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A convicted killer on death row takes one last walk. A dying millionaire writes a startling confession. Twelve families desperate to know what happened to their daughters. A thirteenth girl disappears, blowing the entire case wide open again. Will the tortured FBI agent solve it in time to save her?

Age Rating: 18+

 

13 Angels by Mark Whitmore is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Summary

A convicted killer on death row takes one last walk. A dying millionaire writes a startling confession. Twelve families desperate to know what happened to their daughters. A thirteenth girl disappears, blowing the entire case wide open again. Will the tortured FBI agent solve it in time to save her?

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Mark Whitmore

For thirteen days I’ll comfort thee

For thirteen more I’ll cry

While thirteen angels taketh thee

To a place beyond the sky

Betty Jefferson: Sunday school teacher

***

Jacob

The sounds he noticed most of all were the ones he’d taken for granted, the kind of sounds that folks learned to ignore through the course of their everyday lives.

The mundane sounds that had seemed unimportant or insignificant were now the sounds that he listened to with the utmost respect.

His footsteps: all of them unique, all of them slightly different pitches, dependent on the surfaces that his lumbering stride carried him over.

Tonight it was concrete, overlaid with gravel, and his footfalls made a sound like his father used to make at breakfast each morning, crunching relentlessly on barely wet cereal.

A sound he’d hated as a boy, along with pretty much every other sound associated with his dear old dad.

His breath: a seemingly endless cycle to which he’d never given a second thought until now, walking the gravel coated concrete that covered the entire quarter-mile of E-block’s exercise yard.

He didn’t know whether his subconscious mind was deliberately timing each breath with his stride, or whether it was just coincidence that each breath lasted for exactly three strides, with a one-stride pause separating them.

Out crunch, crunch, crunch, one more step, and then in crunch, crunch, crunch.

He wondered for a moment whether the two guards following him were walking to the same beat; out crunch, crunch, crunch, one more step, in crunch, crunch, crunch, but soon realized that he didn’t fucking care.

Tomorrow, they would do their rounds a dozen times or more, following some fucking loser around this exercise yard.

Notlistening to their own footsteps, nottaking the slightest bit of notice of the breath escaping their lungs, or the fresh California air rushing back in to fill them again.

They would probably never appreciate the sounds of those two very simple things. Breathing. Walking. But they would still carry on doing both, blissfully unaware of just how precious those things were.

Jacob envied the two prison guards who followed him for the entire quarter mile inside the mesh-covered tunnel that formed E-blocks exercise yard.

Not because of their lives outside of the prison walls, not because they had the freedom to come and go as they wished, or because they still had the right to walk alone, anywhere they wanted to walk.

He envied them because, in just over thirteen hours, they would continue to simply ignore the sound of their breath, brush aside the sounds of their shoes striking the ground, while he, Jacob Randall, would never hear them again.

Tomorrow, at midday, they would switch off all of his sounds, all of his senses. Tomorrow, they would kill him.

He’d had no visitors during his entire seven years in San Quentin, no mail, no phone calls. He’d spoken only to thank the guards who’d brought him his meals every day. Shehad taught him about manners.

Manners were important because they separated us from the mindless animals that simply grazed in the fields or took meat from your hand without a thought for where it came from, without gratitude, without manners.

And not just animals either. He’d met people too, people with no manners, people who took things without asking, did things they shouldn’t do.

Shehad told him that those people were worse than the animals, that they understood right from wrong; they had chosen to behave like the animals, relentlessly feeding, gorging, with no thought for anyone but themselves.

Those people were Godless, those people were bad…those people were evil.

Jacob had encountered a lot of people like that, most of the people he’d ever met in fact. So he’d reached the conclusion quite early in life that people in general were flawed.

Selfish, rude, arrogant, ignorant, ugly, corrupt, rotten to their cores, bad on the inside.

Yes, people were flawed, and he would only speak to them if he absolutely had to, or if good manners dictated that he should do so.

It was those flawed people who had accused him, judged him, and sent him to this place. And tomorrow, those same flawed people would preside over his death.

Some of them just watching through the thick glass window which separated the death chamber from the viewing gallery, waiting for his heart to stop, for his chest to become still, for the sound of breathing to cease.

And others would be with him on the other side of that glass, hooking him up to the heart rate monitor, administering the poison, just doing the jobs the state was paying them to do.

By any other definition, they were simply hired assassins, paid by the hour to end life; hislife, to legally murder him. He wondered if those people felt anything; he wondered if they got a kick out of it.

He couldn’t imagine what kind of person would apply for a job that entailed the deliberate taking of life, but he imagined that those people were probably the most flawed of all.

He’d been told during his trial that first-degree murder was premeditated killing, planned in advance, and that’s what made it such a serious and unforgivable crime.

Yet the state assassins would, in a few hours, commit a murder that had been marked on the calendar by supposedly fine, stand-up members of society, and those fuckers had been planning it for seven years.

How premeditated was that?

She had told him that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. God and God alone had the right to give or take life.

God had ultimately taken them, not him…not Jacob, and when those people…those evil flawed people came to the end of their miserable lives, they would be judged by a far greater power.

For now, though, there was still breath in him, and he listened, crunch, crunch, crunch.

 

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2

John

The Marian Hospice, just on the outskirts of Santa Maria, California, was a pleasant modern building with cheerful light airy rooms, set in several acres of well-maintained ornamental gardens.

Rose beds lined either side of the sandstone paved walkways that separated four lush green, perfectly manicured lawns.

Yes, a pleasant building, despite the fact that outside of visiting hours, anyone not in a Marian Hospice uniform was either leaving or dying.

On the afternoon of August 25th, 2015, one such unlucky resident of the very pleasant Marian Hospice was being wheeled onto the terrace overlooking the gardens.

His wheelchair was fitted with a tall stainless-steel rod, to which was attached an IV drip.

On the back of the chair were two oxygen tanks, one was connected via a plastic hose to a mask which, for now, was helping this man stay alive just a little while longer.

He was a gaunt figure, looking much older than his fifty-three years, his body racked and ravaged by cancer.

Every once in a while, he would take the mask from his face, and fill what was left of his diseased lungs with the fresh southern California summer air, mildly laced with the fragrance of roses and freshly cut grass.

Despite his surroundings, and the fact that he had long ago come to terms with his drastically short life expectancy, the man was agitated today…nervous, anxious even.

His wife had visited earlier that day along with another lady. They’d been deep in conversation with him for the entire duration of their visit, but it was only after they’d eventually gone that he’d become troubled and restless.

Today would change everything.

“Hannah?” The words struggled to be formed, as there was scarcely enough air in his lungs to push them out. Hannah McCall was the care assistant assigned to him.

She took care of his needs, both medical and personal…more of a medically trained personal secretary than a nurse most of the time, but she much preferred it to the more conventional style of nursing adopted at the city hospital.

Here, every day was a little more valuable…special… and to most of the residents here who were living on borrowed time, each new day was a bonus.

Helping them make it through each of those new days with dignity and hope was what Hannah loved most about her job, but watching them endure their worst days was heart-breaking.

Sometimes she could help them, and sometimes she’d start her shift with the knowledge that a bed had become vacant overnight, and that’s what she hated most about it.

She was aware that the man who had just struggled to call out her name was once fit and healthy, and in the life he had lived before the cancer struck him down, he’d been a kind, well-meaning man.

He still was, and she sometimes saw it in his eyes, on good days at least.

“Hannah.” This time a little louder and a little more agitated. “I need you to get me a pen, and several sheets of paper. Good paper if you can find it…oh, and an envelope.”

She leaned into him. His hearing wasn’t that good now either. It seemed the cancer’s insatiable and merciless appetite had now claimed part of his brain.

“Yes, of course, John, do you need anything else?”

He rolled his eyes up to her. “No, that’s all for now, thank you”

She hit the brake on the back of the chair with the tip of her shoe, before going back inside the building to find the items he had requested, leaving him briefly alone with his thoughts…thoughts that were clearly troubling him.

A deep furrow had formed between his eyebrows. The oxygen mask was lowered again as he stared blankly at the gardens beyond, not seeing the soft yellow and white roses, or appreciating the perfectly manicured stripe-cut lawns.

He was struggling to come to terms with the pain…not from the cancer though; this pain was far, far worse…deeper.

What lay ahead today was truly harrowing, and no amount of morphine could ever relieve the pain he was about to suffer or the pain he was about to inflict.

His actions today would have far-reaching consequences for everyone he loved, everyone he knew. He was coming to his end, and as physically painful as that might be, he feared what came afterward much more.

His faith had faltered since Megan’s disappearance, and he had, at one point, come to despise those who’d kept their faith in God under similar circumstances.

So how would that God look on him now in his final hours? How would that God judge him for what he was about to do? How would Megan Judge him?

“Here you go, John.” Hannah had returned with his pen, paper, and envelope.

“Thank you,” he whispered softly, as he gestured to her to leave them on the tray in his lap.

She did as he requested before walking back inside, leaving him alone on the terrace.

He stared at the blank page for what seemed like hours, as if he was contemplating whether or not to go through with any of it, but he knew what he needed to do.

What he had to write… he just dreaded the storm that would come once it was written.

He gripped the pen so tightly that his diseased blood couldn’t circulate around his fingers, leaving them as white as chalk.

The early evening sun cast a long shadow in front of the pen as it made contact with the paper beneath, soiling the clean white cotton weave surface with royal blue as the ink flowed over the tiny ball at the tip of the pen.

Grinding his teeth and taking in a pitiful gasp of oxygen which barely inflated his ailing lungs, John Philip Forrette started to write.

Hannah

Hannah McCall was raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but moved to California with her father and little brother in the fall of 1998 after losing her mother to leukemia earlier that year.

The year Hannah McCall turned ten years of age and the year her childhood ended.

After her mother passed, her father, Larry, sold his small farm in Fort Wayne and bought a modest house in Lompoc, California.

He was a good man…quiet, but strong, he kept the scale of his grief hidden from his children in an attempt to allow them to move on with their own lives.

But as well-hidden, as he’d kept it, that grief grew in the darkest part of his mind until it began to consume him.

By 2007, when Hannah was just seventeen, he had reached rock bottom, and in the winter of that year, Larry McCall washed down seventy-six Tylenol tablets with a quarter bottle of Jack Daniels.

Although the alarm was raised, and his stomach pumped, the damage had been done, and Hannah’s father died of renal failure a week and a half later.

Hannah did the best she could for a while to look after her little brother, David, but most of her time was consumed by study and work.

David had been having a hard time adjusting to life in California anyway, so Hannah arranged for him to live with their grandparents, back in Indiana.

Being back there with his friends, in familiar surroundings would be better for him than anything his big sister could arrange in California.

Her father had left everything to his two children, including a house with three years still to run on the mortgage and a 1984 Honda Civic.

The car would be her ride to and from college, the mall, and the Marian Hospice, where she had started as a part-time care assistant.

After just a few months at the Marian, she swapped college for medical school where she trained as a nurse for the next three years before joining the Marian full time.

At barely five feet tall and quite petite, Hannah was unconventionally beautiful, with features some would regard as striking.

Her mahogany brown shoulder-length hair framed her face perfectly, and her almost porcelain white freckled skin contrasted beautifully against her blue-green eyes, like lagoons on a white sandy beach.

She had a warm, inviting smile that was, on most occasions, somewhat infectious, giving her a quality which people adored; something rare and wonderful.

She was genuine, and everyone seemed to trust her without question, without a doubt.

She also had a great affinity with the dying. Maybe she could relate to them as a result of her mother’s tragic early passing.

Or maybe she was just an incredibly selfless, warm-hearted girl from the moment she took her first breath of fresh Indiana air.

Whatever the reason, to those who were unfortunate enough to be spending their last days, weeks, or months at the Marian Hospice, she was nothing short of an angel.

Hannah had taken her coffee break after leaving John Forrette on the terrace. The staff break room was a small annex to the rear of the main building, also overlooking the terrace and the gardens beyond.

The sun had started to tip its hat and wish the world a peaceful night, and in doing so had painted the evening sky a brilliant dusky orange.

From where she was seated, she had a good view of the terrace where John, who was now just a silhouette, was waiting. He was motionless, staring into the burnt ochre that separated the land from the sky.

A great sadness washed over Hannah as she watched this man, who was once a boy, and then a teenager, a doting father, and successful businessman, for this is what it came to in the end.

Sitting on the terrace of a hospice alone, gaunt, tubes trailing in and out of his frail body, taking his last few thousand breaths in a place built for the dying.

As Hannah returned to John on the terrace, she was aware that he had been crying.

Wet streaks lined his face, and there were marks on the envelope in his lap where the tears had fallen, soaking through the light blue cotton of his pajama pants.

She crouched next to him and he gestured her to come closer. His words were hard to push out, and he needed her close enough to make sure he only had to say them once.

She bent her knees and leaned in toward him until her face was just inches from his.

“Hannah…” He took in more oxygen, grasping the envelope, taking it from the tray on his lap and offering it to her, but when she grasped it, he held on to one corner and looked her square in the eye.

“Hannah…I have to make sure that this is delivered…it has to…be tomorrow…” He put the mask to his face again and breathed deeply as he was able.

“I know this is not something that I should ever ask of you…but I’m in a bit of a fix…and I…could really use your… help.”

Hannah smiled and very gently gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze with her free hand. “I can get the parcel service to pick it up…where does it need to be?”

John took another gulp of oxygen. “San Diego, it needs to go to San Diego, has to be there by morning…no parcel service, Hannah, this has to be physically put into this man’s hand by someone I trust.”

“San Diego. That would be a nine-hour return trip for me…What about your wife, could she take it?” Hannah wasn’t a great fan of driving, and nine hours in her old Civic would be hell on her back.

“My wife? I love her dearly but she doesn’t travel well, and although I trust her with many things, not looking inside this envelope wouldn’t be one of them.

“If she looks inside, she will not deliver it…trust me, I know that if I ask you to not look inside this envelope, then you won’t.” He gazed up at Hannah.

“There really is no one else I can trust with this…not with the time frame I have, if there were…” He trailed off and took in more oxygen. His breathing had become more and more shallow over the past two days.

He released his grip on the tear-stained envelope and Hannah raised it higher so that the recipient’s name was facing her.

“Sam Blake,” she read out loud.

“Yes.” The man in the wheelchair spoke a little louder now and seemed anxious.

“Sam Blake is a senior agent at the FBI field office in San Diego, I know it’s over four hours drive from here, and he won’t be there until nine tomorrow morning.

“But you have to hand it to him, no one else, and it has to be him, and it has to be morning…do you understand?”

She nodded and studied the envelope as if it would give up some magical secret if she stared at it long enough.

He broke the brief silence, speaking softer this time. “Hannah…a man’s life depends on this letter getting to Sam first thing tomorrow morning and it has to be early.

“If you look in the drawer next to my bed, there’s a small brown envelope for you, Hannah. I know you won’t be here with me tomorrow, so please take it with you when you leave this evening.

“All I ask is that you don’t open it until around this time tomorrow evening…it’s important that you understand that part.”

She looked at him somewhat baffled. “John, forgive my ignorance…but this is 2016…if this letter is as important as you say it is…why don’t you email it to the guy in San Diego…I have a laptop you can use…”

He shook his head. “No…no emailing Hannah…I could never be sure that he’d pick it up in time…or that it would actually be him reading it at the other end…

“I know him…checks his emails once a month or gets someone else to check them…and don’t tell me to call him…trust me…this has to be in writing…there has to be a hard copy…please…”

Hannah squeezed his shoulder once more in a gesture of reassurance. “Okay, John…I’ll make sure it gets to San Diego by morning, I’ll leave before the sun comes up.

“If there’s no traffic on the 101, I can be there at around eight a.m. I have a couple of days off now, so I guess there’ll be no rush to get back.”

“Hannah…please, no matter what…don’t be tempted to read what’s in here. This is for Sam Blake’s eyes, and no one else’s. He’ll ask you if you know what’s in it, and he’ll know if you’ve seen the contents.

“Trust me…you don’t want that level of attention.”

He grabbed her arm with what little strength he had left. “Promise me, Hannah…don’t look inside the envelope.”

“Okay, John! Relax. I get it. No peeking!”

As the cool night air blew in from the coast, Hannah freed the brake on John’s wheelchair and gently turned him around.

As she pushed the chair back inside, she couldn’t help but wonder whether it was the night air rolling in off the ocean that was making him tremble, or something else.

 

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