At precisely 9:21 a.m. Eva pulled close to the white-paneled guardhouse just outside the large iron gates of the Brentwood Commons gated community. The plump, gray-haired guard plopped on his cap, climbed off his stool, and slid open the vinyl door on his left. He gestured for Eva to roll down the car window.
“Good morning, Miss Bennett,” he said pleasantly, bending to look into the car and over at Denise. “You’re up early. Are you feeling all right? You’re father’s been looking for you?”
“I feel fine, Henry,” said Denise, returning his smile. “Why?”
“I notice you’re not driving your car,” he said, studying Eva.
“This is my friend, Eva,” Denise explained. “I wanted her to drive.”
Nodding, the guard pushed a button beneath his counter and the heavy black iron gates jerked apart and glided open as serenely as black velvet curtains on an empty stage.
By 9:28 a.m., Eva and Denise walked side by side up the cement stairs of Denise’s home. Pausing on the first landing, Eva said admiringly, “Quite a house your father has here.”
“We like it,” Denise said, beaming. Denise looked thrilled to have earned Eva’s approval.
Eva placed the duffel bag down and gradually rotated her gaze to fully admire the façade of the large, red-brick home with its three separate turrets pointing toward the cloudless blue sky like miniature watchtowers burgeoning on a castle wall.
Denise opened the front door and Eva was awestruck by the magnificent entryway, which was dominated by two huge decorative topaz-colored vases and two large oil paintings of fox hunts. Before Eva could utter a word, a middle-aged, hefty woman flew toward them with her arms outstretched.
“Miss Denise!” she cried. “Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you. Your father’s beside himself.” The woman wrapped Denise in a bear hug and squeezed as if to confirm the girl’s sudden appearance was not a hallucination.
“Hello, Teresa,” said Denise, returning the hug. “Is DD home?”
“No,” she answered, releasing her from her bear grasp, “he just leave for the health club; you just miss him, but he’s been loco for three days with no word from you. He’s got Mr. Moody’s men out searching everywhere for you. You should be ashamed, Miss Denny, giving your father such torments as this.”
Denise rolled her eyes in Eva’s direction.
“And who is this?” asked the woman, continuing to hold on to Denise’s hand as if not about to ever lose her again.
“This is my new friend, Eva,” said Denise. “She saved me.”
“Saved you?” said the woman, her dark eyes growing large. “Mr. Bennett’s going to be much grateful to you, miss. My name is Teresa Mendez, and I’m housekeeper here.” She extended her pudgy hand.
“Hello,” Eva said, politely shaking the woman’s hand. “I’m very glad to meet you.”
“Me too,” said the woman. “Are you two hungry?”
“Starved!” said Denise, and Eva laughed. “How did you know, Teresa?” Denise asked.
“It’s a housekeeper’s job to know such things,” she said, finally releasing Denise’s hand. “If you want to freshen up, I go cook you both a nice breakfast. Would you like me to put that bag in the hall closet, Miss Eva?’ she asked, bending to pick-up the duffel bag.
“No thank you,” said Eva, quickly snatching up the duffel bag. “Thanks anyway, I’ll just keep it with me.”
Teresa Mendez faintly raised one eyebrow and, with a slight nod of her head, said, “Si, whatever you wish.”
“Come on,” said Denise, “I’ll show you my room.”
Toting her duffel bag, Eva followed Denise up a long, curved stairway. As they made the first turn Eva noticed Teresa scrutinizing them from the foyer from where she had not budged a single step.
Looking around Denise’s luxurious bedroom, Eva came to a decision.
“Denise, you said your father is a lawyer, right?”
“Right.” Denise smiled.
“Do you think he would agree to be my lawyer?” Eva cocked her head waiting for the reply.
“Are you suing someone?” Denise asked, surprised.
“No, but I need to find an attorney to help me with some other things. Do you think your father would help me?”
Denise shrugged. “I don’t see why not. We’ll ask him.”
Thirty minutes later Albert Bennett, Sr. burst through the front door bellowing like a marauding Viking.
“Where is she? Where’s Denise?” He ran straight for the kitchen as Teresa Mendez had suggested he do when she had phoned him at his health club.
“Where the hell have you been, Denny?” he yelled, wrapping her in his arms before she could even climb off the kitchen stool. “I’ve been worried to death! I’ve got John looking all over creation for you!” He took a step back, held Denise by both shoulders, and examined her from head to toe as if to insure she was actually his daughter and that she was unharmed.
“Are you all right? I thought somebody kidnapped you, but no ransom call came. Where the hell have you been, Denny?”
Albert Bennett Sr. was a tall, beefy man in his midfifties. A ring of salt-and-pepper-colored hair offset an otherwise bald head. Wearing sweats and tennis shoes he looked more like a high-school football coach than a well-off attorney.
“I wasn’t kidnapped, DD,” Denise said hesitantly.
“Then where have you been for the past three days and why the hell didn’t you call me?” His face was red, but his eyes were pleading.
“I … I …”she stammered, stopped, and pointed at Eva. “This is my new friend, Eva. She saved me.”
He studied Eva as if uncertain whether to be hostile or grateful. “Saved you? Saved you from what for God’s sake?!”
Denise took a deep breath. “I was with Jerry . . .”
“Jerry! That bastard!” he yelled. “I knew it, dammit! What did I tell you about that asshole? Didn’t I tell you to stay away from him? He’s nothing but a goddamn criminal, a conman, a loser. I’m going break his goddamn neck when I find him. Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” said Denise, gesturing with her hands. “Eva helped me get away from him. We don’t know where he is now, do we Eva?” Denise looked beseechingly at Eva for some assistance.
“No, we don’t,” said Eva, climbing off the kitchen stool. “Hello, Mr. Bennett, my name is Eva Lange,” she said, extending her hand.
Taking her hand in both of his, he smiled warmly at Eva for the first time. “I’m very grateful to you, Miss Lange. I am eternally in your debt.”
Eva returned his smile and slowly withdrew her hand from his grasp. She could tell he was admiring her.
“Denny,” he said, returning his full attention to his daughter, “I want to know everything that happened with this man, everything he did to you, the entire story from beginning to end. You and Miss Lange finish your brunch while I change, and then I want you in my study. Understand?”
“Can Eva come in with me?” Denise asked hopefully.
Bennett shook his head thoughtfully. “No. No offense, Miss Lange, but Denny and I should talk this through privately first.” He paused and kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Of course, Miss Lange, you’re more than welcome to wait. You can make yourself comfortable in the library or the living room; Teresa can show you.”
Denise frowned, and Eva said, “Thank you, but I’d like to wait in Denise’s room if that’s possible. I could use a nap.”
Bennett glanced at his daughter for confirmation. “Oh, yes,” she said, excited, “that would be great! Can she, DD, can she? I was going to ask you if she could stay with us, for a while anyway.”
“It’s settled then,” Bennett said. “You two finish eating and, Denny, I’ll meet you in my study as soon as you’re done. Teresa, I’d like to speak with you when you’re done here, as well.”
“Certainly, Mr. Bennett,” she answered, wiping her hands with a dishtowel.
Signaling the definitive end to the conversation with an authoritative bob of his head, he strode self-confidently out of the room.
“You will stay with us, won’t you, Eva? At least for a little while, huh?” Denise beseeched.
“We’ll see,” said Eva, rubbing Denise’s shoulder. “Let’s eat. I’m hungry.”
Perching back on her stool, Eva took Teresa Mendez’s measure. She was standing at the kitchen sink with her back to them, but it was clear to Eva by the tilt of the woman’s head that she was vigilantly monitoring their every word.