After Camille left a flustered Sophia sitting alone, Mack chuckled and whispered to Kyle, “That was worth every moment of crap you are going to get on this trip.”
“You’re fired,” Kyle muttered under his breath.
Mack stood up, saying louder, “I’m just going to go see it the team needs anything. Want a drink, boss?”
“Maxwell, bring me a club soda,” Sophia demanded.
“Get my name right, Sonya, and I’ll think about it,” Mack growled and walked away.
“You can’t talk to me that way,” she hissed.
“Don’t you need to have someone to suck the blood out of when you want a drink? I don’t think they have any O negative on board,” Mack snarked before walking away, to the giggles of several of the girls, a few of them even held up their hands to hi-five him as he passed.
Sophia inhaled to retort angrily but Kyle cut her off, sitting in the seat Camille vacated. “Enough, Sophia. You aren’t welcome here, you weren’t invited, and you are violating a restraining order. Keep this up and I’ll have you arrested as soon as we land.”
“You’re just being that way because of that... that woman. Those probably aren’t even your children,” Sophia complained.
“Are you blind?” Kyle asked frustrated. “Look at them.” He made an exasperated sound, “Sophia, I have a lot going on right now, and I do not have time to deal with your delusions. Go back to Mikail and leave me alone.”
“But we are meant to be, Kyle. If you could just see that.”
“Meant to be? Sophia, you killed my son for a fashion shoot that was never published. You slept with dozens of different men and a few women while we were together, rubbing it in my face every time. And the one time we did get back together, you lied about retiring. You’ve had paparazzi publish pictures announcing we were engaged a dozen times. I’ve had to have my PR department publish denials so many times, they keep one prepared. I have told you for the last decade. I am not interested,” Kyle huffed.
“It’s her isn’t it? It’s always been her. You think she’s so perfect, and now that you know she had your children, you are hanging on like you never screwed that prostitute that looked like her. She doesn’t even care if you are in her life. We had three good years, and a few wonderful weekends since then, why can’t you see it?”
“Sophia, those were the worst years of my life. The year before my father’s death I followed you around like a puppy, and then I spent two years trying to work things out and all you wanted someone to fund your frivolous career and F* you when you’re bored. When I told you I was done and filed all those restraining orders, I meant it... It’s been 12 years, Sophia. You’ve dated dozen different millionaires, just pick one of them and leave me alone.” He sounded tired.
“But I pick you,” Sophia looked at him as if confused that he would refuse her.
“And I don’t pick you. Not since the day you came home and told me your career was more important than our child. It was a mistake to go back to you later. I believed I didn’t deserve to be happy, but I realized after Kris died that I had suffered enough. Now I have a second chance at a family. I may not be able to get Camille back, but I won’t give up for Gracie and Willow’s sake. I love them, I love her. No matter what you do, or say, it doesn’t matter, we’re done, Sophia. We. Are. Done.”
“You can’t seriously pick that... that... woman over me. She’s short, bulky, she has plain brown hair and eyes, she runs around in a swimming suit with a bunch to teenagers and... she... she let a bug crawl on her face. How could you kiss her after you took that picture?” Sophia shuddered in disgust.
“Hazel, her eyes are hazel and her hair is naturally caramel and honey, not a color from a chemical.” He pointed out, adding, “After that butterfly walked across her cheek and into her hair, I realized that I envied that bug. It was the most amazing first kiss I have ever had. I have never forgotten that moment, I can’t even remember a single time I kissed you.” Kyle breathed out shaking his head.
“But... what about the day I stepped on the jellyfish? That picture was shared a million times,” Sophia whined quietly.
“We didn’t kiss that day. You stepped on the jellyfish while we were fighting about you announcing we were fake engaged for the fifth time, and I was being a gentleman.” He pointed out.
“But you still carried me back to the hotel. You cared about me.” She insisted.
“I would have helped a leper back to medical care because it’s the decent thing to do.”
“It’s because she kept those brats and took in another. Oh look at me, I’m a swimmer, a mother, and a foster mother,” Sophia said sarcastically.
“Diver, she’s multi-medal winning Olympic Diver, who is training future Olympic Divers.”
“Whatever, she can’t compete with me.” Sophia huffed.
“Give it up Sophia. Camille told you she doesn’t compete and it wasn’t a lie, the truth is she doesn’t have to. You couldn’t compete with her beauty if you wanted to. All your cosmetics and photoshop, all your wealth and father’s influence and all your cosmetic surgeries only hide how ugly you are inside. You have never cared about anyone but yourself, and Camille... she can’t help but care. That’s why what I did hurt her so deeply.” Kyle stood up, his voice dropped to a threatening tone, “I lost her once, I won’t lose her again. And know this, if you cause me any problems, I’ll have Carl drop you in one of the places I didn’t build a resort.”
Then Kyle walked away, toward where Mack was laughing with Camille and two other parents, leaving Sophia alone in the front of the jet. Sulking and angry, she still didn’t have her club soda.
Tank parked in front of Antonia Ballard’s empty house, his deputy was waiting for him. Lloyd used Tiana’s key to get in. They had a warrant to search for evidence in the criminal investigation of the wire theft from several local charities and for evidence in Tiana’s rape. The house was spotless in the living room but the kitchen was a different story. Dishes piled in the sink. Spoiling fruit and vegetables on the counter. The dim light from the window was filtered by the falling snow. Lloyd reached over to flick on the light, a click but nothing happened. Tank picked up the phone but it was dead too. The men scowled at each other.
In Tonia’s office, they found the desk littered with bills and overdue notices. The basic utilities had not been paid since January and there were demand letters from credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and banks. The dining room looked unused. Upstairs, Tiana’s room was neatly organized, bathroom polished, and the guestrooms dustless and looking more like hotel rooms than a home. Across the house, the master bedroom was oddly messy when compared to the upstairs. Clothes thrown into piles, towels on the master bath floor. The cold creeping into the house was freezing the water dripping from the taps.
“We need to shut off the water or the pipes will burst,” Tank announced.
“Without Tiana to do all the cleaning, I guess Tonia just lived like the rat she is,” Lloyd snarled.
“Lloyd, you need to put your personal feelings away. We have to be very careful so some slick defense attorney doesn’t throw out the evidence as biased by your previous relationship with the defendant,” Tank warned. He picked up a leather jacket off the floor and flipped the cleaner tag over. He shook his head in disgust, “Months behind on her mortgage and utilities, barely any food in the house, and she spent $300 on dry cleaning.”
“Tanner, Antonia isn’t like anyone you could even imagine. Her whole image is like some televangelist’s wife. Perfect clothes, perfect makeup, and polished compassion on the outside, but I can promise you there nothing good on the inside. If your FBI guy is right, and I know he is, the bi tch sold Tiana to that pedophile like a prize heifer. She has no soul, and the sooner you accept that the easier it will be to lock her up and throw away the key,” Lloyd’s resentment was like gin and bitters, it had a lingering sour taste.
Tank agreed with him but he also knew they had to do their job properly so Antonia wouldn’t escape the consequences of her evil. “Innocent until proven guilty, Lloyd. It’s the law. We can know she is the wicked witch of the west but without evidence, it won’t matter if her skin is green and her flying monkey walks into court behind her. We need hard evidence, especially if this case ends up in front of her uncle.”
Lloyd mumbled something about the judge being under Tonia’s claws. A knock at the door drew them back to the entrance. A CSI on loan from the state criminal investigations department shivered as she walked into the house.
“Sheriff Tanner? I’m CSI Katy Housan, I’m here to process a crime scene for you.”
“I’m Tanner, this is my Deputy Lloyd McConnell. We’ll get the power back on and some heat for you,” Tanner said, eyes the color of the richest espresso smiled up at him. The tiny woman couldn’t be more than five feet and a few inches tall.
“Oh that would be awesome! I hate the cold even though it’s good for the evidence. I understand it is a sexual assault scene?” Katy seemed nonplussed by the description, as she added, “When can I process the victim?”
Tanner sighed, then turned to his deputy, “Lloyd get on the radio to dispatch, have the utilities turned back on. Ma’am, I am afraid it is a little more complicated than that. The assault happened to a minor several months ago and the victim only came forward recently when she was found to be pregnant. We also believe the mother may have tried to cover up the evidence of the crime.”
A frown marred Katy’s pixie like features for a moment, then she observed, “This is the new Valtini victim’s home, isn’t it?”
“Ma’am?” Tank and Lloyd exchanged glances.
“It’s okay, my boss gave me the heads up. I have processed scenes he created before, but it got thrown out when the victim committed suicide and left a letter claiming she falsely accused him. He was cleared by a dying declaration I know was made under duress. But if that girl is pregnant then that’s good news, where’s her room?”
“How can a 16 year old being raped for three days be good news?” Lloyd demanded, offended by Katy’s attitude.
“Because, Deputy McConnell, Valtini is a creature of habit. He likes them young, innocent, and surrounded by their childhood. Without seeing the scene I can tell you with certainty. He raped her in her room, on her bed, in every way possible and that is good news because it makes a mess. This house it pretty clean, but I guarantee that unless they plastic sheeted the mattress or soaked it in bleach, it has evidence. Time may have degraded evidence but it will still be there. I hope she was a fighter, because if she made him bleed, I will find it,” Katy’s dark eyes held a fierce intensity that Tank was immediately and almost uncomfortably drawn to them. He knew she would fight for Tiana’s justice.
“Can we get you anything?” Tank asked.
“Yes Sheriff, I need a tall dark coffee extra sweet, and silence for a few hours.”
“Is that all?”
“Power would be nice. Oh and maybe some steak and eggs, breakfast was hours ago, time for brunch. Don’t forget the Cholula.” Then she shoved them both out the front door.
“Well, she’s a little fireball,” Lloyd declared as they walked toward their patrol vehicles.
“More like volcano, but if she wants Valtini as badly as we do, I’ll take a volcano any day. Get the utilities back on. I’ll get our guest’s coffee and brunch.”
“Don’t forget the Cholula, she’s gonna need hot sauce till the house warms up,” Lloyd laughed.
“I won’t.” And she doesn’t need anything to make her hot, Tank’s thought surprised him. He looked back at the house, for the first time in years he felt excited about seeing someone again.
Katy Housan looked around the teenage girl’s room, instead of posters of teen heartthrobs, she had pictures of Olympic swimmers and divers. A neat shelf of trophies and framed medal, preserved with care. The supplies to make more mementos were in the bottom drawer of a pristine desk. Whoever this girl was she was a neat freak, Katy wondered if she was like this before she was raped. Victims sometimes became obsessed with organizing their world to give them back a feeling of control. Her friend Tessa had become obsessed with cleaning and being clean, that was before her suicide. This room reminded her of Valtini’s victim last year, for her 16th birthday her older sister had snuck her into a club with a fake ID. Valtini taken the girl back to her home and left her half-dead. Dakota had also committed suicide after leaving a note clearing the serial rapist. No one would listen to Katy’s insistence that the dying declaration had been coerced. He wouldn’t get away with it this time, she vowed to herself.
“Let’s begin.” Katy said aloud in the empty house.
Stripping the bed, she pulled the curtains. The upside of the mattress was the cleanest she had ever seen under an evidence light, but when she turned it over she was rewarded. The surface had been bleached but she was sure she would find dried blood and fluids in the deeper layers. She cut carefully into the padding, peeling away layer after later until she found were the bleach had not reached the stains. A quick-swab blood typing test proved the stains belonged to two different people and Katy smirked. The attacker had made a mistake and left his blood behind. She took all the measurements and photographs and samples in duplicate. Two sets of collected evidence meant surety of the chain of prosecution.
The smears showed the attack had been vicious and sustained, from one end of the mattress to the other, but victim had fought and hurt him back. One directional smear caught her attention. And she knew she needed to check the carpet, before cutting pieces away to access what was underneath. She noticed first thing that the bed had been moved from the wall to the center of the room. She would read the report later, right now the evidence was speaking to her in screaming brutality.
“CSI Housan?” A voice called out to her, Katy straightened and glanced at her watch, she had been working on the mattress almost an hour. Beyond in the house, she could hear the heater humming.
Sheriff Tanner knocked before he opened the door, “Did you find something?”
“Can you help me move the bed and lift the carpet?” Katy asked.
Quickly the large man, lifted the bed, metal frame and all. The carpet had been cleaned but the padding underneath was stained. The evidence light show the glowing discolorations of blood, vaginal fluid, and even ejaculate. Katy looked up to see the Sheriff shaking. Rage was a common reaction when a rural law enforcement officer came across a case like this. Often urban CSIs became immune to the horror, but she was glad she could still feel it and be offended for her victim.
“Are you okay, Sheriff Tanner?”
“Is there any way, her mother downstairs could have not heard this?”
His question shocked her, but she answered for the evidence, “The victim was raped on the bed and the floor. From the amount of trace it happened repeatedly. I have two types of blood and from the patterns, your girl fought and fought hard before she was subdued each time. In my honest opinion, if someone else was in this house, they had to have heard her, unless they were drugged or otherwise restrained. Are you friends with the victim’s family?”
“She told us she fought him every night until she was almost knocked out. Then when he was done the first night, he threatened to kill her mother. She said he laughed when she made his nose bleed, and gave her a black eye, but her mother didn’t seem to notice she had bruises under her makeup the next morning.” Tank’s voice shook with barely contained rage. “We... I and my deputy think... Tonia sold Tiana to him, but I need you to solidify the evidence against the mother.”
“If it is this girl in the diving pictures, there is no way she could hide those bruises completely, she’s too fair a complexion. Why didn’t her friends or teachers notice?” Katy was concerned for a community that would look the other way if this level of abuse was happening.
“It was Thanksgiving break, a whole week off school. By the time she saw anyone back at school, the evidence was fading and she was too traumatized to tell.” He looked around the room at the diving trophies. “My best friend has her at Nationals right now, trying to give a little bit of normalcy to her life, but we don’t know where her mother is and are afraid she tried to blackmail Valtini.”
Katy looked around the room, “Most parents would kill for a daughter like her. That deputy who was here earlier, is he related to her?”
“A cousin.” Tank answered.
Katy sighed, it was always hardest on family. “I’ll do my best to help her, Sheriff Tanner.”
“Please, call me Tank.”
“Tank? As in infantry?” She almost laughed.
“No, Tank as in offensive lineman, I used to run over everything in my path.” He shrugged, suddenly embarrassed by her amusement over his nickname, “or you can call me, Thomas.”
“Not many people call you that, “Katy observed.
“Only my best friend and a few of the local grandmothers.”
“The coach? He is pretty brave to take a traumatized girl to a competition like that.”
“She... Camille was a victim herself in college, she is the best person I know to get Tiana through this,” Tank had so much respect in his voice, Katy tipped her head at him.
“Football player turned sheriff with a female best friend, you’re an interesting combination, Tank. Very interesting.” She was quiet for a moment, then looked up at him with a grin, “Now, where’s my brunch?”