Archive | November 2018

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 20

sidetracked resizedBoth women felt a shiver up their spines. He might be young, but there was a suppressed energy there, core of strength they rarely encountered in men twice his age.

“I know some other people who knew her from golf team,” Aiden said, as if he hadn’t just revealed his inner self.

“Did any of them have a problem with her?” Stavros asked, recovering first.

“Not more than usual on a team. She was a strong leader, some called her a bossy bitch. She was a perfectionist. The women’s team did well under her leadership. Even the men did better, because she wasn’t above telling our captain how to do things.”

“Was Troy on the team?” Vanessa asked, taking out her pad.

Snorting, Aiden rolled his eyes. “Him participate in anything? He’s good with cars, not much else. You saw how easily I caught up with him. I could have taken him down in the parking lot, but I didn’t want us both to be bleeding, or broken. So I waited until we hit the grass.”

The women exchanged a surprised look.

“Did you know Wendy was back?” Vanessa asked sharply.

“If I’d known, she wouldn’t be dead. Wendy meant a lot to me, Detective. I wasn’t still in love with her, but I’ll love her for the rest of my life.” He could see that the two women understood the difference.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” Stavros asked.

Aiden had anticipated being interviewed by one or both of the officers. He smiled a little. “I’ve got a couple girls I date, nothing serious. No one special.”

“Are you sexually active?” Stavros said.

Giving her a patient look, he smiled. “I lost my virginity, with Wendy, when I was sixteen. I’m eighteen, and male. You do the math.” He shrugged.

“I think we need to get you home,” Vanessa said. “I’ve taken up enough of your time. The lab has your jacket and the desk sergeant has a receipt for you. We’ll stop for it when we go out. We won’t have results on DNA right away, but we can type and match the blood.”

“Good. I’m glad I didn’t have to fight him. I didn’t want to put you in a difficult position. Better this way.”

Vanessa drove Aiden home, feeling less sure of him than she had. He carried a lot of suppressed anger, though she couldn’t believe it was rooted in his family life. His mother was a lot like hers. She hadn’t met the father, but couldn’t imagine a woman like Deirdre putting up with an aggressive spouse. The things he said, often sounded so cold. It was hard to equate with the handsome, nurturing young man he professed to be. However, his grief at identifying Wendy had been real. Even the best actor in the world, couldn’t pull off that performance. Shaking off her doubts, she pulled up in his driveway, putting the car in gear.

“Thank you for letting me help,” Aiden said, holding out his hand.

“Bring it in,” she held out her arms, giving him a hug. He returned it warmly. “You were a big help. Oh, while I’m thinking about it, you said there were people who might have had conflict with Wendy—on the golf team?”

“Yeah. Jim Butcher, the men’s captain. He might be hard to get hold of, I think he went in the Marines? Maybe Navy. Lonnie Hamilton, she wanted to be captain, and got the job the following year. And Ed Bullock, the coach. He and Wendy didn’t always see eye to eye.”

“Do you think any of them knew she was in town?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to Jim or Lonnie in years. She graduated the year after Wendy and Jim. Mr. Bullock is still coach. I don’t have issue with him.” He shrugged. “I didn’t know any of her other friends, if she had any. Except for Troy, she kept to herself.”

“You believe he isolated her from others.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes. Making her live in that stinking hole of a house….”

“You think he made her?”

“Would you live there, when you could be in a foster home? Unless it was hell there, I can’t see her agreeing.”

“I plan to interview the foster parents soon. I won’t need an assist. I don’t expect them to run.”

“Will you let me know—what they say?”

“I can’t be specific, Aiden. Unless it directly involves you, I can’t allow it. I shouldn’t even have let you in on this much.”

“I understand.” The grim determination was back.

Vanessa had the impression that he would do investigating of his own, and wondered if he’d given her all the names. She drove back to the station, the three names Aiden had given her, resonating in her head. She was sure he’d kept a name or two to himself, so she made a mental note to check out the entire golf team. She also planned a more in depth investigation of Wendy, herself.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 19

sidetracked resizedLisa turned off the monitor, taking him in her arms. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think he did it, either. And Vanessa will come to that conclusion, too. We just wait this out. Have you had lunch?”

“No, and I puked up my breakfast when Vanessa read the letter.”

She told one of the officers to go for pizza and talked with Aiden in her office. Food arrived a few minutes later, and Lisa picked up the conversation as if there hadn’t been a break.

“You had no idea about the baby?”

“None. I tried to reach her after she left, but she either cut off her phone, or changed her number. I didn’t have an address. It damn near killed me. I barely even remember that summer.”

“Can you think of anyone else who would want to hurt Wendy?” Captain Stavros asked gently.

“Honestly, Captain, the Wendy I knew didn’t have an enemy in the world. She was beautiful, kind, loving. The only dark spot was Troy. But I can’t believe he did it. I hate him, and I want him to burn, but he didn’t kill her. I do think he knows more than he’s saying. And I think he beat her up. At least now, you have his DNA to compare.”

“We do?”

He explained about his jacket.

“Clever boy! You ever thought of being a cop?”

“Until now, no. But it’s starting to look like a vocation.”

The interrogation of Troy Intriago wasn’t going as well as Vanessa had hoped. She’d rattled him with the baby picture, more than she’d anticipated. He was so hung up on that, for a while, he couldn’t do anything but deny the truth. Doing her best to get him on track, Vanessa kept hammering him with questions.

“When did Wendy live with you?”

“That kid? Dammit! I knew I shoulda nut checked him.”

“When was Wendy living in your grandmother’s home?”

“I dunno. Her last year maybe? Her foster mom was a nosy bitch. Up in her business, so she left.”

Though she tried to rope him back in, he didn’t cooperate. When she pressed, he got abusive. Unwilling to hear him insult her, she had him led back to his cell.

Vanessa walked into Stavos’ office a few minutes later. Sitting heavily, she put her feet up on another chair. “He didn’t do it. I believe he contributed to the bruising, and I think he may be the one who assaulted her.” She wouldn’t look at Aiden when she said that. “But murder? No. I really wanted him for this.”

“Alibi?” Stavros asked.

“Soft. He claims he was home with his grandmother. She confirmed that he was there, but she fell asleep in her recliner at eight o’clock. She can’t account for anything else until yesterday morning. He wasn’t there when she got up at seven. She figured he hadn’t spent the night, because he always makes a pot of coffee for her when he gets up for work. There was no coffee that morning. She was pretty pissed about that.”

“I don’t suppose she could have done it?” Stavros asked.

Vanessa snorted. “No. She could stink someone to death, but she’s had stroke damage. No way she could strangle a healthy young woman.”

“How do you know?” Aiden asked.

“Her face shows signs of it. She has a very uneven gait that isn’t just from alcohol, and she slurs her speech—again, not just booze. I was pre-med before I became a cop,” she explained to the curious teen. “I wish we could have helped Wendy….” The pain of her own past nearly blindsided her. The survivor of an abusive relationship, she understood the younger woman’s pain and shame.

“You didn’t even know her,” Aiden said. “I’m the one who should have.”

“You’re a kid,” Stavros said, not unkindly. “I hate to say it, but chances are good, the police wouldn’t even have listened. If she wasn’t willing to press charges, there would be little we could do. Did he ever hit her in front of you?”

“If he had, we wouldn’t be sitting here, I’d probably be in jail,” Aiden said in a calm, deadly voice. “I’m not a kid, even if I’m young. I can handle myself, and I don’t take shit from anyone. I also won’t watch a man beat up on a woman. My mother was the victim of an abusive father, she taught us to control our anger, but we learned how to defend ourselves, so we won’t ever be a victim. I never have started a fight, but if someone starts it with me….” He shrugged. “Guys bigger and meaner than Troy are scared of me.” He cut his eyes at the police officers. “After a few fights, and a six inch growth spurt, I don’t have much trouble with bullies.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 18

sidetracked resizedVanessa handed her the picture and letter.

“What does she mean Troy would know the baby wasn’t his?” Her eyes darted from one to the other.

“One of the things I wanted to ask him.”

“You like him for this?”

“Too early to tell. But it’s possible that he had a motive. One thing I’m very curious about, how did that letter get to his house, among Wendy’s things?”

“Excellent question.”

“Can I go in?” Aiden asked.

“Absolutely not,” Lisa Stavros said. “What makes you think you could make him talk?”

“We have history. He hates me. He thinks I’m a punk kid, and it will make him angry.”

“You absolutely cannot be in that room. But I think we can arrange for him to see you. He’s in booking right now, but he’ll be in the interrogation room in a few minutes. When he makes that walk, we’ll put you where he can see you.”

“Devious,” Aiden said, nodding. “I like it. Tell me where to stand.”

She led him outside a few minutes later. Standing at the end of the hallway, leading to the holding cells, she engaged Aiden in conversation. They were some distance from where Troy would walk, but clearly visible. When he came out of the holding area, on the way to the interrogation room, he saw Aiden and started yelling. It wasn’t even words, he was so angry. He tried to break away and run down the corridor, but two big officers held him.

“You punk! I’ll get you, you cock sucker! You son-of-a-bitch!”

Aiden bridled at that. He could handle being insulted, but not his mother.

Lisa put her hand on his arm. “Don’t give him the win,” she murmured.

Relaxing a little, Aiden nodded. “Can I watch?”

Captain Stavros considered a moment. “Not in the booth. There’s a closed circuit TV in my office. Come.” She led him to her office.

Troy sat in the uncomfortable chair, chained to the table. His ankles were shackled and locked to the floor. He wasn’t going anywhere. He sat for quite some time before Vanessa went in. She had pulled her hair into a severe French twist and black framed glasses perched on her nose.

“She looks like the sexy librarian,” Aiden chuckled.

Stavros chuckled. She’d called Vanessa that from time to time, when she saw her done up interrogation style. “Don’t knock it, it works.”

“I’m not. But even if she’s a lot older, and married, she’s dangerously hot.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that.”

“Never. She’s a lady—who could kill me with extreme prejudice. She’s intimidating as shit.”

They laughed and settled into chairs to watch.

“So, Troy, why did you run?” Vanessa asked, not looking up from the folder.

He squirmed, shifting in his chair. “I figured you want to talk about Wendy. I didn’t do it.”

“I never said you did.” She folded her hands on the stack of pages. “I wanted to ask you questions. It’s been my experience, when a man runs, he’s got something to hide. What do you have to hide, Troy?”

“Nothing. I didn’t even know the bitch was in town.”

“Then why was this letter in your house?”

“Must have been left from when she lived there.”

“I doubt it. Look at the date.” She pointed to the letter. The picture was nearby. Troy ignored the letter and looked at the child. “He looks like that kid!”

“It’s a girl. That’s because he’s the father.”

“The f**k you say! That’s not possible.”

“But it is. She was pregnant when she left. But not with your baby. Did she get tired of you, Troy? Cast you aside? Is that why you killed her?”

“That can’t be his kid!”

“She’s certainly not yours. Did Wendy tell you that? Did she come by to see you, tell you about her baby? Did you lose your temper and kill her in a rage?”

“I don’t—you’re mixing me up!”

“But she did come by. Did she tell you about the baby, her baby—with Aiden. Did she tell you?”

“Yes! I mean no,” he sobbed, shaking his head. “I didn’t kill her. I loved her.” His face twisted in anguish. He looked furious with grief. “A baby?” his voice quivered.

“It’s not him,” Aiden said with confidence.

“He has means and motive,” Lisa Stavros said.

“Yeah. But listen to his voice. Look at his face. He’s hurting like I am. He might be a creep, but he loved her, too.” He looked away. “I thought this would feel better, but it hurts—” He rapped on his chest with his fist. “It hurts.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books https://www.amazon.com/Dellani-Oakes/e/B007ZQCW3A

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 17

sidetracked resized“I didn’t do anything. I never even knew that bitch was back in town!”

“You okay?” Vanessa asked Aiden, as they went back to the car. “Funny, I don’t remember saying what my questions concerned.” She shoved Troy forward, making him stumble.

“Yeah. You got an evidence bag?”

“I do. Why?”

Aiden held up his sleeve. It was spattered with blood. “I’m not bleeding.”

He carefully pulled off the jacket while Vanessa deposited Troy in the caged back seat. That accomplished, she brought out an evidence bag, wrote the information on it and sealed Aiden’s jacket inside.

“How did you know he’d run?” Vanessa backed up the car.

“You cock sucker,” Troy yelled at Aiden. “What’d you bring the boy toy by for?” he directed at Vanessa. “You banging her now, asshole?”

“You wanna watch your language, Mr. Intirago. Cursing in front of a woman is bad manners. And the insults are considered verbal assault,” Vanessa said gently, but she was grimly tight lipped.

“Yeah, right, you mulatto whore.”

“Excuse me?” Vanessa slammed on her brakes, earning angry honks and middle fingers. “Did he just say what I think?” she appealed to Aiden.

“Yes, ma’am. But Troy never was all that bright. I always wondered what Wendy saw in you. Must have been pity.” He shook his head. “Because, dude, it’s not because of what’s in your pants.” Clicking his tongue, he shook his head.

Troy tried to hit the cage with his head, but couldn’t reach. Instead, he kicked the back of the seat.

“That’s it. We’re going to visit the Port Orange police station. I can’t take this guy all the way back to my house.”

Running the siren, Vanessa made best speed to the Port Orange police. With help, she got Troy out of the back seat and inside, where he was summarily processed.

“Lieutenant Scott told me you were coming,” the desk sergeant said. “Didn’t say you’d have company.” She smiled up at Aiden. “Or a prisoner.” Her dark eyes glared at Troy. “What’s he done?”

“Ran away when I went to talk to him, called my friend names, insulted me, and kicked my cage. He’s also suspected of rape and murder—at the very least, an accomplice.”

“Hm…. Getting quite the list, honey,” the sergeant said. “You’ve got a long line of infractions,” she said when she got him up on the screen. “Well, you ain’t in New Smyrna today. Get comfy, sugar, cause your unhappy ass is now property of the Port Orange PD. Vanessa, you and your friend go get comfy in Conference One. Boss wants a chat.”

“You got it.” She led Aiden down the hall. “I worked here a short time after I first moved from Miami. The captain and I are old friends. She’s a little crusty, though. Best manners.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They took their seats, waiting in silence. A few minutes later, a tall, hard edged woman walked in the room. Her brown hair was severely curled under, barely touching her shoulders. Her makeup was minimal, all cool colors. She wasn’t smiling. Even in flats, she was taller than Vanessa.

“You let a civilian take down your perp?”

Aiden opened his mouth, but Vanessa put her hand over his on the table.

“She’s pregnant,” Aiden said, disregarding the directive her hand implied. “I can’t let a lady in her condition take down a man half again her size. And he would have been gone by the time backup arrived.”

Captain Lisa Stavros frowned. Vanessa looked shocked.

“How did you know that?” Vanessa asked.

“Jasper. He was so careful of you, telling you to move when I hurled. And I saw the expression on your face when you were at the door. You deal with dead bodies, but the dog shit made you sick? I could smell it from where I was in the car. My mother is a La Leche League leader,” he explained to the captain. “I’ve seen as many pregnant women as an OB/GYN.”

“Was not expecting that,” Lisa said, inspecting Aiden with care. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

She nodded. “And your name?”

He stood, holding out his hand, “Aiden Partridge.”

“You identified Wendy.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He took his seat again, suddenly subdued. “She meant a lot to me.”

“You out for revenge, Mr. Partridge?” Stavros sat across from him.

“No, ma’am. I want justice for her—and my daughter.”

“What?—What?” Her surprised eyes found Vanessa’s.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books https://www.amazon.com/Dellani-Oakes/e/B007ZQCW3A

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 16

sidetracked resizedAiden snorted. “You act like I’ve never been in a fight before.”

“A man like Troy….”

“Is a pussy. You think I haven’t tangled with him before? Please.”

She paused, looking him over admiringly. “There are a lot of layers to you, Aiden Partridge.” Starting the car, she called in their intended destination, assured her lieutenant would contact the Port Orange police on her behalf.

Aiden called his mother. He didn’t tell her about the letter, or the picture, which he had given to Vanessa.

I have a daughter. There is a little person who is a part of me….

“How did Wendy die?” he asked Vanessa after he talked to his mother.

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“I’m not a child.”

“She was strangled.”

“Before that, she was beaten and raped, right?”

“What? How?”

“Corin got some pictures. I took his phone and cleared them before he looked carefully. I saw how her pants were. I saw the bruises and blood. How can someone do that to another person?”

“I ask myself that every day.”

“Did she suffer?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.” More than I’m willing to tell you.

Pressing his lips in a tight light, Aiden nodded. “Thank you for not lying to me.” Tears glittered in the corners of his eyes.

They found the auto mechanic shop where Troy worked. Vanessa knew where it was, having passed it on more than one occasion. It seemed an odd location, so it had stuck in her mind. They pulled up in front of the office and parked.

“You have to promise me that you won’t do anything stupid. If I bring you home broken, your mama will kill me twice.”

“After she rips me apart. While she does that, you run. I’ll sacrifice myself to save you.” He chuckled. “Been in a few fights, Detective. I promise I won’t start it, but I can’t promise not to provoke.”

“Be careful. I mean it.” She took his arm as he opened his door. “Stay at least three feet away. Let him rush you, and then dodge.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They walked into the office. No one was there except a big, red dog. It was a nice enough place, not too shabby, nor too chic. It had a solid, hometown look to it. A stocky, blonde woman of middle years, walked out of the back office.

“Help you folks?”

Vanessa took out her badge, showing it to the woman. “Detective Weinstein. Does Troy Intriago work here?”

“Maybe. Why?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“I have some questions to ask him about an investigation. I’m hoping he’ll have some information for me.”

“He’s not in trouble?”

“No. Just questions.”

“Lemme get him. You’re sure? Cause I don’t need trouble here. I know he’s got problems, but he behaves on the job.”

That may change, Vanessa thought. “Just questions. Thank you.”

The woman walked into the back, calling for Troy.

“When he runs, you want me to take him down?” Aiden stood with his hands in his pockets, rocking on his toes.

“You think he’s going to?”

Aiden rolled his eyes at her. There was a shout and commotion outside. A car screeched to a halt. Cursing of two men followed.

“Deputize me,” Aiden said.

“Go for it, Deputy Dawg.”

Aiden took off after Troy. The older man was slowed by a near collision with an angry driver. Not only that, his pants were so tight, he could hardly get a good stride. Aiden, who was taller, caught up with him quickly, tackling him as the other man reached the grassy verge. Rolling, he kept them both from slamming their faces into the ground. Glad he was wearing a jacket, he felt Troy’s mouth smack against his arm.

Vanessa hurried over, weapon drawn. Aiden knelt on Troy’s back, pulling his arms up behind him. Vanessa put the cuffs on and yanked Troy to his feet.

“I just had some questions, but now you’re going in.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 15

sidetracked resizedJasper slipped the letter into an evidence bag.

“I’ll read it,” Vanessa volunteered. Clearing her throat, she scanned the letter before reading aloud. “Dear Aiden, I’m sorry I left so suddenly. I discovered that I was pregnant, and Troy would know the baby wasn’t his. He’d have killed me, or her…. It’s a girl. I had her when I was in Gainesville, during my first year. I put her up for adoption, because there’s no way I could take care of a baby. I hardly had a penny to my name. School was covered, but not living expenses…. I named her Rowan, but I don’t know what her parents called her. They were really sweet people, chosen for me by an agency. They paid my living and medical expenses while I went to school. I barely got to see her after she was born, but they sent me this picture. Isn’t she beautiful? She looks so much like you. I love her so much, because she’s yours. I hated to give her up, but you’re too young to be a dad, and I couldn’t burden your family like that. I loved you like crazy, kid. I still do, but I’m no good for you. Take care, Aiden. Do great things.”

“It’s dated a year ago,” Jasper said. “How the hell did it end up here?”

Aiden shook his head. “Did it have an address on it?”

“No. I suspect she wrote it, but didn’t mail it for some reason,” Vanessa said. “The child would be—three—now?” She did some calculations.

“Not quite. Little over two and a half,” Jasper clarified.

Aiden was too shaken to speak.

“You okay, there, bud?” Jasper asked. “He’s gonna blow, Ness,” he cautioned.

Vanessa backed away from them. Jasper held Aiden while he vomited at his feet, barely missing his own shoes. Gasping and groaning, he held his stomach. Vanessa moved out of earshot. She couldn’t handle the odor, or the sound, for that matter. Usually not bothered by such things, being pregnant had made her very aware of smells. Popping a peppermint in her mouth, she turned her back and inhaled slowly through her mouth.

“He’s okay now, but let’s move on.”

“You’re not going to clean that up?” Vanessa pointed to the mess.

“Not my job.” He winked at her. “I’ll grab the hose, provided it’s not full of holes. I need to get back inside. You okay now, bud?”

Aiden nodded, breathing raggedly. Jasper handed him a stick of gum.

“Hell of a way to find out you’re a father. You handled it better than I would have.” He clapped the younger man on the shoulder, impressed that he held up.

“If I’d known….”

“You’re a good man, Aiden. This isn’t on you,” Jasper stated, accepting no protests. “We don’t know when something like this happens, unless the lady involved, shares. I’m sorry you had to find out like that, especially now. You sure you’re okay?”

“I just wanna go home,” he whispered. “I don’t understand. We were careful….”

“Accidents happen, son,” Jasper said. Nodding to his boss, he went inside.

“I want to go with you to see Troy,” Aiden said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” She could see by the set of his jaw, he was angry. “We have no proof he killed her.”

“You’re running DNA, right? Is his on file?”

She cast her eyes down. “Whoever has been protecting him, all this time, has managed to keep that out of the file. I can’t ask for it without a warrant.”

“Take me to him, I’ll get your DNA.”

“You have to promise not to start anything. I don’t want to arrest you for assault.”

“It’s not assault if he throws the first punch, is it?”

“Then, I’d have to arrest him.” She smiled, liking the way the young man thought.

“Let’s go.”

She knew it was a bad idea, but instincts warred in her. He had to participate, or he’d go mad. He wanted closure, needed release. Right now, he probably felt like he’d been hit by a truck.

“For Wendy. For our daughter. I have to do this, please.”

“Call your mother. Tell her where we’re going. The rest, we tell her in person.” She cut her eyes at him. “Don’t get hurt,” she cautioned. “If I let a kid get half killed….”

“Does it count in my favor if he swings first, but doesn’t connect?” His blue eyes pierced Vanessa’s soul.

“Yes. You can’t swing at him first.”

“Won’t have to. Troy and I have history.”

“This is a really bad idea, Aiden.”

“If you won’t take me, I’ll just go on my own.”

Figuring if she was there, she could keep the boy from getting killed, she sighed. “Get in. But you keep your distance. You let him come to you.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 14

sidetracked resized“Is he here?”

“Maybe. Why?”

“Just a few questions….”

“He ain’t here. Don’t think he was home last night. Why? What’s he done?”

“We don’t think he’s done anything. We’re asking routine questions in an investigation. I can’t share any details, it’s ongoing….”

“It about that girl that got herself killed?”

Vanessa didn’t say anything, waiting.

“Cause he knew that little slut. She lived her a while, sleeping with my boy. Acted like she was too good for us. Bitch! All smart and snarky. Played golf!” Her tone indicated what she thought of that game. “Left her shit here. Troy wouldn’t let me throw it out. Said she’d be back. She ain’t been back in three years.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“May I send someone over for it?”

“Sure. Anything to get it out of here. You think Troy killed that girl?”

“We just want to ask him questions.”

“You might try work,” the old woman suggested. “You really gonna get this shit outta my house?”

“I’ll send people over to get it right away.”

“Make the call,” the old woman demanded, lighting a cigarette. “It’s easy to say, but I want proof. When you done that, I’ll tell you.” She huffed smoke in Vanessa’s direction. Scowling, she gripped the Camel in a nicotine stained claw.

Vanessa pulled out her phone and called the station. Moments later, two units pulled up. The officers looked annoyed, but dutifully pulled out cases with evidence bags and other forensic tools.

“Fine. He works up at Conti Automotive in Port Orange. Off Dunlawton in one of them complexes. You need to look up an address, cause I don’t know it.”

“I can find it. Thank you for your help, Mrs.?”

“Berman. Gertrude Berman.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Berman.”

“You get that shit outta my house. I’ll show you.” She gestured to the police officers.

Wrinkling their noses, they followed the woman into a morass of dog funk, cigarette smoke, and other pungent odors.

“I don’t love you anymore,” Sergeant Waters said as he followed his colleague inside.

“Yeah, you do. But watch where you step. I don’t think those dogs go out.”

“You’re not coming?”

“I’m pregnant, Jas. What do you think?”

He gave her a sympathetic smile. “See you later.”

“Thank you both.”

Taking a last, deep breath of fresh air, he followed the woman inside.

Back at the car, Vanessa slid into the air conditioned freshness. “God, that place reeked! That fine figure of a woman, is Troy’s grandmother. He lives here. Apparently, so did Wendy, for a while.”

“That’s too bad. Why did the other cops come?”

“Wendy left some things here. They’ll be collecting them as evidence. When we’re done, if there’s anything you’d like….”

“Thanks. I don’t know, maybe.”

Vanessa’s radio crackled. “Go for Weinstein.”

“Boss,” it was Jasper. “Your buddy in the car, he wouldn’t be Aiden, would he?”

“Yes. Why?”

“There’s a note here for him. Still sealed. I’m gonna bring it out. I don’t feel like I should be the one to open it.”

Aiden stifled a sob, biting the inside of his cheek.

“Okay. Thanks.” She turned off the car and they got out. Aiden waited for Jasper, who handed him a pair of nitrile gloves, then slit the envelope, handing it over.

With trembling hands, the young man opened the paper inside. It was pretty, floral stationary. He recognized Wendy’s hand writing. A picture fell out. He caught it, looking into the face of an infant. For a second, he wondered how she’d gotten a baby picture of him, then the shock hit him in the gut. He staggered back a step, losing his balance. Jasper caught him.

“Whoa, dude. You look like you took a nut shot.”

Aiden handed him the letter and picture. “I can’t.” He shook his head, closing his eyes, as he tried to catch his breath.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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