I still had one more lead to follow, though. Whenever I found the ringleader, I was bringing Brant straight to him. And I was absolutely certain that the man I was meeting at Under Grounds tonight was the guy in charge. Sean had checked up on the dealers – Dani and Tori; he’d been in cahoots with the supplier – Kevin Jones; and there was only one person left – the boss.
“Brant, you have to come with me,” I begged, standing in his office, holding an entire pie of pizza.
“Mer, I’ve got too much going on around here.”
“Brant, seriously. There’s people dying in fires and other people selling drugs. And I’ve found the guy in charge.”
“Meredith, I’m busy.”
“I can take you to the guy who has Dani.”
“You don’t know who has Dani. If you knew who he was, I’d know. Now just chill out ok?”
“I know there’s at least one Garrison who’s got enough integrity to do what’s right. Now, I thought that was you, but you know now that I think of it, it’s probably actually Joseph.”
“I’m sorry,” I conceded. “It’s just that I know, I know I know I swear I know, that this is the guy who has Dani. And we need to confront him. I can’t do this alone unless you want me to get kidnapped, too.”
“You won’t get kidnapped.”
“How do you know?”
“Trust me,” he said as he flipped open the pizza box.
“I do trust you. So much. You know that right?” I pleaded. “That’s why this is so hard. Because I want to listen to your reason and believe that your plan is the right way to go, but then I realize that you don’t have a plan. I do. And I know in my gut that my plan is the right one. So if you’re not going to go with me, then let me use your phone so I can call Joseph.”
I know I’d hurt his feelings. Joseph was always the favored one. He was kinder and smarter. Brant couldn’t have gotten into law school if he’d tried. I’d always pledged to Brant that he was my favorite Garrison, and here I was seemingly taking it back.
He didn’t say anything as he picked up the phone and dialed. When Joseph got on the line, he simply handed me the phone and went back to his pizza.
“Brant,” I said, with my hand over the receiver. “I’m sorry.” He nodded, but couldn’t manage to meet my eyes. “Hey Joseph,” I said into the phone, while eyeing Brant, waiting for him to look up. “I need your help. Are you free right now?”
It was broad daylight as we parked in front of Under Grounds. No one could kidnap me in broad daylight, and especially not if I had Joseph with me. Though what Joseph had in brains, he lacked in muscles. Brant was definitely built to be the protector. But Joseph could take some guys I’m sure, I told myself that my safety all depended on how big was the guy who was sitting inside Under Grounds.
“Let me get a look at him first,” I told Joseph. “If he sees you, he might know he’s being set up. When he sees me, he’ll just think I’m an innocent girl coming in to work on my writing or something.”
“I’m right behind you,” Joseph said. “I’ll count to 60 first.” He grinned. He had that amazing way of playing it cool in the most stressful situations.
About 60 seconds later, I heard Joseph’s steps approaching from behind and I whirled around, placing my hand on his shoulder. “He’s not here,” I said.
Joseph tried to walk closer to the window, to get a look, and I put the other hand up as a firmer barricade. “What do you mean he’s not here?” he asked. “How do you know who he is? He could be anyone in there.”
“There’s no one in there,” I said. “Empty. Completely empty.”
“What about the guy who runs the place?” You couldn’t out logic Joseph Garrison. I pushed harder on his surprisingly firm chest muscles, but Joseph eased past me. As he peered in through the window I knew he was seeing what I’d just seen – one guitar-strumming kid, one artsy girl oohing over his songs, and one Caleb Mitchell.