Leah was exhausted. Her head was pounding too. She put her untouched dinner in the sink and went into the living room to watch a little television and to relax. Maybe if she was lucky, her headache would stop hurting so bad and she could go to bed. She’d been tired all day.
She hadn’t worked for several days. Her body was just too tired to make it out of bed and she hurt more and more when she simply moved from the bed to the couch. Tonight was the first time in a few days that she had been in the kitchen and she had made a mess of it. She’d get to it tomorrow, she decided, after she had a good nap.
There was nothing on the television so she turned it to one of those music stations and tried to mellow out. Chilled, she reached for the throw on the back of the couch and nearly had it over her when her hand went numb. Lifting her arm up, she looked at it and was frightened. Her vision was becoming blurred.
Terrified, she reached for the phone just as blood began to trickle out of her nose. She knocked the phone to the floor and only just managed to grab the handset before it too fell. She knew this was the end, knew she was dying. She needed to make just one more call.
Calling an ambulance seemed futile. She would be gone long before they got there and she’d not get to do one more thing before it was too late. Dialing blindly now, she hoped she pressed the correct buttons and didn’t waste her last breaths on a stranger. When Kasey answered the phone, Leah wept a little.
“I love you.” She felt the blood pour from her nose now and spill on her shirt. “I love you very much.”
“Mom? Mom, what’s happening? Where…oh God. Please, Mom, answer me. Tell me you’re all right.”
She hadn’t meant to panic her, but Leah knew she would understand. “Be happy for me. You be happy. I love you.”
“I love you too. Please don’t die. Mom, I need you. Please, please tell me you’re fine.”
“I love you.” The world seemed to still for a few seconds. Her body went numb all over and the phone slipped from her fingers. Nothing hurt, nothing hurt anymore, and she felt at peace. A bright light blinded her completely and then nothing.
Leah York died as peacefully as she could.
Royce got back to house at just after ten the next morning. His body ached and he smelled like smoke. The building had been completely engulfed by the time he’d gotten there and the fire department was trying to keep the fire from spreading when his family showed up. Arson, the chief said, gasoline had been poured over every floor and the place had gone up like dry tinder.
“You have any idea who would do something like this, Mr. Hunter?” the inspector had asked when it was clear it was intentional. “This kind of fire could have been a lot worse than it was.”
“Yes, sir. Your men did a fine job keeping it contained. Who set it? I’m not positive. I have a few ideas, but nothing I can prove. And don’t ask me. I won’t tell you.”
“Didn’t think you would. You’re brother, the lawyer, he said you and the previous owner had had words over what you had planned for the building. Thinking maybe it could have been him?”
Royce knew it was him, but didn’t say anything. The inspector moved away after a few seconds. Royce had watched him stop and talk to his mom, but knew he’d get nothing from her either. Charles Benton had a lot to answer for and Royce was just in the mood to ask him.
When Royce stepped out of his bedroom after taking a long, hot shower, he tied off the trash bag he’d put his clothes in and took it to the trash can just outside the kitchen. The smell was as much a part of the material as anything and he knew he’d never get them clean. He was putting the lid back on the top when his mom pulled up.
“Hello, son.” She sounded as tired as he did. “Got anything to eat in that monster kitchen of yours?”
He invited her inside and, while she started the pot of coffee, he gathered things to put together a nice lunch for them. He wasn’t surprised when both his brothers showed up before the first pot was finished brewing.
“Do you think Charles was stupid enough to set the fire?” their mother asked as she bit into the large sub he’d made for them all.
“He probably didn’t set it himself, but I’d bet any amount of money he was a part of it.” Daniel got up and got them all a beer as he continued. “I have a few things to look into, one of which is the security cameras that I had installed. If they were up and operational before the fire we might have caught someone.”
Royce nodded. “They’re running. I got the okay to have them turned on the day before yesterday. I told them to run them now just in case.”
Jesse looked up. “You thought he’d try something? Damn it, Royce, you should have said something. I would have had some of the security team out there.”
“No, I didn’t think he’d be that stupid. I was running it so we could see if we’d put the cameras in proper position. The company that installed them said they could come out and move the ones we wanted. I never thought of them until just now.”
Royce hadn’t thought of much anything the past few weeks and was beginning to think maybe he might have missed more than that. He looked up when Curtis’ phone went off. He got up and left the room when he answered.
“I, for one, am exhausted, but I want to make sure that we are looking into this thing with Charles.” His mom yawned for the second time in as many minutes. “Why don’t we meet in the office—”
Curtis came back in and cleared his throat. “That was a guy I have looking into some things. Charles Benton was admitted to the hospital for smoke inhalation. He’s on life support. It doesn’t look that bad, but they don’t want to take any chances.”
Royce looked over at his mom when she started crying. “I never meant for him to go to such extremes. I…his daughter didn’t deserve what he did to her, but I never meant for him to kill himself over some sort of revenge over this.”
She finally lay down on the couch and covered up. Royce and his brothers cleaned up the kitchen without saying much more. They agreed to meet at the office tomorrow, go over the recordings from the fire, and turn them over to the inspector. After another hour they left and Royce went up to his own bed.
His plans to talk to Kasey were going to have to wait until tomorrow. He had to figure this out with Benton and see what they could do about the building. He was a little worried about this house and whether or not he’d set up someone to torch this one, but he’d also had a nice security system installed before he’d moved in. Royce was just drifting off to sleep when he remembered that he’d left his mom on the couch. She’d be fine, he knew, and fell into an exhausted sleep.
He’d slept around the clock he realized the next morning. When his alarm went off at six the next morning, he knew he’d never slept better. The quick shower and getting dressed for the office made him realize that he’d not felt this good about going to work in a long while. He was pulling up out front when he got his first of many calls for the day.
“The recordings are being delivered by courier this morning. There is some news on CNN about the fire that implicates Benton. And before you ask, no, I didn’t let it leak.” Royce laughed at Jesse. “Also there are four meetings today with some of the guys from the Maple Committee. They want some updates on whether or not you’ve decided to let investors come in or not.”
“Why are you giving me updates and not Bobbie? I could have sworn that she did this every morning.” He pulled into the parking place just as he asked. “Don’t tell me you’re my new secretary.”
“Christ, no, but she called in. She said that there was a death and she needed to be there for them. She said something about it being a long time friend and if you wanted to dock her, she’d tell everyone where the bodies were.” Jesse laughed. “I told her I might just do it to find out where you stuff them.”
“I’m nearly in the building now. I’ll see you when I get up there. I suppose you’ve got someone coming up to cover for her, right?”
“Yeah, two ladies are on their way up. I know you have just Bobbie, but this is going to be a hell of a day and I don’t want anyone quitting on us right now. Oh and by the way, you have like forty messages on your machine.”
Royce pulled out his badge and swiped it over the machine. The man at the desk didn’t look familiar, but that wasn’t anything new. The security team was expanding every day, it seemed, and they needed even more people. When the new buildings they had opening by the beginning of fall opened they’d be short staffed again. With a nod, he went to the private elevator and went to his office.
The messages were from the investors that Jesse had mentioned. Three of the men wanted in to “broaden their portfolio,” another wanted to see about expanding his bottom line. They both meant the same thing, just one more honest than the other. He was fielding question about the Benton building when Curtis walked in with two other men. One he recognized from the fire, the other he didn’t know.
“Let me get back with you on that. We’re still checking the area out.” He hung up on the man as he was sputtering about timelines. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
“This is Inspector Gordon from last night and this is Fire Marshal Will Swanson. They have a few questions on the insurance we had in place. I tried to tell them it’s a common practice for us, but Swanson here seems to think otherwise.”
Royce simply got up and walked to the file cabinet against the wall. After a quick search, he came back with a handful of files. “There are the insurance policies that we have on each building we purchase. If you’ll notice that on the day we sign the papers, we open a policy on the place. It’s mostly for peace of mind, but also for the workers when they are on site. There are also attachments to each policy that we cancel. The reason, the date, and who did the closing. While I understand why you’re asking, it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”
They looked over the papers quickly. No one said a word and when they’d seemed to be satisfied, the two men left. Curtis hung around and said nothing for awhile. Royce knew his brother well enough to know that he’d say his piece eventually and when he did Royce knew it was going to be nothing he wanted to hear.
“Benton is going to make it. He confessed to the entire thing, including setting the fire on his own. He claimed it was because he was so grief-stricken, that the death of his daughter finally got through to him.”
“Do you believe him?” Royce didn’t. But he never had liked the guy in the first place.
“No. But it’ll be a good defense. Temporary insanity over the death of his daughter is a good way to swing it. Finding out that we had plans to make the building as a tribute to her and he’d done nothing—less than nothing actually. He’ll get off with some time, but not as much as he should.”
Royce nodded. “And those idiots, what do you think they were doing if they knew he confessed? Looking for another angle for a friend?”
“No, CYA. It’s always good, even when you have an ace in the hole to cover your ass. Like me covering yours for instance.”
Royce didn’t want to ask, but he did. “What have you done? And how much is it going to cost me?”
“The girl, in the off chance that she’s pregnant, I’ve put together a contract that gives her a house and a car. Money to spend as she sees fit and a trust for the baby. All she needs to do is to leave you alone and never contact the family again. I also have one that says she’d entitled to nothing if she divorces you and that you keep the child. Either way, you’re covered.”
Royce shifted in his chair. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be happy with what Curtis had done or pissed. He was feeling a little bit of both. Before he could answer, his brother stood.
“Or we can go with plan C. You tell me you love her beyond all your wildest dreams and I tear up both contracts and the two of you live happily ever after. It’s up to you.” Curtis walked to the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow. If you need me or just want to talk, call. See you in the morning.”
Royce was still sitting at his desk an hour later, no closer to figuring out what he wanted to do than he’d been before Curtis had come in. His personal line rang and he picked it up, smiling for the first time in days.
“I missed you today. The two girls we got from the pool to fill in for you didn’t make my coffee right and they couldn’t find anything I needed the way you did. Please tell me you’re coming back tomorrow.”
“I can come in tomorrow, but I’ll need the next day off.” Bobbie was quiet for a few more seconds than he liked. “I guess you didn’t hear.”
Royce sat up in his chair and closed his eyes. “I was told you had a death and that you needed to be off. Who was it? Not your sister-in-law, was it?”
“No. I thought…Leah York passed late yesterday afternoon. She’d been ill for some time and an aneurism took her life.”
Royce felt the room tilt off its axis and then back again. He closed his eyes. Here he’d been plotting with Curtis the best case scenarios concerning her future and she was dealing with her mother’s death.
“How’s…Christ, I didn’t know. How are they doing? Is…is Kasey all right? Jay, is he, is he handling this well?”
He heard her sob and his heart broke for his friend. “Jay is trying to keep them all together. Suzy of course doesn’t understand, but she knows something is wrong. Kasey. Kasey is…I’m not sure. She won’t…Leah called her when she was dying. She called Kasey and told her that she loved her and that she wanted her to be happy. When the ambulance got to her home, Leah had the phone on her lap and she was gone.”
Royce stood up to leave. “Tell me where she is and I’m coming to her. I want to see her and…” And what? He sat back down hard in the chair.
“She was at her uncle’s house when I left. I don’t…I’m not sure if she was going to stay there or go home. She’s taking it very badly. Then there was her father. He showed up right before I left. Kasey didn’t move to speak to him, but I could tell she was upset.”
“When is the funeral and where?” Royce didn’t know if someone had sent flowers or not, but he would be there. “My family will be there for them.”
“That’s very nice of you, Royce. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. It’s only a graveside. The poor dears haven’t any money. It’s at Cedar Cemetery on Wyatt Street. The paper said that the family would be there around one and that the service would begin at two or thereabouts.”
Royce laid his head on his desk. He was an ass and he hated himself more in that moment than he had in his entire life. He sat up and spoke again to Bobbie.
“Let me know if I can do anything for them. Anything. I’m going to call my mom now, but you have my number if she…if they need anything.”
“I will. You’re such a dear boy. I know that they knew this was going to happen, but I don’t think you’re ever prepared. The poor girl and Jay…I don’t think I’ve seen a man more devastated than he was today.”
Royce called his mother when he got off the phone with Bobbie. “Mom, I have to tell you something. Can you meet me at my house? It’s really important.”
Stay Tune for Next Week Chapter Nine
Books In the series
THE HUNTERS -
1 ROYCE – http://smarturl.it/royce
2 CURTIS – http://smarturl.it/curtis
3 JESSE – http://smarturl.it/jessethehunters
4 DANIEL- http://smarturl.it/danielthehunters
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Two Men Joined By Fate...
Asher and Kiaran were joined at birth by the dying decree of the Dragon King?literally. Asher had his own bit of magic as a 3,000 year old immortal, and Kiaran was his dragon shifter. Out in society Kiaran was a part of Asher?absorbed into Asher's body?only being able to separate in dragon form. At their birth home, the two men could exist apart from each other as men. They protected each other, and would until their dying breath if it ever came to that. They shared everything...that is until Essie came along....
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Asher's five brothers and their dragons watched the scenario unfold with bated breaths. The subject had never been broached, and all their futures hung on the outcome....
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