“Charlotte?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked. “It’s Christopher.”
“Chris!” she squealed, maybe a little too loudly. “What’s going on, little bro?”
“I need to talk to you,” he said solemnly. “I need some advice. Can we meet somewhere?”
“Sure, honey. Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.
“No, not really,” he said, sadness in his voice. “Where do you want to meet?”
“How about the coffeehouse on the strip by the park?” she suggested.
“Sounds good. I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.” Chris hung up the phone.
“Travis, I need to go meet Christopher. He said he needs my advice.” She grabbed her car keys and headed for the door.
“Do you need me to come along?” he offered.
“Not this time, sweetie,” she said. “I don’t know what he’s needing to talk about. But thank you!” She blew a kiss to him, and closed the door behind her.
Anxiously, she drove to the Flying V, and waited for Chris outside by the stage, sipping on a vanilla latte. When he finally arrived, she noticed how old he seemed, and he was younger than she was. She stood to hug him, and noticed he was close to tears. “What’s wrong, Chris?” she asked, very troubled.
“Charli, it’s Cade. We’ve grown apart. We never see each other anymore. She’s always at work. We fight constantly when she is home. I think she has someone on the side.” His heart shattered to pieces right there at the table. “She is my whole world. I can’t stand the thought of her, with someone else.”
“Honey, are you sure? Maybe she really is at work?” Charlotte really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it had been a long time since she had seen Cade herself.
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I can’t remember the last time we …” he couldn’t say it. “What else would make her not want me, Charli?”
She hugged him. “Christopher, I don’t know honey. Do you want to come and stay with Travis and me for a while? You and Greg can stay in the loft.”
“I don’t know what I want, Charlotte. It’s been a lot longer than just recently. After Nicky’s death, she got weird. We were okay for a while, and then when Mama and Dad died, she got weird again.” He looked so incredibly sad, that her heart ached for him. “Greg has even noticed it and asks me where she is all the time. I don’t know what to tell him anymore. It’s almost like she’s been absent his whole childhood.”
“I know Darcey would love to have Greg come and stay with us, and you too. I’ll check with Travis and see what he says, but I don’t see a problem with you staying with us while you two get things worked out, or you figure it out.” She took out her phone and texted Travis.
Honey, Christopher is having problems with Cade and needs a place to crash with Greg for a few days. Do you mind if he stays in the loft for about a week or so, until they get things figured out?
“I mean, I could track her phone, but I don’t want her to think I don’t trust her.” Chris wiped tears from his eyes.
“Well, do you trust her?” Charlotte asked.
“Not really.” He looked at his cell, and opened his family plan app. “This app shows me everywhere she’s been in the past week. I’m afraid to look.”
She took the phone from his hand and gazed at the app. “Then I’ll look.” She studied the map, noted where her salon was located, and their home. “Was she home on Friday night?”
“No, she said she was working.”
“The app showed her at the Brotherhood of Fine Fellows Hall until 1am. Is it possible someone had her phone?”
“I suppose it’s possible she lost it, but she wasn’t home, either.”
“Oh wait, she was at an address by the beach. The bed and breakfast.” Charlotte knew that address intimately.
“I knew it.” He buried his head in his hands and sobbed. “I’m a fool to trust that woman, Charli.”
“Maybe it’s not what it seems, Chris.”
“You really seem to be giving her a break. You see the evidence with your own eyes.” Charlotte’s phone beeped Travis’ text tone.
Baby, I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll send the girls up with some linens and blankets, and Danae can make the bed for him for tonight.
“You are coming home with me tonight. Is Greg home?” she asked.
“He’s at work. He has a little part-time job after school. He’ll be home soon, though.”
“Text him to come to our house. If he needs a ride, I’ll go get him.” She reached for his hand. “Chris, we’re going to get this figured out. And if she walks away from you, then she is a bigger fool than I thought, because you’re a pretty awesome guy.” She stood and took his hand. “Come on, Chris.” Reluctantly, he followed her. “Do you need clothes? I don’t think Travis’ stuff will fit you. He’s got you by about 6 inches and about 40 pounds.”
“I’m good for tonight. I don’t even want to go home right now.” They walked to Charlotte’s car, and she drove them home. Chris called Greg. “Greg, when you leave work, have your friend drop you at Aunt Charlotte’s house. We’re staying with her and Uncle Travis for a few days.” He hung up the phone. “I hope he gets that message before he clocks out.”
“If he needs a ride from the house, I’ll go get him.” Charlotte offered. “It’s not a problem.” They pulled into the driveway, and Chris looked at the backyard as nostalgia washed over him.
“I haven’t been back in this house since Mama died.” He walked into the living room, and tears filled his eyes. “This is surreal. How do you do it, Charli?”
“This is where we live. I have to cope with it.” She said, very matter-of-factly. “If you check the attic, there might be some of your old clothes in a dresser. They might still fit you,” she laughed. “Travis is at work until almost 7pm, so make yourself comfortable.”
Darcey heard her uncle’s voice downstairs and raced down to hug him. “Uncle Chris!” she squealed, jumping into his arms.
“Darcey bug!” he hugged her. “Oooh, I’ve missed you! Look how big you’ve gotten!”
“Is Greg coming, too?” she asked excitedly.
“He is, after work,” Chris told her. He looked around, and everything still looked the same from his childhood. The decor. Destiny’s and Bella’s SimFest Awards, and even the furniture was the same. “I don’t know how you can live here, surrounded by everything that was Mama’s, Charli.”
“It keeps her nearby when I need her the most.” She smiled. “Every time I miss her, I look around me. She’s still here.”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it.” Chris smiled and felt at home for the first time in years.
“Travis,” a familiar, but unwanted feminine voice called out to him. “Travis!” He spun around and saw her, waving frantically to him from the stands. He rolled his eyes and walked away from her. Undeterred, she jumped the wall and ran onto the field, catching him by the arm. “What is wrong with you? Didn’t you hear me?” she scolded him playfully.
“Oh, I heard you,” Travis spat. “How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?”
“You know what you have to do to get me to go away, cutie pie.” She kissed her finger and tried to touch him with it, but he ducked away from her.
“You’re going to be awfully disappointed when I retire, and you’re still pining for me, unrequited.” Travis laughed.
“I’m not going to have to wait that much longer, sugar,” she said. “It’s coming up soon, our romantic date. You will want to wear something… sexy.”
“You’re delusional,” he said.
“And you’re mine,” she countered.
The hair on the back of his neck stood up on end. “What did you just say?”
“And tell that pretty little wife of yours that if I can’t have you, she can’t either. And when I’m done with you, you’ll be damaged goods, no good to anyone, especially her.” She spat the word ‘her’ in total contempt.
He shook his head and jogged towards the locker room, his heart beating out of his chest. He hated to make the phone call this late in the afternoon, but he had to.
“Steve? It’s Travis Jones.”
“Travis, what can I do for you?”
“I need that bodyguard, and I need it soon.” He hated to admit to himself that it was even necessary, but Kathleen frightened him.
“Starting when?” Steve got his calendar out, looking to see who was open and how quickly.
“Now. Starting immediately.”
“Now? Where are you?”
“The Clips Center. I’m not leaving this stadium until I have an armed guard on my six.”
“Wow, she must have said something that rattled you,” Steve commented casually.
“You have no idea, Steve. I’m in the home team locker room. I can meet him at the team entrance.” He was trying to control his breathing, so he wouldn’t hyperventilate.
“Expect Pete Kelly. He did Charlotte’s security back in the day. He’s definitely packing heat.”
“I remember Pete. Thanks, Steve. I owe you.”
“No problem, Travis. Stay safe.”
Travis hung up the phone and called Charlotte. “Baby?”
“Hey honeybear,” she began, “Chris is here and Greg…” he cut her off
“I don’t mean to interrupt. I’m going to be late. Remember Pete Kelly? Your security guard from years ago?” There was clear panic in his voice, and it alarmed her.
“Yes. Travis? What’s going on?”
“I hired him. I need help getting out of this stadium. Kathleen freaked me right the hell out tonight.”
“What did she say?”
“Remember the pool dream?”
“Yes…” How could I forget, she thought.
“She almost said what was in that dream, verbatim.”
Charlotte began to tremble, breaking out in a cold sweat. Chris saw her face go pale and thought she would faint. “Charli?”
“She didn’t…” Chris got up and moved toward his sister, ready to catch her should she collapse.
“She did, honey. That’s why I’m going to be late.” Travis could not stop shaking.
“Be safe, and call me when you’re on your way home.” Charlotte felt sick to her stomach.
“I will, my love. I’ll see you soon.”
She hung up the phone. “Charli? What’s wrong?” Feeling her trembling, Chris took her by the arm and helped her sit down.
“My worst nightmare, Chris.”
“What do you mean, your worst nightmare?” Chris was worried. “What’s going on?”
“You remember the night Travis almost died from alcohol poisoning?”
“I can’t forget that night. What does that have to do with that phone call?”
“The woman from that night, she’s been stalking him at the stadium for over a year. Apparently, she thinks she is going to get her way with him, despite him telling her otherwise. So, when we were on vacation last year, I had these dreams, nightmares actually. Each one was worse than the last one, ranging from them being here, and me finding their clothes strewn everywhere, to finding him dead in a pool with an ominous message emblazoned on his shirt in red lipstick, to coming home to find she had killed him and the kids. I mean, these were some serious, psychopathic nightmares.”
Chris shook his head. “I had no idea, Charli. I am so sorry.”
“Well, tonight, she must have confronted him because he told me she just said, almost word for word, what she told me in my dream.” She swallowed a lump that rose in her throat. “It freaked him out.”
“Yeah, there’s no doubt why. Holy wow, Charlotte.” Her phone rang, and his number came up on the caller ID.
“Baby, I’m with Pete, and we’re on the way home in an armored car. You and Chris can go get my car in the morning, with Pete. You’re not leaving without someone, either, nor are the kids.”
“We’re waiting for you at home, sweetie. I love you.” She turned to Chris. “This might not be a great time for you to be staying here with us. I don’t want to put you and Greg in harm’s way.”
“Don’t worry about us, honey,” he said to Charlotte, hugging her. “I’m worried about you. Can’t you get a restraining order for him?”
“A judge won’t look at one until something happens. Until then, it’s only a threat. We’ve tried, and we haven’t been successful, at all.” She sighed, frustrated.
“Our taxpayer dollars hard at work,” Chris grumbled.
Ten minutes later, Travis safely walked through the front door, and into Charlotte’s waiting arms. “Thank you, Pete,” she said, grateful he was home.
“We’re going to establish a perimeter around the house, Mr. Jones. Steve wants to do this for you tonight, as a courtesy. You have my number in case you need me. I’ll be on shift until 6am, and then Larry will be taking the kids to school in an armored car, unless you decide to keep them home. Just let us know.”
“Thank you, Pete,” Travis said, kissing Charlotte over and over. “I’ve never been so happy to see you in my whole life, baby. I need to make one phone call, honey, I’ll be right back.” He walked to the spa room and closed the door.
“Travis? What can I do for you?” Armand Halsey was on the other end of the phone.
“Armand, I hate to bother you, since I know you cherish your family time. But we have a situation with a woman who has been stalking me at the stadium. She has been making general, harmless threats for a little over a year, but now she is starting to get more specific, more alarming. I’ve had to hire a private security company. I’ll be honest, sir, she scared me tonight.”
“Who is this woman, and why are we allowing her into the stadium during open practices?”
“Her name is Kathleen Vasquez—” Travis started, and Armand stopped him.
“I know exactly who you’re talking about. She’s somehow related to the Best family, but ironically none of the Best family even remains in town anymore, so she has no clout. Abigail Best was the last living one in the Shores, and she’s been gone for almost 10 years.”
“Is there something we can do to stop her? I don’t want to get into this on the phone, but she has my wife and me pretty spooked.”
“I’ll call the owner of the Clips Center, and see if I can’t pull some strings. In the meantime, the team will pay for your security detail. Just have whoever it is you’ve hired send the bill to my attention. I’ll include it in your benefits package.”
“I can’t thank you enough, Armand. Neil has been less than useless, especially since the fight we had a few months ago. He won’t stop the guys from talking about my wife, but he encourages her to harass me constantly. I’m telling you, if I catch them, hear them, I’m going to level one of them. That will stop it.”
Armand laughed. “Yes, I think it would. Look, Travis, don’t worry about the expense of this. Just be safe, and take care of your family. Allow me to worry about it for you.”
Travis sighed. “That’s not why I called you, to get that bill paid, but I won’t argue with you over it. I just wanted to find out if you could have her banished somehow, though I doubt that would stop her if she has some grandiose plans.”
“I’ll work on it, son. Just take care of your family, and let me take care of you. It’s the least I can do for my star player.” Travis thanked him and hung up the phone.
“Well, that was the team owner, sweetie. He’s going to try to get some strings pulled and get her ejected from the Clips Center. That will help while I’m at work. Oh, and he’s picking up the tab for Steve and his security detail, which is nice of him. Wasn’t why I called, but I’ll take it.” Travis hugged her, kissing her repeatedly. Charlotte laughed, and Chris blushed. “Oh, hey Chris,” he said, suddenly embarrassed of his displays of affection with Charlotte.
“Good to see you, man,” Chris held out a hand, and Travis hugged him.
“Your dad would say, ‘We’re family.’” Travis laughed, remembering his first few encounters with Rog. “I really miss your folks sometimes.”
“Yeah, me too. It’s been a little surreal being here tonight. It’s almost like I expect Mama and Dad to come down the steps at any moment.” Chris laughed. Travis’ phone rang, and it was the call box.
“It’s Greg,” the call came in. “Would you buzz me in?” Travis checked the camera, and confirmed it, and entered the code.
“Come on in, kiddo,” Travis called to him. “We’ll see you inside.”
Greg ran to the front door, where Chris was waiting for him. “Hey son, how was work today?” he asked.
“Good. Why are we here, Dad? What’s going on with Mom?” Greg had a feeling something like this was coming, but was surprised to see armed security around the house.
“Your mom and I need to work things out, but I don’t want to be around her, if she’s even home right now. We need to be around family.” Chris said, smiling at his big sister and her loving family.
“What’s with the goon squad outside?”
“That’s for Uncle Travis. His celebrity status sometimes requires extra security,” Chris explained without getting into fine details. Greg wasn’t nearly as sheltered as his younger cousins, but he didn’t need to know everything, either. He nodded his head and sat in front of the television with Devin. Chris picked up his telephone and opened his wallet. “Dinner is on me tonight. What do you want on your pizza?”
“Chris, you don’t have to do that,” Charlotte said. “I already have something planned.”
“Please,” Chris insisted. “It’s the least I can do for the night.”
Travis and Steve spent the majority of the evening on the phone, detailing plans for security for Charlotte, the girls, and Devin over the next week. Travis would have two guards outside at a time around the home for twenty-four-hour coverage, and someone who would escort him to and from work, and stand guard nearby while he was on the field, except during games, when Clips Center security would take over. He had the entire schedule emailed to him and sat down with the family to explain everything.
“Larry will cover the kids, taking Danae, Darcey, and Devin to school. The high school already has armed security, but Devin’s grade school does not, so Larry will stand guard around him during the day, and Nathan will pick up Danae and Darcey from high school and bring them home. Pete Kelly is assigned to me, and Evan Lamont is assigned to Charlotte and will escort her to and from work. Hospital security should be sufficient to protect her during the day,” he said. “I know this is a mess right now, but when the threat passes, this will stop. My main priority right now is keeping all of you safe.” Travis swallowed a lump in his throat. “If anything ever happened to any of you, I’d…” he had to stop talking.
“Okay, kids, that’s the plan for the week,” Charlotte finished the meeting. “We have to be up extra early in the morning so you guys can be ready for Larry.”
“Why is this happening, Mama?” Darcey asked. “Why does this person want to hurt Daddy?”
“When I find out, punkin, I’ll let you know. Right now, nobody knows why.” Charlotte tried not to let her fear show to the girls, but they saw right through her.
“Mama, I’m scared,” Danae whispered. “I don’t want to leave the house.”
“You’ll be safe with Larry, and the school will protect you during the day, unless we find out otherwise.” Travis added. “I’m who she wants, baby girl. We’re just protecting you and your brother and sister, to be cautious.”
“Devin, sweetie, don’t leave with anyone who claims to be family, unless it is someone you know, like Uncle Chris. Don’t even leave with Aunt Cade right now, because she doesn’t know about our arrangement. Okay, honey?” Charlotte wanted to make sure he knew what to do if someone approached him.
“Yes Mama,” he said.
Charlotte and Travis tucked the kids into bed and kissed them goodnight. And then Travis did something he hadn’t done in over a year… open a bottle of wine and pour himself a glass. Charlotte joined him, and Chris had the third glass as they sat in the living room, talking.
“Travis, it’s Pete. Time to go, bud,” he called upstairs to Travis as he struggled to fix his tie. Flustered, he just gave up and made his way to the door.
“On my way, Pete,” he yelled, grabbing his duffel bag. There would be a press conference that afternoon about player trades, and he was on the question and answer team. “Man, I wish Charlotte was here right now,” he muttered under his breath as he hit the bottom step. “Let’s roll,” he said to Pete, taking his house keys from the peg.
At the stadium, he dropped his duffel at the locker room and walked to Smitty, who was now confirmed to be his closest friend on the team. “Hey Trey, could you do me a favor and fix this dang tie? Charlotte wasn’t home yet, and I can’t figure it out.”
Smitty laughed. “You should have asked your son.”
“He was at school, or I would have,” Travis chuckled. “One of these days, I’m going to figure it out.”
“Yeah, after you’ve retired, old man,” Smitty teased.
Travis joined Neil, Armand and the assistant coach at the press conference, with Pete standing by, armed to the teeth. “Holy crap, Travis,” Neil remarked. “What’s with the guard? Can’t take care of yourself anymore?”
Travis ignored the comment. “Let’s just get through this presser.”
During the press shoot, Kathleen showed up, pacing back and forth, trying to wave to Travis. Pete knew who to look for and kept a close and watchful eye on her. When the last question was answered, and Armand ended the conference, Kathleen tried to make her way onto the field, but Pete stopped her.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’re not allowed on the field when Mr. Jones is on.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a Best, and I can do what I want,” she insisted, trying to push past him.
“Ma’am, you will not go near Mr. Jones.” He showed her his sidearm, but she was not impressed.
“You’re going to need more firepower than that, darlin’,” she huffed, and he caught her arm.
“Ed,” Pete yelled to the head of Clips Center security. “Please escort Ms. Vasquez out of the stadium.”
“Come on, Kathleen, the rules have changed. You’re not allowed near the field during practice anymore.”
“You can’t keep him from me!” she yelled, as Ed escorted her away.
“Watch me,” Pete yelled. He pulled out his smartphone, and recorded the incident, as Steve required him to do.
Travis walked toward Pete, unaware of what had taken place. “I just need my bag, and we’re good to go,” he said.
“Papa Bear leaving the stadium,” Pete spoke into his radio.
Travis laughed. “Papa Bear?”
“Yeah, when we heard you call Devin ‘little bear,’ we came up with code names for you and Charlotte. She’s Mama Bear.” He turned to Travis, his hand on his firearm. “Let’s go.”
Pete got Travis safely home and delivered him to Charlotte’s waiting arms. “Hello, honeybear,” she said, hugging him. “Thank you, Pete,” she yelled, as he waved and left the house.
“Hey baby,” he said, kissing her. “Did you see the presser today? I’m signed for another three years. All I have to do is actually sign the contract. I wanted to discuss it with you first, though.”
“I didn’t see it, no. Is Smitty sticking around?”
“Yes, he’s good for another year. After that, he’s a free agent.”
“What do you want to do, honey?” She was curious.
“I’m going to sign unless we talk the kids into moving before tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath. The girls have a dance coming up, and they’re going to want to go.”
“That settles it, then. I wish Neil would go away, but it is what it is.” Travis shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just happy to be home safely.” He hugged her close. “I love you, my sweet Charlotte.”
“Me too, honeybear.” She kissed him. “I love you so much.”
Chris came in with a handful of mail on his way in from his night shift, and let himself into the gate, as he did every morning for the week since they had been staying with Charlotte and Travis. An obscure envelope was addressed to Travis, with no address on it, and no return. Chris set the mail on the counter, grabbed his rubber work gloves, and analyzed the letter. Charlotte was up, cooking breakfast for the kids as they got ready for school upstairs. “What is that, Chris?”
“It looks like someone left a letter in the mailbox for Travis. I’m checking it for chemical residue.”
“Leave it. Let me call the police,” Charlotte said. “It shouldn’t be tampered with.”
“It seems to be clean,” he said, putting away his equipment, and pulling his goggles from his eyes. “I don’t see anything on it.”
“I’m still going to call the police. They need to see it if it’s from who I think it is.” Charlotte dialed the non-emergency number for the police department. She had the day off from work and had no other plans.
Greg came downstairs, dressed for school. “Good morning, Aunt Charlotte,” he said politely. “May I?” he asked, motioning toward a plate of fresh banana pancakes.
“Help yourself, honey,” she answered, smiling at her only nephew. “You don’t have to ask.”
The police showed up about twenty minutes after Charlotte called them. The lead detective entered the override code for the gate and came to the front door, knocking. Charlotte answered, and let them in.
“The letter is here, officers. My brother is a scientist at the facility and did a preliminary analysis of the envelope. He didn’t detect any chemical residue.”
They took the letter and opened it. There was no powder or chemical inside, but just a lone piece of paper with scribbled handwriting on it.
Tonight’s the night. Wear something sexy.
“Dr. Jones, may we keep this? We might be able to pull something from this, and come up with a suspect based on evidence.”
“I can give you a name, detective,” she said. “Kathleen Vasquez. She has been stalking my husband for the past 13 months, and lately, her threats have been more specific and sinister, which is why you see armed guards outside the house.”
“There were no guards outside, Dr. Jones. The front of the house was clear.”
“Travis!” she shrieked, running for the bedroom.
She ran up the stairs as fast as she could go, and flung their bedroom door open. He was sleeping peacefully in their bed, and she collapsed on the floor, crying. The two detectives were right behind her and helped her up from the floor. “I can’t do this anymore,” she wept. “Please, officers, do something about this wretched woman, before she hurts my husband.” She walked to where he slept, and noticed he was dressed in his pajamas. When they fell asleep the evening before, neither of them had been wearing anything. “Something is wrong,” she said, touching him. Ordinarily, her touch would wake him, but he laid in bed, unresponsive. “Call emergency!” she screamed, “he’s not moving.” Grabbing her bag, she brought out her stethoscope and listened for his heartbeat. It was strong and steady, but his breathing was shallow.
“Honey,” she cried, trying to rouse him. “I think there’s someone in the house. The kids!” she screamed, nearly hysterical. “Where are my children?” She opened the door to their room, and all three of them were huddled together, shaking. “What happened?”
“Mama, a strange man was in the house. I don’t know where he went.” Danae cried, trembling visibly. The police, hearing the update from the kids, called for backup.
“Chris!” Charlotte yelled. “I need you!” Chris came running from the living room, taking the stairs two at a time.
“What’s wrong, Charli?” he asked as he saw the twins and Devin huddled together.
“Please protect them. I think someone is in the house.” She went back to their bedroom and sat with Travis, trying to wake him. “Honeybear, please…” she held him and rocked him. She heard the police radio stating that two guards were found outside the gate, knocked out cold, but alive, and a part of the fence had a ladder leaning against it around in the backyard by the pool. Within minutes, what seemed like the entire police force and emergency were surrounding the house. Paramedics ran up the steps to the bedroom and began to assess Travis. Upon first inspection, a slight bump on the back of his head was noted, but no obvious weapon was found. Police scrambled to secure the house, going room by room, until they found a man that fit the description the girls had given the detectives, hiding in a closet by the spa room on the first floor.
“Dr. Jones, it appears he might have a concussion from a minor blunt force trauma, which explains why he is unresponsive. We are going to take him in for assessment and treatment. You are welcome to ride with us.” The paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher and brought him downstairs.
“Chris, I need you to take care of the kids. I wouldn’t ordinarily ask, but Tracy has a day job, and she won’t be able to come.”
“Don’t worry about it, Charli. I’ve already been to work, and I can stay up with them. Go, be with Travis.”
Charlotte climbed into the ambulance and rode with Travis. He woke up during the ride, with a bad headache and not much memory of what had taken place. “What happened?” he asked Charlotte. “Where am I?”
“We don’t know, honey, but you’re on the way to the hospital.” Charlotte grabbed and squeezed his hand. “We don’t think you’re hurt badly, but they want to check you out.”
At the house, the detectives questioned the suspect they found in the spa room closet. “What were you doing inside this house?”
“I was contracted to abduct the man upstairs, Travis Jones, and call my contact when I had him.”
“Who is your contact?” the detective asked.
“I only know her by ‘Mrs. B.’” the suspect said. “I’ve never seen her, and I don’t know who she is.”
“When is she supposed to contact you again?” the detective asked.
“I’m supposed to call her when I have the target in my possession,” the man replied. “She’s expecting me to call her any minute. This was supposed to be a smash and grab of sorts.”
Another detective came down the stairs carrying a black bag with duct tape, rope and a heavy, dense rock inside. The rock had a blood spatter on it and hair that matched Travis’ hair color. “Is this what you used to incapacitate the victim?”
“Yes, officer. I wasn’t supposed to hurt him, just knock him out long enough to abduct him. I might have hit him a little too hard, though.”
“How did you get into the house, and how were you going to get him out of the house unnoticed?” The detective was taking notes, trying to piece together a case.
“I had orders to take out other family members if they got in the way. I wasn’t expecting to find a second adult male in the house.”
“Where did you encounter the second adult male?” the detective questioned.
“There was a younger red-headed adult male on the third floor, where I came into the house. The upper deck was always my point of entry, but I didn’t anticipate encountering anyone upon entry.”
“How did you gain access to the upper deck?”
“Grapple. The hook should still be hanging off the back of the house. I forgot to take it with me when I cleared the wall.” The detectives were shocked at how willing the suspect was to cooperate with them, and how spectacularly incompetent he was.
“So you grappled to the upper deck, entered through what the family calls the loft, and snuck into the victim’s bedroom? What happened after you struck him in the head?”
“He was not clothed, and I didn’t want to bring him out that way. I found a pair of pajama pants on the chair by the bed, and covered him the best I could. That was when I heard the woman scream his name. I escaped through a closed door and found the kids there.” He described the door between the master bedroom and the twins’ room. “I wasted a lot of time covering him, time I didn’t have.”
“Were the orders to kill the other family members if you needed to?”
“No sir, only to incapacitate them. I didn’t want to hurt the children, so I just threatened them with harm, and they obeyed. I escaped down the stairs after I left the children’s room, and encountered the second male. I knew I had botched it because I realized I had left the bag with my equipment in it upstairs, so I hid in the first closet I could find.”
“So you would have attacked a defenseless, unarmed woman had the opportunity presented itself?” The detective looked at him in disgust.
“That was my order, if she got in my way, but I was to leave her alive specifically. Like I said before, I wasn’t counting on the second adult male to be in the house.”
“I’ve heard enough. Take him in.” The lead detective said. “Book him on breaking and entering, attempted kidnapping, and assault and battery, for now.”
At the hospital, Travis had a CT scan to check for a head injury and was found to have a mild concussion. Since the injury was mild, they had no reason to admit him, and since Charlotte was willing to monitor at home, he would be released to her care after the attending physician signed off on his discharge.
“What happened, honey?” he asked, truly confused.
“I don’t know, sweetheart, but Chris found a letter in the mailbox this morning, addressed to you, like someone put it in the box by hand, not through the mail. It had no postmark and no address on it. When the police opened it, the letter inside was written in messy handwriting, and said, ‘tonight’s the night.’”
“Kathleen,” he muttered. “How did you know to come check on me?”
“I told the police the reason there were guards posted outside, and he said there weren’t any. That’s when I ran upstairs.” She held his hand tightly. “The kids were huddled together in the girls’ bedroom, scared to death. Chris is home with them now.”
“I don’t remember anyone hitting me. I must have been asleep.” Travis reached up and touched the lump on his head. “Ouch!” The injury was behind his left ear, about 2 inches above his neck, and had a slight abrasion which drew some blood.
“Imagine if you hadn’t hired security, baby. You would have been gone, and I might have been dead.”
“As it is, it sounds like they were terribly unprepared for what hit them.” He thought of calling Steve. “Are they alive?”
“I think they’re going to be okay. They just knocked them out, like they did to you.” Charlotte was trembling.
“I need to call Armand,” he said, reaching for his cell.
“When you get home, baby,” she replied. “Your phone is home, and the police might have even taken it for evidence. I’m just not sure.”
Charlotte’s phone rang. “Chris? How are the kids?”
“They’re fine. The guy only threatened them, he didn’t hurt them.”
“Thank goodness!” she cried, relieved. “Are the detectives still there?”
“Yes, they’re still looking for evidence. Every detail the suspect gave has been true. The detectives say he was very cooperative, probably to work out a plea deal. The guards outside are fine, but they’re being checked out.” He hesitated to tell her that the only reason the man hadn’t succeeded was that he and Greg were there. She was already spooked out enough.
“Have them call me, Chris. We’ll be home soon. He has only a slight concussion, and they’re letting me bring him home.”
“Will do. Charlotte,” he added. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Christopher.”
Just as she hung up with Chris, her cell rang again. “Charlotte!” came the panicked voice on the other end. “This is Armand. I just saw the news. My goodness, is Travis okay?”
“Yes, Armand, he just has a slight concussion. We’ll be going home soon.”
“Do you mind if I speak with him? Is he alert?”
“Yes, in fact, he wanted to call you, just a minute.” She handed the phone to Travis.
“Hey buddy,” Armand greeted him. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better, to be perfectly honest,” he laughed. “My wife saved my life, I think.” Again, he thought. “I got a letter in the mailbox this morning, my brother-in-law found it, from our little friend.”
“I hope you press charges when they link her to this, Travis. There should be no room for forgiveness for her.” Armand said adamantly.
“Oh, I would have pressed charges, filed a restraining order, and done anything in my power to stop her if I could have, BEFORE we got to this point. I’m a lucky man, Armand.”
“You’re not kidding. Keep me updated. I’m pleased to hear you’re okay.”
“Thanks, Armand. Me too.”
The nurse came in with Travis’ discharge papers, and Charlotte signed him out, agreeing to keep an eye on him through the day. He was not allowed to return to work for three days, and was ordered to rest at home quietly. They brought him to the main hospital entrance in a wheelchair, and Pete picked them up in his armored, protective car.
“Pete, are your guards okay?” Travis asked.
“Yeah, they have concussions and are being released later this afternoon. Travis, I’m sorry we failed you. There is no excuse. Steve is not happy with us, to say the least. Some heads are going to roll over this incident.”
“I don’t think it was their fault. This woman was motivated, and apparently a lot craftier than we thought.” Travis shook his head, ignoring the pain. “Maybe this will be the end of everything. She made mistakes, and she apparently wasn’t counting on her hitman failing to grab me.”
“Do you think she would have killed you, Travis?” Pete asked candidly.
“I can’t say, but I think it would have ended badly for me, if anyone ever found me, that is. She told me I would be ‘damaged goods’ when she was finished with me. That woman is crazy.” He shuddered.
Charlotte sniffled. “Damaged goods?” she said meekly, holding back a sob. “You never told me she said that, honeybear.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie. I thought I had.” He hugged her shoulders and rubbed her back.
The car pulled into the driveway, and police cars were still outside the house. Charlotte hung onto Travis, and when they walked into the house, Danae and Darcey ran to them, crying. “My babies, my babies,” Travis fell to his knees and hugged them, crying. “Are you okay?”
“We’re okay Daddy,” Darcey cried, hugging him tightly. “I was so scared, that man threatened to hurt us if we moved.”
“I love you kids so much,” he wept. “I am so sorry that happened to you even though I tried to protect you. I am so sorry I failed you.” He hugged the twins to him.
“Dr. Jones, we need to speak with your husband,” the detective requested. “He might have some information that would be helpful to this investigation.”
“Sure, just a moment. He’s with our children. They got the daylights scared out of them this morning, and they need him.” Charlotte said adamantly.
“The sooner we’re done here, the sooner you can get back to normal, Dr. Jones.” The detective tapped his pen on the table.
Charlotte sighed. “I’ll be right back.”
Travis had all three of the kids wrapped around him, crying. “Baby, the detectives need to see you.” She turned to the kids. “Please, go with Uncle Chris for a little while, babies. Daddy will be here.”
“Come on kids,” Chris called to them. “Let’s go play a game.”
Travis stood, walked to the bathroom, and splashed his face with cold water. Charlotte was right beside him and held onto him for dear life. They walked together to the dining room, where the detectives had been since they got there that morning.
“Travis, what can you tell us about Kathleen Vasquez?” the lead detective asked.
“I should start at the beginning. Last year, I met her in a bar, and brought her to an inn, the bed and breakfast by the beach. Nothing happened there, but she has been harassing me at work ever since. Taunting me, telling me she doesn’t take no for an answer. I’ve been brushing her off as crazy, until my wife had some pretty disturbing dreams about her. Then about a week ago, she told me almost to the word what my wife said she dreamed. That’s when I hired McKinnon Security to watch the house and accompany me around town.”
“Travis, the suspect we have in custody claims that he got spooked when he realized there was a second adult male in the house. Why are your brother-in-law and nephew here? There’s a good chance their presence here is what saved your life.”
“Christopher is having marital problems, so my wife invited him to stay with us about a week ago. He and his teenage son Greg have been staying in the loft upstairs. He works night shift at the science facility and was coming home this morning as he has every morning since he’s been with us. Greg would have been getting ready for school, either in the shower or on his way downstairs around that time.” Travis didn’t know much else about the events of the morning. He had been sleeping when he was attacked.
Charlotte nodded. “Greg came downstairs right around the same time Christopher came home. I made pancakes, and he had breakfast.”
“We almost have a full confession from the hired kidnapper, but his contact is only known to him as ‘Mrs. B.’ Does that mean anything to you?” the detected asked.
“Kathleen Vasquez claims to be related to the Best family that used to live here in town before the last ones died out a few years ago. But according to Steve McKinnon, her relation is by marriage, and her ex-husband, who was Mandy Best’s son, no longer lives in Starlight Shores.”
“That makes sense. She isn’t the brightest light in the harbor, if you know what I mean. She’s been on our radar for solicitation, so this latest incident plays right into this. But, we don’t have evidence right now that links her to this directly. We will keep you posted.” The detective closed his notebook and stood, holding his hand out for Travis to shake.
“Thank you, officer,” Travis said. He stumbled as he walked the detectives to the front door, and Charlotte ran to him, steadying him.
“Sweetie, you need to rest. How’s your headache?” she asked him, as the doctor in her took over.
“I’m okay, love,” he replied. “I just need to sit.”
At the police station, the suspect was being processed into the jail when his cell phone rang. He looked at the number. “It’s ‘Mrs B.’,” he said. “I should get that.”
“Remember what we told you to do,” the detective reminded him.
He nodded and put the phone on speaker, and answered the call. “Hello?”
“What have you been doing? The news is buzzing with your dismal failure at the Jones house this morning.”
“I’m at the jailhouse, Mrs B,” he said, “They’re booking me on a ton of charges. Come bail me out.”
“That’s not part of our deal! You weren’t supposed to get caught. You were supposed to deliver Travis Jones to me!” the voice on the other end squawked. “I’ve been planning this too long for you to screw it up on me! Twelve long months I’ve waited for this man!”
“I’m sorry, Kathleen,” he said, testing the waters.
“Yeah well, don’t … wait, how did you know my name?” She demanded, incriminating herself.
“You told me, Ms. Vasquez.”
“No, I didn’t tell you purposely because I knew they’d tie me to this if you knew my real name.” She paused as the realization hit her. “Goodness, you know my last name too?”
A detective took the phone from the suspect. “This is Detective Sherman at the Shores Police Department. Thank you, Mrs. Vasquez. Now that we have your confession on record, we’ll be charging you with a whole assortment of crimes. Expect us within the hour.”
The suspect was incredulous. “Wow, she really isn’t all that smart, is she?”
“No, she’s not, but you have no room to talk. Even though you helped us to identify her, you’re still in a whole heap of trouble.” Detective Sherman walked away to call the Jones family.
“This is Detective Sherman from the Shores PD, is this Dr. Jones?” he asked.
“Yes, this is Charlotte. Do you have something new, detective?”
“Our suspect got a phone call from our mysterious ‘Mrs B’ and baited her into self-incrimination and a confession, much to his credit. We have confirmation it was Kathleen Vasquez, and we know where she is. She will be in custody within the hour.”
“Oh! This is fantastic news! Please call me when you have her. I want to know when this nightmare is over.” Charlotte excitedly hung up the phone. “They have evidence that Kathleen was behind this. When they have her in custody, it’s over,” she announced, and breathed a sigh of relief.
The family sat around the television as they watched coverage of the Vasquez arrest. She was exactly where she had told the kidnapper she would be, and never moved from it. “That woman is about as dumb as they come,” Travis said, shaking his head. The news reported that she was being charged with no less than five felony charges, which, if she was convicted, would be enough to imprison her for much of the rest of her life in Strangetown.
“Wow,” Charlotte remarked. “She’s younger than me. She must have been a trophy wife for the Best kid.”
“What kind of prize did he have to win to get her as a trophy?” Travis joked, and looked at Charlotte. She busted out laughing, and he did, too.
The arraignment was the next day, and though Charlotte had to work, she wanted to be in the courtroom, so she asked for the morning off. Travis went with her, and they watched as Kathleen Vasquez pled no contest. The judge set her sentencing hearing for a week later, though Charlotte and Travis had no desire to be there for sentencing. As the bailiff took Kathleen away in handcuffs, she caught a glimpse of Charlotte, and spat at her, mumbling something unintelligible under her breath.
“I can’t believe this nightmare is finally over,” Charlotte said, taking Travis’ hand in hers.
“I’ll take you to work, my love, and I’ll see you tonight.” He kissed her before opening the car door for her.
Travis drove home, hopeful that he would catch Christopher still awake when he got home. He opened the door, and Chris was just turning the television off, and preparing to go to bed. “Hey, how’d court go?” he asked.
“She plead no contest. Her sentencing is next week. She’s going away for a long time,” Travis replied. “I don’t want to forget to tell you, Chris, thank you.”
“For being here. Your being here probably saved me. I can’t repay that. Charlotte and I are forever grateful to you.”
“Thank Charlotte. She is the one who invited us to stay. I heard from Cade, by the way. She is filing for divorce. She has another man.”
“I’m sorry, Chris. You didn’t deserve that.”
“No, it’s okay. It will be rough on Greg, but I’ve known it was coming for a while. I’ve made peace with it.” Chris looked sad but tranquil.
“You and Greg are welcome to stay as long as you’d like.” Travis hugged him.
“Thanks, Travis. You’re my favorite brother-in-law.” Chris smiled, and they both laughed.
“You’re my favorite brother-in-law, too.” Travis chuckled. “Sweet dreams, Chris.”
“Thanks, man,” Chris said, as he climbed the steps to the loft, thankful for his sister and her family.