Coastal Los Angeles County
I got up from the table and went to the fridge. The shotgun house we were borrowing from one of Paul's connections was probably built either just before World War II or right after from what I saw. I wasn't an authority on that era but knew the style was prominent in Los Angeles. The thick lathe and plaster walls were somehow reassuring to me as I dove into my memories to try to let Paul and Michael figure out why my life had gone seriously astray again. Paul's friend hadn't over accessorized the place so the hardwood floors were broken up with some nice rugs. The living room was covered with an expensive Persian rug rich in russet and golden threads. The furniture was well-oiled teak and thankfully free of bric-a-brac and dusty doilies. The pictures on the walls weren't prints but actual oil paintings and a few water colors nicely spaced in the rooms.
"Alanna, you want to take a break?" Michael considerately asked.
"No, don't worry. I need to get this out." I pulled out one of the water bottles we'd brought with us. Paul had thought of pretty much everything. It made me wonder if he'd done witness babysitting or what while being a detective. It wasn't like they wanted to talk to me about their lives. No, all they want to hear was how I'd ended up in LA with some insane man tracking my every move. The green envelopes reappearing definitely were jangling my nerves.
"You were starting to tell us about the older brother?" Paul centered his laptop and tapped a few new bits while I settled back down on a chair. They had suggested we keep the blinds drawn in case we were followed. I felt a bit claustrophobic sitting in the chair facing the front of the house. I liked looking outside but had let the men keep the curtains and blinds shut.
I began spinning out for them what I knew about Randolph's older brother.
Wilson Drake Hagen was the most fascinating unseen of the Hagen family members to me. I found it peculiar that he was the first-born yet he didn't get the successive family name. Randolph told me that from the beginning his mother knew Drake, as he was called, was inferior and a broken specimen. Randolph said his older brother, Drake, wasn't strong enough for the job of taking over the leadership of his family. I don't know for a fact that Randolph was correct or if it was just wishful thinking on his part. Rachel and Randa never spoke a word about Drake. Randolph spoke of Drake most often late at night. Something in the dark made Randolph fearful of his past ghosts.
Drake carved Randolph's entire life apart. So I only have the words of Randolph and Marge when I retell the stories and descriptions of Drake and he did. But given their closeness I wasn't sure who was telling the story. Anything out of Marge's mouth was naturally suspect to say the least. She was Randolph's creation in oh, so many ways.
As a young boy Drake lived in Africa with the entire family. He set a servant of a schoolmate afire and the township covered it up because the concluded it must have been some horrible accident. Randolph was very small when it occurred. He said Drake later told him he enjoyed it and did it just because he wanted to hear the screams as the servant went to heaven. Randolph said that sharing a bedroom with Drake had been part of the torture his mother and father did to him.
I was told that when Drake was a teenager he became more volatile and was kicked out as many as four schools between the ages of ten and fifteen. Marge told me that Rachel knew where Drake was after he disappeared from the family gatherings. Supposedly he was in some branch of the military but Randolph said that he'd never been able to pin her down to exactly which branch of the government. Given the obvious sociopathic tendencies in the family I always thought Special Ops would have welcomed him and given him a purpose to his killing impulses.
Drake was five years older than Randolph, which would put him at nearly forty. I never was given any idea what he looked like from anyone. Randolph didn't describe his brother's physical attributes, much less if he favored his mother or father. Now the mental depiction was fairly lengthy. Randolph portrayed Drake as a liar, manipulator, tormentor and overall evil human being. His anger at Drake never diminished one iota during the entire time we were together. Randolph blamed Drake for what he termed his 'abandonment'.
The horrors of Drake were always, to me, from a child's perspective. Even the way Randolph spoke underwent change when Drake was the subject. It was like he was reduced to fighting his battles all over again. He claims that he didn't see Drake after he was sent to live with Randa when he was five. Every meeting with his father and mother, separately or together, was without Drake. He said that Drake deserved his banishment.
Yes, my ex-husband referred to his living in luxury with Randa and at times Marge as just that, a banishment or abandonment -- depending on his frame of mind. I never heard anyone say a word about Randolph being denied anything; quite the opposite was true. What Randolph wanted Randolph got. He saw his parents frequently but felt they were only mocking him with their attempts to make him part of the 'real' family. I always thought Randolph lied about never seeing Drake. It was more like he didn't want me to have the chance to find out how many of the stories told were lies. And if Drake had been made real to me it could have brought out more of Randolph's flaws.
When Randolph met me he claimed the fact we both were orphans made us an ideal couple. I was an orphan, by accident, him by parental choice. I didn't ask about Drake. He just volunteered information about his absent brother. But what was really odd about all of those late night conversations was that over all they were growing far too disturbing and frequently horribly familiar. They started to give me nightmares.
Once I finished wrapping up what I knew about the family, I looked up at Paul and Michael for their input. Paul had been busy clicking and typing the whole time I was talking. At first it disturbed me, but I began to ignore it once I figured out that Paul wasn't going to jump up and yell, 'Oh My God!' or something like that while I was talking; I relaxed and continued talking.
Frustrated I watched them exchange covert glances.
"What?" I neurotically asked.
I'd noticed that it had taken them only a day to become partners again. Already I felt like the odd man out; Michael had pulled away from answering me directly -- disturbing given just twenty-four hours before he would have tried to reassure me and given me an answer.
"We've found out a few things. I'm waiting for some email replies to confirm a few more items." Paul solemnly began. The tone had turned ominous with this beginning. I wasn't stupid and knew anything he'd found wasn't pretty. Part of me wondered if I should have let them go first earlier in the conversation. They had shut me out of the loop quite effectively. I waited for one of them to continue.
Michael broke first, "None of this is your fault. We've been trying to figure out a way to tell you all day."
"Oh, my god, guys you're really starting to scare me. What's wrong?" I bit out.
"Try to stay calm. Remember we're here to help, okay?"
I glared at Paul. I detested being told to stay calm not to mention the whole 'we're here to help' bit, which made me think of the movie, "Men In Black", and various government conspiracy theories.
"Enough drama, tell me!" I snarled.
"Quite a few of your friends are missing, others don't want anything to do with you, and I regret to say some are dead." Paul answered.
"What? Who?" I babbled, totally stunned by this reply.
"That bakery lady, Shelly. She was out on Lake Mead in Nevada with her family when the houseboat they rented blew up. The family never knew what hit them. A faulty fuel valve or something was to blame according to the investigators report. Just a freak accident," Michael was the one picked to inform me in the careful nod from Paul.
I looked at them both appalled and horrified. Somehow instinctively I knew this wasn't going to go well. My heart was racing hearing that Shelly was dead. I didn't want to listen to anything more, but I wasn't going to get a chance to stop them. My life was shifting and changing. I wanted to scream and make it all stop but simply listened.
"Shelly's mishap was three years ago. Then Janice, your executive secretary, was carjacked in downtown about two years ago. She wasn't killed outright but shot. She died a few months later after being in a coma caused by the carjacker. There were no leads to follow since she was in an isolated area at the time. Naturally, no witnesses ever came forward." Michael sounded upset by that but I knew Randolph didn't exactly leave witnesses.
Sighing Michael added, "Her car was found a couple months later by cops in San Diego at a chop shop they busted. They arrested the owners of the illegal business but needless to say nobody could remember who'd brought her car in for disposal. Carjacking has become such a deadly and violent crime the justice system has cracked down on the perps but they don't always give up their suppliers much less their buyers. So the cops prosecuted the owners for possession of stolen vehicles and tacked on a charge of accessories to murder for Janice."
I shuddered, "Who else is dead?"
"Jean Claude was involved with a married woman. Her husband caught them together and killed them and suicided. It was subsequently ruled a murder-suicide by the coroner. That happened just last year. René Danzinger and the rest of his family haven't been seen. They closed your old business after the tragedy. Near as we can piece together, they all just hightailed it back to France. Nobody has seen or heard from them since." Michael didn't seem to think that the Danzinger family was going to surface anytime soon. But then I was happy to know they were probably still safe.
Grimly we continued down my list of friends and acquaintances. I was dazed by how thoroughly my past had disintegrated. There was no single person who I really I knew as more than a casual business friend or family friend who I could surprise with my remarkable resurrection. Over the past few years I'd lost touch and dropped so firmly out of sight that to reemerge would pretty much be meaningless. I sat there alone in the house I didn't own, much less know the owners, on somebody's furniture shivering. Both Paul and Michael tried to prod my memory for other names but I couldn't think of anyone else. I had covered them all and was truly by myself now. They kept trying to reassure myself that Michael and Paul would help me the best they could.
I grabbed a blanket from the edge of the sofa and wrapped myself inside. Once completely cocooned I looked at the two men. They were strangers as far as I was concerned. Telling me I was in shock, Michael handed me a cup of highly sweetened tea he'd quickly prepared. Reluctantly I scorched my tongue as I numbly gulped the mixture. Dulled by pain beyond my mouth -- soul deep -- I mentally distanced myself from their muted conservations. How could anything have happened to Shelly? She was so full of life. To hear of her family also dying, sent me spiraling with pain. Michael unclenched the teacup from my knotted fingers. Unheeding of his assistance, I got up and walked through the archway of the living room, continuing until I found a bed in one of the various rooms shooting off from the main hallway that ran the length of the house. I shut the door and went to the bed. Carefully closing my eyes I willed myself to unconsciousness.