Authors: Mary Jane Clark
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
everal days from now…
Overflowing baskets and tall vases of flowers lined the dimly lit room and people with grim faces stood watching as she approached the small casket. The little coffin was covered with a spray of roses and lilies of the valley arranged in the shape of an angel.
With every bit of strength she had, Eliza forced herself to go forward. She knelt before the casket, her fists clenched, her eyes shut tight. She felt excruciating pressure. Everyone was looking at her, waiting for her reaction, relieved that they were watching
life and not theirs. Nothing would go forward without her doing what she had to do.
You have to look. You have to look. You have to see what’s inside.
Eliza bent her head down and opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was a cascading shower of white tulle spilling from the casket walls. Her hand shook violently as she reached out to pull back the bridal veil.
ook!” Janie called out. “She’s wearing it, Mrs. Garcia. Mommy’s wearing the bracelet.”
Carmen Garcia glanced up from gathering the child’s shiny brown hair in a ponytail. The middle-aged woman leaned forward to get a better look at the image on the television screen. Eliza Blake, clad in a cornflower-colored blouse that complemented her blue eyes, was smiling from the set of
KEY to America
as she and a cookbook author demonstrated how to organize a summer barbecue. As the camera cut to a close-up of her hand rubbing a mixture of spices on the meat, the red, yellow, and blue plastic beads that encircled her wrist came into clear view.
” Mrs. Garcia smiled. “Your
likes the bracelet you made at camp very much.”
“How do you say ‘bracelet’ in Spanish?” Janie asked.
” Mrs. Garcia answered. “Now, hurry. Eat your breakfast. The bus will be here soon.”
Janie, wearing navy blue shorts and a white Camp Musquapsink T-shirt, took a seat at the kitchen table while Daisy, the yellow Labrador retriever, positioned herself at the child’s feet. Janie dutifully ate the cereal and chunks of cantaloupe that Mrs. Garcia had put out for her
while the housekeeper consulted the calendar hanging on the refrigerator door.
“It’s Native American Day,” Mrs. Garcia announced. “You have archery and horseback riding.”
“I know,” said Janie, making a face. “I hate archery. It’s too hard.”
“The more you practice, the easier it will get. Do your best,
Just do the best you can. That makes your
“Bows and arrows are dumb,” declared Janie. “But we’re going to have our faces painted. That will be fun.” The little girl’s eyes widened with pride. “And you know what else? Musquapsink is a Native American name.”
“So is Ho-Ho-Kus,” Janie reported, proud that she could teach Mrs. Garcia something. “There are lots of Native American names around here. Pascack and Hackensack and Kinderkamack. My counselor told us.”
Mrs. Garcia watched proprietarily as Janie tackled her bowl of cereal. She was such a healthy-looking child. A light suntan and a sprinkling of freckles covered her cheeks and straight little nose. Her blue eyes sparkled, just like her mother’s did. Her permanent teeth seemed to be coming in white and, so far, straight. Her legs and arms, which protruded from the day camp uniform, were well-toned and sturdy.
Feeling Mrs. Garcia’s eyes on her, Janie looked up. “What are you staring at?” she asked.
I’m staring at you,
“What does that mean?” asked Janie, not familiar with the Spanish word.
“It means ‘treasure,’” Mrs. Garcia explained. “You are your
She loves you more than anything.”
The black van cruised slowly on the gently winding road that rimmed the pond. Passing stately colonials and sprawling ranch-style homes sep
arated by acres of rolling lawns and lush landscaping, the driver pulled over to a carefully chosen spot between two houses, confident that the van would not be visible from inside either dwelling. He turned off the engine.
“How ya doin’?” the driver called out his open window, lifting his paper coffee cup in salute to the workman who drove past in a red truck.
In the weeks he’d been staking out this neighborhood, the driver knew the last thing that would ever look out of place here was a service vehicle. Every morning, landscapers, painters, electricians, and carpenters traveled through the quiet streets on their way to their jobs of maintaining the homes of the wealthy. The homeowners worked on Wall Street or were officers of major corporations or had successful companies of their own. They didn’t have the inclination to mow their grass or the desire to spend their weekends making home improvements. They hired people to do those things. His van wouldn’t be noted as out of the ordinary at all. In fact, in all the days he had been canvassing the neighborhood, not once had any of the patrolling police cars stopped him.
The driver glanced at his watch.
He sipped his lukewarm coffee and waited, keeping his eyes trained straight ahead at the brick Federal-style colonial way down at the end of the road.
“They’re late this morning,” he muttered. “Wouldn’t you know they’d be late this morning?”
Finally, the yellow minibus came into view. “There it is,” he said, crushing the empty cup in his hand. “There’s the bus.”
The driver reached out to turn the key in the ignition.
“Hold on,” said a voice from the back of the van. “Don’t rush it. We’ve got plenty of time. We’ve planned this carefully and we want to do this thing right.”
The horn of the camp bus sounded.
Janie took a last swallow of milk, wiped her mouth with the back of
her hand, and wrapped her arms around her dog’s neck for one more hug. She ran to the front door and waited for Mrs. Garcia to enter the code to disarm the home-security system. Mrs. Garcia stood guard in the open doorway until Janie had safely boarded and the bus drove away.
The housekeeper went back to the kitchen, cleared the bowls, cups, and silverware from the table and put them in the dishwasher. As she stood at the sink and washed her hands, Mrs. Garcia looked out the window, noticing that the geraniums were sorely in need of deadheading. She unlocked the French doors, slid back the screen, and walked out onto the slate patio. After she had separated the brownish buds from the white, healthy ones, Mrs. Garcia returned to the kitchen to drop the spent flowers in the trash.
“Come on, Daisy,” Mrs. Garcia said, filling the dog’s bowl with water. “Let’s get you outside.”
The yellow Lab followed the housekeeper out to the rear of the property where a shingled doghouse was positioned under a canopy of leaves. Mrs. Garcia put the bowl of water on the ground and hooked a long leash, designed to provide a wide range of movement, to the dog’s collar.
Then, Mrs. Garcia went back into the house, pulling the screen door shut but leaving the French doors open to let in some fresh summer-morning air.
The black van pulled directly into the driveway, coming to rest at the side of the house. Two figures dressed in overalls and work boots emerged. They walked purposefully around to the backyard, pausing to pull latex masks over their heads.
“All set?” hissed the smaller of the two from behind an Olive Oyl mask that sported beady eyes and jet black hair pulled back in a bun.
The other, as Popeye the sailor, stuck up his thumb. “Yep,” he said firmly. “We aren’t leaving anything to chance. I’ve been watching her for weeks and, on nice days, she leaves the back door open in the morning.”
A dog started barking from the rear of the property. The yellow Lab ran toward them but was pulled back as the leash became taut.
“Don’t worry. That damned dog is always barking,” said Popeye. “The housekeeper isn’t going to think anything of it.”
Silently, Olive Oyl slid back the screen door. From inside the house, the telephone rang. Carefully and quietly, they followed in the direction of the voice that answered.
, Mrs. Blake. Janie got off to camp all right.” Mrs. Garcia’s voice could be heard coming from upstairs.
The intruders made their way to the staircase.
“Everything is fine here.” The housekeeper’s voice sounded louder.
They climbed to the second floor.
“Okay, I will see you when you get home, Mrs. Blake.”
Mrs. Garcia put the phone back in its cradle. She finished making the bed, fluffing the pillows and smoothing the coverlet. As she straightened up, she glanced in the mirror over the double dresser and saw two masked figures approaching her from behind.
Mrs. Garcia lunged for the table at the side of the bed, but before she could reach the security button designed to summon help, Popeye pulled her back and threw her onto the mattress. Olive Oyl joined in, helping to pin her down. Together, they flipped Mrs. Garcia over so that she was lying with her face pressed against the coverlet, her air supply blocked. Using all her strength, the housekeeper struggled to free herself.
“Don’t fight me, lady,” said Popeye as he tied Mrs. Garcia’s arms behind her back. “Save your energy. You’ve got a long day ahead of you.”
liza hung up the phone, unclipped the microphone from her blouse, and got up from the sofa in the
KEY to America
“living room.” Today, it was Harry Granger’s turn to hang around in case there was any updating needed for the West Coast stations. She was free to go to her office and get organized before the reporter for
magazine arrived for an interview scheduled at ten o’clock.
As she walked across the studio, she saw
producer Annabelle Murphy. “That’s some tan you’ve got there,” said Eliza.
Annabelle smiled. “A benefit of working these early hours,” she said. “I get to take the twins to the pool almost every afternoon.”
“You and Mike and the kids should come out to the ’burbs some weekend soon and hang out at the pool,” said Eliza. “Janie loves Tara and Thomas. They can swim and we can relax.”
Annabelle rolled her eyes. “Relax? What’s that? When I’m at the pool with those two, I never even get a chance to sit down. I’m always breaking up water fights or smearing them with more sunscreen. When I come home from all that
“So you don’t want to come?” asked Eliza.
“Are you kidding? We’d love to. When?”
“How about this weekend? Are you and Mike free on Sunday, maybe two o’clock?”
“Great,” said Annabelle. “We’ll be there.” Her eyes traveled to the beads around Eliza’s wrist. “Nice bracelet. Bendel’s?” she asked.
“Try Camp Musquapsink.” Eliza laughed, extending her arm. “Janie made it for me in arts and crafts.”
“Well, she should go into business,” said Annabelle, examining the beads more closely. “I saw some bracelets, not as nice as this one, selling for fifty bucks apiece. Come to think of it, why don’t I get the twins and we can form an assembly line, make these things, sell them at high-end stores, and retire?”
“Sure,” said Eliza. “I’m up for flouting child labor laws, if you are.”
Annabelle smiled. “Where are you off to?”
“My office. I’ve got yet another interview this morning. But, to tell you the truth, I think the exposure has gotten a little ridiculous. At some point, nobody cares anymore.”
“Who’s the interview with this time?” asked Annabelle.
” answered Eliza. “So, if there is anyone left in America who doesn’t know that I’m a widow with a seven-year-old daughter who lives in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, and relishes an occasional Butterfinger, this interview should take care of that.”
As they began to part company, Eliza turned back. “By the way, Margo and I are having lunch today. Want to join us? We can hash over old times.”
“What old times?” asked Annabelle. “We haven’t known Margo for very long at all. She’s just been with KEY News for a few months.”
“True,” said Eliza, “but it’s the quality of the time we’ve had that counts. There’s been some pretty intense stuff packed in there.”
“Rain check,” said Annabelle. “I’ve got a piece about compulsive shopping airing tomorrow and it’s nowhere near ready. But let’s all get together another time soon. We’ll get B.J. and have a little reunion of our Sunrise Suspense Society.”
Walking the rest of the way across the studio, Annabelle recalled the way the four of them, Eliza, Margo Gonzalez, B.J. D’Elia, and herself, had come together to figure out who had killed Constance Young, the former cohost of
KEY to America.
Those were circumstances that almost cost Eliza her life. Then Annabelle reflected on what it must be like to be the public figure that Eliza Blake was. The idea of having so many of the personal details of one’s life displayed for anyone and everyone to see caused Annabelle to shiver involuntarily. She felt all of those media stories could be leaving Eliza open and vulnerable.
ere’s what you’re gonna do,” said Popeye after he had tied Mrs. Garcia’s arms behind her back. He pointed a gun at her. “You are going to call the camp and tell them that you’re driving over to pick up Janie. Tell them that something has come up and her mother wants her to come home early.”
Mrs. Garcia shook her head. “No. I cannot do that.”
“Oh yes, you can, because, if you don’t, we are going to make sure that Janie has an accident at camp today. If you choose not to make the call and don’t get Janie, then we’ll have no other choice than to have our people at the camp hurt her, badly. You know how freak accidents can happen to little kids. A lifeguard looks the other way and a child drowns. Or a counselor doesn’t pay attention and a kid wanders into the woods and God knows what the kid will find out there. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Mrs. Garcia stared into the man’s dark eyes, peering out from the eyeholes in the mask. She tried to assess the truthfulness of his words. Were there really people at the day camp working with these awful creatures? Was Janie in danger there?
Carmen Garcia had known fear in her life. The fear of poverty, the
fear of not having enough to eat or a dry, safe place to sleep in her native village in Guatemala. She had been scared when she came to America, knowing almost no one, unfamiliar with the new country and its ways. She’d been apprehensive with each job she had taken and every new boss she had tried to please. But not until now, she realized, had she ever experienced abject terror.
What are these people capable of doing?
“How do I know that you won’t hurt Janie if I get her?” she asked, fighting to keep her voice steady.
“You don’t. But all I can tell you is, the kid is worth more to us alive than dead. We don’t want to hurt Janie. We want her healthy and in one piece.”
Mrs. Garcia’s mind raced. If the man was bluffing and there were no accomplices at Camp Musquapsink, then Janie was safer right where she was. But if the man was telling the truth, Janie might be in more danger at camp than she would be if Mrs. Garcia went and got her. At least that way, Mrs. Garcia could try to take care of her.
“Don’t you think that your boss would want you to be with Janie to protect her?” said Olive Oyl, speaking for the first time. “How do you think Eliza Blake will react when she finds out you had a chance to save her little girl but you decided not to?” It was a woman’s voice, but it was raspy. Mrs. Garcia got the impression that the speaker was trying to disguise her voice. But the woman’s question helped Mrs. Garcia make up her mind.
“All right,” she said. “I make the call.”