I found my way into my office and the disaster I referred to as my desk. It was almost one o’clock and Jack was sitting there staring at me, making me feel guilty for not even looking his way today. Maybe it was because I’m a creature of habit or maybe because I actually needed it; who knows the real reason at this point—I sure didn’t. Still, I opened the bottle and released the warm brown liquid into the dirty rocks glass on my desk. I stared at it for a long minute, not sure why I had poured it. And before I could get too involved in my thought process, I downed the entire glass in one gulp.
Feel the burn.
As I poured another drink, I began to think about what I needed to do next. What was my next step? How did I decipher this new information? What did the picture mean? And what was going on at the school? I didn’t know, but I was sure they were related. It was too much like someone knew I was going to be there and left those things for me to discover.
I brought the glass to my lips and was about to indulge in another scalding of my esophagus when the phone rang. I stared at it for a long moment, deciding whether to pick it up or down the Jack first. It rang at me again. I quickly downed the Jack and picked up the receiver.
“Sam Shepard here.”
“Hello? Anyone there?” But I could tell someone was there—I couldn’t hear them breathing, but I could sense them.
“Hello? I know you are there.” I was getting a little annoyed. The Caller ID showed Unknown.
“Okay, thanks for calling.” I was about to hang up when I heard the voice. Weak but familiar, it seemed to scratch its way out of the phone and into my ear.
“You can’t save me.”
My heart stopped and my breathing ceased.
“You can still save them.” She was struggling to get the words out.
“Sam, save them.”
And the line went dead. I almost fell out of my chair. I looked at the bottle of Jack and quickly poured another drink, and downed it. Then I dialed Becky.
“Sloane here,” she answered lazily.
“Becky, don’t hang up; I need help.”
“Sam, I was going to call you—the information on your Lincoln is back. What’s the big emergency over there?”
I stopped for a second and processed that information, deciding I needed to know where that phone call came from more than I needed to know about the Lincoln right now.
“Great, but this is more important. Someone just called me and pretended to be Sandy.”
“Really?” she sounded skeptical. “How many drinks have you had today, Sam?”
“Drinks? You think I’m drunk?” Dumb question. “I need you to find out where the last call to my office came from. The call was direct to my office, not through the front desk, so the person, whoever it was, knows my direct phone number.”
“I understand how upsetting a cruel joke like someone calling pretending to be your dead wife can be, but I can’t just run traces on prank calls.”
“Don’t you understand? She called me directly… on my phone… she said I can save them.”
“What do you mean them? Who was the person referring to?” Becky still didn’t believe it was Sandy. Did I?
“The kids, Tyler and Caitlyn. They are still alive, and I need to know where they are. The place that phone call came from is my only lead.”
“So let me get this straight. Someone called you, a woman who sounded like Sandy, and told you that Tyler and Caitlyn are still alive? Specifically? She mentioned them by name?”
“Well…” I stammered, “not exactly, but that’s what she meant, and I know it was Sandy. I know my wife’s voice when I hear it. And you hung up on me before I could tell you about the picture of Sandy I found at the Country Cottage Tea Room. If they are all still alive, we need to find them. Now!”
Becky was quiet for a long moment, and I could practically hear her rubbing her eyes before she responded.
“Yes, in the trunk of the black Lincoln.”
“The Lincoln? You were in the Lincoln? Sam, you need to stay away from that Lincoln. That Lincoln is bad news….”
“Becky, I know its bad news; I’ve been trying to tell you there was something wrong about that car and it was parked behind the tea room. I thought it was too coincidental that I went to check out the tea room and the Lincoln just happened to be there, so I checked it out. And I’m starting to think Sandy has been trying to get my attention for the past week. I…” I started to stammer a little as my emotions bubbled up. “I‘ve seen her in my dreams, I thought I saw her here in the inn, and then the other night I saw her in bed. And the note…”
Becky sighed audibly.
“Sam, I am going to forget the last part of what you said and tell you I do not believe for one minute that Sandy, Tyler, or Caitlyn are still alive. I saw the wreckage from the accident; I was on the scene. They could not have survived. I’m sorry, Sam, but it’s the truth. And next, I will tell you how sorry I am that someone is screwing with you like this. And finally, I will tell you that I will run a trace on your phone because based on what you have told me and the Lincoln sightings, it is possible that you and Sandy might be mixed up with the Khayman clan.”
Wait, what was she trying to say? That we were mixed up with the Khaymans?
“And Sam, if I find out you are mixed up with the Khaymans, I’ll take you down. Old friendship or no old friendship.”
“Becky, why would you think we were mixed up with the Khaymans?” I asked quietly.
“Because that black Lincoln is registered to Maxwell Khayman.”
My mouth fell open. Maxwell Khayman was the Jersey Shore’s main organized crime boss. He ran the strip clubs, drug trade, and prostitution ring. But what did that have to do with me?
“I have nothing to do with Khayman, and neither does Sandy.” But all of a sudden, I wasn’t so sure.
“Sam, I will run the trace. But for now, stay away from that Lincoln.” And she hung up the phone. Didn’t she know how to say goodbye?
This time, I skipped the glass and began drinking straight from the bottle. I got up and went to the bar.