Chapter 12. Doppelganger
“Are you going to do it or what?” Austin asked.
The others gathered around and waited for my answer.
“Come on, guys. It’s Andersen we’re talking about. Of course, I’m going to pay it, but what if it’s not real? What if it’s not him?” I asked. “And what about Jenny? This doesn’t make any damn sense.”
“Call the number, Ace,” Aria said.
“Benny, can you trace the call?” I asked.
“I can try. No guarantees, but it could take me a while. I’ll need to run home and grab some equipment,” Benny said.
“Go get it. We have to try,” I said.
“What to avoid paying?” Luis snapped. “Andersen is family, Ace.”
The desk shook when I slammed my hands down on it. I rose to my feet and glowered at Luis. “I’m tired of your know-it-all attitude, Luis. You need to calm the fuck down. Don’t fucking talk to me like I’m incompetent. I’m well aware of Andersen’s importance. I only want to trace it so we can find them later. They won’t get away with what they did to Andersen,” I shouted.
Aria’s hands snaked around my forearm. “Calm down, Ace. Everyone is just worried,” Aria said soothingly. She rubbed my arm with her thumbs and stared up at me from under her eyelashes.
A peaceful feeling took me over instantly. I took a deep breath and looked back at Luis. “Sorry.”
“Me too,” Luis said and glanced away.
Benny and Joey left to retrieve the items that Benny needed to attempt to trace the call.
The rest of us sat around and stared aimlessly in different directions. None of us knew what to say or think.
“For the sake of Joey, I hope we get Jennifer back,” Aria said sadly. Aria had no memory of Jenny, but Aria was a sympathetic person.
“Me too, bebita,” I said. “Maybe, Andersen will know something, right? We have to keep our fingers crossed.”
Benny and Joey came into the study with Benny’s gear. Benny hooked my cell phone to his computer.
“You better not have any porn on this phone that is going to infect my computer, or you’re buying me a new one,” Benny teased.
I patted Benny on the back and smirked. “I don’t need porn, buddy.”
Aria giggled and blushed. Aria and I hadn’t had sex yet, but things had gotten heated between us more than once.
Benny chuckled and rolled his eyes. “T-M-I.”
“You started it,” I scoffed.
The others laughed and shook their heads.
“Alright. Put these bad boys on.” Benny handed me a set of headphones. “Try to keep them talking for at least sixty seconds,” Benny said. Benny put another set of headphones on to listen in on the call.
Everyone grabbed a chair to sit on and gathered around the desk.
The phone rang three times, and an unfamiliar deep voice picked up. “Ace Garcia, I presume?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. I wanted to shout at him, but Andersen and possibly Jenny’s life depended on this phone call. My eyes flickered to Benny.
Benny waved his hand as if to tell me to continue.
I cleared my throat. “Well, that isn’t fair. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
The man chuckled. “And you don’t need to.”
“Do you have Jenny too?” I asked. “I’ll pay you double if you give her back to me.”
“Well, the thing about Jenny is she is not quite in as good of shape as Andersen. As a matter of fact, I doubt she will make it through the night. She could have gone home safe and sound like Andersen, but the feisty little bitch tried to escape. Women have no patience, do they Ace? How is Aria, by the way?”
My nostrils flared, and the air escaped my lungs.
Benny’s eyes widened, and he shook his head at me. “Don’t you do it,” Benny mouthed and pointed a finger at me.
Everyone stared at me with a worried expression.
“You son of a—” I started.
Benny threw his hand over my mouth, and the last word came out too much of a muffle to be understood. Benny dropped his hand and narrowed his eyes. “Behave,” Benny mouthed.
The man laughed. “That little bitch just won’t die, will she? Surely, I’m not the only one disappointed either.”
“Please give Jenny back to me too. She might survive if you give her a chance,” I pleaded. My vision blurred as tears pooled in my eyes.
Joey buried his face in his hands.
“We’re not talking about Jenny. Let it go, Ace. Jenny is no longer in my care. I only have Andersen.”
“Where is she then?” I asked.
“Ta-ta. Focus, Ace, or you might not get Andersen back alive either.”
“O-okay,” I stammered. “Where do you want to meet?”
“You’re going to drop the money off at the postal drop box at the corner of 3rd Street and Plymouth Boulevard,” he said. “One of your other men can collect Andersen at the same time as you drop off the money. Only two men, Ace. You and one other of your choice. The other guy can pick up Andersen just a few blocks away on the corner of 3rd street and Loraine Boulevard.”
I sighed. “How about the other way around? I have a guy drop the money off and, I pick up Andersen?”
The man chuckled. “I’m not a fool, Ace. You’re the fastest, strongest, and smartest one. You will drop the money. One of your guys will pick up Andersen.”
“How do I know it’s not a trick? How do I even know Andersen is alive?”
The man chuckled. “Check your texts, Ace.”
The phone vibrated against my cheek. I opened the text from the unknown number. The text was an image of Andersen. His face was dirty and tired, but he was alert and didn’t look harmed, or at least not too bad.
“Let me talk to him,” I said. “For all I know, you took that picture weeks ago. It’s not like there is a date on it.”
The man guffawed. “See what I mean about being the smartest? None of them would have thought to ask all the questions you ask. It’s really too bad you’re on the other side of the law, Ace. You would have made a good cop. Oh, by the way, this phone isn’t traceable. Tell Benny not to waste his time.”
My head snapped up, and I stared at Benny.
Benny’s eyes widened, and he shrugged.
I looked up at Austin. “Look around,” I mouthed. “He might be watching.”
Austin and Luis dashed out of the study.
“What the hell makes you think I’m trying to trace anything?” I argued.
“You’re smart, Ace, but that doesn’t mean that I’m stupid,” he said. There was a scuffle on the other end of the line.
“Ace?” Andersen groaned.
“Andersen?” I breathed. “Andersen, are you okay?”
“You don’t have to do it, Ace,” Andersen murmured.
“That’s a load of shit, man. We’re going to do everything we can to get you back,” I said.
Andersen hummed. “Love you, boy.”
“Awe, isn’t that sweet? It makes me sick,” the deep voice muttered.
“What time?” I asked.
“Nightfall,” the man said, and the line went dead.
I looked at Benny as I pulled the headset off. “Anything?”
Benny’s fingers tapped the keys of his keyboard quickly.
Aria came up and rested a hand on my shoulder. I took her hand in mine and pressed my lips against the inside of her wrist.
“What about Jenny?” Joey asked.
“He said he doesn’t have her anymore. He said he doesn’t expect that she will live through the night. He wouldn’t tell me anything about her, Joey. I’m sorry, I tried. I offered to pay,” I said sadly.
“We have to look for her as soon as we get Andersen,” Joey said.
“We will still look for her,” I promised.
“He was right,” Benny spat. Benny slammed his computer shut and made everyone jump slightly. “It’s not fucking traceable. He must have blocked it somehow. Fucking asshole.”
“It’s okay, man. You tried. That is all that matters,” I said.
“Lately, I can’t get anything right. So, who are you taking?” Benny asked.
“Probably Luis or Austin,” I said and shrugged.
Luis and Austin came back into the study.
“What’s the plan?” Abel asked.
“Alright. Here’s the plan. I have to drop the money off in a postal drop box on the corner of 3rd and Plymouth. Someone has to pick Andersen up at the same time on 3rd and Loraine. Luis or Austin? It’s only allowed to be one other guy.”
“Austin,” Luis said.
“Are you sure, man?” I asked Luis.
“Austin is a stronger fighter and as good of a shot as I am,” Luis said. “And he is a better driver. It makes the most sense.”
Austin shrugged. “I’ll do it.”
“Okay,” I said. I knew Austin was the better choice, but I couldn’t deny Luis of wanting to get Andersen. Luis was closer to Andersen than Austin was. “We will leave right before the sun goes down.”
Gravel flew as I drifted into the drive. Austin’s Porsche was already in the driveway. I dashed up the front steps and into the mansion.
Everyone gathered in the foyer.
Andersen stood in the center of everyone being embraced.
“I’m so happy you’re here, Andersen,” Tina choked out. Tears rolled down her flushed cheeks.
Everyone turned around at the sound of my entrance. Andersen’s eyes locked with mine. Andersen gave me a warm smile.
It took me a moment before I could put one foot in front of the other.
Andersen opened his arms for me.
I hugged Andersen tightly. “It’s so damn good to see you, man.” Tears pooled in my eyes. “Damn good.”
“You too, boy,” Andersen said.
I pulled away from him. “We have much to talk about. Come to the study.”
“Yes,” Andersen agreed.
Aria stood behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder. I sat at the desk. The boys, Andersen, Tina, and Tammy, gathered around the desk.
Andersen tilted his head in confusion.
“Some things have changed since you have been gone, Andersen,” I said.
“Clearly,” Andersen said. His gaze flickered from me to Aria and back again.
“Aria has lost her memory. A few memories have returned, but not all of them. She doesn’t remember much of anything from the last two years,” I explained. I hoped that Andersen understood what I was getting at.
Andersen gave me a knowing look. “I see.” Andersen gazed up at Aria. “I’m sorry to hear that, sweetheart. Just know I grew quite fond of you. I was very close to your father.”
“Like brothers,” I corrected.
Andersen smiled. “Yes.”
“Andersen, did you see Jennifer?” I asked.
Joey leaned toward Andersen with a worried and hesitant expression. I wasn’t quite sure any of us were prepared to hear Andersen’s answer.
Andersen sighed sadly. “I did, but she tried to escape. The men that took us were angry with her after they caught her. They beat her in front of me, but I was tied to a chair. There was nothing I could do. I tried. I begged them. . .” Andersen trailed off. Andersen’s eyes flickered to Joey. “I’m so sorry, Joey. They hurt her so badly. I can’t say for sure if she survived. They removed her from the building in which they kept us in.”
“Do you know anything?” Joey pressed. “Do you remember where they kept you? Did you see what they looked like?”
We all leaned in closer to Andersen. We all wanted the answer to the same questions.
Andersen shook his head. “I’m not sure where it was. When they moved us around from time to time, we were blindfolded. They kept us to try to see if they could get information out of us. When they found out that you guys figured out that we weren’t dead, they came up with a new plan to hold us for ransom. After Jennifer tried to escape, they decided to only hold me for ransom. They talked about dumping Jennifer off somewhere, but I’m not sure where.”
“Do you recall anything peculiar about them?” I asked. “Anything at all, Andersen?”
“Yes, one of them had an Aryan brotherhood tattoo. The others might have as well. I’m not entirely sure because they typically kept themselves well covered. They didn’t want us to see them. They even kept us blindfolded usually, unless they were pushing us for information,” Andersen explained. “Jenny and I did what we could to give them false information to keep ourselves alive. They asked for an awful lot of money, Ace. You shouldn’t—”
“Andersen,” I said sternly. “No amount of money is more important than your life.”
“Oh, there is one other thing,” Andersen said. “I can’t be a hundred percent sure. I had a concussion, and they often starved me. I could have been seeing things. I was slipping in and out of consciousness.”
“Tell me,” I said.
“Please. . .” Andersen trailed off and took in all of our faces. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
“O-okay. What is it?” I asked.
“I thought I saw—” Andersen stopped. “It couldn’t have been, but one night, I thought I saw them bring in Carlos. I didn’t hear him speak or anything.”
Tammy took in a ragged breath. “God, I need a drink.” Tammy crossed the room to the shelf of whiskey. Tammy brought a tray of glasses over and a bottle of scotch. Tammy poured everyone a drink.
“B-but Carlos died like a year ago,” Aria argued.
“I know that,” Andersen said.
“Andersen, that isn’t possible unless Carlos has a doppelganger,” I said. No part of me believed that it was possible, and considering I was staring at a dead man, that said a lot.
“Or an identical twin,” Andersen suggested.
“Well, right, Andersen, but Carlos didn’t have a twin,” Luis said and scoffed.
“On the contrary, he did,” Andersen argued. Andersen sipped his glass of whiskey, and his gaze didn’t falter from mine.
I choked on my drink.
Aria patted my back. “Wait. What?” Aria breathed. “How do you know this, but nobody else does?”
“I didn’t even know,” Tammy said, confused. Tammy looked at Tina.
Tina shrugged. “Me neither.”
“Well, it isn’t something we talked about,” Andersen said and shrugged. “His name was Charles. Charles was born ten minutes before Carlos. According to Carlos’s father Jesús and his mother Silvia, Charles wasn’t breathing. They took Charles right away and came back an hour later to say he died. Jesús and Silvia were so heartbroken they didn’t want to see him. The doctors asked if they could have Charles’s body to study or whatever, and they agreed.”
“Wow,” Luis breathed.
“Jesús and Silvia didn’t want what happened to them happen to anyone else. They thought if it would help the doctors figure out what went wrong. . .” Andersen trailed off and shrugged.
“Are you implying that Charles never died?” I arched a brow.
“Well, I’m supposed to be dead, right? Jesús and Silvia never saw a body. So, let me ask you. Do you think it’s impossible?” Andersen asked.
I leaned back in my chair and held my breath for a long moment. Finally, I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, so I let it go. “So, you may have seen either Charles or Carlos?”
“As I said, I can’t be certain,” Andersen said.
“At this point, I don’t doubt it as a possibility,” Luis said. “If there is even the slightest chance Carlos is out there, we need to find out.”
“I want to find Carlos too, but what about Jenny? We can’t just ignore the fact that she could be alive,” Joey said.
“I have an idea,” Benny said.
“That’s a scary thought,” Austin said and chuckled.
Benny flipped Austin off. “Anyway, what about checking all the hospitals in the area for Jenny or for a Jane Doe? If she is as injured as Andersen and that man said, it’s possible she couldn’t tell a doctor who she is.”
“Why the fuck didn’t I think of that?” I muttered. “Okay, Benny. Good idea. You and Joey start looking. We need to do some digging on Charles.”
“Ace, what are you doing?” Aria asked. She walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom with a long satin robe on. The robe was navy blue and open. Beneath the robe was a satin spaghetti-strap nightgown that matched and only came to her upper thighs.
I licked my lips and forgot completely what I had been doing. Suddenly, I wasn’t coherent enough to answer her question.
Aria climbed across the bed toward me.
“Um. . .” I trailed off. “What?”
Aria gazed down at the images.
I shook my head and looked down at the documents that were scattered across my bed. After I regained brain activity, I spoke. “I don’t know, bebita. I just feel like there is something important that I’m missing. The Aryan brotherhood just seems to know much more about us than they should.”
“Who are they, Ace? I don’t even understand. How did we get mixed up with a gang?” Aria asked.
I sighed and put the documents back into the folder.
“Oh, come on, Ace. You have to tell me. What reason have I given you not to trust me? I have been loyal to you. I haven’t pushed the subject. All the things we talked about. You’re back in the bedroom with me—”
“Bebita, it isn’t that I don’t trust you,” I said. I brushed my hand against her cheek. “I just want to be sure that you’re ready to hear the truth.”
“I’m ready,” Aria said stubbornly.
She’s right. I can’t prolong it anymore. It’s time that she finds out who she really is. Who we really are. I opened my mouth to speak, but a ringing cut me off.
Aria sighed and gestured to my phone. “Answer it.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I grabbed my phone from the stand. The caller ID read Benny. I swiped my thumb across the phone to answer it. “Hey, Benny. Anything?”
“Bro, you’re never going to fucking believe this shit,” Benny said breathlessly.
“What?” I demanded.
“Jenny is alive. She was brought in by an older couple that found her lying in a ditch somewhere off of interstate five. She was brought in as a Jane Doe. She’s unconscious right now, but they said she is stable and should wake up soon. They said she almost didn’t make it,” Benny said.
“Holy shit,” I breathed. “Are you sure it’s her? Did you call Joey? Which hospital?”
“Joey is with her, and he called Joanna. It’s definitely Jenny. We’re at the USC medical center. The old couple brought her to the first hospital they saw.”
“Okay, we’re on our way,” I said. I hung the phone up and looked at Aria. “They found Jenny.”
“Oh. Oh my god. That’s great!”
“Get dressed, bebita,” I said.