a mystery novel by Ann Lynes
Why me? Out of the billions of people in the world? Why was I singled out? I hadn't done anything that millions of people before me hadn't done. I slammed down my hand on the table, forgetting that my glass of lemonade was set in front of me. My hand crashed through the glass and was drenched in a combination of lemonade and blood.
While in the bathroom washing my hand, the phone rang. With it wrapped in a towel and bandages in the other hand, I managed to grab the phone on the fourth ring.
"This is Detective Holbrook's secretary. She wants to meet you at a coffee shop at the end of your block." The male voice sounded tired and resigned, and it was only nine in the morning.
"How did Detective Holbrook locate me?"
"Detectives are very resourceful people." The phone went dead.
I took the towel off my hand. The white towel was now crimson. I bandaged the hand as well as I could before scribbling J.D. a note, picking up my purse and heading out the door to meet Bobbie.
Sitting in a booth at the specified coffee shop waiting for Bobbie to arrive, I babied my hand. This better be good, I kept thinking. The waitress was about to refill my coffee cup for the third time when Bobbie approached, dressed in a black jumpsuit that slimmed her hips as well as brought out the red highlights of her hair. A brief case was under one arm. She apologized for being late as she slid into the booth opposite me. "I've done a bit of following you and investigating the people around you and have narrowed it down to four suspects." Bobbie ordered a coffee, black, from the waitress, then continued, "All have a motive. I must caution you, though, you are not going to like this list. I am convinced you know the criminal who is stalking you very well."
Sipping my coffee, I nodded for her to elaborate.
"Suspect number one is obviously Doctor Richard Schwartz, attempting revenge for sending him to jail."
I objected, "He's a white collar criminal. And for the most part, his kind wouldn't consider trying to kill someone."
She made note of that next to his name on her list. "Next is Clayton Walker. He has possession of the weapon you shot your ex-husband with. He also fits the physical description of the man who kidnapped Quentin.. His motive being to get you back for passing him up for a promotion."
I looked her straight in the eyes. "We had a mouse in our office last year. Clayton couldn't bare to let us trap and kill the poor rodent."
"He could just be bluffing when he says he is going to kill you," she countered. Adding packages of Equal she had brought with her into her coffee, she took a sip periodically after stirring to see if the mixture was correct.
I shook my head. "Yesterday, a pipe bomb package was delivered to my hotel room."
"Oh, my stars! Was anyone hurt? Is that how your hand got injured?"
I chuckled. "No, my hand had a brawl with a glass and lost." My anger at this whole situation prevailed. I traced the top of my coffee cup with my finger. "No one was injured in the explosion. Thank God!"
"Then there is Quentin himself. Maybe he is faking his own kidnapping. Maybe working with someone to avenge a broken heart."
I was shocked by the very thought that someone could think that Quentin would a) plot his own kidnapping, and/or b) have a broken heart over me. After all, it was April he truly loved. "He was never in love with me," I said flatly.
"Phoenix Court records state that Quentin was convicted of raping one Cassandra Martin on July 19, 1986. Columbia Hospital records report that one Cassandra Martin was examined prior to the conviction, and the attending physician concluded that Ms. Martin had been raped, resulting in a pregnancy."
My jaw and heart felt as if they'd hit the ground. My entire body went numb. I closed my eyes, rocking back and forth.
* * * *
I was sitting at a bar, the Great Escape, glancing every few minutes at the door. My husband had told me to meet him here, but he was nowhere in sight.
Quentin hopped on the stool next to me. "It's been a long time, sugar." We engaged in talk about the old days when he and I were lovers. The days when I was his steady girlfriend while he was pining for April. What happened next is uncertain because I woke up to find a man on top of me, forcing himself on me. He had on a mask. One similar to the one the kidnapper wore. I pulled off the mask and there stood Quentin. His hand clenched my throat to prevent screaming. He placed a piece of duct tape over my mouth and proceeded to brutally rape me again.
* * * *
"Oh, my God!" I kept hearing myself say as the flood of memories came back to me. Quentin was Allison's father. "Could he be tormenting me again after all these years?"
"It is possible, given your past history."
When I was unresponsive in continuing our conversation, the detective decided the best approach was to drive me back to my hotel room; J.D. was there to tend me.
I looked around me. The sunlight shone through the open window. The birds chirped on the window sill. J.D. sat at the edge of the bed, his eyes fixed on me. I took a deep breath. "How long...."
He put his finger to his lips. "Don't try to talk." He inched closer. "You've been asleep for about twelve hours. I had to take you to a doctor to get you to sleep peacefully. He prescribed a tranquilizer."
It took me a moment, maybe even two, to recall the events that had sent me into such a fitful state. When I did remember, I wished I had left it buried. Quentin. How was I ever going to face him again without the memories flooding back? How was I going to work through this? The area surrounding my heart started to hurt; my heart itself was beating very rapidly; my throat felt as if I were suffocating. My breathing was erratic. Breathing from my diaphragm, slowly I tried to calm myself down.
J.D. put his hand on my shoulder. "Cassie, what happened?"
Should I tell him the whole story? Would he think less of me? How could I accurately make him understand? "Awhile back, I hired a private investigator to catch a person who was stealing money within Martin Travel." I smiled bleakly at him. "When we were aboard the Galaxy, I hired her again to find the madman."
"Why, when the FBI is involved?"
"I thought she might catch something that they didn't She knows the FBI is investigating and is sharing her information with them." I sat up straight, pulling the blanket closer to my neck. "She is thorough. So thorough that she has uncovered events in my past I didn't remember."
His mouth curved. "Like what?"
I paused before answering, preparing my answer. "Not yet. I'll explain when I'm ready."
"Come on, Cassie. I thought we had no secrets between us."
I shook my head. "I'm so sorry, J.D.! I just can't." I bowed my head.
J.D. turned away and walked to the window. "I don't get it. I married you for better or for worse." He turned on his heel. "For Pete's sake, I know you were raped."
How did he know? Who told him? I squelched the urge to scream. I sensed the room was closing in on me. "How?" I managed to whisper. I felt the color rush out of my cheeks.
He returned to my bedside. "I did some investigating of my own."
"Then do you know who Allison's father is?" I lifted my chin. I was cracking my knuckles under the covers. I braced myself for his answer.
He grabbed my hand. "It's a well-kept secret."
I took a deep breath. "Quentin," I mumbled. I waited for him to say something, but he remained silent. "J.D.? Please talk to me."
He retrieved his hand. He paced in front of the window. "Quentin? You were lovers."
"He and I were over by the time I met Keith," I tried to reassure him, but I could guess where he was going with this.
"Were you?" He twirled around. "Or did you pine for him while in your loveless marriage, welcoming his hands on your body when he returned to proposition you?"
I jumped out of bed and walked toward J.D. "Did you investigate this like you said you did? My private eye tells me that she dug up the hospital records that confirm evidence of rape." I kept taking deep, cleansing breaths because if I didn't, I knew I would want to rip J.D.'s body apart limb by limb. "I don't even remember the event. The last thing I remember is waiting for Keith in a bar, and while I was waiting, Quentin sat down and talked to me."
"You don't remember being raped?"
"No," I told him in a matter-of-fact tone. I scrutinized the look on J.D.'s face--his eyebrows pressed together, his jaw set, his mouth curved.
"J.D., a court convicted Quentin of raping me. The doctor agreed."
"I know. I've spoken with Doctor Estrada." J.D. put his arms around my waist. "Listen, I am sorry. I just had to know that there is nothing between you and Quentin. After all, you have a child together."
I stared at him a moment. "I didn't even remember who Allison's father was until Detective Holbrook found the records." He turned his head away. "J.D., you have to believe me."
He faced me again. "I do believe you. But you can't expect me to understand." He took me in his arms and rested his head on my shoulder.
"I will try, though, sweetheart. For your sake."
* * * *
I sat in the same booth in the little coffee shop down the street from the hotel. I watched the waitresses and waiters hustle about the room, taking and filling orders. People of all descriptions, from men in business suits to girls with tattoos and body piercing, walked through the glass door. Detective Holbrook agreed to meet me again to finish discussing the list of suspects. She was, by my watch, a half hour late.
I was studying the paintings on the wall--mostly pictures of log cabin houses in the middle of nowhere. Yet each was uniquely different from the one before it. My grandmother used to sit for hours in her living room, after she retired from being a German translator for the court system, brushing paint on canvas in a similar formation.
I barely noticed when Holbrook slid across from me in the booth. She was dressed in a long, tan trench coat. "Costume party," she answered the question I was thinking. Suddenly, her smile turned upside down.
"Cassie, if I would have known you had been suffering a memory block because of the trauma of the rape, I never would have...." Her voice trailed off.
"You couldn't have known." I picked up the spoon and started to twirl it around in my coffee. "Who is the fourth suspect on your list?"
"Your brother Graham." She slowly met my eyes. I could tell that she was a bit cautious regarding my reaction. Her fingers drummed across the tabletop and her foot shook.
I folded my arms across my chest. "OK, I bite. What motive does my brother Graham have?"
Her lips slowly lifted at the edges. "The only motive I can come up with is that he threatened J.D." She paused to take a sip of her coffee, flinching when she burned her tongue. "He needs to be included because being your twin, you confide in him without reservations."
"My brother would never hurt me," I returned. I stared straight into the detective's eyes. "I mean this isn't like the movies or books where one twin is the evil one and the other is the good one." I stirred my coffee. "He is very protective, but that's all."
She nodded. "You understand why I had to explore the possibility, right?"
I bit my lip before responding. "Yeah, I guess I do."
Detective Holbrook cleared her throat. "With the list of suspects heard, I have to tell you that I think Quentin is the most logical culprit. He is the only suspect who has a history of violence. Toward you, no less."
"It is so hard to accept that Quentin raped me. I have been such close friends with him over the years. I have given him a job, and in the past, even a place to live." I leaned forward. "Why does he want to hurt me?"
She silently jotted notes down in a small notepad before looking up at me. "Sometimes we can't figure out what drives criminals to do the things they do."
I found it hard to think of Quentin as a criminal. I knew he had raped me, but I associated Quentin with the word "friend." A person I had at one time loved and been intimate with. "Does he realize Allison is his daughter? Is he the man who talked to her?"
"You went to see the daughter you gave up for adoption?"
"Since everyone thinks we are missing, we have been under aliases. She didn't even know I was her biological mother." I put my coffee cup to my lips then replaced it on the table.
"You said a man talked to her?"
I took a deep breath. "We spoke with her briefly because J.D. seems to think that she is the key to this whole madman's motive." I stared into my cup of coffee. I couldn't see the bottom of the cup. "Her foster mother went into the house and left her briefly with us on the porch. She said a strange man kept trying to speak to her and take her away at recess."
"Obviously, from your previous statement, she didn't tell you who the man was."
I looked up. "J.D. pulled me away from the scene before she could say anything else." The waitress came over to refill my cup. "He claims that the foster mother was loading a gun inside the house. He saw her through the window."
Detective Holbrook just sat there, studying me. I felt uncomfortable under her gaze. "If it is Quentin, he would have to be faking his own kidnapping. Playing you right into his hands with that sympathetic heart of yours."
I didn't like to think of myself as a fool, but if Quentin was involved, I was indeed a big food. "My question is why would a woman I don't even know want to kill me?"
"Maybe she is afraid that you want to take her child away." Detective Holbrook leaned forward, too; her ears perked. "Are you?"
I thought about that a moment. After all, to the foster mother, everyone who comes to see Allison is a threat. Imagine if this woman couldn't have children and Allison was her only real chance at a daughter. Imagine if this woman were driven to do anything to prevent her child from being taken away. And with the news that a strange man was hanging around her daughter's school yard, she must be worried sick about protecting Allison.
"Then my suggestion to you is to leave Allison and her foster mother alone." Detective Holbrook sat back. "If she is the reason this person is stalking you, it will come out eventually anyway."
I stood up and excused myself. I got outside the building and leaned against the brick wall with my leg bent. I took a deep breath. For some reason, I couldn't take Detective Holbrook telling me not to be a part of my daughter's life. Ever since I saw her, I had been plagued with thoughts of taking Allison back home with us, of the long awaited reunion between Allison and her biological mother.
* * * *
I paused before turning my key into the lock of our hotel room. What was I going to find on the other side of the door? I could either find J.D.: the angel, or J.D.: the devil. Was he still angry with me about Quentin being Allison's father? Walking in, I crossed my fingers behind my back.
With my hand on the door, I felt a sense of fear come over me. I felt as if someone had taken their giant hand and suffocated my entire body, crushing me as the hand made a fist. Had the stalker attacked again? What would I find? Could he be gaining on me, ready to make his ultimate move? Turning the knob, I walked into what looked like a war zone. The night stand's drawers had been dumped onto the floor and so had the desk drawers. The contents of the suitcases that had stood upright in the closet were now scattered on the bed. Yet the clothes on racks remained untouched.
I heard a muffled sound coming from the bathroom. I cautiously went in to check on its source. When I heard the muffled sound get louder, but no sign of anyone in the bathroom, I pulled back the shower door to find J.D. tied up with ropes and a sock stuck in his mouth. His arms were tied in back of him. As I reached down to untie him, I was stopped by a deep male voice.
"Don't move a muscle." I could only imagine a figure standing in the doorway with a weapon, most likely a gun. "Hands up where I can see them."
I put my hands in the air. "Good, Cassie." He stuck the gun in my back.
"Now put your hands behind your back, slowly. No funny business."
I did as he asked. I felt him bind my wrists together. He wrapped a gauze around my mouth. "Please don't be mad at me, Cassie." His voice was smooth, steady. "Move away from the bathroom." The man inched backward and so did I. He slapped a pair of handcuffs on my wrist and the towel holder.
I watched as he untied J.D., holding the gun on him. The man unlocked the handcuff attached to the towel holder and attached it to his wrist. He grabbed me and moved backward. "Don't worry, I'll take good care of Cassie." J.D. lunged across the room, but we were out the door before J.D. could prevent the man from taking me.
My life had been greatly reduced to surviving. I couldn't see the man's face as he shoved me in the driver's seat of his neon blue Dodge Shadow as he wore a mask with holes for his mouth and eyes. "Drive."
"You'll have to unlock the cuff," I replied. "I won't escape, I promise."
He said no, and I ended up driving the car while still handcuffed to him. Not a pleasant experience. The car kept swerving. I thought for sure we were going to be stopped by a police officer. No such luck.
* * * *
When we arrived at our destination, a two-hour drive outside Colorado Springs, I found myself face-to-face with an actual mansion. A tall, white house that seemed to extend for acres. The lawn was perfectly manicured, no weeds or brown blades in sight. Beautiful red, pink and yellow roses grew on either side of the porch.
On the porch, two large oak rocking chairs moved slightly in the breeze. A man came out the door dressed in a black suit. My guess was that he was the butler. The man helped me out of the car and toward the porch. "I hope everything is prepared for our lady of the house, Mr. Zimmer."
"Lady of the house"--the term struck a chord with me. How on earth did he figure that a hostage was a port of his family? I remained silent. It had occurred to me that fighting, resisting his demands may cause me additional grief.
"I am assuming this is Madame Martin." He extended his hand. I shook it. I smiled shyly at the tall, dark-haired, suited man with incredibly hard eyes that were a combination of blue and gray with brown around them. To me the butler said, "We've been preparing for your visit."
I was curious just how long they'd been preparing. Months? Weeks? Days? Was the intent to kill me or make me suffer? The man took off my handcuffs.
"Am I your prisoner?"
He laughed heartily. "Not in the tying you up in a dungeon type of prisoner." He motioned to the house. "You have free reign within the walls of this house. Anything you need, the servants will graciously supply." He paused a moment to study my expression. I guess it didn't please him because he added, "You'll learn to love it here, I promise."
This guy couldn't be serious. I would never learn to love being taking against my will. I would never learn to stop missing my new husband or learn to never see daylight again. I wanted to weep right then, but I had to put on a brave facade for my kidnapper. I wondered why I was here. Was this man in love with me, obsessed with me? It was a possibility although I never thought of myself as a beautiful woman. Not beautiful enough for men to be obsessed with. "What do I have to do? Scrub toilets? Cook elegant dinners? Get down on my hands and knees and clean the kitchen floor with a toothbrush?"
He shook his head. "No, you are the lady of the house. The only condition is that you cannot leave these walls." Grabbing my arm, he led me in the direction of a staircase. The entire house reminded me of the house of a television show I watched as a kid, "The Munsters." The house was dark and as somber as a city in the middle of a Colorado Springs tornado. The couch was black leather and faced two chairs made of similar material. A fireplace was set in the wall behind the chairs, but the fireplace looked as if it was rarely used, as cobwebs had nested on it. Cobwebs hung in every corner of the living room. I was afraid to see the upstairs. I followed him anyway. After all, there had to be another catch to this whole miserable situation.
He pushed open the first door on the right to reveal a room that looked exactly as if I had picked it out. Travel murals were painted on the walls. The ceiling was covered in black with little light bulbs that would make the ceiling look like a star-filled night sky when the lights were out. The floor was sea-blue. On the bed, a hand-made, blue and white checkered quilt similar to the one my great-grandmother made for me when she was blind from the cataracts was spread. The furniture--a white dresser and headboard with small drawers and a bookcase--was set on the same wall. A walk-in closet filled with all my clothes was opposite the bed. A bouquet of red, long-stemmed roses rested on top of the dresser. All my favorite books were lined up in the bookcase. Damn. Why did they have to go and put together a dungeon like this for? "This is your room. I'm sorry the laptop computer I had for you isn't quite ready yet. It will be here by nightfall."
"Why am I here? Why do you want to hold me against my will?" I pleaded with him.
He looked as if he'd been slapped. "I always take what's rightfully mine. I even take what I know my brother is missing. And my brother is missing you, amator."
I didn't know what he was talking about, and against my better judgment, I asked, "Who is your brother? And why is he missing me?"
Again another stunned look. "You are his wife, of course..
"His wife?" I echoed.
"According to my Bible, a man and woman who have had sexual intercourse are considered married. Remember the woman at the well."
"But I am already married to J.D."
He shook his finger at me. "Your marriage to my brother never ended. Your current marriage is annulled." He flashed me what I can only guess was a wicked grin through the mask. "You have sinned against your husband. Don't worry, we are here to fix your sin."
"How?" I looked at him incredulously. "How, by bowing down at your feet?" I was determined to survive this modern concentration camp. I had to keep my mind focused on getting out of the clutches of my kidnapper.
He was silent for a moment. "The only catch is that you can't go beyond these walls. You have to trust me, amator." The last sentence was uttered in a whisper. "You have to trust me."
Trust him? Trust a man who kidnapped me, who took me away from my family? Damn, this guy was more crazy than I had pegged him for if he thought that I was going to trust him. "Why the hell should I trust you? You hide your face from me. You confine me to your prison."
He cleared his throat; he clenched his fists. "I understand how you must feel being a sinner in need of forgiveness." His hands relaxed. "We are here to give you that forgiveness, amator. Only the Lord in the Heavens can give you that forgiveness. I am his prophet, and he has told me to help you."
Help me? The only thing I needed help with is getting rid of this madman.
"Listen, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. You are speaking in riddles."
He pushed me onto the bed, walked back across the room and paused long enough to say, "I told you to trust me." Then he left the room and locked the door behind him.
* * * *
My plan was to make friends with one of the servants until I dragged enough information out of them to escape without fear of being caught. Unfortunately, my plan was put on hold. A knock came on my door at four in the morning. When I ignored the pounding, the door flew open and I was pulled out of my bed. A woman--dressed in a black and white tuxedo with her hair wrapped in a bun at the nape of her neck--grabbed my arm and led me down to the basement, which was set up to look like a chapel--the podium up front, stained glass windows, rows of pews with a narrow aisle in the middle. A large wooden cross hung on the wall behind the podium, and there was even an altar between the podium and first row of pews. I was forced to sit in the front row. The woman sat next to me. I was pretty sure something bad would happen if I moved. The masked man took the podium and proceeded to preach on the goodness of God, and how the people on Earth were his prophets who had to enforce God's punishments for sin. Was this my punishment for sinning against this man that they say is my husband? And would that man who is my husband be Quentin or Richard?
After the two-hour sermon, I was permitted to eat alone in the kitchen. A square table that sat four was set in the middle of a spacious kitchen with counters and cabinets taking up one wall and a giant refrigerator taking up the other. I sat there, nibbling on my toast, staring out the window above the sink. A torturing reminder that I couldn't leave these walls and participate in the outside world.
Suddenly, I felt a pair of eyes watching me, but when I turned around, I realized it was Allison who stood in the doorway.