When We Met
by b soiree
see all disclaimers in Chapter 1
‘Yep, Nyri’s here,’ Lonnie muttered, seeing the glossy red Jeep Wrangler parked to the side as she drove in. The brunette had had to stop at the gate to be electronically admitted. Then she drove down a long wooded drive to the main building, not visible from the street. Parked next to Nyri’s car was a green middle class car a few years old. It hadn’t been washed in a while. ‘That one belongs to the servants,’ she chuckled, knowing it was really a company car. Nothing called attention to it. Even its extra aerials were disguised.
The brunette flashed a large smile at the blonde who was walking out the front doors of the estate to greet her. She pulled the brake on her maroon Jeep. This is no cabin, my friend, Lonnie chuckled to herself.
‘Hey, Sherlock,’ Nyri grinned. ‘C’mon. I’ve got a make-up man inside to turn you into someone else.’
‘What? Someone else? Why?’ Lonnie was taken aback.
‘Did you forget old Slick saw you crossing the Golden Gate Bridge? We don’t want him to recognize you. With any luck tonight we’re going to be right in his line of sight. I sure don’t want him recalling you or tying you to Ruby.’ Then she smirked, ‘He’s never seen me, so I get to go as is. And the lighting should be dim, so he won’t notice your disguise.’
‘What are you going to turn me into?’ Lonnie scowled, locking the jeep
‘With your height...a man. It fits our cover. Little rubber cheek pads here,’ she pinched Lonnie’s cheek teasingly, ‘and neck pads here,’ she pointed. She patted Lonnie’s belly, ‘perfect but you need some flattening,’ she fluttered her hand at Lonnie’s breasts, ‘uh, there. The right kind of vest, a bigger nose, a man-cut wig and you won’t recognize yourself when he’s done.’
‘Great,’ Lonnie grumbled. She looked around. ‘I thought Simone might be here.’ This was the kind of mansion on the water the uppity, high fashion Simone might enjoy.
‘Uh, no,’ Nyri replied. ‘Simone dislikes anything to do with my business.’
‘Right. But I thought she’d like this place.’
Okay. They moved into the house. Lonnie’s transformation was amazing. The maid served roast beef sandwiches while it was under way. When finished, even in bright light, Lonnie looked every bit like a man--a good sized, strapping, well-built man.
‘Just remember to keep your voice as deep as possible,’ Nyri reminded. ‘You already walk with a long stride. Besides, we’ll be inside a bar. Not much problem with gait there. We’re set.’ She looked out the window. ‘It’ll be dark soon. We need to get rolling.’
Nyri hurried them into the green car and headed them toward the ferry dock. ‘I’ve got a team on the girl’s house. They’ll notify us where to go.’ She fiddled with a knob on what looked like a radio. ‘Here, put in this earpiece and hook on the mic. I’ll put it on speaker so we both can listen. We need to know where they say our target’s headed. When they say something, say ‘Roger. Got it?’
‘Just like in the movies.’ Lonnie grinned.
‘Hardly,’ Nyri frowned, pulling into the ferry line. Soon the transport arrived, unloaded then refilled with those headed back to Seattle.
The crossing didn’t take long. Driving off into Seattle, Nyri headed toward the campus, turning into the busy parking lot of an open shopping center. They found an unblockable spot near the exit and waited. The sun had gone down. Electric lights blazed along the busy commercial streets.
Suddenly Lonnie’s radio came to life. ‘Standby. Standby. North on I-5 to the University District. No intent to turn. Driving a couple miles or so below the limit.’ The radio crackled.
‘Acknowledge,’ Nyri coached softly.
‘Roger,’ Lonnie said, feeling slightly silly.
‘Now turning. Arnold Street exit. Repeat, Arnold Street exit. Straight on.’ There was quite a pause. ‘Mile and a quarter. Hold it. Pulling off on the right. Stop. Stop. A small bar named the Wild. Card. Lounge. Repeat. Wild. Card. Lounge. Corner of Arnold and Drexel.’
Nyri nodded to Lonnie.
‘Roger,’ Lonnie replied.
‘Driving a silver-grey ‘96 Honda. Idaho License....’ The voice spelled out the plate using military letter code and numbers.
‘Uh, Roger,’ Lonnie said again, looking at Nyri to make sure she’d caught that information before the radio went quiet.
‘Probably stole the plate separately,’ Nyri mumbled. ‘How’s he gotten away with this so long?’
‘Standby. Getting out. Couple. Heading into the bar. Male visually scanning surroundings. Handover.’
Nyri gave a curt nod toward Lonnie. ‘Roger,’ Lonnie said.
Nyri sighed, ‘Well, I know where it is.’ She started the car. ‘It’s not far.’ They drove in silence till the lounge appeared down the street.
Nyri spoke first. ‘Inside you don’t stare at him, okay? That’s a real beginner’s move. Pay attention to me. Got it? I’m your date, so you have to be sure to act like it. I’ll set up the camera to get good shots, but I don’t want him pulled to focus on you cause you’re staring at him. Understand?’
‘Got it.’ For the hundredth time Lonnie’s hand went to her now full cheek. It felt so strange.
‘And, jeesh, keep your hands off your face,’ Nyri chuckled then gathered some equipment, and they got out of the car. She hit the remote lock. ‘There’s his car. Wait over by the lounge entrance for a minute, okay?’ The short blonde moved by his car, leaned against the back wheel well and lifted her foot to check the bottom of her shoe as though something had lodged there. She reached down to brush the imaginary disturbance off. If Lonnie hadn’t been aware of what she really was doing, she’d never have known.
‘Plant the tracker?’ Lonnie whispered as Nyri stepped up to her.
‘You’re as smooth as ever,’ Lonnie followed her through, holding the lounge door for the smaller blonde.
‘Aren’t I, though?’ Nyri smiled flirtatiously back at her friend.
As soon as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, Lonnie spotted him talking to a young girl at a table on the other side of the bar. She recognized him easily from his photograph. Despicable piece of crap!
The girl with him seemed intolerably young and distressingly innocent, just like Ruby must have been. Only this girl seemed even younger than Ruby had been. Am I getting older or does that girl just look like a child? Without warning a firestorm of ire bubbled up inside Lonnie. Her eyes swept the girl and her teeth ground in outrage at this man’s plans.
Is she even eighteen? Gods! She must carry false i.d. Her eyes shifted to Slick. Thoughts of what Ruby’d been put through by him stoked the flame, consuming every part of her. All Ruby’s pain and agony, physical and emotional, her lover’s former life destroyed, losing her family, nearly losing her life in the hospital and all the counseling to get beyond his attack, and all of it because of this two-bit frickin’ ass hole who ran free scouting out more victims. Her knuckles whitened at the thought.
Nyri glanced back. Uh oh. She smiled sweetly. ‘All right,’ she spoke softly as Lonnie’s eyes narrowed on the man. She glanced over. So far he hadn’t looked their way. The blonde’s voice was just loud enough to rise to Lonnie’s hearing over the music that was blaring around them, ‘If you so much as lay a finger on that man, Lonnie dear, I’ll come at you like a streak of tigers and tear you limb from limb. I’ll make it hurt you...a lot. Am I getting through?’
Lonnie did not reply.
Nyri looped her arm through Lonnie’s, gave a short jerk and stood on her tip toes to whisper in Lonnie’s ear. ‘You’d rather face a quiver of cobras than me, my friend. So quit looking at him!’ Her voice was threatening enough that Lonnie looked away, but her body remained braced and ready for battle. Nyri smiled sweetly and led what appeared to be her male date to a table close to their target.
Henry Joe Turcots was undoubtedly on life’s lowest rung. He made Nyri sick just to think about him. The victims she’d talked to and the number of possible rapes he’d committed made her intensely aware that this man had to be put away for life. He must not be free to harm one more woman. But it would not be an easy task to accomplish.
Getting seated, she quickly set the camera in her purse to automatically take pictures of him and his table every twenty seconds. She’d seen him fawning over the young girl and it further turned her stomach. She knew Lonnie had seen it, too. And it worried her. Now facing her friend, she became aware of the force of the tall brunette’s anger. It hovered in the air around the heavily disguised woman. This was so not good. To have Lonnie go off on the man now would be totally counter productive. ‘Lon!’
‘Huh? What?’ Startling intense blue eyes storming with white hot rage jumped Nyri’s direction.
Nyri blinked and forced herself to gaze back at the tall woman as though she were in love. In actuality she did like Lonnie a lot. It seemed they’d always been friends. Nyri was older, but she’d always liked the brunette, even as a spindly teenager. Lonnie had been a big, sweet kid with a quick mind. And there was a side to her that drew one in. Not her wildness, though heaven knows Nyri had certainly been drawn to that. No, it was her capacity for gentleness and compassion, as great as any person’s the blonde had ever met.
Nyri remembered their days in high school. Lonnie’d been one of those awkward overachievers who got skipped in grades ahead of her maturity level, her physical development, her social level and everything but her brain power. In those days no one thought much of placement other than by scholastic achievement. Lonnie’d never really fit in with her other classmates, and she’d always wanted to, of course. Everyone did. She was expected to act older than she was. She’d tried, but it wasn’t really possible. Nature had a way of foiling nurture when it came to developmental levels.
When the tall gangly brunette gave up her gentle ways and began acting out, Nyri was in the midst of her own rebellion. The two girls banded together as close friends and pulled some of their school’s more outrageous pranks. They had themselves a wild old time. A lot of teachers and school officials got grey hair during that time period. Then after they graduated from high school, they drifted apart. Lonnie headed to a local college, Nyri to one back east where the Bureau ended up taking over her time and interest. Before they knew it, they’d lost touch.
But now Nyri saw that the rage lurking just under the surface of her friend was so potent Nyri could almost taste it. This wasn’t the wildness of youth. This was a much more dangerous, deadly element. Lonnie was no longer the sweet but rascally high schooler she’d once known. Her friend was grown up, had seen first hand what this man had dealt out and held skills that could make her fury catastrophic. Lonnie’d always held her skills in the highest of respect. Thus she’d kept them in control. Would she continue to do so? Nyri saw blue eyes staring at her, afire.
‘I hate to say this, sweetheart,’ Nyri spoke softly, keeping a loving smile on her face, trying to get those blue eyes to actually see her. ‘But I won’t bail your ass out of jail if you let retribution get the best of you. You told me you could do this. Can you? Think of the end game, Lon. Are you listening?’ Nyri caught Lonnie’s surprised tilt of her head. ‘We’ve got a master plan. We will stick to it. No negotiating. Or, sweet darling, I can place a call right now and have my people come and haul your ass out of here. End of conversation.’ Then she blew Lonnie a kiss.
Lonnie flicked her eyes in the direction of the man, narrowed them again, clenched her fists, and turned back to Nyri. ‘He hurt her so badly...on. purpose.’ Lonnie growled softly through clenched teeth. Cold, forbidding eyes centered on Nyri. The warmth Nyri was used to seeing there had vanished. In its place was intense darkness. ‘And still he’s turning the knife,’ Lonnie continued. ‘He wants to hurt Bethy now, too.’
Heavenly days, she’s a weapon wound tight enough to explode. Gods, I hope I can control her. ‘I know,’ Nyri replied softly. ‘But you’ll do your family no good if you end up in prison, and you-know-who doesn’t.’
Her family. Lonnie stared at her old friend. Slowly the darkness lifted. Much as she wanted to annihilate the man, Nyri was talking sense. Lonnie sighed and shut her eyes. She breathed deeply for a few minutes. ‘Damn, you’re right,’ she muttered. ‘Sorry, Nyri, I don’t know what happened. I...I lost it there for a minute. I’m okay now.’
Nyri sat back with a relieved sigh. ‘I know how you feel, Lon, believe me. But...’ The waitress appeared and they both looked up. Lonnie hastily ordered cokes for them both. When she left, Nyri said, ‘Remember, you can look at anything but them. Mostly, look at me. And you pay.’
Lonnie nodded, her mannish looking face settling on the short blonde. She was about to lift her hand to her phony cheek when she remembered Nyri’s warning to quit touching it. The waitress brought the drinks and Lonnie sipped.
Nyri took out her compact and glanced at the couple at the other table in the glass as she primped. She fluffed her hair and put on some new lipstick. He’s a piece of work, that shit. The girl doesn’t feel at all comfortable with him handling her, does she? Look at him backing off, keeping his hands to himself, doing everything he can to make her think he’s a perfect gentleman. But she’s not completely sold, is she?
Lonnie’s eyes went to the barkeep, talking to some customer at the far end of the bar. She picked up her drink and pulled a large surge of the coke through the straw and swallowed. Then she remembered she was dressed like a man. She couldn’t go flitting off to the ladies’ room if she drank too much. She put the glass down and glanced at the surrounding tables. Those people must think everything’s hunky dory at that scuzz’s table, she decided. If only they knew. She heard the man laughing pleasantly at everything the girl said. It made Lonnie want to gag.
Nyri snapped her compact shut and slipped it in her pocket. The girl was getting up. Under the table Nyri touched Lonnie’s knee to get her attention. ‘Look at me, Lon, like I mean something to you. Make it good.’ Their perp was looking around the room while the girl with him excused herself to go to the ladies’ room.
‘You do mean something to me,’ Lonnie said softly. ‘Always have.’
‘That’s a good look. Make it a little more lovey-dovey.’ Nyri brought her hands to the table top.
Lonnie reached across the table and took Nyri’s hands in her own. ‘How’s this?’
‘Uh, too much. Need my hands.’ Nyri slipped her hands away.
It reminded Lonnie of Ruby, and before she knew it the anger threatened to surface again. She swallowed hard and tamped it down.
Out of the corner of her eye Nyri saw the man reach into his pocket. She instantly used the remote on her camera to override and took photos by hand. Snapping furiously, the sound unheard, she caught him putting the drug into the girl’s drink. His eyes were scanning the room, watching everyone as he did this deed. She even caught him stirring the mix with the girl’s straw.
All right, shithead, curtain’s up. First act, Nyri thought. But if the girl didn’t drink, there’d be no second act.
‘Now what?’ Lonnie inquired softly.
It was hard to hear in the noisy room, but Nyri was good at reading lips. ‘We wait,’ she mouthed.
‘Right.’ Lonnie sighed heavily. She sat for a minute, moving her drink around the table a little, but not lifting it to drink. She leaned forward, keeping her voice low, ‘Jeez, this girl. She’s just a kid, Nyri. What if she reacts poorly to the drug. That happens, you know.’
‘Don’t go there,’ Nyri replied more sternly, seeing the doubts running behind Lonnie’s blue eyes. She reached out and gently stroked Lonnie’s cheek. Her friend’s hand on her rubber cheek felt ultra strange to the brunette, who scowled. ‘She’ll be all right, sweetheart,’ Nyri encouraged, staying in character. ‘We wait.’ Her look, while sweet, was unyielding. They’d waited too long for this chance. This girl was going to have to serve as their sitting duck. Nyri didn’t like it either, but there was no other way.
Lonnie’s mind whirled. Of course she wanted Ruby’s rapist caught and jailed. Throw away the key, for cripe sakes. But what about this young kid, this innocent girl who probably wasn’t even eighteen? She put her hands in her lap and wrung them together. Lonnie hadn’t considered what the victim would have to go through to get their conviction. Do the ends justify the means? What if that was Ruby or Bethy when she’s older? Could I just sit and wait for her to be drugged? What are the alternatives?
Lonnie couldn’t remember feeling so frustrated. Maybe all this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I should go to the john, tell the girl everything and offer to take her home. She glanced down. But I’m dressed like a man. It would scare her that I was in there, if they’d even let me go in. And she’d probably be more scared if I told her I was really a woman. Maybe as a couple she’d go with us... Lonnie glanced over at Nyri. No, Nyri wouldn’t help. Nyri had a mission. Lonnie flung herself back in her chair and crossed her arms, scowling. She watched her friend sitting so composed and unmoved, showing no signs of the agony Lonnie felt.
‘Is this how they do things in the FBI?’ Lonnie whispered through gritted teeth, ‘Wait for the bound sheep to be attacked by the wolf? Then when there’s enough blood, then do something? I’m not impressed.’
Nyri’s scowling eyes flashed intently but her voice remained soft in the noisy room. ‘All right. Go ahead. Go over and beat the guy to a bloody pulp and save the girl. Hooray for you. But you’d better kill him if you do, and be ready to go to jail for it. Cause if he’s not at least in a permanent coma, the minute he finds out who you are and who you represent, you can bet he’ll be filing papers to get custody of your kid. Being an ex-con should give him some problems, but he could surely have Children’s Services step in and take the baby away. Turn her over to your partner’s parents maybe. And your story would land smack on the front page of every local paper. And don’t think he wouldn’t file, knowing the heartache he could cause you guys. This sicko lives to deliver that kind of suffering. That what you want?’
Crap. Lonnie glowered and looked away.
‘Lover’s quarrel?’ They both looked up, startled to see Slick strutting confidently up to their table, his eyes focused on Nyri. ‘Hey, darlin’, long time no see...’ he started.
Nyri turned full face toward him.
He stopped. ‘Oh, you’re not...’ He stared at Nyri, ‘Sorry, I thought I knew you.’ He looked nervously at Lonnie and took a step back. The brunette was normally taller than he, but dressed as she was, she looked beefier and a great deal more powerful. ‘Uh, sorry, fella. No offense meant. Mistaken identity. I thought your girl was someone else. I didn’t mean to take any liberties. Honest.’ Lonnie scowled.
‘No problem,’ Nyri smiled as the man turned tail and hurried back to his table. ‘Crimony, that was close,’ she breathed softly. She didn’t mention to Lonnie that he probably thought she was Ruby, but both she and Lonnie were thinking it at the same time. Lonnie’s hands were both clenched under the table, her knuckles white. ‘C’mon, give me your hands,’ Nyri reached her hands across the table. ‘We’re going to have a lover’s make up,’ Nyri said. ‘Look deep into my eyes. Wait, I’ll set the camera on automatic first.’
While they gazed into each other’s eyes, the girl came back, sat and slowly drank some of her drink. The music had finally paused so they heard part of what she was saying. She was explaining why she needed to have him take her home early. She didn’t feel well. He was saying he understood, drink up and they’d go. The girl drank another part of the drink and stood. He jumped up next to her and slid a steadying arm around her. He was very accomplished at this. The girl looked drunk.
‘Whoops, too much to drink, sweetheart,’ he said fairly loudly as he grabbed his coat, threw some money on the table and started to lead her out, his arm never leaving her waist as her staggering became more pronounced. ‘Let’s get some air. You’ll feel better.’
‘C’mon,’ Lonnie started to rise after they’d moved past. Her jaw was set, her mouth now a thin line.
‘Wait,’ Nyri hissed between her teeth. She did not move. Customers nearby looked over at them.
‘What if she gets sick, Nyri?’ Lonnie whispered in desperation. ‘Or he hurts her? That girl doesn’t deserve this!’
‘No, she doesn’t.’ Nyri agreed, ‘Nobody does. But we have a chance to stop him once and for all. Don’t blow it.’ She nodded at the chair, ‘Go ahead, sit down.’ She looked straight into Lonnie’s eyes. ‘You’ll have to trust me on this. We won’t lose them, she’ll get sick outside if she’s going to, and he won’t harm her until he gets her where he’s taking her. Soon enough we’ll know exactly where that is.’
Lonnie reluctantly sat down. Nyri sat back and folded her arms across her chest. She glanced at her watch then sipped her drink. For maddening moments they waited. Finally Nyri said, ‘All right, let’s go.’ Lonnie threw down a bill and they moved out into the dark. They saw Slick’s taillights moving off several blocks down the street.
‘There they are,’ Lonnie noted, looking east.
‘Quit looking,’ Nyri said, ‘Basic surveillance. Do nothing to spook your mark. C’mon.’ Both turned away and made their way to the company car. ‘You drive.’ She tossed Lonnie the keys. Once inside Nyri said, ‘Don’t start it yet.’ She fiddled with an electronic device much like a cell phone. She attached it to a laptop, bringing up a digital map. ‘There.’
‘They turned south at the end of the street,’ Lonnie advised.
‘Then we’ll go the other way. Head west, then cut back south several streets over. See my screen? These things are great.’
‘Uh huh. How long do you think it will take him before he harms her?’ Lonnie started the car and headed in the opposite direction. After a block she turned parallel to the direction he was going.
‘There, see, he’s going around the block to see if he’s being followed. This guy is careful. They don’t call him Slick for nothing.’
Lonnie glanced down at the screen. Sure enough, the blip was moving around the block. They paused unseen a number of blocks away.
‘We won’t let him harm her, Lonnie.’ Nyri’s mind flashed back to her first time working a baited situation. The waiting had been pure hell for her. But they had saved the victim and gotten the perpetrator as well. Since then she’d been through what seemed like hundreds of similar circumstances, usually with agents she knew acting as volunteer bait for whatever the situation. ‘We’ll do everything we can to protect her. Good grief, look at that. He drives like an old man. No wonder he never gets stopped.’ And he never steals a car with bad tail lights, either I’ll bet.
They tracked the car staying several blocks away, out of view. When he seemed to stop, Nyri had Lonnie slow down. They came to a corner and saw a dingy motel down the street. ‘There he is. Pull over. Quick. Kill the lights.’
Nyri took out her binoculars and phone. Peering at the motel she dialed 911. She reported that a man was taking an underaged girl who had been drugged into room...17 of the...she looked at the motel sign and gave the name. She added the cross-streets. She gave her own name. She said she could prove that the young kid had been surreptitiously drugged. She added that she had no doubt the adult male was planning to rape her. She advised that she would remain on the scene. ‘Please hurry!’ she said before disconnecting. She checked her watch. ‘I know normal response time here is six minutes.’
They watched Slick open the passenger door and lift the girl out. He began to scan his surroundings as he did so.
‘Scrunch down. Give him time to get inside.’
Slowly rising moments later, they saw one of the men from the motorcycle shop come out of room 17 to help with the girl.
‘He’s got one of the guys with him. That dirty, rotten....,’ Nyri started.
‘Yes,’ Nyri agreed.
Once the two men had the girl inside, Lonnie drove their car to the motel and parked across the street. His empty car was parked in front of the end unit, number seventeen.
Shadows moved behind the drawn curtains in the room. Nyri studied them. ‘I think....they’re putting her on the bed.’
‘They’re going to rape her,’ Lonnie nervously warned.
Nyri looked at her watch and for the first time looked worried. ‘My guess is they think they’ve got all night. They won’t rush.’ She sounded hopeful. She listened for the sound of far-off sirens. Nothing. Just normal traffic noises. ‘Where are they?’ she muttered. She opened her cell phone and dialed. ‘Temple. I called 911 but we’ve gotten no response yet.’ She checked her watch. ‘It’s more than their average response time in this area. You getting anything on the Seattle frequency? Aw, shit.’ She hung up abruptly and pocketed the phone. ‘Big pile up on the freeway. Police’ve pulled every available unit to it. It’ll take ‘em longer to respond. And our other job has begun to explode.’
‘We could do a citizen’s arrest,’ Lonnie suggested. ‘They’re gonna rape that girl, Nyri. She’s just a kid.’
‘All right. Citizen’s arrest it is, I fear. But not ‘we.’ You’re dressed like a man but you aren’t a man. Makes it hard for you to go into court to testify. So your part’s done. You can’t be involved from here on out. I’m calling you a ride to the ferry dock,’ she punched in numbers on her cell. ‘You should make the last ferry if you hurry. When you get across, call the house. Someone’ll come and get you.’ Nyri spoke into her phone, then snapped it shut. ‘Okay, Bess’ll pick you up in ten minutes down there at the corner near that scuzzy bar. Try to avoid the motel office.
‘Oh, no. I’m not leaving you here alone. Black belt, remember?’
Nyri hoped she wouldn’t need any backup. The police should arrive any minute. But those were experienced criminals inside. Who knew how long they’d wait. She wasn’t about to let the girl get raped. ‘All right. Stay five minutes, max, with you around back,’ she acknowledged. ‘Then you’re gone. If the cops get here first, disappear down that alley and head for your ride. I know you know how to get away unseen. We did it enough times as kids.’
Lonnie nodded her agreement. Nyri climbed out of the car, closing the door silently, pressing her hip against it to click it shut. Lonnie followed close behind. Both hurried across the weedy, dirt parking area toward end unit 17, staying in the shadows. Nyri put the corner of her coat over the man’s taillight, picked up a rock and smashed the plastic and the bulb through the material. It made little noise. Cops often stopped tail light violations. It could hinder Slick’s potential escape in this car.
I’d like to shoot his tires out, she thought peevishly, palming the rock. She bent and quickly recovered her tracking device. Here,’ she tossed the tracker to Lonnie. ‘Give this to the driver who comes to get you.’ Lonnie slipped it into an inside pocket.
‘Go to the back and try to block their escape route. There’s probably only a bathroom window. Pile garbage cans or trash under it. Anything to slow them down. Then get out. Understand? Under no circumstances are you to physically interact with them. If you see them managing to get out that way, let them go. Do not put so much as a finger on them. Got it? I’ll sic a team after them if I have to. Can you do that?’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m gonna try and keep them busy up front.’
‘What if they pull a gun on you?’
‘No. Our guy says Slick never carries a gun on his, uh, ‘social outings.’ He’s a con. He wants to look like an innocent guy on a date. Possession would probably put him in jail for longer than rape would. It’s the way our stupid laws work. Besides, he doesn’t take his victims by force. He drugs them.’
‘What about the other guy?’
‘In drug dealings they probably both are armed. But I expect in this instance he isn’t either. Same reason. Just in case, though, you’re wearing a vest under your shirt and so am I. They’re not kevlar exactly, they’re hand made. Besides, I’ve got a piece, if I have to resort to that. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. And you aren’t going to stick around long enough to find out.’
‘Okay. Okay. Let’s hurry before they hurt her.’ Lonnie ran for the back and Nyri moved to the front window of unit 17.
‘Mister! Mister!’ Nyri called, tapping her fingers on the window before she jumped quickly to the small porch. Using the same rock she stretched on her tip toes to break the bare light bulb that was above the unit number. It made a loud, flashing ‘Pop’. The light vanished and she was enclosed in darkness. She began pounding on the door. ‘Mister!’ she called. She saw the curtain move and saw Turcots’ face peek out, but she knew he couldn’t make out who she was.
‘Who is it?’ his startled voice called.
‘It’s Nyri Davis,’ she shouted. ‘I’m afraid I hit your car and broke your taillight.’ She could see some of the curtains in other units moving, checking out the disturbance.
‘My taillight? For Christ sakes, who cares? Fuck off. Leave us alone.’
She pounded the door. ‘Open up,’ she called, ‘I broke it. It’s bunged up.’
The door opened a crack showing a chain lock on the inside. Turcots’ pal from the motorcycle shop filled the space. She was glad it was him, because Turcots would have recognized her instantly. She looked around the man and caught a glimpse of the girl on the bed. She was passed out but still looked unharmed.
‘What in the hell do you want, lady?’ the fellow growled. ‘You trying to wake the dead? Get the hell out of here. We don’t care about any fucking car accident. Shove off.’
Where are the police, for crying out loud? Slowly Nyri slid the metal tip of her fancy cowboy boot in the door. ‘But it’s your car, sir. See, the one right there.’ She glanced at Slick’s car. ‘I hit it. I’m sorry. It’s broken. I broke it. You’d better come out and take a look. I have insurance. We could exchange information.’
‘Get the fuck off this porch, sister, before I decide to come out there and smash your head open. And don’t think I won’t.’
In the back Lonnie was busy moving garbage cans under the unit’s window in the alley. Seeing motion inside and being unable to move away without being spotted, she stood back in a Mr. Clean crossed arm pose as the shadowy face of Slick appeared. He had not turned on the light in the bathroom but she recognized his shadowy figure immediately. He grabbed the handle of the window and strained to pull it open. Many years of paint and grime seemed to be keeping it shut.
He wrapped his hand in a towel and raised it to break the glass. Then he made out the darkened figure of Lonnie standing there with crossed arms, waiting. It startled him. ‘You!’ he froze, recognizing her as the man from the tavern. ‘What in the hell are you doing here?’
Lonnie curled her lip and growled.
‘Who...who sent you?’ He asked suspiciously. He took a step back. His eyes widened. ‘Did Jocko send you? Is that why you’re following me? I didn’t know she was his girl, honest. Tell him that. I didn’t know.’
Lonnie had no idea who Jocko might be or why Slick would think someone named Jocko had sent her. She saw him deciding what to do. She was blocking his escape. Would he take the chance and break the window anyway? Lonnie turned her head to the side and motioned for an imaginary someone to join her. Of course, there was no one there to do so, but Slick didn’t know that. She put up her hand to stop the imaginary person just out of his field of vision. Then she turned her head the other direction and nodded meaningfully. Once that was done, she raised a finger and pointed at him, a heavy scowl on her face. Slick froze in place.
Sirens accompanied by blue flashing lights began to fill the sky from the direction of the front of the motel. Finally, both Lonnie and Nyri thought at the same time. The police at last. ‘Over here!’ Nyri called as three squad cars screeched into the motel parking area, ‘Unit 17. Hurry!’
The young man tried to slam the door in her face. It bounced off Nyri’s boot tip but was ricocheted by the chain and rattled back quickly. ‘We haven’t done anything. She’s just sleeping it off,’ he called. Her foot kept the door from popping shut again. He ran past the bed to the bathroom. ‘Hurry, Slick. It’s the cops. Let’s get out of here!’
‘No, wait,’ Slick stopped him. ‘See the guy there in the alley?’ Lonnie was still in her Mr. Clean pose. Ace peered out the window.
‘Christ, Ace,’ Slick spoke hurriedly, ‘Jocko sent him. They’re gonna kill us. There’s others out there with him. Who knows how many. I think we’d be safer with the cops.’
‘Omigod!’ Ace’s eyes widened in alarm, ‘I was sure Jocko didn’t know.’
‘What about the girl in there?’
‘We didn’t lay a finger on her,’ Slick said in a lubricatingly, calm way, ‘Isn’t our fault she drank too much. We’re the good guys here, getting her a place to sleep it off.’
‘Yeah.’ Both men edged out of the bathroom. Their arms shot into the air as the police burst through the door, guns drawn. ‘Thank heavens you’re here,’ Slick called, ‘This poor girl got drunk and passed out. We didn’t know how to help her other than let her sleep it off.’
Lonnie jogged quickly to the end of the alley. At any moment she expected a policeman to call for her to stop. At the sidewalk she forced herself to walk, not run, down the street to the idling car by the broken-down bar at the corner. She could hear the police in the alley.
‘Are you Bess?’ she bent to the opened passenger side window.
The driver, a woman dressed all in black, answered, ‘Yes. Nyri sent me. I’m to take you to the dock.’ The window began to roll shut. Lonnie opened the door. ‘Hurry. Get in. I have to get back,’ the woman continued. Apparently she was working on Nyri’s other case.
Lonnie slipped inside, glancing back at the alley. ‘Let’s go. Oh, here,’ she dug out the tracker and handed it over as they pulled away.
The woman was silent as they made their way through town to the dark water of the pier with only the squawking of the police scanner playing. By the time Lonnie had been dropped off at the Whidbey Island Ferry dock, she’d heard the coded police report and knew that the unconscious girl had been removed to the hospital, Slick and his accomplice had been arrested and Nyri was on her way to the station to make her statement.
The ferry was in the last stages of departure. Lonnie ran to get on, then climbed to the top deck as it pulled away from the dock. She leaned back against the bulwark and dug out her phone. A brooding cloud cover hid the moon and stars. She could feel it. It was going to rain.
‘Hi, hon,’ she said when Ruby picked up on the first ring. She looked around at the empty deck. Every other passenger was huddled inside. ‘My part’s all done. I’m on my way to Nyri’s house. I’ll get out of this costume then I’ll head home.’
Lonnie’s hand went to her puffed cheek. ‘Oh, uh, they dressed me like a man, put fake cheeks and neck and everything. I should be home by about two. Don’t wait up.’
‘Of course I’ll wait up,’ Ruby replied. ‘You weren’t hurt--you or Nyri?’
Lonnie let out a long held breath. Just the sound of Ruby’s voice calmed and comforted her. ‘No, I’m fine. I’m pretty sure Nyri is too.’
‘What about the girl?’
‘She was drugged. The police took her to the hospital. They’ll run tests to pinpoint what he used. I’m almost certain she wasn’t raped. There was no time.’
‘Yes. I heard on the scanner on the way here that Turcots and the guy with him were arrested.’
‘He had a guy with him?’
Nyri hesitated then cleared her throat, ‘Uh, yeah. One of the men from the motorcycle shop. He was waiting at the motel.’
‘Oh.’ For a moment there was a deep silence. She could hear Ruby breathing. How many men had been waiting at the motel where he took me? And who were they? Ruby pondered.
‘Yes, I’m here,’ Ruby replied.
‘Are you all right?’
‘I’m fine. You will drive carefully on the way home, won’t you sweetheart? Are you too tired to drive? Cause if you are, I’d rather have you sleep there at Nyri’s and drive back in the morning.’
‘No, I’m wide awake, hon. I’ll head out as soon as I can.’
‘I love you, Ruby.’ The voice on the phone meant more to Lonnie than any other in all the world. An unexpected wave of emotion swept over the brunette, not unlike the unexpected watery eyes that sometimes appeared when she stood at functions with her hand over her heart while the Star Spangled Banner played. She never knew where those emotions came from either.
‘Love you, too, Sweetheart. Both of us do.’
Lonnie leaned into the phone, wanting to stay closer to the small blonde. He had hurt her. Physically, psychologically, emotionally. More than any person should ever be hurt. Purposely and with malice of forethought. A hurt that Ruby was bravely fighting. The physical wounds would heal soon enough. But Lonnie had no idea how long the counseling would take. Those kinds of wounds took longer. She felt a lump form in her throat. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll drive carefully. Kiss the baby for me, will you?’
‘Course I will. We’ll be waiting for you, honey.’
Lonnie didn’t know why the tears were streaming down her puffed out cheeks. She wiped them on her jacket sleeve. ‘On my way, babe. On my way.’ She sniffed as she dropped the phone into her jacket pocket. What in the world is wrong with me? she wondered.
‘How did that make you feel?’ Ruby asked, nestling under the covers closer to her partner. They were discussing Lonnie’s first face to face encounter with Slick. The warmth of Ruby’s body was comforting as her disheveled blonde hair tickled Lonnie’s face. They hadn’t had a lot of sleep, but enough.
Lonnie flipped onto her back, trying hard to keep herself from smiling at Ruby’s words. Since the first day Ruby had started counseling, she’d begun using that phrase. Lonnie was sure the small blonde wasn’t even aware of how often she said it.
‘Uh, I scared myself, hon,’ the brunette replied thoughtfully. Eyes of radiant blue swept the bedroom ceiling, seeing a little spider in the far corner near the balcony. Better sweep that bugger out.
‘What do you mean?’ Ruby asked with deep concern. She edged away, turning onto her side. A dusting of freckles across her nose underlined emerald green eyes that examined Lonnie a pillow away. ‘How did you scare yourself?’
‘Well, when I first saw Slick,’ Lonnie gazed at the ceiling then gave a quick shake to her head, ‘I don’t know. Something just sort of..... snapped. I’ve heard people say stuff like that and never knew exactly what they meant. Now I do.’ She turned to Ruby, ‘I mean, this girl he had there was so young. She was just a kid. I wanted....’ she exhaled with frustration, long black lashes fluttering over confused blue eyes. ‘Gods, Ruby, I wanted to hurt him...as badly as I could. All I could think was what he’d done to you and what he planned to do to this innocent young girl. I wanted to outright kill the guy.’
‘Oh, honey, no!’ Ruby’s warm hands moved onto Lonnie’s arm.
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie admitted. ‘I don’t ever remember feeling that intensity before. I’ve been upset, but not like that. Even with David, I just wanted to stop him. Thankfully Nyri was there to snap me back to reality.’ She smiled wanly at Ruby, ‘It....scared me. I actually scared myself.’
‘What did Nyri say?’
Lonnie exhaled a laugh. ‘She was pretty much pissed. You know how she is. She thought I was going to blow our whole surveillance. And maybe I would have. I sure wasn’t thinking about surveillance. I don’t know. I’m glad she was there. She’s one of those always steady, unfazed kind of people. She saved me from going off on the guy....I think. I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t have. But I wanted to. I can’t deny that. I really, really wanted to.’
‘That’s not who you are, Lonnie. I mean, you’re very protective but you’ve never been vindictive or hateful.’
Lonnie gripped a handful of the blanket and examined it. ‘I know.’ She picked off imaginary fluff feeling guilty but couldn’t keep out that part of her that still wanted the guy to be ripped to shreds.
‘He, uh, and the other guy, you’re positive they didn’t rape the girl?’ Searching green eyes scrutinized Lonnie’s.
‘They didn’t.’ Somewhat surprised at the question, Lonnie snorted. ‘No time. That’s the only reason. But thank heavens, huh?’
Ruby looked away, her voice distant, ‘Yes, thank heavens.’
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie continued, ‘and thank heavens they were arrested. I hope there’s enough evidence there to put both of them away forever. They can throw away the key on those two assholes.’
‘Honey, the baby,’ Ruby reprimanded. She didn’t let Lonnie use bad language around the little one.
‘She’s asleep,’ Lonnie gazed over into the bassinet where Bethy was sound asleep.
Lonnie stretched out her legs. Should she be calling Ruthy’s biological father names even though he absolutely deserved them? What was the proper protocol here? Lonnie sucked in a breath. ‘Yeah, all right, love.’
Ruby moved over and placed an arm across Lonnie’s waist, pressing her cheek to the tall brunette’s shoulder. ‘Know what I think?’ she asked.
Lonnie threaded her arm under the blonde, snuggling her closer. She rubbed her cheek on Ruby’s hair. ‘What?’
Ruby could hear Lonnie’s heart beat. ‘I’ve done a lot of thinking. And I’ve decided once we make up our minds not to let them, no one can ever hurt us no matter what they do. I think that’s what forgiveness is for.’
‘Sorry?’ Lonnie lifted her head from the pillow, the peaceful look on her face disappearing. She strained but couldn’t meet Ruby’s eyes. What’s she talking about... forgiveness? The brunette thought about that for a minute before dropping her head back to the pillow. No, she had no forgiveness. Not for that guy. ‘Lots easier said than done, babe.’ She stroked the blonde hair from Ruby’s eyes.
Ruby shut her eyes. ‘Maybe.’
‘So, you’ve talked this over with your counselor?’ Lonnie quizzed gently.
Ruby shifted around nervously. ‘No. It hasn’t come up yet.’
‘It hasn’t? Hmm. So, let me make sure I understand. Are you saying you’ve forgiven that..that..monster? That’s not what you’re saying, is it?’
‘I think.....’ Ruby became dead still for a few minutes. Lonnie wasn’t sure she hadn’t fallen back asleep. Ruby opened her eyes. ‘Yes, I think maybe it does mean that.’
‘Jeez, Ruby,’ Lonnie pulled her arm away and shot up to a sitting position. She drew her knees up to her chest and ran a hand through her hair. She looked at Ruby, who remained laying back. Lonnie directed her view out the balcony window. A heavy scowl played across her features. Her back stiffened. ‘Well, not me! That’s one place I’m not!’ she said immovably. ‘And I doubt I ever will be.’
Ruby sat up, leaned her sleepy body against Lonnie’s back and gently rubbed a small circle. ‘That’s all right, honey.’ She shut her eyes as she continued rubbing, her cheek nestled against Lonnie’s cotton tee shirt. ‘We all make our peace our own way. I’m not asking you to forgive him.’
‘Good!’ Lonnie wrapped her arms around her blanket-covered legs. She dropped her jutting chin onto her knee caps, ‘Cause, I’m not gonna. He abused you, Rube, you and bunches of other women. And he’s still doing it, for cripe sakes! He’s sadistic. And he wants to ruin Bethy’s life, too. No. That first class A-hole has no conscience whatsoever. I’m not...it’ll be a cold day in hell before I would ever consider forgiving him, which isn’t gonna happen!’
Ruby opened her eyes. ‘Honey, the baby. Please.’
The ringing phone drew their immediate attention. Lonnie threw herself at it as Ruby moved toward the bassinet.
‘Oh, good, it didn’t wake her,’ the brunette whispered. ‘Hello. Oh, hi Nyri.’ Her voice was a half whisper. ‘No, it’s not too early. We were awake. I’m talking softly cause the baby’s asleep and I didn’t want to wake her.’
‘I thought she had her own nursery or I wouldn’t have called. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up your little one.’
‘She has a nursery, but Ruby brought her bassinet in here last night while she waited for me to get home. We just let her stay. But it’s no problem. She didn’t wake up. So tell me what happened after I left.’
Ruby planted a soft kiss on the baby’s forehead and slipped out of bed. She heard Lonnie talking about the caper from the night before. She quietly moved into the kitchen to put on the coffee.
‘Yeah, I heard that on the police band on the way to the ferry,’ Lonnie continued, ‘By the way, who’s Jocko, do you know?’
‘Why do you ask?’ Nyri questioned. She sat in her office on Whidbey Island gazing out the window. An early morning mist was falling on the quiet expanse of water before her.
‘Well, I didn’t get out of the alley in time. Slick saw me and he mentioned someone named Jocko.’
‘You were supposed to be out of there,’ Nyri said tightly.
‘I know. It took longer to move the garbage cans than I expected. Anyway, Slick saw me then he asked if Jocko had sent me. He acted like he’d break the window to get out, so I sort of faked him out. I pretended there were other people in the alley waiting for him to try it. He backed off. So, who’s Jocko.’
Nyri swiveled in her chair to face the fire in the room’s fireplace. It had been lit to remove the morning chill. ‘Remember I told you about the drug dealer from Colombia who killed one of their other drivers? He and Slick got rid of the body. Remember?’
‘Well, that guy was Jocko.’
‘Yes. He’s a real dangerous head case.’
‘Oh my gosh. No wonder Slick was worried about him.’
‘What else did he say?’
‘Uh, he said to tell Jocko that he didn’t know it was his girl...honest. Funny, huh? Sounds like maybe old Slick overstepped his bounds with Jocko’s girl.’
‘Hmm. Maybe,’ Nyri sounded worried.
‘It stopped him from leaving the motel,’ Lonnie encouraged.
‘Yeah. I just hope it didn’t tip the scales too soon.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I don’t want him thinking about turning state’s evidence against his compatriots too soon. If he thinks Jocko’s on his tail, Slick just might hunt out the Drug Enforcement Unit before they get a chance to drop their net and try to turn him. That’s what I’m worried about. I want a conviction for attempted rape against Mr. Turcots first.’
‘You think he will? You think he’ll contact Drug Enforcement like..now?’
‘Don’t know. Cross your fingers and hope not. In any case, he and Ace are in jail, at least for the time being. Fortunately the lab tests came back right away proving the girl had been drugged with a date rape drug. And the DA has the pictures we took of Slick putting the drug in her drink. She’s seeking remand.’
‘That’s good, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, it is. Particularly if they get it.’
‘Will they go on trial right away?’
‘No, the docket’s pretty full. They’ll likely have to wait a couple months.’
Ruby moved quietly back into the room, broom in hand. She opened the balcony door then carefully scooped the spider from the ceiling onto the bristles of the broom and hurried it out the balcony door.
Lonnie put a hand over the receiver. ‘I could have done that for you, hon,’ she whispered to Ruby’s retreating form.
‘It’s okay, I’ve got it,’ Ruby smiled back. ‘Coffee’s almost ready.’
‘Thanks,’ Lonnie nodded.
‘What’s going on?’ Nyri asked.
‘Oh, uh, Ruby’s taking out a spider,’ the brunette explained. ‘She’s shaking it off the broom outside over the balcony.’
‘Why doesn’t she just kill the sucker?’ Nyri shuddered. ‘Save time. I’m none too fond of those creepy crawlies. Do away with them all, I say.’
Lonnie chuckled. ‘We never kill a spider around here. It’s bad luck.’
‘Says who?’ Nyri demanded.
‘Ruby,’ Lonnie laughed.
‘I should have guessed,’ Nyri chuckled. ‘You’ve got yourself one soft-hearted girl there, Lonnie.’
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie agreed. ‘I guess I do.’ A vision of Slick popped into her mind. Too softhearted sometimes, if you ask me.
A bounty of brilliant azaleas gave way to deep colored rhododendrons. Yards all around the Rose City popped alive with fragrant roses. Spring rain turned to a delightful summer. Battleships loaded with sailors crawled into Portland’s harbor and docked by the carnival fete. The small Shaeker family staked out their place on the crowded downtown street, setting up folding chairs to watch the large Rose Festival Parade held every year in early June. This was Bethy and Ruby’s first.
As the pleasant days continued, they found themselves hiking fragrant forest trails as well as planning a few weekend motor trips in their friends’ new motorhome. For the Fourth of July the four women decided to return to the northern Oregon coast, two hours from Portland. On their first trip there, it had been raining. This time the sun was bright.
The baby’s large bib around her neck, Ruby spooned a small spoonful of mashed potatoes into the little one’s mouth as the infant sat strapped in the restaurant high chair. At over seven months, Bethy seemed very interested in putting most everything in her mouth and now used her fingers to help squeeze the food inside. She made a mess as she happily ate, but the bib seemed to catch most of the droppings. What it didn’t, Ruby wiped from her face and hands with a small, damp washcloth.
Sitting in the Pig ‘N Pan, Lonnie looked out the windows at the large crowd traveling up and down sunny Broadway Street in the small beach side town of Seaside. It was a gorgeous summer day as they watched for their friends Chase and Maddy, who had run up the street to do a little shopping.
Lonnie, Ruby and the baby’d spent another surprisingly comfortable night sleeping in Chase and Maddy’s motorhome. Ruby and Lonnie just hoped that the fact that Bethy was teething and was uncomfortable more of the time than before didn’t upset their friends too much. Ruby had been very good at heading off the tears. All five had ridden into town together, and their friends seemed cheerful enough, so they guessed it was all right.
‘There they are,’ Lonnie grinned as their two friends approached, big smiles on their faces and bundles of packages in each arm. Both rose to let the two friends slide into the booth beside them.
‘Wait till you see what we found for Bethy,’ Maddy grinned. ‘Look!’ She rustled in a bag and pulled out a tee shirt embroidered with darling seal pups and a matching pink tie-on bonnet. ‘It’s just her size.’
‘I thought you got that for Bethy as a surprise,’ Chase said to Maddy.
‘It is,’ Maddy replied, ‘Look, they’re surprised.’
‘Oh, you guys, you don’t need to buy Bethy things,’ Ruby protested.
Ruby held the teething ring before Bethy and the baby grabbed onto it with a squeal, then chewed dutifully on it, slobbering as she did so.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Chase’s attorney voice appeared, ‘She’s our little niece, aren’t you sweetheart? Of course we want to buy her things from time to time.’ She grinned. ‘Surprise or not,’ she looked at Maddy. ‘This is one of those times. Besides, the shirt’s the same color as our motorhome.’ Everyone could see the pride of ownership across Chase’s face.
‘And a beautiful home it is,’ Ruby noted.
‘And really comfortable,’ Lonnie agreed. ‘Thanks again for inviting us.’
‘Hey, we love having you come with. Oh, here comes the waitress. Let’s order their soup and salad special, Chase,’ Maddy suggested. ‘Remember how good it was last time?’ She patted her firm belly. ‘Besides, it’s not high in calories. We need to watch our weight.’
Ruby looked at the food on her plate--a fruit salad with pieces of bananas, peaches and pears that she could easily puree with a fork for Bethy, a side order of mashed potatoes, half of her own burger and a few fries that Ruby was sharing with Lonnie not to mention Bethy’s baby biscuit. Children did change adult’s dining habits, she decided, especially since she’d already breast fed the little one in the motorhome before they’d entered the restaurant.
Ruby grabbed one of Bethy’s hands and wiped it clean with her damp cloth. Then she did the other followed by the baby’s face. She reached in her pocket for her plastic bag to put the rag in, noting how well her clothes were fitting these days. I guess feeding the baby every four hours, keeping her changed and trying to keep her comfortable while she’s teething is a new exercise program that keeps a mother hopping. I sure haven’t had to count calories and yet I’m trimming down.
‘We saw a wonderful old-fashioned carousel with hand-carved horses in the building across the street. Aaaand, it was running. Let’s all go look at the horsies when we’re done eating and give Bethy her first ride. What do you say?’ Maddy asked delightedly.
They all agreed it would be fun. Suddenly the baby made some babbling noises and reached for more food. Ruby spooned her another bite of potatoes, which the baby spit out, picking up a small bit in her fingers and shaking it then sucking on her fingers. Ruby again took out her rag and wiped the baby’s fingers and face and gave her the baby biscuit that she seemed to drool over with her few little teeth.
Lonnie pulled out the camera. ‘Hold it. I’ve got to get some pictures.’ She snapped pictures all around. ‘Ruby’s putting together a baby album showing her at every month,’ she said proudly.
‘Remember to get some on the carousel. Oh, and on the way back to the camp ground, we can stop at the Factory Outlet down the road. Between there and here, there’s just tons of places to shop.’ Maddy obviously loved shopping, ‘Oh, and I saw some salt water taffy and fudge and caramel apples at several candy stores closer to the beach. I LOVE beach fudge. It always tastes so much better here, don’t you think?’
Ruby laughed. ‘I’m still trying to lose weight.’
‘Surely not at the beach!’ Chase declared, ‘That’s illegal, isn’t it, Maddy?’
‘Well, I haven’t seen the fudge yet,’ Ruby grinned. ‘Maybe it is.’
‘We can walk it off on the boardwalk and along the beach,’ Lonnie suggested. ‘The boardwalk’s several miles long. And they have the Lewis and Clark Salt Works down the way.’ She, Ruby and the baby in her carrier loved hiking and did a lot of it.
‘And we can stick our feet in the ocean,’ Ruby grinned. ‘If it’s not too cold.’ That was her idea of a good time. ‘And look for shells.’
‘Yeah, and they have those bicycle surreys for rent not far from here, too. That might be fun,’ Chase declared. Lonnie didn’t say anything but she didn’t think she wanted to risk taking the baby on a bicycle surrey. They’d hike or wander the stores instead.
‘And the arcade’s at the end of the street,’ Maddy added. ‘They have bumper cars! I loved those things when I was little. I’ll bet I still can do some damage. Who’s up for a challenge?’
‘Bethy and I will just watch that part,’ Ruby laughed. It was going to be a fun, busy day they could tell.
‘We found the perfect spot to watch the fireworks from the motorhome,’ Chase preened, ‘We might have to park there early to stake our claim.’
Lonnie was just popping the last bite of her burger in her mouth when Bethy began to fuss. ‘Oh, oh. That’s her diaper change cry,’ Lonnie said, standing to unhook the little one from the high chair before her cries disturbed other patrons.
‘Yep,’ Ruby agreed, gathering her things.
‘Sure it’s not her teething cry?’ Maddy asked. ‘That’s got to be painful.’
‘No, it’s her diaper,’ Lonnie insisted. ‘She really does cry differently for each.’
‘Amazing,’ Maddy shook her head. ‘I never thought I’d see the day that Lonnie Shaeker could tell the difference between a baby’s teething and diaper change cries. You’re a changed woman, my friend.’
Lonnie laughed. ‘I am at that.’
‘Bethy looks a lot like you, Ruby,’ Maddy noted. ‘I guess her biological father must have had the same general coloring.’
Both Lonnie and Ruby shot a quick glance at each other. They’d purposely avoided any and all mention of Bethy’s ‘donor.’
‘All right, I confess. I know he did,’ Maddy continued, unaware of any unease. ‘The parents get to make choices like that when they pick from unknown donors. Tell them how we know, Chase.’ She glanced at her girlfriend who looked up in surprise. ‘She’s too slow, I’ll tell. We’ve been checking into clinics and how all that works.’ Maddy’s look was smug.
‘You’ve decided to have a baby?’ Ruby asked.
‘No, no. Not exactly. Not right now anyway. We’re just checking into how it works. Actually, we’ve both decided we aren’t ready to be parents yet. We just got a motorhome, after all, and who knows where that might take us. Hopefully around the whole country. Besides, we have our little Bethy here to salve our motherly urges. Isn’t that right, Chase?’
‘Yup. Maybe sometime in the future.’ The attorney dug around in her shorts’ pocket. ‘And maybe not at all. Who knows? Here, take the keys,’ she added proudly. ‘You can change her in the motorhome while we eat. Then we’ll meet you at the Carousel. It’s just inside that building.’
‘Thanks. That would be great.’ Ruby let out a soft sigh of relief, took their bill, opened her purse and dug out some money to pay.
‘Bout a half hour?’ Chase asked with a smile. Ruby nodded.
The mirror behind the cashier revealed the young family moving forward to pay. The tall brunette with striking blue eyes jiggled a drooling blonde baby whose blue eyes were darker, rimmed with brown. The blonde in front of them, laden with purse and diaper bag, was holding their bill and some money in one hand. For a moment the two women glanced in the mirror at the same time and a shy, conspiratorial smile tugged at each of their mouths.
‘This is fun, isn’t it?’ Ruby laughed as they headed outside to the parking area.
‘It is now,’ Lonnie agreed. She hated having to deflect questions about Bethy’s ‘donor.’ She was such a terrible liar. She wondered how often it would come up later. Surprisingly, it hadn’t come up much so far.
‘Did you know they were checking into clinics?’ Ruby asked.
‘Nope. That’s news to me. They said something a long time ago, sure, but I’ve always felt like they got all the mothering they wanted by spoiling Bethy. I didn’t think either one really had an overwhelming desire to be parents.’
‘Yeah. That’s what I thought, too.’
Lonnie looked ahead at the motorhome. ‘What a fancy way to travel, huh? Makes me feel like a millionaire.’
‘I know,’ Ruby agreed. ‘I think you almost have to be a millionaire to own one of these beauties. And just think, they want us to go with them to The Dunes next month. Maddy said that’s on the central Oregon coast. Do you think we can?’
‘Don’t know why not,’ Lonnie smiled. ‘Is it within our budget?’
‘Uh, I think so,’ Ruby chewed her lip. The two couples split the night fees and gasoline costs, making it a very reasonable price for such a normally costly trip.
Lonnie admired the new class A and sighed. ‘I don’t think we’ll ever be able to afford a motorhome. They cost so much. But maybe one day we could get a little trailer...a used one, maybe, with a bed and a kitchen and room for Bethy’s bassinet. Just big enough for the three of us.’
‘Do you think so?’ Ruby asked with delight. They still had many bills to pay. A trailer probably wouldn’t be feasible for quite some time.
‘Maybe next year,’ Lonnie nodded. ‘It’s a good investment.’
‘Oh Lonnie, I’ll start a small trailer fund right away,’ Ruby felt a definite sense of progress. Our own trailer, imagine. She thought of her family. They’d be impressed. But she pushed aside the thought fairly easily, finding less pain in her family’s rejection of her. It was their loss.
Ruby sat at the table looking through the picture album she’d assembled of their trip to California. What joy she’d had assembling it. The air conditioner in the back bedroom pumped cool air down the hall. ‘Feel the cool air, baby girl?’ she grinned at the little one who sat bouncing in her bounce chair hung in the doorway to the kitchen.
‘We got an announcement from your Auntie Nicole today. Remember her? She came to visit you and called you her FuFu girl. She loves children so much. Probably had to sneak this into the mail.’ Ruby held up the card. ‘And look, she sent some newspaper clippings, too.’
The baby squealed, chewed on her teething ring and bounced happily.
‘Bethy,’ Ruby called. The baby looked her way. ‘See, this one is about Nicole graduating. She did it. She got her Bachelor of Science degree.’ The smile left Ruby’s face. ‘It wasn’t the easy way to do it, I’m afraid.’ A far-off look prevailed, ‘but at least she did it.’
The baby bounced and shook the ring, surprised at the noise it made. Ruby laughed. How big their little girl was getting.
‘This one’s about her wedding,’ Ruby sighed. ‘A June wedding. Why do people think when you get married is important. Seems to me who one marries is much more important. And gee, I wish she hadn’t married David. You remember him, don’t you, sweetness? He wasn’t a nice man. Not at all. But, she married him.’ She picked up the announcement card. ‘She scribbled for us not to let on that we know any of this. Said she was sure it would anger David if he found out.’
Ruby pushed her shorter hair from her face. She’d finally gotten it trimmed. ‘So we won’t,’ she said softly. She examined the newspaper photo. ‘Looks like an elegant affair with an impeccable guest list. I don’t see one of our friends from the dorm.’ She dropped her shoulders, ‘Why couldn’t she have waited?’ She sighed. ‘She could have found someone so much nicer.’
Ruby pushed herself to her feet. ‘Oh, Nikki, where’s the light hearted girl I remember?’ Then she snickered joylessly, ‘Oh well, I guess you could say that about me, too sometimes. I’ll stick these in the back of the album and show Mumsy when she gets home. She’ll want to see them.’
She walked over and grabbed the morning paper from the couch. ‘And Mumsy’ll be happy to see what’s going on with the stock she talked me into buying with that uncommitted part of our wedding gift. If it keeps going up, you baby girl, will have your education paid for in no time.’
She put the paper under the album on the coffee table. ‘You’ll love college. Some say its the best four years of their lives. I want that for you. But Mumsy is right about doing things you love. You spend your life working. You might as well love the best-paying job college can get you.’
Bethy began a tentative, almost feigned cry. Ruby looked over and smiled. The little one had dropped her teething ring on the floor...again. Teary blue eyes looked up at Ruby. ‘I’ll get it,’ Ruby chuckled.
The tears instantly stopped. ‘Oh, and there’s your book on the table.’ She bent down and rubbed noses with the child. ‘You want your Mumsy to read to you later, don’t you?’ Bethy tilted her head. ‘Can you say Mumsy?’ Ruby asked. She wiped off the teething ring. ‘Mumsy?’ she repeated, handing it to the baby. ‘Ahmumumum,’ Bethy babbled.
‘Okay, big girl,’ Ruby praised, ‘Close enough.’
The day before the trial date for Henry Joe ‘Slick’ Turcots finally arrived. After much fussing and negotiating, it was decided that Slick and Ace would be tried separately. Slick’s trial was scheduled first.
‘Okay, Temple,’ Nyri said, pressing her ear to her small cell phone as she walked the busy corridor of the Washington State Judicial Center. ‘I’ve talked with Abbie, uh, the Prosecutor. She has concerns.’
‘About the young girl he tried to rape? Doesn’t she think the kid will hold up under questioning?’ Temple shifted the phone to his other ear and gazed out the windows at the distant scene. Eastward snow topped Mt. Hood rose majestically from blue-grey hills into warm, summer skies. To the north the snow-covered, flattened top of Mt. St. Helens glowed in the azure heavens. Sunlit bridges arched the Willamette River like bracelets. Such a peaceful scene. It made one think nothing in the world could ever go wrong. Temple wondered if that would be even remotely true.
‘No. She’s worried about prospective jurors. She’s going to have to flush out any people with preconceived notions, you know, negative attitudes about rape or sexual abuse victims. Or those who don’t know what date rape is and insist on blaming the victim for going on a date with the guy.’
‘I suppose there are still old-age thinkers like that.’
‘More than you know. And she says it’s our bad luck that Slick’s fairly good looking. His attorney will have him on his best behavior, spruced up like some accredited business man in a suit and tie, clean shaven with a new, wholesome hair cut. Female jurors in particular have trouble understanding why an attractive man would need to sexually abuse a woman. When that happens, they tend to acquit. It only takes one.’
‘So her concern’s centered around the jury.’
‘Pretty much. The evidence appears solid. The defense attorneys, he has three, have already tried every trick in the book to get what they can thrown out. Fortunately, they’ve not been too successful.’
‘That’s good. What about Lonnie? Will she be testifying?’
‘She’s not listed. The defense hasn’t asked word one about the person in the alley or the guy in the bar. Don’t know why. They know someone else was there. I told Abbie about her, said she was there and in what capacity.’
‘What did she say about that?’
‘She wasn’t thrilled. She’d have been happier if Lonnie hadn’t been there. But she says she doesn’t think she’s needed to testify. However, she will draw on her if absolutely necessary. Personally, I hope she doesn’t have to. It could get a little dicey.’
Temple’s lips pinched, ‘Well, yes it could girl.’
‘I know what you’re thinking, Temple...you’re considering the subterfuge, the costuming. But mostly I don’t want her to have to give her name and address. Turcots would see her without a costume and remember her crossing the bridge and put together that she and Ruby live together. He’d love to know Ruby’s whereabouts. I’d just as soon he didn’t know.’
‘Oh. Of course. The man’s a veritable madman. What about the judge?’
‘Well, you did the background search for me. You saw his credentials. He strongly supports individual rights. That could be a problem, I guess, but he’s also been known to come down on the law and order side. Abbie’s not really worried about him. She thinks he’ll ultimately be fair.’
‘Good. No worries there, then? Do you testify first?’
‘Yes, after jury selection. But that can take days. Listen, call Lonnie and the other victims and make sure they’re aware of Abbie’s concerns about tomorrow. Don’t make it sound like we’ve already lost. We haven’t. Give a balanced view. I want everyone to know what we’re up against from the start. No surprises. Oh, and Temple?’
‘Has Evin Sinclair called...you remember the attorney I hired to handle the sale of my new system?’
‘Good grief, how does anyone forget her? And no, she hasn’t called since she talked to you last. That woman scared the bejeebers out of me that time, Nyri. Honestly, she’s high-powered in a big, scary way. Nearly gave me a heart attack.’
Nyri laughed. Temple’s voice became pinched and typically ‘gay guy’ when pressed. He had certainly reverted to that now.
‘Yeah, she can have that effect. Aren’t you glad she’s on our side?’
‘On your side, my dear. She didn’t sound for a minute like she was on my side. Well, thankfully she hasn’t called, but Simone has called twice. Something about you joining her at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. I put her off as usual. And the Big Foot Police Department has called three times. They’re dying to be a part of your system test group. They’ve asked me to please, please be sure and have you call them.’
The smile vanished from Nyri’s face. ‘Why would the Big Foot PD be so anxious to test my project? They’re crooked as rickrack, those guys. And their department’s too small to have much in the way of problems with serial crimes. Unless....’
‘Are they familiar with our monstrous Mr. Turcots?’
‘Just what I was thinking. Maybe they’re afraid he’s going to rat them out on the drug scene. If he does, IF...his reach very well may go as far as their bailiwick. My project would give them a big leg up on tracking him down in that case, provided he doesn’t give up his current activities.’
‘Won’t he be in jail?’
‘For the rape, he should be, yes. But IF he testifies, he’ll likely go in the Witness Protection Program.’
‘I would think he’d have a pretty strong motivation to give rape up.’
‘You’d think. But do rapists ever stop on their own? Well, anyway, be polite but turn Big Foot down. Evin has a sale all but tied up, she said. So it won’t be my program much longer. Just in time, too. I’ve heard the technological genius I. T. Justin has a similar program in the works.’
‘Really? Okay. I’ll get right on everything. Is it unlucky to wish you ‘good luck’? Maybe I should say ‘break a leg’ like they do in stage productions.’
‘Say goodbye, Temple.’
‘Right. Goodbye Temple.’ Nyri hung up, stood and looked around her. Damn! She wanted all her time to be spent going over her notes for her testimony. But she’d need to discuss with Abbie the possibility that there was a DTU deal that could affect their case. Isn’t that what the Big Foot attention might be all about? She noted where she was, turned around and headed back toward the Prosecutor’s office.
The defendant shot up in his seat as the crowd filtered into the room on the first day of trial. One of Slick’s attorneys gripped him firmly by the arm.
Clad in his new dark grey suit, white shirt and maroon tie, from the open door of the hallway Nyri watched Slick’s eyes scan the large group of her current clients, his past victims, as they gathered together in the gallery to watch the proceedings. His attorney indeed had him donned out in respectable business clothing, along with the finest of ultra-tidy hair cuts. He looked more than respectable and even a touch handsome.
From the surprise registered on their faces, Nyri was sure neither Slick nor his attorney had expected this crowd. Slick had not expected that his victims might ever organize. So to see five victims, some with parents, some with friends, boyfriends, relatives sit down together to watch his legal tap dancing had to have been more than unsettling for him.
He pulled himself together quickly, however, and flashed a confident, flirtatious smile at the women, ending his gaze with a smug wink.
Meant to harass, Nyri thought. She’d coached each victim that if they chose to observe the trial, which she suggested they not do, they must not, under any circumstances, give him the benefit of seeing any fear they might have. They must be prepared to hold up against any ideas Slick or his attorneys might dish out, no matter how unsavory they might sound.
It was knowing, as she did, the possibility of the DTU’s wiping out any and all prior ‘bad acts’ of this man, preventing any further rape trials of Slick’s from proceeding, that gave her any peace in knowing this group would be in the building at all.
Nyri watched Slick ask one of his attorneys a question, then both men’s eyes flew past the open doors of the corridor to rest on her. That’s right, sleaze bags, she thought, it’s all been on your side till now. But starting here, starting now, let your troubles begin.
‘Lonnie?’ Temple asked as he spoke hurriedly on the phone. ‘I know you’re at work, but I need to make a quick report while I can.’
‘Temple? What’s happening now? Where’s Nyri?’
‘Testifying already? I thought they had to choose a jury first.’
‘Yes. Well, no. I only have a few minutes, but I wanted to let you know, Slick has given up the right to a trial by jury. Believe it or not, he wants to stand before a judge only...no jury. It surprised everyone, particularly the Prosecutor.’
‘So she doesn’t have to worry about selecting a jury?’
‘I didn’t know a person could do that.’
‘Oh, yeah. But it worries Nyri. She’s not sure why he’s doing it. The Prosecutor thinks the defense is thinking they’ve drawn a mushball judge who will let Slick off, one who will go easier on him than a jury would. But we know that isn’t necessarily true. So the Prosecutor thinks Slick’s counsel might really have misconstrued the situation this time. She’s delighted. She says it takes a lot of pressure off her.’
‘But Nyri’s concerned?’
‘Yes. Slick’s attorneys are sharp, sleazedogs, you understand, but sharp. So, she can’t help wondering what he has up his sleeve. Anyway, since there’s no jury selection, the trial has begun.’
‘Does Nyri think they’ll call me to the stand?’
‘Only as a last resort. But she says be ready...in case. And if the defense thinks there’s something fishy about your not being listed for the prosecution, they might contact you. But they should have done that by now, if they’re going to. Certainly the defense knows you were a witness for most of the crime. Only they think you were a man. Surpriiiiiiise.’
‘Should I worry, Temple?’
‘Don’t think so. Anyway, Nyri wanted you to know that she hasn’t figured out the why of what Slick’s side is doing yet. Okay? She’s got feelers out, but everyone’s being exceptionally mum about everything. More than normal. That’s where it stands so far. I’d better get back. The phones are ringing off the hook today.’
‘Okay. Thanks, Temple. Tell Nyri, thanks. We appreciate any updates.’
‘Will do. Bye, Lonnie.’
The trial seemed to fly by without a jury.
‘You need to know,’ Nyri had told all her clients by phone, ‘that even if we win, Slick most likely won’t spend that long in jail. It’d be a first conviction of this kind and it’s for ‘attempted’ rape, not rape itself. The fact that there were two men involved, though, makes it that much worse and could jack the time up. Just be prepared for a lessor sentence. Remember, it’s the conviction we need. Serving time is an added bonus.’
‘How long?’ every person she talked to asked.
‘No telling. We’ll pray for a conviction and go from there.’
‘Years? Months? Days? What?’
‘Okay, okay. I’m hoping for a couple years, but it might be less.’
Before they knew it, the trial was ending. Early before court on closing argument day, Nyri stood behind the Prosecutor’s table speaking quietly with Abbie. Everything was going exceedingly well for the prosecution. Nyri looked at the clock. Almost time for her to get to her meeting. Other than to testify, she had not stayed in the courtroom.
The defendant, as he was being led into court, suddenly called out to their table, ‘You got a Ruby, a little Rachel or a Misty not here yet?’ He cavalierly flicked his thumb in the direction of the victim’s group in the gallery, ‘Be sure and tell ‘em their baby’s father demands visitation rights. In fact, he intends to exert every last father’s right available! Then he said to his victims, ‘Hi girls, you all look lovely this morning. Miss me?’’
The Deputy leading him spoke sharply, but Slick focused on Nyri. ‘Well, if it isn’t little Goldilocks. You didn’t hafta do all that sneakin’ around to learn about my love life.’ He grabbed his crotch. ‘I’d have shared personally. All you had to do was ask.’ He laughed as he took his seat, but his lead attorney’s words were briery. Slick’s laugh turned to a smirk.
‘Jerk,’ Nyri whispered to Abbie before she walked out of the courtroom.
The court had not found Slick’s antics amusing. A second guard was at his elbow in a heartbeat, hand and feet chains at the ready. Once the court was officially called into session, Slick and his lead attorney were both summoned before the bench where they were severely admonished. The cuffs were utilized on Slick, his smirk disappearing while his attorney made a long and formal apology to the court.
Continued in Chapter 15
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