I packed the small amount of things we had unpacked while Allison still slept. Then I gently shook her. “Allison. Honey, you need to wake up now,” I murmured in her ear.
She stretched, her eyes fluttering open. Lucky for me, my baby girl was a morning person--pleasant and easy to wake. “Mom?” Her voice still scratchy with sleep, she looked a me and then glanced around the room. “Are we going home now?”
“No baby. But we have to leave. Mr. Dominic is coming with us. Get dressed quickly. We’ll stop at wherever you want of breakfast.”
She hopped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. Back a minute later, she stripped her pajamas and slipped on a t-shirt and jeans. “What’s wrong, Mom? Are we taking Mr. Dominic’s car?”
Leave it to a ten-year-old to ask two so opposite questions back to back. “I’ll explain once we’re on the road, and after you’ve eaten. And, yes, we’ll be in the Mustang.” I tossed her night clothes into her duffle bag. “Do you want to carry Buzzles, or pack him?”
“It’ll be easier if I pack him, won’t it?” It was more statement than question. My girl was intuitive, and her fairly recent past had forced her to grow up way too soon. Combine that with her sharp intellect, and she definitely knew something was up.
We met Dominic by the front door, bag and keys in hand. “You ladies ready?” he asked in a jovial tone that belied the true nature of why we were leaving.
I helped Allison climb in the back seat, asking, “Where would you like to stop for breakfast, sweetie? It has to be drive through.”
She buckled her seat belt and dug in her book bag, pulling out the novel she was reading for class. “Um. Can we do McDonald’s?”
“Sure, baby. Anything you want.” I flipped the seat back into place. The book bag had slipped my mind. It was good that she would have other things to do besides play video games. And it would give a sense of normalcy to an otherwise very abnormal situation.
A police cruiser pulled up, blocking the driveway. Officer Brecky climbed out of the passenger side, and Dominic met her halfway to the Mustang. The angle of his body--very straight and rigid--said confrontational, so I closed the door and waited by the car, watching.
“You taking them somewhere, Mr. Sterling?” Brecky’s tone was firm and almost menacing as she stood with her hands on her hips, the right only an inch from her pistol. If she hand’t been in uniform, her voice edged in cold steel, she could’ve been having a casual conversation.
“Yes, Officer. Allison wants McDonald’s for breakfast, so I’m treating. Then we’re taking a leisurely drive. The girl loves my car, and since she can’t go home, I thought it would be better to take her for a ride than coup her up in a strange house.”
He was way too good at this twisting the truth stuff.
Brecky shifted her emerald gaze to me. “You okay, Ella?”
I shrugged. “As good as I can be, considering.” I was surprised to find that under pressure I was pretty good at skirting the truth, too. I didn’t lie, but I didn’t give any information, either.
Brecky took note of it. “Uh-huh,” she said, a corner of her mouth pulling back to show she wasn’t buying any of it.
She turned back to Dominic. “Don’t go far, Sterling. Ella may trust you, but I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a suspect in all of this.”
I could’t see his face, but the sound of his voice told me Dominic had turned on his charming smile. Not that it would work on the cop. She wasn’t the type that melted for guys like him. “Officer, I don’t want to step on your toes, but Ella and Allison are under my protection. The person giving me orders outranks you quite a bit. If he tells me to fly them to Paris, I will.
“Given the people being investigated, I think you’ll find the case stripped from your desk very soon. Possibly today.”
He sighed and ran a hand through is hair. Dropping his voice so I had to strain to hear him, he added, “Look Brecky. I like you. You’re a good cop. But this goes way over your head. I’m working for the FBI on this. It’s why I’m here to begin with. I care about Ella very much, and if my boss tells me to take her and Allison and go, that’s what I’m gonna do.
“You’ll get more information when they come to collect your files on the case. If I’m not mistaken, you like Ella, and you won’t give this up easily. So, consider this a warning. The FBI is coming, and they will confiscate your records. If you want to stay on this, cover your bases. They won’t work with you on this one. It’s too big.”
She let the information set in, then gave a slight nod, glanced at me, and said, “Take care of them, Sterling.” She turned and walked the short distance back to the cruiser. When the door had shut, she gave me a little wave while Dominic walked back to the Mustang.
We both climbed in, and I watched the neighborhood where I had raised my little girl roll past for what could very well be the last time. Tears stung as memories flooded me.
All too soon we were at the McDonald’s drive-through ordering egg McMuffins, hash browns, coffee, and orange juice. We headed for the entry ramp to the interstate while I helped Allison poke the straw into her juice.
Church Hill and Summerville were behind us in a matter of minutes.