Near Indio County
"So, Alanna, how did your lawyer get the stories if they had all signed the contracts?" Michael Stockwell was curious.
"Partly because he was a lawyer, some people responded simply due to their natural fears of not obeying authority figures. Other folks counted on the guarantee of 'attorney-client privilege' not realizing it wasn't applicable given Mr. Clark was my attorney and I was his client. He didn't see the need to re-educate them and just kept the tales in case he could find a way to use them. His demeanor made them feel safe and they spilled their stories but wouldn't testify or swear to it in paperwork." I fiddled with my water glass and sipped. Then I continued, "The remaining told their stories simply because they had been fired with no reason and usually without references much less a final paycheck."
"But it didn't matter, because the contracts signed prevented all of them from sharing the stories and incidents in any of my divorce proceedings. Honestly, I really didn't care by then but Mr. Clark was so upset he kept trying to find a way to break the agreements of at least one of the former employees. Hell," I laughed somewhat bitterly, "I still think he spent more of my money researching the legal aspects of those contracts than he did on my actual divorce."
"So much of what you've told me about Randolph and his behavior, sadly, is more common than you think. The FBI is seeing a higher rate of crimes with bizarre backgrounds for their suspects in the past few years. It's like the rich are breeding mutants at an alarming rate. They have profiles and general descriptions of these kinds of people. The FBI labels them sociopathic. Not all go on to kill, but their personalities are truly odd." Michael tried to give me a label, mistakenly thinking it would mean something to me.
"Sure, if Randolph wasn't so powerful, I might have stood a chance of convincing someone. Unfortunately without any of the evidence, I would've had a harder time proving it wasn't just me being a bitch during the divorce. It was the classic 'he said -- she said' sort of accusations that came up during messy legal battles, so there wasn't any reason to push for an investigation. Besides, this is all water long under the bridge since Randolph is dead. Oh, damn, he is dead isn't he?" Horror chased through my mind as I thought maybe the whole past day or so had merely been a ruse to find out what I truly knew and suspected. Paranoia was something the Hagen family sent me towards rapidly even after all these years.
"Didn't you say family and some of their household workers identified him?" I was horrified.
"Well, after yesterday I called back to the coroner's office to see if it had been independently confirmed. The medical examiner said it was a shotgun blast to the head of the victim so the features were unrecognizable. There was no way to independently compare his face with a driver's license -- not that there was any record of a driver's license. So just Rachel Hagen made the initial identification of him. Nobody recalled anyone else making it over, but I could be wrong. And the body was autopsied with nothing noteworthy found and the body was since returned to the family for burial. Nothing was found to dispute the cause of death as suicide so the medical examiners office was happy to release the body. The police report found the spatter pattern of his blood and position of his body consistent with a suicide. But I am curious if you know if Randolph had ever been fingerprinted? Was there a fingerprint set taken during the investigation of your break-in or for the catering office report? Or was he ever in the military?" Michael was reaching for straws because nothing had been done on any of my cases.
"No, no, not as far as I know, why?" I answered. I'd never realized Randolph didn't have a driver's license. It wasn't like I went through his wallet but with hindsight that seemed to be just another thing I should've done.
"To double check the fingerprints, this can be done from the set taken at the coroner's office at any time, Alanna." Michael solemnly explained.
I was relieved he was taking my concerns seriously and not just dismissing my fears outright. But a few more stray thoughts were chasing around my brain. I didn't assume anything when it came to my ex-husband.
"I'll have Peter send a copy of the fingerprint card of your 'false relative' over the comparison." Michael took a moment to jot down the idea in his pocket-sized notebook. Obviously Michael hadn't hit the twenty-first century when it came to electronics.
"Michael, I thought that the medical examiner kept the body after a suicide if there was still an investigation ongoing?" I was puzzled.
"The family had connections. My contact said it was strange to hear of a body released so quickly but the mayor's office personally called and told them to give the family a chance to bury their boy. The personal favor to the mayor was how it would be noted and naturally it wasn't so much a request as a demand. Amy, my contact, said it was a touchy subject around the office and wasn't pressing her boss over it, given how sudden budget cutbacks would immediately impact them all." He shook his head at the heavy-handed politics.
"Okay, Michael, maybe it was Randolph's body and I am just naturally suspicious where he's concerned. If so, he did me a favor by killing himself. One less bit of my past out there waiting to bite me. It just might be Rachel wants to rattle my cage. I must admit though that I am more than a little curious how they found out where I was." I was more than curious, but was trying to use neutral words so Michael would keep talking. I'd found from my dealings with the Hagens that I had to get all the information possible up front because they seemed to be world class at making people and stories disappear.
Michael puzzled over the question before offering a few possibilities, "Do you use any credit cards? Since you mentioned you now go by your maiden name it's possible they found records from your household bills. You know, like your phone, power and taxes -- that sort of thing?"
"No, I just use my name locally and for personal identification. The house is held in a trust account through the company back east I mentioned. The guys and gals from SFD Investments did help by changing my social security number and birth date on my new identification. So I have my maiden name but linked to a different social security number, birthday and place of birth. So I have no clue how Randolph and his family found me." I slowly replied.
He picked up my hand and rubbed at a faint fleck of red paint left on the edge of my cuticle, "Sell any paintings?"
Stunned I bit out, "Oh, damn, yes! That must be it. Six months ago my art was displayed in Taos, New Mexico. My friend, Kerry, the college friend I mentioned, runs the gallery. He opened up a gallery a year ago. Kerry had heard through a common friend of ours on the East coast that I was painting. He wrote me in care of the trust account lawyers and we hooked up about six months ago by phone. He pleaded with me to send a few paintings to help him and his new gallery out."
Shaking my head at my stupidity, "I used a local mail drop box I keep in town for the return address. And I never even went to the exhibit." I fumbled with a thought, "But it's probable that, hell I don't know, here let me check," I broke off and reached for the house phone in the Garden Room. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and scrolled for the number. Picking out the numbers my mind spun while I waited to be connected.
Quickly I called Kerry collect, figuring he owed me. He took the call and soon confirmed my worst fears. Slowly I hung up the receiver and turned to Michael, "Kerry thought he would be cute. He listed just my last name and the town where I now live on a nice 'tasteful' little placard near my paintings. From there it must have been a piece of cake for them to find me. He said he had no idea that Randolph had been in town during the show. But they never met so it's not like either of them knew each other by sight as far as I knew. Nothing in the private eye report I'd found years ago even mentioned Kerry."
"So, Kerry is sorry. Alanna, I hate to say it but it sounds pretty implausible that Randolph would happen to be in Taos during the only showing of your work. How trustworthy is Kerry? Would he give Randolph your home address for money?"
I sputtered, "Of course not! Kerry would sooner sell his soul that sell me out, of this I am absolutely positive!"
Michael's questions and unfounded insinuations made me angry.
"Then we must assume Kerry unwittingly put the info out for all to see and somebody stumbled into the gallery and Randolph was told. Questionable, but I guess it could've happened that way," Michael caught my obvious mood and summed up something more palatable to me.
"I better check in with Peter Grange and see what is going on at my place. Damn it, I hate this," I snarled while dialing out another collect call. I used my cell phone address book to find Peter's office. I wasn't going to pay for someone else's mistakes. Impatiently I waited while the call went through Peter's office and to my surprise he actually answered the call.
"Oh, hi, Alanna," Peter greeted me.
I tackled first things first, "So, what did you find out?"
He cleared his throat and stumbled out with, "Things are a bit worse than I first thought."
"How much worse?" Reluctantly I asked.
Michael looked at me with his eyebrows raised at my tone. I shrugged, I had no idea what was going on but this sounded bad from any angle. Peter responded.
"There have been a few unusual things I discovered while reevaluating your system since the breach," he paused.
This conversation I felt was like I was pulling teeth from a stubborn, close-mouthed mule.
"What do you mean by 'unusual', Peter?"
"Bugs." He succinctly replied.
"Bugs?" I was momentarily flabbergasted, thinking erroneously of the insect variety of creepy crawlies.
Michael perked right up at the word. He cleared up my confusion by tapping his ear while tilting his head. Electronic bugs weren't something I normally associated with my life. Electronics I was definitely a fan of but never in my wildest dreams had I pictured someone spying on my life with listening devices.
"Is this line safe?" I felt compelled to ask.
Peter assured me his lines had all been checked and there was a box attached to indicate if someone else tried to monitor the call. Seemed a little bit late to me but I let him ramble on because I wasn't ready to say anything yet. Bugs and all. I wasn't happy in the least.
"I don't know how else to tell you this, Alanna. But you have to know. Marlene is missing," Peter resumed while I was mentally playing catch up. Marlene? Who the hell was Marlene? Was that Peter's wife? God, was he even married? I was drawing an utter blank. Thankfully he wasn't waiting for me to respond.
"Her mother, Agnes Wayne, said a few days ago Marlene packed an overnight bag and left to go away with a friend. Mrs. Wayne expected Marlene to call, like she normally does, later that evening with the phone number and location of the trip. But four days have passed and nobody has heard from Marlene. Mrs. Wayne doesn't know what to do. Marlene never even called in sick, she just didn't show up for her work schedule." He was speaking more decisively than usually, which wasn't Peter's norm but then, he was fired up. I still didn't know why he was telling me about his personnel problems.
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