by M.E. Logan
The past keeps Kendra McKenna in torment. Her first love is dead and haunts her while the murderer walks free. Kendra might be able to avenge her, but only if she can play a dangerous deception with old enemies. She has no room in her life for distractions.
When reporter Robin Slusher recognizes Kendra among a militia’s ranks she can only guess at her motives. Their surprising, passionate affair ended by Kendra’s choice, leaving Robin badly bruised. Determined to remain professional, she’s certain Kendra’s warnings are just more emotional games. Then she asks one question too many…
Caught up in deceit and betrayal—and feelings neither of them trust—can two women work together before they lose everything, including their lives?
Praise for M.E. Logan
Alice B. Readers: Lavender Certificate for Debut Author 2013
“I must be crazy,” Kendra muttered as she looked over her wooden worktable scattered with electronic parts and wires.
“How so?” Linda responded from her perch on top of the four-drawer filing cabinet. She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knee. “Isn’t this what you wanted? To be accepted by the militia, to be part of the group, the inside circle?”
Kendra scowled at her. “You know damn good and well what I wanted. I wanted to find Artie.”
“Well, you found him, and he’s not going nowhere.”
Kendra gave a derisive snort. “Not until the county releases him at least.” She picked up the needle-nose pliers and the computer board. “Damn fool. Just had to be showing off and firing a gun in the air.”
By itself, she fumed, that wasn’t bad, but he’d been busted for domestic violence and, right before that, a DUI. Those charges kept racking up and when he came up on the weapons charge, what might have been a misdemeanor got upgraded to a third-degree felony and mandatory eighteen months.
Nothing to do with her though, except she had moved back home to Walton’s Corner expecting to spend only a few months here, certainly not over a year. Artie serving time for eighteen months had sentenced her as well.
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.”
She threw the pliers down, too irritated to do the fine detail work the computer board required. What was she doing here anyway? She spent how many years focused on escaping, going to college, getting away from all the limitations of small- town Indiana rural life and now she was right back where she started. Sitting in the middle of a compound with a bunch of malcontents and misfits, half of who were convinced the world, was going to come to an end, or at least the civilized world and the other half who were entirely willing to hasten the event. She ran her fingers through her short dark hair, clenching the thick curls in frustration.
“You know,” Linda pointed out, “you don’t have to stay here. You had good intentions; you came here and tried. It’s not your fault Artie went to jail.”
“Not for his real crime,” Kendra snapped. She released her hair and rubbed her face, her blunt fingers going over the broad facial features that denoted her Midwestern background. “Besides, I ran out on you once. You really expect me to do it twice?”
Linda looked out the window, to watch a light snow falling. “I told you to go—get out of here, make a life for yourself. If we couldn’t both leave, at least you had a chance.”
“You could have come with me!” Full of nervous energy, Kendra got to her feet, moving around the table, looking for she didn’t know what to drain off her frustration.
Linda turned to give Kendra a sad smile. “Old argument, dear heart. I didn’t. Too late now.”
Too late, too late, too late. The words went around and around in Kendra’s brain. Missed opportunities. Things she didn’t do. Things she should have done. Things she could have done.
More might have been said but they were interrupted by a sharp rap on the door. A tall, broad-faced man shoved the door open with his shoulder as he carried boxes in, kicking the door shut behind him with his foot.
“You talking to yourself again, Mac?”
“You see anyone else in here to talk to, Stockton?”
Stockton deliberately looked around even as he set the boxes down on the corner of the worktable. Kendra moved around the table, taking back her seat as he looked back at her.
“No.” He shook his head. “I worry about you sometimes, Mac. Something just ain’t right.”
“Well, that makes us even, Stockton. I worry about you, too.”
She looked up at him, still half scowling. Usually she had definite feelings about someone, but Stockton, there was an uncertainty there.
He leaned against the windowsill and watched her piece the computer parts together. “You hear the news?”
“What’s that?” She took in his folded arms, seemingly casual. No, he was watching for her reaction. She was so tired of having to watch every word, every response.
“It’s confirmed. Jeffers is getting out early.”
Her heart lurched, but she casually reached for another piece to cover any of her involuntary movement. She glanced up at Stockton in an effort to be just mildly curious. “How’d he manage that?”
“Nothing he did. Indiana Civil Liberties Union sued the county about jail overcrowding. The state had already moved him to the county because of their overcrowding. County cut a deal, had to reduce the number kept in the jail. Wasn’t anywhere else to move him. So he’s getting out early.”
“Well, that’ll put a different spin around here.”
Stockton straightened up. “That’s for sure.” He glanced around the room again as if looking for someone. He looked back at Kendra. “He wasn’t happy hearing about you being here. You know that don’t you?”
“Tough titty. He wasn’t here to block it. So I’m in. He can deal with it. Not my problem.” Kendra dismissed the subject of Artie as she pulled the box toward her, ripped off the taped down shipping papers. “This is. And what it is this? I didn’t order anything.”
Stockton pushed off from the window as Kendra didn’t rise to his baiting. “Sure hope it stays that way.”
Kendra gave him a sharp look of puzzlement.
“That it’s not your problem,” Stockton amended. Then with a wave of his hand, he indicated the box. “That just came in. Didn’t have a name on it, but it’s electronics so I thought it was something you ordered.”
Kendra shook her head. “I’ll take a look at it, track it down.”
When she didn’t say anything else but continued to frown at the paperwork, Stockon finally turned away. “Okay. Guess I’ll catch you later.”
Once the door shut, Kendra put the paperwork down.
“Damn.” Linda spoke this time from the top of the bookcase. “That is news.” She tilted her head in question. “Why the frown? Isn’t that what you wanted? Artie out?”
“Yeah,” Kendra said slowly. “I’m more curious as to why Stockton wanted to make sure I knew.”
“You know,” Linda said in careful tones, “he’s right. Artie won’t be happy that you’re still here, never mind in as tight as you’ve gotten. I won’t consider it running out on me if you decide to leave before he gets back.”
Kendra absently shook her head. “No. I’m not some scared twenty-two-year-old now.” She felt the steely resolve. “I’m in for the duration.”
Linda sat up with an alarmed expression. “Kendra, I recognize that look. You have no idea what Artie might do if you confront him. I don’t want you taking that risk. You can’t undo what he’s done.”
“No, but I can make him pay for it,” Kendra said resolutely. She looked up at Linda. “A little late for second thoughts, girlfriend. You should have thought of that when I saw you at the fireworks.”
The Fourth of July fireworks at Carmelfest, Carmel, Indiana. That’s when it all started.
The projectile launched with a thunderous muffled boom and whistled high over the crowded softball diamond before it exploded in a riot of red and silver. The slightly humid air held the colors, letting them drift down slowly to the ooooohhhhs! and ahhhhhhs! of the appreciative spectators.
“Marvelous! Good start!”
The voice was so familiar Kendra McKenna didn’t even think it strange, and by the time she realized it, the last colors were fading and it was dark again, too dark to identify anyone readily.
Travis, E. E. Travis, beside her, took a deep breath of controlled breathing. “Okay,” she said in a deliberate voice. “That was pretty. A chrysanthemum, wasn’t it?”
“Actually,” Kendra said absently as she continued to look around, surveying the people surrounding them, “it was a peony. Chrysanthemums have tails, look like streamers.”
“Oh.” Travis quickly gulped her soft drink, grabbed a piece of ice and flinched as the next shots went off, three in quick succession. She took some deep breaths. “I–I really appreciate you coming with me tonight, Kendra.”
Kendra only half noticed the blue and silver, the greens, the bright white that lit up the ball field, exposing upturned faces. She was more aware of Travis’s anxiety, the excitement of the crowd, the hushed awe that fireworks generated. “No problem,” she said as she decided she had been hearing things. Memories. They can trick the mind. And it had been a long time since she had attended fireworks.
“Wonder what makes the green,” Travis commented. Her face was turned up toward the fireworks, but her eyes were closed.
Travis opened her eyes and turned to her friend in some surprise.
Kendra stood there, uncomfortable as she grew conscious of Travis’s appraisal. She didn’t like drawing attention to herself, tried hard to blend into the crowd, any crowd. Average height, average weight, which meant she was stocky without being athletic. Boring, she considered herself. Reserved, she’d heard friends tactfully describe her. She didn’t realize that what she considered dull and certainly unexciting, her friends found steady and comforting. Someone described her brown eyes as trustworthy, steady, which Kendra considered more complimentary than being called sexy.
“Copper for a lot of the blue green, but the pure green, like that.” Kendra pointed up to the bursting color above them in an effort to get Travis’s attention off her. “That’s barium.”
“You–uh, you seem to know a lot about fireworks for someone who doesn’t like them.”
Kendra took a deep draw of the canned root beer and rested her head back against the tree trunk she was leaning against. “Never said I didn’t like them; just don’t go to them.”
Kendra shook her head. She didn’t want to discuss old history, old times. They were best left unspoken.
“I mean,” Travis said as she stepped back into the trees when the comet exploded in four different directions, a mass of crisscrossing trails of red. She swallowed and started again, “I know what they do to me.” She shook her head and leaned against the tree. “Kendra, I don’t think I can stay much longer.”
“That’s okay,” Kendra reassured her. “We can leave whenever you want. I told you when you asked me to come with you that you could set the time, when to leave, everything. I’m not going to make you stay.”
Travis shook her head, stepping behind the tree. “It just seems so foolish, to be so freaked out by something so popular.” She flinched at another explosion. “I think we need to leave,” she said breathlessly. “Before I lose it entirely.”
“Okay, okay.” Kendra turned to go and only took a few steps before she realized Travis wasn’t with her. She looked back to see Travis leaning against the tree, her hand on her chest. “What is it?”
“Chest. Ohhh.” She drew a ragged breath, reaching for Kendra. “Kendra, get me out of here.”
Kendra caught her arm. “Don’t panic now. We can leave. Hold on to me.”
They threaded their way through the outer fringes of the crowd, along the tree line. In an effort to lessen Travis’s panic, Kendra reasoned that the fireworks were less visible there, the sound more muffled.
“Do we need to go to the emergency station?” she asked as they came out of the trees and headed for the gate to the parking lot. Behind them, another rocket went off and Kendra could feel Travis start to shake.
“No.” Travis shook her head, violently. “Once I’m out of here…”
Kendra looked around for the quickest route to the lot, not the shortest. She spied the camera crew and the reporter interviewing some guy dressed in camouflage and decided to detour around them. Travis would only be embarrassed if she was accosted and had to state her panic wasn’t service-related.
They reached her late model Mazda without interruption. She quickly unlocked the passenger door and helped Travis in. “Head down, between your knees. We’ll be out of here in a minute.”
She made sure Travis was secure and belted in, closed the door, and stood up to walk around the car only to see someone standing at the front. Western shirt, dark with white piping, black jeans.
“Excuse me,” she said automatically, without really looking at the woman in the dimness. “We need to leave.”
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
For a moment, Kendra thought her heart stopped. She looked up at the pale face, the half smile, the dimple. “Oh, my God!” She took a step forward, her hand out. She heard the door open behind her, and she still couldn’t tear her gaze away. “I thought—”
Whatever she thought the sound of Travis throwing up made her turn around. Travis was leaning out of the car, bent over.
Kendra turned back but the woman wasn’t there. Even as Kendra did a quick scan of the lot, she wasn’t there. Kendra turned back to take care of Travis, looking up and around, wanting to find her, wanting to believe. But she saw no one.
* * *
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Travis moaned on the hospital gurney waiting in the emergency room.
“For what?” Kendra sat back on the hard plastic chair and crossed her ankles. What with it being a holiday weekend with lots of drinking and the resulting traffic accidents, there was no room in the inn. So they were waiting in the ER for test results. The words “heart attack” had gotten them out of the waiting room immediately.
“I know when you said you’d go along with me to the fireworks, you didn’t expect this.”
“No, but what difference does that make?” Kendra shifted on seat. “You say it’s an anxiety attack, and maybe it is. But chest pains, nausea. Classic symptoms of a heart attack.”
Travis lay back and closed her eyes. “It’s an anxiety attack. God knows, I’ve had enough of them.” She stared up at the bright lights in the ceiling. “Every Fourth of July, New Year’s.” She closed her eyes. “Loud noises. That whistling.”
“Stop it,” Kendra ordered quietly. “So you freak out at loud noises. Lot of folks do. Who do you think that reporter was interviewing out at the park?”
“Serviceman. PTSD. At least he has an excuse.”
“Stop it,” Kendra repeated. “Phobias are triggered by lots of things or nothing, things we can’t always control. Sometimes we just have to live with them.”
“Yeah, just me and the dogs,” Travis muttered.
Kendra sighed. Sometimes there was no reasoning when someone wanted to beat themselves up. “Why don’t you get some rest?”
But even in the emergency room, they could hear the muffled boom of the fireworks. The monitor picked up Travis’s agitation.
“Down girl,” Kendra said softly.
“Don’t call me girl!” Travis muttered and Kendra had to chuckle at the husky, boyish-looking woman. Athletic looking and muscled in spite of her lack of height, Peter Pan haircut, broad features. Jeans in spite of the heat, with the heavy leather belt, an Abatis T-shirt and a camp shirt over it. No, not too much feminine about her. “All right,” Travis went on, doing her deep breathing exercises. “Talk to me.”
“About what?” Kendra was never one for the small talk, and being requested to talk, about anything, drove every idea of what to talk about out of her mind. Except what she didn’t want to talk about.
Travis took a deep breath. “Why have you been avoiding the fireworks?”
“Who says?” Kendra raised her eyebrows, and if she were wearing glasses, she would be looking over the rims. As it was she just gave Travis the intimidating glare.
“Peg was surprised as hell that you were coming to the fireworks with me. Said you always avoided them, even went camping to get away. So why’d you come when I asked?”
“Yeah, well.” Kendra shrugged. She should have known that such information could only have come from Peg, her office manager. “Didn’t want to let a friend down.” She looked down the hall, wondering when the test results might be in, when they could get out of here. She glanced back at Travis who was looking at her expectantly.
She sighed. Travis was trying hard to confront her issues involving fireworks. Maybe, Kendra considered, she needed to do the same. “I let someone down once. Fireworks are a potent reminder.”
“Something happen at some fireworks show? Fireworks accident? I know that happens sometimes.”
Kendra still hesitated. “No, nothing like that.” Travis looked at her with expectant interest. At least, Kendra thought, this will be a distraction for her. “My first lover was passionate about fireworks,” Kendra said reluctantly. “Her birthday was on the third, and she told me once she was eight or nine before she really realized all those fireworks weren’t just for her.” She gave a rueful smile. “We spent a lot of time going around to different shows, seeing different setups.” She trailed off as memories flooded back.
“So, what happened?” Travis prompted.
Kendra shifted her position on the hard plastic chair as she remembered the woman she saw in front of the car. “Things. Life. I left town, went to college. She stayed at home, taking care of her mother who had a stroke. She ended up getting married. To a neighbor guy.”
“Bummer.” Travis paused as if sensing there was more to the story. “I take it she’s the one you let down?” she said finally.
Kendra shrugged. “Something like that.”
“And you haven’t seen her since then?” Travis fished a bit more.
Kendra shook her head. Not until tonight. Or was it just something I thought I saw? Because I wanted to?
“No way you can make amends?”
“Nope,” Kendra said with finality as she spied the harried doctor heading toward them. She had the clipboard and loose papers which maybe, Kendra hoped, meant answers. Good timing, she thought as she got to her feet.
“Great news,” she said when the doctor left.
“I told you. Just a panic attack.” Travis was already reaching for her clothes. “Now get me out of here.”
* * *
“I thought the traffic would be out of here by now,” Travis said as Kendra turned off North Meridian. “We were at the ER long enough.”
“Show’s just breaking up.” Kendra checked the rearview mirror, seeing the steady stream of lights behind her.
“Maybe we can just leave my truck there, pick it up tomorrow,” Travis suggested.
“Fine by me.” Kendra drove around the block to escape the heavy traffic and head across town. “You sure you’re okay? You can stay at my place tonight. Got that guest room all made up.”
“No, I’m fine.” Travis gave a slight chuckle. “Besides, don’t want anyone to see us and have anyone think I’m sleeping with the boss.”
Kendra gave her a disbelieving look. “Sorry, butch, you’re not my type.”
Travis laughed, or at least started to as she wrapped her arm around her midsection. “Don’t make me laugh. All my muscles hurt.”
Traffic was heavy. Everyone going home but as they turned through the downtown area, it thinned out a little. Kendra still kept an eye on the traffic, still distracted by the thought of the woman at the fireworks. Her attention was caught by headlights far behind her, coming up too fast for the speed limit and weaving. Probably too much celebration, she decided as she slowed down. Need to be defensive. She was relieved when the full-size dark-colored pickup went around her and shot down the street.
“Idiot.” Travis straightened up to watch the taillights as they swerved from one lane to the other. “Look at that!”
The truck suddenly swerved from the left to the right lane, almost hitting the car beside it. The car slammed on its brakes and jerked hard to the right to avoid being hit. It went up and over the curb and came to a stop just before hitting the building. The truck sped up, suddenly straight in its lane and disappeared over the hill.
Kendra hit her flashers as she pulled in behind the car, blocking traffic so no one would run into either one of them. Travis was already calling 911 on her cell phone. The driver opened her door and was just getting out of her vehicle.
“Are you all right?” Kendra called as she ran up to the driver’s door. Another car, very similar to the one that had been hit, pulled around and parked in front, this driver also bailing out quickly.
“Robin! What happened? Are you all right?” The male driver hurried back to the damaged car.
“Some jackass clipped me!” The woman was obviously unhurt as she walked around to the front of the car, glancing at her watch, and oblivious to the line of traffic moving around them.
Kendra followed her and frowned as she saw the passenger side fender almost leaning against the brickwork. More disturbing was the way the whole car was slanted. She walked around the other side to get a closer look only to see the wheel leaning against the curb.
“Can I just back it out?”
Kendra squatted down to examine closer the forty-five degree angle of that front wheel. “I don’t think so,” she said as she peered up under the fender and glanced at the other driver who squatted down beside her. “Pretty banged up. Need to call a tow truck.” She stood up, dusting off her hands and looked up at the slender dark-haired woman, dressed in a straight skirt and matching jacket before she recognized her as the reporter from the fireworks. Couldn’t recall her name. For the first time she noticed the station’s call letters on the side of the car.
“Cops are on the way,” Travis announced as she walked up.
“Ohhhhh, I don’t have time for this!” the woman stormed. She was already pulling items from the car and handing them off. “Brady, get this to the station. At least the tape will be there. I’ve got that interview with that soldier.” She turned around to look up and down the street. “Where’re the cops when you need them!”
“Probably still directing traffic,” Kendra said as she looked back.
“Did you get a description?” the other driver asked the woman. “I was too far back.”
“No,” Robin spit out with irritation. “Just saw his headlights in the mirror, then he was up beside me.”
Kendra walked around the car, checking the rest of it out. “Ford, blue I think, hard to tell in these streetlights. Dark blue or black, crew cab. Sounded like a diesel. Couple of years old.”
Robin turned around as if she had just realized Kendra’s presence.
“He just passed me back a bit.” Kendra forestalled any question just as the squad car pulled up.
Kendra noted Robin was polite, firm and in a hurry. Kendra and Travis just bided their time and gave the officer—a cute little brunette that perked up Travis’s interest—all the information they had. Kendra handed over her business card and the officer nodded.
Kendra walked over to Robin to overhear Brady asking, “Do you think it was intentional?”
Interesting. “Excuse me,” she interrupted. She held out a business card. “If you need a witness, here’s where you can contact me.”
“I’m sure your contact information will be on the accident report,” Robin retorted crisply.
Kendra shrugged. “Never hurts to have duplicate information. And you might need our other services.”
“Thanks.” Robin stuck the card in her pocket without looking at it, and then turned back to Brady.
Kendra shook her head at the dismissal. Lady needs a lesson in PR. She walked back to her vehicle, where Travis was waiting. “Ready to go?” she asked as she slid in.
“Oh, yeah. I’ve just about had my quota of excitement for the night.”
“Got a minute?”
Kendra looked up from the sales report. “What’s up, Mike?”
Mike Scholar, co-owner and salesman extraordinaire for Abatis Security, came in, sat down in front of her desk and stretched out his legs. He still looked like the English major he had been, mustache, scraggly hair. Kendra considered partnering with Mike the best business decision she ever made. He could talk to anyone about anything, whereas Kendra was more inclined to hide in the back room. When he had come to her after her dad had died and said he was moving on to greener pastures, she had been thrown into an absolute panic. She hadn’t been back in Indiana that long. She didn’t have the connections and contracts necessary to keep the company running. She never had been a salesperson. She’d just lost her dad. She could see her world slipping away.
“Why?” she had asked point-blank. She’d expected all sorts of answers. He didn’t like her lifestyle. He didn’t like working for a woman. He thought the company would fail—which if he left, was a very good possibility. What she got was something else.
“Nowhere to go,” he answered. “Company’s stagnant. Has been for about a year. I know your dad was sick, but Abatis has just been drifting. I can’t afford to drift. Need to go someplace where I can grow.”
Kendra hadn’t hesitated. “You think there’re opportunities for the company to grow?”
“Oh, hell yes. Lots of them. But, to be frank, I don’t think you can do it.”
Kendra didn’t have an argument for that. “Neither do I. Can you?”
That had taken him back a bit but he had nodded. “Yeah, I think so. But why would I?”
“Because you want growth and challenge,” Kendra said even as she formulated plans. “You’re a people person, but lost in tech land. I couldn’t sell water in the desert. We balance.” She paused, letting it sink in. “Can I interest you in a partnership?”
So they had hammered out a deal, and it had worked well. The company had grown. Mike’s partnership in the company grew. Kendra worked at dealing with people, and Mike grew tech savvy. They were still a small business in the Indianapolis area, but they were a strong small business. And besides being business partners, as employees were added, as the company grew, they became family.
“Problem customer.” Mike brought her back to the present. “Says her system doesn’t work. She’s had false alarms twice. She’s raising hell.”
“Send Travis out.”
Mike shook his head. “We’ve sent people out. There’s something going on. She’s raising hell up one side and down the other.” He gave a small smile, shook his head. “She’s visible, she can give us a lot of problems. We might want to give her some individual attention.”
Kendra turned to the computer, changed programs. “What’s the name?”
“Robin Slusher.” He said it as if Kendra should know the name.
“Battered wife?” Kendra pulled up the file and found it had been an immediate need job.
Mike shook his head. “No, quite different.” He gave Kendra a quizzical look. “I would have thought you would have heard of her.”
“No,” she said abstractedly. “Should I?”
Kendra’s gaze slid from the screen to Mike and then back. “So? You think the family’s so small that I know everyone in town?”
Mike chuckled. “You’ve got to get out more, Kendra.” He lifted his legs to rest his heels on the desk. “Reporter on the local station. Go-getter, up-and-comer. Word is that she’ll be going places. Likes to shake things up.”
“Oh, yeah. Can’t imagine that there’s much around here to shake up.” Kendra frowned at the follow-up reports.
“Scuttlebutt says some of the big networks are watching her. They like the story she did on that missing money over at the university. Took some digging.”
“So if she’s spooked so easily and wants the top security system, seems like she’s putting herself in the limelight more than a bit.”
“And how do you know so much?”
“I’m a news junkie, and some of the guys I went to college with went into news. She’s drawn some attention.” He abruptly pulled his legs down and got up. “So, look, can you check her system out, go the extra mile? If something does happen to her, I’d really rather it not be with our system failing. Wouldn’t exactly be good advertising.” He gave her a good-natured leer. “Besides, maybe she’ll be even more interesting in person. You never know.”
* * *
The next morning, bright and early, wearing her tech uniform of black pants and green and white striped shirt, and bringing Travis along for backup, Kendra rang the doorbell of the small brick-trimmed house and was totally unprepared for the door being immediately thrown open.
“I told you—just a minute,” the trim, dark-haired woman was saying into the cell phone before she cut them off. She fastened dark intense eyes on the two women as if they were to blame for whatever was going on at the other end of the cell phone conversation. “Yes?” she greeted them briskly.
“Abatis Security, to check out your system.” Kendra offered the business card as if the green-and-black uniforms and the green-and-black van were not identification enough. Of course, she recognized the woman immediately, wondered if the woman would recognize her. Maybe, maybe not. In accidents, some things don’t get noticed.
The woman looked her up and down, pausing at her identification tag but taking in Travis more than Kendra. Travis handed over her business card. She glanced at the name and looked back at her but stepped back from the door.
“Come on in,” she invited, and immediately went back to her cell phone conversation. “I’ll have to call you back. The techs are here from Abatis.” As soon as she got off the phone, she turned back to Travis with a pointed finger. “I know you. From somewhere.”
“Women’s basketball games,” Travis replied. “You’re Section D. I’m in E.”
Robin nodded slowly and then with more certainty. “Right.” She looked at the business card again. “Elvira?”
Travis squirmed uncomfortably. “What can I say? Favorite song of my mother’s. I go by Travis for anything except the most formal occasions.”
Robin nodded in understanding. “I would too. For that matter, Robin’s my middle name. I’m not even going to tell you what my parents named me.” She turned to show them into the house.
“Why couldn’t you just let me use my initials?” Travis muttered as she followed Kendra through the rooms.
“Because,” Kendra muttered back. It was an old argument.
“You think she’s just ignoring you or really doesn’t remember?”
“Pretty hectic that night. Probably just didn’t register. Drop it.”
Kendra and Travis gave the rooms a quick glance as Robin led them through the living room, the dining room and the French doors to her workroom and office.
“Since we don’t know where the problem originated, we will be going through the whole house,” Kendra explained politely deciding just to play it as if they hadn’t seen each other before. Some things are so casual, they really don’t register. “Will that be a problem?”
“No. Except for my office. I’d rather you not be in there without me there.”
“Quite all right, ma’am.”
Because the problem wasn’t easily solved, they had to check everything. Robin had a complete system: sensors on the windows and doors, motion detectors on the side porch, the backyard, the side of the house where there was little visibility, remote mics at the shed in the back, lot of security, Kendra noted.
“Do you think it was intentional?” She remembered the question at Robin’s hit-and-run. Maybe the lady had reason to be spooked.
As they both checked the wiring, they listened to Robin pace through the house, talk on the phone, work on the computer and check the several television sets. They glanced at each other and followed the wiring to find out the problem.
“That woman must be on steroids,” Travis muttered as she checked the motion detector on the side porch.
Kendra simply raised her eyebrows. Even though the woman in question was on the phone and examining the television just inside the porch, Kendra wouldn’t have put it past her to be able to hear Travis’s muttered comment. “High energy, that’s for sure,” she replied calmly but with an eyebrow raised in warning. “Wouldn’t mind tapping into some of that myself.”
Among other things, she thought as she watched the woman pace through the rooms, the phone to her ear, gesturing wildly. Barefoot, black slacks, white shirt that maybe should have been buttoned further up, but then she was in her own home. Dark hair, layered cut to frame her thin face, small chin, could be sharp featured if she hadn’t had such an open expression. She turned abruptly, looking at Kendra. Her eyes were sharp and penetrating until she suddenly smiled. Her expression was warm and friendly, a face to be trusted. Kendra felt a small shock and without even realizing it, she had to smile back. Nonplussed, she looked back at the wiring, trying to remember exactly what she was tracing, but now she had the sudden understanding of exactly how Ms. Slusher the reporter got people to confide in her.
“It’s not here,” Travis was saying. “We’re going to have to look outside.”
“Uh-huh,” Kendra agreed having no idea what Travis was talking about.
“Lady’s got quite a smile,” Travis said with a sly grin once they were outside in the backyard. They walked around the fence line to check outside wiring. She glanced at Kendra to see how she might respond.
“That she has,” Kendra acknowledged with a nod. “Maybe she should use it more often.” She pointed down the fence line. “Let’s walk it.”
“I don’t get the feeling,” Travis went on, “this lady does the job nine to five.”
“No,” Kendra said absently. “I’d take it she’s a twenty-four-seven deal.” She felt the privacy fence. “She’s ambitious. She’ll either make her break and go big time or burn herself out.” The motion light in the corner checked out.
“Suppose she works hard, plays hard?”
They crossed the yard. “Maybe. Maybe she doesn’t play.”
“Oh, with looks like that, she’s just got to play.”
Kendra cast a speculative look at Travis, realizing Travis was a bit more familiar than maybe she should be about a client. “You speculate about the lives of all our clients?”
Travis gave Kendra a quick look as if suddenly remembering Kendra was the boss. “Just window-shopping. You know it’s harmless.”
“Make sure it stays that way.”
Travis smiled. “But if I tripped across her outside the work area, I’d sure be tempted to give her a whirl.”
Kendra had to chuckle. “Travis, I get the feeling even you would have a hard time keeping up with this one.” They had reached the house. Kendra pointed off in one direction. “You go that way, check everything out. I’ll take this side.”
She speculated as she moved around the house. She didn’t like this house as a security issue. Too irregular a shape, looked like originally a square, then at sometime in the past an extension had been added to make it an L shape, then maybe a patio or porch enclosed. There were too many doors, too many corners, too many nooks to hide in. She pulled back bushes. And too much high vegetation around the windows. Better setup if the lady was worried about security would have been a big lot, no bushes near the house, clean lines, clear views. Not as charming but easier to secure.
“Find the problem?” Robin popped out the front door, standing on the top step, leaning over the iron railing.
Kendra shook her head. “No, ma’am. Everything seems to be in good shape.”
“Well, I assure you, I’ve had the police out here twice because the alarm went off and there was nothing.”
“Yes, ma’am. I don’t doubt you. I’m just saying that on the surface, everything looks shipshape. We’ll have to look a little deeper to find the problem.” She looked up at the lithe form, arms on the railing, leaning over to look around the corner. Kendra came over to her, afraid the woman would topple over. She rested her hand on the railing as Robin settled back on her feet. Their arms and hands were a contrast; Robin’s thin, almost delicate, very lightly tanned, Kendra’s stronger, broader, more heavily tanned. “I’m sure you have the same kind of situations in your line of work,” Kendra suggested. “Just takes some diligence and sometimes more time to dig out the culprit.”
Robin gave her a speculative look, mollified and maybe not as dismissive as she had been to start with. “You’re right,” she agreed in a warmer tone. “Sometimes the problem isn’t in plain sight.”
“And we’ll find it,” Kendra assured her. “We’ll keep at it until we do. I don’t let things go until the solution is found.”
Robin gave her a long look. “No, I don’t think that you do. I don’t get that feeling from you.” She nodded again, apparently satisfied. “I’ll let you get about your business then.” She went back into the house and Kendra watched her go.
Nice-looking woman, wonder if she took ballet lessons as a kid. She has that kind of firm-footed balance. Then she mentally slapped her wrists. Here she’d been chiding Travis for speculation and what was she doing? She went back to work as the squirrels in the trees scolded her for her thoughts.
* * *
She thought about her again that night after dinner, sitting in her chair with her feet up, staring at the television without seeing it. Her drink sat at her elbow.
The woman had an intensity, an energy so palpable that Kendra could feel it, almost touch it. The entire time they were there, she was moving, pacing, on the phone, one call after another. Even when they checked out her office and she was there with them, she was moving from one screen to the other, pulling pages off her printer, looking up something on the computer while standing at the keyboard on the raised platform. Maybe it was just because they were in and around the house and she was nervous about having two strangers in her personal space.
Strange the things you can learn about people from their houses. Look at her own. Years of living outside a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, where if someone put their car in the ditch, the news beat them back to town. Kendra wanted no more of that, so when she found this house, with its high windows right under the overhang, the living room in the center of the house, and limited visibility even at the front door, she was intrigued. Intrigued enough to keep coming back even though it was out of her price range. She was patient, and the price dropped. Ladies like to show off their curtains, to let the outside in, the real estate broker explained as the price dropped yet again. Kendra nodded. She was patient. Finally the owners who had moved on to another town, another job, accepted her offer. Now when Kendra came home, she could literally shut the world out, and until she was willing to let the outside in, no one could even tell if she was there.
Robin’s house, on the other hand, was rather impersonal although with a friendly feel. She had good furniture, nice arrangements, no knickknacks. Few pictures. Nothing of family or friends. Yet there was an open feeling, welcoming. Everything very neat. Until you stepped into her office. Her office was proof positive she had not gone the paperless route. She had stacks of papers and books. There were notes posted on a buried bulletin board, even pages taped to the wall, some with arrows pointing to other pages.
Kendra reasoned that this was why Robin didn’t want them in there alone. There were far too many pages to take down. It would take forever to put them up in the same order, the same connection and linkage. Certainly as long as Robin stood there watching, Kendra and Travis could hardly do more than glance at them. The sheer volume had impressed Travis but Kendra was more curious as to what Robin might be working on.
Interesting woman, Kendra decided as she sipped her drink. Much more open and inviting than Kendra ever wanted to be. Usually their clients weren’t so out of the ordinary. Maybe it was simply part of her job. More because of curiosity, maybe even boredom, she picked up the remote and channel surfed until she found Late Night News with Robin Slusher.
“Should I be jealous?”
The question, the feeling was so strong that Kendra turned around. Convinced she had actually heard a voice, she got up, did a walk around the house, checking the doors and the security system. She stood in the middle of her office, listening to the television from the other room, wondering and puzzled. She would have sworn, but no. She had to be wrong.