Two hours later, Allison and I were riding with Officer Brecky as she drove us toward home. I had stopped in to see Dominic, but they were keeping him overnight for observation. I didn’t want to stay at or near the hospital, so I told Brecky that I wanted to head home.
Her offer of putting us up in a hotel without the aid of the police was the best offer I’d had in the past couple days. Her cryptic words about having been through this before clung to my thoughts like a spider web. I was constantly pushing them away while trying to make a mental checklist of everything that still needed to be done.
My husband was dead. I needed to schedule a funeral for him. I also had to do something for Cassie. She was my best friend and had no family. I wasn’t sure how to go about handling her affairs, but a lawyer could probably help with that.
Then there was the house where Michael and Cassie had been murdered as pawns in Luke Ritter’s evil game of revenge. My house. Our home. What was I going to do with the house? I wasn’t sure I could bare walking into it, much less living in it. I’d have to find Allison and myself a place to stay while I searched for a new house. But, for now, I needed to get through this day and the next. One day at a time. Protecting my baby and surviving was key at this point.
We had no idea where Ritter was, who else was on his payroll, or what they had planned. I was putting my faith, perhaps blindly considering all the people who had screwed us over already, in the woman sitting next to me. I had no one else.
When we were still far enough out of town to change the zip code, we pulled into a hotel parking lot. It was a regular hotel, with the room doors on the inside of the building instead of the motel type of lodging with access to the outside. I had mixed feelings about that, but again, I put my trust in Officer Brecky.
The lobby was impeccable, with gleaming marble floors and gilded-framed art on the sage walls. As dirty and tattered as Allison and I were, I was sure they’d turn us away. Still, I approached the desk beside Brecky and stood there while she requested adjacent second floor rooms connected by a door, with queen beds. Then, keys in hand, we headed to the elevators.
Allison immediately went into the bathroom with her bag. “Mom, can I take a shower now?” she asked, poking her head through the door.
“Sure, honey. I’ll be right here with Officer Brecky.” We sat at the small round table by the window. “Why the second floor, specifically?” I asked her.
Her emerald eyes looked out to the parking lot one floor below. “It gives you an easy escape if needed without being easy for anyone to get in.” She turned back to me. “Don’t open the door for anyone but me. I’ll get you and Allison food. Whatever you want. Just don’t open that door until we’re sure who is who. You’ll stay here four days, tops. Hopefully by then we’ll have gotten to Ritter.”
I sat there studying the tension in her exotic features. The way her jaw flexed rhythmically. The stress pinching the corners of her eyes.
I asked her point blank, “What did you mean when you said you’ve been through this before?”
She took a deep breath and turned to stare out the window, her eyes distant and unfocused. I waited long seconds before she said, “When I was twenty, I got myself mixed up in the twisted hierarchy of the drug world. I fell for an older guy climbing his way up the drug lord ladder. He was one step down from the top. He was dark and beautiful, and he promised me the world.” She turned back to me, her eyes coming into focus again. “He was known as Diablo because he held nothing back, gave no mercy. I called him Luke.”
I blinked my surprise away. That was a turn I had never expected. “Luke? As in Ritter?”
She gave me a nod. “The very same. He was ambitious. And when the guy above him was taken out, he became king. The murder is still unsolved, but I know Luke ordered the hit. To be honest, I think he did it himself. I hung around for another year, but when Big Ben was murdered I left. Went underground.
“After a year or so I came out of hiding, moved here and joined the force. I already had a college education, so I went through the academy and testing for detective work. I wanted to be able to do something about guys like Ritter.”
I sat there staring at her. Too much information, too fast. She dated Luke Ritter? She was there when Big Ben was murdered? That meant she was there when Dominic and I were in the thick of it, too. Did I ever meet her?
“It’s a lot to take in, I know,” she said. She gazed out the window again. “Now is my chance to make something good come out of all the shit I saw when I was with him. Pay my debt to society for sitting back and letting it happen. Not that I could’ve stopped him then. But I lavished in the luxury he surrounded me with. All acquired with dirty money.”
I took a deep breath and let it our slowly, turning to stare through the plate glass at the parking lot beyond. “Okay. So where does that put us now? What am I supposed to do while you play vigilante cop with Ritter? I have a daughter to think about.”
I could feel her eyes on me, but I didn’t turn back to her. Instead, I closed my eyes and took another breath. “God, I wish Dominic had never shown up here,” I mumbled.
Brecky’s hands fell on my shoulders. “I didn’t trust Dominic at first. Maybe you understand why now. And I understand why you would say that. After all, he is why you and your family were thrown onto this roller coaster of life and death.
“However, in the few short days I’ve been on this case, my opinions have changed. He put his life on the line to protect you and Allison. That doesn’t come lightly. I think he truly wants the best for you.” Her breath brushed my ear as she bent down and added, “I think, if you told him to, he’d walk away and never look back. Because he really does care.”
She squeezed my shoulders and walked to the window. “That’s for you to stew over later. Right now we need to go over escape plans and such.” She turned back to me, and our eyes locked. “Nobody knows we’re here, but I don’t put it past Ritter to have us tailed. I’ll be in the room next door, but I’ll stay here with Allison while you shower. Once the sun goes down, keep the blackout curtains closed. Don’t come out, and do not open the door for anyone except me. We’ll have a code word for emergencies. If you need to get through that door,” she indicated the door between our rooms, “knock two times and say the code word. You pick the word.”
“Um. I don’t know, Brecky. What kind of word should it be?”
“Ella, please call me Samantha. It should be easy to remember, but not obvious. Something you might need, like ‘blanket’ or ‘pillow.’ But you have to pick it.”
I chewed on my lip, thinking about it. “Hungry,” I said. “Would that work?”
She nodded her dark head. “That’s perfect. Sleep in your clothes so you’re ready to go if necessary. And keep at least one light on so you can see the room. My car will be right outside the window.” She tossed me a key. “Here’s a key. It’s your getaway car if you need it. Cell on vibrate under your pillow. . . With this,” she handed me a .9mm pistol. “You know gun rules. Safety on, no round in the chamber. But don’t forget to cock it if you need to.
“As long as it’s quiet tonight, I’ll get you in the morning. I’ll knock on the outside door. We can order breakfast off the hotel menu, and I’ll pick it up. I don’t want service of any kind here, so leave the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door. For your safety, you two can’t leave this room. I’ll get you whatever you want to keep you occupied.” She smiled a mother’s smile. “Within reason, of course.
I ran through everything as I understood it. She corrected me on a few things, but I felt secure with the plan.
When Allison came out of the bathroom in a plume of steam, I took my turn. Then Samantha went to get us Chinese food. You have to have Chinese food when you’re hiding out from bad guys in a hotel, right? We ate, and Samantha went next door.
Allison and I curled up together on one bed watching a movie. When she drifted off, I played the waiting game alone, guarding my baby girl. There was no way I was going to sleep that night, no matter how secure it might have felt.