see all disclaimers in Chapter 1
Monday morning Lonnie hung her coat on the rack then saw her boss trundling through the office. Is he still mad about Angelina? May as well get this over with. “Ben,” she called to him. He nodded and turned toward her desk. “I can’t believe it!” she exclaimed with surprise, “I thought I’d come back to stacks of work left over from last week. But look at my desk. There’s barely the normal Monday morning amount here. What gives?”
She moved behind her desk and sat down, waiting for him to tie into her about losing their best sales rep.
“Humpf,” Benny growled, “Had everybody working overtime to get caught up while you were gone.” He scowled as normal then plastered a phony smile on his face, “Uh, I need to talk to you. Step into my office for a minute, if you would. Please.”
Please? Lonnie cocked her head. What was going on? Why didn’t she have more work? She’d been sure she’d have to work overtime all week just to make up for her time off the last week. Was he going to can her? Was he that mad about Angelina? He was being awfully polite. And that wasn’t like Benny at all. It made her extra nervous. “Sure.” She rose and followed him into his office.
“Close the door,” he demanded, then again added politely, “Please.” Now two “pleases” were definitely abnormal. Benny never asked anyone to close his door “please”. Ever. She noted his desk was crammed with work. Yeah, he was going to can her. She felt her heart sink.
“Okay.” Lonnie closed the door, plopped down in a chair and crossed her legs. “About Angelina,” she started with a sigh. The best she could hope was to explain her part in the whole affair.
“Something you want to tell me?” Benny asked, sitting behind his desk and lacing his fingers together.
He looked...unreal somehow. Not like himself at all. She leaned forward. “Jeez, Ben, I tried to get Angelina to stay. I really did.” Her eyes searched his face. “They just offered her too much. She couldn’t refuse.”
Benny lifted a hand. “I understand. We know all about that jerk from Chicago and his fetching offers. He’s not a nice guy, by the way.” His eyes pierced hers, questioningly. “He’s not a nice guy at all!”
He didn’t have to sell her on that point. “I know.”
“I hope you do.”
Of course, I do. “I saw him in action up close, remember,” Lonnie reminded.
“So I’ve heard. Before you say anything else, I want to inform you that we are fully prepared to make a very good counteroffer. VERY good.” Lonnie started to reply, but he raised his hand to stop her. “I know it probably isn’t all that was offered, but there are definite pluses to working here instead of there. For one thing, the turnover rate at his business is atrocious. People drop out of there like dead flies in fly spray.”
“Uh, yeah...” Lonnie was perplexed. Why was he telling her all this. Why wasn’t he telling Angelina? Did he expect her to convince Angelina?
“Not so here. Now I know we’ve had you working overtime far, far too much, Lonnie. I’m making some moves to ensure you’ll at least have most of your weekends free. That’s expected in most jobs. Even management jobs.” Lonnie stared at him. What’s he saying? “We don’t want to lose you, Lonnie.”
“Yes. You can quit pretending. Angelina let it slip when she was in here last week. Guess we should have figured that jerk’d go after you. He always goes after the best.”
“He offered you double your salary, didn’t he?”
Lonnie blinked. “Well, almost, yes, but...”
“We can’t match that, but we can make this offer.” He quietly wrote an amount on a piece of paper and coyly handed it to her. Lonnie was stunned. The amount before her was an exceptionally nice increase in pay. “It’s a hellova...uh, uh, heck of a good starting salary for someone in management,” Benny went on. ”The LA office agrees, you’re well worth it. And I’m ready to guarantee at least three weeks out of every four you won’t have to come in on the weekends at all. If somebody has to be here, I’ll come.” Course, he did anyway.
Lonnie sat back and stared. Her first impulse was to laugh. She’d thought she was going to be canned. With difficulty she stifled the laugh.
“And furthermore,” Benny added proudly, “it’s retroactive to the beginning of your last pay period. It will show up in the check you pick up today. So, what do you say?”
Carelessly she shrugged. “Sold,” she smiled. Should she tell him she’d never seriously considered the man from Chicago’s offer? No. Best they think they’d won her over.
Benny beamed. “Great. You need to sign a new contract and we’ll be all set.” He looked at her nervously.
She knew the standard contracts forward and backwards. “No problem.” Benny whipped out a filled contract and placed it before her. She gave it a quick look over. Standard. “Where do I sign?” she asked. He handed her a pen and pointed. “Oh, and about my check,” she continued, “Can I get it at noon? Ruby and the baby are coming in and I can take it by the bank when I take them home.”
Benny snatched the signed contract from her and examined it. “Just call down to Muriel and ask her to have it ready for you.” He looked up, “And, uh, Lonnie, it’s better if everyone else isn’t aware how much you make. That’s just normal operating procedure. We never give out management’s salaries.”
“Sounds good to me,” she smiled. “I will get a copy of the contract, though, right?”
“I’ll run it off on the machine and get it right to you.” Benny was a bundle of smiles.
Lonnie rose to leave. “Thanks, Ben.” She opened the door.
Again he raised his hand. “Wait a minute,” he began rustling through the papers on his desk. He put together a healthy stack and handed it to her. “Here. These are some from last week that we didn’t get to. Add ‘em to your others.”
Lonnie laughed. She knew her relatively clear desk was too good to be true. “It’s good to be home,” she chortled. “Oh, and did you check with legal about Angelina?” She put her free hand on the door frame and leaned into his office.
Benny looked up with his normal, growl-like features. “Yeah. Buzzard tried to have her take our customers with her all right, but we stopped that little move. Sales department’s been busting their butts to tie down every one of ‘em.” He began to rustle through the work on his desk. A quick glance back up. “And legal threatened to slap his hands real damn good. He won’t be trying that with us again any time soon.”
“Glad to hear it. I hope they sting him good.” Now it was Benny’s turn to cock his head. She was still loyal. That was a very good sign. “Humpf,” he growled in pleasure.
Lonnie headed back to her desk with a little song on her lips. See, baby girl, she hummed to herself. What your Momma and I talked about. Do what you love doing, whether it’s college or not, and you’ll succeed in life. It was good to be home.
Postcard in hand, Nicole again reread the words then checked the address. Well, fudge. Ruby knows I’m in a sorority. Will she think I’ve sold out? She had, of course.
“Who’s Beth?” a voice behind her demanded, startling her. Nicole hadn’t heard her roommate come in. This audacious sorority sister was early from class.
“Someone I used to know,” Nicole replied nonchalantly. Nicole knew this horrible person was reporting her every move to her parents. It made her seethe inside.
“Someone from the dorm, you mean?” the roommate sniffed. The way she said “dorm” made it sound like a dirty word. Of course there were girls in the sorority who thought the dorm girls were slugs. But most were pleasant enough. How pleased her parents had been when Nicole had pledged, mostly thanks to David’s wealthy father’s influence.
“You figure it out,” Nicole needled. She saw the girl eyeing the card. “Good grief, you think this means something clandestine?” Nicole laughed. “Gods, you’re sillier than I thought. Here, read it again. Read it really well.” She held the postcard out for the woman’s perusal. “And if you see anything clandestine, let me know.” Getting no response, she dropped the card carelessly on her desk and opened her other mail, a letter from her cousin Georgia.
Smiling on the outside, inside Nicole was fuming. What exactly had her parents told this horrible creature to watch for? Whatever it was, any hint that she was in contact with Ruby would royally set them off. She knew that for sure. Gods! See what I have to contend with Rube? Later she’d hide the precious postcard inside the secret compartment in her stuffed dog she’d named Madam Woo Woo. Best her folks not run across it. She wouldn’t be able to fake them out so easily.
After all, they were in contact, she and Ruby. She kept a smile from twitching at the corners of her mouth. Ruby was in San Francisco. It pleased Nicole immeasurably to get a card, as though they were still dear, devoted friends and the world hadn’t gone crazy on them yet.
She knew David wouldn’t say anything to her parents about meeting Ruby and Lonnie. He rarely mentioned anything they did. He considered her parents beneath him. Besides, his jaw was now wired after his run in with her two friends. He certainly didn’t want to have anything to do with them again. In fact, he’d told everyone he and Nicole were jumped by a gang of cutthroats in Portland, and it was his boxing skill that’d kept Nicole safe. Nicole gladly went along with the deception.
But David was in the wrong this time, not that she’d tell him that. She smiled. Imagine, her dear friend little Ruby had dropped her big, muscular boyfriend to the ground when he’d threatened. That still amazed her. Little Ruby. Course Ruby didn’t know David hadn’t really hurt her when he’d swatted her head. And he wouldn’t have hurt the baby, would he? Or threatened the two women either if they hadn’t accosted him.
She put a hand gently to her ribs. When they got back to his apartment after their Portland trip Nicole had taken her punishment for David’s distress. Her painfully cracked ribs still made breathing difficult. They hurt badly where he’d kicked her, kicked her hard, after he’d thrown her against the wall. He didn’t mean it, of course. He was just so hurt and angry. He tried to control his temper. Sometimes he just didn’t know his own strength.
She saw her roommate pick up her cable car postcard and examine both sides in the desk light, expecting perhaps invisible ink. Couldn’t resist, could ya? She wanted to laugh out loud. Nicole had already memorized what it said.
‘Dear Nicole,’ it started. ‘The cable cars here ride to the FuFu Heights and beyond. They’re a lot of fun. Have been all around Fisherman’s Wharf. You’d love the food. Have fallen in love with my handsome cousin, Johnny. He can always make me smile. Wish you were here, Beth.’
Sweet little Bethy, my fufu baby girl, Nicole thought. One day after he’s a married man, David will settle down and want children, and we’ll have a bunch just like you. Be good to your Momma, fufu girl. She’s been through a lot. Ruby’s a wonderful gal, with a gorgeous woman as a partner, lucky stiff. But I’m not that way, am I? It’s so unfair that my parents constantly make me prove to them that I’m not. Everything’s their fault, theirs and Ruby’s wacky family’s!
She would graduate from college despite her parents’ demanding interference in her life. She’d follow their rules, most of the time, to get her degree paid for. Then she’d marry David, and that most of all would serve her parents right. Of course, they never discussed their concerns about her and Ruby with David. That would be unthinkable. And he never let them talk down to her about anything when he was around. So they were pretty formal around him. They were certainly impressed with his family’s money and community standing. They deserved having their own finances drained. Keeping up with the Jones’. What a laugh! Let ‘em feel they couldn’t compete with David’s family, because, of course, they couldn’t.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the woman drop the postcard back on her desk and move to her own side of the room. Stupid ox, Nicole thought. She turned away from the woman and looked out the window. I’m forced to live with the gestapo just like the Army squadron in the movies, Ruby girl. But it’s not forever. One day I’ll be free of them with my own children to do for... lots and lots of little ones to love. Think of your old friend sometimes and kiss your sweet baby fufu girl for me.
“I appreciate your cutting my check early for me, Muriel,” Lonnie smiled brightly. “I’m sorry I’m keeping you from lunch. Ruby and the baby will be here soon and I can take it by the bank when I take them home.” She looked at the clock, “And get back before lunch is over...I hope”
“Hey, nothing’s too good for you these days.” Muriel coughed a deep smoker’s hack. “Course you always could be late from lunch and nobody’d say word one. You work so many hours overtime, nobody’d dare.” She snickered, “But shoot, this time Benny says you’re to be treated like royalty.”
“Really?” Lonnie laughed. “That’s a first.”
“No kidding. Benny’s not much of a royalty guy. More like a royal pain in the kazoo, that’s about as far as his royalty stuff has ever gone.” She and Benny had been friends a long time. Muriel’s wrinkles wrinkled when she winked, “Nice raise, by the way. It’s about time they paid you what you’re worth around here, you want my opinion.”
“I’m not supposed to talk about my salary,” Lonnie laughed at the way Muriel rolled her eyes. “I think it’s too bad we couldn’t have kept Angelina, too.”
Muriel’s deep gravely smoker’s voice rasped, “Benny said he could offer it to her or he could offer it to you. He chose you.” On a post near her desk someone had posted the office “No Smoking” sign, always observed by Muriel except when she worked weekends. It was obvious she now longed for a cigarette. She peeled the paper off some gum and shoved it into her mouth.
Lonnie was stunned. “I didn’t know Benny did that.”
“Oh sure, like that was a choice. Come on. You’re family. She’s a visitor. He made the right choice. Benny’s no dummy.”
“I had no idea.” Lonnie’s mouth hung open but she seemed helpless to shut it. He’d chosen between the two of them? Not that Angelina would have taken it if he’d chosen her, but it was the thought that counted.
Muriel laughed. “Well, Benny has a way of turning people into fish out of water. That’s what you look like about now.”
Lonnie shut her mouth. “I didn’t know.”
Lonnie edged to the window. “Oh, there’s Ruby and the baby now. She just pulled into my parking space.”
“Go down and get that poor girl past those wolves in shipping for crap sakes. And bring her up here. I want a face to face with this ex-employee of ours and that little darlin’ I’ve heard so much about. I’ll have this done by the time you get her here.”
Lonnie beamed. “Okay. I’ll bring her right up.” She scrambled for the metal door of the stairway and ran down, her loud footfalls clanging through the metallic stairwell chamber. She could hear the wolf whistles as she pushed her way through the heavy door onto the shipping floor. “Hold it down, guys!” she called. She hustled through the open bay door and jumped off the platform onto the parking lot pavement. “Hey, Ruby,” she called, waving.
Ruby looked over with a wide smile. “There’s your Mumsy,” she told the infant she carried in her arms. “This is where she works. See what a big, important building it is. Wait till she hears what a good checkup you had.”
“Hi, sweetheart,” Lonnie rushed up breathlessly and put a hand out to stroke the baby’s cheek. “Wait till you hear what your Mumsy did,” she grinned at the baby, who responded to her voice by happily kicking her feet and flailing her arms.
Ruby stopped and looked up questioningly, “What did you do?”
Lonnie grinned, “I got a raise.”
“You did? Cause you were asked to go to the conference?”
“Yes and no. Because that jerk from Chicago made me an offer, and Benny heard about it and counter offered.”
“But you weren’t going to take....”
“Shhh. I know, but they don’t need to know that.”
Ruby’s face was as surprised as Lonnie’s had been. “A raise?”
“A big raise,” Lonnie confirmed. “C’mon. Muriel wants to meet you.” She saw the look of confusion on Ruby’s face. “Payroll.”
“Oh, sure. I remember Muriel.”
Lonnie took Ruby’s elbow and walked with her to the platform stairs. “You look really nice, by the way.”
“Thanks. It’s my new dress. And your daughter just had a wonderful check up. The doctor says she’s very healthy and doing extremely well. She said the trip turned out to be very good for her.”
“May I take her?” Lonnie asked. Ruby carefully transferred the baby to Lonnie. The brunette cuddled the little girl in her arms. “Hey guys,” she called, “come and meet my daughter, Elizabeth Ruby Shaeker.”
Ruby stood back as the people from the shipping floor crowded around the baby in Lonnie’s arms. The blonde smiled proudly as their questions and comments flew around Lonnie’s head. There was a lot of teasing going on. It was a good ten minutes before the three of them got to the elevator to head to payroll.
“Here she is,” Lonnie called proudly as the elevator doors opened onto the payroll floor. “Oh,” her eyes met the twinkling blue eyes of Angelina Osborn standing at Muriel’s desk. “Angelina, hi. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Angelina was nothing if not composed. “Picking up my final check, I’m afraid,” she smiled ruefully. “I’m packing for Chicago.”
“I heard. We’re sorry to see you go,” Lonnie proclaimed.
Ruby examined the redheaded beauty. So this was Angelina Osborn. She was quite a looker. And the way she looked at Lonnie did not please the blonde.
“And who do we have here?” Angelina’s eyes fell on the baby, but she hadn’t missed the blonde following behind Lonnie. Cute blonde! She stepped forward to view the infant.
“Where’s my manners?” Lonnie exclaimed. “I’d like you to meet my partner Ruby,” she put her free arm to bring Ruby around beside her. “Hon, this is Angelina Osborn, the lady we missed at dinner that night in San Francisco.”
“Oh yes. Nice to meet you,” Ruby said, putting her hand out.
“Lonnie’s partner,” Angelina’s voice licked around the words. She took Ruby’s hand and gently held it. “So pleased to meet you.”
“And this is Bethy,” Lonnie smiled, her eyes dancing over the darling little girl in her arms. “Our daughter.”
“Ladies,” Muriel’s deep, raspy voice interrupted. She stood at her desk. “Here’re your checks.” She walked over and handed a check to Angelina, “And here’s yours,” she handed another to Lonnie. “This is where I hold the baby.” She reached to take the infant from Lonnie’s arms.
“Careful,” Lonnie admonished, afraid the older lady’d gather Bethy in the wrong places.
“Get away, Management,” Muriel scowled. “I raised five kids. I don’t need lessons. Aren’t you just precious?” She held the baby out and tilted her back and forth gently. For some reason Bethy was enchanted by Muriel and her voice. She smiled and gurgled and kept her eyes on the woman’s face. “You come and visit your Aunt Muriel any time, little babushka,” Muriel cooed, folding the little one into her arms. “Aunty Muriel’ll always stop to give you the time of day.” Ruby stood at her elbow. “So you’re Ruby, huh?” Muriel asked suddenly, turning to the blonde.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ruby replied.
“Oh, Muriel, I’m sorry,” Lonnie bumbled. “I should have reintroduced you.”
“Get away, Management,” Muriel warned Lonnie again. She turned back to Ruby, “You saved Benny’s butt last year,” the older woman smiled. “I should be giving you a check just for the change in attitude in that man. Or a medal. Made him livable again, thank God.”
“It was mostly Lonnie’s doing,” Ruby admitted.
“Benny tells me he kissed Lonnie for her part and she nearly gagged to death. You let her get away with that?”
Ruby laughed nervously, followed by Angelina. “No, ma’am,” Ruby replied.
“Well, I would hope not. Benny’s one of the good guys.” She shot Angelina a look. “C’mon, everybody, we’re going to the lunchroom. That’s where everybody is right now.”
“I have packing to finish,” Angelina said, stepping away, “So I’ll say goodbye and wish you all luck.”
“You, too, Angelina,” Lonnie replied. You’ll need it working for that jerk from Chicago. She wondered how long Angelina would last at the Chicago firm, but Muriel was already headed with Ruby to the elevator, and she had to hurry to catch up. She saw Angelina standing watching them as the elevator doors closed.
“Probably a real good thing she’s on her way to Chicago,” Muriel observed cryptically before cooing once more to Bethy as the elevator doors closed.
Home alone for the afternoon, a load of washing going in the laundry room, the baby asleep, Ruby turned on the computer to check their email. After being gone a week the list was long, most being unsolicited ads. But the very first and thus the last email to arrive was from Carolyn in California, Lonnie’s sister’s neighbor. Ruby clicked on it. She couldn’t believe her eyes. She’d found her. Already Carolyn had found her.
Ruby stared at the address on the screen. There it was, her sister’s address in Iowa, complete with email address. She reached out and touched the screen. My sis. Are you lost to me, too? she wondered morosely.
She held her breath, then typed in the email address on a blank email. Her hands shook as she typed in a short letter of greeting, asking about her sister’s family. In the next paragraph she explained that no matter what her parents had said about her, it probably wasn’t true. What was true was that she and her partner were the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl.
Not wishing to add any more details, she ended the letter with “Love, Ruby.” She paused to reread, her heart pounding. She sucked in a deep breath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, she told herself. Quickly she hit “send” before she lost her nerve. And the deed was done.
Ruby called a very excited Maddy later that evening. “We’re home,” she said joyously.
“Oh, I hope you had a fantastic time.”
“We did! You can’t believe how wonderful it was.”
“That’s great. Hey, guess what, Ruby?” Maddy couldn’t contain her enthusiasm, “We’re buying a motorhome!”
“You are? Wow! I knew you were looking. Which one did you decide on, the big one or the small one? Uh, not that the smaller one was all that small, as I recall.”
“You’re right. It isn’t. It’s a class A, too. That’s the one we picked. Chase was afraid we’d have trouble parking the bigger one in our lot. You know, with the insurance and everything, you have to think about where you store a motorhome. Not that we’re really going to store it. We plan to use it all year round. I’m so excited.”
“I can tell,” Ruby laughed, holding back the information from their trip. “So what color did you guys choose?”
“Oh, we decided to go with the pink interior instead of the blue. We liked them both, but Chase thought the pink looked classier with the oak and the brass trim. And I agreed.”
“When do you get it?”
“They said to expect delivery in about a month. We can hardly wait.”
“It just sounds marvelous, Maddy.”
“Yeah. And we want you guys to come with us on our first trip. Please, please? There’ll be plenty of room. We’ll stay in the queen size bedroom but up front the couch turns into a bed and so does the table. And you can even put the bassinet across the front seats if you want. There’s just tons of space. We’re thinking of going to the beach, maybe, up around Seaside or Warrenton. That way. We can stay at Fort Steven’s Park.”
“Gosh, it sounds like a lot of fun. But I’ll have to discuss it with Lonnie.” She glanced at the bedroom where Lonnie was changing into jeans.
“I want to hear all about your trip to San Francisco, but don’t forget to ask Lonnie about Seaside. Oh, I can hardly wait.”
Ruby chuckled, “I’ll ask. And we had a marvelous time in California. Say, can you guys come over Saturday night for pinocle? We could tell you both all about our adventures, and we’ll be able to print off the pictures by then. And, of course, we can discuss your motorhome too.” She lowered her voice, “Uh, since we just got back from one trip, I’m not too sure how Lonnie’s going to react to going on another. Do you want to talk to her now?”
“No, Saturday might be better. Listen, I’ve got to go help measure our extra parking space. Lonnie’ll be lots easier to convince if we all pressure her at one time. So Saturday it is!” Maddy laughed conspiratorially. “I can hardly wait to see your pictures.
Before they hung up Ruby got the number of the counselor Maddy had talked about. Tuesday morning when Lonnie had gone to work, she nervously called to make an appointment. She felt refreshed after their trip to San Francisco and, though nervous, was ready to take on life again.
Bills were much easier to pay with Lonnie’s raise. Wednesday Ruby put the baby on a blanket on the rug while she busied herself filling them out, talking to the infant as she did so. Now that the washing was done, she had a good deal of ironing awaiting, not to mention getting back into the normal swing of things. The condo needed vacuuming and dusting and a grocery list needed to be filled out. By that evening Ruby hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that she had not received a reply from the email she’d sent her sister.
She cooked dinner and was delighted to see Lonnie come home at a decent hour. Over dinner the brunette talked eagerly about the projects she had going at work. If anything, her raise seemed to foretell spending less time at the office than before. They both wondered how long that would last, but decided to enjoy it while it did.
After dinner Ruby had fed the baby and put her in her crib to nap before tackling the dishes. Once the baby was up again, she’d bathe the little one. Then while Lonnie rocked her, she’d try to dig up some recipe for a treat to bake for their Saturday night guests. She decided she’d save the clam chowder in the bread for a colder turn in the weather. Coming up with something good was half the fun of entertaining.
Lonnie moved into the living room and pulled the business section out of the newspaper. She glanced at Ruby putting left overs into plastic containers. “I’m going to raise you to know about stocks, bonds, real estate and investments, Bethy,” she muttered even though the baby was asleep in her crib in the nursery. She chuckled, “Especially after I take some night classes so I know more.” She dropped the paper by the rocker. She’d get caught up on that soon enough. First she had a call to make.
“Hi. We’re home,” Lonnie said quietly into the receiver. “Do you have time to bring me up to date?” She watched Ruby clearing off the table. It was after seven but she’d been sure Nyri would be at work.
“Hi, Lonnie. Sure,” Nyri dropped her hands from the keyboard, adjusted her phone headset and reached for a file. “Hold on a minute. Let me grab my notes.”
“Uh, I want to apologize for being so...you know, so crabby when I talked to you in San Francisco. I don’t know what got into me. You didn’t deserve that reaction from me.”
Nyri laughed. “No problem. I probably would have been every bit as bad if I’d found out I was being tailed. Ah, here it is. Our perp’s real name is Henry Joe Turcots, nicknamed “Slick”.
“Sure does. Like I told you before, he’s served time twice, the first as a young teenager. That part was expunged but he’s still got robbery, assault, breaking and entering, auto theft and such on his record. Nothing after his last prison release, though, which just means he’s gotten more skilled, excuse my cynicism.”
“No rape, though?”
“No, there’s no rape and little substantiated domestic violence. Word is he put his teenage ex-wife in the hospital but she didn’t press charges. Two little kids, one after the other. Then he left her, got a common law, left her, suspected violence but again no charges, refined his style and got into the date rape business. And he’s not that old.”
“Sterling character.” Lonnie shuddered thinking how Bethy’s biological father seemed to have left two children somewhere, children that would be Bethy’s half-siblings. “Where is the ex-wife and kids?”
“Huh?” It caught Nyri by surprise. “Oh, well, it looks like both women took off with other men when Slick was in jail. One neighbor said the ex-wife remarried and took her kids with her, but we’ve found nothing legal to certify that so far. And, of course, neither left a forwarding address, more than likely attempts to get out of old Slick’s scrutiny.”
“What a creep he is.”
“Yes, and date rape seems to be working for him, I’m sorry to say. Not one conviction, not yet, even though it appears he’s been plenty busy. What’s worse, he seems to take pleasure in harassing his victims every way he can. A sadistic monster. He’s brimming with confidence. He thinks his alias is secure and his business credentials are solid, and he’s careful, but I doubt he knows much about DNA.”
“So how do you know he’s been plenty busy?”
“I’m working on a computer program that ferrets out his particular m.o.. It’s not easy, considering the scope of the crime and the complex array of operating platforms. Has to be especially designed to interface with each unit’s proprietary system. Time consuming. I’ve got the western states done. I keep it running night and day for updates. After much filtering, so far I’ve narrowed down close to fifteen crimes that we suspect could easily be his.”
“Gods! Did he leave a long trail of children behind him?” Does Bethy have a bunch of half siblings?
“No, well, I don’t know about the unreported crimes. It’s more likely there. Of the reported ones, most of the victims used the morning after pills to ensure they didn’t get pregnant. But I suspect there are children out there. The reason I say that is that he’s made a point of demanding father’s rights, designed, I’m sure to terrify his pregnant victims. After all, NO ONE seriously believes his goal was parenthood. Can you believe the audacious brazenness of this schmuck?”
“Do rapists have such a thing as ‘rights’? How is that possible?”
“Rape has to be proven,” Nyri reminded quietly. “And he knows that.”
“Oh, Lord,” Lonnie scowled, feeling a sharp jab in her stomach. So he was claiming father’s rights? That would scare Ruby pretty badly. She’d heard rumors of this kind of thing. Lonnie looked at the blonde rinsing dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. It certainly made the brunette’s stomach hurt to think how badly this horrible creature could jam up Bethy’s future.
“I know. If we could get even one rape conviction, just ONE, we could block some of his nonsense. But Ruby didn’t report him, nor did others, I’m sure. Some did, but didn’t get in early enough for testing after reviving to prove they’d been drugged. And he knows that. This guy knows his drug and how long it takes to leave no trace in the body. There’s a possibility he’s even had the drug tailor made--a designer drug you might say. He certainly knows the right people to do it.”
“Godfreys! Aren’t there any cases that can be prosecuted?”
“From what we’ve found so far, some victims want to go ahead and prosecute with what they have. The problem is that witnesses, their friends even, might testify the girl dated him willing, got drunk willingly and might have chosen to have consensual sex. Hardly what you’d call ironclad rape evidence. Even if the girl fervently claims otherwise, D.A.’s are not inclined to prosecute a “he said, she said.” They want better odds.”
Lonnie heaved a heavy sigh.
“Yeah,” Nyri agreed, “Then add to that a phony name making him hard to track down, and you begin to understand the overall problem. Oh, before I forget, I need to run a DNA test on Bethy. Covering all the bases.”
“Yeah. Remember the O.J. trial?” Nyri asked. Sure be glad when people are familiar with this and I don’t have to keep explaining it. “They introduced DNA evidence. It’s like a fingerprint using body fluids. People leave DNA where they least expect it--a licked stamp, on a straw, on chewed gum, spit, a used tissue, any blood or ejaculations, tears, jeez, any fluids. The test won’t hurt your baby at all. I’ll need it, in case we eventually have to fight wily Mr. Slick in court.”
“Tell me it won’t come to that.”
“I hope it won’t. It shouldn’t. I want him in jail, forever if possible. That wouldn’t curb all your problems, but it could severely limit his influence. Depends on how good his lawyer is. Unfortunately, I think he’s cunning enough to secure exceptional legal help.” Nyri listened to the silence on the other end of the line. “You know I’d like to be rid of this cur as much as you would.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lonnie agreed. “None of this is right!” She looked over again at Ruby who was contentedly finishing up the dishes. “I can’t believe how badly he’s hurt Ruby...in every way, and still he continues to turn the knife. He’s like a recurring bad dream. Every time we turn around, there he is. He’s even there when he isn’t there.
“Uh, when he isn’t there? I’m not sure I get your meaning.”
“Oh, well, sometimes Ruby is sure she’s seen him. Then it’s almost like that horrible night is happening to her all over again. She has trouble breathing..that kinda thing. So even when he’s not there, he’s there. She’s starting counseling, though. It should help. And now you tell me he’s going to try and screw up little Bethy’s life, too.”
“Ah, I get it. I’m really glad Ruby’s seeking professional help. So many women suffer in silence, and they don’t have to.” The small blonde sighed, “Well, I don’t see that I have it in my power to get him totally out of the picture. Wish I did. But I will work very hard to limit his influence.”
“Do you think it’s possible?”
Nyri paused. “Yeah. I think there are a few legal ways to trim his sails. We’ll have to bring in some really sharp legal help and stay two steps ahead of him. But first things first. Let’s get the DNA done. Then I wanna catch the bugger in the act and block these claims of his.”
“Why?” Lonnie mused. “Why was he able to do all this, Nyri?”
Nyri heard the desperation in her friend’s voice. “You mean, why of all the people in the world was he able to hurt Ruby? Why her?”
“I guess, something like that. Ruby’s never hurt anyone in her whole life. She’s such a good person. She doesn’t deserve this.”
“No, of course she doesn’t. No one does. And I dunno, my friend. Everybody that comes in contact with evil in some way asks that, but I don’t have any answer. I have heard the saying that when one door shuts another opens, but don’t take my word for it.”
Lonnie thought for a minute. “You mean like, if she hadn’t met him we wouldn’t have Bethy? Something like that?”
“Maybe. And maybe you two wouldn’t have met. Who knows? I sure don’t. Actually, it’s all a little too deep for my tastes.”
“Kind of a ‘count your blessings’ kind of thing? Ruby’s better at that than I am I’m afraid.”
Nyri laughed. “I’m in way over my head here, pal.”
“Okay. What do you want us to do? Want us to bring Bethy in?”
“No. I’ll stop by your condo and get the sample tomorrow night, if that’s all right. It’s best if Ruby sees it isn’t going to hurt her little one.”
“Yeah, that would be good. About our bill, I got a raise. So we can pay a little more each month.”
“Whatever. Work it so it’s convenient for you, Lonnie. Don’t put yourselves in a hole over this. I mean it.”
“Thanks, Nyri. We appreciate it.”
“Listen, some of the other victims have contacted me to do research on our Mr. Slick for them. If you join them, it’ll help with expenses. That way the research total can be divided evenly amongst the whole group. It’ll knock the costs down. Do you mind joining the group?”
“You don’t give out any information on Ruby, right?”
“She doesn’t have to talk to any of the others?”
“Not unless she wants to. They’ll know another victim exists, that’s all.”
“Okay. We don’t object. In fact, we appreciate every way you’ve found to help us out financially.”
“Happy to help. I think I might be able to help on the base fee we’ve been charging you as well.”
“Don’t get me wrong. We don’t want charity, Nyri,” Lonnie warned.
Nyri laughed. “No worries there. I’m not in business for charity, believe me. No, the main agent on your case wants to be embedded in another organization.” And at this point it’s much safer for him if he is. “If that works out, he’ll still keep us informed, but he’ll be on their payroll, so his costs to us should be a lot less. I’ll keep you informed.”
“Sounds good. Thanks. So what was the drug mess this Slick jerk got into up here when we were in San Francisco? You said you’d tell us when we got home.”
“That was really something. For your ears only, now-yours and Ruby’s. Don’t breathe a word of this, okay? It could have serious implications for our agent.”
“No problem. Our lips are sealed.”
“Good. Okay, our guy was in a back lavatory in the motorcycle shop where he wasn’t supposed to be and overheard and saw things he shouldn’t have. He’d have been in dire circumstances if they’d caught him. Fortunately it was night, and he was able to crawl out a window and get away. They never did know he was in there.”
“That’s good. What did he see?”
Nyri paused. “This gets real serious real fast.”
“I understand. I’ve given my word.”
“Yes, and your word has always been solid. So...it seems they were having trouble with some of the drivers skimming drugs. Maybe selling ‘em. Who knows? Anyway, one guy in particular had become very bold. The boss had warned him, but the guy was a user and couldn’t stop. So, they executed him. Just like that! Shot him in the back of the head. Our guy saw the whole thing through a crack where the beat-up bathroom door met the jamb. They dumped the guy’s body in the trunk of Slick’s car. Slick was there the whole time. He wasn’t the shooter, the guy he was riding with was. But he helped dispose of the body.”
“I know. So you can see how it puts our guy in a deadly serious position. They’d wrapped the corpse in plastic and had it in their Lincoln when they’d stopped at the restaurant where Ruby used to work. The word is they took it from there to one of Big Jim’s brother’s construction sites to dispose of it. Poor dupe’s probably a part of some condominium foundation somewhere at this point.”
“Right. And it threw old Slick’s whole schedule off. We were running around trying to find him without being spotted ourselves. Someone would say he’d been seen, but we couldn’t pin him down. Since then, as you can imagine, they’ve had a real shake up at the motorcycle shop. Some of the drivers wanted to quit outright, but weren’t allowed. So we knew Slick couldn’t just up and take off to look for Ruby. Not with all that going on. It’s been really tense.”
“Gods, I can imagine. Hey, can they get this Slick guy for murder or attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder or accomplice or something? And it can’t be legal to help get rid of a body either.”
“One would think. But don’t forget there’s likely a massive sting in the works involving that shop. Charges against Slick have to tailgate with the drug task force’s major objective. They’re looking at drug running, bribing officials, smuggling, money laundering, potential bank involvment, and who knows what all else. It’s a huge net they’ve got. And it’s not unheard of for those guys to drop all kinds of charges, even major criminal charges like rape and murder, if they’re desperate enough to get to the kingpins they’re going for. We’ll have to wait and see. Who knows if or when they’re going to act?”
“Slick wouldn’t necessarily testify against the others, though, would he?”
“Would his being caught for other crimes, if he didn’t testify, keep him from having anything to do with Bethy?”
“Not necessarily. That’s one reason we desperately need a rape conviction on his record. Of course, I’d much prefer it to be for serial rape. That would keep him in jail forever regardless of other charges and would likely limit seriously any threat of his interference with Bethy. But like I’ve said, date rape’s not easy to prove once, much less serial rape, especially if our time is limited by a potential sting. So, we need to go for what we can get. At the very least, I want serious doubt raised when he claims the thing with Ruby was consensual. And he will, you know. What really worries me most about that is that to back himself up, he appears to have a posse of drug dealing friends, some fairly well connected in Big Foot, who will lie for him. Some of these are supposedly forthright, first class citizens--even police officers.”
“Oh, Gods.” Lonnie thought for a minute, “But he’s an ex-con.”
“True. But with no rape convictions of any kind on his record. It’s a benefit to our side, but not a sure thing. A lot would depend on the judge. And some of the guys who’ll lie for him look really good on paper.”
“Are any of them involved in the rapes?”
“There’s no evidence of that whatsoever. I’ve looked. It appears the other rape participants were all close buddies from the motorcycle shop. His Big Foot character witnesses are only involved in his drug dealings.”
“Oh,” Lonnie sighed, “I assume you know where he is at this point.”
“Yeah, our end’s under control now. My thinking is that our best bet will be to catch this guy in the act. We have to prove he’s using a drug on his victims. And if we do, there’ll be no ‘he said, she said’ crap to get him off. That will not only help you guys, it will help every other claimant against him. Needless to say, I’m trying to set that up.”
“I’d love to help,” Lonnie frowned. She heard Nyri’s hesitation. “I’m just saying, I’ve had some training.”
“I’ll keep it in mind, Lon,” the blonde replied.
Lonnie knew that really meant Nyri wouldn’t be calling her in to help. “Well, my offer stands,” Lonnie added firmly.
“I appreciate it,” Nyri continued, “Listen, I’ve got to get back to this computer program. See you tomorrow night?”
“Great. I’ll let Ruby know.”
“Yeah, and you might want to mention that eventually you’ll need to schedule a time to sit down with an attorney and discuss just what actual rights this guy might have. It’s always been my experience that forewarned is forearmed. You’ll want to be able to head him off any time, any place, any way you can. Personally, I don’t believe in leaving things to chance. Be ready for anything. Just a suggestion.” Nyri laughed, “But I’m getting way ahead of myself. First off, let’s get the DNA stuff done. Okay? That’s going to take a while as it is.”
“Oh yeah, how long?”
“Ah, well, they’re the new wonder tests and all the labs are really backed up. Not that many technicians are trained yet. Normally they take months even when they’re not backed up. So, the sooner we start, the sooner we’re done. See you tomorrow night?”
“You got it.”
“Great. G’night, Lonnie.”
Lonnie put down the phone, sat back and studied Ruby as she worked in the kitchen. How did she tell Ruby that this Slick jerk had been stirring the pot about “father’s rights”? It would trouble Ruby no end. She already was worried about it. Lonnie reached for the paper on the floor beside the rocker. How much misery could that man continue to cause them, anyway? As if he hadn’t caused enough as it was already! “Miserable cretin,” she muttered.
She watched Ruby get the items out for the baby’s bath. What would be the best time to tell her? Was there a best time? She remembered Ruby had her first appointment with her counselor on Friday morning. Maybe she’d tell her Thursday night after Nyri left. That would only give Ruby one sleepless night to worry about it before having a chance to talk it out with a professional. That seemed the least cruel of any way she could think of. “Yes, I’ll do that.”
“Here,” Ruby smiled after she’d bathed the baby and had her in clean night clothes. “Talk to your daughter or rock her a while. I’m going to clean up the mess we’ve just made.” She handed the wrapped gurgling infant to Lonnie.
Lonnie’s thoughts had been serious, but seeing the infant brought smiles to her face. “C’mere, sweetness. Mumsy’s gonna rockabye the baby.”
Ruby grinned and headed back toward the kitchen.
Even now, being so little, she favors Ruby, Lonnie thought pensively. “And that’s good, isn’t it, baby girl?” The baby laughed. Lonnie stroked a soft wisp of the baby’s hair. “We may have to deal with his ancestry, but only after we’ve done everything to keep him far, far away.”
Lonnie leaned down and planted a soft kiss on the baby’s forehead before letting the infant wrap her tiny fingers around Lonnie’s forefinger. But what if they couldn’t stop him and he was able to insinuate himself in her life? It made Lonnie shiver to think of it.
She looked up at Ruby busily working in the kitchen. “Considering all the horrors that man represents...I don’t want you to have anything to do with that...that monster, baby girl. I promise we’ll give you all the guidance we can so you can live a good, happy life, but you shouldn’t have to deal with him. Not ever!”
And if we keep him away, will we need to lie to you about him? If we don’t want to lie will we have to tell you what he did when you’re an adult? Right now I don’t think your Momma wants anyone to know. It’s her right. But what about you? How do we handle something like this? Lonnie blew out a held breath. “I’ve always believed one faced the truth, good or bad, and dealt with it. So I never thought I’d feel this way,” she let the infant tug on her finger. She leaned forward and kissed the baby’s tiny hand. “In this case I think your Momma’s right after all. The donor may need to be considered “unknown.” At least to start with.”
She looked away, feeling a resurgance of anger at the man. “Crud! Like Ruby I can’t seem to not think about that cretin, and I hate that!”
The child made happy baby shouts as she relinquished Lonnie’s finger. Lonnie chuckled and rocked the infant for a moment before kissing her again. “I don’t want to lie to you, baby girl. That’s not who I am.” Tenderly Lonnie adjusted the baby’s blanket. “But neither do I want you ever taking on the sins of the...uh, I won’t call him ‘father.’ He’s not a ‘father.’ Even ‘donor’s’ way too kind for him. I don’t want you taking on the sins of ‘that man’. And believe me, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you don’t seem to think you have to. Cause you don’t and shouldn’t. You’re an innocent child, a beautiful, pure, inculpable child.” She rocked more fervently. “For now the donor’s “unknown.” If we have to, some time much, much later your Momma and I will discuss it again.”
The baby kicked and flailed her arms cheerfully. “Momma and Mumsy love you so much, baby girl. And we’re going to do our best to make sure you know exactly how much every single day. You’re our precious little wonder child.” And Henry Joe Turcots and his sadistic games be damned to hell. We’ll fight him every blasted step of the way, every step we have to!
It was when Nyri was there and she and Ruby were looking out the living room windows into the lighted yard that Lonnie made the realization that Chase was right. The two did look startlingly alike from the back.
Stars! Do I have a penchant for blondes? Cheryl, of course, had been a blonde too, a bottle blonde, but she wasn’t small like these two. And her earlier partners at least had blonde streaks when their moods chose to. It surprised Lonnie. She hadn’t ever given her preferences in women much thought. Not that Nyri had ever been a love interest exactly. They’d been friends forever, close friends. Any fooling around they’d done had been just that--immature teenage fooling around.
Getting the baby’s sample DNA proved easy and painless. Ruby was relieved. Nyri handled Bethy adroitly for someone with little personal maternal experience or ambition.
Ruby was instantly fond of Nyri and very at ease talking to her. Later, after Nyri’d gone, Ruby put her arms around Lonnie’s neck, planted a quick kiss and explained it was because Nyri was much like Lonnie in some ways.
While she was there, Ruby asked Nyri questions nonstop. Nyri answered each as forthrightly and honestly as she always did, sometimes giving information that brought up new questions. When the issue of their perp’s interest in “father’s rights” came up, Lonnie held her breath. She could see Ruby was distressed. But Nyri handled her so well, that when she left, Ruby said she thought she’d be able to sleep. She had complete confidence in Nyri. If anything could be done, Nyri would find what it was. If not, she’d help them through it. That was a comfort to Ruby.
Before they headed to bed Lonnie noticed Ruby going over the papers from their strongbox that they kept in the desk drawer. She knew Ruby felt uncomfortable having her name put on the condo and car ownership while bringing no property of her own to the joining, but Lonnie had no doubt about the wisdom of it being done. It made perfect sense to her.
Though they’d talked about property ownership before, Lonnie knew they’d need to discuss it again one day. Or maybe Ruby’d work out her concerns in counseling. Lonnie knew choosing a counselor meant finding a person Ruby could be comfortable with. Personalities being what they are, it didn’t always happen the first time. She hoped it would this time.
The Friday morning counseling session was not discussed once it was over. Ruby didn’t mention it at all, but Lonnie thought Ruby seemed a little more relaxed. She appeared to like Charlotte, the counselor. Lonnie wondered if all the sessions would be confidential. With nothing shared, she couldn’t help feeling a little left out, then derided herself for such thoughts. Ruby didn’t need her petty jealousy gumming up her progress. They’d get through this just fine, both of them, she reminded herself.
By the end of the week Ruby was elated. She’d heard from her sister. The email was short but friendly. Her sister remarked how unorthodox and dotty their parents had become with their growing religious fervor in their ‘new’ church. She’d worried about them a long time, she said, but decided the best thing to do for her own sanity was to stay away. She didn’t plan to go home again, ever.
Ruby felt the same way, and it wasn’t long before the two sisters were exchanging email at least once a week. Ruby felt disingenuous in that she always referred to Lonnie as “her partner” and didn’t correct her sister when she referred to Ruby’s partner as “he”. Having found her sister, the one and only tie to her family, did she dare lose her again to the truth?
As spring moved to summer every free moment was spent hiking, usually on the trails through Forest Park, Bethy in the pack on Lonnie’s chest. At first it occurred in the evenings when Lonnie could make it home early enough to spend an hour under the trees without it being too dark or too wet. Otherwise it was weekends. They all loved it, Bethy often babbling in delight as they talked to her enroute.
They joined their friends and went on the very first motorhome trip to the beach. It was a very comfortable way to travel, even with a baby in tow. And though it rained, they traveled the long bridge to Long Beach in Washington where they visited galleries and book stores.
One spring evening on one of their pinochle nights when Maddy was in the bathroom, Chase whispered that Maddy’s mother and stepfather had wrangled with her so much about moving back home in the east that she’d finally told them she was gay and living in a committed relationship with her life partner. “They were unrelenting,” Chase added with soft fervancy. “I couldn’t believe it. She is far past the age of consent, for heaven’s sake. But they raised a ruckus like she was a child.”
“How so?” Lonnie asked.
“They called her back innumerable times, yelling and shouting that they had thought something was going on all this time, and how could she do this to them, and why would she choose that kind of lifestyle, saying they would not stand for it. They got unbelievably upset.”
“Oh, that’s awful,” Ruby agreed, “Is Maddy okay? She hasn’t let on at all.”
“I know,” Chase replied. “She hasn’t seemed that shook up by it. Not as much as I feared, anyway. She argued with them the first few times but said on the last call that they could consider this goodbye, and she hasn’t mentioned it again. Don’t say anything, okay?”
“Yes,” Lonnie assented. But they all felt badly about Maddy’s loss.
“Fortunately my folks have gotten better over the last year,” Chase continued, “They’ve invited us both to visit them next weekend. Grandma will be there, and she loves and accepts everyone. We’re taking the motorhome to give us some space. So the timing that way is good. Maddy told me last night that one set of parents is more than enough to deal with. She said under the circumstances, she’ll take mine any time.”
“Maybe hers will come around once they’ve adjusted to the situation,” Lonnie suggested.
“Maybe,” Chase agreed. “Mine did. But then, mine never said the things Maddy’s folks did. I guess we’ll see.”
As Bethy began to outgrow her smaller sized clothing, Ruby discovered a new auction company online called eBay where she could sell used baby clothing as well as the beanie babies she found at all the thrift stores. She was delighted. They already had a camera. She bought a new bookcase for their bedroom to hold all the necessary materials to make her sales, including shipping supplies. Before long, she was delighted to be adding a small amount of income to the family budget.
As the weeks became months, Ruby’s frequent counseling sessions yielded visible results. Her panic attacks came completely under control. She was developing coping techniques for both her fear and anger, not to mention her feelings of rejection from her parents. Her laughter seemed to return in good supply. One meeting had even been set up that included Lonnie, but she had to leave work to attend. Then it wasn’t long before the counselor scheduled less frequent meetings.
After the beginning Lonnie had dismissed all feelings of being left out, having seen the accumulating benefit of the sessions in Ruby’s general demeanor. When laughter and sunshine had been reinserted as a considerable part of the small blonde’s personality, Lonnie was delighted.
On Mother’s Day the three went out for an afternoon dinner at a local family-style restaurant. It was the first time since San Francisco that they’d been in a cafe together. They had a wonderful time. That night Ruby decided it was time to be completely honest with her sister regardless of the outcome. She loved her sister, but their relationship couldn’t be based on a lie.
Sending the picture of the three of them taken at the top of Coit Tower in San Francisco, she explained her relationship and their joining as best she could. She said she hoped her sister would understand. Again she held her breath as she sent the email off through the ether, not realizing it would be months before she finally received a reply.
One Saturday morning near the end of May, Lonnie received a distressed call from Nyri. The security agent had learned from her detective that Slick had made a “date” with a college student in Seattle for that night. Everyone agreed the girl was most likely a rape target.
Nyri had started a new business project for a Tacoma firm and most of her local operatives were tied up in that case. She had few resources she could spare for this last-minute project with Slick. Much as she preferred to not involve Lonnie, she was desperate. Did Lonnie want to help her catch him in the act?
Lonnie jumped at the chance. Ruby, however, was less enthusiastic. It scared her. And she didn’t relish spending long, frightened hours waiting in Portland for Lonnie’s return.
“I can’t even use Temple,” Nyri complained to Lonnie over the phone. “He has to man the office for our other project. We’re expecting all hell to break loose on my other case this weekend. I don’t dare pull him off it.”
“Can’t Lonnie wait till the next time?” Ruby worriedly asked on the extension. “A better time, maybe?”
“Oh, hi Ruby. A better time? No! That man cannot be allowed to hurt one more woman. You have no idea how many women he’s already harmed. As far as we know this is his first attempt since we’ve been tracking him, mostly, I’d guess, because of all the things going on with his drug trafficking connections. No. There’s no better time than right now.”
That caught Ruby off-guard. She sighed. “Yes, of course you’re right.”
“Also, I’ve got concerns about this new Drug Trafficking Unit,” Nyri continued. “Their case became international when they found the Colombians involved. That expansion slowed down evidence collection. But I’m afraid they’ll be ready to spring their trap any time now, and I don’t trust what that might mean. They always try to turn the small fry, like Slick. If we can just get one rape conviction before that happens, it’ll be on the books. He won’t be able to claim his hands are clean of that type of crime. We need a conviction. I’m afraid we have to act now.”
Ruby chewed her lip. “All right,” she whispered. “I understand.”
“Good. Drive up to my place on Bainbridge Island right away, Lonnie,” Nyri continued. “You know where it is. Should take no more than three and a half hours, max. Leave as soon as you can. Use the Tacoma Narrows bridge and come in the back way across the other bridge. It’ll get you here faster than the ferry. I need you as early as you can get here so we can go over exactly what your part will be tonight.”
“All right,” Lonnie agreed. “You in Seattle now?” She could hear typing in the background.
“No, I’m on Bainbridge Island. I’m using my uncle’s old cabin as my company’s Washington headquarters.”
Lonnie chuckled. Cabin? That’s rich.
“Will this be dangerous?” Ruby asked nervously.
“It shouldn’t be all that dangerous,” Nyri soothed. “My plan is to call the police in to take over once it gets to any dangerous level. Before that it will amount to taking surreptitious photos. Nothing he’s aware of. Shouldn’t be all that hard.”
“As I remember the Bainbridge Island estate was your uncle’s vacation home,” Lonnie laughed. “What’s it got to do with your business?”
“The fishing cabin? I’ve converted it to a business office,” Nyri explained.
“A simple little business office, right?” Lonnie asked sarcastically.
“Uh huh. It gives me an instate address. I am licensed here as well as in Oregon you know.” Not to mention a slew of other states.
“I see.” Lonnie’s voice turned even more trenchant as the steady sounds of typing from Nyri’s end filled the background, “And I suppose you’re using a little low powered desktop computer with a dial-up connection which is only appropriate for way out there in the boonies.”
Nyri laughed. “Okay, okay. The grounds are well guarded and I’ve got a high speed fiberoptic connection set up here. Everything that’s exchanged is highly encrypted, and, of course, there’s automatic monitoring--error detection and correction software. We even have erase features if we need them. So you don’t need to worry about any files we might have on you. They will never fall into the wrong hands.”
“Erase features? Automatic?” Ruby asked.
“If disturbed, of course,” Nyri replied. “And if I end up in court testifying against this bozo like I expect to be, he won’t even know I have an office in Portland. This will be the address on any court records. He won’t have a hint of where you guys are.”
“Oh, good,” Ruby sighed.
“Yes, that is good,” Lonnie agreed. “And honey, as I recall, Nyri’s “cabin” is a beautiful, well-guarded, three level estate on the water.”
“I always called it a fishing cabin,” Nyri smiled. “We used the boat to fish the Sound.
“I remember. Hey, any results on Bethy’s DNA test yet?”
“No. The lab’s all jammed up. The science is so new there’s more requests than technicians trained to handle them. And the tests take forever. I’ll let you know the minute we get results, though.”
“Are you halfway here yet?” Nyri asked, the typing starting up again, “Cause I need to see your smiling mug right soon.” Before Lonnie could answer Nyri adjusted her earphone. “There.”
The typing noise stopped. Nyri raised her hands from the keyboard. “I have my ferreting system fully designed and installed and it’s up and running through all nationwide databases. I’m doing a little last minute bug chasing. In our case it instantly looks for patterns in rape charges around the U.S. and pretty well I.D.s our guy’s particular m.o.. Apparently he hasn’t been in that many states, but the results I’ve already gotten are startling. You’d be amazed how many total date rape cases there are in the U.S. these days. It’s downright appalling. Even narrowing it down, you have to use professional judgment to sort what are possibly his from similar ones. The program doesn’t do absolutely everything. But close enough.”
“I’m surprised police forces don’t use that kind of program.”
“Far as I know this is a first of its kind. And, frankly, I have had inquiries from a number of agencies and police forces who’ve gotten wind of it. I’ve got a top legal eagle working on it for me. Her name’s Evin Sinclair of Kirkpatrick, L’Homme and Sinclair. Ever hear of her?”
“Uh, yeah. Wasn’t she on the cover of Time or some magazine like that not long ago?” Lonnie replied. “From the midwest someplace.”
“Yep, that’s her. She’s really top rate. Mostly she’s a litigator, but she took this on for me. The interested agencies thought they’d flash their badges and roll right over her.” Nyri laughed. “I worked for my agency long enough to know what that’s like. But boy, has she blocked those arteries. I’ve even had top experts and heavy brass I used to work for trying to go around her to contact me. I just referred them to her.” She took a few minutes to laugh. “Anyway, the sale is nearly a done deal. Can you believe it? I haven’t even finished tweaking it yet and she’s getting top dollar offers.”
“Great, but I’d think all police forces would want to make use of it.”
“Maybe one day. I do have a few local police forces who’ve signed contracts to help test the program and others nearby that very much want to. Its main form is pretty generic and easily programmable, so it can be used for any serial crimes of any kind no matter where or what system’s database. But the filtering scheme is the real grenade in this little whiz bang deal. So you see, my friends, all my work on this case has not been ‘fer nuttin.’ Okay, if you’re coming to help, Lon, best do it.”
“See you in a bit,” Lonnie agreed. She hung up, reassured Ruby once more, kissing her and the baby and scooting out the door. Within fifteen minutes, the brunette was in their jeep crossing the Willamette River, headed toward that emerald city in the north, Seattle on the Sound. Ruby and the baby were left in the Portland condo, nervously waiting.
“Temple,” Nyri said calling her Portland office, “This is going to mean double duty for you tonight I’m afraid.”
“I figured,” Temple replied looking out the window at the cloudless, sunny Portland skylight. Sailboats large and small tilted with the wind as they plied the Willamette while a paddle wheeler made its way upriver. Everything was pleasant and calm. He wondered how long it would stay that way before this office became a madhouse. Or Portland, either. Weather folks were forecasting mist turning to rain the next day.
“You’ll need to be there monitoring night and day.”
“Indeed. I’ve got my cot.” He pointed to a leather couch in the corner of the computer room with a blanket and pillow stacked on the arm.
“Any hint of anything happening in either case, I want to know immediately.”
“Yes, ma’am. And so you shall. Do you have all the equipment you’ll need for tonight?”
“Yes, it’s all packed,” Nyri said, “Everything down to spare batteries and extra camera lenses should I need them.”
Temple chuckled. “No one’s as organized as you are, Nyri. And by the way, Rocky’s away from the site today. He’s left the motorcycle shop and is out at the old farm site conversing with folks from the newly organized Drug Trafficking Unit, the multijurisdictional special task force. He said his new employer is going to be the DTU.”
“Yes, it’s a prudent move. I’ve made sure he has blanket immunity. He’s going to have to do the rest of the negotiating himself.”
“Yeah, he was really impressed with what you’d done for him so far.”
“He deserves even more. He’s put his life on the line for this.”
“Amazing, huh?” Temple noted, “He’s turned into a first class agent.”
“He has,” Nyri acknowledged. “Whoda thunk it? I’ll hate losing him.”
Continued in Chapter 14
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