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?”


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

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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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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 13

sidetracked resized“Absolutely. Whatever you need. I wish that Wendy had contacted me. I didn’t even know she was around. The boys talked about the Running Girl, but she must not have been out when I was. I never saw her. If I had—if I’d know….” His voice caught in his throat.

“This isn’t on you, Aiden. You can’t help if you don’t know. I work with a bunch of men who have a Sir Gallahad complex. You want to fix things, take care of everyone. It’s highly admirable, but you have to remember, some things are just too broken. Not everyone can be saved. But I promise you this, I will do everything in my power to find who did this. I want you to have realistic expectations. We may not ever find out.”

“Yes, you will,” Aiden said. “I believe in you.”

Vanessa was startled and touched by his confidence in her. “I hope I can live up to that expectation.”

“You can.”

“I’ll be by in fifteen minutes. Would your mother like to come?”

“I’ll ask. Mom, wanna go?”

“No. This is for you and Vanessa to do.”

He nodded, accepting that. He conveyed the message to Vanessa.

“No problem. If she changes her mind, that’s fine. I’ll be there shortly.”

Aiden hurried to dress and brush his teeth. When he came out of his room, he was wearing tan chinos and a red Oakely shirt. Instead of his usual flipflops, he wore his best sneakers. He stood taller, and the grief on his face aged him a little. Deirdre had the odd feeling that he truly was no longer a little boy. A man stood before her. She had to grapple the urge to smooth his hair and do other Mom things. He didn’t need to be coddled.

“You look very handsome.”

“Thanks.” His grin made him look his age, but the somber expression returned.

Vanessa pulled up into the driveway. Aiden went out to meet her, and Deirdre followed.

“You sure you don’t want to come?” Vanessa asked.

“No, my son needs to do this on his own,” Deirdre replied.

“Okay, let’s go!”

“Call if you need me,” Deidre addressed Vanessa, but glanced at her son.

“We will,” he replied.

Vanessa didn’t say much as they drove across town. It wasn’t far from the Partridge’s home, which was in the Thirty-second block of Kumquat. As they turned into Lime Tree Drive, from the Boulevard, Aiden stiffened. He spotted the house, exactly as it had been a few years ago. If anything, it looked even more faded and shabby than it had. A blue tarp flapped on the roof, a telltale sign of hurricane damage.

“That’s it,” he pointed.

Vanessa slowed and rolled into the driveway behind a battered Ford pickup. The yard was ragged and needed cutting, but the house was lived in. The front window had no drapes, and they could see battered furniture inside. Someone walked into the room, silhouetted against a large mirror behind. Aiden couldn’t be sure, but he thought it was a woman, not a man.

“You want me to come up to the door?” he asked.

“No. You stay in the car.”

He nodded, pressing his lips together. “I wanted to see…. How she lived.”

Vanessa patted his hand. “Trust me, you don’t. I’ll be back soon. If you want, go for a walk, but don’t wander far.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Biting his thumb knuckle, he rested his elbow on the window edge.

Vanessa’s dark, appraising eyes took in details of the young man. He was about six foot three, with a lean build. Light blond hair, like his mother’s, had a slight curl. His eyes, a sage green, saw everything, cataloging them. He carried himself with confidence, a rare thing among teenagers. There was a set to his jaw that spoke of his dogged determination. She recognized it, because she saw that expression every time she looked in her mirror.

“I’ll be right back,” she repeated.

Nodding, Aiden continued to bite his thumb.

Knocking on the door started a chorus of yapping inside. The door was yanked open by an elderly, fat woman with a dirty dressing gown, her sparse graying hair in curlers. Her eyes were nearly colorless, red rimmed and watery. She reeked of cheap beer, stale cigarettes and body odor. Vanessa had to stifle a gag. Her heightened sense of smell would betray her soon. Taking a step back, she introduced herself, holding up her badge.

“Yeah. What’s he done now?” she snarled.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re here about my loser grandson, right? What’d he do? I told him, I ain’t bailing him out no more. He gets in trouble, he gets himself out of it.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 12

sidetracked resized

Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

After making arrangements with Aiden, Detective Weinstein speaks to Deidre again. The police officer reveals that there was evidence of sexual assault, and she hopes it will help them bring the guilty party to justice. In the morning, Aiden tells his mother a little bit more about Wendy, and how sweet and smart she was.

“You really loved her.”

“Yeah. And she loved me. She told me—that night.” His lips trembled and he had to set his coffee down, his hands were shaking too much. “I wish we’d gotten together sooner, but she had this creep of a boyfriend.”

“What was his name?”

“I’ve been trying to remember. Troy, something. He was a couple years older than her, at least. So I didn’t know him from school. He was a real low life son-of-a-bitch. I can see the bastard’s face.”

“Did he go to school here?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You know they post all yearbook pictures now?”

“Shit? Really?” He snorted, shaking his head. “So my uber-goof expression from my freshman picture is immortalized?”

“For all to see, yes. And it was cute!”

“Boys aren’t cute past the age of ten,” he corrected her, sounding just like his father.

“My point, Mr. Uber-Goof, is that we might be able to track down his picture. Do you have any idea when he graduated?”

Aiden closed his eyes, inhaling slowly, trying to center himself. “He had a shirt that said Class of 2011. It was signed by all the class on the back. They do one every year.”

“So, we begin with that and then work our way out. You’re sure it was Troy?”

“Yes. He wanted her to get a tattoo of his name, but she refused. She finally broke down and got a henna one on her ass. She showed me. She said she wanted to sit on it every chance she got.” Blushing, he ducked his head. “Sorry. More information than you want.”

“Maybe so, but it’s helpful.” She booted the computer.

Once it was ready, they took seats and accessed the yearbook site. It took some digging to find Troy. He hadn’t been in any extra curricular clubs, wasn’t on any teams, and seemed to be completely unexceptional in every way. Finally, they hit pay-dirt with the auto shop class.

“That’s him,” Aiden pointed to the screen. His lip curled in disgust. “I can’t forget that face.”

Deirdre could understand that. Though he was very handsome, there was a cruelty and hardness in Troy’s eyes. He was about six feet tall, with bulging muscles. Curly, black hair fell to his shoulders, slicked back from his face. He had open gauges in both ears, at least the size of a silver dollar. He was the only one in the picture not smiling. In fact, he stood with his arms folded, glaring at the camera.

“Looks like a real piece of work,” she said.

“He used to hit her.”

“And you didn’t report it?”

“I wanted to, Mom. She said it would only make it worse. He seemed to have some magic pill, he never stayed in long.”

“And she stayed with this creep of nature? Why?”

“You’ve been really lucky with Dad. He’s a great guy, he’d never hurt any of us. Some people—they get into something, and they’re too scared to leave. She was using the move to Gainesville to get away from him. I think one reason she left so fast, and cut off her phone, was because of him. We need to tell Detective Weinstein. I’d have said something before, but I couldn’t remember his name.”

“Right away.” She pulled out Vanessa’s card and called.

The detective answered with a smile in her voice. “Deidre, hi. I was just about to call you.”

“Did you have more questions?”

“I did, for Aiden. I didn’t want to disturb him at school, so I thought I’d leave a message with you. I hate voice mail.”

“So do I. As a matter of fact, he’s here. I let him stay home.”

“Of course. May I speak to him?”

“Yes.” She handed the phone to her son.

Nodding his thanks, he took it. “Hello, Detective. Before you ask any questions, I wanted to tell you something.” He told her about Troy, giving her his last name, Intriago.

“Oooh, I know him,” her voice held a chilly malice. “Yeah, on more than one occasion, he’s graced our holding cell. Nasty piece of work. She was dating that—man?”

Aiden chuckled. “Detective Weinstein, my daddy was a Marine. He’s said so many curse words, he’s made up a few. Troy was an abusive bastard. I wanted to report him, but Wendy said he never was held long. She was afraid of retaliation.”

“And well she should be. He’s connected, or he was. A highly placed relative, maybe. More than that, I don’t know. Thank you. I was wondering if I could get you to drive along with me to the house? I want identification before I go talk to the residents.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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