~ Echoes of the Past ~
revised and reedited
J. M. Dragon & E. O'Reilly
Parker Davis sat in an old, used Winnebago parked at Pete’s Auto Repair observing the apartment building across the street. For almost two months, she tracked Sophie Durant from one backwater town to the next always arriving anywhere from a day to a week too late. All indications now pointed to Sophie staying with her friend Camille Peterson in the apartment building she now observed. As she sat and watched, a melancholy of sorts floated over her–Portsmouth was home years earlier. She shook her head to eradicate the walk down memory lane that her brain insisted on taking. It wasn’t time to renew those memories but soon it would be.
Despite all her resources, Parker had exhausted all the usual suspects and began seeking out obscure friends that Sophie had as a child. Camille Peterson was a classmate of Sophie’s from kindergarten to her sophomore year in high school. When she approached Camille’s mother on the pretense of a class reunion she hit the jackpot. The woman was more than happy to talk about her daughter’s early years and all her friends. To Parker’s surprise, Camille and Sophie were lifelong friends that maintained a close friendship past high school.
So far, she hadn’t spotted the woman, but her gut told her that with patience Sophie would eventually appear. Patience and planning were her strong points. This was the fifth day of her surveillance and she knew the faces, names and schedules of everyone who lived in the building. She watched each morning as the Peterson women left for work and return late each afternoon. Even though she had no visible sighting of Sophie, she was certain she saw two silhouettes in the window of apartment 2B.
It was midmorning and Parker drummed her fingers on the dashboard wondering, not for the first time, how the scenario would work out to the conclusion she wanted. Evelyn Durant, Sophie’s stepmother, hired her to find her missing stepdaughter indicating that her husband was broken hearted by his daughter’s disappearance. >From her initial meeting with Evelyn, Parker didn’t like the woman and knew that there was far more to the story than merely finding someone. Nevertheless, when the woman offered ten thousand dollars up front, Parker took the money. Evelyn Durant was so eager to have her stepdaughter found that she threw money at two other detectives before she hired Parker. Besides, money wasn’t the reason she took the case.
A police vehicle drove by and Parker sighed. It had been ten years since she walked away from her career at the Portsmouth Police Department. She vividly remembered riding in a squad car with her partner as they patrolled the streets. Her mind began the trip down memory lane again until all her thoughts retreated into the background–Sophie Durant appeared.
“Ha, I finally found you Sophie,” Parker said with satisfaction. She lifted the Nikon to her eye, pressed a button and the shutter sprang to life rapidly capturing each movement the woman made. Only when the woman was speeding away in a crème colored Altima, did she lower the camera. The pictures were a nice touch and added credibility to her mission.
In one motion, she rested the camera on the seat, picked up a small silver object and flipped it open. A smile crossed her face as she watched the steady bright dot move farther away. “Now don’t you stray too far,” she purred. “I have a small job to do then I’ll find you again.”
She opened the door, eased her long, lean muscled body out of the Winnebago and let her eyes scan the area. Satisfied that no one was paying her any attention, she fitted a tool belt around her waist and put on a cap with the electric company logo over her short black hair. With the deliberate casualness of someone with the supreme confidence in whom and what they were, she walked across the street and up the very sidewalk that her target had just used. It had always been her opinion if she acted as if she belonged, no one would notice her. She made a career out of being nondescript when she needed to be. Looking like she belonged made her forgettable and in her line of work, that was a plus.
Her eyes constantly shifted as she took in every aspect of her surroundings. Once she reached the staircase that lead to the second floor, she took the stairs two at a time. Her senses were on heightened alert when she knocked on the door of apartment 2B. She did a quick survey of the hallway then inserted slender pieces of metal into the lock and began to manipulate them until she heard a click. Again, she looked around before quickly opening the door and entering the small apartment.
Her dark eyes surveyed the room until she found what she was looking for. It only took her a few seconds to remove the plate over the telephone outlet and insert a small listening device. With practiced efficiency, she did the same in both bedrooms and the kitchen before she left locking the door behind her. She looked at her wristwatch and smiled. “Under four minutes, I believe that’s a new record.” A smile crossed her face as she remembered her old partner’s words. ‘You know Parker, you can out strategize the best of them, but when it comes down to implementation, you suck’. “How’s that for execution?”
When she reentered the Winnebago, she flipped open the device tracking Sophie’s movements and saw that the car had stopped about a mile away. She quickly took off the utility belt and cap then bent down to replace the heavy work boots with a worn pair of Nikes. In no time at all, she was in a rusted out van heading toward the place where Sophie had parked. When she pulled into a grocery store parking lot, Parker grinned for she knew the store. Absently she bit her inner cheek as images of the past tried to haunt her. She shook her head to remove any traces of the past–nevertheless they still loomed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she blew it out. She needed to concentrate on the job at hand–memories weren’t part of the equation.
She pulled on a large floppy hat that had long black hair extensions cascading from inside the brim and looked in the rearview mirror. ‘You never seem to get the hang of what a good disguises is’, her old partner would say. She growled at the image of her old partner that sprung to life in the mirror. “Enough of that old crap. I need to go check out Sophie Durant.” To complete the look, she shrugged on an oversized raincoat and added gigantic white sunglasses. She learned long ago that the more ridiculous she looked the less likely anyone could give an accurate description of her face. She looked at herself in the mirror on the visor and laughed. “And, I certainly fit that bill.”
As she entered the store, she snagged a basket and began her search while throwing various items into the cart. She rounded a corner and paused when she saw the woman that she thought was Sophie Durant inspecting the cantaloupes. She pushed her cart toward the melons and covertly pushed the button of a camera hidden in her lapel before she picked up a cantaloupe. When the woman lifted her head, Parker snapped another picture, but knew she wouldn’t need it–Sophie Durant stood across from her. Parker seized the opportunity to capture her gaze and smiled broadly. “How do you know if they’re ripe?”
“It’s a crap shoot,” Sophie said.
There seemed to be a momentary glint of fear in the woman’s eyes, but it quickly disappeared. With a laugh, Parker said, “Good, you’ve confirmed my suspicions.”
Sophie nodded, put a cantaloupe in her basket and casually walked away.
A woman who seemed to appear from out of nowhere stood next to Parker said, “It is hard to tell with store melons.”
Parker looked at the woman and frowned for she had no idea that anyone else was by the cantaloupe bin and that was a big mistake. In her line of work, not seeing everyone and everything in the picture could spell death. “So it is a crap shoot then?”
The woman laughed again. “Yeah, it is. The best thing to do with them is take it home, put it on the counter and when you smell cantaloupe it’s ready to eat,” she said with a quiet confident air.
Parker’s eyes gave the woman the once over. The woman wasn’t a classic beauty but her dazzling smile and twinkling brown eyes were compelling. She removed her sunglasses and said, “Thanks, I’ll do just that.”
“Here,” the woman said handing Parker a cantaloupe. “This one should be ripe in a day or two.”
“I’m pretty sure you chose that one for yourself…I’ll find another.”
The woman smiled and gestured to the bin holding the melons. “I’m sure I can find another. Please, take this one.”
Parker shrugged slightly then took the offered melon. “Thanks.” She scrutinized the woman again before saying, “Have a great day and thanks again.” She pushed her cart away, but after she went a short distance, she stopped and looked back at the woman. She smiled and winked as she considered the wisdom of asking her out. All her thoughts stopped when she spied Sophie out of the corner of her eye. She was heading toward the cash registers.
Shit! She abandoned her cart and hurried toward the exit. She knew better than to let outside forces compromise a case and she almost let the mystery woman do just that. Her old partner’s words echoed again. ‘You always allow yourself to get distracted Parker. You can’t do that and be a successful police officer…someone like your partner will end up dead.’
From her vantage point in the Winnebago, Parker munched on a sandwich as she watched Sophie’s friend Camille arrive home. She adjusted her headphones and turned the volume up slightly. Other than the sound of a television, Parker hadn’t heard anything from the apartment since Sophie returned from her shopping trip. She listened intently hearing the door open and the woman say, “I’m home.”
The voice that she assumed was Sophie’s seemed agitated. “I’ve been spotted and I need to leave.”
“Some woman at the grocery store spoke to me.”
“And that makes you think you were made? Did this woman do anything other than speak to you?”
“No! You don’t understand Cammie. I’ve been going to that market every week since I came here and the people there are always the same…until today!”
“You never saw her there before? What did she look like?”
“The only thing I remember is a big floppy hat with hair extensions.”
“Shit!” Parker said as she slammed her hand against the dashboard.
“Hair extensions were in the hat?”
“Yeah…at least that is how it looked like to me…she wore oversized sunglasses too. Doesn’t that sound like a disguise to you?”
“Maybe she was just eccentric. I’ve seen more than my share of weirdoes in this town”
“NO! I’m telling you she was watching me! I need to get out of here fast before my evil stepmother shows up on your doorstep.”
“Hold on a minute,” Camille said. “If you’re dead set on leaving at least let me find you a safe place to go. All I have to do is make one call and it will be all set up.”
“I don’t know.”
“Trust me, ok?”
The next thing Parker heard was, “ Aunt Gin, I need a favor.” She moved the mouse of her laptop and started a search for Camille Peterson’s relatives. It didn’t take long for her to find Virginia Grayson who lived in a small town about two hours away. Her attention then turned completely back to the women’s conversation.
“It’s all set up. You can stay at my aunt’s boarding house in Waterston.”
“Waterston…never heard of it.”
“Not too many have and that’s good for you. I have next Wednesday off. I’ll take you, introduce you to my aunt and get you all moved in. My aunt is great and I know you will get along with her…everyone does.”
A long pause had Parker turning up the volume up. What she heard was unmistakable–kissing. “She’s gay?” Parker said as she flipped through her files and found pictures of Sophie at all kinds of events. “She’s always with men …there’s no mention of her being a lesbian anywhere. She must be a master of deception if she kept that a secret.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” she heard Camille say.
“I know, but I have to keep you safe. My stepmother will stop at nothing until she finds and kills me.”
Parker turned the volume up more.
“Come on Sophie we’ve talked about this before…I can’t see her hiring someone to murder you.”
“Because you don’t know what she’s capable of! Trust me, she wants all of my inheritance and will stop at nothing to get it.”
Parker flipped through her notes and until she found the financials on Sophie. She only read a few lines when she heard the sounds of kissing again followed by the familiar groans of a sexually charged situation. Unable to concentrate, she put the file down and, feeling like a voyeur, closed her eyes and leaned back in the seat. It wasn’t too long before her body reacted vicariously to the sounds. The zipper to her jeans came down, and her fingers slid inside. The face of the other woman she spoke with in the grocery store floated into her mind as her fingers glided inside.
The resonance of pulleys turning and a motor pulsing out energy to maintain the task broke the silence of the warehouse apartment. Inside the building, a woman’s ears picked up the sound and she sighed heavily. Then, with a shake of her head, she rose out of the comfortable armchair and entered the spacious work area that dominated the warehouse conversion. The atmosphere changed significantly for only moments before she felt relaxed and at ease with her surroundings. Now, the businesslike environment made her heart pump into action. The green lights that blinked rapidly on the console in the center of the area indicated the activation of the garage door as safe. It was one of the various gadgets defining the owner of the building.
Amelia watched quietly as the roar of a motorcycle engine cut through the other sounds in the building and slid, with feline grace, into the spot marked for it. A figure clad in black from head-to-toe fluidly disengaged from the machine. At a glance, it looked as if rider and machine were the same. With negligent ease, the figure removed the black helmet and a swathe of riotous black hair swung around the beautiful Latino featured face–Olivia Santos was home.
From her vantage point just outside of Olivia’s peripheral vision, Amelia watched in silent fascination. Her business partner and friend and …well who knew what else they were to each other, appeared tired. Amelia wasn’t surprised since Olivia was out on a case, or at least that’s what she implied, for the past thirty-six hours. Dark circles under the eyes, indicated the fatigue. Outside of that indicator, the woman’s movements as she headed for the central computer console, showed little stress to the body.
“Hey, you don’t need to lurk in the shadows I know you’re there.”
Amelia almost jumped out of her skin at the unexpected observation. With a rising of her eyes heavenward, she stepped forward into the glare of the overhead lights at the central core of Olivia’s toys. “I hate it when you do that,” Amelia said.
Olivia eyed the woman idly as a faint smile crinkled the corner of her eyes while her lips barely registered the emotion. Then, she returned her gaze to the data computing on the console from the portable storage device she slipped into the USB port. “Yep, I know.”
As Amelia moved forward, she caught the faint aroma of perfume lingering on Olivia. The smell was one she didn’t recognize so she asked, “Was the surveillance successful?”
Olivia digested the question for a few seconds as her glance caught the interested ones of her business partner. If she told Amelia the truth, would she stick around? Deciding instead to do what she was good at–lie. “Yes it was. How was your weekend?”
Amelia, annoyed by Olivia’s reluctance to share facts, inwardly sighed. She could play the same game and with a bright smile she replied, “I meet a new friend today.”
“Really and who exactly is this friend and where did you meet?” Although her mind focused on Amelia’s revelation, Olivia didn’t take her eyes from the data on the console.
Amelia walked around Olivia’s chair and saw the change in body language. It was hardly discernable, but she knew exactly what to look for. Something about her comment had hit a target. “Oh, I was shopping and we struck up a conversation…you know how that is.” She felt her nonchalant air and increased excitement in tone was a fitting disguise.
Olivia swung around to face Amelia. With a hooded look in her narrowing eyes, she asked, “Shopping huh? You picked up a complete stranger…what’s his name?”
“I didn’t pick up a complete stranger! I had a conversation with a person about melons that was all. Do you always have to bring everything down to…to sex?” Amelia belligerently replied.
This time Olivia chuckled. “Ok, ok I apologize if I made the wrong assumption. “This new friend, are you going to call him?”
Amelia shook her head. “For the record, it was a woman not a man and well…”
“Well?” Olivia visibly relaxed with the mention of it being a woman.
“Are you hungry? I have those melons I bought and I was thinking maybe we can celebrate now that you’re back.” Amelia felt foolish as she tried to figure out why she said what she did. The woman in the store was a stranger and she was certain she would never see her again. She laughed inwardly as she recalled the woman’s ridiculous appearance.
Olivia flexed her back muscles and with a distinct grin she used only for Amelia, she placed a hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder. “Sounds good, I’m starving. You have to be careful who you meet out there Amelia, not everyone is what they appear to be.” As they walked toward the stairs to the kitchen, she said, “What are we celebrating?”
Amelia didn’t reply immediately for Olivia was describing herself. “We’ve been together as business partners for two years. Who would have believed it? Oh, by the way, I like that perfume you’re wearing it suits you.”
Olivia was thankful that she was behind Amelia as the comment made her cheeks take on a faint red hue. With a slight clearing of her throat, she quietly replied, “Is it? Well that surely is something to celebrate.” As they entered the kitchen in friendly camaraderie, she asked, “Did you buy any of my favorite pasta when you were shopping?”
The next morning Parker listened to the conversation between Sophie and Camille.
“Cammie I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
“How certain are you that I’ll be safe at your aunt’s house?”
“One hundred percent, no one will find you there.”
Parker heard the distinct sound of a kiss.
“But, what if…” She heard more kissing sounds.
“The only way anyone will track you there is if I tell them and trust me I will never do that.”
“We still have five days before we leave, what if that woman from the grocery store comes looking for me?”
“She won’t get near you.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I am going to be with you every minute until then…and no one gets by me. Come on, I’ve already cleared it with my boss. It’s take your friend to work week.”
Once the two women left, Parker quickly crossed the street, climbed the stairs and entered the apartment to retrieve the listening devices. When she returned to the Winnebago, she put in a call to her client Evelyn Durant. “Hello, Mrs. Durant this is Parker Davis.”
“I hope you have good news for me you’ve been at this for far too long and the only result you’ve come up with is to spend my money.”
Parker sucked in a deep breath, something about the woman was irritating her more than usual. “As I told you from the start Mrs. Durant, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Each time I have tracked her to a specific location it seems she leaves just before my arrival…it is as if someone tipped her off.”
“Well I certainly haven’t.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. You need to understand that your stepdaughter is smart and doesn’t want to be found and she’s doing a damn good job of doing just that.”
“I’m not interested in your excuses Ms. Davis, I want results or I will find someone who can deliver them.”
“That’s your choice Mrs. Durant. I had a sighting of her last night, but now she’s gone.”
“You saw her and didn’t grab her…why?”
“Too many people were around.” For Parker, the truth was, she didn’t like kidnapping for there was always the risk of witnesses. She preferred to gain their confidence first then, tell her client where to find the person. Except this time, the client would be in the dark until Parker’s plan was completed.
“So you let her get away! Who was she with?” Evelyn screamed.
“It’s an old school friend…not sure what the name is since Sophie didn’t stick around very long,” Parker said. “The friend is irrelevant since Sophie has already gone.” The conversation was making Parker tense and she felt a knot grow in her stomach. Everything hinged on Evelyn Durant. “Listen Mrs. Durant, I have some good leads on her whereabouts.”
“Then find her and call me the moment you do. I’ll want her restrained until my people arrive. Is that understood?”
“The next call you make better be the news I’m expecting or you’ll wish you never accepted the task and wasted my money,” Evelyn said with icy venom.
Parker knew without a doubt that what she heard Sophie say was right–the woman would kill her. She looked at the small cell phone in her hand and sighed. “At least she doesn’t know where I am.” She considered the words and thought of what she would have done if she were Evelyn. “I’d trace the number.” Parker chuckled as her mind floated back to the last update she gave the woman. Unlike other cases, Parker played this one close to the vest never divulging too many details about where she was or how she determined where to search next. “I’ll keep Sophie safe for the time being.” She smiled for her plan was working perfectly and it was only a matter of time before she would reveal herself to Sophie.
“What’s so interesting around here?” Pete asked when she paid for the use of the Winnebago and van.
Parker fixed the man with a menacing look. “The deal was, I pay you top dollar and you ask no questions.” She held the money back. “If you want to change the terms let me know and I will adjust the payment accordingly.”
“No, no,” the greasy, small man said. “No questions just like we agreed.”
“Good.” She gave him his money then began to walk away, but stopped. “If anyone comes looking for me Pete…I’ll know who told them.”
Pete adjusted his cap and gulped. “Not from me…I know nothing.”
“Then get lost,” she growled. Once the man had disappeared into the garage, she set about the task of wiping down both vehicles. The night before, under the cover of darkness, she retrieved her recent purchase, an ‘88 Cabriolet from the garage she rented and loaded it with all her belongings. After Pete’s questions, she was glad she drove the car back to the garage. She didn’t need the little man to know the maker of her vehicle and the license number. Not that it would matter for she used a fake ID when she bought it. Her old partner’s voice rang in her ear. ‘Overlook nothing Parker... the little details will hang you.’
Once she was satisfied that she left no traces in either the Winnebago or van, she began the mile walk to the garage and her car. The walk gave her time to reflect on the case so far and make changes to her plan to accommodate what would happen next. The fact that Sophie spotted her so easily was upsetting. “I can't believe she saw through me like that...I must be losing my touch. Damn it!” She shook her head. “There’s no doubt that Evelyn is a psycho. I shouldn’t have mentioned she was with an old school friend. Oh, what the hell, she’s hardly going to do anything to her… Sophie is her target.”
When she opened the garage door fifteen minutes later, she still hadn’t revised her original plan. Sophie was integral to the successful conclusion of it so keeping her safe until the time was right was paramount. The question was, how long before the woman hired someone else. Once again, she heard her old partner’s words. ‘Stay focused and uninvolved.’ Parker laughed. “If you only knew Olivia.” After she got in her car, she put the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life.
As fortunes would have it, Parker didn’t have any other cases but it never was about the case or the money. “So why not go one step further? Why not…” She shook her head. Veering off the path her plan dictated would have dire consequences. She needed to make modifications and she would once she allowed all the scenarios percolate in her mind. ‘ You can’t solve everyone’s problems…sometimes there’s no solution’, her partner would say. “Not this time,” she said as a smile wreathed her lips. Treachery lurked just below the surface. She had two hours before she arrived in Waterston and that was plenty of time to come up with several plans. It was clear in Sophie’s tone that the woman had a genuine fear of her stepmother. She knew that Evelyn Durant’s real motives were nefarious and that would have to be factored into all scenarios.
She knew the Durant family was an old money family from the mainline of Philadelphia. Smart investments in banking and real estate made the original Augustus Durant a fortune that remained even though the depression was in full swing. Sophie’s father, Augustus III, headed one of the largest investment banking conglomerates in the world. When the matriarch of the family, Christina died, she left her entire fortune to Sophie and not her son. That was something that puzzled Parker. The woman had enough money to keep herself in bodyguards and a secure residence. The question was why did she keep running and hiding out in places like Portsmouth. She involuntarily scratched her head and laughed. One of her dad’s favorite sayings, if it smells like a dead fish, looks like a dead fish then it must be a dead fish, seemed appropriate.
“Something certainly smells bad.” She shrugged. “It has to be greed. Her father is wealthy in his own right, but Sophie told her friend that Evelyn wanted all her money.” She snorted. “Bet there’s a prenup.” She frowned and recalled all the information gathered regarding the Durant family. Someone neglected to dig deep enough and that wouldn’t do–there was too much at stake.
As she drove into Waterston, Parker’s eyes scanned the town until she found the local dining establishment, Good Eats. A smile played around her lips when she saw the sign–Help Wanted. She continued driving until she came to a place where she could pull over. She rummaged around in the backseat until she found a blonde wig and make-up bag. Within minutes, she had transformed herself into a big haired blonde with red lips and a beauty mark just to the side of her upper lip. Once satisfied with her look, she started the car and headed back to the restaurant. “It’s show time.”
With a smile, she opened the door to Good Eats and quickly scrutinized the area noting there were only two men sitting in a booth next to the window. She sat at the counter nearest the door and pulled a menu from between the catsup and sugar.
“Hello. Welcome to our town,” a bright voice said.
When Parker looked up, she saw a somewhat rotund woman with bright red hair, even redder lipstick and a nametag that said Dolly, smiling at her. “Thank you.”
“If you’re hungry you’ve come to the right place. Our special today is pot roast. It’s real good if I do say so myself.” The woman laughed. “What can I git you to drink?”
“Coffee would be good,” Parker said, flashing her biggest smile.
In an instant, the woman placed a cup of coffee on the counter. “There you go. You want more time to look at the menu or do ya know what you want?”
“Actually, I was interested in the help wanted sign.”
Dolly’s face brightened. “You lookin’ for work?”
“My husband passed away five months ago leaving me to do all the cookin’, the table waitin’, and bill takin’. I had a gal helpin’ me, but she up and quit three days ago leavin’ me high and dry. Some of the folks that come in here don’t mind the wait, but most do. Business has gone way down since that gal left.”
“Sounds like you’re overwhelmed,” Parker said.
“I sure am. I need someone to wait tables…can you do that?”
Dolly clasped her hand to her heart and Parker waited for a hallelujah. Instead, the woman said, “My prayers have been answered.” She held out her hand. “I’m Dolly Madison.” When she saw the smile cross the woman’s face she added, “Can you imagine with a name like Dolly I marry a guy with the last name of Madison. Lord, I’ve had my share of jibes over the years.”
With a genuine laugh, Parker extended her hand. “Parker Davis.”
“I can’t pay you much Parker, but them that come in here tip real good.”
“I’m sure it will all work out. What are the hours?”
“We are open at six so I’d need you here by five thirty. We only serve breakfast and lunch so we close at two…oh and we’re closed on Sundays.”
“Sounds good. Now, all I need is a place to stay.” With a questioning look she said, “Can you recommend a place.”
“I sure can. Miss Ginny’s is just down the street. I’ll call her and set it all up for you.”
“Thanks, that’ll be great,” she said breathing a sigh of relief. She needed to establish herself if the plan was going to work. Her ears perked up and a smile crossed her face as she listened to Dolly on the phone.
“She’s good people Ginny and an answer to my prayers. Great you have a room. I’ll send her right over.”
Dolly turned back and smiled. “Gotcha all set up at Ginny’s.” She scribbled the address on the back of a counter check. “Here’s the address. You can’t miss it …two blocks down on the left.”
Parker took the offered paper. “Thanks this is great. The moment I drove into town I knew this was just the kind of place I’d been looking for.”
Dolly patted the younger woman’s hand. “And you are a godsend. Can you start tomorrow?”
“I’ll do you one better. As soon as I get my stuff stowed in the room, I’ll come back.”
“You would,” Dolly said as her eyes opened wide. “Thank you, thank you and God bless you Parker.”
The look on the woman’s face made Parker stand up and move a few steps back. Parker shrugged. “I guess I better go and get myself settled so I can get back here.”
Miss Ginny’s Boarding House was a big rambling two story Victorian painted slate blue with rose trimmed windows and shutters. Parker’s eyes scanned the area noting that a small garage was located behind the house with the only exit being the driveway. The home was located on the main thoroughfare making it easy to leave in a hurry if she needed to. The car door creaked when she opened it and she chuckled. “I got what I paid for…a junker.” She walked up the three steps to the front porch and then knocked. A woman, who Parker thought was in her fifties, opened the door.
“Hello, I’m Parker Davis,” she said with her biggest smile. “I believe Dolly spoke to you about me renting a room.”
“Yes, yes she did. Come on in. The rent is a hundred a week in advance and that includes your evening meal,” she said peering over Parker’s shoulder. “Is that your car?”
“Yes,” Parker said creasing her brow. “Is it a problem if I park there?”
“Heavens no,” Ginny said. “I was thinking you could use the garage. I don’t drive so no one uses it. Why don’t you pull it into the driveway then you can unload your belongings.”
“Sure, I can do that.” When Parker arrived back at her car, she shook her head. She didn’t like the idea of only one escape route but parking in the garage was to her advantage. Once Sophie arrived, it would add credence to the idea that she had been there longer than a few days.
The room Ginny showed Parker was located at the corner of the house on the second floor. It was small, but the two rooms had a homey feeling. “How many other boarders do you have Mrs. Grayson?”
Ginny laughed. “Call me Ginny everyone else does. Mr. Gordon is way down at the other end,” Ginny said pointing to the far end of the hallway. “This room over here,” she pointed to the room next to Parker’s, “is vacant, but a friend of my niece is going to be staying there in a few days.” Her eyes drifted to Parker’s room. “I serve dinner each night at six, but not on Sunday. You are welcome to use the kitchen, but I expect you to clean up after yourself. We also have laundry facilities…you will have to provide your own detergent.”
“Well, I don’t cook so that’s not a problem, but I do like clean clothes. Do you have a line for hanging them?”
Ginny’s laugh was long and deep. “Sure do. It sounds to me like we’ll get along just fine. Holler if you need anything,” she said as she left.
Once Parker was finished putting her things away, she left the room quietly and tiptoed to the room Sophie would be using. Just as with her room, the door was unlocked. Once inside, she placed a bug in each of the two rooms. With a satisfied smile, she left the boarding house to go back to Good Eats and the noon crowd.
Dolly escorted the last customer to the door before locking it. She eyed Parker. “How was your first day?”
With a half smile, Parker said, “You sure do get a lot of people in here. Don’t know how you did it yourself. To answer your question…I’ll be back in the morning.”
“When you come in the mornin’, I’ll get you more acquainted with the place and pay you for today,” Dolly said. “I have a doctor’s appointment in ten minutes so I can’t do it now.”
“No problem. You want me to clean up the kitchen before I leave?”
Dolly frowned. “I guess not…I couldn’t pay you for doin’ that.”
“Consider it a thank you for giving me a job and finding me a place to sleep.”
“Be sure and lock up when you go.”
“Not to worry. I’ll make sure everything is locked up tight.”
“Bless you,” Dolly said as she looked at her watch. “Will you look at the time, I’m gonna be late if I don’t leave right now.
Parker watched with a satisfied smile as the woman scurried out the door. “This is going to work out perfectly.”
+ + +
At five thirty the next morning, Parker arrived at Good Eats. “Good morning,” Dolly bellowed over a mixer. “Get yourself an apron from under the counter.” She waved a wooden spoon in the general direction. “You did a wonderful job cleaning up. Thank you.”
Parker frowned at the woman’s bubbly demeanor–it was too early for that. “You’re welcome.”
Dolly had turned off the mixer and joined Parker. “You’ll need a nametag. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to be Rose ‘cause that’s the only tag I have.”
“ Rose it is then,” Parker said laughing.
The first customer gave Parker a second look then a once over. “Where’s Dolly?” he asked gruffly.
“Good morning. Take a seat and I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”
He looked at her nametag. “Another Rose,” he said shaking his head. “…where’s she gettin’ ‘em.”
Parker smiled and walked over to the coffee pot. Just as she was pouring a cup, another customer came in and she heard, “Hey Joe, Dolly’s got herself another Rose.” It wasn’t long before all the tables were full of men who stopped in before work.
The lunch shift wasn’t as busy, but by closing time, Parker sighed in relief. She questioned the wisdom of her choice of occupation as she slumped in a chair. The day was successful in that she was certain that she made a good impression on all the customers. >From the feel of the pocket in the apron, she made good tip money.
“You did good,” Dolly said as she placed a plate of food in front of her new waitress.
Parker looked at the woman and smiled. “Thanks. I had no idea you would be so busy. I think most everyone in town must have been here sometime today.”
Dolly laughed and patted Parker’s hand. “Not quite everyone. You eat up and I’ll get you your pay for today and yesterday.”
It had been a long time since Parker felt such an overwhelming weariness. She looked at the plate of food and realized her only choice was to comply with Dolly’s order. “Thanks, it sure smells good.”
The jingle of keys at the heavy door made Olivia smile. She walked from her office at When Heaven Meets Hell and casually leaned against the counter in front of the reception desk waiting for the door to open. Her smile never wavered as the door finally opened and in stepped the woman she had been expecting. “Teal you decided to return to work! We’ve missed you.”
Teal Roland mentally released the nervous breath she was holding as she arrived at the office after her extended vacation. She grinned at her tall, beautiful boss. “Glad to be back boss. We…are you sure about the 'we'? The last time we were in contact, Amelia was less than friendly. Where is she anyway…in her office?” she said mockingly. They both knew that Amelia never made it to the office until eight thirty and it was barely seven thirty.
Olivia pushed away from the counter and towered over their efficient personal assistant. Teal ran all the office administration and, if they would admit to it, their business lives too. “Unlikely, she hasn’t changed in that respect.”
Teal walked over to the reception area and stowed her personal belongings. Then, with a look of dread mixed with joy, she saw the amount of paperwork stacked in her trays. Overflowing was an understatement. “Has she changed at all?”
The quiet question came from a woman Olivia respected for both her professionalism and friendship. She silently debated what to say next.
With her hand held as high as possible for Olivia to see, Teal remarked, “You don’t need to answer that…she hasn’t has she. I’m a fool to think that all the years of our friendship could sway her into accepting Phil and me as a committed couple. Well, it’s done now she either accepts it or…”
Pain was evident in the words that floated into the silent room. It had been a shock all round when Amelia took a belligerent stand regarding Teal and Phil’s commitment ceremony. Her refusal to attend the ceremony and her ignoring Teal the weeks before verged on homophobic. Neither woman wanted to associate that behavior with Amelia. “Or, you’ll quit?” Olivia asked raising an eyebrow. “You can’t leave me with a homophobe on my own. Who knows what I might do.” She winked to take the sting out of the words, but they both knew the only solution was to confront Amelia in the near future.
Teal laughed at the comment. Olivia had never directly admitted her preferences, but Phil, who had known Olivia for at least five years, knew she was a lesbian, but didn’t advertise the fact. “I think that would be too drastic don’t you. Incidentally, I heard that a certain mutual acquaintance of ours had a marvelous weekend.”
Olivia frowned slightly then seriously replied, “Did she say that or was it your interpretation of the hours we spent together? Besides, it was a mutual one off for us both…you know…a stress releaser.”
A shake of the head was Teal’s immediate reply. “Wow, I’d hate to be one of your cast offs. Stress releasing, huh. What would make you a one woman, woman Olivia…or should I say who?”
A sparkle entered the deep, dark blue of Olivia’s eyes as she shrugged. She had tried a committed relationship once–it hadn’t worked big time. “Now that you’re back Teal, there’s plenty to do. If you need help with the dragon when she arrives, I’ll be close by.” Olivia swiftly retreated to the sanctuary of her office.
Teal giggled at the description. Amelia was many things but a dragon…maybe. She looked at her in-trays. She groaned at the bulging mass of paper. It was lovely to be back.
Amelia, with a sense of trepidation, parked her vehicle next to the office and waited. After a few seconds of thought, she realized that she was frightened. It was an irrational emotion; Teal had been her friend for years. She was ashamed for not attending the commitment ceremony. How could she? Her actions leading up to the event were stupid and blind. She knew she needed to apologize but every time she thought of what to say, it would sound hollow. Her head jerked as she mentally derided herself for her sheer unworldly understanding of life in general and particularly her own. Her eyes popped open wide when she thought of how jammed packed Teal’s in-tray was. “She’s going to think I did that on purpose.
A part of her wished she were still a nun. She should have heeded God’s calling instead of letting her incredible arrogance tell her otherwise. Her eyes scanned the building where WHMH claimed the lower floor and realized that the problem wasn’t with a place or thing but with the two people inside. “What kind of shrink am I?” She sucked in a breath. “Pathetic and not worthy of the trust they put in me.” She wanted to be like them and know what life was really like. If she wasn’t so afraid of life outside of the convent, she could embrace it fully. The realization of what she was afraid of hit her and she gasped. “Me! I’m afraid of being me”
Her eyes looked at the car’s clock and she frowned. It was eight-twenty nine. She rushed out of her vehicle and mounted the steps. With a deep intake of breath, she reached for the door knob. “Here goes,” she said as the door to the outer office opened easily. Then, she heard the familiar tones of her friend, cursing one of them for their lack of detail. Paperwork wasn’t one of Olivia’s strong suits. She took a deep breath and moved further into the office placing her briefcase on the counter top. “Hi Teal, welcome back,” she said. Amelia inwardly chided the lack of sincerity her clipped tone evoked.
Teal looked toward the voice and mentally chastised herself for the terrible thoughts she had at her friend’s expense. With a bright smile she responded, “Good morning Amelia, thanks.”
Hesitation wasn’t a good trait in a psychiatrist, but right then Amelia felt more vulnerable than her patients did. “Did you have a good…vacation?”
Teal considered the words and wondered how someone so balanced in most things and who was charitable in almost everything else could have such a phobia? For the time being, she would be charitable and let Amelia off the hook. “Great thanks. Looks like I’ll need another one after I get through the mountain of work you both left for me.”
A ghost of a smile etched itself across Amelia’s features. “Teal, most of that is Olivia’s except for the receipts and stuff…I pretty much dealt with mine. My business partner is less adept in that area.”
“Who is less adept my dear Doctor West?”
The rich voice was unmistakably Olivia’s and Amelia spun around to face the taller woman who was giving her an enigmatic smile.
With a twinkle in the eye toward Teal, Olivia moved closer to Amelia. “Are you implying I’m not good at something? I’d really like to know what it is so I can hone my skills.”
Amelia’s breathing became noticeably shallow as Olivia moved within inches of her. Flustered, she replied, “We all know clerical work isn’t one of your stronger points.”
“Ah, paperwork,” she said shaking her head in agreement. “Well, I figured that Teal doesn’t want to feel that her time here is wasted,” she said solemnly. “What’s your excuse?” Olivia loved to tease Amelia. It was the one facet of their relationship that she found both interesting and increasingly endearing.
“Why not tell Teal about your date this weekend.”
“Ohhh goody, office gossip, you gotta love it. So spill the beans Olivia,” Teal gleefully intoned. She already knew most of the details but it would be fun to see if Olivia could worm her way out of a sticky situation.
Olivia gave Amelia a long, steady stare. She knew that Amelia was playing the game of trying to find out information without asking her directly. Olivia was very adept at games and deception and that put Amelia at a distinct disadvantage. “A lady never discusses such things in public.”
Amelia snorted at the reply. “So it was a date! Ha, I thought so when I smelled the expensive perfume. Usually you smell of fresh herbs.” Teal and Olivia both stared at Amelia. With a shake of her head, Olivia headed for the outer door. “I’m out of here. I have work to do. See you both later.”
“Yeah, me too. I have a patient coming shortly. I’m glad you’re back Teal, I really am. I was wondering if you and Phil wanted to come over for dinner next weekend.” Amelia picked up her briefcase and held her breath as she waited for the response.
Perplexed at the attitude change, but willing to try anything to show Amelia that being gay wasn’t the crime of the century she nodded. “ Phil’s going to Vegas can we take a rain check?” she said.
Amelia closed her eyes briefly. “Sure, a rain check it is. I’ll see you later Teal.” She walked toward her office then turned back. “I’m sorry about the ceremony Teal. Maybe if you’ll give me a chance I can explain.”
Teal smiled warmly at her friend. “You got it babe. Now go do your stuff…I know I need to do mine.”
The shadow, which had plagued them both, lifted slightly as light began to filter through.
Over the next two days, Parker learned most of the customer’s names and easily laughed and joked with them all. “No one would know you just got here.” Dolly told her on the third day. “You even won over old man Winston. Lordy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile like that before.”
Parker laughed. “ Tom just needed a nudge.” She shrugged on her jacket and said, “I best be going its laundry day.” The truth was Sophie and Camille were due to arrive and she wanted to be in place before they got to the house. “See you tomorrow.”
As she neared the boarding house, her heart leapt into her throat when she saw the crème colored Altima in the driveway. Damn. Sucking in a deep breath, she opened the front door, entered and almost ran headlong into Sophie Durant.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Parker looked at Ginny and said, “I didn’t know you were having company.”
“No need to be sorry,” Ginny said with a smile. “This is my niece and her friend that I told you about.” She wrapped her arm around Camille. “Cammie this is Parker Davis she has the front room.” Then she turned to Sophie. “I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.”
“ Sophie Durant,” the woman said holding out her hand. “It looks like we’ll be neighbors.”
Parker felt her body relax when neither woman showed any sign that they recognized her. She had only seen Camille from a distance and now that she saw her close up, Parker wondered what Sophie saw in her. Where Sophie was tall and curvaceous, Camille was small and on the chunky side. If Sophie dressed better and wore make-up, people would sit up and take notice of her. Camille, on the other hand, was rather homely. “Nice to meet you neighbor,” Parker said as she shook the slightly smaller hand. “Well, I better get going, it’s laundry day.” She looked at Ginny and smiled. “It’s such a warm day I think I’ll hang them on the line.”
As Parker mounted the stairs, she heard Cammie say, “She seems like a nice person Sophie. You’ll have someone your age to talk to.”
The next person she heard was Ginny. “Well let’s get you settled shall we. Cammie, now that your friend is staying here, I hope I’ll see more of you.”
“Count on it Aunt Gin,” Camille said.
Parker let out a sigh of relief. Once she was in her room, she gathered her clothes and before she finished she heard the three women go into the room next door. With her clothes stuffed into a basket, she waited until she heard them in the hallway again and opened her door. “Ginny,” she said.
“I’m out of laundry soap. Do you mind if I borrow some of yours? You know I’ll replace it.” Her words were loud enough for the other two women to hear. The innocent comment would help solidify in their minds that Parker had been there longer than a few days.
“Certainly, come on, I’ll walk down with you.”
Parker smiled broadly. “Thanks. Isn’t it a great day to hang out laundry?”
“Yes, it is a beautiful day. You know, I was thinking that maybe we could use the grill tonight.”
“And, I’m just the girl to do the grilling,” she said with a fond smile. Inwardly she chuckled for Ginny unknowingly was playing into her ruse.
+ + +
The dinner of grilled chicken was excellent. Parker hoped that she could use the meal to study Sophie, but that didn’t happen. Only Camille joined them. “ Sophie has a monster of a headache Aunt Gin. When we’re done do you mind if I take her a plate?”
Parker helped Ginny clear the table and do the dishes before she went back to her room. She put on headphones and listened to the conversation in the next room.
“Come on Sophie, you have to eat something. My aunt is a wonderful cook.”
“I’m sure she is Cammie, but I’m just not hungry.”
“After you leave I’ll be alone.”
“No you won’t. That Parker woman seemed like an interesting person at dinner if you can get past her big hair and red lips.” Both women laughed. “And, I’ll come every weekend.”
The answer to the question was clearly a kiss. Parker stretched out on her bed. The notion that the two women would make love was ludicrous for Ginny was not far away. It wasn’t long before she heard Sophie say, “What you got there?”
“Oh, I thought you might like feeling this inside.”
Parker felt her heart crank to a higher beat. “I don’t believe it!”
“Cammie we can’t…not in your aunt’s house.”
“Don’t worry her bedroom is downstairs on the other side of the house. Besides, she went to bed two hours ago…she won’t hear us.”
“But, what about that woman next door?”
“What about her? She can find her own lover.” Parker heard Camille chuckle. “Unless you think she’d like to join in on a threesome.”
“Nope, I want you and that strap-on all to myself.”
Parker listened to the pair making love and once again felt like a voyeur. Her mind flitted to the woman she met in the grocery store. There was something so compelling about her that Parker envisioned her face often. Her hand slid between her legs as she sighed. “It would be nice to have you in my bed mystery woman,” she mumbled as her fingers began to move deeper.
She heard Sophie groan, “God Cammie deeper go deeper and harder.”
Parker’s fingers and hips moved to the sounds until she came at the same moment Sophie did.
The next morning Parker was busy serving breakfast when to her surprise Ginny, Camille and Sophie came in. She smiled and said, “There’s an empty booth over there girls, I just need to wipe the table.” She moved quickly toward the table and did a once over with a wet cloth, placed silverware wrapped in a paper napkin on the table along with menus before signaling the women. “You all want coffee?” she asked as they sat down.
Sophie watched as the women moved easily among the tables stopping often to chat with customers. To Sophie, it looked like the woman was flirting with people. She suspected it was a ploy to get more tips. As she continued observing, she felt a bit envious of how comfortable the woman seemed with other people.
One man said loudly. “Will you marry me?
“What would your wife say, Harvey,” Parker said with a laugh as she lightly slapped the man’s shoulder.
As Sophie watched, she lamented about her lack of friends. She couldn’t think of anyone other than Camille that she trusted enough to call friend. It occurred to her that perhaps her lack of friends was why she was in her current predicament. She sighed and focused on the woman who was approaching them with three mugs of coffee.
“Here you go ladies,” Parker said with a beaming smile. “Have you decided yet or do you need more time.”
As each rattled off what they wanted, Sophie focused on the nametag–Rose. She immediately felt her back straighten in fear. Then, as casually as she could, she said, “ Rose, I thought your name was Parker.” A laugh that seemed to emanate from deep inside was Sophie’s answer. “I don’t get it…what’s so funny?” she said annoyed by what she took as mocking from the woman.
“I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you it’s just you’re the first to ask that question.” Parker shook her head. “The only nametag Dolly has is this one so voila, I became Rose.” She laughed heartily and walked away toward the kitchen.
Sophie looked at Camille’s aunt and said, “ Mrs. Grayson do you think she is telling the truth?”
“Young lady, if you are going to live under my roof, you’ll have to call me Ginny.”
“Ok, Ginny, do you think she is telling the truth about the nametag or is she…” Sophie felt Camille’s hand touch her thigh in reassurance.
“I don’t think she is a threat to you,” Camille said softly.
“Lord no, she isn’t lying. When Dolly and her husband opened this place they tried to do everything real fancy like.” Dolly laughed. “In case you hadn’t noticed this isn’t a fancy town. Anyway, they ordered special nametags for themselves and their one waitress, Rose. Well, Rose left to get married and they had a nametag. So…to make a long story short, all their help from then on became Rose.”
Sophie felt her body relax. “Thanks, I’m sorry. You know my situation Ginny so I can be overly cautious at times.”
Ginny reached across the table and patted Sophie’s hand much as a mother would. “You have nothing to fear from Parker or as we call her in here, Rose.”
+ + +
Over the next several weeks, Sophie and Parker began a tentative friendship. They would see each other at dinner and occasionally Sophie would arrive late in the morning when the place was empty for breakfast. It was during those times that they started to get to know each other better. Parker would serve Sophie her meal, sit down and relay all the local gossip.
One such morning, Parker said with a laugh, “I got a marriage proposal today.”
Sophie raised her hand to her mouth. “Another one, wow Parker, you sure do have the knack for romance,” she said with a laugh. “How many does that make now? Who’s the lucky guy?”
“ Tom Winston,” she said with a wink.
“Parker, he’s old enough to be your grandfather!”
“Were you here spying on me Sophie?” she asked with a chuckle. “That’s exactly what I told him.”
Sophie laughed. “Oh, so you broke his heart.”
“I don’t think so. He left me a twenty dollar tip. Dolly said since her husband died Tom asks her once a week to marry him.”
When they both stopped laughing, Sophie’s blue eyes captured Parker’s attention. “What?”
“My friend Cammie said she’d visit me every weekend.”
Parker lifted an eyebrow. “Why hasn’t she?”
“I told her not to.” Sophie’s blue eyes focused on the table.
It was the first time Sophie confided anything personal and Parker knew she had to proceed cautiously. “Why did you do that? I thought you were close.”
Sophie shook her head then smiled at the woman across from her. “I…I was wondering if you would like to go have a beer after dinner some night,” she said lowering her eyes.
Bingo. “ Sophie,” Parker said and waited for Sophie to look up. “I would love to go out with you…what about tonight?”
That night after dinner the two women made their way to the other side of town and to the only bar for miles around–Gus’ Tavern. Except for a man sitting at the bar, the place was deserted.
“Grab that table over there,” Parker said. “I’ll get us some beers. Do you want anything special?”
“Nope, whatever they have on tap is fine with me.”
Parker sat down, lifted her mug and said, “To good friends and good times.”
They sat in companionable silence and that gave Parker the opportunity to study Sophie. She covertly looked at the woman and took her in as a whole. The voice she thought she left in Portsmouth chimed in. ‘You have to see the big picture Parker…you are too interested in snippets of a person or a case. You let yourself get bogged down in the details’.
This time, she did look at the whole and liked what she saw. She guessed that Sophie was an inch or so shorter than her five nine with eyes that were the color of a deep cold lake on a clear day. Unlike Parker’s short hair, Sophie’s was a luxurious wavy black that just kissed her shoulders. Her breasts were ample, but not too big and her body was soft. She certainly wasn’t overweight by any means, but her body lacked the definition of muscles. Sophie’s face intrigued her the most. Despite the outward appearance of serenity, Parker saw sadness just below the surface. Over the weeks of their growing friendship, she would occasionally see the surface crack to expose a frightened little girl. The devil was in the detail and there were too many particulars missing. When she got back to her room, she would go over the Durant file again and make a call or two to fill in the missing details.
She eyed Sophie and considered going to the source for the information she needed–it couldn’t hurt to try. Parker said, “Is it too forward of me to ask why you came here?”
“To have a beer,” Sophie said teasingly.
“No I meant why you came to Waterston.”
“Yeah, I know what you meant,” she said softly. “I’m hiding out,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.
Parker creased her brow. “Really,” she said with a raised eyebrow. “From who? A boyfriend, a jealous husband or the IRS?”
Sophie shook her head and laughed before she let out a long sigh. “I wish it were that simple.”
Parker felt the blue eyes probing her. “Don’t we all,” she said softly. “I’m a good listener.”
Sophie struggled internally with whether to trust Parker or not. Finally she said, “It’s a really long and complicated story…you sure you want to hear it?”
The tale of a father who had no time for a daughter once her mother died unfolded. Sophie spoke of how she lived with her grandmother and never really saw her father except maybe on holidays. “At first, I told myself that he was so heartbroken after my mother’s death that I was a constant reminder for him. Then one Christmas, I told him how much I missed him and wanted to live with him. He told me that he never wanted children and that having me was my mother’s idea.” Sophie wiped a tear from her cheek. “My mother was gone for twenty years before he remarried so I guess that gave me some comfort in his love for her. Two years ago he married Evelyn…she’s in her early forties, which is a good fifteen years younger than him.” She shook her head. “The only relationship my father and I had was work related. Once she came on the scene he had no time for me ever,” she spat. Sophie looked up when she felt a warm hand on hers.
“I take it you don’t like her.”
Sophie snorted. “To put it mildly.” She blew a long breath through her full red lips. “Anyway, through some medical magic Evelyn bore my father a son. You would have thought a miracle happened the way my father parades around with that kid.” She shook her head. “I’m being too harsh on the kid…it isn’t his fault. When my grandmother died that same year, she left her entire fortune to me, which really pissed my father off. He is the executor and gets a hefty chunk for that, but he…she wants it all. Somehow he got my grandmother to add a codicil stating that I’d get three hundred thousand of the inheritance for the first year after her death and if something happens to me during that time, it will all revert to my new half-brother.” Sophie’s voice lowered. “She’s been trying to kill me ever since.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “She’s sent people to find me…but I’ve outsmarted them all.”
Parker studied the woman again and wondered how she managed to elude those looking for her for so long. From what she’d seen, the woman didn’t appear to be devious but as she knew, disguises hid a multitude of sins. She took in the total woman again and realized how she managed to achieve her success–mediocrity. She dressed shabbily, didn’t wear make-up and that meant she didn’t stand out in a crowd. Parker chuckled silently–the woman had taken a page out of her book. “Wow Sophie, that sounds like a good reason to hide out.”
Sophie saw a questioning look on Parker’s face. “Go ahead…it’s ok to ask questions.”
“With all that money why didn’t you just go to the Rivera or somewhere like that with body guards to protect you.”
“That would make me too visible. Believe me, if she hires an assassin it won’t matter how many guards I have…I’d be dead.” She fixed Parker with a stare. “So I hide out in obscurity until the time is up.”
“How much time is left before the year is up?”
“A little over two months,” she said before she lifted her mug and took a long swallow.
“You want another?” Parker asked.
Sophie sighed before she finished the last of her drink. “No, I think we should get you home since five o’clock comes awfully early.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Hey, thanks for the evening I had a good time.”
“You weren’t bored by my story?”
“Nope, not at all.”
As they walked back to the boarding house, Parker’s mind swirled around Sophie’s revelations. It was only a matter of time for everything was falling into place just as she planned.
Sophie stopped, scratched her head then cocked her head.” Why do you wear that silly wig and all that make-up?”
With her thoughts interrupted, Parker laughed. “Studies show that waitress with big, blonde hair and red lips get more tips.” She paused for a moment. “Big tits help too,” she said heaving her chest out. “It’s all padding.”
Sophie chuckled as she surveyed Parker’s breasts. “You sure it isn’t your winning personality? I’ve seen the way you charm everyone. I’d think if you were bald with a flat chest they’d still react to you.” Parker let out a loud laugh as Sophie reached up and removed the wig. “I like you better this way,” she whispered.
Parker felt exposed as if Sophie knew her true purpose. When a soft hand caressed her cheek, she sucked in a breath and closed her eyes. She couldn’t let Sophie distract her–what was at stake was too important.
“I guess we should get home.”
Parker said, “Yeah I guess so.” Once Sophie’s hand left her cheek, she fitted the wig back on her head before they began to walk again.
Just as they rounded the corner and went toward the front porch of the boarding house, Ginny came rushing out and engulfed Sophie in her arms. “Oh, Sophie I have such terrible news,” she cried.
“What…what is it?”
“My darling, sweet Camille was murdered.”
Shocked, Sophie shook her head. “No, no that can’t be true! I just spoke with her this morning.
Parker watched as the two women made their way to the porch before they clung to each other out of mutual desperation. Her mind immediately shifted into private investigator mode as she let her eyes scan the street, yards and the houses looking for anything that didn’t quite seem to belong. From her vantage point by the curb, she saw nothing. Taking her cell phone out of her jean pocket, she dialed a number.
“Hello, this is Parker Davis.”
“ Ms. Davis, have you found my wayward stepdaughter yet?” Evelyn Durant said sarcastically.
“Well, I had her tracked to a friend’s apartment in Portsmouth only to find that the friend was murdered.”
“Ah, yes little Ms. Peterson…such a pity.”
Parker heard the woman laugh. “It’s kind of hard to find Sophie if her friends…”
“Just stop Ms. Davis,” Evelyn said impatiently. “I no longer need your services. I’ve found someone who is much more capable. Send me a bill and I will send you a check for the balance I owe you.”
The phone went dead and the only sound Parker heard was the katunk-kathunk of her heart. The dismissal wasn’t unexpected and in truth, it took longer than she originally thought. She felt a slight pang of guilt over Camille’s murder–she did tell Evelyn that Sophie was with an old friend. Parker knew all too well that casualties occurred; it was a hazard of the profession in even in the most innocuous cases.
“I’m going to need help…and I know just where to find it,” she said before flipping her phone open. She quickly scanned the numbers until she found the one she wanted. When she pressed the green telephone symbol, a grin played around her lips.
As she listened to the sound of ringing, thousands of memories flooded her consciousness. When she heard, “ Santos,” a lump lodged itself in her throat. It was time to initiate phase two.
Swallowing hard, Parker tentatively said, “Hey, it’s Parker.”
Olivia felt her eyebrows shoot up at the name. Immediately she shot back with her reply. “Parker…as in middle name Judas?” Her voice was calm and under control, but her heart raced as she waited for the reply.
“Please don’t hang up on me.” The smoky, sexy voice of Olivia Santos made Parker tingle as images of them naked and in each other’s arms flashed. “There’s been a murder and you’re the only one that can help me.”
“Give me one good reason why I should even have a conversation with you! You’re a private detective go do your own shitty research,” Olivia snarled. The wounds of betrayal still stung for Olivia and she knew it always would
Parker smiled–Olivia knew she was a PI. She blew out a long breath as she recalled the day the police arrested Olivia for murder. “I know I have no right to ask anything of you O,” she said with a hint of humility to her voice. “You know I wouldn’t ask if there was any other way, but…”
Olivia clenched the receiver in a vice-like grip, and interceded, “You have no rights over me period! You didn’t then and you certainly don’t now. Go away Parker, you and I have nothing to say to one another.” A tentative knock on the door had Olivia’s attention drawn to it opening.
“You’ll be paid ten thousand up front,” Parker blurted. Money always was the consummate arbitrator. “This involves an heiress, a wicked stepmother and murder. Does that interest you at all?
“I knew you were nuts ten years ago Parker, but an heiress, wicked stepmother and murder. Give me a break,” Olivia replied. Amelia shot her head around the door with a look of apology when she realized she’d interrupted a conversation. “Hi, what’s the problem?” Her voice softened dramatically as she gave her business partner a small smile.
Amelia grinned, hearing part of the conversation. The words heiress, murder and wicked stepmother reminded her of Shrek. “Great you’re still here…I just wanted to remind you about dinner tomorrow night. Seven at our…your place.” Amelia reminded her friend, knowing Olivia’s penchant for taking off at short notice on a case.
Olivia frowned and then nodded. “Sure, I’ll be there as promised.” With a wink, Amelia closed the door.
“Have you heard of the Durant family?” Parker said not waiting for a reply. What she heard, was Olivia obviously speaking to someone else. Her memory flashed back to the pitch of Olivia’s voice and remembered how it gave away her true feelings. She liked the person she was talking to and for Parker that was unacceptable.
“Who, hasn’t!” Olivia replied, but with less venom than her previous comments.
“I’m protecting the daughter Sophie. She thinks her stepmother is trying to kill her and claim Sophie’s fortune for her own son.” She held her breath as she waited for Olivia to take the bait. “You still love mystery novels don’t you O? This one is the real deal.”
“Remember one thing Parker, you don’t know me or what I like and dislike any more. What’s your involvement in all this?” Olivia considered the proposal for it might be a way of getting out of Amelia’s formal dinner party. Formal was never her strong point. She could then legitimately break her promise to Amelia. After all breaking promises was more or less standard for her these days. She was speaking with the woman who broke her heart and until recently made her distrust every other human being.
“Damn it Olivia, you always were a hard sell,” Parker said in irritation. “ Evelyn Durant hired me to find her stepdaughter under the pretense of Sophie’s father’s heartbreak. I have since found that her true motives are completely different.” She cleared her throat. “A woman that Sophie was staying with in Portsmouth has turned up dead.”
Olivia processed the words along with the sense of betrayal that Parker always elicited. “You changed sides again didn’t you? No, you don’t need to tell me I already know that a leopard never changes its spots. So what do you want from me?”
“I want you to look into the murder. I need to know if they know where Sophie is now.”
Olivia considered the request for all of a second. “Find someone else! I’m too busy to work for you.”
She knew that the hatred Olivia felt for her ran deep, it was a fact she long ago accepted. “This case demands the very best Olivia and you are the best,” Parker said softly.
“If you think pandering to my ego will work, think again. The only way I’d take on any work you’ve touched is if I never have to have any contact with you again. Personally, I’d rather you were six feet under and I pulled the trigger,” Olivia replied in a remarkably calm and level tone.
“Listen O, I know you hate me and no matter what I do that will never change. I wouldn’t be calling you if this weren’t important. Sophie Durant needs saving and I can’t do that on my own. The bottom line is that without your help, she’s dead.” Then she whispered, “I don’t think I’m good enough alone.” She sucked in a deep breath and resisted a smile. “She has nothing to do with our history O… Sophie’s an innocent. I’d check it out for myself, but I’m not in Portsmouth. It really wouldn’t matter if I was, I don’t really have any connections there anymore…at least any that will speak to me.
With a derisive chuckle, Olivia replied, “Now why aren’t I surprised.” The word innocent caught her attention and she wiped a hand over her mouth in resignation. She recalled all of Amelia’s constant reminders about innocent people. “Give me the details and who’s handling the case here. I’ll call you when I’m done, what’s your number?”
“Thanks,” she said as she let out her breath and let an all out smile cross her face. “I don’t have all the details yet, we just found out about it. The woman’s name is Camille Peterson.”
“Parker when this case is over I’d seek different employment. Maybe work in politics…it’s more in your line…they change sides as often as you do,” she snarled. “I’ll deal with this and you go and babysit your friend Sophie.” She ended the call and checked her caller ID noting the number. She shook her head in disgust. “Nothing has changed with her. She doesn’t even know the basics…never display your caller ID. How pathetic is that?”
Parker didn’t have time to dwell on her conversation with Olivia–there were more pressing matters. She approached the two women and wrapped her arm around Ginny’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s get you inside,” she said softly.
Ginny blinked back her tears. “Yes, I need to get ready. My sister and her husband are picking me up in a little while. I can only imagine the pain Doris is going through…Cammie was her only daughter.”
“I want to go with you,” Sophie blurted.
Parker led Ginny to the door, but when Sophie tried to follow, she held her back. “We need to talk.”
“Not now, I’ve got to pack.”
“You can’t go.”
Sophie snapped her head around and glared at Parker. “I certainly can!” Her response was strong hands holding each of her shoulders. “Let go of me!”
“We need to talk,” Parker said again. Her eyes narrowed. “Has it occurred to you that your friend was murdered by someone looking for you?”
Horrified by the remark, Sophie said, “No! How can you say such a thing?”
“Because it’s true.”
“No,” Sophie wailed. “She wasn’t murdered because of me!”
“I know she was.”
“How can you know such a thing…unless…”
“Unless I work for your stepmother,” she said quietly before shrugging.
“Noooooooo, you can’t.”
“Yeah I can…I’m one of the people she sent to find you,” Parker said softly.
Sophie felt the anger rise and tried to free herself. “Let go of me! I thought we were friends and all along, you worked for her! You’re a despicable excuse for a human being.” Fear and anger filled Sophie’s face. “Damn it, I trusted you and took a chance on you. How can you do this to me?”
“Listen to me will you,” Parker growled. “If I wanted to hurt you or tell your stepmother would you still be here?”
Sophie was in no mood to listen as her body shook with anger. “I don’t believe one word you say,” she said as she wiggling in an attempt to get free.
“Will you stop for one minute and think rationally.” Her dark eyes captured the blue ones. “I never trusted her and when I met you I realized there was more to the story than she told me. I took the time to get to know you and find out more. I wasn’t going to hand you over to her…something told me she is evil.”
For a long time, Parker gazed into Sophie’s eyes. “It’s the truth. I no longer work for her, but someone else is and they tracked you to Portsmouth.” She relaxed her hold on Sophie’s shoulders. “It isn’t safe for you to go there.”
Sophie’s mind was still reeling with anger, but a part realized the truth of the softly spoken words. She closed her eyes and whispered, “Then why are you still here?”
“To protect you,” Parker said softly.
“For how long?”
“As long as it takes. I don’t know who she’s hired, but when you’re found, and you will be, I won’t let them get to you.”
Sophie collapsed into Parker and began to sob. “She was my friend…I loved her…how could this happen…how?”
Words were no longer necessary as Parker tightened her arms and lightly kissed Sophie’s head. She needed to get Sophie to a safe location. The perfect safe house would come later but for now, what she had in mind would do. When a car stopped in front of the house, Parker quickly turned and put herself between the car and Sophie. “Stay behind me until we know who it is,” she ordered.
In the dark of the night, Parker saw a man getting out of the vehicle. The light from a streetlight a hundred yards away cast a shadow on the individual that made him appear gigantic. She could feel Sophie behind her hovering closer as the man rounded the car and opened the rider’s door. The interior light illuminated the face of a woman.
Sophie peeked around Parker and when she saw the man and woman, she attempted to go to them. A strong hand stopped her. “No!”
“It’s o kay Parker, they’re Cammie’s parents,” she said as she bolted for the couple.
Parker watched as the three clung to each other. She could clearly hear the sobs and the older woman saying, “Why?” Once again, she scanned the area. She needed to get the three of them away from the open street. She breathed a sigh of relief when they finally made their way to the porch and Sophie ushered them inside. Parker touched Sophie’s arm and whispered, “Come back out.”
While she waited for Sophie’s return, Parker revised her original plan. Her conversation with Olivia went much the way she hoped but until she called with information about the murder, they would stay put. She took into consideration that the murder might have forced Camille to reveal Sophie’s location. “There hasn’t been enough time for them to get here,” she reasoned. “Whoever it is, they’ll wait to see if Sophie goes to the funeral…that’s what I’d do. Killing her would be a good ploy to get Sophie out in the open.” When the screen door squeaked open, she turned to see a distraught Sophie standing there.
“Who were you talking to?” Sophie asked.
“Just now or when I was on the phone earlier?”
Parker felt her face heat up. “Just now I was speaking with myself. Earlier I spoke with someone I know in Portsmouth that can find out what the police know. Once she calls back, I’ll know how best to proceed.”
Sophie’s brow furrowed as she cocked her head to one side. “You’re certain they know where I am?”
Parker took a step closer to the woman. “Yes, otherwise they wouldn’t have killed your friend. Once she gave up the information…”
“She wouldn’t have told them…she promised.”
“Perhaps they didn’t give her the chance.”
“They killed her so she couldn’t warn me?”
“Yeah, that’s a definite possibility.” Parker moved close enough to put her hands on Sophie’s shoulders. “I won’t let them get to you,” she said.
Sophie sighed and allowed tears to run down her cheeks. “Maybe I should just go back and settle this so no one else gets hurt…or worse.” She leaned into Parker, rested her head on the broad shoulder, and shook as she sobbed harder.
“Shh, we’ll make sure no one else is harmed.”
“How can you say that?” Sophie sobbed. “Right now everyone I’ve met here is in danger.” Her watery eyes opened wide. “That means you too. You should go now Parker and not stay around…your life is at stake.”
“No one is going to hurt you, me or anyone else. The danger is in anyone knowing where you are…we aren’t going to let anyone know that Sophie,” Parker said softly. She wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. “As soon as I hear back from my contact we will know what to do. Right now, I want you to go inside and get your things packed…we might have to leave in a hurry.”
Sophie lifted her head and looked at Parker. “Are you sure you want to get involved in this? If you stay with me you will be targeted just like Cammie.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
The next morning at five-thirty, Parker arrived at Good Eats and told Dolly all about Ginny leaving in the middle of the night. Dolly’s hand flew to her mouth. “My goodness that sounds horrible.” Then her eyes bugged out. “That’s Sophie’s friend!”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” Parker said somberly. “Dolly… Sophie might be in trouble and if she is I may have to leave without much notice.”
“Don’t you worry, friends are too precious,” she said. Dolly grabbed at her heart when she heard a knocking at the door.
Parker patted the older woman’s arm. “It’s just some of the early birds.” She lowered her head and looked into Dolly’s eyes. “You ok?”
“Ye…yes, I’ll be right as rain in no time. You go ahead and let them in and I’ll finish up my preparations.”
It was about midmorning when the door opened and a man, Parker had never seen before, came inside. All her warning flags went up and she knew instantly why he was there. She’d seen his type before–shifty eyed, dark and trying to look casual. “Mornin’ want some coffee?” she asked.
The man gave her the once over lingering on her chest then said, “Yeah.”
Parker put the cup of hot brew in front of the man and said, “Know what you want?”
The man lifted his head and pulled something out of his shirt pocket. “You seen this woman round these parts?”
Before she looked, Parker knew who was in the picture. “Hmm, no can’t say that I have, but I’ve only lived here five years…let me go ask the owner maybe she’ll know.” She turned and walked a few steps then turned back. “You know what you want yet?”
“Whatever the special is,” the man said coldly.
“Good choice you can never go wrong with a special,” she said over her shoulder as she continued to the kitchen. “Dolly we need one special,” she said loudly. “Oh, and this guy out here wants to know if you know the woman in his picture.”
Dolly came out of the kitchen and nodded. “Well I know everyone around these here parts so I’d be the right one to ask.” Parker handed her the picture and held her breath that Dolly wouldn’t have a noticeable reaction to the picture. Without hesitation, Dolly said, “Well you know it looks kinda like Lucas Tanner’s little girl Suzanne, but she hasn’t been around here in years.” She walked over to the man, handed him the picture and looked him square in the eyes.
Parker felt a shiver run up her spine. If there was one thing about Dolly that everyone liked, it was that she never held anything back. Once she heard Dolly’s words, she blew out the breath she was holding.
“You want wheat, white or biscuits?”
The man took the picture and held it up. “You sure you haven’t seen this woman here in town,” he pressed.
Dolly pointed to the large front window. “I’ve lived in this town my whole life and everyone has come in here or passed by that window at one time or another. Now, if it’s the Tanner’s little girl you’re lookin’ for, she hasn’t been around these parts in a long time. If it’s someone else, than I can’t help you cause that’s who she looks like to me.” She put on her ‘so there’ face, turned around and went back toward the kitchen. “Since you didn’t say so you’re gonna get biscuits…made ‘em myself and they’re darn good.”
Parker shrugged then went back to her task of rolling silverware in napkins for the lunch crowd. Once she served the stranger his meal, Dolly called from the kitchen. “ Rose, I have that order ready to be delivered.”
“O kay,” Parker said. She was glad that her back was to the man and he didn’t see her look of surprise. She went to the pass-thru and Dolly handed her a white bag.
“Now you make sure he pays you. He’s gonna tell you I said he can have credit, but that ain’t how it works.”
Parker laughed. “Ok boss,” she said. “Be back in a few.” She left the restaurant and when she was out of sight, looked at the bag. In small letters Dolly wrote, ‘I figured you needed time to take care of your friend. If I don’t see you again, I want you to know you’re the best waitress I ever had’. She smiled. “ Don’t worry Dolly…I won’t leave you with that creep too long.”
Within minutes, Parker opened the front door of the boarding house and saw Sophie sitting in the front room. “ Sophie, get your things together now,” she said emphatically. “There’s a guy at Dolly’s looking for you.”
Sophie stood and walked rapidly toward Parker. “I thought you said they would wait for me to show up at the funeral.”
“There must be more than one. This guy is probably a lackey and not the main investigator. Good thing we packed everything into the car last night.” Parker slid her hand in her pocket and fished out her car keys. “Here,” she said foisting the keys toward Sophie. “Take the car and park in the high school parking lot. Make sure you park in the middle of all the other cars so you’ll be less noticeable. As soon as I am certain it’s safe, I’ll come get you.”
Sophie took the keys and gave Parker a weak smile while piercing her with blue eyes. “It’s nice to have someone helping me…thanks.”
Out of her comfort zone, Parker looked away and mumbled, “I gotta get back…I don’t want to leave Dolly with that guy too long.” She gave Sophie a quick pat on the back and said, “Be careful,” before she left.
Sophie said, “You too,” as she followed the woman out of the boarding house.
Parker walked past the window of Good Eats and couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Dolly sitting with the stranger. They were apparently engaged in a conversation and that made her uneasy. Shit! When Dolly saw her, she smiled and winked.
“Well I see Rose is back,” Dolly said as she saw the front door open. “Did he pay you?” she asked.
“Yep…but no tip.”
Dolly laughed and said, “Sounds typical.” She nodded at the stranger. “ Sean here tells me he is looking for the girl in the picture so she can be reunited with her family.”
With her most sincere look, Parker said, “Good luck. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have your family around.”
“Good lord, look at the time,” Dolly said as she got up. “It’s almost time for the lunch crowd.” She smiled down at the man. “ Sean,” she said extending her hand, “I hope you find her.”
The man’s face softened and Parker could tell the man was clearly smitten with her boss.
“Can you tell me where a motel is?” he asked still smiling at the older woman.
“Well, about all we have is Ginny’s, but no one is there…they all left last night for Portsmouth to attend a funeral.”
“All the boarders went?”
Dolly laughed. “No, her only boarder, Dale Gordon is in Florida at the moment.”
The man scrunched up his face. “I see.”
Parker spoke up and said, “You want some more coffee or anything?”
“Huh,” he said noticing Parker for what seemed like the first time. “Yeah, sure coffee is good,” he said.
Parker delivered the coffee and when she saw him take out his phone, she began wiping off the adjacent table so she could listen to the man’s conversation.
Sean took the coffee, added sugar and muttered, “Shit what a waste of time this was.” He opened his cell phone and pressed in a number. “Hey, the bitch must have lied to us ‘cause she’s not here.” He listened for a moment. “Yeah, yeah I know, but so far no one around here seems to know her. I’m going to go check the aunt’s house, but the old lady left last night to go up there for the funeral.” He dabbed perspiration from his forehead with his napkin. “If she was here she probably went with the aunt back up there. O kay, I’ll meet you in the usual place.” He paused then added, “And Shamus…” He looked at the silent phone and said, “Asshole!”
As she tucked away the name Shamus for later investigation, a sense of relief washed over Parker knowing that the man was going to leave town–Dolly and Ginny would be safe. She asked, “Anything else I can get ya?” When he shook his head, she smiled casually and went back to setting up tables.
Parker knew that no matter how convincing Dolly was, a good detective would check things out. When the man left and got in his car, she hugged Dolly and said, “I’ll be back some day that’s a promise.” She left and hurried down a back alley until she was at the back of the boarding house. The man’s black SUV was in the driveway and she saw him knocking on the door. She watched as the man tried the doorknob. It was unlocked–Ginny never locked them. She watched the man go inside and she patted her pockets. Shit! She didn’t have a tracking device with her. Once she saw the man leave the house and back out of the driveway, she changed her position. She watched as the man’s vehicle head out of town toward Portsmouth. When she could no longer see the SUV, she made her way to the high school and Sophie.
Since neither woman had eaten, they decided after driving an hour to stop at a small restaurant
“The food here certainly doesn’t compare with Dolly’s,” Sophie said with a yawn as they left.
Parker looked at the woman with her. “I bet you didn’t get much sleep last night,” she said with genuine concern. “Once we get back in the car why don’t you try and close your eyes for a little while.”
Sophie nodded. “I don’t know if I can sleep. I’m too wound up right now.” After they drove for a half hour Sophie asked, “Where are we going?”
“Some place safe.” Parker looked at Sophie and gave her a smile. “I don’t think they will find us there.” She shrugged. “At least until the provisions of your grandmother’s will are met.”
Darkness rapidly closed around them and the only light seen on the roadway was the illumination of the car’s headlights. For most of the four-hour journey, Sophie did as Parker suggested and slept waking only when they stopped for gas. When Parker steered the vehicle onto a dirt road she lifted her head. “Where are we?” she asked.
“It’s my parent’s farm.” Parker switched off the headlights and navigated by years of memory.
“Why are you doing that?”
“It’s too late to go to the house.”
“Late, it’s barely eight.”
Parker smiled. “Farm folk get up early and go to bed earlier. If I leave the lights on, they will shine directly into my parent’s room. We can spend the night in the barn.”
“The barn? I can’t spend the night in a barn. How will I go to the bathroom and where will we sleep?”
“You’ll see,” Parker said as she coasted the car to a stop. “I’ll get the doors.”
Once they were inside the barn Parker said, “Here it is…my home away from home.” She laughed. “Many a night I would end up in here when I came home too late or had too much to drink.”
“Where will we sleep?”
Parker’s eyes drifted to the hayloft. “Up there.”
Sophie gulped. “With all the mice and bugs?”
“Nooo, that’s what barn cats are for.” Parker took Sophie’s hand. “Come on you’ll love it.”
Surprised that the hayloft was nothing like she imagined, Sophie let out a sigh. “I’ve always heard that sleeping on hay was comfortable…guess I’m going to find out first hand.”
“Yep.” Parker spread out a double sleeping bag and two pillows that were stored in a large container.
“You were serious…you have been here before,” Sophie said as she crawled inside the sleeping bag. Once Parker slid in next to her, Sophie closed her eyes, only to have them open wide. “What was that?”
Parker laughed and put her arm around Sophie. “It is just an owl.” She pulled the woman closer. “Go to sleep, I promise I won’t let any of the barn beasties harm you.” In no time, she heard soft snoring sounds and relaxed her arm slightly. “I won’t let anything happen to you Sophie. You’re too important to let that happen,” she whispered. Her mind focused on Olivia and the fact she hadn’t gotten back to her. It was essential that Olivia be involved in the case. Her eyes fluttered and within seconds, she was fast asleep.
With her gaze fixed on the perfectly organized dinner table, Amelia applauded herself that she could handle the preparations and all that went with her first actual dinner party. Teal and Phil would be arriving at any moment, which caused a frown as she peered at the clock wondering if Olivia would make it. Their conversation had bordered on surreal when they discussed it a week earlier…
“I’ve invited Teal and Phil over for dinner this Saturday, will you join us?” Amelia was hoping that Olivia would say yes. The dinner wasn’t something she wanted to do by herself. She needed Olivia there for moral support.
Glancing up from the magazine she was reading, Olivia shook her head. “Sorry you’re the one making amends not me.”
Amelia’s lips curled and her stomach churned at the distasteful, but true comment. “I don’t think that it will be a topic of discussion all night. Besides, you’re not working on a major case now…unless of course, you have a date. Ah, that’s it…you’ll be on another date.” Acid dripped from her tongue–she was jealous. It was a foreign emotion for her, but when she analyzed her thoughts, nothing else made sense.
Olivia placed the motorcycle magazine on the coffee table and gave her full attention to her friend. Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she replied, “You think I’m going out on a date again? My, anyone would think you were jealous. As it happens, I’m not. I’ve tentatively arranged to have dinner with David when he returns from vacation. He said something about it being in town around that date. However, if it’s so important to you, I’ll reschedule. Besides, I’m interested in what you’re going to say to Phil on the subject.”
Amelia heaved a silent sigh of relief. The captain of police was a long time friend of Olivia’s family and he considered Olivia the sister he never had. “It really isn’t a big deal. Teal and I have spoken about it and I’ve apologized.”
“Oh, you apologized and now everything in the garden is rosy. Wow, I knew shrinks could weasel out of conversations with ease, but I never had you down for the type to use that tactic. Figures I guess…the true colors always come forth eventually.” Olivia shook her head and reached for her magazine.
Amelia, with an agility that surprised Olivia, sprang out of her chair and stood immediately in front of her. “For the record, I didn’t and don’t weasel out of anything. I’m hurt that you think that I’m like that. Why is it that you never asked me that question? You just went along with my wishes and didn’t say a damn thing. Why was that Olivia? Am I just a nuisance to you and my feelings and thoughts don’t matter?” For some weeks now, it had irked her that Olivia hadn’t bothered to ask her why she’d taken the stance she had.
This time Olivia, with cobra like ease, stood up from her seated position and towered over Amelia. They were so close that they could hear and feel the other’s breath. “Yes, I thought you made a bad call. Teal is, your friend and what made her happy should have been enough for you. As for why I never talked to you about it…” A heavy lidded look came over Olivia’s eyes as they searched out Amelia’s chocolate brown ones. “…I’m your friend and we have different views on what we do with our lives and what we believe. I’m the last person on earth to judge another in that respect.”
The quiet, serious words fluttered into Amelia’s ears. It was like a faint wind in the air as Olivia’s breath fanned one side of her face. A tremor ran through her body and she felt mesmerized by close proximity of her friend. In a shaky voice, she quietly replied, “I let my old life dictate my new one. I’ll be forever sorry that I didn’t have the courage to break away from those traditional views.”
Olivia saw the tears well up in Amelia’s eyes. It was her downfall and she knew that it always would be. In a way Amelia had been the key that slid one door shut, locked it on one way of life, and unlocked another. She needed to remove herself from the ties that bound her to the past and move forward–Amelia was the answer. For a split second, she resisted the temptation to kiss her on the lips, before pulling Amelia into her arms for a hug. She kissed the top of her head and whispered, “I’m here Amelia. I always will be. Just remember that whatever you want breaking I’m the woman to call, o kay.”
Olivia made her feel secure and warm along with several other emotions she wasn’t able to understand, but it didn’t matter. Right now, she was happy, elated and Olivia held the key to that. “You’ll make it for the dinner?”
With a reluctance that she felt deep within her core, Olivia released Amelia and with her finger traced the tears of her friend down her cheek. “I wouldn’t miss it. Now, go dry those tears. Don’t you know that the streaked look went out years ago?”
The beep of an alarm on the center console drew Amelia’s attention from her musing to the event at hand. Then a buzzing of the intercom to the building had her quickly reaching the center console and checking their identity. Teal and Phil had arrived. With a smile, she reset the alarm and opened the inner door for them to enter. As she walked the short distance from the console to the entrance to greet her guests, she heard the familiar click of the mechanism. “ Phil, Teal thanks for coming. I’m afraid Olivia hasn’t shown yet, but she promised so she’ll arrive anytime now I suspect. She loves making an entrance.” Amelia said rapidly. Her nerves at meeting Phil again almost made her feel incoherent.
Teal giggled as she removed her outer coat and hugged Amelia tightly. She whispered, “It is o kay babe, Phil doesn’t bite, at least …”
Amelia’s nervousness disappeared with Teal’s rejoinder. “Come on inside you’ve never been here have you Teal? You’ll love it. I’ll give you the grand tour and if Olivia isn’t back then we’ll start without her.”
Phil grinned as she handed Amelia flowers. “Yep, it’s some place alright. I helped her design it and build the shell. I can see she’s added things over the years.”
“Thanks Phil. It’s really good to see you again.” She knew the comment was lame but it was true.
Phil’s eyes gentled and crinkled at the corners as she smiled widely. “Same here Amelia. Oh, we have something else for you.” She handed Amelia a small brightly wrapped present.
With wide eyes, Amelia stripped off the wrapping and opened the box. Inside was a large piece of cake. “Is this from the ceremony?” she asked feeling her cheeks warm.
Teal watched the emotions run over her friend’s face and smiled as she listened to her partner say, “Yes it is. Teal made sure we saved a piece for you. She figured you’d hate to miss out on such a treat.”
For Amelia, tears threatened to flow and she was at a loss for words. She finally said, “I’m so sorry Phil…really I am. I was such a fool and I wish with all my heart that you remain as happy as you are now for the rest of your lives together.”
“Let’s go and take the tour. I’ve been fascinated by this place ever since you raved about it,” Teal said. She gave a bright grin and winked at Phil, before taking Amelia’s arm as they toured the warehouse conversion.
Olivia sat in the jeep contemplating her next move. With a cursory glance at the dashboard clock, she cursed under her breath. “Damn she’s going to kill me.” The dinner party was due to start in the next half hour and there was no way she’d make it back in time perhaps for dessert.
Retrieving a folder from the passenger seat, she flicked it open and studied the contents. It didn’t make very nice reading, someone who was proficient at his trade had tortured Camille Peterson. She didn’t have much to go on. The information from the police was scant at best and her investigation of the Peterson apartment revealed no additional information. Fortunately, David was back in the office and he’d agreed to her visiting the crime scene. After her initial discussion with David, she began her own brand of enquiries by using contacts that the police couldn’t use. A couple of hours earlier, her sources came up with a location. That led her to a fleabag hotel thirty miles south of Portsmouth. As she’d expected, the person she was seeking had flown the coup. At least the proprietor had a vague description of a white male with a broad Irish accent. He thought the man was probably in his mid to late thirties and drove a blue corvette with out of state plates. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
Her gut was telling her that this wasn’t an ordinary hit for it smacked of big financial backing that bought the best. The family Parker mentioned certainly had the money. Once again, her fingers quickly dialed her contact at DOCO. The anagram stood for Department of Covert Operations. The government organization recruited her…or at least that’s what she allowed herself to believe these days. It was the only way to relate to what she’d become under their tutelage. She spent five years working full time for them before meeting Max.
The mutual pact she brokered when she left was still in force–if she needed them, she called, if they needed her special brand of skills, they called her. It was a deal with the devil that she knew would get her killed one day. Not that is mattered, a part of her soul was already dead therefore the only thing left was the flesh and she really didn’t care that much–everyone died sometime. A few minutes later, she had a name–Shamus O’Donnell. The man was Irish born, trained by the IRA as an assassin and was considered among the five best in the world. Numerous countries wanted him, but he apparently hadn’t dirtied his hands on United States soil. A crooked smile crossed her face. “I wonder what he’ll make of my skills.”
The fact that the assassin was high profile made her wonder what enticed the man to go after the Durant woman. “Parker you’ve hit a sack of shit and if you’re not careful you’ll become another notch in his belt.” She shook her head and ground her teeth. “I’m not sure that even I can help you on this one.”
As she sat in her Jeep and went over the notes in the folder, her mind tumbled over events of the past. It was a chaotic time that led her to an initial hatred she felt for the woman who was her first love.
When they first became a couple, they shared many good times and had similar dreams. In bed, Parker elicited emotions and passions in Olivia that no one before or after matched. That was until that fateful day that turned both their lives upside down. The death of Olivia’s brother set in motion events that led to her gunning down the district attorney. The only person she trusted with her living hell was Parker. To Olivia, what Parker did with her lover’s confession was inexcusable. It wasn’t hard for her to figure that her lover sold her out. She could still hear Parker’s cry of innocence as David and the captain in charge of detectives escorted her from her father’s resting place to the police station. It was so easy to hate her rather than admit she was at fault. After that, vengeance and pride kicked in and she eradicated Parker from her life. Ten years later, she knew that those events set her on a path that led to the people that now shared her life. Parker would never know that–she would always remain a traitor. In her own way, Olivia forgave Parker years earlier but she would never give the woman the satisfaction of hearing those words. Until Max and more importantly Amelia, entered her life, she distrusted everyone because of the betrayal.
“Here I am thinking about trust and at this very moment, I’m letting the only person I truly trust down. Nothing I can do with this case now and it’s time I went home. I wonder what’s on the menu for dessert.” Throwing the folder onto the passenger seat, she engaged the key and the Jeep roared into action. She sped away from the seedy motel parking lot to a much brighter and happier part of town.