a mystery novel by Ann Lynes
Packing my new tuxedo-style suit into a new garment bag I'd purchased at the mall, I noticed how Cassandra busied herself, trying to act cheerful and make small talk. Underneath the facade, I could see the worry in her eyes.
"Cut the crap, Cassie."
She looked up from her own packing, eyes wide in surprise. She was folding the royal blue sweater she bought the day before. As she folded the arms inward, she mumbled, "I don't have a clue."
"I am your husband." I reached over and took the sweater from her arms and tossed it on the bed. I held her hands after kneeling on the bed. "I love you and I expect to share in your entire spectrum of emotions."
She smiled briefly. "I forget I'm married to an FBI agent." She was trying to be joyous. The tears below the surface of her eyes that made her look as if she was going to start sobbing at any moment told the story. "You've been so good to me. I don't know what I would have done without you."
I stared into her eyes. The pain in them made me want to cry as well, but I willed myself to stay in control. After all, I had Cassie to stay strong for. "You would have survived. You've survived so much already."
"I'm definitely not a rock. I have spent many years on Prozac and similar medications."
I flashed her a wicked glance. "All prescribed by the good Doc. Schwartz, I presume."
Cassie was slow to respond with a single nod. "He felt it was necessary."
"Have you ever thought that maybe he was wrong. After all, he was using you to download child porn."
Cassie turned away to glance out the window. I wish I knew what she was thinking, what was humming in that mind of hers. "I stopped taking the Prozac soon after his arrest." I walked over to her, putting my hands on her shoulders, massaging them. "I can't tell if it's lack of the Prozac or all the stress from this madman that's making me nervous and high-strung."
"My guess is the latter." I turned her around to face me. "Let's get something clear. Emotions are not a bad thing. Suppressing them only makes them stronger when they are released."
She laid her head on my shoulder. "What if she hates me? What if she doesn't want to see me? What if she...."
"Listen, she's not going to even know who you are underneath the Faith Lucas persona." I lifter her chin. "You will know who she is and who you are, but she won't."
"Basically scoping out the situation before getting involved."
"Basically," I agreed. Glancing at my watch, I knew it was time to go. The minister would be waiting for us near the church.
* * * *
All the way to Salt Lake City, the minister--Reverend Chapel (as appropriate as names come, I thought)--kept playing a gospel music station on the radio. Like most people, he turned up the radio on songs he liked. In between songs, he would sneak in a question or statement about our marriage and personal faith.
I didn't know anything about her religious beliefs except that she had attended church as a kid and had a strong sense of right and wrong. It was hard to convince her there was any gray area in-between. As far as my own beliefs, I never felt the need to attend a structured faith. I believed that church is in you soul. Whatever a person believed in his heart, whether it be good or bad, should be respected.
The trip seemed to take forever. I began to wonder if we'd ever make it to Salt Lake City in time to make our plane to Colorado Springs at two in the afternoon.
Cassie slept for most of the way. Her head rested on my lap. What a sight she made. A lazy possessiveness washed over me that I squelched almost immediately. I couldn't help but smile every time I saw her. Her dark hair and green eyes were everything I'd ever dreamed of and so was her personality. It amazed me how strong she could be.
By the time we reached our terminal at the airport, Cassie was wide awake. We had waited in Greyhurst long enough for the FBI to overnight us new identification cards. When we reached the ticket counter, I set my suitcase on the rack, and Cassie set hers next to mine. I handed the customer service representative our boarding passes. He was honey-blond with deep, sea blue eyes that seemed to be bottomless. He stood approximately six foot, tall and lanky. He nodded approvingly. "Mr. and Mrs. Lucas," he said as he busied himself entering all our information. When he stamped our tickets, I knew we had gotten away with our aliases. I smiled internally. I had no doubt that any identification the FBI had been involved with was as close to genuine as possible.
We headed to catch the airplane. I only hoped we wouldn't have any trouble this time.
The plane trip had gone off without a hitch. I couldn't believe that we didn't hit any turbulence or anything out of the ordinary. After all, every time Cassie and I did anything, we had trouble. I decided that life with Cassie was definitely going to be an adventure. When we pulled up on front of the "In Good Hands Adoption Center" in our rented neon blue Dodge Shadow,
I figured our troubles were behind us. I gripped the wheel and gazed at Cassie. "This is it," I whispered; taking a deep breath, I opened the door and joined Cassie in front of the double glass doors.
As I requested to see Mr. Brooke regarding Allison Vangetti, I caught a nervous look shot at me from the secretary as she bustled around the rather large office. Cassie pinned me with the same look. Sitting down in Mr. Brooke's office a few minutes later, I surveyed the diplomas on the wall and the oil painting of unknown houses in storms, tornadoes and hurricanes. The painting portrayed the weather realistically with its darks and grays, but
I wondered how that one house could not be touched. Maybe that was the point, to emphasize the fact that drastic weather sometimes randomly picks its victims, ignoring the others. Mr. Brooke paced the floor instead of sitting behind his desk. "I don't know who you are but there has been so much interest in Ms. Vangetti. Her foster parents are being challenged by a couple wanting to adopt her. Then there is an FBI agent looking into her as well."
Cassie held my hand. "There's another couple who wants to adopt her?"
"They had already put the ball in motion." Mr. Brooks stopped, turning toward us. "So you see, you are wasting your time pursuing her."
"I don't think so." I flashed my badge. "I think that Allison is the key to solving a crime."
"That's what the other FBI agent said. A J.D. Hoffman."
I shook my head sadly. "There was an accident. His plane went down. He is missing and presumed dead."
Mr. Brooke resumed his pacing. "I'm sorry. I assume you are in charge of this investigation now."
"Yes," I uttered, then frowned. "You will understand if we wish to speak with Allison, won't you?"
Brooke stopped again, hesitant. "I'll give you the address." He jotted down an address on a pad of paper. Ripping off the top sheet, he handed it to me. I smiled as I helped Cassie to her feet.
* * * *
After running around in circles several times while we located the house, we parked in front of it. The house was white with green trim, and a waist-high chain link fence protected it from the outside world. Steps led up to the house with a brown and black German Shepherd parked on the porch in front of the door. I doubted the dog would respond to my badge. Once we made it up the steps, the door opened, to my relief. I already had my badge wallet out in prominent view.
"Agent Lucas. I've been expecting you," a dark-complexioned woman with midnight black hair responded from behind the green door. "I'll bring Allison out to you." She disappeared for a few seconds and returned with a ten-year old girl.
When the girl came face to face with us, I saw a miniature version of Cassandra standing in front of me. The chestnut-colored hair, the greenish eyes, the thin lips and build. Cassandra knelt down on one knee. "Don't be afraid, Allison; we aren't here to hurt you."
The girl clung on to the dark-complexioned woman's hand. "I need to know if there have been any strange men hanging around or coming to talk to you," Cassie continued.
Allison shook her head negatively, then touched her throat. Her foster mother excused herself a moment. When the woman was out of ear shot, the child said, "A strange man cane to talk to me at recess. He wanted to take me away." I glanced through the window and saw the mother loading her gun.
"What did he look like? Was he tall?" The child nodded. "What color hair and what color eyes?"
"Brown hair and green eyes," the little girl replied. When she spotted her foster mother coming out of the house, she clammed up. The mother was holding a glass of ice water. As she handed it to Allison, she gave us a cold glance.
"As you can see, Allison doesn't want to speak."
"We'll be going. We have what we need," I told the woman taking Cassandra's arm. The little girl waved.
* * * *
Once in the car, Cassandra turned to me. "Why did Allison only talk when her mother wasn't around?"
"I don't know," I said, glancing behind me before moving away from the curb.
"Maybe Allison likes you."
"Maybe it's something else. Why didn't she let us in the house, yet she left Allison with us while she went inside?"
"That bothered me, too," I agreed. "I kept thinking of logical explanations like she hadn't had time to clean house, or she just shampooed the rug."
"I think Allison answered us a little too readily, like maybe she's been fielding a lot of questions lately."
"But I was told she wasn't talking at all."
"Why did you pull us out of there after only one question?" Cassandra demanded. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it.
I glanced over at her. "Something just wasn't right about the situation. I had a hunch that there was going to be trouble."
"And you didn't want to take the chance that your gut might be wrong." She held onto the door handle tightly with her other hand. "Smart idea. We've been through enough trouble."
I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or whether she really meant what she said. Normally, it would have annoyed me, but I had more on my mind that a simple misunderstanding. Why would Allison's foster mother want to kill us? Who was this man who talked to Allison at recess? Could it be our madman? Some detective work was definitely in order. I dropped Cassie off at the hotel we were staying in, and then headed back to Allison's home. I parked so that I could see the entrance of the house, but they couldn't see me. For a while nothing happened. Only the radio to keep me company. I spent the good part of an hour channel-switching. Then a dark-haired man came to the door, parking his red Z-28 on the street. He was about 6 feet, 170 pounds, dressed in a three-piece suit, walking with the march of someone attending their own execution.
When she answered, she was dressed in a slinky, black lace dress that never made it past her mid-thigh. A string of white pearls hung around her neck, and she stood eye to eye with him in her four-inch spiked heels. Locking the door behind her, she grabbed his hand. They got into the car. I waited until they were down the road before tailing them. I hoped Allison was not left alone. I hoped the mother had the common sense to leave her with a trustworthy baby-sitter. Could this man be our madman?
I maintained a distance of about two cars. Down past McDowell to Van Buren. They took Van Buren to 24th Street, pulling into a motel that looked as if it would fall apart if the wind even rustled a leaf. The grounds hadn't been swept and were filled with beer bottles, leaves and sandwich wrappers from local fast-food restaurants.
The roof was sagging visibly from the outside, and there were women dressed up in skimpy outfits with make-up caked to their faces pacing the road in front of the establishment. They parted, and the woman led the man upstairs where she unlocked the door with a key. I waited hours for them to come out. When he did, he came out alone, went to his car and left. Another man entered the same room several minutes later. She was a prostitute, I ventured. My stars, Allison was being raised by a hooker. How did this happen? Was it financial problems? I drove to our hotel more frustrated, more worried than I was when I set out to tail the woman. Did I dare tell Cassie? Would she be more upset if she found out about it later? I prepared myself to tell her.
When I eased the door open, I found Cassie asleep in an overstuffed chair. She had been waiting up for me. I carried her over to the bed. In the process, though, she woke up. "Did you have fun?"
"Cassie, there's something I need to tell you."
I could see her eyes open wider. She sat up on the bed. "Out with it." I grabbed her hand. "I tailed Allison's foster mother. When she went into the house, I saw her loading a gun through the window."
"You obviously discovered something." Her mouth curved.
I took a deep breath. "Allison's foster mother is a prostitute."
Cassie was silent for a moment. "If I knew she was going to be raised in that type of environment, I would have raised her myself," Cassie said finally. She seemed to stiffen up. "How do we get her out of that place?"
I looked at her dubiously. "Call Child Protective Services or talk to the adoption agency."
"What do we tell them?"
"We could give them an anonymous tip and let them do the investigating."
She twisted her mouth. "I would rather not have my name or my alias involved in this."
"I agree. It might be stickier later on if you wanted to adopt Allison," I continued, shrugging my shoulders.
She laid down and rolled over, muttering something about I should know better than to go there.
* * * *
The next morning, I awoke to find Cassie on the phone with the adoption agency. She slammed down the phone receiver. "They say that it could take months before they can fully investigate."
"If that's the best they can do, I must contact Child Protective Services."
Cassie studied my face for a moment. "Is being a prostitute a reason for Child Protective Services to take Allison away?"
"I think that if she is found to be a prostitute that the child can be taken away because she is involved in illegal activities." I walked over to the clothes rod. "I believe I can prove she leaves Allison home alone every night." I took a navy blue jacket off the hanger, then a matching pair of pants and a white dress shirt. "Or, we can just go down to 'In Good Hands' and have a chat with them."
"We've involved the FBI in everything else, why not this?"
"Because I have called in every favor I was owed. Anyway, the FBI isn't worried about one little girl as long as she's alive and not missing."
Cassie slowly climbed out of bed. A knock came at the door. She quickly put on her silk, maroon bathrobe. When she opened the door, a man handed her a package about the size of a bread box, making her sign for it. She set the package down on the wooden table near the window, scrutinizing the address. She put her ear to the package. Quickly, she threw the package out the door. Grabbing my arm, she led me to the far end of the room.
A loud noise took place within seconds--a sound as if a building being dynamited. I ran outside. The package was now in tiny pieces and so were the sidewalk, grass and building that was in the surrounding area of the bomb.
A pipe bomb. Not sophisticated, but enough to scare its victim. Again he knew where they were. He had to be watching their every move. Probably had cameras in their rooms, luggage. Hired spies to report back, maybe even within the FBI.