Trusting Laurence - Chapter 2
Larry stood on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop for a moment, gathering his thoughts. The papers in his hand made him twitchy. If they were what he thought they might be, things were about to get mighty interesting.
With one last lingering glance at the woman he’d left inside, he headed back to the office.
A million thoughts raced through his mind as he walked the short distance. He spared a quick glance at his watch. His meeting with his top agent on the trafficking task team was, it seemed, well timed. These papers could possibly be just the thing they needed to create a crack in this nightmare of a case.
His secretary looked up as he strode into the office.
“Special Agent Finn just rang. He’s in the office as soon as you’re ready, sir.”
“Great. Let him know I’m back and send him in when he gets here. No calls, no interruptions when he gets here, please.”
“Oh, and Mary-Beth, please ask Jackson to see what she can find on former Senator Marcus Forrester. Get her to put a file together for me, will you?”
“Certainly, Mr. Keon. Right away.”
He stepped into his office and closed the door behind him. Larry took a seat at his desk and laid the papers down before him. With a deep breath, he spread them out to take another look. The pages were covered in writing, detailing a sordid and deeply disturbing business, if his suspicions were correct.
Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that not only would a break this significant simply fall in his lap, but who it was that was involved. Deep in the heart of it all, it seemed.
He’d always known Marcus Forrester was a bastard. He just hadn’t known how much of one.
A brief knock on the door drew him from his musings.
“Yeah, come in.”
The door opened, and Special Agent Kaden Finn stepped in.
“Ah, Finn. Just the man I’m looking for. Come on in.”
“How’s it going? Your lead yield anything this morning?”
“No luck, sir. We struck out again. It was another dead end. The building was empty. Doesn’t seem like anyone’s been there in a while.”
“Damn. I had hoped we’d catch a break this time. Although,” — he handed the sheaf of papers to Finn — “this landed in my lap today. Have a look and see what you make of it.”
Finn accepted them, taking a seat in one of the chairs facing the desk. Larry watched as he read the notes. He smiled grimly when he saw the moment the penny dropped for the other man.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“Depends. What do you think it is?”
“It looks to me like financial records of payments received for sales transactions, and if I don’t miss my guess, the commodity looks to be of the human kind.”
“Yeah, then I guess it’s what you think it is. That’s certainly what it looks like to me. And pretty detailed at that, too.”
“If I may, sir, where did you get these?”
Larry laughed. “That’s where it gets interesting. I got a call from former Senator Marcus Forrester’s ex-wife this morning. That’s why I had to postpone our meeting. She was looking for something in her safety deposit box and came across those. Since she and her ex-husband are the only two with access to the box, and she swears they aren’t hers, I can only surmise they belong to the senator.”
“Well damn. I never saw that one coming.”
“I didn’t either. But, knowing the bastard, it doesn’t surprise me. I guess I’m going to have to pay the man a visit. Let’s see what we can shake loose from that tree.”
“Need me to accompany you, sir?”
“Sure. I think an extra set of eyes and ears would be good. See what we can get out of him, if anything. I’m not holding out too much hope though. The man is a nasty piece of work.”
“Get me up to speed on where we’re at right now.”
They spent the next half hour talking over the case before Larry finally said, “Right, let’s keep working this thing. It’s gotta break some time.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll keep you posted.”
No sooner had Finn left than there was another knock on the door.
“Yeah, come in.”
Mary-Beth entered the room with a folder in her hand.
“Jackon’s pulled a preliminary file together for you, Mr. Keon. She’s still searching, but thought you might want what she’s already gathered.”
“Thanks, Mary-Beth. Appreciate it.”
Handing him the file, she smiled before leaving the office.
Sitting back in his chair, Larry contemplated the closed folder. He wondered what he would learn about the man he hated with everything in him. The man who’d had everything Larry had wanted but couldn’t have. The bastard who’d never appreciated what he’d had.
Tahlia eyed her phone with trepidation. Rubbing her hand down her thigh for the umpteenth time, she tried to work up the courage to pick it up from the table where it lay.
She’d been trying to scrape that courage together for the past half hour, a litany of reasons why calling her daughter wasn’t a good idea playing on a loop in her head. Maddie had been the sole reason she’d come out of hiding. She missed her terribly and had lost so much time in her child’s life over the past few years she’d been living under the radar.
But she was done hiding. She wanted her life back, and she especially wanted her sweet daughter back in her life. When she’d heard that Maddie was getting married, Tahlia had cried for hours, grieving the time she’d missed out on. Her little girl had met the love of her life, and she hadn’t been there. No more!
Marcus had almost killed Tahlia, more than once. He’d taken years from her. But she’d be damned if he took any more from her. Tahlia had every intention of being a part of Maddie’s life and wedding, if she could just find it in her to make the call. If she was willing to let Thalia back into her life.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and reached out to pick up the phone. Scrolling through the numbers now listed in her contacts, Tahlia quickly found the one she was looking for. Pressing the green phone icon, she waited for the call to connect. Just as the line rang in her ear, she lost her nerve and hung up.
Urgh! Pull yourself together woman. It’s not that hard. You’re making a meal out of this. Just dial the damn phone already.
Once again eyeing the phone she’d placed back on the table, Tahlia berated herself for being a coward. With another deep breath, she repeated the process. This time, as the phone rang, she held on. Her fist clutched tightly around the instrument in her hand, she prayed she wouldn’t be ill all over the floor.
Despite having made the call, somehow Tahlia hadn’t anticipated Maddie actually answering. She froze.
“Hello?” she heard repeated. “Hello, is anyone there?”
She reached deep and, drawing on all the strength she’d been working on building during her time away, finally managed to say, “Hi Maddie, it’s me.”
Nerves wouldn’t allow the words to come out much louder than a whisper, but still the other woman seemed to hear.
“Yes, baby. It’s me.”
“Oh my god, Mama. Is that really you?”
“Yes, it’s me, princess.” Tahlia’s heart clenched as she heard Maddie break down. “Shh, my darling. You’ll make yourself sick like that.”
She heard rustling and then a man’s voice. “Who’s this?
“This is Tahlia O’Connor. I’m Madison’s mother. To whom am I speaking?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Is my daughter all right?”
“Is this some kind of sick joke? Madison’s mother passed away some years ago. I don’t know who you are, but I suggest you don’t call this number again.”
The line went dead as Tahlia’s whole body turned to ice. The tears that had pooled in her eyes when she heard Maddie’s voice now slid over her bottom lid. Slowly at first, but as the shock of hearing she’d been proclaimed dead set in, they flowed faster. She stumbled over to the sofa and all but collapsed onto it, sobbing. The pain enormous.
But then, what had she expected? She’s disappeared without so much as a goodbye. True, she hadn’t had a choice. Once Marcus had been convicted, Tahlia had been rushed from the courtroom and into a waiting vehicle. The District Attorney had organized for her to leave the building through the underground parking to avoid the hordes of reporters waiting outside the courthouse. She’d been transported to a private plane and taken out of the city to begin her life as someone new. She’d been given a new name and identity, a brand-new life as someone else. For her protection, they’d assured her.
Her sister had heard about an organization called Friends of Patty. She’d discovered they were a cross between witness protection and the old Underground Railroad for victims of domestic violence. They’d promised to keep her safe, but, in return, she would be required to simply disappear. It would be hard leaving loved ones behind, they’d told her. But it had to be done, lest someone let anything slip.
More than once Marcus had threatened to kill her. And if he couldn’t be the one to do it, he vowed to hire someone to do the job for him. He’d blamed her for his arrest, conviction and impending incarceration. He had no intention of forgetting it.
Now, because of it, of him, her precious Maddie had thought she was dead.
Tahlia rocked herself, trying to ease the tightness in her chest. Spots danced at the edge of her vision from dizziness. The sobs tore from her shaking frame and hurt her throat. In a distant part of her brain, she wondered if she was having a heart attack, the tightness in her chest was that intense.
The unexpected sound of her phone ringing competed with the harsh sounds of her weeping. For a moment, Tahlia didn’t recognize the sound. She’d forgotten about the phone she still clutched tightly in her hand.
As she squinted at the screen, battling to see past the tears, she saw Maddie’s name flashing.
Fingers suddenly clumsy, it took a couple of attempts before she could connect the call. Taking a deep breath, trying to get herself under control, she answered.
“Hello?” Her voice was little more than a croak.
“Mama? Mama, is that really you?” Maddie’s voice caught.
“Yes, baby. It’s really me.” Tahlia’s heart clenched tighter in response.
Please God, I’ve just found my way back to my girl. Please, please don’t let me be having a heart attack.
“I don’t understand. Where have you been? You just disappeared without so much as a word. Why, Mama? I don’t understand. I thought you were dead!”
Tahlia took a moment to rein her emotions in. It was clear Maddie was overwhelmed with emotions of her own. And a meltdown would do neither of them any good.
“I know, my sweet girl. I’m so sorry. I’ll explain it all to you and answer any questions you may have. If we could please just do it in person?”
“Okay. Yes. I– um … Where … What?” Maddie stopped, and Tahlia could hear her taking deep breaths. “Where would you like to meet? And when?”
“Would it be okay if you came here? Whenever you want. I’m free anytime for you.”
“Where are you? Can I come to you now?”
“I– Well, sure. You’re welcome to come over now, if you wish. I’m staying at a bed and breakfast in Alexandria. I’ll message you the address.”
“I know the area. I’m leaving now. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Maddie paused. Then, “Mama?”
“Please, please be there when I get there. Please don’t run away again. I don’t think my heart could stand it.”
Choking down a lump in her throat, Tahlia replied, “I promise, I’ll be here.”
She heard the call disconnect. Lowering the phone to her lap, she sat for long moments, feeling as if she’d been put through the wringer. Thankfully, the tightness in her chest had eased some.
Realizing she’d yet to send Maddie her address, she quickly dashed off a message to the other woman, then hustled herself into the bathroom to repair the damage her crying jag had wrought. She didn’t want her daughter’s first sight of her after such a long time to be of a haggard old woman.
Splashing cold water on her face, she relished the coolness against her heated skin. She’d never been one of those graceful criers. Her skin always became blotchy, her nose and eyes red. Studying herself in the mirror, she decided a touchup was in order. She refreshed her makeup before returning to the living room to wait for Maddie.
Not even fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at her door. She got to her feet, smoothing her skirt with icy hands. On shaky legs, she strode to the door, praying they would hold her up. As she reached it, she took a moment to compose herself before opening it.
As it swung inward, she and Maddie stared, drinking the sight of each other in. Without warning, the beautiful young woman threw herself at Tahlia.
“Oh my god, Mama. I never thought I’d see you again,” Maddie cried.
Tahlia wrapped her arms around the daughter she’d thought she wouldn’t ever get to hold again, unable to hold back her own tears.
“My sweet, precious baby girl,” she murmured into Maddie’s hair, holding her close to her heart that’d ached so badly earlier. Rocking gently, she ran a loving hand over the vibrant tresses that reminded her so much of her own, soothing them both.
With no idea of how long they stood like that, Tahlia became aware of another person when she heard a man clear his throat.
“Sugar, I think we should move this reunion inside, don’t you?”