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Chapter 50

“What I really want to know is how the hell did he ever pass a background check?”

Skip paced back and forth on Kristin’s small wooden deck later that evening, rubbing his hands through his hair and stopping only to take a sip of the scotch Kristin had poured-–his second. He might have needed it for the January chill, but Kristin knew otherwise. She had never seen him so upset. He blamed himself, although Jordan had kept him in the dark. The hidden camera, the pills, Luke’s hands on Jordan. Yes, just the other day she had told him about the pill bottle, but he didn’t think it involved Jordan. She’d never mentioned Luke’s phone number on the bottle. What a fool he was. He knew nothing about how Jordan had put herself at great risk. Thank goodness the injuries to her neck were superficial. She was resting well with her foster mom.

Kristin stared at her laptop on the porch table. The screensaver lit the darkness with a joyful picture of Anders and Berit running through the waves on a summer beach day. What a contrast to the forty minutes she and Skip had just spent watching child pornography videos and boastful clippings about Luke Haller. She was sick to her stomach and not even the alcohol would settle it down.

Just an hour ago she was reading Sherlock Holmes detective stories to Anders before tucking him in for the night. Did many kids go to sleep on Scotland Yard mysteries? When her cell phone pinged, she bookmarked the page and gave her sleepy son a kiss goodnight.

NEED TO SEE YOU AT ONCE. SKIP.

That startled her. It was a quiet Saturday night. She and Skip had never gotten together on a weekend. She had seen him a few days ago when he brought his wife, Karen, and Jordan to Girls Court. Gosh, she hoped nothing had happened to Karen or Jordan.

COME OVER. ANDERS ASLEEP. BRING JACKET. BACK DECK COOL, PRIVATE.

The story Skip told when he arrived was at once shocking, scary and incredible. He began with the phone number on the pill bottle and apologizing profusely for not questioning Jordan more about it at the end of Girl’s Court. He blamed himself. Then he explained how Jordan had found the hidden camera and her suspicions about the amulet she snatched from Luke. She thought the amulet held the pills that had killed Mikayla’s mother. “She didn’t tell any of this to me—just about some phone number. If I thought she was in the kind of danger she was…” Skip’s voice trailed off as he wiped away tears, shaking his head at disgust at himself.

“I feel so damn responsible,” he said. “I had no idea all this was going on. I certainly didn’t like Luke and I wanted her to be adopted by her foster mom, but this….?” He shook his head again and again, shaking guilt away. “We are so lucky that Aunt Erin arrived to save her. I would never had forgiven myself. And thank God that Erin is recovering in the hospital.”

“Tell me about tonight,” Kristin asked.

“She called me close to dinnertime today. I got there as fast as I could. Two honks, as agreed. I waited a few minutes. I was getting ready to call or text her, when I heard a loud thump, a scream, loud voices and I ran up to the front door as she came running out of the house, holding her duffle bag close to her chest, sobbing and gasping for breath As I pulled her to the car I heard shouts and a gunshot from inside the house. Jordan jumped into the front seat as I was dialing 911 for police and an ambulance and we drove away.

“She was sobbing, gasping, hiccupping and babbling all at once. Her left arm was bleeding from cuts above her wrist. When she finally got her breath, she pointed to her neck and I could see red and purple marks, the marks of strangulation.

“I drove to Bayfront Hospital emergency room, the closest hospital. Before we got there, she pulled a piece of a leather necklace and an amulet out of her front jeans pocket. She told me to keep it. I was puzzled, but I was really focused on getting her help and finding out what happened at the house. I stuck it in my glove compartment.”

He handed the leather necklace piece and brightly-colored amulet to Kristin.

“In the emergency room the on-call doctor cleaned her wounds and bandaged them, and looked at the marks on her neck-–ligatures, he called them. Nothing too severe. Jordan had no insurance papers and I didn’t have the order appointing me guardian ad litem with me. Thank goodness they overlooked all that, and God bless emergency room doctors and nurses.

“Just as we were leaving, Jordan’s Aunt Erin was brought in by ambulance. The police followed her in. I introduced myself as Jordan’s guardian, and Aunt Erin was just conscious enough to recognize Jordan and call out to her. Jordan held her hand as she was taken into a cubicle in the emergency room. We stayed around long enough to be told that Erin had a gunshot wound to her shoulder and strangulation marks—ligatures—around her neck that were both fresh and old.

“We said we would come to visit Erin tomorrow. My intent was to get Jordan settled with Cecilia and to find out what happened to Luke Haller. The police in the emergency room told us he fled before they got there. I’m supposed to call them tomorrow with my story and Jordan’s.

“Jordan’s story is unbelievable. This little girl hatched a plan that was so dangerous, so risky, because she was determined to nail Luke for giving Mikayla’s mother those deadly pills. It all had to do with that amulet. She also gave me a small surveillance camera Luke had hidden in her bedroom, in a smoke alarm. She had stuffed that in her duffle bag. I don’t think she realized the importance of that item, but she took it.”

He handed Kristin a small camera and separate lens.

“Anyway, I dropped Jordan off at Cecilia’s house. Thank God she was home. Jordan was exhausted and still crying when she wrapped her arms around Cecilia, but somehow I think it represented the end to her, a happy ending. At least I think it should.” He took a long sip of his scotch.

“So, I swung by my house and since Karen was out for the evening with her mother and sister, I took the necklace and amulet, or whatever it’s called, from my glove compartment, dumped the contents out, expecting to find pills or prescriptions or something drug related. I found only two flash drive devices. Naturally, I loaded them up into my computer. After viewing them for ten minutes, I called you.”

The scenes on the laptop had sickened them both. They could hardly look at each other. Kristin finally broke the silence. She pulled her wool shawl tight around her. It wasn’t the night air that made her shiver.

“I’m so glad you brought this to me tonight, Skip. Did you have any idea what Jordan was planning to do?”

“None, whatsoever. I only knew that she was increasingly uncomfortable and suspicious of Luke. That’s why I told her to call me anytime. I’m torn between feeling angry with her for keeping me in the dark and for putting herself in such a dangerous situation, and being so glad that she’s safe. And feeling guilty that I didn’t ask more questions. Also, I must admit, I’m proud of her for what she discovered.”

Kristin laughed, the first time tonight. “Now you sound just like a parent, Skip. Multiple emotions, but you are right. The most important thing is that she is safe, with Cecelia. Her aunt should recover and be able to testify against Luke. You said that as injured as Erin was, she was able to tell you at the hospital that he had tried strangulation before, with her and others. Apparently there were restraining orders against him.

“Strangulation, attempted strangulation, all point to domestic violence in the home, power and control. He squeezes her neck, she can’t breathe, pleads with him, he releases his hold, she takes a quick breath, and he starts it all over again. Pressure to the neck, release, breathe, pressure to the neck, etc. etc. It’s really the ultimate power and control measure.

“Thinking back to those court hearings, it is obvious that Luke was trying to control the situation,” Kristin said. “Erin always wore a blouse with a high collar or scarf. I should have been more alert.

“What you showed me on the flash drive is obscene,” she said. “Worse, it’s illegal and hopefully will result in a life sentence for Luke. Hopefully the police will catch him. And, you’re exactly right. I need to set up an emergency hearing to bring in Paula Travers, the agency supervisor, who cleared Luke for his role as about-to-be step-dad. She told us that he had passed a background check. She must have lied under oath and I want to know why.

“I’m going to call Clark Stackhouse, the state attorney, tonight. I don’t care if I wake him up. I’m setting an emergency hearing for 7:45 Monday in my chambers. Paula Travers had better be there with an explanation. Perhaps you can bring Jordan. We might need both of you.”

She took the empty scotch glass from Skip and gave him a hug. “You realize, of course, that Jordan probably owes her life to you, and Erin, too. You are one heck of a guardian, Skip.”

She turned away to close her laptop and pick up the amulet and small camera.“I’ll give these to Clark. They need to be put in plastic bags and marked as evidence.” When she turned back, Skip was zipping up his jacket and trying to hide the tears running down his face.

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