Tank was on the phone in his office, holding a plastic evidence bag up to the light. He was looking at the scribbled signature on the receipt for the tires Donnie the rapist had bought for Antonia Ballard. He wished that Tiana could remember more details but wishes and a few dollars would only get a tired sheriff a cup of coffee and not the name. Whatever his suspect’s last name was, it wasn’t Brasco or Bosco. Donnie Brasco was a mafia crime movie. He couldn’t shake the terrible suspicion that Antonia Ballard knew exactly what happened to her daughter and who did it. The State Crime Lab had him on hold for the last 20 minutes. He was waiting to find out if he could get one of their handwriting experts to decipher the unintelligible pen strokes. Even Dr Maynard’s wife couldn’t read it, and he figured she would be the only one in the county that could because she did transcription work for most of the local doctors and veterinarians but she had only confirmed the first name was possibly Donald, and that the last name started with a V, had an L and ended in an NI or RI.
Finally the hold music stopped, “Sheriff Tanner?”
“Yes, I’m still here,” he responded patiently.
“I explained to our head criminologist the case and your concern about the mother warning the suspect, and he said he will wait for you after he gets out of court today, can you be to Castle Rock by 6pm?”
“No, but I can be there by 7:30 if I leave immediately,” Tank answered.
There was hold music for a few moments and he hoped the lady was talking on another line to the man he needed to see.
“Sheriff Tanner, come up and he’ll be waiting for you. He has a particularly strong determination for convicting rapist, especially those who attack children. Bring us the receipt and he promises he will figure out who signed it,” She sounded confident in her boss’ ability and it gave him hope.
“Thank you ma’am, I will get there as quickly as legally possible. Have a good afternoon.”
Tank grabbed his hat and coat, but after he started his Durango, he paused. It was Thursday, and he was supposed to have a date tonight. He smirked mischievously, Camille was meeting him at the Pagosa Brewery Company and Grill at 7:30, hopefully in the dress she had worn on Valentines or maybe the black angora sweater dress that made her seem soft and approachable. He thought about Hightower’s reaction to either of those dresses. Poor Kyle could barely take his eyes off her as it was.
Tank found the number he was looking for in his phone but he hesitated, debating, to call now or later. He tapped the steering wheel thoughtfully. His smirk widened to a grin, he’d call later. Time to see just how much Kyle Hightower wanted to reconnect with his blue butterfly. Tank sighed almost regretfully as he pulled onto the highway, he was looking forward to a night of craft beer and his favorite rib-eye, instead he was getting fast food on the road. Yet he couldn’t help his malevolent chuckle, Camille was going to drown him tomorrow, he’d better wear a toe tag with his own name on it in his boot.
Tonia Ballard watched the sheriff leaving the station and turn toward the highway, she hid her scowl from her daughter and smiled as Tiana excitedly described the new dive Coach Wally was helping her master for the Nationals. They had begun having lunch at the cafe every day. She was making a show of being the best mother she could be. She and Tiana had both shared the story about how it benefited Tiana to live with her coach before the major competition, which made sense to many. No one yet knew of Tiana’s condition and the Wallace family were particular anti-gossip so Tonia no worries about them telling the truth to anyone.
“And she says as long as I get all my rotations and punch the water on the vertical, I’ll place for sure. I might even beat Willow out for top rank in springboard,” Tiana stuck another French fry into her chocolate shake and it was all Tonia could do to stop herself from slapping the disgusting, fatty combination out of her daughter’s hand.
“That’s so nice dear, I know you can do it,” Tonia said absently.
“Mum, you seem distracted, am... am I boring you?” Tiana asked hesitantly.
“Oh... oh no my darling, Mummy is just wondering about how the investigation is going and if they found that horrible man.”
As Tiana’s fork lifted another bite of her pie, she shook her head, “I don’t think it is going very well. I think that guy lied about his name, because Sheriff Tanner has asked me every day if I remembered his last name or anything else about him.”
“What do you mean anything else about him?” Tonia was starting to get worried. She hadn’t expected the sheriff to so quickly discard the name she had made up and given him. It had sounded like a real name, like something she’d heard from the news a long time ago.
“Oh, ya know, like did he have any tattoos or scars, did he have a strange accent, did he mention any other people that I remembered, but I told him I only saw the guy at dinner and when he... he...” Tiana stopped, tears started to fill her eyes.
Tonia quickly reached across the table and squeezed her hand, she couldn’t have Tiana breaking down and causing a scene, especially not here in the cafe with dozens of the local lunch crowd to witness it.
“Oh darling, don’t think about it. Let’s talk about something happy,” Tonia leaned forward and whispered, “I found the cutest froggy onesies and jammies for you-know-who.”
Tiana brightened, “Really?” She smiled through her tears, “Mummy it makes me so happy that you understand about tadpole.” Tadpole is what Tiana insisted on calling the baby, she thought it was a cute code name, but Tonia hated it. Tonia had hated it when Tim had taught Tiana to swim and started calling her tadpole, they were disgusting fishy things that turned into frogs and Tonia hated them.
“Of course, I understand. I was just a bit shocked at first, but we are okay, right? You understand Mummy didn’t know anything about it. I would never let you be abused or abuse you. I just want the best for you.”
“I know, Mum. I know you’re strict and just want me to know I have to earn my way through the world. Sometime I would get mad because I thought you were being unfair but I know you were that way because you love me and want me to be independent,” Tiana responded as she finished the last of her pie and milkshake.
“Come on darling, let’s get you back to school.”
“Can I have a milkshake to go, Mum? I’m craving them so badly.” Tiana asked hopefully.
Tonia bit the inside of her cheek as she smiled and winked, “Of course, whatever tadpole wants.”
Tiana grinned, “You’re the best mum ever. And thanks for getting my car repainted and fixed. I didn’t even know the engine was so close to dying.”
“It may take a while to find a new one.” Tonia added tolerantly, lying about the fate of her daughter’s car. As they waited for the shake to go, all Tonia could think about was how many months it was going to take to get all the weight Tiana was gaining off her slim frame. True women of beauty were meant to be thin and elegant, not fat and blubbery. But for now, she had to seem to support Tiana’s new eating habits until she could remedy it.
Antonia parked her older BMW in the garage. She scowled hatefully at it before slamming the door between the garage and the kitchen. The Audi rental had been this year’s model and she had enjoyed the luxury and attention that came with it. Sheriff Tanner had not asked Tonia anything more about his suspect, but that he was asking Tiana made her nervous. As Tonia sat at her computer, deleting all the messages between her and her ‘friends’, she suddenly realized she had access to all the money she would even need.
Donnie would pay anything to keep from going to prison. No more need to find another husband to milk for additional alimony. Her uncle had said he would only do it once more, and he was getting close enough to retirement that he didn’t care if she revealed her nasty little secret about him. She snorted, the old fool hadn’t really touched her but her claim that he had when he had gotten drunk had provided her with pocket money as a teen and very substantial divorce settlements.
She called Donnie and smirked as his voicemail picked up. “Hello Donnie darling, this is Antonia, your old friend. Remember when I told you not to forget to wear a condom... tsk tsk... your forgetfulness is going to cost you. Call me or I might have to give the local sheriff the real name of my daughter’s baby daddy.”
Kyle was sitting in the construction office looking at the weather reports, the extended forecast was blessing him with clear skies and no precipitation but a cold front with high winds and snow would be hitting next week, March weather in Colorado was so unpredictable. Most of the demolition and excavation was complete. Special cold setting concrete was poured and hardening. Lumber and building supplies would start being delivered tomorrow.
It was looking good for the project for a few more days then he would be shut down, dealing with snow removal, and keeping everyone warm till the weather cleared. Maybe he should just rent one of the hotels in town for the three days of bad weather. It was killing his budget but his crews did the best work because he took the best care of them. His phone rang and he was surprised to see who was calling.
“Hightower here. How are you, Tanner?”
“I’m good. So are you ready for your date with Camille?” Tank adjusted his sunglasses as he cruised north. Traffic was just past rush hour.
Kyle grinned, “Just tell me the day and place, and I’ll be there.”
“Today, you have 45 minutes to get the Pagosa Brewery and Grill. And maybe you should bring some flowers or something for your blind date.”
“What the hell, Tanner!?!” Kyle exclaimed shocked. “45 minutes, you called me with 45 minutes to meet her? Where am I going to get flowers at 6:50 on a Thursday night?”
“Forty-four minutes now. How much do you want it, Hightower?” Tank laughed. “I gotta drop some evidence at the state crime lab, and don’t worry, I’ve got a toe tag with your name on it in my pocket. You know, just in case. My advice is, don’t let her get you near a body of water more than 4 inches deep and you might survive the night. Talk to you tomorrow, Hightower. I hope.” He hung up on Kyle, chuckling as a stream of expletives exploded from his friend. It was good to be the Sheriff.
He called Camille next.
“Please tell me your cancelling, I’m so tired,” Camille asked without saying hello.
“No such luck beautiful, I just might be a few minutes late, so order for me,” Tank requested smoothly.
“You’re lucky I like you, Sheriff.” Her voice smiled and he chuckled.
“There’s always tomorrow. Catch you later, coach,” Tank hung up before she could respond, his good humor poking him with thoughts of her reaction to Kyle showing up in his place. He’d have to get the video security from the restaurant tomorrow if it got interesting, and watch the resulting drama. Chuckling about his meddling, he glanced at the highway signs; he was a half hour from his destination. Suddenly all his good humor was gone. He sighed wishing his reason for missing All-you-can-eat rib eye was anything else but what it was. He had to find out who Antonia Ballard was covering up for and why.
Camille arrived at Tank’s favorite restaurant and ordered his usual. She was stressed, she was tired, but most of all she was confused. Her mind was swirling like a hurricane around some many different thing. Camille mused over her jumbled thoughts, looking across the busy restaurant, and watching the tourists and townsfolk enjoying All-you-can-eat Rib eye. She could only shake her head in comfortable amusement, Tank always wanted to come on the last week of the month, and he’d be eating alone when it was All-you-can-eat ribs because she and her team would be at Nationals.
She noticed Kyle walk in just as the food was delivered and wished Tank would hurry up. She didn’t feel ready to face Kyle yet, there was so much between them that she wasn’t ready to deal with it, and she had pushed it all away for so long. Opening that door hurt as much as the day she slammed it closed. She thanked the waiter, an older brother of one of her swimmers.
“Will the Sheriff be joining you, Coach Wally?” The waiter asked.
Before she could answer, Kyle answered for her, “No, no he will not. Tanner sends his apologies, Camille. He had to drop off evidence at some state lab for analysis. Thank you young man, that will be all.”
She glared at him as he sat down, smiling charmingly, then he picked up the artisan lager she had ordered for Tank, taking a sip. The waiter glanced between them until Camille waved him away. “It’s okay, Carlo.”
“Kyle, what is going on?” Camille asked as calmly as she could once the waiter was gone.
“A blind date, I think. But I guess it isn’t really a blind date because we know each other, well, knew each other. ”
Her frigid gaze held his face, no emotion showed at all. She remained silent, not eating or drinking, just staring at him.
“So, let’s start shall we. Hi, I’m Kyle and my friend Tanner set me up with you. I’m a resort developer and I’m building a one locally. I like being close to the water, I scuba, enjoy extreme sports like rock climbing and storm surfing, and taking long walks under the moon. How about you?”
She blinked once very slowly and said nothing, instead she pulled out her phone and sent a text message. He started to say something but she held up a single finger for him to wait. Moments later, her phone buzzed and she looked at the message.
Tank was just getting out of his Durango when his text message chimed.
From Wally: Where are you? Kyle just sat down in your spot,
began drinking your lager,
and announced he was my blind date?
WHAT DID YOU DO?
WHERE ARE YOU?
It was Camille and she didn’t seem to be happy, he wondered if Hightower had managed to get some flowers. Tank smirked malevolently, and typed;
Had to deliver some evidence to Castle for testing.
Enjoy my favorite dinner, talk to him, you owe him.
PS If you leave, I will keep doing this because I know what’s best for you, bestie.
Grinning about her reaction, he carried the evidence into the State Crime Lab. Time to get some answers for Tiana.
Her eyes narrowing were the only betrayal of emotion. She tucked her phone away, blinked twice and gave him a blindingly beautiful smile.
“Hi, I’m Camille, I am a coach, and I do not want to play this game with you, but since I am here under duress and our food is already here, I will stay and eat, ” she said coolly. She picked up her amber ale and sipped it calmly before she began eating.
Kyle sighed and took a bite. They ate in silence for several minutes.
“How are Gracie and Willow?” Kyle opened with.
“How is Willow’s leg?”
“Are they ready for Nationals?”
“Camille, I can’t get to know the girls if you only give me one word answers,” Kyle leaned back frustrated. “We have to get past what happened... for them.”
She set down her glass hard enough that it rang. “Kyle, I know what happened from your side. You know what happened from my side. But it doesn’t change the pain of that night... It doesn’t change that Mina and Kent died... It doesn’t change a lot of things. I have to protect the girls”
“You know me, I would never hurt them,” Kyle exclaimed in a hushed angry voice.
“That’s just it Kyle, I don’t know you. I thought I knew you, I loved you and you...” Camille huffed in frustration, “Who are you really? Who are you now? I will listen to what you say, and that will determine if you see the girls on your own or supervised. But this, us, I can’t see it happening again.”
“I am the same guy you punched in the face. The same guy that took you scuba diving, kissed you surrounded by butterflies,” Kyle protested.
“Really? Because that guy went to Vegas with his brothers and I got to watch him screw a whore who was pretending to be me while he was stoned on something. Not the kind of person I would want around my daughter and adopted daughter. So are you sure you want to lead with that?” Her eyes were hard as green agate.
“You are the one who left without an explanation, kept my child and niece from me, that information could have saved my brother’s life,” he snapped and instantly regretted it.
Tears began to fill her eyes and she looked away, her whisper barely heard about the noisy restaurant, “I’m sorry.” Her chest heaved as she breathed rapidly, trying not to cry.