Authors: Jeff Shelby
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled
Thread of Betrayal
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
THREAD OF BETRAYAL
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2013 by Jeff Shelby
Cover design by JT Lindroos
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author.
First Edition: February 2013
Books by Jeff Shelby
The Joe Tyler Novels
THREAD OF BETRAYAL
The Noah Braddock Novels
The Deuce Winters Novels (Under the pseudonym Jeffrey Allen)
FATHERS KNOWS DEATH
Short Story Collections
Elizabeth was down there somewhere.
I focused on this as the plane began its descent. The snow-covered Rockies stood sentry out the window to our right, the city of Denver pocketed against them like a tiny winter village. The brilliant blue sky hung like a backdrop against the jagged mountain edges and the sun reflected off the wing of the plane, forcing me to squint into the early morning sunlight.
Lauren and I had driven straight to the airport after our visit with Rodney. Still reeling from the news he
’d shared, we’d raced to ticketing, only to find there were no scheduled outbound flights to Colorado that evening. We’d been forced to wait until daybreak and had spent the night stretched out across several uncomfortable chairs, waiting at our gate. To the people around us, we probably looked like people who had missed their flight and were simply stuck waiting for the next one. But the truth was we were too impatient and didn’t dare leave the airport for fear of missing the earliest flight out.
Neither of us slept, but we didn’t really talk, either. We sat next to one another, both of us caught up in our own thoughts and worries. By the time they called our flight and we boarded, Lauren had collapsed from exhaustion and slept with her head on my shoulder the entire way. I’d stared out the window, waiting for us to get to right where we were, so I could look down and know that the daughter I hadn’t seen in eight years was down there somewhere.
Lauren stirred against my shoulder and lifted her head up. “We’re here?”
“Almost. Descending now.”
She straightened in her seat and ran a hand through her hair. Her auburn strands were mussed from sleep, her eyes half-lidded, and she stifled a yawn. “You sleep?”
She tugged at the seatbelt across her lap. “I never understood how you could operate on so little sleep.”
“Or a curse,” she said. She leaned across me to get a look out the window. “It’s pretty.”
I nodded. I’d been to Colorado twice before and both times were for fun. Once to ski when I’d been in college and once when I was a kid, a road trip stop on the way to visit relatives in Missouri. I didn’t remember much from the trip as a kid, but the college vacation was seared into my memory. We skied in T-shirts and drank beer on the outside deck, watching other skiers fly down the mountain. There were far worse places to spend the winter.
Lauren reached over and touched the window. “It’s cold. Even with all that sun.”
“Wait until we get out and you can’t breathe,” I said.
“Great.” She stared out the window, her fingers tracing an invisible pattern on the glass. “She’s down there, Joe. She’s down there.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
She moved her eyes from the window to me. “Are we going to find her?”
The landing gear kicked to life beneath us and the flight attendant announced our final descent as the plane leaned downward toward Denver.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re going to find Elizabeth.”
We took the underground trains to the transportation area and then were shuttled out to the rental car lot on the west side of the sprawling airport. While Lauren had slept on the plane, I’d hooked my phone to the inflight Wi-Fi and pulled up the address of the hotel that had come through on the credit card alert. I punched it into the GPS in the rental car which told us it would take thirty minutes to get to an area called Lakewood over in the foothills.
Lauren drove as I stared out the window. It took seemingly forever to actually get out of the airport and hit Interstate 70. Sunlight glinted off the fresh layer of snow covering the trees and ground. Industrial buildings littered the highway, giving way to an old Purina factory and the stockyards. The GPS swung us southward on Interstate 25 and we passed the massive Invesco Field, a glittering expensive shrine to the city’s football team. We turned west again, venturing out into the foothill suburbs, the tires of the rental car crunching against the layer of gravel and sand that coated the highway. My stomach started to tighten as we got closer.
“What are we going to do when we get there?” Lauren asked, her eyes glued to the road.
“I’m working on that.”
“Good to know. GPS says you have ten minutes.”
It actually took nine for us to exit the highway, head south over the rolling hills and pull into the parking lot of a small chain hotel on the corner of a busy intersection. Lauren shut off the engine and we sat in the parking lot for a long moment.
“You figure it out?” she asked.
“Not really,” I said.
“Well, we’re here.”
“I can see that.”
The hotel was a gray, four-story rectangle. A business hotel, most likely, that housed salespeople in town for the week and sat empty on the weekends. The parking lot was filled with rental cars.
I pulled out my phone, punched the hotel into my browser and waited for it to bring up a phone number. I touched the number and held the phone to my ear.
“We aren’t just going in?” Lauren asked, annoyed. “Why can’t we just go in?”
I held up my finger to silence her.
A friendly voice answered, asking how to direct my call.
“I’m trying to reach a guest,” I said. “Bryce Ponder?”
“Do you have the room number, sir?”
“Ah, yeah, somewhere,” I lied. “Hang on. I have it written down here.” I glanced at the hotel again. “I think it was the third floor. Sorry. My car is a mess, but I know I have it here somewhere. I apologize. My son called me when he checked in last night and I scribbled it down in a hurry when he called me.”
Lauren looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
The girl on the other end laughed. “Close. Fourth floor. Four-thirty-two.”
“I knew there was a three in there somewhere,” I said.
“I’ll connect you now.”
I waited for the line to go quiet, then covered the phone with my hand. “Remember four-thirty-two.”
The line buzzed and my stomach jumped.
After five rings, the girl came back on the line. “Sir, I’m sorry. There’s no answer on that line. Can I connect you to the voicemail for that room?”
“Sure, that would be fine,” I said.
I waited until the automated voice came on, then hung up.
“What the hell was that all about?” Lauren demanded.
I held out my hand in warning, telling her to chill out. “Easy. We go marching in there without any info and just start asking for names, it would go nowhere in a hurry. It doesn’t look good and the desk is trained to protect their guests’ privacy. They won't give us the time of day.”
Lauren didn’t say anything.
“The phone is easier,” I explained. “They’re supposed to get the room number from you so they can verify you know who you’re calling, but it’s an easy bluff. Most desk clerks just want to transfer the phone call and if you’re nice to them, they’ll put you through.” I nodded at the phone. “And sometimes you get lucky and they give you the room number without thinking because you sound like a confused dad.”
She nodded slowly. “Why did you say the third floor?”
“The hotel only has four floors,” I said. “Look at the windows.”
“I had a twenty-five-percent chance of getting it right and an even better chance of there being a three in the number,” I said. “It’s like those TV psychics. I made her think I had more information than I actually had.”
“How’d you know she’d do that?”
“I didn’t,” I said. “She could’ve stonewalled me and not connected me. But I’ve done it enough times to know it usually works. It was a bonus that she said the number without thinking. People want to help. I was nice to her. She gave it to me without even thinking.” I shrugged. “We caught a break.”
“Okay,” Lauren said. “So now what?”
“Now I want to walk the lot,” I said, opening my door. “Look for Minnesota plates.”
The morning air was cold and dry and my nostrils tingled when I breathed in. The snow had been shoveled from the parking lot and pushed to the sides, dirty mounds surrounding the lot. I walked slowly between the aisles of cars, checking the plates of each one. Lots of Colorados, a bunch of Nebraskas, a few from Kansas and a couple from Florida. I did not see any blue and white Minnesota plates.
I glanced at Lauren, who was walking the aisle next to me.
She shook her head. “I don’t see any from Minnesota.”
Which meant one of two things. They’d driven a car with plates from a different state or they weren’t there.
I didn’t think they’d driven a car with different plates. They were probably in Ponder’s. But if they’d checked out, the desk clerk would’ve told me.
We needed to go inside.
Or, rather, Lauren did.
“You need to go knock on the door,” I said.
“What about you?” she asked.
“I don’t want to go in yet, in case they aren’t there,” I said.
“Just trust me.”
She sighed, exasperated. The tension was wearing on her.
“What do I do?” she asked.
“Call me,” I said. “When you get to the fourth floor, call me and leave your phone on. Just hold it in your hand so I can hear. Knock on the door. If someone answers, just stand there.”
“Just stand there? Like a mute?”
“You can do whatever you want. Act like you got the wrong room. Start yelling at him. Whatever. But it’ll take me less than two minutes to get up there if I hear someone answer. If no one answers, just come back outside.”
“Okay,” she said. “But I still don’t understand why…”
“I know,” I said, cutting her off. “Just trust me.”
She was still shaking her head when the glass sliding doors opened and she disappeared into the hotel.
I blew on my hands, the cold starting to do its thing on my fingers. I pulled my phone from my pocket and held it so I wouldn’t miss Lauren’s call. I walked quickly toward the front door and sat on the stone bench a few feet from the entrance, making sure whomever was at the front desk couldn’t see me. My heart rate was accelerating and I kept reminding myself to settle down, to stay in control, to keep thinking logically.
The phone buzzed in my hand and I held it to my ear. “Hey.”
“I’m on the floor,” she said, quietly, breathing a little harder than normal.
“Okay. Just get to the door and hold the phone in your hand at your side,” I said. “I’ll be able to hear you.”
“Almost there,” she said. “Hang on.”
There was a rustling over the line and I listened closely.
A moment later, Lauren’s fist knocking on the door echoed through the phone.
I held my breath and listened.
She knocked again.
I exhaled and listened.
The rustling crackled through the line again.
“No answer,” Lauren said.
“Put your ear to the door,” I said. “See if you hear anything. TV, hair dryer, whatever.”
After a moment, she said, “I don’t hear anything.”
I exhaled again. The parking lot was right. They weren’t there.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going in to talk to the front desk. When you come down, ignore me. Just walk out. I’ll meet you outside at the car.”
“Joe, I don’t…”
“I know,” I said, standing. “I know you don’t understand. I’ll explain when I come out. I’m trying not to waste time, alright? You need to trust me.”
The line buzzed for a moment.
“I do,” she said. “I’ll meet you outside.”