Tonia knew where to find Donnie this weekend. He had called and told her to meet him where he was supposed to meet her for New Years Eve. She packed a few days worth of her best clothes and drove to Las Vegas. Before she left, she transferred some funds from the Blue Wings account to cover the cost of the trip, money she would replace as soon as she got back. She would claim it was to cover the rental car deposits on her credit card if Doreen asked her.
As she drove west, she thought about all the things she could buy after Donnie paid for her silence. How she would remodel the house, how she would buy a new Audi like the rental she had driven after her BMW was wrecked. She might even throw a few thousand at stopping Mr. High and Mighty Hightower’s resort, she could get the county commissioner to revoke the permits, the assistant to the environmental commissioner to invalidate the impact studies, and a labor safety inspector could do whatever it was he did to stop the work. She had the evidence to make all those men help her ruin Kyle Hightower, and then she could turn her attention to Coach Camille Wallace.
Tiana ‘losing’ the baby because of the strain of diving would be the first step in ruining Coach Wally’s reputation and after the settlement the school would be forced to pay, perhaps she would sue for personal injury and get Ridgeline Ranch. Or maybe she would just move to somewhere more her taste, like Aspen or Jacksonhole . Camille’s haughty judgmental tone when she wasn’t home when the CPS appointed guardian brought Tiana for a day’s visitation had pissed Tonia off and so did Camille’s refusal to leave Tiana home alone to catch up on her household responsibilities. Tonia decided she would never understand women like Camille who gave up everything for their children and did nothing for themselves.
Antonia Mosconi-Ballard wanted a luxurious life of her own and she was finally going to have the life she felt she deserved thanks to Donnie’s foolishness.
After driving the girls home to Ridgline, Camille left them to enjoy their late afternoon of anime, ice cream and brownie bottom cupcakes. The giggles of Tiana and Gracie, and Willow’s protest of not crushing their teammate would have made Camille smile had she not been bothered by other things. They had gone to drop Tiana off with her mother for the remaining weekend only to find the house empty and in need of a maid. Camille had called the other mother and Tonia had said she was going to see her troubled friend for the weekend and to just leave Tiana there. Tiana had just shrugged off her mother leaving for the weekend as something her mother did regularly since she was little. So Camille had insisted she just come back with them rather than spend the weekend in the house alone, not that Camille would have left her charge there alone, not after what she had been through.
Sitting in her grandpa’s office, Camille muddled over some things Tiana had said and done since moving in with them a week ago. Things that, bothered Camille greatly as a mother. Tiana had come home after school the first Monday she lived with them, and begun making dinner and asking about cleaning house. Gramma Doreen had to sit Tiana down and explained that the girls only did light chores on weekdays after they rested, ate, and finished their homework. Tiana had been shocked at the revelation that Willow and Gracie were never kept up past 9PM to clean house or do laundry, and that they were encouraged to take an hour after school and practice to just chill out and do something they enjoyed before starting their homework.
After spending the first Sunday’s afternoon laying around in yoga pants and tee-shirts, and watching YouTube videos by Aphmau, Tiana had admitted to Gracie and Willow she was never allowed to look anything but ‘presentable’ between 7AM and 9PM. Tiana didn’t complain about her mother, just commented on how different it was from her home life. Doreen had listened carefully as Gracie and Willow had questioned Tiana about her childhood. The life Tiana lived with her mother didn’t involve any form of physical abuse, but the pattern of mental and emotional abuse and lack of true affection was staggering to Doreen and Camille. Tiana was basically a slave in her mother’s home, expected to cater to her mother’s every demand. Learning this had Camille concerned about Tonia’s behavior since Tiana had moved in with the Wallace’s.
Antonia seemed to be always asking about the investigation into her daughter’s attacker. Concern any normally devoted mother would have, but after learning about Tiana’s home life, it was such a deviation from Tonia’s normal that Camille had a hard time believing the change had been motivated by motherly guilt at being the cause of her daughter’s situation and was beginning to believe Doreen’s observation that Antonia was more trying to save her reputation than getting justice for her daughter. It seemed to Camille and Doreen both that Tonia was trying to convince everyone, including Tiana, that she was a good mother since discovering the events leading to Tiana’s pregnancy were basically her fault.
Tonia’s attitude change troubled Camille her imagination had presented her with a terrible possibility, not one she ever wanted to imagine. But then when she was in college, she had never imagined that her roommate’s boyfriend would inject her with a paralytic so he could rape her with two of his friends. Evil things happened in the world, things she knew about but would never understand. People hurt each other on purpose and for their own selfish reasons.
Camille knew she herself wasn’t innocent of causing harm and guilt over Kent’s death hung over her like a cloud. She called Kyle and invited him to lunch after church, then texted Tank and left another message. He had spent two days in Castle and she wondered what was going on with Tiana’s case that had him staying in the city.
After Monday morning practice, Camille was sitting in her office, staring at the email confirmation of the refund of the airline tickets and the hotel rooms. Every cent was gone from the Blue Wings Go-fund-me account and fundraising saving account. The trip would have to be cancelled, there was no way the school or the families of her team could afford the cost. She had called Tank to come.
“Oh Gawd, Mom, we’re supposed to leave tomorrow. What are we going to do?” Willow asked, rage in her eyes.
Gracie and Tiana walked in from the changing room, “What’s going on?”
“Um, I am not sure. Uh, why don’t you girls walk down to the cafe while I figure this out?” Camille suggested. “Don’t worry. I’ll figure it out.”
“Figure what out?” Tank asked from behind the girls.
“All the funds for the trip are gone,” Willow blurted out. “Someone stole them.”
“Who would do that?” Gracie blurted out.
Willow gave them a withering look, “You know it was T’s mom.”
“Willow! Calm down…. We don’t know who did this but if she did there has to be a very good reason. Tiana’s mom wouldn’t sabotage her daughter’s chance to go to a National competition,” Camille snapped, then to Tank and Kyle. “I got online to print out the boarding passes and found our tickets refunded and hotel reservation cancelled, when I logged in to the Blue Wings accounts, they were empty. I think we’ve been hacked or skimmed or whatever it is called.”
Tank’s phone rang, “Give me a moment, it’s my dispatch.” He walked away.
Camille stood up to follow him but stayed when Kyle sat down in her seat.
After a few minutes of typing, Kyle leaned back from the computer, he scowled. “She cleaned you out. Everything was electronically transferred to another account give me a few minutes to find where it’s gone.”
“Kyle...We don’t know who cleaned us out,” Camille warned, then she turned to the girls, “Go to the Cafe, girls.”
“Mooommm?” Willow questioned, Gracie’s expression held the same question.
“Willow, Gracie. Don’t worry about getting to Nationals, I have a plane and own a resort there. I’ve got it covered,” Kyle assured them, “Go get something to eat and we’ll meet you there.”
Gracie squealed and hugged Kyle, “Thank you, Dad!”
Willow hugged him, on the other side, “Thank you, Mr. Highto... uh.... Uncle Kyle.”
Tiana stood with her back turned to them, staring at the Beta in a crystal bowl. She sniffed, “I can’t believe my mother would steal from the team. She always put back the money she borrowed before. She knows we need it and she took it anyway when she can’t pay it back.”
Camille went to her, asking quietly, “Tiana, has your mother done this before?”
Tiana nodded, “But she always put the money back, except for the church pantry. She didn’t get paid for one of her consulting jobs. It wasn’t her fault,” Tiana started sobbing.
Camille put her hand on Tiana’s shoulder, “Tiana, I am sorry but...”
Tiana turned suddenly, “I know, I’m off the team, right? Mum said I was never good enough, that you were just being nice. Now that she stole everything, I guess you don’t have a reason to be nice to me anymore. I’ll clean out my locker.”
Camille stopped her, shaking her head.“Tiana, you’re not off the team and I’m not mad at you. Your mother hurt you too. I was going to say, I need to call Mrs. Pence and your father to make sure you can travel with us. You’re my star upper classman, I’m not leaving you behind. And no one can blame you for your mother’s actions. She is an adult, she chose to do this.”
“Tiana? How long has your mother been borrowing money from the groups she works with?” Tank asked softly. Camille hadn’t heard him come back into the office.
“I don’t know, a few years, It’s my fault she has to borrow because my dad doesn’t always pay for her to take care of me, or for us to have a place to live. Will I have to go to jail now?” Tiana looked broken.
“Darlin’, none of this is your fault and you don’t need to worry about anything but taking care of your diving and that little baby you’re growing. Mr. Hightower said he could manage the flight and a place to stay so there’s no need to worry. Everything is already better. Lloyd is going to drive you girls to the cafe, it started snowing,” Tank ushered the girls out.
Willow looked back at Camille who said, “Go eat, we’ll catch up.”
Kyle toggled through the files, “The wire transfers went to an account in the Caribbean..” He looked up as Camille leaned over his shoulder.
“Can we get it back? I don’t want to impose on you.”
“There’s no getting it back.” Kyle turned his neck, his face was inches from hers. “Nothing you need is an imposition. I can have the plane here in the morning.”
“Thank y....” Camille turned her face slightly, and then she hesitated as if realizing how close they were. “You, Kyle.”
They both looked up when Tank came back, his voice was gruff. “So far we have 8 reports of skimming. How much was taken from the Blue Wings accounts?”
“$24,612 dollars that were supposed to pay for the travel, practice time, and room and board for the next 3 competitions,” Camille explained. “What’s going on, Tank?”
“It appears all the accounts Antonia Ballard had access to, were emptied overnight. She cleaned out the town. Her cell phone is off. Wally, when was the last time you spoke to Antonia?”
“Um, Saturday afternoon. I took Tiana to see her and she was gone. When I called her, said she was going to visit her friend in Black Bear, but she was supposed to be back tomorrow morning to go with us to Nationals,” Camille pursed her lips. “I knew something was wrong with the way she was acting but I never thought... I mean... oh I don’t know what I mean...”
“How much did she get?” Kyle asked.
“Almost $200,000 dollars.” Tank rubbed his face. “Wally, I think you need to leave Tiana behind. If Antonia is missing and all of the funds were stolen electronically then Tiana might be in danger.”
“I can’t leave her behind, this is the last competition she will be able to compete in before the baby comes. She needs this for her college applications,” Camille insisted, “I can’t take it from her. She is desperate to go to college and get away from her mother. She needs the scholarship money.”
“Camille, be reasonable. I can’t protect her if...” Tank started.
“Protect her from who? Did you find out who raped her?” Camille’s voice dropped an octave.
Kyle stood slowly, this was the voice she used before she got vicious, the voice she used the day of Kent and Mina’s wedding. He edged over to the printer to get the printouts of the account access and transfer routing details. He didn’t want to tell Camille that a much smaller transfer had been made on Saturday morning. So he circled both in red pen.
“Camille, I can’t discuss an open case,” Tank retorted.
“Open case? I. Am. Responsible. For your open case, I need to know what you found out,” Camille snapped, pointing at his chest.
“Tanner, if you’re worried about her safety. My company has a security detail we use when we go into countries that have elements hostile to western developers. I can have them meet us on the ground in Florida, but I need to know who and what we are protecting Tiana from,” Kyle crossed his arms across his chest.
The sheriff nodded his head, the developer had resources he did not and he would need Tanner’s help to keep Tiana and the Wallaces safe. Tank explained with a resigned tone, “We have a suspect in Tiana’s rape. He is a very, very bad man with mafia connections. Murder, rape, gambling, prostitution, witness intimidation, and wire fraud are just some of the things they are trying to convict him of. If he got into all the accounts Antonia had access to then I would bet they know each other more than casually and are together now. According to the FBI profiler, he may have paid Antonia for access to Tiana, and the whole threat to kill Tonia was a ruse. If Tonia tries to use Tiana’s pregnancy to get more money from him, he may kill her and come after Tiana and the baby so he doesn’t go to prison for statutory rape.”
Camille’s hand was over her mouth, “She sold her daughter to that... that...?” It was such a horrific thought to her.
Kyle’s jaw twitched as he gritted his teeth, “And now the dumb cow is going to get her pregnant daughter killed and my girls will be in danger.”
“The whole team, my whole team could be in danger,” Camille snapped correcting, enraged she stuttered her next questions, “Did... Did they find this... this D-Donnie Brasco? Do they know where to find him?”
“Donnie Brasco? Like the movie?” Kyle asked confused.
“What movie?” Camille was confused.
“The name Tonia gave us was the name of a movie. The FBI thinks he gave her an alias, but I think she lied,” Tank declared firmly. “And so does Lloyd.”
“Who’s Lloyd to her?” Kyle thought he remembered a deputy named Lloyd but he didn’t know there was a connection between him and Tonia Ballard.
“Lloyd is her third ex-husband, her former high school sweetheart, and cousin of her first ex. He’s my best deputy and he says Tonia would have let this happen if she gained something from it. He hates her more than anyone in town.”
“I knew Tonia was faking being the concerned mother after she found out Tiana was pregnant. She has never asked if Tiana was having nightmares, or morning sickness, or anything like that. All she wanted to know is if we knew who had hurt Tiana, but she already knew. This whole time she knew.” Camille was shaking angrily, and she looked like she was ready to harm someone. “Who is he, Thomas?”
“His name is Donatello Valtini. He runs a gambling ring for a family in the Italian Mafia. What’s the matter, Hightower? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
The change in complexion of the developer was dramatic.
“Kyle, do you need to sit down?” Camille asked concerned, her focus suddenly shifting as Kyle’s olive skin became pale.
“Valtini was the Vegas bookie we paid off to get Kris out of trouble. The one who helped him try to blackmail us, he got Kris the girls that looked like you and Mina. He’s the reason everything fell apart fifteen years ago,” Kyle confessed.