with Robbie.” His dad stared down at him with that look that said they were in a bit of trouble. 

“Jed told you,” Neil said. He hadn’t meant to say it, but he could tell by the way his dad lifted his brows and didn’t answer that it had been his brother, who clearly hadn’t understood the instructions “Don’t tell Dad we were with Robbie.” 

“Robbie is my friend, Dad. If you’re having problems with his dad, then that’s between you and him. I told Robbie the same thing.” Neil squeezed the strap of his backpack, feeling his heart hammering, knowing that it wasn’t smart to talk to his dad the way he did. 

“If I tell you to stay away from someone, you will listen,” Rodney said. “My issues with his father have nothing to do with Robbie, but I’m not comfortable with you hanging out with him, considering his father has become a sizeable problem for me.” 

Brad stopped beside him, and Neil wasn’t sure what to make of what his dad was saying. He didn’t know Gary Davis well, having only said hey and bye and answered a few questions about school now and then, things like did he like it and was he doing well, as well as the occasional warning not to go getting into trouble. That was it. 

Rodney dragged his gaze over to Brad and let it linger. “And you, being the oldest, when I tell you to do something, you listen. When I trust that you’ll listen and do as you’re told, then you get to go off on your horse alone with your brothers. If not, you can hang out here and do a considerable amount of work, mucking out stalls, hosing down the barn, fixing fences, and digging in the mud, so much so that you’ll have absolutely no free time other than for school and homework.” The way he said it, Neil could feel the trouble they were in, but at the same time, it was Brad who was getting it. Neil always, for some reason, escaped his brother’s fate. 

“Okay, I get it, Dad,” Brad said. “It won’t happen again. Look, I don’t know what’s going on with you and Robbie’s dad, but I do know that Robbie said his dad wasn’t going to let you push him around.” 

Neil dragged his gaze up to Brad, surprised he’d repeated what Robbie said. Neil was still kind of pissed at the back and forth between Brad and Robbie about their dads. Today was supposed to have been fun, not a pissing match over whose dad was a better man. At the same time, he was bothered that Robbie’s dad could pose a possible problem. 

“Robbie said that?” Rodney asked. Neil just stared at Brad as he nodded. 

“He said his dad called you an asshole, said you thought you could do whatever you wanted whenever you wanted, and he was having none of that. I don’t know what’s going on, Dad, but it sounds like Mr. Davis is pretty mad at you.” 

Neil wasn’t sure what to say as Rodney rested his hand on Brad’s shoulder and squeezed. He seemed to be thinking some pretty dark thoughts. 

“You boys get the horses put away,” he finally said. There it was, a change of subject. 

“Mine’s in the stall inside, and Brad put his and Jed’s out to graze,” Neil said, still squeezing the strap of the backpack. 

His dad took in him and then Brad. “Well, you two, don’t worry about this thing with Robbie’s dad. It will be rectified soon. Your mother has dinner almost ready. Go in and wash up.” 

Then his dad was gone, and Neil took in Jed, who was still at the back door and was now motioning to hurry up. The coast was clear. 

“So why did you tell Dad what Robby said?” he asked Brad as they walked to the door. 

Brad simply shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “He’s our dad. He should know.” 

Neil took in Brad, the way he looked past him to the barn and the house. 

“You know what Dad always says,” Brad continued. “Look after family first.” Then he stepped into the house. 

At the door, Jed whispered, “I’m sorry. It just slipped out. I didn’t mean to tell Dad we were with Robbie.” 

What could Neil say? He had two brothers who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. One was too little to understand the concept of not telling their mom and dad, and the other at times surprised him with what he chose to share. 

Chapter 4 

“Okay, the store was closed by the time I got there, so I picked us up a pizza,” Robbie’s dad said as he came in the front door, and Robbie listened to the thump of what sounded like the pizza box landing on their kitchen table and the creak of the old floorboards in the house. 

Robbie had the TV on and was sitting cross legged on the sofa in the small living room. His dad had sawdust in his dark hair. He was lanky and tall, and Robbie took in his ring finger, on which he still wore his plain gold wedding band, even though Robbie’s mom had been dead since he was five, from breast cancer. He didn’t think his dad would ever take it off, as her loss had left a deep hole that would never heal. 

He took in her big bright smile in the photo that was still on the wall. Young and beautiful. It left him empty. 

“What were you up to today?” his dad said as he walked into the bathroom. Robbie could hear him taking a leak and then flushing. 

“Oh, not much,” he replied. He had just hung out with his friends, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Brad thought he was so much better than him. Rodney Friessen owned a lot of land around them, but that was as far as it went. He had no say anywhere else. So why did it sting so much? 

He listened to his dad wash his hands as he slipped off the sofa, hearing a pickup. He stopped at the open door and saw the big green truck, fairly new, parked beside his dad’s older model Ford. He knew it was Rodney Friessen. Maybe that was why his heart was hammering in his chest so hard. 

“Is someone there?” his dad called out, and Robbie had to force himself to swallow before he could answer. 

“Mister Friessen,” he said, then went to the table and sat down, taking in his empty bowl of cereal from that morning and the pizza box. He lifted the lid just as he heard the sharp rap on the door, and as he pulled out a piece, he took in the hardened expression on his dad’s face. 

His dad stood at the screen, staring out to what Robbie knew was Mr. Friessen staring back at him. It was another second, while he forced himself to take a bite of the tasteless pizza, before his dad opened the door. 

“What do you want?” his dad said. 

“I’m here to settle some things with you,” Mr. Friessen said. There was nothing friendly in his voice, nothing friendly in his demand. For a minute, Robbie feared his dad would learn that he’d disobeyed him and had gone out to meet Brad and Neil and Jed. Then he’d basically be up shit creek, in trouble, grounded. For how long, he didn’t have a clue. He tried to make himself small as he sat there in the chair, holding the pizza over his cereal bowl. His dad glanced once to him, and he took in the flash of anger that simmered there. 

Rodney Friessen walked in and stood maybe five feet from him. 

“I am so fucking tired of all your bullshit,” Mr. Friessen said, “and you doing your damnedest to make my life a living hell. You’ve put up fences and blocked access to water for the cattle. You drive right across my field to the road when I asked you repeatedly to stay on the path by the crop of trees, the old logging road, yet you keep driving through where my cattle graze. You shoot your gun to scare them off. Then there’s all the junk you leave everywhere—old water tanks, scraps of metal. Look at this place! It looks like a fucking junkyard.” 

This was the norm, the fights with Mr. Friessen. Him and his dad would never be friends, which was likely why his dad didn’t want him being friends with Neil, Brad, and Jed. 

Yeah, his dad was mad, as well. He walked over to the fridge, pulled it open, and grabbed a bottle of beer, then used the side of the counter that was already chipped to take off the cap. Robbie heard it hit the floor. His dad took a big swallow and said nothing, but he didn’t need to. Robbie knew when his dad was at the point of no return. There was that angry stage where he would yell, and that terrified him, and then there was the quiet, which was so much worse, because it meant that his dad had gone beyond anger. He remembered it well from after his mom had died, and he didn’t want his dad there ever again. 

“You took the fence down when you drove over the field,” Mr. Friessen said. “The cows got out again.” 

“You think I want to drive down that old rutty road? No, that’s ten minutes out of the way. I have every right to drive across the way I do. Those damn cows you have don’t need to be here by my place. You have hundreds of acres and a lot of other land that’s nowhere near us. Hearing them at night, no! No more. Move them. You bet I fired off my rifle, and I’ll keep doing it. I have a job I have to get to on time without dealing with a herd that blocks my way. I have bills to pay and don’t have time to be sitting, waiting for cows to move.” 

Robbie forced himself to take another bite of pizza, wishing he could slip out and sneak off into his room with his dinner. He could put a pillow over his ears, and that would make it more bearable. But they would see him, considering Mr. Friessen was standing in his way, so he tried to shrink down so they wouldn’t know he was there. 

“Well, that’s about to come to an end,” Mr. Friessen said. 

Robbie took in his dad and the way he held his beer as Mr. Friessen reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. 

“What’s that?” his dad asked. 

“Your eviction notice.” 

His dad actually started laughing. “You’re crazy. I own this land, this place. You’re a guest here, and I’ve heard about enough from you.” 

But Mr. Friessen held the paper out to him, and his dad finally took it and flipped it open. The expression on his face brought a sick feeling to Robbie’s stomach. He clutched the pizza and couldn’t take another bite, so he put it down in his bowl. 

“You can’t do this,” his dad said. “This is impossible. You can’t own this. This is my land, my house.” 

“Actually, not anymore. I warned you before what would happen to you if you kept aggravating me, if you kept being a problem.” 

His dad lowered his hand, still holding the paper, but the expression on his face reminded Robbie of how he’d been after his mom died. “This isn’t legal. You can’t just take my land. How?” 

“I was going to put a lien on the lot, but my research revealed no official records on this place, just the fact that it was in your name and your dad’s before that. Fixing that is easy enough when you know the right people. So hear me: You have twenty-four hours to clear out everything. This is now my land, my place. If you’re still here when I come back this time tomorrow with the sheriff, with the law, who is on my side, I’ll have you arrested for trespassing and whatever other charges we come up with. I guarantee you it will be enough that you’ll never again see the light of day. Don’t think I won’t do it or can’t do it.” 

All Robbie could do was stare at this man, who was his best friend’s father, putting the screws to his dad. Then Mr. Friessen walked over to the door, and his gaze landed on Robbie for a second before it drifted back to his dad. There wasn’t a smile or anything for him. He was looking at him with the same hatred he gave his dad. 

“I mean it,” he said. “Be gone, and take everything you want, because you will not be allowed back on this land or in this county, or I’ll have you thrown in jail. Leave this town and don’t come back, because if I see you anywhere near the county line, I’ll follow through on my threat. I want you out of town tonight, and I don’t want to see or hear from you again. I have plans for this place, and now, with you gone, this eyesore on my land will be gone too.” 

Then he was gone out the door, and his dad threw his beer bottle against the wall. It shattered, and Robbie jumped. His father roared, fisting his hands. It was a sound that terrified him and chilled him to the bone. 

“Dad…” he cried out, scared as all hell. 

His father just moved over to the wall in the kitchen and sank down to the floor, resting his arms on his knees and pressing his hands to his head. Robbie didn’t know how long he sat there. He just stared at the pizza, his father, and the shattered glass on the floor. 

“Okay, go pack your bags,” his dad finally said to him. 

“But where are we going to go? What are we going to do? Dad, this is our house, isn’t it?” 

It was suddenly real. His dad moved onto his knees and stood up, then started out of the room. He pressed his hand against the doorframe and didn’t look back at Robbie. “Don’t know,” he said. “Just pack your bags. We got screwed, Robbie. That’s what happens. Don’t ever forget it. Rodney Friessen just stole everything from us, from you. He took your future. That man is the enemy. Don’t ever forget it, Robbie. The Friessens are people you should hate. He’s a bad man. These are bad people.” 

Chapter 5 

It was getting late. Neil had left Brad at the treehouse after slipping away from home and leaving Jed. His dad was in the den, on the phone, and his mom was doing laundry in back. 

Robbie should have been waiting for them at the treehouse, but he’d never come. They’d waited over an hour, he thought, the rain falling and the day a misty gray. He knew they wouldn’t be able to wait much longer, so Brad had stayed and Neil had left. 

He ran along the edge of the path to the open field, seeing Robbie’s house in the distance. He expected to see smoke coming from the stovepipe, but there was nothing, and as he ran closer, he worried that Mr. Davis would be home, but he saw nothing as he walked around the front of the house to the open porch and up its four steps. All was quiet. 

He knocked on the screen door. The inside door was closed, and he looked around but saw nothing, heard nothing. 

Neil pulled open the screen door. The squeal should have alerted anyone inside. He knocked again and listened. He expected to hear footsteps, anything, but there was nothing. He rested his hand on the doorknob, his heart thumping in his ears, and called out, “Robbie.” 

There was nothing, so he opened the door and stepped inside the kitchen. The fridge was open, and an empty bowl sat on the table. 

“Robbie,” he called out again as he stepped into the living room, seeing the walls were bare. The TV was gone, too, and there was nothing there but a sofa and a chair. All the photos were gone. Everything that made a house a home was no longer there. He went into the bathroom and saw it was empty, not a toothbrush or even a bar of soap. Then there was Robbie’s room, with just the frame of a bed and a bare mattress. The closets were empty. 

It took Neil a second to understand what he was looking at: an empty house, an empty home. His friend was just gone. 

Neil was out of breath by the time he ran back to the treehouse. 

“What took you so long? We have to go. Where’s Robbie?” Brad called out as he climbed down. 

“He’s gone,” Neil said. “The house is empty. There’s nothing there. He’s just gone. He didn’t tell us he was leaving.” Neil could feel the ache in his chest, and it was horrible, the loss. 

Brad said nothing for a second and then started walking. 

“Where are you going?” Neil called out. 

“Home,” Brad said. “We need to get home before Mom and Dad wonder where we are.” 

Neil had to run to catch up to him. “But what about Robbie?” he asked, still wondering how his friend could just leave without saying a word. 

“Guess he’s gone. What’s there to say? Come on, Neil. We need to get home before we’re in trouble.” Brad hurried down the path that led back to the house. 

“And that’s it?” Neil said. He couldn’t believe Brad could just shake it off like that. Robbie was his friend, his best friend. How could he just be gone? 

“There’s nothing to say, Neil. He left. They moved. There’s nothing you can do about it. Gone is gone,” Brad said. 

All Neil could do as they walked side by side was look over to the east end of the property and wonder where his friend had gone. 


New Release

“Never a dull moment in this latest book in this much loved series. One that highlights the reality of human trafficking…Another winner…” ★★★★★ Yvonne C., Amazon Reviewer

The Children

The Children

She picked up the wrong file, and now everything is falling apart.

 

 

From New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart comes a new Billy Jo McCabe mystery set on a small island in the Pacific Northwest. When social worker Billy Jo McCabe accidentally picks up the wrong file, she discovers a shocking, twisted mystery plotted by a high-ranking social worker in the DCFS.

 

When Billy Jo McCabe accidentally picks up the wrong file, before she realizes her mistake, she discovers a secret no one was supposed to find.

She takes the file to the newly appointed chief of police, Mark Friessen, but he doesn’t believe her—that is, until they discover dozens more files and missing money from vulnerable at-risk children who have aged out of the system and are living on the streets.

As she digs into the files, the system, and the people involved, everything falls apart.

And what Mark and Billy Jo discover is a secret far more shocking than missing money.

More info →
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As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

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