Reggie Scarsdale started his day angry at the world. He expected loyalty, and got nothing but trouble since he started working with his sister.
‘Stupid woman,’ he thought, ‘she never could do anything right’. It was no wonder that his dad had sent her off to school when his mother had left, so many years before. He had left shortly after that, leaving them to deal with each other. He never wanted a sister anyway. The only real reason he’d even involved her was that he felt sorry for her, but she was so reckless! Now he was stuck in this god-forsaken small town, sitting at a table in a hotel room, out of sorts, and hung-over. Looking across the table at two of his best enforcers, the cold smile on his face was calculating. He looked the men squarely in the eyes, handing them each an envelope of money, then threw a set of keys on the table.
“You’re only job is to get that information. You’ve done well setting up the pencil-pushing traitor, but there are loose ends. You know how I hate loose ends.”
“Yes Boss,” they said in unison.
“I have it on good authority that the information is with this girl. Her father is that guy who’s been investigating our business. Stupid lawyers. Can’t just defend anymore, now they have to dig into things ...” he trailed off, not wanting to divulge too much information to simple workers. “Never mind about that, just go collect the girl. She’s not far from here. Small town, they’re having a parade...should be easy to grab her. Call me when it’s done...and don’t let me down.”
He watched them leave and smiled to himself. With the mouse in custody on his way south, there wasn’t much left for Reggie to do but wait for the next phase to begin. He looked at his phone and noticed the missed calls of his sister. Her text had told him when she’d gotten Chambers into the car, but now she was hounding him about something else. He rolled his eyes and sighed.
He rose, putting his keys in his pocket. She was driving toward him, and he was pretending that he was still in Boston. No need telling her everything, flighty as she was. But he had to secure everything, so he left the motel room, heading for his car. He’d go to the little cabin he’d rented for the duration. Another ringing of the phone had him swearing, pushing the ‘ignore’ button on the side of the flip phone, grumbling.
He’d call her back once he was on the road, to ease her mind. By the end of it all he would have to kill her, he decided. Her inability to simply complete a task was the cause of most of his loose ends. And one never left loose ends.
The next morning, a leisurely breakfast was shared by the newly reunited couple. Margo watched her husband eat the spinach and mushroom omelet with gusto, his shirt was hanging open, and his hair still tousled from sleep. She sipped her coffee, wondering how many dreams did she get granted in one lifetime.
She picked up her pocketbook from the table beside the counter and pulled out her long forgotten cell phone.
The smile on her face slowly evaporated into a frown as her phone came on and she looked at the screen intently.
“What’s wrong?” Concern tingeing his voice, he moved to stand beside her staring at her phone with her.
“Nikki,” she said simply, holding out the phone to show him the blinking mailbox icon on her phone. “She’s left me two messages, both urgent.”
Alarm bells rang in her head while she paused to read the quickly worded messages. Both were similar. ‘Call me ASAP,’ ‘something you need to know.’
She paused and then looked at him directly. “Did you tell her where you were going yesterday?”
“No, but I did tell Lexie. Do you think she might have said something?”
“Now who’s over-reacting? It’s not like the whole family isn’t going to know soon anyway. We can be there in a couple of hours.”
“You go throw some things in a suitcase. See if you can get in touch with Nikki and double check on that package. I’ll call Doug and see what I can find out.” He pulled her into his arms, engulfing her in his warmth, finding comfort. His eyes took on a serious light, a wary look in their depths. “We can leave as soon as you’re ready to go to Gail’s. This is starting to worry me. The men that framed my client are ruthless. She could be in serious danger.”
Margo nodded moving toward her room, calling Nikki’s phone as she walked down the hallway. No answer, she thought, frustrated, and waited for Nikki’s message to finish playing before she left her a message.
“Nikki, its Margo,” she said, leaving a message on Nikki’s voicemail. “I need to talk to you too. Call me back, I’ll be waiting. Thanks Hun, love you, bye.”
Margo took a deep breath and let it out slowly. With shaking hands, she closed the cell phone and slipped it into her pocket. Looking around her room, she wondered how she could pack quickly and not seem that desperate. It was a dream come true. Surreal in that she hadn’t ever dreamed that Larson would one day be in her house, much less so much still in love with her.
Was he still in love with her? Doubts crowded into her over stimulated mind and gave her pause just as she was opening a drawer to pull out a few sweaters. She looked at her reflection in the mirror above the dresser and smiled at the sight that met her eyes. Her hair was still a bit tousled, her cheeks rosy red, and her lips full from a night of his kisses. Love? Who knew, but she did know that his passion had matched hers. It was like the old days back in the early part of their marriage. Sternly she warned herself to stop borrowing trouble, and slammed the drawer shut with a nudge of her hip, and moved to the closet to pull out a few things from in there before heading for the bathroom. She heard the distinct sound of a cell phone from the other room and hurried to finish her packing.
Larson waited until Margo left the room and then took out his phone and dialed Doug’s number. After a few rings, Doug’s voicemail picked up. Leaving a quick message, Larson closed the phone and went to look out the living room window. Musing about the turn of events, Larson wondered how things could be so perfect and yet so volatile at the same time. His dream of getting Margo back into his life had come true, at least for the time being, but the case that had brought him to the town was fast becoming something out of a suspense novel.
After a few moments, Larson’s phone began to ring. Doug was returning his call.
“You have ESP or something? I was just going to call you. Scott’s missing.”
“What do you mean, ‘missing?’”
“As in, gone, without a trace, the ankle monitor was left on the front steps of his apartment. There seems to have been a struggle, but the Boston PD are making it out that Chambers jumped bail and ran. I don’t buy it for a second....but then again...we do know who we’re dealing with. Reggie probably has men inside the department.”
Larson took a deep breath and looked toward the ceiling. “I was calling you with news of my own. When I got to Seneca I found the shop listed in the records that Chambers had given us, but the owner was nowhere to be found. I did however find my wife.”
“Margo is in Seneca?”
“Yes. Seems she owns a bookstore here and has been living here for quite some time. She knows Gail, the owner of the shop. Margo’s the one that told me Gail had been missing for a few days. Also, remember the carousel we were told about?”
“The one with the flashdrive inside?”
“Yes, seems Margo bought it from Gail for Lexie’s birthday. Lexie’s had it all this time.”
“Uh oh, that’s not good. If she finds that drive she’ll activate the GPS in it. If Reggie knows about it he will probably be looking for a signal.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of, find out what you can and get back to me. Margo and I are going to Gail’s house to look around. I’ll call you later when I know more.”
When Margo came out of the bedroom carrying her zippered bag, she looked around the apartment for Larson. He was standing by the counter, talking softly into the phone. He was just finishing his conversation when she approached, his free hand sliding down her arm to capture her hand in his.
“---Margo and I are going to Gail’s house to look around. I’ll call you later when I know more.” he said crisply, his voice edged with irritation. Clicking the phone closed he looked at Margo with sad eyes.
“Doug called me back, now Scott is missing too,” he said simply.
Sympathy and fear warred inside her mind as she went to his arms. “We’ll find them,” she assured him, “We just need to get this show on the road.” They hurried out of the door holding hands, each lending strength to the other.
Once seated in the car, Margo had a sudden thought, which she shared with her husband. “You know, a few months ago, Gail went on a buying trip, and asked me to take care of her plants. I think I still have the key,” Margo told him. She started rummaging in her pocket book, taking a few things out, moving others, digging in the bottom. “Aha, here it is,” Margo held up the small key ring triumphantly.
“Good thing, that,” Larson mused, “I don’t think I can defend us if we’re arrested for breaking and entering.” The attempt at humor did not alleviate the knot of fear lodged in her stomach. With both Scott and Gail missing, something was definitely going on, and it did not seem to be good as it was bothering Larson as well.
After another noisy night at the Evans household, Nikki brought Lexie into town to the family cafe, to get an early start to the festivities of the day. Lexie’s laptop was on a table in the back of the family shop, unopened, Nikki was making small talk with some of the patrons that had come in to have breakfast. Her aunt Adriana came by with sweet tea and shortbread, and they sipped and munched happily until the cafe got quiet around them. Nikki pulled the flash drive from her pocket and motioned for Lexie to slide over the laptop to her side of the table. Inserting the silver disc into the USB port, she waited while the files loaded, questioning the validity of all this. Margo had still not returned her call, and she had no idea what was going on. Not knowing caused more worry than all the scenarios going through her head. The menu appeared in a box on the screen and Nikki clicked the file open quipping, “Here goes nothing.”
In no time, a spreadsheet appeared with dates and names that had no meaning to Nikki on first glance. She looked closer and saw the addresses, where one in particular popped out from the screen. “A Time Forgotten” was the name of the store in Seneca. The number had the same exchange as Margo’s little bookstore. There were several entries with that address, some with stars, and names associated. There were other addresses too, but there were no personal notes or files attached.
“It’s just an inventory list of some kind sweetie,” Nikki murmured to the crestfallen teenager next to her. “But at least we know.”
“I don’t know why I hoped,” Lexie said in a choked voice, tears threatening her greenish blue eyes.
“Don’t worry Honey, I have a feeling you’ll see your mom someday.” With all the information she had gotten from Lexie, and the reaction she had just seen, she had to talk to Margo soon. This girl needed her mother. Past be damned, threats no longer held any validity. The time had long since passed for this nonsense to end.
Lexie unplugged the flash drive and put it into the pocket of her jean jacket. It may not have been from her mother, but it was connected. Nikki smiled knowingly and said nothing to the girl about keeping the worthless piece of hardware.
“Are you two going to go out for the festival or are you just going to hide in here all day?” Sylvia Evans admonished from her place behind the glass counter.
Lexie looked up from the computer screen and smiled sheepishly at her grandmother. “Honestly I’d forgotten all about it!”
“Don’t let your grandfather hear that, he’ll disown you!”
Lexie laughed and stood to walk to the window. Outside the townsfolk in their Civil War period dress were assembling around the town square. Her grandfather came in from the back room in his gray uniform, his beard closely clipped and his hat proudly upon his head, the sleek black feather waving proudly.
“Who are you this year Grandpa?” Lexie asked softly, her voice held a hint of amusement at the serious look in her grandfather’s face.
“Brigadier General M.L. Bonham, at your service!” he announced proudly, bowing from the waist, causing the sword attached at his hip to sway.
“Get out from behind my counter ’General’,” Grandma chided, “You’ll knock over the pies.”
Clyde kissed his wife on the cheek and did as told, his face taking on the look of a lecturer. “Are you familiar with Secession Hill, Lexie?”
“Of course Grandpa, it was the meeting that took place between Jefferson Davis and his generals to plan the secession of South Carolina from the Union. It has long been thought of as the very beginning of the Civil War.”
A tall-distinguished man entered the cafe just then, engrossed by the young girl’s speech. He made quite the picture of dignity, his white hair and twinkling eyes dancing with excitement. Lexie took one look and immediately knew this was the man playing President Jefferson Davis, and greeted him accordingly.
“Good afternoon Mr. President, are you here to see the General?”
“You raised this one right, Clyde,” the man said to her grandfather as the two shook hands. “Our carriage is out front. We should be lining up.” He turned his attention to the women before him, Aunt Nikki and Lexie.
“Ladies?” he motioned for them to take his arm, moving toward the door. “Let’s find you a good seat for the parade.”
Sylvia laughed at that, and went back to slicing apples.
Watching the various peddlers milling around the square, Nikki and Lexie were in chairs set a block away from the cafe. Around the square booths, like tents, held all sorts of things from Native American bead-work to hand made pottery, hand sewn quilts and bonnets and period costumes that looked like they came straight out of a movie.
The children’s costumes were almost as endearing as the beautiful dresses worn by the woman and the clean crisp uniforms and suits worn by the men. The whole town seemed to stop and just go back to a time, over a hundred years ago...when wagons and war were all a body thought about. It was the Southern way, and the fight for tradition and history itself. It was little wonder people took it so seriously.
Nikki saw her sister and her husband walking along the sidewalk, getting ready to take their place in the processional. Macy’s dress was a beautiful red and white river of gussets, bustle and bows. The twins were dressed in small knee length trousers with silver buckled shoes and white linen shirts. Alan had also donned an authentic looking silver and gray Confederate uniform, looking very much like a soldier either off to war or coming home. The cape he wore was blue, with a yellow braided tassel on the collar. His dark eyes slid to Macy’s slight form next to him and he smiled. Nikki shivered and looked away. Suspicious, but not wanting to pry, Nikki made a mental note to get her sister alone at some point during the weekend. She didn’t like the look Alan gave her older sister. Too possessive, and on the brink of controlling.
Nikki took the time to take a look at her cell phone. One missed call. Her heart quickened at the number displayed. Margo. She had taken a seat next to Lexie on the outskirts of the square. Noting the preoccupation of Lexie on the procession of the parade, she decided to return the phone call. She got up from her seat, murmuring she would be right back, and walked to the side of a restaurant on the other side of the street where they were perched in chairs. Dialing quickly, she waited for the call to connect, hoping she was in time to warn her friend of her brother’s presence in her town. It was not as though the two of them seeing each other would be a bad thing, but she had to check in with her friend. She did not see what was happening not yards away.
People had been lining up a mile away at Secession Hill. The sound of bagpipes began to play and the procession began.
Nikki got up suddenly and walked away, leaving Lexie watching from her seat. Beautiful women in their hoop skirts and bonnets walked children in front of the horse drawn carriages carrying the ‘visiting dignitaries’. She pulled out her phone to call her dad, wondering where he was and why he had not made it back yet. She was just about to ask Nikki when a juggler making his way along the side of the processional caught her attention. He was so out of place it caused Lexie to turn on the camera feature of her phone. She was just aiming the camera at the performer when she felt someone jostle her. Strong hands banded her arms and pulled her from her chair, causing her to drop her cell phone on the ground in front of her. It was as if all the sound was seeped from the air, and the darkness engulfed her.
A shriek of fear caught Nikki’s attention and had her spinning her head in the direction of the sound. The bagpipes were blaring near her so the sound seemed only to alert her and had her running back to where they had been sitting. Lexie was gone. She heard the squeal of tires and saw a late model van disappear around the back road away from the square. So startled by the sound she had not ended the call and still had her cell phone in her hand. She pushed the end button and ran back toward the spot where the chairs sat empty. On the ground beside the folding chair lay Lexie’s cell phone, still open. With a trembling hand, she reached down and picked it up, gasping at the image caught by the tiny camera feature. Large hands gripped the arms of her niece, a startled look stretched across her young face. Someone had taken Lexie.
The driveway that led to Gail’s house seemed too long to Margo sitting next to Larson in his car. She had the borrowed keys in her hand, fingering them nervously.
“It will be okay, we’ll look around, I’ll get Doug back on the phone then we’ll be on the way to Lexie. It won’t be long now.” Larson said encouragingly, sensing the stress in his wife’s tense body.
“I hope we find something. I just want all of this to be over. For you as well as for me.”
“For us,” he smiled, his crystal blue eyes shining with love.
Larson parked the SUV in the empty driveway in front of the expansive house. “Pretty house for a single woman,” he mused, suspicious at once.
“I never thought of it that way, but you’re right. She always seemed like she was a struggling business owner, but this house just doesn’t fit the bill.”
“It’s beginning to look like Gail is in a lot deeper than just accepting packages.”
Margo unlocked the door quickly and together they stepped inside the quiet home. A spacious foyer opened into a set-in salon carpeted with lush deep reds and polished wood. Ceramic vases and elegant portraits surrounded the living room. A large bookcase took up an entire wall filled with leather volumes and brass bookends. Mozart, Beethoven and Shakespeare busts adorned marble pedestals in the corners of the room. A grand piano sat in another corner and along the opposite wall of the living room was a large stacked stone fireplace with a deep marble hearth surrounding it. Above it hung a portrait of a distinguished man with a young girl in his lap, a young boy standing nearby, the children holding hands, a striking resemblance between them. Larson saw the portrait and immediately recognized the man in it. Alan Scarsdale.
“That’s Reggie and Gail as children, I’d bet my house on it!”
Margo spun around with a shocked look, “What do you mean? As in the Reggie that is causing all those problems with your case? The one you suspect had something to do with your client’s disappearance?”
“The same. That is Alan Scarsdale in that portrait. We have been representing his company since I went to work for Prescott! I thought you said you watered her plants for her. Didn’t you notice all this?”
“Plants are in the back on the deck. I came in the back way and used the kitchen. I certainly don’t remember seeing all this!”
The brass plate beneath the portrait confirmed Larson’s suspicions. “Abigail, Reginald and Alan, Christmas 1979”
He began searching the closed doors off the foyer, looking for an office of some kind. “Here,” he yelled to Margo, stepping into another richly decorated room filled with a desk and red leather couches and chairs. On the desk was a computer, phone and fax machine in front of a large window that faced the back yard. The answering machine sat silently, but next to it, the cordless phone was on the charger. Margo picked it up and looked at it, taking in the neatness of the room.
“It doesn’t look like she left in such a hurry. There’s not a thing out of place!”
“You’re right there. Wherever she went, she went willingly and efficiently. Let me see that.”
He took the phone from her and pushed the recent calls button to retrieve the numbers. “This is a Boston number. It appears several times, from what I can see. Let me give this to Doug. I don’t think we need to see anything else.”
Margo’s phone beeped and she pulled it out of her pocket.
“I hate phone tag,” she said, looking at the screen. “How did I miss this call?”
“Who was it?”
“Your sister.” She started to return the call again when Larson’s phone began to ring. “No more tag,” Larson murmured and answered the call.