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Authors: Melody Carlson

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Spring Breakdown (13 page)

BOOK: Spring Breakdown
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17

“What if Tom Jones really did kidnap Eliza?” Taylor said this after Grandmother was out of earshot. “If that really is his name, which I seriously doubt.”

“It does seem fishy that Eliza disappears the same time he gets his days off.” Rhiannon stared out at the quiet pool. “And I wonder what kind of police checks are done on security guards.”

“He did creep me out.” DJ shuddered to remember the sleazy sound of his voice as he tried to entice her to come out of the pool. “Eliza might not be my best friend, but I sure hope she’s not with Tom Jones right now.”

“Your grandmother’s right,” Taylor said. “It won’t do any good to stay up worrying. And maybe tomorrow we’ll think of something.”

“Or Eliza will decide to come home,” offered Rhiannon sadly.

“I think we should pray for her,” said DJ so suddenly that she actually surprised herself. “God knows where she is and what she needs.”

“I have been praying,” admitted Taylor. “But you’re right. We should all pray together.” And so they did pray. They took turns asking God to watch over Eliza, to keep her safe, and to get her back to them as soon as possible. And then they went to bed. But a whole hour passed and DJ was unable to sleep. Then suddenly she heard someone opening the door to their bedroom. She froze and prepared herself to scream.

“I’m afraid,” whispered a quiet voice that sounded like Casey.

“What?” DJ sat up and turned the light on.

“What is it?” said Taylor.

“Casey just scared the bajeebers out of me.”

“I’m sorry, but I was scared being alone. I got to thinking about those security guards and how they might have keys to this place and be able to sneak in here and…anyway, can I sleep with you guys?”

DJ threw back her blanket. “Come on in.”

“Thanks.” Casey hopped into bed.

“I can’t stop thinking about her,” DJ whispered. “Wondering where she is and if she’s okay.”

“Me too,” Casey whispered back.

“We need some kind of clues,” Taylor said quietly.

“Does anyone remember a specific guy that she was talking to at the photo shoot?”

No one said anything.

“Can you remember anything that she said to you that evening, Casey? Did she mention the guy’s name or whether he lived around here or how old he was or where they might’ve been going?” persisted Taylor.

“Okay, I’m trying really hard to remember,” Casey said quietly. “She was getting dressed…and she changed a couple of times…”

“Like she really cared about how she looked.” Taylor sat up and turned on the light. “Let’s write this down, okay?” She ran for the notepad she’d already been using to write down clues.

“So what did she finally wear?” asked DJ.

Casey frowned as if straining her brain. “It was a Betsey Johnson dress,” she said suddenly. “Now I remember. She bought it the first day we were here. We went into a Betsey Johnson shop, which I thought was dumb, but I didn’t say so. And she tried on some dresses and ended up getting this black and pale pink one. Strapless and pretty dressy.”

“So she was going clubbing in style,” Taylor said as she wrote something down. Just then the door to their bedroom opened and they all jumped.

“I’m sorry,” Rhiannon said. “But I saw the lights on and heard you and wondered if everything was okay.”

“Join the party,” said DJ.

“We’re trying to get Casey’s memory to kick in,” Taylor told her. “So far we know that Eliza went out in a new dress.”

“And that she changed outfits a few times, so she was obviously trying to impress this guy.”

“But who
is
this guy?” asked Rhiannon as she sat down at the end of DJ’s bed. “Can you remember anything, Casey?”

“Come on,” persisted DJ. “Didn’t she say anything about the guy? We know Eliza likes to brag. And weren’t you curious? I mean, you knew she and Lane were history. So didn’t you even ask? Like maybe he was an Ivy Leaguer or some rich guy from Louisville. What was the connection?”

Casey slowly nodded. “Yeah, I did ask her. I was curious. And she was being all mysterious about it. Like she didn’t want anyone to know too much. She even said she was keeping this
guy to herself this time. Like she was afraid one of us would steal him.”

“Did she say a name? Or describe him or anything?” asked Taylor.

Casey jumped out of bed now. “I remember something. She said
I knew him
!”

“That you knew him?” DJ was confused.

“Yes. She was acting really coy about it and she said that I’d already met him and that I’d thought he was good looking too.”

“So think really hard to the photo shoot, Case,” DJ urged her. “Who did you meet there that seemed interested in Eliza? Who did you think was good looking?”

Casey’s face went blank. “I honestly don’t remember meeting anyone. I mostly hung with Seth whenever I had a free moment. He wasn’t too thrilled with our little fan club and he would’ve been ticked if I’d talked to those guys.”

“Then who would it be that you could possibly know? We know who’s here from school. It couldn’t be one of them.” Taylor went over the guys. “Seth was with Casey. Bradford and Harry were with Rhiannon and me. And Lane?” She looked at DJ. “He was here, with you, right?”

“Yeah.” DJ glanced at Casey. “Thanks to Seth never coming back.”

“So, anyway, Lane was with you all night.”

“Wait a minute.” DJ held up her hands. “He wasn’t with me all night. I went to bed. He slept in the living room.”

“I saw him when I first came home, but I don’t remember seeing him after that.” Taylor turned to Rhiannon. “Did you?”

“I went straight to bed.”

Taylor nodded. “Me too. And the lights were off.”

“Do you think Lane has something to do with it?” asked Casey.

“No way.” DJ firmly shook her head. “That’s ridiculous.”

“But we all knew that he and Eliza weren’t getting along,” Casey pointed out. “They’d had a big fight just the day before.”

“He had opportunity and motive.” Taylor held up two fingers.

“Sure thing, Sherlock,” said DJ. “But get serious. Are you suggesting that Lane took Eliza out and murdered her?”

“Maybe Eliza came in and picked a fight with him,” said Casey suddenly. “She could’ve been drinking and…you know…”

“She might’ve thought he was spending the night with you,” Taylor pointed to DJ. “And she flew into a jealous rage and to quiet her down, Lane took her outside and—”

“This is totally absurd.” DJ held up her hands. “Lane is so not like that.”

“You’re certainly jumping to his defense,” said Casey.

DJ turned to Casey. “Look, if it was Seth, I might wonder. I was actually pretty worried about you—”

“Seth would never hurt me!”

“Okay, okay.” Taylor made a time-out sign. “Let’s not start attacking each other.”

“I have to agree with DJ on this,” said Rhiannon. “I do not think Lane murdered Eliza.”

DJ rolled her eyes. “Great. Maybe we should all go to sleep now.”

Rhiannon grabbed Casey’s hand. “You have to room with me tonight. I’m too scared to sleep alone.”

Finally, with the room quiet and the lights off, DJ thought maybe she could go to sleep. But as she was drifting, she ran
the things that she’d heard tonight through her head. Not the stupid accusation against Lane. That really was preposterous. But the other clues…she let them tumble about as she prayed for Eliza again and eventually fell asleep.

18

“I have an idea!” DJ shouted as she woke up the next morning. It was barely even light out, but she was wide awake and her mind was racing.

“What’s going on?” Taylor asked sleepily.

“I have an idea about who Eliza’s mystery man might be.”

Taylor sat up and blinked. “Okay, don’t keep me in suspense.”

“Remember that guy we met on the plane?” DJ jumped out of bed and dashed to Rhiannon’s room and burst in. “Wake up!”

Soon they were all awake and DJ was spilling out her theory. “Remember that guy who was flirting with us on the plane?” She nodded to Taylor. “He was trying to get us to tell him our final destination. He wanted to buy us drinks.”

Taylor nodded. “He even told us his name.” She scratched her head. “What was it?”

“Oh, yeah,” Casey nodded. “He talked to us too. He was going to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Eliza told him we were going to Palm Beach.”

“So, see.” DJ pointed at Casey. “That’s a guy that you met.”

“That’s right.” Casey frowned. “He told us his name…What was it?”

“He told us too.” Taylor closed her eyes. “He was a little over six feet tall. He had brown eyes…”

“And blond hair,” added DJ.

“No, it was naturally brown,” Taylor corrected. “The tips were bleached.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” agreed DJ.

“And he was trying to guess where we were headed…” Taylor’s brow creased. “And his name started with a J. Like Josh or Justin or Jared or…”

“Jeremy!” DJ said suddenly. “I remember because my first boyfriend’s name was Jeremy! Remember, Casey?”

Casey looked confused. “No, I don’t think that’s right. I think he told us his name was something different. Something shorter. Todd!” she said suddenly. “His name was Todd.”

“Great,” said Taylor. “We don’t even have a name.”

“Maybe he was lying about his name,” said DJ. “Maybe he was already up to something.”

“Good point.” Taylor turned back to Casey. “You’re sure it was Todd?”

Casey nodded. “I’m positive. I used to read a series of books where the main guy was named Todd. He was a cool dude. I think I figured this Todd was okay too.”

“And he offered you guys drinks?” asked DJ.

“Naturally, we declined.”

“Naturally.”

“But!” Casey was on her feet now. “Eliza gave Todd, or whatever his name is, her phone number. She said maybe he could buy us a drink in Palm Beach if he ever made it up here.”

“She gave a complete stranger her phone number?” DJ wanted to scream.

“He wasn’t a complete stranger,” Casey argued. “He did introduce himself.”

“With a phony name.” DJ scowled.

“I’ve done the same thing myself,” Taylor admitted. “Not that I’m proud of it and I wouldn’t do it again.”

“So what do we really know?” asked Rhiannon.

Taylor had her pad out again.

“We know that Eliza gave this Todd/Jeremy dude her phone number.” DJ held up one finger. “And we know that Eliza told Casey she was going out with someone Casey had met.” She held up two fingers. “And we know that Eliza trusted this guy enough to get dressed up for him.” She held up three fingers and then stopped.

“And we know she never came home afterward.”

“Girls! Girls!” called Grandmother urgently. “Desiree? Taylor? Where are you girls?”

“In here,” DJ called down the hallway. “What’s wrong?”

Grandmother looked seriously rattled now. She was in her pajamas with only one slipper on and her hair sticking out like a scarecrow. “A phone call,” she gasped as she came into the room and sank down on a bed. “A man on the other end.”

“What did he say?” demanded DJ.

“I’ll write it down,” said Taylor.

“He said”—Grandmother paused for a breath—“that he had Eliza. He said”—she paused again—“that he wanted ransom money.”

“What else?” asked DJ.

“He said not to call the police.” She looked truly frightened now. “Or that something terrible would happen.”

“And you didn’t call the police, Grandmother. You called the FBI.”

Grandmother nodded. “That’s right. I did.”

“Did he say anything else, Mrs. Carter?” asked Taylor eagerly.

“He said he would be in touch with details.”

“And?” persisted DJ.

“Then he hung up.”

“Probably didn’t want to be traced,” said DJ. “Which phone did he call on? Your cell?”

“No, the one in the bedroom.”

“He knows the landline number,” DJ said to Taylor.

“Eliza must’ve told him.”

“We need to call the FBI,” said Taylor.

Suddenly Grandmother was crying. “I cannot do this. I am too old. Oh, what was I thinking to bring a bunch of girls down here?” She leaned over and sobbed even harder.

“It’s going to be okay,” DJ told her calmly.

“Come on,” said Rhiannon in a soothing voice. “I’ll walk you back to your room, Mrs. Carter. DJ will call the FBI. We have some new clues to tell them. Now you just breathe deeply, okay?”

DJ told Rhiannon thanks and reached for her cell phone, which she’d kept by her side all night. Taylor was ready with the number and DJ even remembered the name of the woman they’d talked with yesterday. “May I please speak to Marsha Stein?” she asked politely. She was given another number, which Taylor wrote down, and soon she had Marsha on the other end. DJ quickly filled her in on the phone call.

“Which number did he call on?”

DJ gave her the landline number. “Unfortunately it’s an old-fashioned phone and doesn’t have caller ID.”

“He’s probably using a blocked number anyway. But did you push star fifty-seven to trace it back?”

“No, should we?”

“No, but don’t touch that landline phone in case we can trace it back. Mostly, you don’t want to rattle this guy right now.”

“And we have even more information.” DJ told Marsha about the guy on the plane. About him giving them different names and finally about Eliza sharing her phone number with him. “We think it’s likely this is the same guy,” DJ told her. “Because Eliza told her roommate that it was someone she’d met. And it just seems to be the only possibility.”

Marsha asked for the flight information, Eliza’s cell phone number, and a description of the Todd/Jeremy character. “This will be very helpful,” she told DJ.

“What do we do now?” DJ asked. “I mean, what if the guy calls again?”

“For now, you just sit tight. I’m sending someone to your address as we speak. His name is Dan Jackson, he’ll show you his ID and then he’ll set up a wire tap. In the meantime I’ll be checking the passenger list for the Fort Lauderdale flight as well as Eliza’s cell phone records, and with any luck I might have some photos for you girls to identify.”

“Thanks!”

“Thank you. That’s some good information you just gave me. If we can put the pieces together we might be able to catch this guy.”

DJ closed her phone and filled in Taylor and Casey. “I’m going to check on my grandmother,” she told them. “I’ve never seen her fall apart like that before. It’s got me worried.”

Casey nodded. “Yeah, me too.”

DJ found Grandmother back in her bed with Rhiannon tending to her. “She asked for a bottle of pills that were in her purse,” Rhiannon whispered. “They were tranquilizers—prescribed to her. I only gave her one. It didn’t seem like it could hurt.”

“Probably not.” DJ went over and smiled at Grandmother. “Good news.”

“They found Eliza?”

“Not quite. But they have a lot of clues now. They don’t think it’ll be long.”

Grandmother closed her eyes. “Oh, good…”

“You just rest,” DJ told her. “We’ll keep you posted.”

“I called the general,” she said sleepily. “He’s catching an earlier flight…should be here this evening.”

“Good.” DJ actually felt relieved. “We could use his help right now.”

“Oh, yes.” She sighed sleepily. “We certainly could.”

DJ quietly left her grandmother’s room. But once she was outside, she felt like she was close to tears too. Really, this was too much for them to deal with. They needed someone like the general. Or even DJ’s father. Not that she planned to call him. Even if he was concerned, what could he do? She leaned against the wall and realized that the only father figure she could really rely on was God. And so, once again, she prayed. She prayed for Eliza and then she prayed for the rest of them. “Please, help us,” she finally whispered. “Amen.”

“Praying?” asked Rhiannon as she came out of Grandmother’s room.

DJ nodded.

“Me too.”

“Thanks for helping with her.” DJ nodded toward the closed door.

“No problem. She and I are actually starting to bond.”

DJ smiled. “And I know that’s not easy.” Just then her cell phone rang and, to her relief, it was Conner.

“Hey, I just heard about Eliza. Is there anything I can do?”

DJ gave him the latest, saying how the FBI guy was on his way. “In fact, it sounds like someone’s at the door now.”

“Be careful,” he warned. “Don’t let just anyone in.”

“We’ll check ID.”

“Why don’t I stay on the phone,” he said quickly. “Just until you make sure it’s really the FBI.”

“Thanks.” She hurried to the front door in time to see Taylor checking the FBI badge of a tall black guy in a navy suit. “Okay, Dan Jackson, you seem to be the real deal. Come on in.”

DJ nodded to Taylor. “And just in case he’s not, I’ve got the authorities here on the phone.”

“Is that Marsha?” he asked hopefully.

DJ grinned. “No, I was just checking.”

He nodded. “Smart girl.”

“The phone’s in here.” Taylor led him into the living room.

“The guy’s legit,” DJ told Conner now. “But thanks for staying on the line.”

“So what can we do to help?” asked Conner.

“For starters, just get over here.”

“Will do. But all the guys are with me. You want us all over there?”

“Sure. Maybe we can form a search party.”

As DJ hung up, she thought that might not be such a bad idea. She went over to the general’s computer and went online to see if Eliza had a spot on any of the social networks. Sure enough, she had a couple. DJ quickly downloaded and printed some photos.

“What are you doing?” asked Casey.

DJ showed her. “Now how about the Betsey Johnson dress…do you think you can find it online?”

Casey went to work and within minutes had a several copies of the dress printed out. “Here you go.”

DJ took the photos to Dan Jackson and explained them.

“Good stuff,” he told her. “Marsha is on her way over.”

“We’ve got a bunch of guys on their way too,” DJ told him. “But maybe it’s going to be too crowded here. Still, they’re willing to do some looking around town.”

“And we might have more information soon. As long as they can lie low and be quiet while we’re working.”

Marsha made it there before the guys. And she had photos. “Thanks to post-nine-eleven security,” she told the girls, “no one gets on a plane without photo ID or getting their photo taken.” She tossed a pile of photocopied pages on the dining room table. “You girls get to work.”

Despite the grainy quality of the black-and-white photos, they all agreed on one. “This is him,” Casey told Marsha. “Not Todd or Jeremy, it seems.”

Marsha read the name. “Theodore Wayne Johnston from Newark.” She handed the page off to Dan now. “Can you do a search on him, see if he’s got a record? I’ll get someone at the office to check for a rental car and phone records.”

“Wow,” said Casey, “this is moving along.”

“Don’t be fooled,” Marsha said as she punched some things into her laptop. “This is the easy part. After that it can be like a needle in a haystack.” She turned to DJ now. “And I assume Theodore, or shall we call him Ted, hasn’t called since the first time.”

“No.”

Just then the guys arrived and, after Conner and DJ exchanged a long hug, she ushered them all into the kitchen where she dispensed the latest information.

“We thought we could take Eliza’s photos and ask around at some of the local hot spots,” Lane told DJ. “Places where all the spring break parties are going on.”

“We already accused Lane of wanting to check out the hot babes,” teased Seth. “You know that whole girls gone wild thing.” He nudged Casey like this was funny and she just glared at him. “Excuse me,” he said sarcastically.

“If we had another car, we could split up,” Conner told DJ. “That way we could cover a lot more territory.”

“Sounds like a plan,” DJ agreed.

“I’ll print some more photos,” Casey said. “We could even put a lost girl thing together with a phone number to call.”

“Great idea,” said DJ. “Let’s put a photo of the dress too. It’s pretty identifiable.”

“Give me five minutes,” called Casey as she headed back to the computer station.

“Any of you girls want to come with us?” asked Lane hopefully.

“I probably need to stick around,” DJ told him. “My grandmother isn’t functioning too well just now.”

“I can stay with her,” offered Rhiannon.

“It might be helpful to have you along,” Conner pointed out. “I mean, a bunch of guys out looking for a girl could be taken wrong.”

“Let me check with Marsha,” DJ told him.

Marsha was still in the living room with her laptop open and talking into her Bluetooth. “Yes, I got that, Carl. Two thousand eight, white Nissan, two-door.” She wrote down a license number. “That’s great. No hotel yet? Okay, he might’ve used another name. No, keep checking.” She turned to DJ now. “Anything new?”

DJ told her about their idea to check out the spring break hot spots. “And Casey is making some posters with Eliza’s photo and the dress she wore.”

Marsha nodded. “And here’s what Ted is probably driving.” DJ copied down the car information.

“Make sure you all leave your cell phone numbers here,” Marsha told her. “And stay in touch.” She held up a warning finger. “And don’t let anyone play hero. Just keep track of your whereabouts and call me or nine-one-one if you see them. But do not approach them, understand?”

“And is your grandmother able to answer the phone?” Marsha asked suddenly. “I heard she wasn’t feeling well.”

“Yes,” Rhiannon called out from the other room. “I just checked on her and she’s better now.”

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