Near Indio County
Peter paused, waiting for something from me. His worker was missing. Marlene Wayne. I didn't have a clue what she even looked like. I think I'd met her but wasn't sure. Usually when I called, I spoke with Peter Grange directly. I kind of remembered a vaguely rude gal putting me on hold once or twice, but I wasn't positive.
"Sure, Peter, so Marlene didn't call you at all?" I was just bunting. Michael nodded, hearing my comment and trying to discern where the conversation was going. I certainly didn't know.
"I didn't start putting this together with your problem, Alanna, until this morning." I know my eyes grew huge because I didn't like the sound of that any better than just a missing gal. Michael joined me, and tried to lean in to hear also.
We both listened as Peter stammered slightly then spit out, "When I started working on the computer system at your home and I found some irregularities. Apparently Marlene gave someone computer access to the system. She doesn't have the background to do any programming, so I am assuming another person is involved with her and did all the complex computer work."
"Peter, cut to the chase. What had Marlene allowed Randolph to do to and with my security system?" Michael had trouble hearing and had resumed his place on the edge of his chair. I could tell he was barely controlling his urge to snatch the receiver from my hand and talk with Peter himself. Holding up one finger I indicated he could have the phone in a minute.
"Besides the audio bugs connected to your phones, the computer system was accessed to utilize the data from the home monitoring systems both inside and outside. The cameras were all functioning twenty-four hours a day. I still don't know how long exactly this has been happening since the hacker put in an auto-destructive virus sequence which has scrambled much of our programs and generally froze the entire system." Peter spoke quickly.
"What do you mean that the data from my cameras were on? Are you trying to tell me that Randolph had access to watch me at any time for an indefinite number of days, if not weeks?" I am pretty sure my voice jumped up an octave. Total fear did have that effect on me.
"I can't say for sure that Randolph was the one," Peter tersely added, "but it does appear possible that someone had viewed the household data offsite. I haven't been able to trace the location where the downloads are being dumped."
"You keep using neutral terms like downloads and data. Peter, that 'data' is me! Me eating, sleeping, showering, dressing and let's not forget -- undressing!" I was furious.
Peter continued sputtering apologies and I said nothing in response. My entire life had been once again ruined. I knew it had to be the Hagens screwing with me -- even though I didn't have any proof. I told him in a flat tone that Michael wanted to speak with him and handed the receiver over without another word.
In the background I heard Michael tell Peter that there was a distinct possibility that Marlene had been killed. Michael said such an act would fit the pattern in these types of cases. I momentarily wondered how Michael had such specific knowledge since he was just a city cop -- by his own admission. Michael went onto tell Peter than he wanted my animals boarded at the nearest kennel on Peter's expense account. I was surprised that Michael considered my dogs in all the confusion of the past few days.
While I began to wander around the room and poke on the shelves and admire the plants and pictures I did find myself drawn to Michael's conversation with Peter. There was a discussion between them about the extent of compromising done to my home and naturally my computer driven security system. Michael asked questions I hadn't even begun to consider. He also confessed that there was a strong possibility that I'd been found out from Kerry's posting my name and hometown in his painting gallery.
Michael waved me over and asked, "Alanna, do you want me to have him rip out the system and completely replace all the components?"
I looked over to see he was holding the receiver flat against his chest while he was waiting for my answer, "Honestly, I don't have a clue." Looking at the expression on his face I added, "Tell him to search for any and all signs of intruders electronically," sickened I added softer, "and then physically replace it all."
He relayed my message and listened to Peter for a minute then asked, "Alanna, do you mind of Peter keeps the dogs at his house instead? He isn't fond of kennels and seems to think that they aren't acting normally. He pointed out that time at a kennel wouldn't help strengthen their training any but make them feel like they were being punished."
Michael nodded his agreement I think without any awareness that he'd done it. I felt a pang of loss. Peter would probably end up keeping my dogs. I liked the dopey animals, but lately I'd been so busy painting I knew I'd neglected them. I never wanted to be a bad owner. My house was in the middle of tons of land, but dogs needed affection, not just room to stretch their legs. They needed an owner who'd actively play with them. In spite of all the problems I had with Peter he was good with the dogs. He'd originally purchased and trained them as part of his 'full service security system'. Putting off any specific decisions, I reluctantly told Michael that it would be all right.
They spoke a bit longer, but I was pretty much tuning them both out by then because I wasn't sure I was ready for the next round. I sipped at my ice-cold tea -- it hadn't started that way but the innkeeper had been discrete and substituted iced tea when she figured out we weren't going anywhere quickly. Mentally I was turning over the possibilities and not overly thrilled with anything my mind was coming up with during the mental gymnastics. Michael hung up and turned back to me saying, "So where do you want to go?"
"Obviously home is out. You have any objections to driving over to LA with me? I figured I better start checking out the health of some old friends of mine. I need to see how they are doing with my own eyes." I dryly replied while I was still twisting back and forth my fears and worries.
"Alanna, come on, well over four years after your 'disappearing' act don't you think you will startle them suddenly just showing up?" Michael had a point, but I refused to listen. I was feeling guilty.
"Yes, but obviously Randolph's family knows that I am still alive. They knew how and where to send you. I have find out if anyone got hurt while Randolph got that information. Kerry is okay, I don't think Randolph realized that we were friends. His finding me was some odd fluke but nevertheless Kerry was fine when we spoke." I shook my head and added, "But I don't know that the Danzinger family and my old staff are as unscathed. Michael, I have a very bad feeling about all of this. Randolph could hold a grudge very well in the past, so he may have harmed any one of them thinking they could lead him to me. I had thought leaving the area would protect them, but now I'm not so sure that it made any difference."
I don't know why Michael looked so taken back by this notion. He didn't try to dissuade me but slowly nodded in agreement. "You may be right."
We made plans to leave the following morning. He called a friend of his in the Los Angeles area to check on the names of my old work associates and friends. His pal wasn't supposed to disturb anyone, just check to see if they were where they were supposed to be according to DMV printouts, phone books or my last known addressed for them. I had my address book in my purse.
Relieved I went to bed. I had felt somewhat strange telling Michael about the twisting and turning of my life. The victimized feelings I had been having since this all had begun were repugnant. Firmly I told myself aloud I wasn't to be blamed for Randolph and his weird family. I refused to abuse myself over any of this, I verbally chastised myself as I readied for sleep, and nevertheless I tossed and turned during the night.
From a distance the Watcher found Alanna in place still.
Oh, lucky me! She stayed at the bed and breakfast for another night. It wasn't like I got any sleep in the room next to her. All that mumbling and cursing in her sleep. I guess reliving the entire set of events in her past wasn't the best way to unwind after being scared out of her home.
Took too long to listen to her stupid prattle. I need to get out and stretch my legs a bit. Well, more than my legs if the truth were told. The Marlene situation was necessary but regrettable. She was always up for whatever I wanted to do. I should visit her dear old mom really soon, it sounds like. Damn woman still causing problems, even in death. Fanging into Mrs. Wayne could take care of a few other issues if time permits.
Alanna really noticed more than I'd expected. Rachel didn't have a clue how much her hatred leaked through in her conversations with Alanna. But then let's be honest, nobody ever had a clue that Alanna was even somewhat intelligent. She pretty much came off as a flaky pastry chef with a good prosperous business. Color me surprised. I should have known she was sandbagging her intellect to keep jobs. Live and learn. Or not.
* * *
We arrived downtown about two o'clock to a lovely afternoon. I was surprised to find I was actually happy to be back in LA. I hadn't ventured into the city since four years prior when I had staged my escape. Yet, I had missed the area it seemed. Smog and all, Los Angeles grows on a person. Breathing in deeply I smiled at the forgotten scent of diesel fumes that were mixing freely with the scent of fresh ground espresso beans from a nearby coffee shop. Close by an elderly man was panhandling discreetly on the street corner of the action-packed street.
The moderately priced hotel that still had rooms available worked as our downtown base. Michael had gone online and used one of the random dot com hotel sites that gave deep discounts without compromising on amenities or at least that's what they claimed. At first Michael had tried to talk me into staying with him or one of his friends. I argued that I needed the security of knowing that I could deadbolt the door and be safe and anonymous. The hotel had an aggressive security team and nice strong doors. What more could I ask for?
Traveling so abruptly I had brought almost nothing with me since Michael had first appeared on my doorstep. Thus I reasoned with Michael that I needed to shop. With a quick call to my East Coast trustee I was able to pick up some cash I had wired to a local bank in the downtown area. Afterwards I headed to the closest mall and enjoyed the impromptu shopping spree. Easily I found a nice piece of luggage with wheels, and the various other bits of life's necessities along with a general cross-purpose wardrobe. The shopping center catered to busy people with the added benefit of a delivery service, of which I cheerfully made use, having my bags and awkward packages sent back to the hotel for a price. After a few hours I called Michael; he was still at the hotel working on some more information.
Initially he'd fought with me about my shopping trip but didn't really get to win the argument because I adamantly refused to continue my quest with only one outfit and no toothbrush. Reluctantly I finally had his 'permission' to go and he was extremely relieved when I called to check in after I'd nearly finished my spending binge. Once I'd hung up I sat at one of the tables by an espresso cart sipping a mocha flavored cappuccino and nibbled an almond biscotti cookie. The food made me feel human again. Also the knowledge I wouldn't be wearing the same thing in a few hours definitely lifted my mood. I sat pondering all the new changes in my life. Granted, none of this had been what I had intended to be doing, but if Randolph was really dead and gone I actually stood a chance of surviving. The panic that had seized me since Michael had darkened my doorstep was finally beginning to diminish.