Blue Butterflies, Book 3.5 of Pagosa Cliffs

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Chapter 45

Tank helped Katy examine a crime scene, her boss had asked her to just do a once over to catch anything he missed at the Colorado home of the Valtinis. Tank marveled at the way her mind cataloged everything she saw as he carried her from room to room. The massive villa-style house close to Monarch Pass was only a few hours from the Maximum Security Federal Prison in Canyon City. A place they both would have liked to put the Valtinis, but Donatello had shot Giovanni five times before he went over the Ridgeline Falls and drowned. It had taken days to find his body wedged between two boulders. It seemed a small bear or cougar had taken the liberty to eat from the half frozen corpse. Tank hoped the creature didn’t die of food poisoning.

Katy pointed at the last door in this wing and Tank carried her into the bedroom. The view was like something from a movie but below the majestic mountain vista and beyond the gaudy Italian gardens, the forest was dying from pine beetles. Wealth disguising decay and devastation wrought by opportunistic parasites, a metaphor for the Valtinis if there ever was one, Tank thought ruefully.

“Look at the overhead mirror. A pair of designer shoes from a specialty boutique in Vegas was found on the bed. They cost as much as we make in a pay cycle. The lab matched Antonia Ballard’s DNA to them. She left this note on the mirror, the DNA in the lipstick matches her and another woman. The Jane Doe we found downstairs was next door to some kind of sex torture room.”

Tank scowled at the vulgar message. Tonia was sadly exactly the person he had suspected her to be since learning of Tiana’s rape.

Katy stated emotionlessly, “That empty closet a few doors down was filled with all sorts of stuff the crime lab is still processing. There were clothing from at least a dozen different women and Antonia’s fingerprints all over everything in there. They matched DNA to two missing women already. We are surmising that Tonia was part of the sex trafficking ring that Donnie ran for Giovanni while he was in prison. She knew what these men did to women, what Donnie Valtini would do to her daughter.” Katy shifted slightly in his arms and he adjusted her to be more comfortable.

“Do you want your wheelchair?” Tank asked concerned.

“No, I can’t roll it through the house without risking contaminating the crime scene. Besides, you’re much more comfortable,” She grinned up at him and he chuckled.

“At your service, ma’am.”

Suddenly she blushed and looked away, clearing her throat. “If you’ll take me to the other end of the house, I’ll show you the office where they found the receipt Antonia wrote to Valtini for goods and services as she called it.”

Tank obeyed carefully carrying her to the room she wanted. He had figured out that she was used to being brash, but unused to be treated like a lady. Something he was going to remedy. He stopped in the door, only moving forward when Katy pointed to the desk.

“The receipt found there, and the note on the mirror confirm that she was involved in a relationship with both of the Valtinis. She basically confessed selling her daughter to that monster. Our CBI computer tech thinks she took millions from an online account while the Valtinis were in Pagosa Cliffs. The transfers happened the day they died. There is also a missing Audi registered to one of Donnie Valtini’s shell companies, it was found at a chop shop in Las Vegas. The police report says the car thieves claim a woman matching Antonia’s description sold them the car at half its street value. The FBI thinks she got a new identity with the money.” Katy was quiet for a moment observing the open drawers of the desk. “Have you noticed anything missing? I mean besides the obvious computer we have at the crime lab.”

Tank shook his head. “No, but I didn’t know the Valtinis like you did.”

Katy nodded quietly, sighing slightly before straightening herself. “There is no jewelry, no expensive alcohol, no cigars, nothing of the portable wealth Donnie usually has in his homes. Donatello Valtini loved his bling. That’s why Grish wanted me to walk the scene to see what was missing. Antonia Ballard cleaned Donnie out before she left.”

“Why would she do that?” Tank asked but he knew why, Tonia was the greediest person he had ever met.

“One; probably to finance her new life. Her uncle, the judge, admitted he warned her that you were seeking to arrest her. And Two; for the same reason a lot of women try to bankrupt their exs. I guess she was mad about being jilted by Donnie for her daughter and Giovanni for your friend.” Katy chewed her lip as she looked around the room, then shook her head slightly. “Let’s go. Being here makes me want a shower.”

Tank carried her back outside, placing her gently in the front of his Durango before removing his shoe covers. He waited patiently while she rapidly typed her findings into a e-form and sent it off. As they drove back toward Pagosa Cliffs, the silence stretched into the miles and finally he asked.

“Do you want to tell me about Giovanni and Camille? What you didn’t say back at the house?”

She looked at him carefully, then laughed, “Have you ever thought of becoming a profiler, Sheriff Tank?”

He shrugged, “I was an All-Pro Offensive Lineman. Reading people was all part of the job.”

Katy nodded looking at the window at the trees and mountains for a moment. “There is evidence to suggest Giovanni Valtini has been obsessed with Camille Wallace for a very long time. I believe he would have kidnapped her eventually, possibly killed her. He’s dead now and no longer a threat. Do you want to know or let it go?”

Tank’s knuckles whiten as he gripped the steering wheel. “Whatever he said to her that day scared her. Tell me everything you know.”

Sheriff Tanner pulled up to the door by the rehab wing of the hospital. He quickly got out and unloaded Katy’s wheelchair from the back and helped her into it before pulling away to park. When he came back, Katy was staring at the top of the parking garage near the helipad.

“Why is your friend Camille sitting on a ledge?”

Tank swiveled and looked up. Camille’s feet were dangling almost 6 stories above the pavement below. Her head was in her hands and it was obvious she was crying. “Fuuuu*,” he breathed out, then to Katy. “Call Kyle’s room and make sure he isn’t dead. I’m going to talk her down.”

Katy was already dialing when she called after him, “She wouldn’t really jump, would she?”

Tank didn’t answer as he sprinted into the stairwell. Katy swallowed, thinking about the things Tank had told her about what Camille went through. She had glanced through the court transcripts found in Giovanni Valtini’s personal affects and seen the pictures that were taken that night. Seen the pictures that were in his wallet. Tank had told her how Camille compartmentalizes everything to deal with later but that she never really deals with things later, and how he was afraid losing Kyle would put her over the edge.

A cheery teenage voice answered the phone in Kyle Hightower’s room, “Mom?”

“No, it’s Katy, Katy Housan. Is this Willow or Gracie?”

“It’s Gracie, is Sheriff Tank with you?”

“Not exactly honey, do you need me to tell him something?” Katy held her breath waiting for the answer.

“Mom kinda freaked out when Dad woke up ’cause she thought he was dying and she left. He’s fine, but we don’t know where she went and she left her phone in Dad’s room.” Gracie sounded remarkably calm for a girl of her age. “We were hoping Tank could find her.”

Katy exhaled the breath she had been holding, “We’ll take care of it. I’ll call you back, Gracie. Bye.”

“Bye, Katy.”

Katy texted Tank. ‘Kyle woke up, he is fine. Girls looking for Camille. Talk her into going back to his room.’

A moment later she got a reply, just a thumbs up. Looking up, she could see Camille turn to look over her shoulder. A moment after that Katy’s heart stopped in her chest as she watched the man she was falling in love with swing his leg over the side and straddle the ledge next to his friend. Katy hated heights, even hated when anyone she loved was in a high place. With a broken hip and sprained arm, there was no way she could even get across the parking lot to the stairs let alone go up them to help Tank. She prayed Tank was as good as she thought he was.

Camille Wallace was a desperately broken soul who need therapy by the truckload, and Katy prayed she didn’t do something rash and jump. All Katy could do was watch from below, and remind herself to breathe.

Camille felt out of control. Overwhelmed. Breathless. She needed to fall. Kyle was dying, he was dying and it was her fault. She had seen the same reaction from the medical staff every single time Mina had coded.

Coded. What a stupid word for ‘to stop living without help’. She wondered if they had gotten him back or let him go. Her mind played the memory of Mina’s last moments. Her sister had seemed so at peace, just a sigh and she seemed to sink below the surface of life, then she was gone. But Kyle had seemed like he was in pain, like it hurt him to be dying. Camille buried her face in her hands and sobbed with great heaving gulps. She was a coward, she had run away, abandoned him and her daughters. She was cursing her weakness when a familiar voice called her back from the maelstrom inside.

“Hey beautiful? You wanna tell me why you’re sitting on the edge like that?” Tank was breathing hard like he had been running.

“Because if there was water below, I would jump,” Camille admitted shame-filled, then she sobbed. “Thomas, Kyle... Kyle didn’t make it. He left me just like Mina.”

He sat next to her, one leg over and one leg planted firmly inside. Carefully he pulled her against his chest and shushed her until she had calmed enough to listen. He spoke in the most reassuring voice he could manage.

“Camille, Kyle didn’t die, he’s fine.”

“But he started thrashing around and all the monitors when off like they did when Mina coded. They made us leave... and... and I left them... I left the girls alone because I couldn’t stay and watch him die,” she started to cry again.

“Shhh, Kyle is fine. He’s awake and asking for you. The girls are looking for you, they’re worried,” he chided, “And you’re kinda freaking my future wife out, so can we please go back down?”

“What?” Camille looked at him confused, then followed his pointing finger.

Someone was sitting in a wheelchair watching them. Tank raised his hand and waved, and they waved back. Camille realized it was Katy.

“I’d like to ask her out on a real date first of course, but she hates heights and me sitting on this ledge probably is making her have doubts about my sanity,” Tank teased.

Camille sniffed and laughed at the same time, it was a pathetic but endearing sound. “I guess having a crazy, high-diver bestie doesn’t help either.”

“Nope, but we’ll make it work. Come on, I know there’s a man inside who’s desperate to see you.”

They both swung their legs over and started walking toward the stairs but then Camille stopped.

“Tank, I may have told Kyle I’ll marry him because I was afraid he was dying,” Camille announced softly.

Tank sighed and hugged her, “Camille, you know I love you, and I tease you a lot about getting married but you aren’t ready. You need to take some time for yourself. You have been living for others and not dealing with your own traumas for too long. The things Giovanni said to you last week, that’s where you need to start, it has you all torn up again. He had your court transcripts and the pictures from the evidence file, even things from your house.”

Camille tried to pull away but he held her firmly. “What?”

“He was stalking you and he knew more about the worst moment of your life than I do. You never told me how bad it really was, did you? I get the feeling you’ve never told anyone how bad it was. I want you to talk to someone, I know a profession who specializes in victim recovery.”

“I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor,” Camille snapped defensively.

“Darlin’, you’re both. You’ve done an amazing job on your own, but now you have another set of traumas to add to the pile and you need to realize you don’t have to bear this load alone. Please Camille, do it for the girls, do it for the man you love who almost died before you got a second chance. But most of all, do it for yourself. You deserve to be happy too.” Tank gently stroked her back as she trembled.

“I can’t, I don’t know how to be happy anymore,” Camille confessed.

“It’s okay, I’ll be there with you, just like you were there for me,” Tank promised.

Camille stared at the poster on the wall of the therapist’s office. It was her, a time lapse of her fourth dive of the medals round at her second Olympics. It said, “Just because you don’t make a splash, doesn’t mean you don’t make a difference.” It was part of the ‘Encourage Small Acts of Random Kindness’ campaign Mina had gotten her and a half dozen other Olympians to participate in. Her heart was beating so hard she was sure, Tank could hear it. He gently placed a hand at her back. It was the only thing that kept her from fleeing the building, he knew her so well.

“You okay, beautiful?”

“This was two months after... the court... Um... After I was raped. Mina had me doing all kinds of positive life PR work. She was constantly reminding me that there was good in the world.” Camille struggled to get a breath in, then quoted, “‘If you don’t see the good, then be the good.’ She said that every day, made it our habit. She never let me collapse.”

“Your sister sounds like an amazing person, Ms. Wallace.”

Tank and Camille turned as one to see an older woman with soft brown eyes and a genuine smile. “I’m Margaux. I read the letter you wrote and some of the other information Sheriff Tanner and Mrs. Pence sent me. I must say I admire your strength for enduring for so long, and your courage for bravely facing all that you have. If you would come into my office, we’ll make you comfortable and get started.”

Sitting in a plush overstuffed chair, Camille fidgeted with her sleeve. Margaux handed her a cup of chamomile tea and honey.

“I don’t know where you want me to start,” Camille confessed.

“I want to start wherever you feel comfortable starting and we’ll take it from there,” Margaux encouraged but Camille sat mute, so many things swirling around inside. After a few moments, Margaux pressed gently, “Okay, why don’t you start with telling me about your diving? I have always been a big fan. Tell me what you love so much about it.”

Camille sighed, thinking about the poster in the waiting room. She closed her eyes, pike position, one and a half twists, two full somersaults, folding out, hands extended, feet curved. The blue silencing the screaming crowd to a dull roar as it embraced her like an old friend. It was her best dive of the Olympics, the one that got her the medal when she had almost been out of contention.

“I think it’s controlling the fall. Once my feet leave the platform, nothing else exist until the silence of the water.”

Margaux looked interested, “So tell me about the fall.”

Tank drove Camille the ninety minutes back to the ranch. She slept the whole way. While Camille was washing her face, Margaux had said it was an exhausting first session and the ones to follow would be just as difficult, and reminded him not to ask what they talked about or let her drive herself home. Gramma Doreen would be driving Camille to the next one in three days. He would bring Camille on Tuesdays and Doreen would bring Camille on Fridays. He nudged her as he parked.

She inhaled swiftly as she woke, looking around surprised. “We’re home?”

He smiled, “Yeah, I kinda like driving you when you’re like this. You’re so quiet.”

“I can always drive myself.”

He chuckled at her grumpiness. “No you can’t. Doctor’s orders.”

Camille leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, “Thank you for this.”

He shrugged and reached out to hold her hand. “You did this for me, I’m sorry I didn’t realize what you needed sooner.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“So you taking Katy to the All-You-Can-Eat rib-eye this week?” Camille asked, and he grinned sheepishly.

“Yeah, she claims she can eat me under the table.”

Camille laughed. “Well, maybe Kyle and I will see you there.”

“He gets out today?” Tank tried to confirm Kyle’s hopes to escape the hospital.

Camille shook her head, “No, Thursday. He’s staying here to get to know the girls, Mack is going to drive him back and forth to work. He won’t be able to drive for a month.”

“How does Beau feel about that?” Tank was concerned, the oldest of the Wallace cousins hated the Hightowers with the passion she used to but if Camille was ice cold, Beau was a volcano hot. Tank had already heard over dinner that Beau believed it was all a con to get the girls from Camille. After showing Beau the evidence, he had grudgingly backed down, slightly, from his protective nature and threats to toss Hightower off the Falls a second time.

Camille looked out the window. “He and Katherine are at his house, he refuses to talk about it with me.”

Camille slid out of the SUV Tank had leased specifically to drive Katy around in. “See you Thursday, Sheriff Tank.”

“See you Thursday, Coach Wally.”

Camille smiled and waved as he drove off. It felt good to be back in their comfort zone again. She was on leave this week and would be taking Tuesday and Friday afternoons off for the rest of the school year. For her therapy session. She wasn’t sure exactly what Tank had told the superintendent but he was more than willing to make the accommodation rather than lose her as a coach.

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