Authors: Lorelei Confer
“Okay, so what we know so far is that your name is Isabella, and you were enticed or lured to the home of a woman named Amanda, last name unknown, who you thought was your friend. You don’t know where she lived even though you were at her house. You don’t know where or if she worked or who Joe is or his last name. You don’t know where you were held or for how long. But today, out for a walk, you got away, ran from the park through the woods and into my house.”
Isabella could tell by looking at him that he didn’t believe a word she said. She sank back into the couch away from him.
“I know it all sounds unbelievable.” She pleaded. “I can hardly believe it myself but everything I’ve told you is true. I swear it is. Please believe me,”
Then he said, “It isn’t as unbelievable as you might think. You couldn’t possibly make up something like this, could you?”
Isabella took offense, feeling insulted. “What do you mean I couldn’t make up something like this? Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Did you make up this story?” His eyes firmly set on hers.
“Of course not! Why would I do that?” Now agitated, she stood and paced in front of the couch.
“Calm down, of course I don’t think you’re stupid. Some people have very vivid imaginations and you have to admit your story is hard to believe. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense?’ You have nothing to gain by lying, do you?”
She was insulted again by his arrogant insinuation that she might possibly have made up this tale to gain something from him, questioning her own integrity. She did have some pride left after all. She couldn’t find the right words for a retort to equal his insult.
“Why would I lie to you?” She was barely able to get the words out. “I thought you wanted to help me, yet you continually attack me, questioning my credibility, my character.”
Feeling tortured, with no aid in sight, after another few minutes of silence, and heavy sighs, she began to cry in earnest desperation. “I swear I’m telling you the truth, I didn’t make this up. Why would they want me?” Tears flowed down her cheeks. “And what would I want from you? I don’t even know you.”
“Exactly! Why would they want you? For a ransom? Do you or your family have any money?”
Isabella moved away from him again, a feeling of hopelessness washed over her filling her with anger, frustration, feeding the fire of defenselessness. She wanted to scream.
“My family doesn’t have money for a ransom,” she screamed at him. “You think, of all the people out there in this city or country, I sought you out on purpose? I chose you and set you up? Like I said, I don’t even know who you are, and right now, I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“It could happen. You could be in collaboration with those guys. How do I know?”
“And yet again, you offend me. To associate me with them is a direct insult of my character. Surely you believe
of what I said?”
“I believe you came in to my house uninvited, I might remind you, and those two thugs came looking for you. Based on what they said, you’re worth a lot of money to them. Those are the plain facts.”
She thought for a moment, trying to remember exactly everything she had told him. “What about the park on the other side of the woods? I didn’t make that up.”
Wyatt looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “The only park around here is about three miles away through the woods. I doubt you could run that distance.”
He stood from where he sat on the couch, stretched, and slowly walked to the fridge.
“You assume way too much about me,” Isabella whispered as she looked down at her clenched hands. She didn’t want to argue, her defenses worn down. She didn’t know what to think or what to do.
Tired and dirty, she wanted a nice hot shower and a soft bed. She looked at the clock, which sat on the mantel above the fireplace in front of her.
Ten o’clock? Where had the time gone?
She had left the house shortly after a small breakfast of a Pop Tart. She hadn’t eaten anything all day. How long had she been at his house? One hour? Two hours? Had she been running in the woods most of the afternoon? She laid her head back on the top of the couch and closed her tired eyes.
She would need to rely on her own strengths to get herself out of this mess, just like everything else she had accomplished in her life. Her body was exhausted. Tired. Tired of running. Tired of thinking.
Wyatt opened the fridge, got out a beer, and took a long swig. He needed something to help him understand this peculiar state of affairs happening in his own house. He found the entire account uncanny yet intriguing at the same time.
So much for a nice, quiet weekend away from business and for getting some much needed rest.
Turning toward the couch, he studied the young woman resting. Relaxed, she lay with her head on the back of the couch, her eyes closed. He could hear her deep, even breathing. She had fallen asleep.
Something about her nymph-like, angelic appearance appealed to him. He sincerely wanted to believe her and assist her. If only he could help her without helping himself
He walked to the couch, picked up her legs, and placed them gently on the couch while gingerly laying her flat, careful not to move too fast. She didn’t stir. He reached down to take off her sandals and pulled out the leaves sticking between her toes while taking note of the scratches and dried blood covering her feet and ankles. She groaned but didn’t wake up.
He covered her with a blanket and looked at her beautiful face, once again so peaceful in sleep, pure and innocent. He felt some unknown yet compelling, even disturbing, attraction to her. He felt
to help her. But what could she want from him?
Suspicious by nature, anxious to try to find out exactly who she was, he glanced toward his desk, then at the blinds covering the sliding doors. If she was lying to him or setting him up, he wanted to know about it before rather than after.
He returned to his desk, opened his laptop, and sat down. He began a local people search for “Isabella.” He had written down the street address when she gave it to him, checking his typed entry against what he had written down. He double-checked his entry for a spelling error. No listing for
Cameron Lakes Drive
in this city, so he checked statewide. No results. No results for the street in Stoney Creek or
or in the entire state of
He hadn’t asked her for her city or state, assuming she was local from
He remembered everything she told him about herself. A second grade teacher at Lakes Elementary School but she hadn’t told him the street address of the school, just the name. He entered
into his browser. The only one listed in the entire
had an address in
. None of it made sense. Two and two equaled five.
He checked the databases available to him, which was numerous. He checked missing person’s reports. None reported a young woman her description missing.
What about the park she claimed to have run through all day? The nearest park was located about three miles from his house and he knew it very well. He had established it a few years ago for the neighborhood kids as well as for his desired isolation and privacy. About the size of a football field, surrounded on three sides with woods thick with tall oak and pine trees and a heavy growth of short bushes and shrubs. It would be extremely hard to travel through on foot.
He spent a few more hours on the computer, finishing some work, answering the too-numerous e-mails always filling up his inbox. He also took advantage of the opportunity to send out a number of e-mails requesting a couple of favors.
He sighed, rubbed his eyes with his hands, looking at the time. As fatigue consumed his body and mind, he turned off his computer. He began pacing in front of the couch, his anger with her deception increasing with each step he took.
How dare she lie to me?
When he looked at her face, still wet with tears, he stopped, ashamed. He retrieved a blanket out of the trunk in front of the couch and settled into the recliner.
He wanted more answers. He knew how and from whom he would get them, but he would have to wait until morning. Right now, he needed to make sure she would still be there in the morning. His mind raced with possibilities and probabilities. His every instinct screamed for him to protect her. He didn’t intend to let her leave until he had all his questions answered.
Joe was out of breath, out of daylight, and out of ideas. He had spent the entire day chasing the girl, traipsing around the woods. He found no clue of any sort to lead him anywhere, and was strongly rebuffed at the only house within miles where Amanda thought she had seen her peeking out of a window.
Hot, irritable, scratched, and bleeding, he was mad as hell. He was humiliated and embarrassed for letting down his guard, especially on a job for boss man Spike, literally taking his hold off the girl’s arm when he became overcome with excitement about finally completing the deal—so distracted that he let this one get away.
Now, he had something to prove. He had to come up with a plan to make it up to him. He had to find her and deliver her when Boss specified if he wanted to get paid the much-needed money as well as stay in the organization.
Amanda babbled in the background as they made their way along the street to the parked van.
“Hey, shut up, will ya? We gotta come up with a plan, a good one, and find her. We don’t have much time left. We hafta find her or someone like her as soon as possible so’s we can get her to Norfolk, or we’ll be fish food.”
“You should stay and look for her. It’s your fault anyway. And when Boss pays you, you can send me my half of the money.”
“Your half? You must think I’m an idiot or something? When I’m doin’ all the work, I get at least seventy-five percent.”
When Joe turned around, he saw that Amanda had stopped walking toward the van. She stood steady, looking straight ahead at him. He saw a burst of pure rage, raw and deep appear on her face.
“After your actions today, yes, you are an idiot,” she said through tight lips. “And I have had enough of your harebrained ideas.” Her face contorted in anger, reddened, eyes bulged, and her mouth tensed. Her hands became fists at her sides. She leaped toward Joe, flinging herself on him, knocking both of them to the ground. They rolled off the sidewalk and onto the stone gravel on the outskirts of the park, arms and legs flailing. She grabbed his hair and pulled. When he grabbed her hands and squeezed them tight, she squealed and let go of his hair. Then she tried to scratch his eyes out with her long, sharp fingernails.
Joe had had enough. Between the girl giving him such a hard time, defying his every order, and now Amanda giving
orders, he was up to his eyeballs in shit and wouldn’t take anymore. He rolled away from her, pulling a gun out of his jacket pocket as he got up on his knees. As she rolled to sit up facing him, he pointed the gun between her eyes, the cold metal of the barrel touching her forehead.
Amanda froze, staring at Joe’s face. His threatening stare enough to let her know he’d kill her if she crossed him. Joe looked around at the few people still milling around the almost-dark park. He motioned with his gun for her to get up. Amanda stood and brushed herself off.
“Just shut the hell up,” he said through gritted teeth, holding the gun at his side, close and ready. “Don’t say another word. I don’t want nobody hearin’ our business, so let’s get back to the place so we can figger this out.”
Under the cover of darkness, Joe followed Amanda as she walked stiffly in front of him back to the van. He looked over his shoulder for any sign of followers or interest.
After parking about a block away, Joe followed Amanda in the door. “Amanda, go sit on one of the beds. I’ll get you a drink,” Joe told her, pushing her to the side as he closed and locked the door.
“No, I’ll get my own drink,” Amanda told Joe. “I wanna make sure I know what I’m drinking.”
Insulted, Joe shrugged his shoulders. “I ain’t gonna use you that way,” Joe said, walking to the kitchen.
“That’s just what I’m gonna make sure of,” Amanda said, following close behind Joe.
They sat, fuming and furious, with their drinks. When Joe’s cell phone rang interrupting the tense silence, they jumped, startled. Joe shook his head as he looked at the caller ID, hesitated a second, then flipped it open.
“Oh hi, boss. How ya doin’?” Joe said as he turned around and looked at Amanda with menace in his eyes.
“I know, boss, but we kinda ran into a snag here.” He listened for a few seconds. “I know, boss, we’re tryin’ to…” Interrupted, he listened, then said, “Okay, boss, I will.”
Joe could hear Amanda’s anxiety increasing with her deep breaths, heavy sighing, and fidgeting as she waited for an explanation from him. She was still seething over her earlier altercation with him and he didn’t want to deal with her attitude again.