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Authors: Steve Rollins

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BOOK: The Evil That Men Do
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Chapter Ten

Ricki

 

Ricki came to in darkness.

There was some kind of covering over her head, a bag that felt like hessian cloth or some other rough fabric which thickened the air with the carbon dioxide the she breathed out, combining with her sweat and the humidity. She gasped desperate lungs of rotten air, and tried to take the sack off her face. There was some kind of stinking fabric gagging her, making her retch. She found that her wrists and ankles were tied to the uncomfortable wooden chair she was sitting on. Confusion set in ahead of a rising panic. First she strained her right arm, and then her left in an attempt to free them, but the bonds were too tight, too well knotted. Her legs told her a similar story; although she could at least lift the chair she was on by putting all her weight forward onto her tiptoes. Perhaps, she thought, she could push herself over to one side or the other, which might break the chair, or more likely her own wrists. Then she realized that with no idea as to where she was, there was also no way to tell if the floor of the space in which she was being held was not covered in broken glass or if there was a sharp table corner on which she would brain herself.

Blood pounded in her ears and behind her eyes, reddening her vision. The minute exertion of shifting her body weight had sent her cardiovascular system into overdrive, and the throbbing in her head was a clear indication that she had been drugged. The panic took over from confusion, and Ricki fought her body as she began to experience the onset of hyperventilation. She forced herself to slow her breathing despite the poorly oxygenated air that was available: just like her yoga teacher had taught her. It was futile. The sack over her head was heavy, the stinking gag she was wearing choked her and after only half a minute, Ricki was forced to gasp, lungs screaming. Her head swam, and blackness took her once again.

When Ricki woke up, the sack was gone from her face, but she still could not see. Her eyes were now covered with a too-tight binding of fabric that pinched at her cheeks and eyelids. Someone had clearly been there, wherever that was. A faint sound, that of a shifting foot, told her that her captor was still in the room, and she let out an involuntary whimper through the drool-sodden fabric that had already rubbed away the skin at the corners of her mouth.

“Hey now, don’t be afraid,” a gruff male voice said. “I’m guessing you are a little confused as to where you are, why you are tied up. I’m sorry. It’s really not how I wanted this to play out, but you—or more accurately, your sisters—have some work to do on my behalf. Once they have done a little job for me, I will let you go. I won’t harm you, and I won’t rape you. Unless… ”

He trailed off, leaving Ricki under no illusions as to the consequences for the failure of her sisters to comply with this madman. He didn’t sound insane, not at all, but who kidnapped people, except gangs and serial killers? She had to get out of there, somehow. Roberta and Riley surely wouldn’t be foolish enough to go along with this plan, surely by now the entire Savannah police force would be out looking for her.

Ricki tried to talk, but the gag made it impossible. She flinched at the surprisingly soft touch of the hands that untied the knot at the back of her head. In a moment, her mouth was free, and she was able to painfully move her jaw.

“Water,” she managed to croak.

Sure enough, she heard her captor’s movements, footfalls on what sounded like a wooden floor. In a moment, a hand tilted her head back and a plastic bottle was pressed against her cracked lips. Water flowed, but too quickly for her parched throat to process easily. Ricki choked, and the flow of water stopped while she regained her breath. When the water came again, it was slower, more measured. Did she detect a tremble in the man’s hand holding the bottle? Who was this guy?

“What do you want with us?” she gasped when she was finally able to speak. “We have no money, and the police are going to be looking for me. Whatever it is you want; you can’t get it like this.”

The man laughed softly, falsely.

“If your sisters have gone to the police—and I have methods through which I can find out if they have—I’m afraid I might have to break my promise not to kill you. I don’t want to kill you, but I will if I have to, and I guarantee you that no one will ever know that it was me who did it. I do hope your sisters took the words of my letter to them seriously, and are even now following my instructions.”

Ricki felt no fear at the threat of her own death. She knew that Roberta at least would have the presence of mind to covertly inform the police; but what did it mean that this man would know if she did? Was he a cop, or were there crooked cops on the force? She managed her thoughts for a moment. Of course there were crooked cops on the force. Brutal, power-mad wielders of authority who pulled over black kids and busted them for drugs that they themselves had planted, and worse. But would any of them be a willing accomplice in kidnap and her own probable murder? It seemed impossible. She thought of Terry, Roberta’s boyfriend. As far as she knew, he was a decent guy. Would Roberta be able to keep him from knowing about this? Her captor evidently noticed the signs of Ricki trying to work things out.

“Let me give you a hint. Madeline Frome. Remember her?” he said, and Ricki could tell he was smiling.

“Madeline Frome?” Ricki said. “Can’t say that I can recall her. Is she a relative of mine?”

The backhand slap caught her hard in the jaw, and Ricki felt the already sore skin at the corner of her mouth split open. The blow stung her cheek and forced the delicate flesh on the inside of her mouth against her teeth. She took satisfaction that she did not cry out. The man’s voice dropped to a whisper, coming close to her ear, close enough that she could feel the vibrating air and the warmth of his breath.

“Don’t play cute with me, bitch. I know what you’re looking for, and I know that your company has been hired by Frome to find her lost diamond. I know she still has it. The senile old fool thinks that she can hide the diamond and claim on her insurance after showing that you did your very best to find it. Of course, that won’t work as you well know.”

Ricki did know it well. Without an incident number, any insurance company would refuse to pay out. What was Frome thinking? She must really have lost her marbles. The throbbing in her cheek intensified as her capillaries swelled. The man keeping her captive clearly enjoyed the sound of his own voice, as he went on.

“Of course, Madeline Frome will be terribly upset when she finds her diamond missing, and will obviously be unable to report it missing to the police after hiring you to find it. Pretty smart plan, if I do say so myself.” His gruffness softened with his self-congratulation.

“You’re not that smart,” Ricki whispered.

“Say that again?” the man said. Ricki’s retinas were absorbing no light at all through her blindfold, but there was a dull red glow, the aftershock from the blow she had received.

“Your plan sucks!” Ricki shouted into the redness. “Did you ever think about what happens if Frome reports the diamond missing anyway, or my sisters outwit you? You might kill me, but then what? You’d still not have the diamond, and you’ll be captured.”

“Don’t be so sophomoric,” he said. “As I said, if your sisters go to the police, you die and, well, I guess I would have to go directly to Mrs. Frome and beat the location of the diamond out of her. Remember, I will know if the police are informed. That would admittedly not be my preferred method, but I still win. If your sisters somehow find me, then first you die, and then they die. I’m pretty sure I can take out three stupid girls with delusions of being private investigators, especially with one of them tied to a chair and inhaling chloroform.”

Ricki decided while listening to this diatribe that there was no chance of getting free from this lunatic. She listened to the direction his voice was coming from, her sense of hearing hyper-sensitive from hours of enforced sightlessness, listening to the creak of his footfalls left and right in front of her across the wooden floor. She would have at best only one opportunity, if she had even that slim chance. But it would take a little distraction.

“I see. I guess you really have covered all the angles. Could I please have some more water, mister?” Ricki said, as sweetly as if she were asking a date for a french fry instead of speaking to the man who had kidnapped her and threatened her family with death.

She remembered how she had got there, now that the fog of the drugs she had been given had worn off somewhat. She remembered getting out of her car outside Madeline Frome’s house, remembered hearing another car engine, but not looking round at it. She remembered the firm, sweaty, smooth backed hand clamping over her mouth, holding a sodden rag under her nostrils, trying to scream, but only inhaling more of the vapors. She remembered the blackness.

The water bottle touched her lips again, but this time the man did not guide her head with a hand. She shifted her weight backwards, causing her chair to tilt on the back legs. Her jailor followed her head with the water and Ricki felt wetness on her throat, between her breasts, and then she rocked forwards with all her might, pushing off hard with her tiptoes as she flung her momentum, aiming to head butt her enemy. She failed, and with a sickening lurch in her stomach, she overbalanced and fell hard to the ground, smashing her knees and jaw on the ground. Ricki felt a tooth chip in her mouth and the fragment fell from her lips. Disaster.

The man laughed, and kicked her hard in her stomach. The force of the blow made Ricki vomit; a cup full of bile was added to the spots of blood on the floor. There was perhaps one saving grace of her failed attack. The force of her fall had dislodged the length of fabric that had been serving as her blindfold, over her left eye. The man was on her right side, and could not be seen, nor could he evidently see her left eye, which was rapidly feeding her brain with information. She was in some kind of wooden shack, she could see gardening equipment perhaps, something like a set of gardening shears, a pair of heavy workman’s boots. The man lifted her up by her shoulders, the chair creaking under the strain. The chair landed heavily on all four legs again.

“Don’t try that again, or I may be forced to hasten your demise,” the man said.

Ricki turned her head to look at him with her one unbound eye. She met his gaze, unflinching. His face remained impassive.

“It’s you!” Ricki whispered.

 

Chapter Eleven

Riley

 

“I’m telling you Roberta, we have to! We can’t just leave Ricki and hope the cops do something about it!”

Roberta didn’t reply, as Riley knew she wouldn’t, not before caffeine flowed heavily in her bloodstream. The argument had swung back and forth between the two Vaughan sisters long into the night, pausing only when through sheer fatigue Roberta had called a halt to the proceedings. Her exertions of the previous day both physical and mental had forced her at around three in the morning to grab a few hours of sleep on the cracked leather sofa in the office. Riley stayed awake for an hour longer, before she too dozed off in Ricki’s chair. Their debate had taken in great swathes of guilt.

Before Roberta could finish her first coffee and half-heartedly begin washing her face in the kitchenette sink, Riley took the attack up again. She understood that Roberta wanted to play it safe, to trust in the goodness of Terry to see it through. Riley was sure she was blinded by that faith, by her love for her partner, that to sit and do nothing was not how the Vaughan sisters had been raised. That was it! Her wandering mind had touched on how to win Roberta over.

“Ok, I get it, Bobby. I know, Terry is on the case and I’m sure that he’ll do his best. But what if he fails?” Riley put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. Roberta shook it off angrily.

“He won’t fail. He’ll find Ricki, and this kidnapper, and everything will be alright. You’ll see.” Roberta’s eyes were still swollen from last night’s tears, and threatened to overflow again.

“Fine, but Mom and Dad wouldn’t sit by while one of us was in danger, and neither will I.”

“That’s a low blow, Riley.”

“Is it? We’re all we’ve got left, do you think they would want us to sit on our hands and pray? Two hands working,” Riley said.

“Are better than a thousand hands praying,” Roberta finished. It had been a favorite saying of their mothers. In willful discord, she had bucked against her own Baptist upbringing through instilling a nigh-unbreakable sense of self-reliance in her daughters. The look on Roberta’s face told Riley that she had won her sister over with this plea to history. Roberta threw some water on her face and checked her reflection sourly in the mirror. Her face was resuming its former sternness, the face that she wore when hunting down bail jumpers, the face that Riley knew preceded strong action. She then pulled out a bunch of keys and unlocked the small safe that lay in the corner of the kitchen area, pulling out a small box of shotgun shells, and a snub barreled revolver, which she pressed into Riley’s hand with a meaningful look. Roberta said nothing, but crossed back through to the front of the office and slung her jacket over one shoulder, and turned to look at Riley. Riley grinned.

“Let’s go get our sister back,” Roberta said.

As the sun came up over Savannah, Roberta drove at high speed through deserted streets, consideration of local traffic laws discarded like so much garbage in the gutter. Riley bounced along with a sense of purpose swelling in her breast that almost resembled happiness, and before she knew it, they pulled up outside the house of Madeline Frome. Neither Riley nor Roberta had discussed the destination, but their minds were finally in one accord.

“You knock on the door.”

“OK, you get round the back and look for clues? I’ll stall Frome.”

“Just like when we stole those apples from Old Man Jeffries when we were kids, remember?”

“This is a bit bigger than that, Riley. Keep your pistol in your hand, OK?” Roberta stopped the engine of her pickup truck, and sat motionless for a moment. “I don’t know how far Frome is involved in this. She might just be a stupid old woman, but she might not be.”

“You think she could be involved?” Riley said. She had not considered this possibility.

“I don’t know,” Roberta mused. “I doubt it, but with Ricki’s life on the line, let’s not take any chances. I’ll leave my shotgun in the truck, so if I start yelling, you come running, got it?”

“I don’t think Mrs. Frome is likely to be a problem, Bobby.”

Roberta laughed. “No, I don’t imagine she will be, but we don’t know who else is in there. If Frome isn’t in on this whole thing, well, that’s fine. But if she is, she might not be alone.”

They got out of the car, another unspoken signal setting them in motion. Roberta locked the door to the truck, and Riley followed her across the street to Madeline Frome’s house. The street was silent, save for the morning birds. It was almost tranquil, were it not for the two women walking with purpose. At the boundary of Frome’s property, demarcated by a white picket fence, Riley and Roberta’s eyes met, a silent wish of good luck. Roberta forked away to the left, along the front of the property and up the few steps toward the front door. Riley continued straight along the eastern wall of the large town house, the rising sun casting her shadow against it. She would have to proceed carefully at the other end of the wall to avoid giving away her presence, if anyone was there to see her. She crouched and crept as she passed the meridian point to skirt under an open window. From her position she could see into the room beyond the windowsill, by craning her neck a little she saw tiled walls, a pastel blue shade. Evidently the kitchen. From the front of the house, Riley heard Roberta’s firm and insistent knock and crept to the corner of the house that led to the rear of the property. A low gate barred the way, which Riley decided to vault rather than risk the noise of creaking hinges. All the gates in Savannah creaked, all the old ones like this at least. It was a by-product of the perpetually moist, almost swampy air in the region. Her feet touched down on the far side as Roberta’s knocking stopped, and Riley reached out with her hearing to pick up the noise of bolts being drawn back, and the front door opening.

Looking around the back of the house, Riley saw an immaculately tended garden that was beginning to show signs of needing a touch up. It was made up in the high English style that she had seen in some of the wealthier properties around town, seemingly an affectation of the rich was to emulate the old money in Europe. A large tree stood in the middle of the spacious lawn which was bordered on three sides by brightly colored flower beds, through which butterflies and other insects flitted around their busy purpose of cross pollination. The house itself backed onto the lawns with a long veranda that ran fully the length of the property, and had been recently painted a bright white. There didn’t seem to be anywhere for the tools required for the maintenance of such a large garden, and at first Riley did not see anything out of the ordinary. Then, she saw the squirrels. Three or four of them were darting through the branches of the large tree in the center of the lawn, and it was when Riley’s eye followed one as it descended to the grass that she saw the pile of freshly dug, raised earth in between the exposed roots. It had been in plain sight for the entire time she had been in the garden, maybe only a minute or two, but had been glossed over by her mind as she looked for something more tangible; although what that would have been, Riley could not have said.

She quickly scuttled over to the tree, sending the gray furred rodents scurrying for higher branches, where they looked down on her with cool, black eyes. The creatures looked unimpressed at Riley’s attempt at stealth, and she was highly conscious that directly behind her now was the tall glass paneled door and long French windows that separated the house from the veranda. Moving with urgency, she got on her knees and investigated the patch of earth. It had been once part of the lawn, but someone had inexpertly dug the turf up, in a crude rectangle about eight inches by six inches. Riley saw that the turf had been replaced, and then covered with dirt in a most haphazard way. While the turf had been cut neatly, it looked as if it had been replaced, or subsequently disturbed by hand alone. She dug her fingers under the dirt, and gently priced the turf upwards, revealing a shallow pit perhaps six inches deep. Inside it was laid a snap-hinged jewelry box. It was open and face down in the dirt. On turning the box over, Riley’s heart sank to see that it was empty. Ricki was surely doomed.

Or was she? If the box that she had in her hands once held the Rock of Rhodesia, then that meant that someone had taken it and left the box behind. Why? She supposed that the necklace might not fit in someone’s pocket if it were still in the box, but if it had been stolen, why not close the box again, thereby giving a chance—a slim chance for sure—that the theft would go undiscovered, at least for a while? Riley jogged back to the front of the house, thoughts of stealth forgotten. It was time to get some answers.

Roberta was still engaging Mrs. Frome in small talk when Riley reached the front steps of the house, brandishing the velvet lined box at the old woman. Madeline Frome was dressed in a nightgown, and was lacking the heavy makeup she had favored the previous time Riley had seen her. Despite this, she actually looked much younger and less wild eyed, although that could have been that Roberta’s knocking had awoken her from a peaceful slumber. Her expression was still sour, and became visibly perturbed at the sight of the jewelry box.

“You recognize this, don’t you Mrs. Frome,” Riley stated. “I think you had better tell us the truth, and right away. This necklace might have already cost our sister her life.”

Madeline Frome blanched.

“Wh-What?” she stammered in near fright, and Riley feared she might have a heart attack on the spot. “I don’t know what you mean! My necklace has been stolen!”

“Don’t give us that,” Roberta said. “Our sister has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper has told us that you have the necklace, and that we are to retrieve it for him. Why would he say that, if it weren’t true? How could he know what we were looking for, if you didn’t tell him?”

“I never did!” Frome’s voice was shrill. “I never told anyone, oh my stars, this is awful. Your sister has been kidnapped?” Riley confirmed that she had, with a firm nod of her head. “I am so sorry, I had not intended… that is, I would not have…”

Riley dropped the jewelry box at Mrs. Frome’s feet. “Madeline, where is the necklace? Tell us, and do it now.”

Frome’s shoulders sagged.

“I hid the necklace. I did it. Look at this house! It’s run down, and I’m too old to fix it up, and I couldn’t sell it. I had to fire my gardener; he was too expensive. Look at all my neighbors’ houses. They’re in far better condition than mine, and I’m sure that those bastards, the Espinoza family across the street, are laughing at me. I thought I could keep the Rock, and claim on my insurance policy to save my house. I buried it by the tree in the yard, so I wouldn’t lose it. But now someone really has stolen it! What am I to do?” Frome put her face in her hands, and Riley almost felt sympathy for the old woman, except that she had, at the end, been only focused on her own woes.

“What about our sister, you old bat!” Riley yelled at her, forcing the elderly lady to hop back half a foot or so. “You might also like to know that Joseph Cavanaugh is already dead! I guess you don’t care about that either; and I’m sure it has something to do with your bloody necklace. Who knew you had it? Tell us!”

Mrs. Frome looked horrified.

“Poor Joseph, that’s terrible! I mean, he was a bum, but… I don’t know, the only people I really saw for the last fortnight were Joseph, God rest his soul, and Marcos, my former gardener. I swear I never knew that any of this would happen!”

Riley and Roberta shared a knowing look. The gardener, of course! He would know Mrs. Frome’s garden and could have come back, noticed the hiding place of the Rock of Rhodesia, and stolen it to take revenge.

“Do you happen to have a card or an address for this gardener?” Roberta said.

BOOK: The Evil That Men Do
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