Peters picked Leon up in Leon’s BMW and brought him back to the hotel, making sure they weren’t followed. Once inside he turned to Peters, who was carrying in several laptops and a box of Leon’s files. “Were the handcuffs really necessary?” Leon quipped and then directed his attention to Rocco. “I turned myself in.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Peters remarked, carrying in the last box, closing and locking the door.
As soon as Leon laid eyes on Kira he narrowed his brow. “Why the hell did you Taser me?!” He hollered, moving quickly toward her.
Even though Leon’s hands were cuffed behind his back, Rocco stepped between him and Kira, pushing Leon backwards. “I suggest you calm down or I’ll Taser you this time.”
Leon backed up and lowered himself onto the couch. “Can you at least remove the cuffs now?” He groaned and Peters obliged. Leaning forward on his knees and running his hands through his hair, Leon said, “I’m sorry. I’m in deep here and I don’t know what to do.” He looked up at Rocco and Kira and for the first time Kira thought she saw fear in his face. “They’re gonna kill Audrey. They’re gonna kill her and I don’t know how to stop it.”
Rocco dragged a chair from the kitchen into the living room and sat down across from the coffee table, facing Leon. “You have files of evidence against each partner in your firm. Why?”
“Job security,” Leon uttered. “Life security.” He shook his head. “You don’t know these men. They’ll do anything, so I thought I should keep a record of things in case I ever need to prove my innocence or their guilt, or to save my skin…”
“Or to blackmail them,” Rocco added and Leon glared at him.
“You don’t know anything,” he mumbled.
“Then enlighten me.” Rocco crossed his left leg over, resting his ankle on his right knee, leaned back and folded his arms over his chest.
Parading in from the kitchen with a cup of coffee, Peters said, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but time is ticking on this Audrey person’s life so unless you wanna be digging her out of a dumpster, I’d say we better figure out what we’re gonna do now.”
“Agreed,” Rocco said.
Leon nodded in agreement and then turned his attention to Kira. “They want you.”
“I thought they wanted to frame Rocco for the killings,” Peters said. “What do they want her for?”
“You can’t expect to understand unless you know the history,” Leon barked.
“Okay. For the sake of time, can you give us a summation, an overview of the history?” Rocco interjected.
“I’ll try,” Leon said, raising himself from the couch and walking across the room, giving the appearance of organizing his thoughts. “Landon Parker was an orphan, adopted by the Nader family when he was a child, so Landon and Ian grew up as siblings, in a sense. Landon and Ian went to a private, boarding school during their teenage years but Landon met Adrienne Barkley one summer and fell for her. The story is that one night Adrienne sneaked into their dorm room to surprise Landon, but Landon wasn’t there. Ian was and he raped her.”
“Hold on a second,” Rocco balked. “I’ve never heard any of this and this is something Adrienne would have told me.”
“Did she tell you why she missed her senior year of high school?” Leon asked.
“Yes. She spent a year doing an internship with her aunt, who is a doctor in Connecticut. She was trying to decide if she wanted to study medicine and she said it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.” As Rocco was speaking Kira could tell that he was beginning to see the holes in Adrienne’s story.
“Love is blind,” Leon uttered. Reaching into the box of files and retrieving one that was labeled: Nader, Benjamin, he handed it to Rocco. “Adrienne told Landon what happened and threatened to go to the police, but the Nader family, who was more concerned about their reputation than the fact that their son was a criminal, turned to their mob connections for help.” Leon pointed to the file. “Adrienne was forced to give birth to Benjamin Nader, born August 17, 1988 and the Coronado family made sure there was no record of the rape.” He paced around the room. “Landon left Adrienne and the Nader family altogether and shortly thereafter, Adrienne left, leaving the baby in the Nader family’s loving care,” he said with sarcasm.
“What about Adrienne’s family? Didn’t they wonder who knocked her up? Didn’t they want to see the baby?” Peters blurted. “You white people are weird about that stuff.”
“Adrienne never told her parents because the Coronado family threatened to kill them if she did. She left, but the one person who knew was her brother, Richard Barkley.”
“Richard, huh, I never knew his first name,” Peters uttered. “Good, ol Dick. It’s fitting.”
“Okay, so we have our connection between Ian Nader, Landon and the Coronado family,” Rocco summed up. “How does that involve Kira or Audrey?”
“Once Landon left the Nader family, he hired an attorney and attempted to seal the adoption records and any evidence that he was affiliated with them. He wanted a clean start, which worked for a long time. He legally changed his name to Parker, put himself through law school and started the practice that became Parker, Sullivan & Bates. The past appeared to be successfully behind him that is until Adrienne showed up. Still obviously in love with her, they married.” Leon paused and dug through the box of files, pulling out two photos of their wedding and handing them to Rocco. “Landon thought they were in the clear, but someone was watching the whole time.”
Kira leaned over Rocco’s shoulder and looked at the pictures. She instantly recognized the face of the man standing in the crowd. It was bartender Ben from the Lair, aka Benjamin Nader.
Leon went on to explain that Landon began to receive letters from an unknown source, threatening to destroy his reputation by telling the world who he really was and that his wife and his brother had borne a son together, one she rejected and left. Landon turned to the only cop he knew that would be motivated to solve the case and keep it quiet, Barkley. Barkley found Ian and threatened his life if he didn’t leave Adrienne alone, but the threats only pissed Ian off. Ian found Adrienne, drugged her with a syringe full of Flunitrazepam and photographed the two of them having sex. “The pictures were sent to Landon,” Leon explained, reaching into the box and retrieving the photographs. “As you can imagine, he lost his mind.”
Kira sighed deeply and sank onto the couch. She never thought it would be possible to feel sympathy for Landon, but it tugged at her now. “Why would Ian do that?”
Leon shrugged. “Jealousy toward Landon for marrying Adrienne. Revenge toward Barkley for his threats. Anger toward Adrienne for leaving him and Ben. Who knows?”
“Maybe the cat’s just plain crazy,” Peters added.
“That’s why Landon started abusing her,” Rocco uttered.
“That still don’t make it right,” Peters interjected. “I mean, there ain’t no cause to hit a woman.”
Leon continued to explain that in the midst of all of that, the Coronado family, knowing from Ian that Landon was now a prestigious defense attorney, came to Parker, Sullivan & Bates seeking a solid defense team for their son, Tony Coronado. Already haunted by the past, Landon didn’t want anything to do with it and gave the Coronado case to Frank. “The case was in the bag,” Leon said. “It was open and shut. The Coronado’s had paid off an alibi and Tony was going to walk, until you came along,” he said to Rocco. “Your testimony swung the jury the other way and Tony, who thought he was going to be a free man, ended up with a life sentence.” Leon sat down next to Kira. “Needless to say the Coronado’s were not pleased.”
“Why didn’t Landon give the Coronado case to you instead of Frank?” Peters posed.
“Because I had just been busted for screwing my secretary,” Leon shook his head and Kira noted that regret couldn’t have been etched deeper into his brow. “My marriage was in the toilet and the partners were threatening to drop me from the board. I was not in a mental place where I could focus on a high-profile case.”
“So, this brings us current, right?” Rocco questioned.
Leon nodded. “It brings the motive current.” He continued to explain that during the Coronado trial, Lucas Coronado sent hookers to the firm several times a week, as a gesture of gratitude for the work that was being done for his son. Landon and Frank shared the women.
Kira rolled her eyes in disgust. And here I was at home feeling sorry for him because he had to work late every night. She met eyes with Rocco and could tell by his expression that he was wondering if she was okay. It was her husband they were talking about and nothing about the conversation was easy. Her heart ping-ponged back and forth between sadness and anger, and the anger made her want to seek revenge. In fact, had she and Rocco been alone she might have been compelled to climb across the coffee table and straddle him right there in his chair, simply out of spite; but she knew revenge wasn’t the answer. It would be enjoyable, but it wasn’t the answer.
Leon continued. “I installed cameras in their offices, thereby rendering evidence of their infidelity so that I could use it as leverage to keep my position as a partner in the firm. You can imagine my surprise when my wife showed up in the pictures.”
“Ooh, man, that’s rough, bro,” Peters shook his head. “That is rough.”
“Audrey and I divorced. Tony Coronado went to prison and was murdered in prison. Shortly thereafter Mrs. Coronado wound up dead and everything spiraled out of control,” Leon explained. “Coronado demanded an eye-for-an-eye.”
“An eye-for-an-eye,” Peters repeated and grimaced.
“His wife was dead and it was our fault,” Leon said. “To even the score he wanted Landon’s wife killed.”
“Hold up,” Peters blurted. “Hold up. That don’t make no sense. I thought Mrs. Coronado killed herself.”
“She did, technically,” Leon responded. “But Lucas Coronado believed that she did it because she was already dying of a broken heart over the fact that her son went to prison and then died.”
Peters shook his head. “Y’all think way too much.”
“So Landon took it upon himself to kill Adrienne,” Rocco interjected.
“With the help of Frank and the overseeing of Ian,” Leon added.
“Do you see how messed up you rich, suburbanites are? You can’t even kill nobody on your own without talkin’ about it and overseein’ it. Man, in the hood we just drive by and shoot the motherfu…” Peters noticed that Kira was watching with raised eyebrows and he stopped before using an obscenity in front of her. “You know what I’m sayin’.”
“Be that as it may,” Leon continued, “with Adrienne dead Coronado considered the account paid in full. He considered us even. He went his way and we went ours.”
“And you buried the evidence that Adrienne was murdered,” Rocco uttered, his jaw clenched and anger piercing through his eyes.
Dropping his chin downward, Leon nodded. “Yes, and for that I am sorry.”
“Okay, so who is the serial killer and how is he related to all of this?” Peters blurted. “Time is ticking.”
“I don’t know,” Leon said and Rocco flew out of his chair, grabbed Leon around the neck lifting him from the couch and thrusting him backwards against the wall. “I swear I don’t know,” Leon stammered.
“You’re lying!” Rocco seethed.
“I … sw…ear,” Leon managed, his face turning a deep shade of purple.
Rocco dropped him and Leon drank in a deep breath.
Leon fought to catch his breath. “Ian contacted Landon and told him that Coronado was opening a gentleman’s club on the Riverfront. He wanted to know if we wanted a cut of the business in the form of referral fees. Ian called it a gesture of friendship. We would refer high paying customers and Coronado would give us a percentage of what those customers spent.”
“Not to mention you’d get all the free pus…” Peters caught Kira’s eye again and abruptly stopped talking. “All the free prostitutes you’d want,” he corrected himself and Kira rolled her eyes. Men. It doesn’t matter their age, size, color, culture, income, religion or political affiliation, when it comes to sex they’re all the same, like kids in a candy shop. All of a sudden the relevance of the name hit her and Kira burst out laughing. All three men stared at her as if she were crazy.
“Something funny?” Rocco asked, the corners of his mouth curling upward just slightly.
“The Candy Shop,” she giggled. “It’s so apropos. So creative and yet so obviously simple.”
“I’m not following,” Rocco said.
“Me neither,” Peters chimed in.
“None of us are,” Leon added.
“When it comes to sex, men are like kids in a candy shop.” They all stared blankly as if they didn’t see the irony of the name. “Kids in a candy shop run around wanting to touch everything and put all of the candy into their mouths, just like men at The Candy Shop.”
Rocco gave her a cockeyed, tilted head glance while Leon shook his head as if he were lost and Peters just stared blankly.
“Moving along,” Leon interjected. “Though the score was evened in Coronado’s book, Ian and Landon felt jilted by Detective Sterling here.” Leon motioned toward Rocco. “Since Sterling was a well-known tracker of serial killers, they decided to make you become one yourself, at least in the public eye.”
“So the motive was to frame me for the murders,” Rocco said in an I-knew-it-all-along tone of voice. “But then why were my fingerprints not found on any of the victims?”
Leon shook his head. “I don’t know.”
He went on to explain how Ian had found Christine, who shared an uncanny resemblance to Adrienne, and used her to lure Rocco to The Candy Shop. “The thing I don’t understand is how these women are being killed. I mean, specifically, the manner in which they are murdered. To my knowledge, this was never discussed with Landon.”
“Okay, let’s come back to that. Why were Audrey and Kira sent to The Candy Shop?” Rocco questioned.
Leon got a faraway look in his eye. “Ian convinced Landon that it wasn’t fair that he had to pay to even the score with Coronado and myself and Frank didn’t.” Leon closed his eyes. “I taped the conversation when they came to us and told us our wives needed to die.” He reached into the file box and pulled out a flash drive and handed it to Rocco. “It’s all on there.”
“Did you and Frank just agree? Did you argue at least?” Kira chided, a lump catching in her throat.
“I pretended to hate Audrey. I told them she was a bitch and we were divorced so I didn’t care whether she lived or died.” Leon’s voice cracked. It was obvious those things weren’t true. “Frank argued but in the end his choice was to either sacrifice you or sacrifice your kids.”
Tears formed instantly in Kira’s eyes, not tears of sadness but of rage and injustice. How dare they make Frank choose between my life or the lives of our children! She leapt to her feet and screamed at the top of her lungs. “I want them dead! I want them all dead! I want them chopped into little pieces! No, that’s too easy, I want them to suffer a long and terrible, awful death with pain that is unbearable and…” Rocco threw his arms around her and Kira melted into a heap of sobs against his chest. She could somehow hold it together while Downing was shot in the head, or while she was held captive by Landon, or drugged by Ian, but this piece of information was more than she could process. This involved her children.
“Should I continue?” Leon asked Rocco, obviously concerned about Kira’s emotional state.
Rocco nodded. “Time doesn’t allow the luxury of stopping,” he said.
“Near as I can tell luring Kira to The Candy Shop became a game of sorts, one that had to involve Audrey because Frank suggested that there was no way Kira would go alone. So Frank contacted Audrey and threatened to tell Kira about what had happened in his office if she didn’t persuade her to go to the interview.” Kira blew her nose with toilet paper from the bathroom and then returned to her seat on the couch. “Audrey was instructed to ask to use the ladies room right after the interview because Ian had timed the interview so that your paths would cross,” he said to Rocco and Kira. “I’m certain that Audrey played along only because she didn’t want you to find out about that night in Frank’s office.”
“Yeah, I saw the picture,” Kira uttered sarcastically.
“I promise you that one kiss was the only time they ever touched. Whatever was in her head when she went there….whatever revenge she was seeking against me, she didn’t go through with it. Not with Frank anyway.”
Confusion swept Kira’s heart. Who was Frank Sullivan? He was an accomplice to murder. A doer of hookers and prostitutes. He had been willing to cheat on her with her best friend, and he was guilty of setting up his wife to be murdered and an innocent man to take the blame. Was all of that excusable by the fact that he was protecting the lives of his children?
“Ian doesn’t play fair. He operates in tampering and manipulating through the use of drugs and photographs. Nothing is ever as it appears with these people.” Leon swallowed hard. “When you didn’t go back to The Candy Shop, they abducted Audrey to use her as leverage to bring you back. Then, when you and Rocco escaped, their plan went to pieces,” Leon explained. “The deadline came and went.”
“What deadline?” Rocco and Peters said simultaneously.
“October fifth,” Leon answered.
“The day Adrienne died,” Rocco uttered almost incoherently.
“Kira was to be the fifth death and she was supposed to be found on October fifth.” Leon said it so matter-of-factly that it made Kira shudder. “This whole thing is set up symbolically, but I don’t think Landon and Ian are the ones contriving the symbolic connections; at least not all of them.”
“Elaborate,” Rocco said. “What exactly are the symbolic connections?”
“The most obvious is the date of October fifth being the same day Adrienne died. She was hit five times and five women were slated to be murdered, Kira being the fifth and final,” Leon explained.
“What about the flowers?” Kira asked. “Lucas gives every woman at The Candy Shop a flower name and you said that all of the victims had a flower pinned to their clothing.”
“That’s right,” Rocco agreed.
“I’m not sure where the flower idea came from, other than I know that Landon used to purchase bouquets of flowers for Adrienne. She evidentially had quite the green thumb. The connection may lie in the symbolism of the flowers,” Leon explained.
“Hold up,” Peters interjected. “You said five women were supposed to die but we’ve already got six ladies dead. Christine, Misty, Ilesia, Miranda, Miranda’s neighbor, Natalie and Ginger.”
“The last two of which I never touched,” Rocco added. “That means the last two weren’t part of the original plan.”
“Right. It also means, now that they’ve already strayed from the plan, they’ll have no problem killing Audrey if Kira doesn’t show up.”
“They’re gonna kill her either way, bro,” Peters quipped.
“That’s why we have to find out who the killer is and stop him,” Leon urged. “Landon and Ian aren’t committing the murders. They’re selecting the women and then handing them off to someone else.
“Is it Lucas?” Rocco posed.
Kira shook her head and blurted. “Not possible.”
“Why not?” Peters asked. “It ain’t like he’s some upstanding citizen or nothin’.”
“Lucas wouldn’t degrade a woman. He loves women. He wouldn’t cut off their fingers or slit their throats or even touch them in a way they didn’t want to be touched.” It was hard to explain.
“But you said he punished you by beating you,” Rocco interjected.
“Yes, but it was more of a process of discipline, not a motive of malice. I got the feeling that he wasn’t trying to hurt me, but more like he was trying to teach me a lesson.” She exhaled. “I’m not making sense.”
“No, you’re not,” Rocco said poignantly.
“I spent time alone with Lucas and I listened to him talk about his business and about his women. He talks about protecting them, as if he takes on a great personal responsibility to keep them safe and make them feel secure and ultimately meet their needs.”
“Are you hearing yourself? You’re defending a mob boss,” Peters blurted and Kira felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. “Sounds like somebody’s been brainwashed.”
“Forget it,” Kira spat. “I just know Lucas is not the one killing these women.” Kira stood up and stormed into the kitchen. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out that he doesn’t even know they’re being killed!”