Chapter 8

 

“Cafe au lait... Extra large.”

Melody smiled apologetically and held up a ‘large’ cup. “I’m sorry. This is the biggest size we serve.”

The customer shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Aw, man... I really want a bit more than that.”

Her smile never faltered. “You could order a large plus a small. Or two mediums.”

“Should I get two mediums? That sounds like a good idea, but I’m still not sure...” There was another man behind the customer who was clearly getting impatient, but Melody never rushed him. Ravenswood admired his girlfriend’s ability to remain cheerful when dealing with difficult customers. He would have wanted to pour coffee over the customer’s head by this point.

The door to the shop opened and Ravenswood noticed Michael enter. He was one of the richest men on the planet, but he never wanted preferential treatment. He got in line to order behind the last customer.

After wavering back and forth a few times more, the customer settled on two mediums. Ravenswood made the drinks while his girlfriend took the order of the impatient man. The next customer, Michael, stepped up to the counter.

“Gosh, you look like hell,” Melody commented before glancing down at the register. “The usual?”

“Yes, but add an extra shot of espresso.”

“I’ll add two,” Ravenswood called, already half-way through making the man’s cafe macchiato.

Michael pulled out his credit card and Melody swiped it on her machine. The three then moved to the semi-secluded area at the rear of the store. Stan often sat at the back booth while doing paperwork, and the employees ate their lunch there. The seat had also become a pseudo conference table for the crimefighting team.

Situating himself, Michael’s brow furrowed. “I’m sorry about yesterday. About getting mad and running out.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ravenswood assured. “You were right. We were probably barking up the wrong tree.”

“I’m not so sure about that now.” He grabbed a sugar packet, mindlessly folding it into a tiny origami. “Last night I went back to the mansion, to see if I could find more clues about my aunt. Just in case.”

“Did you?”

“No. There were a few birthday cards and things like that, but nothing that tells us anything. I even bit the bullet and went into the attic. The crazy part is, I tried to find a picture of her, but I couldn’t. I mean, literally, not one single photograph of her was there.”

“Maybe she hated having her picture taken.”

“Or maybe somebody didn’t like her,” Melody suggested. “So they got rid of all her pictures?”

“Maybe. But the baby connection was still bugging me, so I decided to do some digging on Sara Wolff.” He pulled out a couple of pieces of paper. “The Gale Home website says that she attended Gale State University, so I paid them a visit today and took a look at her records.”

“How’d you manage that? What about all the privacy stuff?”

“It helps I’m a large contributor. Plus, I did it under the pretense I was investigating a possible employee.”

Melody scooted forward. “What did you find?”

“Aside from the fact she was a straight ‘B’ student...?” He handed the couple photocopies of two official government documents. “Her parents are listed as Kevin and Nora Wolff. The birth certificate is an amended one, the type issued when a baby has been adopted.”

“So her parents that died weren’t her birth parents,” Ravenswood said. “Interesting.” Glancing over the other paper, he recognized it as being a Declaration of Citizenship—the document issued to children born on U.S. military bases abroad. “Place of birth, Germany? What are the odds of that?”

“There’s more. Look at the location and date.”

“Holy crap. She was born at the same military base that Yule was brought to after the blast. The one you should have been taken to. And her birthday is...”

“December 23rd, the day of the explosion.” Michael glanced down, his cheeks flushing red. “You were right, Ray.”

The detective shook his head. “Your aunt must have survived the blast. They took her to the hospital and she had the baby before she died.”

Melody glanced back at the counter to make sure there were no new customers. “So, now what?”

Ravenswood grimaced. “Unfortunately, we can’t do anything with that right now. We have other matters to worry about.”

“Like...?” Michael asked.

Reaching into his apron, he pulled out a cellophane bag holding a tiny rectangle of black plastic. “Do you know what this is?”

“It’s an SD card.”

“Right. It’s a memory chip that digital cameras use to store pictures.”

“I know what an SD card is. Why do you have it in that plastic bag?”

“Are you mad? It’s tiny! If I didn’t have it in this bag, I’d lose it, or... or accidentally swallow it, or something.”

Michael and Melody both rolled their eyes.

“Aaron Brooks got a visit from Dark Flame last night. She gave this to him with express instructions to give it to Overcast only.“ A smug smile drew across Ravenswood’s lips. It was the first time Dark Flame, Aaron, or anyone else had contacted him exclusively, and he was proud. “I looked at the card on my computer last night. Seems to be pictures of a bunch of documents from Bling’s office. Trouble is, I can’t understand most of it.”

Michael pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “Okay, give it to me.”

“But you’ll have to take it home to look at it on your computer.”

Flashing him an incredulous look, Michael inserted the card into a tiny slot in the side.

“Wow, your phone can do that? That’s amazing.”

“How far behind the times are you?”

“Hey, I’m cutting-edge,” Ravenswood said. “I just don’t have a fancy phone like you do. How long have you had that?”

“Two years. Seriously, two years.” The screen took up one entire side of the phone. Michael ran his fingers across it, scrolling through the documents and zooming in on them as close as he could.

Ravenswood was impressed with the zoom feature, but kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want Michael giving him another look.

“What does that look like to you?” Michael asked.

“Blueprints of a building,” said Ravenswood.

“Blueprints of a building with Xs on it,” added Melody.

“Right. Any idea what the Xs mean?”

“They’re on all the corners.” Melody squinted to see. “Um, and there’s a few others, also.”

Michael gave a smug smile. Ravenswood knew his friend had been in real estate long enough that he could read blueprints as easily as most people read comic books. “The Xs are on the locations of the major supports. If you wanted to knock a building down, that’s where you would place the explosives.”

“Bling wants to knock down a building?” Melody asked. “Why would he want to do that?”

“I don’t know. This doesn’t seem like his style.”

“Not his style?” said Ravenswood. “Pfft. This is a guy who will do anything—anything—to get what he wants... as you and I both know. I think his style is ‘Whatever it takes, no matter how extreme, violent, or illegal.’” He pointed to the phone. “What building is that?”

Michael leaned in to see the small detail on the image. “It looks like the Schoenberg Estate. Bling’s in a bidding war with Eisenstein over that property.”

“If he wants to buy it, why would he blow it up?”

“I think I know,” Michael said with a snap of his fingers. “Eisenstein wants to buy the estate to convert it into a resort. He loves the building and wants to restore it. Bling wants to buy the land so he can tear everything down and build a casino.”

“Ah. So if the building is destroyed, Eisenstein will lose interest and Bling gets it easily.”

“Right. And as far as anyone will know, it was simply an act of domestic terrorism.”

Ravenswood had to admit, Bling was a slimeball, but he was a brilliant slimeball. “Scroll to the last page,” he instructed Michael. “There’s a hotel name and a room number.”

“Sanddove Hotel?”

Ravenswood nodded. “I assume that’s where Bling is staying.”

Michael shook his head, “No way, that place is a dive. He’d never stay there. Besides, he always stays at the Carlisle, it’s one of his properties.”

“Then who’s staying at the Sanddove?”

The men looked at each other. “Rufus.”

“I think we need to pay our hippie friend a visit tonight,” Ravenswood said, relieved the case was finally going somewhere.

Michael grimaced. “We can’t. We have the Tower open house.”

“Rats, you’re right. Hmmm. What about getting Bling there? Now that we have an idea of what’s going on, maybe we can coerce something out of him. Have him bring Sara, then we can kill two birds with one stone.”

“I don’t know. It’s short notice, but I’ll try.” The billionaire rose, shoving the phone and the card into his pocket. “You gonna be there, too, Mel?”

“No, I’ve got to close up tonight. You boys go and have fun.”

Ravenswood placed a hasty kiss on his fiancée’s cheek. “I’ll call you and let you know how it goes.”

“You’d better,” she said.

The detective followed his friend out.

“You need to get another phone,” Michael chided.

“But I like my phone,” he said as the door to the shop closed behind them.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Sara stared at the paperwork. She’d completed the therapy referral forms a thousand times before, but today she couldn’t make heads or tails of them. Of course, it didn’t help that she had sat up most of the night crying.

When Sara had begun dating Martin Bling, she’d set herself up emotionally for the relationship to be no more than a quick fling. She knew of the casino magnate’s reputation and how he had no desire for a long-term relationship. She had expected their affair to last a month, tops. But it hadn’t. And as the weeks and months had gone by, and Martin still appeared interested, she had started to think that perhaps it would be different this time, that perhaps she would be the one he finally settled down for.

It was clear now, she was wrong.

Madge entered the office. Since she had told her what she had stumbled upon, her friend had been kind enough to not press the issue.

“I brought you some coffee.”

“Thank you,” Sara whispered, taking a gulp of the warm liquid. “Martin’s going to be here in a few minutes. Will you send him straight back?”

“Of course.”

It was about twenty minutes later when there was a light tap at the door. The founder of Bling City walked in, a bouquet of peonies in his hand. His lip puckered out in a playful pout. “I come bearing gifts.”

Sara rose to meet him halfway across the room. She didn’t want him sitting down and getting comfortable.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do dinner last night. You know, business crops up and you have to take care of it.”

Sara’s eyebrow arched. “Business?”

Martin handed her the bouquet. “I got your favorite. Now, let me take you to lunch to make up for it. How about that little Chinese restaurant you like. I could go for some kung po about now.”

“I’m not hungry,” Sara said, her voice monotone.

Martin seemed a bit put-off, but quickly recovered. “Then how about tonight? I got a call from Michael Bruce’s office. He’s having an open-house at one of his buildings. He sent over an invite for you and me to attend.”

“I thought you didn’t like him.”

“I don’t. But there’s bound to be some important people there.” He flashed a cheesy grin. “Never pass up a chance to network.”

Sara crossed her arms, her brow furrowing. “Why don’t you bring that blonde you were with last night?”

Martin’s face went through a range of expressions. First shock, then awkwardness, and finally an uncomfortable smile. Sara could tell from his mannerisms that he was trying to come up with something to say, to formulate a good lie. However, at the last moment, he thought better of it and said, “She means nothing to me.”

The admission was enough to cause Sara to break down. “You bastard.”

“Sara, it’s not what you think. The woman came on to me, I swear.”

“It’s over, Martin,” she spat.

“Don’t say that.” He took her hand. “It was a fling, a one-night stand.”

“And how many other one-night stands have there been?” Her voice cracked. “It was over a couple of weeks ago. You just didn’t have the guts to tell me.”

It was the first time Sara saw the man speechless. He was struggling, trying to think of the right words to say, to think of something to convince her otherwise. When he spoke, there was desperation in his voice. “Sara, I... I... lo—”

“Don’t.” She sucked in a breath, composing herself. “Don’t say something you don’t mean.”

The man fell silent.

“Goodbye, Martin,” she whispered, finality in her voice.

Bling’s hurt expression turned to indignation. “Well, at least I got my money’s worth.”

Sara’s hand flew up, heading towards his cheek. Bling had been slapped enough times to expect it and caught her fingers before they reached his face. He yanked her forward, his mouth pressing against hers. Sara didn’t fight him. Instead, she trembled as he held her, knowing this would be the last time she kissed him.

The billionaire pulled away, his eyes locked on hers. His anger was gone and a smile drew across his lips. “You’ll always be one of my favorites.” Tossing the invitation onto her desk, he headed for the door. “I’ll have my men come by tomorrow to pick up those boxes. Be sure to give Michael Bruce my best.”

Watching the man close the door behind him, Sara sank to the floor and began to cry.