Authors: Joanne Jaytanie
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“So it seems,” Payton replied. “Hi Tristan, I’m Payton, Victory’s older sister.”
“Funny, you don’t look older.” Tristan grinned.
“I like him already. I’m not that much older, about ten minutes.”
“You’re twins?” That was one detail that had been overlooked in their initial research.
“Actually, we’re triples. Willow is the baby.”
“Really.” Tristan was at a loss for words. He knew what it was like to be a twin, but wondered how different it would be to be one of three. “Will Willow be joining us for dinner?”
“No, she didn’t come with us on this trip,” Payton replied.
Tristan noticed that Payton wasn’t quite as forthcoming and open as her sister seemed to be.
* * *
“Status,” Max barked as Jerry walked in the door of the Winnebago.
“Not much. The girls are having dinner with some local camper,” Jerry said.
“What’s he look like?” Max pressed.
“Just some local yahoo, they’ve been talking bushes and stuff, nothing worthwhile.” Jerry inhaled a deep breath through his nose, savoring the smell of steaks that were on the table. “They’re not going anywhere. Can I stay and have dinner now?”
Dave looked up from his newspaper into Jerry’s pleading brown puppy dog eyes. “Jesus. Jerry, you act like you haven’t eaten in a week. Yeah, sit down. We should be hearing from the office first thing tomorrow.”
At eight in the morning Dave was on his laptop engaged in a conference call with headquarters. He insisted on being alone in the Winnebago so Jerry and Max were exiled, left to wrap themselves in blankets and huddle around the fire pit in the chill morning air. One hour later the door to the RV swung open and Dave stood in it holding a large steaming cup of coffee. The two men looked at him with murder in their eyes.
“You guys look cold. You should come in and get some coffee.” Jerry and Max look at one another, got up and headed toward the RV.
“Took ya long enough,” Max grumbled on his way in.
Jerry and Max got their coffee and joined Dave around the table.
“Headquarters researched Victory; she has the expertise we need and they want her to take Jeffery’s position. In fact, they feel that she probably has more knowledge and will be a better fit.”
“So, now she has to be convinced to come to work for Biotec.” Max said.
“Yes, currently she’s working for a competitor. HQ wants me to contact her via email and see if I can sway her to come on board.”
“And if not?” Max asked.
“Then we go to plan B.”
“I’m hoping the plan is to start right away, I hate camping,” Jerry whined.
“I’ll be sending her an email this morning.”
* * *
Victory loved being away from her everyday responsibilities. In an effort to clear her mind of Jeffery, she got up at first light, took out her bike, leashed up Dax and Asia, and went for a morning ride. The park was beautiful and it was so peaceful she could hear the sound of every bird, animal and insect. She returned to the motorhome, made coffee and breakfast, pulled out her laptop, and sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs in the main salon.
Being away was good, but she still needed to stay in touch with the office. She read and answered her email until she came to an unfamiliar address and a subject line that surprised her. Knocking her coffee onto the floor, she grabbed her computer and ran to Payton’s bedroom.
“Payton, wake up. You have to see the email that I received. You won’t believe this.”
“What time is it? It can’t be morning yet. What are you doing up, this is supposed to be our vacation,” Payton complained as she stretched and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“You have to see this now! And yes, it is morning.”
Payton took the laptop from Victory. She placed it on her lap and turned to stack some pillows behind her back.
“Payton,” Victory whined impatiently.
“Okay, okay. Dear Ms. Winters, My name is Dave Anderson. I am an Executive Vice President for Biotec. I was referred to you by Jeffery Maxwell. I would like to arrange an appointment to talk about the possibility of you coming to work for our company. Jeffery has been working on a project and unfortunately was transferred to one of our satellite offices. He believes you would be highly qualified to become lead project manager for the project that he has left behind. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.” Payton finished reading the email and looked up and Victory, her hazel eyes shining bright and huge. “Yeah, right. Jeffery was ”transferred.” You are SO not going to fall for this.”
“We have no idea who murdered Jeffery, except for the fact that Detective Howard was there. I heard nothing to indicate that his company was behind it. We have no way of knowing if he might have been involved in something on the sly. We have both known good people who were swayed by money. Dave Anderson is probably in the dark about Jeffery’s whereabouts and told he was transferred. But before I tell him no, maybe I can pull some information out of him about what Jeffery was working on,” Victory said as she typed out a response and sent it.
Victory’s computer beeped, alerting her of an incoming email. “Dear Ms. Winters, I can’t really get into the details of Jeffery’s project over the internet, because of the highly classified work he was involved in. Suffice it to say, your skills and past experience would be a good fit.”
“That’s very grey. I have worked on hundreds of different projects, looks like we’re not going to get any information from Mr. Anderson. Time to mention that I already have a job that I love, thank you very much,” Victory said.
“A good start, but I bet that isn’t enough to make them go away. Based on what you heard in the woods, it sounds like there are not very many people available with the type of skills they need. However, I find it difficult to believe that Biotec would be involved in Jeffery’s murder,” Payton said.
“I’m not interested in the position anyway.” Victory took her computer back from Payton and started typing. “Dear Mr. Anderson, Thank you so much for your invitation, I am flattered. However, I have a job that I like very much, with a company that I love. Therefore I will have to turn down your offer. Thank you so much for thinking of me.” Victory pushed the send button without another thought.
“Don’t you even want my input?” Payton asked.
“Sorry, sis. I ripped the band aid off, short and sweet.”
Payton looked at her sister sitting next to her on the bed and smiled. “Fine. Then get out of my way. If I have to be awake at this ungodly hour of the morning, I hope you made coffee.” She gave Victory a little shove and slipped on her hot pink sweats and grey sweatshirt.
“A whole pot, minus one cup that’s currently soaking into the carpet,” Victory said. The two of them wandered down the hall toward the kitchen, followed closely by four Dobermans. “I’ll feed the kids so you can have your breakfast.”
“Thanks, sis.” Payton said.
“No problem, I already ate.”
Fifteen minutes later Victory’s laptop beeped. She opened it up and started scrolling through her inbox. “Man, he’s going to be persistent, listen to this. Dear Ms. Winters, I think you would find this project extremely interesting. Could we please meet to discuss the project? We would be willing to pay you whatever you think is fair. Maybe you could take a year leave of absence from your current company, or possibly we could work something else out and you could do both. At least give me a chance to buy you a cup of coffee – that’s all I ask. Dave Anderson.”
“Boy, they really want you. Now what are you going to do?” asked Payton.
“I don’t know. How many ways can you say no? Maybe I should say that I can’t meet because I’m out of town. Or maybe I should meet with him and see if I can get any information or feelings from him. He might know something about what happened to Jeffery.” Victory said.
“Don’t even go there Victory. You are going to get yourself into trouble. Like you said, we don’t even know who murdered Jeffery. Maybe Dave Anderson is looking for witnesses.”
“I’ve been searching for news about Jeffery on the web and so far no mention of him. It’s like he fell off the face of the earth. That’s not right. His family will start asking questions soon.”
“Let them ask. Then maybe someone will start looking for him. We’ll do what we can, but I don’t want you mixed up in it,” said Payton.
“I’ll send back an email and tell him I’m out of town and see what he says, no harm in that,” Victory said.
Payton looked at her sister with concern on her face. She knew how Victory could get if she decided to take on a cause, nothing could stop her. Payton hoped it wouldn’t get that far.
Victory started typing. She had barely hit the send button when she got a reply. “I do hate to disturb you while you are on vacation, but the nature of this project demands action sooner rather than later. If you are at least willing to meet with me over a cup of coffee, I can be in any city of your choice, with adequate notice of course.” Victory finished reading the email and looked over at her sister. “I’ve got him hooked.”
“Yes, you do. So how are you going to play this out?”
“Tomorrow we head out for the Sacramento shows. But you don’t show tomorrow, you’re only setting up and grooming dogs.”
“That’s right. The first show is the following day.”
“I thought that if you didn’t need me, that would be a good time for me to get together with Dave.”
This whole idea was making Payton nervous. The last thing she wanted was for her sister to become involved with someone who might know something about Jeffery’s murder. “OK, but you need to play this safe. You make sure to pick somewhere with a lot of people and keep your phone with you,” Payton said.
* * *
Tristan was sitting inside his tent finishing his breakfast and updating his daily logs when his cell rang. He looked at the ID and flipped it open to answer. “Hey Wyatt, I’m hoping you have some news on your end.”
“That’s what I was going to ask you. It’s been kind of strange not “talking” to you.”
“Yeah, I know. But I don’t want to freak Victory out or give her any reason to question me. I’m sure she can sense our telepathy. What I’m not sure about is how close to her I have to be to have her sense us; so for now, better safe than sensed.”
“I have to agree. We don’t want to spook her, so back to the initial question,” Wyatt said.
“I had dinner with the girls last night. I didn’t get a lot of time to wander freely. But we did have some good conversations and Victory told me bits and pieces about her position with Claremont. Nothing in great detail, as it is classified, but she loves her job and is loyal to the company. I believe that she was not involved with Jeffery at the time of the murder. He must have thought she was the only one that could help him with his project. Don’t know yet how she ended up at the scene of the murder, but my gut tells me it was innocent on her part,” said Tristan.
“That’s basically what we have deducted here. So, the only question now is, do we pull the plug on Victory Winter’s tail, or do I leave you in the field for a few more days?”
“The fact still remains that she has three men from Biotec camped out a few spots down the way from her and it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere soon. I still think they may be interested in her. Besides, it’s not like we have any other leads at the moment,” Tristan said.
“You have a point. Okay, I’ll give you three days. But if nothing happens in that time I need you back here. And Tristan: keep me updated. Don’t make me have to call you, via phone or thought.”
“Got it, talk to you tonight.” Tristan snapped his phone shut. He set about organizing and packing, since he knew the girls would be heading out for Sacramento tomorrow and he wanted to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice. Today he would wander around the park and eventually end up at the girls’ motorhome.
* * *
“It took some doing but I got her to meet with me.” Dave was on his phone to his boss at Biotec. “She thinks I am flying into Sacramento tomorrow. How do you want me to play this?” He listened intently. “No, she hasn’t seen me out here; I’ve made sure of it. I sent the guys out to keep tabs on her while I kept a low profile. Yes, I’ll get it done. The Cessna will be waiting for us in Sacramento.”
Dave got off the phone and looked at Jerry and Max. “Tomorrow you two really start earning your money. Victory will be meeting me for coffee in the middle of downtown Old Sacramento. By the end of the day we have to get her into the Cessna without being noticed by anyone; that won’t be a problem, will it?”
“No problem at all,” Max said. This was the type of work that he lived for.
Early the next morning Victory and Payton finished their last round of dog walks, did their final check around the Prevost, and headed toward Sacramento. Ten minutes later a midnight blue Porsche 911 pulled out behind them and shadowed them down the road.
Tristan was antsy this morning. He was surveying the park the night before when he noticed the guys packing up and getting ready to head out. He was more than close enough to discern the notable stench of adrenaline. Unfortunately they were conversing in low murmurs, which had made it impossible for him to hear what they were planning. At one point he did catch snippets of their conversation: something about a lot to do before Thursday and a busy place. Tristan had no concrete evidence, but he’d bet money that they were arranging something that had to do with Victory. He kept watch on the crew until they headed out a few hours later. Now he was agitated, because for the first time they were one step ahead of him. His priority now was to make sure that he didn’t lose Victory.
Tristan tapped the screen on his dashboard and called the office.
“Morning, Logan. So you’re riding the desk. You mean to tell me that there isn’t anything exciting the Captain can send you on back there?”
“Funny. Nope. Seems he thinks you might need a babysitter and of course, I’m the best man for the job.”
“I don’t need a damn babysitter,” Tristan snapped.
“You never know, and you usually do.”
“Very funny, I need to speak with him.”
“Okay, hold on for one sec. You haven’t lost your girls have you?” asked Logan.
“No. We’re on our way to Sacramento. Right on schedule.”
“Okay, but if you need me give me a call,” Logan said.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Tristan, what’s your status?” Wyatt answered.
“Seems our Biotec guys pulled out last night. I think they made contact with our target and have a plan in place for Sacramento.”
“You called that one. Jack was able to tap into Victory’s emails last night. Dave Anderson from Biotec has made contact with her. He was adamant about meeting with Victory to discuss a special project they would like her expertise in. She told him no a couple of times but he kept coming at her. If I was to hazard a guess I would say her curiosity finally got the best of her, and she wants to know why her friend was killed. She’s playing with fire, Tristan. Make sure you stay on top of the situation. They made her a job offer on a very important contract that Biotec seems to feel Ms. Winters is the best candidate for.”
“Or they’re trying to lure her in and clean up any lose ends,” Tristan said.
“That is certainly a possibility. Our job now is to keep her alive, away from them, and find out what this project is about. I think you might need some back up. It’s looking more and more like we were on the right trail, and Biotec is somehow involved in this DNA manipulation. This could get really ugly, Biotec is a powerful company,” Wyatt said.
“Let me scout it out, get a feel for their plan, then we can decide who we need to send.”
“I’ll give you twenty-four hours, no more,” Wyatt said.
“I need more time, Wyatt.”
“Commander Farraday, twenty-four hours. I’ll have Jack send all the details of the meeting place to your email. I’ll expect your call.”
“Yes sir, Captain.” Before he could finish Tristan heard a click on the other end and the line went dead. It was great to work with his brother most of the time, unless he pulled rank, and then he was pretty much screwed. Even so, he did get a lot of leeway and used it to his greatest advantage.
Up ahead he saw the Prevost exit at a rest stop. He entered the other side of the rest stop, hoping to stretch his legs, grab some lunch, and keep an eye on the girls. He figured it would take them a while to walk all the dogs. What he did have to be careful of was staying downwind of the Dobermans. Now that they knew his scent he didn’t want them alerting to him and signaling the girls.
Tristan sat in the passenger seat of his Porsche with his legs stretched out the door intently watching the Prevost at the far end of the rest stop. He leisurely ate his lunch as Payton and Victory took their time walking each of their dobes, giving them water and what looked like some kind of a treat.