Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
Hank interrupted her thought. “See you at seven,” he said.
She hung up the phone and dug in the kitchen junk drawer for the manual. She consulted it, and with a few clicks enabled call forwarding to her cell phone. She tested it. It worked fine.
Before driving to Amelia’s house that evening, Hank visited the local car wash just around the corner from his apartment. After the wash, he spent a few dollars on the two dollar vacuum machine and did a well-needed cleaning of the inside of his car. Then, he dashed home and switched into a pair of slacks and a matching sport jacket. No tie.
He knew about the death of her husband from his first interview with her a week or so ago, but he wasn’t sure what his intentions were with her. He knew he was attracted to her very much. She could use someone to talk to right now, and he could always use a little feminine company. He wasn’t much of a lady’s man. Just didn’t seem to have met anybody and never went out of his way to. Besides, his job kept him busy most of the time. It was always easy enough to work overtime to keep his mind occupied.
But today was different. He definitely needed a break. He just hoped he wasn’t being too forward at this difficult time, when Amelia’s mind would be consumed with thoughts and worries of her daughter.
He steered his Chevy into her double-width driveway at a couple of minutes before seven. A last look at himself in the mirror, a quick brush of his hand through his hair, and he stepped out and made his way to her front door.
Amelia answered his knock wearing an attractive, but not too elegant, black skirt, matching high-heeled shoes, and a simple white blouse. She carried a small handbag, just big enough to hold a few necessities. A small gold chain and pendant hung at her throat, her long hair in a ponytail. Hank refrained from telling her how beautiful she looked.
Instead, he just said, “Hi.”
She offered him a weak but wonderful smile as he held out his hand to help her down the stairs. He followed her to the car, and opened the door for her. He felt a little self-conscious about picking her up in this wreck of his when she probably had a Mercedes, or maybe a Porsche, parked in her garage.
“Buckle up,” he said. “I’m a cop.” And then thought how lame that must sound.
But she laughed. A real laugh. Something she hadn’t done for a while. It made him feel better.
They didn’t have time to more than exchange a few pleasantries, talk about the weather, and traffic, before Hank pulled up in front of the deli, only a couple of blocks away.
Center Street Delicatessen was a popular Jewish deli, tucked over in the corner of a small strip plaza. Small, but great food, and always busy. They were able to find a fairly quiet booth near the back.
Hank ordered a corned beef on rye with meat stacked about a mile high. A juicy kosher pickle and a generous portion of wedge cut fries on the side would be enough to fill his slightly rounded potbelly. And a large Coke, of course.
Amelia was a little more conservative, with just a couple of stuffed knishes and a dollop of sour cream. A glass of Diet Coke would be enough to wash it all comfortably down.
After placing their order, Hank said, “Amelia, I have to admit, I don’t really have any progress to report, but the good news is, now Bronson’s car has been found, with some evidence Jenny had been in the vehicle, the Captain has taken another interest. He can justify putting more men on this. In fact, he already has. There’s not only a local, but also a nationwide lookout for either Bronson, or Jenny. Or both.”
“But what about if she’s . . . I mean, do you think she’s ok?” Amelia asked.
“We’ve no reason to think otherwise,” Hank said softly. “There’s no evidence any harm has come to her.”
Hank filled her in on Bronson’s car, and how it’d been found. “Jake and Annie got information on Chad from Jenny’s friend, Paige,” he informed her. “She also said Jenny and Chad had been seeing each other off and on, but nothing serious.”
They were interrupted briefly as the bubbly young waitress brought their meal. She slid it onto the table in front of them. “Enjoy!” she said with a smile.
Hank took a big bite of his mountain of meat, and added a sip of Coke to his mouthful. Amelia took small bites, picking daintily at her food.
“Jenny never told me about that boy,” she said, and frowned.
“According to Paige, there was nothing romantic between them, so perhaps Jenny just didn’t feel like he was that important to talk to you about. Just another casual friend.”
Amelia looked thoughtful. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.”
Amelia spoke again. “I don’t mean to pry, but have you ever been married?” she asked. She’d noticed the lack of a ring on his finger.
Hank put down his sandwich. He leaned back in his seat, took a deep breath and studied Amelia a moment. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts. Finally, he said, “A long, long time ago.”
Amelia waited for him to continue.
“We were young. But very much in love, or so we thought. Perhaps we were. I know we certainly enjoyed being together as much as possible. So we got married. Things were great. I’d just graduated from the academy. She’d just graduated from the University of Toronto, and our future looked wonderful, without a care in the world.”
Amelia picked at her food some more and waited patiently. “Go on,” she encouraged him with a smile.
“Before too long we found out we were going to have a baby. Our nice life was even nicer. We were over the moon. We soon found out it was going to be a girl, and we spent so much time running around, getting stuff for the nursery, all those things expectant parents do.”
Amelia leaned forward. “I remember doing that too,” she spoke wistfully, a faint smile. “I loved every minute of being pregnant.” She interrupted her own thoughts, “Go on.”
“Well, before we knew it the baby was born. We named her after my wife, Elizabeth. Beth we called her.” Hank’s eyes seemed unfocused, a faraway look, with a twinkle of moist. “She was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.” He moved his head slowly back and forth a few times as if amazed at the thought. “As a new father, looking at this little baby, this person I’d helped create. It was an indescribable feeling.”
He looked away, watching a couple walk by, his eyes unseeing. He was quiet. Amelia sensed the disruption in his thoughts. A sadness, as if not wanting to continue.
She touched his hand. He looked intently at her, and lost a tear. He rubbed it away, cleared his throat, and took the last bite of his sandwich.
Amelia pushed back her plate. She sat back, dabbed at her lips with the cloth napkin and smiled at Hank. “That was delicious. Thank you.” Now she was feeling guilty again. She really just wanted to get home. She had no right to be out when Jenny could call, and no one would answer. She decided then, she wouldn’t leave the house again until Jenny was home and safe.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure.”
Wednesday, August 10th, 8:45 PM
ANNIE’S friend, Chrissy, had willingly dropped over from next door to watch Matty for a while. Annie called Jake in from the other room where he was helping Matty put the finishing touches on a Lego mansion. Matty was in his pajamas, and came trailing along behind him as Jake answered the summons.
Jake grabbed a duffel bag from the kitchen table. “All ready,” he said.
“We should be back in a couple of hours,” Annie said to Chrissy, and then turned to Matty. “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
“I will Mom. You know I always do.”
Right on time, Jake and Annie arrived at Cranstons Department Store. Jake tapped lightly on the door of the security office and eased it open. Chris rose from his chair and slapped Jake on the back. “Good to see you buddy!” He offered his hand and a grin. Jake shook the hand and returned the grin.
Chris shook Annie’s hand as well. “Hey, Darlin’,” he said. “Welcome to my corner of the world.”
Jake dropped the duffel bag full of tools and equipment he was carrying, onto the floor. “We’re all set here, any time you are,” he said.
“Got all your spy stuff in there, do you?” Chris asked, pointing to the bag.
“Enough and more,” Annie said.
“We’ll give it a few minutes to let the cashiers check out, and then we can get this thing done.”
Before long the huge store was empty, save for a few security guards patrolling the aisles, making sure all of the customers were gone. Jake and Annie followed Chris to the jewelry department.
There were three showcases that contained the most valuable items. Necklaces, rings and bracelets, made from gold and containing jewels, diamonds and gems. These were the cases that had endured the losses.
The cameras were tiny and could be put almost anywhere without being obvious. They would wirelessly send what they see back to a special bank of digital recorders already set up in the security office, ready to go. The recordings were time-stamped and could be viewed live on monitors, or played back at a later time.
They fitted two inside each showcase, one at either end. Another pair went on top of the case fastened to the cash register, or advertising material. A couple more went behind the counter to cover a larger area, and they were done.
Chris glanced over the inventory control sheet. “Nothing missing today,” he said. “Yesterday we had a diamond ring go missing. It’s usually about every couple of days.”
“We’re done here,” Annie said, as she zipped up the bag. “Now it’s just a matter of waiting.”
Chris let them out of the front door of the megastore, locking it behind them.
Jake left a little rubber on the asphalt as the Firebird peeled away from the curb. Annie smiled to herself. He’ll never grow up, she thought. He’s just like a big kid, but at least he’s all mine.
Wednesday, August 10th, 9:00 PM
HANK spun the wheel and the car veered to the right. He swung it into Amelia’s driveway, squeaking to a stop in front of the double garage.
Amelia looked at her watch. “Would you like to come in for a coffee?” she asked.
Hank didn’t want to sound too excited. “Sure,” was all he said.
He climbed from the car, moved around to the other side of the vehicle and opened Amelia’s door. He offered his hand as she stepped gracefully out. Approaching the house, she fumbled briefly in her purse, and in a moment, the front door swung open, and they were inside the foyer.
Lilia was a live-in maid. She’d been with the family for many years and was a cherished helper. She was treated almost like one of the family. Amelia asked her to make a pot of coffee as she greeted them at the door. Lilia nodded slightly, smiled, and headed for the kitchen.
Amelia excused herself a moment and followed Lilia to the kitchen. She checked the phone. No one had called. No messages. No missed calls. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. She checked the phone to be sure it was still working and the call forwarding was still in place. It was.
Coming back to the foyer, Amelia motioned toward the sitting room. Hank followed her and they took a seat on the divan. He propped up one knee on the couch, turned sideways, and faced her, his arm over the back cushion. She sat at the other end and crossed her legs.
Seeing the photo albums still on the coffee table, she breathed a sigh. She seemed to be in deep concentration. Finally, she looked at Hank. “Jenny loves this room,” she said. “She used to come in here to read or do her homework. She loved . . . loves . . . to have the fireplace going and just sit here and talk.”
Hank agreed. “It’s a beautiful room,” he said, “and comfortable. I can see why she likes it so much.”
Amelia turned to face him. “So Hank, tell me about your daughter, about Beth,” she asked cautiously.
Just then, Lilia eased into the room, her feet in soft ballet-like slippers, barely making a whisper. She slid a silver tray gently onto the coffee table, carefully moving one of the albums aside to make room. As well as coffee, cream and sugar, the tray contained a plate of fruit stuffed scones. Just big enough for a single bite, Hank thought. Or maybe two bites for Amelia. She poured two cups, and smiled sweetly at them, slipping again from the room.
Hank fixed up his coffee with cream and lots of sugar before sitting back, cup in hand. He looked at Amelia.
She caught a faraway look in his deep-brown eyes as he sipped his coffee thoughtfully before finally speaking.
“Our daughter, our beautiful daughter Beth, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at six months. She had started to refuse food, and wasn’t thriving very well. She had an MRI scan, which showed she had a brain tumor. Chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor wasn’t helping much. She grew constantly weaker. The specialist recommended surgery, but it wasn’t effective due to her weakened condition, and she died less than a week later.”
Amelia was silent, but her compassionate look encouraged him.
He looked down, brushing some invisible dust from his pant leg, and then looked up and continued. “Naturally it was a hard time. For both of us. We were devastated. And now the happy future we’d envisioned was just dark. I know time heals all wounds, and it pretty much does. At least the pain gets less, but at the time, we sure didn’t think so. I guess everybody grieves in their own way. I buried myself in my work, but Elizabeth just wanted to cling to me. She wanted to always be talking about it. I just wanted to be busy. Neither one of us understood the other. We grew apart. Just like that.”
Hank cleared his throat again and took another gulp of coffee, and then poked a scone into his mouth. He chewed slowly, assessing his thoughts. She watched him.
He continued, “Though of course I was still in a lot of pain, I could come to accept it after a while. But Elizabeth never could. I didn’t expect her to just forget it. Of course not, but she just couldn’t deal with it. The amount of help and encouragement I tried to give her, and the support from her family, just wasn’t enough.”
He shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands palms up, as if resigned to the past he couldn’t control. “And so we separated. She went back to live with her parents. I thought it was only temporary, but it didn’t work out like I thought, so I just went my own way. Back to work, and tried to move on with my life. And here I am.” He smiled. “I’m ok now.”