a mystery novel by Ann Lynes
Another letter. Why couldn't this maniac leave me alone? It wasn't fair to J.D. or to me. I still couldn't believe Quentin was involved. He was a loyal friend, even if he had manipulated in his time.
"So many people...."
J.D. leaned in. "I think you know more, and I don't think you'd want to hinder an FBI investigation."
She smiled brightly. "Ah, yes. He was about five foot, nine; 150 pounds; short; chestnut hair parted to the left." She twisted her mouth. "Pale complexion--about your complexion, Mrs. Hoffman. Thinly built."
Sounded a lot like my twin brother, I commented to myself. Dismissing the idea, right away. "What about his face?" I asked, still trying to regain my composure.
"Classic features, a strong jaw line, long nose and thin lips."
"Thank you," J.D. replied for me. "I think we have enough information."
As we walked away, I was annoyed by J.D.'s abrupt cut-off of the conversation with the cruise director. "I wasn't finished."
"She gave all the description she's going to give."
"How did you know that?" I inquired, trying to keep in step with him.
He glanced at me. "An excellent FBI agent knows when to quit. That's the difference between one and the merely good agents."
I looked to our FBI agents. "Is that true?"
They nodded, almost in unison.
* * * *
The trip to the Los Angeles airport to put Timothy and the FBI agent I'd come to know as Agent George on a plane back to D.C. was a tearful one. After an hour of waiting and whining that he did not want to go home, Timothy was led by George onto the plane. We rushed to our gate to catch our flight to Colorado Springs.
J.D. was being mysterious about what was in Colorado Springs that needed his attention. Once on the plane and in the air, I decided to press him for information. "J.D., what type of business do you need to take care of in Colorado Springs?"
"I need to visit a foster home. There's a young girl I need to look in on."
"How do you now this 'young girl'?"
J.D. deliberately paused before answering, fidgeting with his fold-down tray.
"She's had a rough life. I know her biological mother."
"I see." I wove my fingers with his. "What's her name?"
I fell silent. Allison. My daughter Allison? "You S.O.B., how dare you go looking for my daughter? I heard Allison had gone to live with a wealthy family named the Vangettis. I had kept tabs on Doctor Vangetti over the years and was saddened by her and her husband's deaths. It was tragic, but I was in no position to raise Allison on my own at the time. I wasn't sure I would be now. "I hope you don't expect me to bring her home."
"I didn't know you knew Allison's whereabouts."
"I lost track after the Vangettis died."
He scrutinized my face, almost poking and prodding with his mind. "Lady, take this. One step at a time. But if you do want to raise Allison, I want you to know that I think you'd make a fantastic mother."
I squeezed his hand. "First things first. I haven't even seen her yet." I stared out the window a moment. "How am I supposed to raise a daughter with all these death threats?"
"How are we supposed to raise a daughter like that?" He smiled, "I had hoped she might shed some light on this whole 'death thread' situation."
I wrinkled my forehead. "How?"
"Just a hunch."
I fell silent. "A hunch that she may be the reason the madman is after me? That's ludicrous. Why would someone want to kill me because of Allison?"
"Maybe a person who knew the child wasn't Kenneth's. Maybe someone from his side of the family."
That was a possibility. I thought it was sad that Allison could be the reason someone would want to kill me. After all, who would be harboring a grudge for ten years? Of course, if they had harbored it for ten years, they would be awfully mad. "Or Allison's real father?"
"You have no clue who it is, do you?"
I closed my eyes. Images of a man covering my mouth and holding a knife to my throat flashed in front of my eyes. His icy hands prying my legs apart, slowly, almost methodically like he was putting all his concentration into it. I screamed.
"Cassie, are you okay?" I heard J.D. call to me. I immediately jolted from my terrors.
"No; I have no idea who the father is." That was the truth. I couldn't make out the man's face. I had been having the same terror for the past week. And every time I saw a little more. It was as if my brain was slowly trying to reveal something horrific, piece by piece until the whole puzzle was complete. The images were so terrifying that I dreaded closing my eyes. "Please forgive my 'spacing out'."
"One of the 'terrors'?"
I nodded, patting his hand. "I'll be glad when I feel completely safe again." We started to hit bumps in our flight. I grabbed J.D.'s hand, digging my fingers into his skin as we hit more and more bumps.
"Don't worry. Everything's all right." I kept repeating to myself to J.D.
He smiled back. "Yes, pumpkin, everything is going to be fine." The bumps began to come more and more frequently, and my fingernails dug deeper and deeper. Looking outside, I couldn't see anything for the fog. I wondered if the captain could see any better. I hoped so. I didn't feel like crashing. The chime of the airplane intercom indicated that the crew wished to make an announcement.
"This is your captain speaking," came a calm, soothing voice over the system. "Due to the extremely foggy conditions, I am going to land this plane in Salt Lake City, Utah. Do not be alarmed. We will land until the fog lifts."
I glanced at J.D. "We'll just have to put your Colorado business on temporary hold."
He gave me a weak smile. "I bet you created all this diversion to stall. After all, five minutes ago, everything looked line." We laughed.
The plane started to descend rapidly. Panic set in my heart. God, please get me out of this alive. For some reason, I couldn't believe that this was just a simple case of fog and turbulence. I had a sinking feeling. Especially after the cabin started to smell of smoke, and flames slowly rolled toward the center aisle from the back. I clutched onto J.D.'s arm as we hit the ground roughly and started sliding across the ground. By now, the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling. I placed the mask over my mouth as the stewards always demonstrate as the plane takes off. I watched J.D. do the same. The fire grew in size and was spreading. The plane finally stopped. The stewards filed down the aisle and immediately opened the emergency exits. Not a word was said as they helped evacuate the plane. The fire was blazing so close that it touched the passengers' feet in the row behind us. Basically, we were squatting with our feet up on the seat cushion. The stewards were helping the disabled passengers and the women with babies and young children down the emergency slide. The rest of the passengers started to crowd the emergency exits. "Get back to your seats!"
J.D. instructed, showing everyone his FBI badge that he kept protected in its badge wallet. "It wouldn't do us any good to kill each other to get out." One of the stewardesses shot him a grateful look.
J.D. and I got out of our seats and tiptoed around the flames as much as possible, offering the crew our assistance. We assisted the remaining passengers down the slide while more of the crew was able to help the disoriented passengers already on the ground. We took the passengers row by row.
When we finally slid down the slide ourselves, an idea came to me. What if J.D. and I quietly slipped away from the wreckage? What if they considered us missing and presumed dead? Wouldn't the madman stop hounding me? Maybe we could persuade the FBI to put us in the Witness Relocation Program. I told J.D. my idea, and maybe it was the excitement of the crash, but he agreed to it.
We waited until everyone was preoccupied, assisting other injured passengers and watching the plane slowly surrender to the flames before we sneaked away from the crash site. For the first time, I realized that we didn't land at an airport but in a giant wheat field of some kind. No homes as far as the eye could see. The wheat was so high that J.D. and I were almost invisible as we moved away from the scene. J.D. cursed to himself, "God forbid we could land in a town I was familiar with."
I smiled internally. Finally, something with which this know-it-all of a husband I was married to wasn't "familiar." "This isn't exactly my idea of a honeymoon either." We continued walking; the snowflakes falling down on our heads, our hands and our necks. Thank heavens, we had put on our heaviest jackets after leaving our Alaskan cruise. We sat down every fifteen minutes to rest. J.D. said it was for my sake, but I got the impression it was for his, too. The more we walked, the more snow came down and the more of it we had to trudge through.
Lights flickered on the horizon. At first, I thought I imagined them until J.D. confirmed their existence. "A town," he exclaimed. "A small one, but it will do."
I glanced ahead, trying to envision what the folks in the town were like. Were they friendly? Would they take kindly to strangers?
J.D. urged me to hurry. Maybe they could put us up for the night. Quickly, J.D. took a quarter out of his pocket. "I guess I'd better find a pay phone first and explain our disappearance to the FBI."
"They tend to worry when one of their own is missing. I don't want anyone to know for the time being that we are definitely alive. Not even my family." I frowned. The madman could be someone within my family. I shuddered at the thought. My brother? A sweet man who only looked after my best interests. I found it hard to imagine my twin as the person behind these crimes. The thought sat at the back of my mind like a rock holding down important papers. Clayton was more or less still a suspect. I wondered how anyone apart from the investigative or travel fields would have located me in every, single place I had hidden, which led me to conclude that our madman was in one of those fields. Under the investigative heading, I mentally put FBI, police, private investigator. Travel--travel agent and travel counselor.
By the time J.D. pulled me from my thoughts, he was already using a pay phone. I heard him explain our situation. "The rest are still there. We saw an opportunity, so we took it. Can you help us?"
J.D. paused. "I understand," he finally commented. "The Witness Relocation Program would be great." He paused again. "As soon as we get settled in. I'll let you know." He hung up the phone. "We're Hayden and Faith Lucas."
"The FBI is going to help, then?"
He took my arm. "Surprisingly enough, yes," he told me sarcastically. "Come on, Faith. Let's meet our new neighbors."
I quickly looked him over. "We look like something that escaped a fire."
"Didn't we?" he mocked.
* * * *
A plain street sign said, "Welcome to Greyhurst. Population 100. Famous hide-out for victims." I couldn't believe my eyes. I rubbed them a couple of times to make sure I read the sign correctly. The next sign said, "If you're here to rob us blind, here're our wallets." A pile of wallets of every shape and description rested in a box below the sign. We proceeded past both signs to a town that appeared to be one strip of road; businesses and houses both were lined up along it.
We proceeded to the building with letters on the window reading, "Hotel." At the check-in desk, we found a young, lanky boy who couldn't have been more than twenty. His blond hair was a bit long in the back. His eyes, a deep emerald green. He wore a dress shirt and pants. Putting down the book he was reading, he greeted us. I noticed the title was The Mormon Bible. I kept expecting to see a woman walking along the beach with the waves crashing in the background. A lighthouse posing as the starting point to her spiel about how reading "The Testament of Jesus Christ" has deepened her knowledge of the Savior.
"I'm Isaac Russell; my father owns this hotel." He showed just enough teeth in his brilliant smile. "Welcome to Greyhurst."
"I'm Hayden Lucas and," J.D. introduced, putting his arm around me, "my wife, Faith."
The counter was made of wood covered in a dark varnish just like the bookcase and key hanger behind the counter. A long, vanished banister led to the second level. Pictures of trees, houses and fruit lined the walls leading up to the top of the stairs, as well as the "lobby," which contained a varnished bench and the counter. "Are those your real names or are you part of the WRP?"
We exchanged glances. How did he know that?
"I'm sorry. Most of the people that visit Greyhurst are victims trying to get away from their attackers." He leaned forward. "What's your story? We aren't exactly a tourist attraction?"
I let J.D. field that one. He seemed to be better at making this biography up than I. "Our car broke down awhile back. You were the first town we came to." J.D. gave the boy a big smile. "Murphy's Law."
"Do you have a room we can rent until we can get it fixed?" I asked, trying to keep from tearing off my fingernails with my teeth.
He ignored me. "The only room I have left is on the third floor," he explained grimly to J.D.
J.D. glanced at me. I nodded. "We'll take it." J.D. filled out the registration book, hesitating before he signed, "Mr. and Mrs. Hayden Lucas, III." The boy handed J.D. the keys. As we started up the stairs, J.D. stopped. "There is a plane crash about ten miles to the west of here. You might want to sent your squad."
We continued up two flights of stairs. I started to relax a bit. As Faith Lucas, I could stop worrying about death threats and enjoy J.D. Our room was the last one on the left side. As we opened the door, I sighed in relief. J.D. flipped the light switch. Light shone upon a cozy, little room with a double bed, one night stand on either side of the bed and a dresser. A table and two chairs were five feet away from the bed under the window and a door led into the bathroom.
"Not much bigger than our stateroom."
I agreed. "We survived seven days in our cabin."
"True enough," J.D. responded. "I guess this will do for now."
I sat down on the bed and laid down for a few minutes while I listened to J.D. in the shower. The water poured against the shower door. The rain outside and the shower made me feel as if I was trapped in a working washing machine. I picked up the phone on the night stand and dialed my mother's number. "Mama!"
I heard a sharp shriek. "Cassie, is that you?"
"Yeah, Mama! I am alive, but I need to tell you something."
"The man on the TV said you and that J.D. fellow were missing." I could hear her screaming to other people in the room. "It's her. It's her."
I held the phone an inch away from my ear. "Mama, I need to tell you something."
Suddenly, everything went silent. "Yes, sweetie."
"Mama, because I am still getting death threats, the FBI has put me in the Witness Relocation Program."
"I see. Where are you?"
"Greyhurst, Utah. Mama, I'll be fine. Don't worry. This is the only way I'll be safe, Mama."
Silence. Finally, she said, "Baby, when are you coming home?"
"Don't know. Whenever we've apprehended the madman."
"I will keep you informed of my whereabouts, Mama."
After hanging up the phone, I noticed J.D. in a bathrobe, standing in the doorway. "Who was on the phone?" he demanded.
"I had to tell my mother I am okay."
J.D. started to get dressed in the same clothes he had on as those were the only clothes he had. "Let's go shopping."
* * * *
At "the Mall"--the only shopping place in the entire town--J.D. shot me a speculative glance as we walked into a clothing store. He headed toward a rack of women's sun dresses, glancing back and forth between the dresses and me. He took a smoky gray one off the rack and put it to my chest, shook his head and put it back on the rack. "What if your mother tells your family that you are all right?"
"So what if she does?" I challenged him, grabbing a red sun dress off the rack. "You're not really suggesting a member of my family is involved?"
He took the red sun dress from me and replaced it on the rack. "That's precisely what I am suggesting." He held baby blue dress to my bosom. "Who else would know where you were every time we moved to a different location?"
Damn it, J.D. was right. Who else besides my family knew that information? Oh, my God.. My heart raced, and my pulse quickened. What if the madman was somewhere in this town, or someone who was on his way here? I must have turned pale or at least colors because I heard J.D.'s constant coaxing, "Cassie, are you okay?"
I blinked before focusing on his image. "J.D.," I whispered, "are you sure we are safe here?"
He reached his hand out to steady me. "As safe as anywhere else, I suppose." A grin surfaced on his lips. "You aren't thinking of leaving here, are you?"
"I don't think we should stay in one place for long." I smiled weakly.
"This person has followed our moves at every turn so far."
J.D. moved toward me. I could see the red, hot flames in his eyes. He clutched my arm and proceeded to lead me out the door. As we continued walking, he muttered, "I thought for one brief period in time we could delight in the pretense of being Mr. and Mrs. Lucas." He moodily pushed open the door to the next clothing store. "After all, this is our honeymoon."
"J.D., you are the one who brought the subject of the madman up." I tried to wrestle my way out of his hold. "Why are you getting so mad?"
He turned to face me. "Because this madman is controlling our lives. We are at his mercy." Looking straight into my eyes, he sighed. "I can't stand not being able to control my life. I have to have my finger on the pulse of everything I do."
"J.D.," I barely found my voice to utter, "I don't want to be in a town of professional victims." I took a deep breath. "I heard Colorado is pretty this time of the year. I know under the name of Faith Lucas, I am not Allison's biological mother, but I need to see her." I let J.D. wrap his arms around me. "I need to know how she fits into this puzzle."