A return home for Layla does not mean all is well. Her Uncle Jack works tirelessly to help bring his family to safety, all the while learning of a twist that turns the case into something much more shocking than he originally thought.
While Layla strives to keep it together at home and with her friends, both the teen and her Uncle must keep the case as quiet as possible. Layla for her own reasons, and Jack for fear that he’ll be making room for two behind maximum security.
Jack Dixon hung up the phone with trepidation. What would he tell his brother? How could he face his niece? The knowledge he’d just obtained both from the evidence and from his friend over at the F.B.I. was startling, shocking and painful. Jack knew this would be a case unlike any he’d ever taken on in his fifteen years as a criminal lawyer. This time it was personal. His family had been victimized, and in his hands Jack held the evidence that could possibly put Wayne Elliott away.
Knowing he had to work carefully and expeditiously, Jack placed another call before taking the evidence over to Agent Ingram. No courier service, no cab driver, nobody could ever take as much care in delivering the precious items to the F.B.I. for analysis as Jack. So he first made sure his family was safely tucked away in Holly Springs, North Carolina, while he hailed a New York cab to his side and asked to be driven to Agent Ingram’s office.
When the cab stopped at the curb, Jack looked up at the polished glass and granite building and a chill went up his spine. The large square office appeared very generic and sanitized; like nothing bad could ever happen there. However, Jack had intimate knowledge of many crimes in New York and neighbouring states, although none of them ever hit home like this one.
The criminal lawyer was signed in at the reception desk and instructed kindly to wait in a small room off to the side of the glass-enclosed area. Minutes seemed like hours. The longer the evidence took for analysis, the more time would pass that his family may be in harm’s way. Had Wayne Elliott finished damaging the Dixon’s? Or was he simply getting started? Jack made a mental note to follow up with the North Carolina police to ensure that his brother’s home was being watched as requested.
Agent Ingram appeared with a pasted on smile from behind the glass doors. “Dixon, my boy,” he greeted. “Come on upstairs.”
“Thanks,” Jack said, following his friend into the neighbouring elevator. “I appreciate this, Billy.”
“No problem, buddy,” Billy responded. “You been waiting long?”
“Not at all.”
The elevator pinged its arrival on the tenth floor and both men exited and walked single-file down a narrow hallway. “You tell your brother about anything yet?” Billy asked.
“Nothing.” Jack shook his head. “I want to have everything covered first.”
“Smart,” Billy conceded, as he stopped beside a sealed door and slid an identification card through a reader. When the contraption beeped, the steel door opened.
“Flannigan’s in today, so this should be smooth sailing,” Billy commented under his breath as Jack stepped into the laboratory. The tight passageway had a knee wall on both sides, and glass up to the ceiling. Laboratory workers, about a half dozen, were clad in white jackets with photograph name tags pinned to their left breast pockets.
To the left was a small office with a closed door and the lights on, visible from the tiny square window at eye level. Knocking on the door, Billy entered the room with Jack in tow and was welcomed by a short, stalky, white-haired man. “Hey, Ingram,” the man acknowledged. He glanced at Jack and recognition came to his face. “Dixon, right?”
“That’s right. Nice to see you again, Flannigan,” Jack commented kindly, shaking Flannigan’s proffered hand.
“You can call me Kevin.”
“Great, Kevin. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Err…remember, this is on the QT,” Billy reminded, slipping his hand beside his face, feigning telling a secret.
“No problem, Ingram. We all slip a few things through analysis every now and again,” Flannigan chuckled. “So, what have we got?”
Jack had taken the evidence out of the backpack his niece’s friend Carla had given him prior to leaving his office, and placed it in a small black pleather duffel bag. Removing the items, he passed them to Agent Flannigan and explained each one carefully. Most of it was obvious, but Kevin asked what Jack would like done with the SD cards containing critical video evidence.
“Have you got someone who can analyze the voices? I want to confirm that that’s Wayne Elliott speaking in the shots.”
“Sure, as long as we’ve got something to compare it to.”
Jack swore under his breath, feeling stupid for the oversight on his part. “I haven’t got anything like that,” he said, and then an idea struck him. “But I might be able to get it.”
“Sure.” Flannigan nodded. “Send it to me via email and we’ll use it for comparison.”
“Sounds good. Can you also make sure the footage hasn’t been tampered with?”
“Definitely.” Kevin nodded. “And I assume you want everything else tested for DNA and trace?”
“I’ll need DNA for comparison as well,” Kevin reminded, and then added, “From both the victim and the accused.”
Jack pursed his lips, handing Agent Flannigan another parcel from inside his coat. “That’s all I’ve got for now.” He knew the drill but somehow hoped it would be easier. “I’ll see what I can do about the rest.”
“Okay.” Flannigan bobbed his head up and down. “I’ll give you a call.”
Both men thanked Kevin and walked out of the laboratory.
“Was that DNA you gave him?” Billy asked.
“Yeah. I took a sample from the inside of my niece’s cheek before she left.”
“You need more swabs? I’ve got a fresh supply in my office,” Agent Ingram offered.
“Nah, I’m good for now.”
“How are you gonna get the rest of what he needs?”
“It’s gonna be tricky, but I’ve got a few things in mind.”
“Good luck, man,” Billy said. “Let me know how it all works out.”
Officers Mandel and Howard pulled up close to the Dixon residence at approximately seven thirty on Wednesday morning. Parked behind a large oak tree two doors down and across the street, Mandel rolled down his window and unfastened his seatbelt. Howard, the younger of the two, retrieved a photo out of his left breast pocket and examined it.
“So, how long are we supposed to stick around here?” Mandel asked Howard.
“Dunno. Sergeant Wright says until further notice,” Howard answered, resting his sunglasses on top of his forehead.
Mandel cocked his head to the side to get a closer look at the photograph. “This guy that we’re watching for, is he a suspect or a witness?” he asked.
“A suspect I think,” Howard answered. “Wright was pretty vague about it. He just said to keep six on the house, without being noticed, until he called. We’re supposed to let them know if this redheaded punk shows up.”
Frowning noncommittally, Mandel sighed. “Well, at least we don’t have to sit here in uniforms.”
“Wright insisted we stay unnoticed,” he chuckled. “Although I’d be suspicious if this K-car and two men were parked in front of my house at any rate.”
“This is a great assignment.” Mandel was facetious. “I love babysitting.”
Howard patted his friend on the shoulder. “Cheer up. Maybe we’ll see the guy and get to follow him.”
“Did Wright even say what we should do if he shows up?”
Mandel shook his head and laughed. “No.”
“Great,” Howard muttered. “Glad I signed on for this job. Six weeks of busting my butt at boot camp for this?”
“Hey man, at least you’re still young,” Mandel commented. “Try doing boot camp when you’re thirty.”
Howard was about to say something quirky back when there was movement coming from the house. A man in his forties, dressed in a suit and tie, was leaving the small, two-storey dwelling. He was carrying a leather medical bag in one hand and a briefcase in the other. Moments later, a woman around the same age, wearing dress pants and a casual cream-coloured blouse appeared, also carrying a medical bag and briefcase.
“These two both doctors?” Howard asked.
“That’s what Wright said.”
The couple entered a small blue sedan and pulled out of the driveway. Mandel and Howard were unnoticed as the couple drove away, casually chatting as they passed the unmarked police vehicle. The two officers sat idly for another thirty minutes when a school bus arrived, just one door down from the Dixon residence. A flurry of activity took place then as two teenage girls hurried a younger girl out the door, who then ran to catch the bus.
The middle girl went back inside the house, while the oldest of the three stood on the sidewalk. Howard whistled. “Wooeee! They don’t make ‘em like that in Holly Springs.”
“That’s because they aren’t from here,” Mandel corrected. “This family is from New York. The Big Apple,” he added, as if Howard wouldn’t know. “They moved here to work at that medical center where Dr. Paul practices.”
“Wow.” Howard was impressed. “I bet Christmases at the Dixon house are pretty fancy, huh? Two doctors? I bet those kids want for nothing.”
“And this little honey here is going to be a doctor, too,” Mandel added.
Howard gave his partner an evaluating glance. “I thought Wright didn’t tell you much about these people.”
Mandel clucked his tongue. “I have my ways.”
“You and I are rookies, hoss.” Howard was a little shocked, and somewhat hurt. “How is it you know more than I do?”
Mandel smiled, placing both hands on the steering wheel. “You know that bag of muffins on Sergeant Wright’s desk?”
Lifting his thumb towards his chest, Mandel answered. “I bought ‘em.”
Walking from patient room A to patient room B, Chris heard his cell phone ringing from the lunch room adjacent to him. He knew it was his phone because of the distinct Dire Straits Money for Nothing ring tone he’d downloaded recently. To his knowledge, Mary was attending to a patient in room F, and wouldn’t be able to answer the call. Chris hurried into the lunch room and quietly closed the door behind him.
The phone was conveniently sitting on the counter, just beside his empty lunch sac that he’d emptied into the refrigerator when he arrived. He answered it promptly. “Dr. Dixon here.”
“Chris. It’s Jack. Is it a bad time?”
By rote, Chris looked around to see if the coast was clear. “No, not at all. What’s up?”
“Listen, I’m sorry for not giving you guys a lot to go on with Layla, but it’s for the best.” Jack’s tone was apologetic.
“That’s quite alright, Jack. As long as Layla is safe, that’s all that really matters. And I’m kind of glad you’re involved,” Chris admitted. “Sometimes I don’t know how to deal with these kids.”
“I understand. But hey, I wanted to ask you…does Linda have her cell phone back?”
“Yeah. We had a huge argument about it, Jack. It wasn’t worth the heartache, so we gave it back to her.”
“Good.” Jack couldn’t contain the slight relief in his voice. “Because if all goes well, she’ll be able to get something that I need.”
“What do you need?” Chris was curious.
“You know that Wayne kid that was at your birthday party?” Jack asked.
Dr. Dixon lifted a brow. “Err…the redheaded kid that goes to NYU? Linda’s friend?”
“Yes, him. I need Linda to be in contact with him somehow.”
Chris shifted his weight from one leg to the other. “Why?”
“Because I need his voice recording for comparison with the evidence.”
Jack cleared his throat. “I know Mary doesn’t know much, and you, too, but Chris, if I tell you what’s going on I need you to swear you’ll keep it between us…don’t even tell Mary. I need everyone to stay calm while I build this case. Situations like this tend to get messed up really easily and then the assailant is let off the hook.”
Scratching his head, Chris drew in a deep breath. “Jack, what the hell is going on?” His tone raised an octave.
Jack was deadpan. “I need to bait Linda so I can prove it’s Wayne’s voice in the Nanny-cam videos.” He paused. “I’ve got some physical evidence, too, and I’ll also need DNA for comparison—“
Chris interrupted. “You’re going to bait my daughter? For what?” he demanded.
The lawyer let out a puff of air and as delicately as he could, told his older brother the story. He told him about the videos, the evidence, everything. When he was done, Chris stood silent, digesting the disturbing information.
“That son of a bitch. I’ll kill him,” Chris murmured. His tone was eerily calm.
“Now, Chris. I need you to keep your head in this. You’re the only one who knows.” Jack was firm. “You can’t let on that you know anything more than Mary. If I can’t get this evidence put together the slime ball could walk.”
The doctor’s nostrils were flaring. But as soon as he was going to retort, the door opened. It was the medical receptionist. The expression on Chris’s face was telling. She suddenly paled, but looked at her watch intentionally, signalling he had patients waiting. “Jack, I gotta go.”
“Alright. I’ll be in touch,” Jack said.
When Chris hung up the phone, the muscles in his jaw were tense. How could he paste on a brave face? This kid had violated his daughter and he had had no idea. Somehow Chris felt he’d failed her; he felt he’d failed as a father. Wayne Elliott would pay. Oh yes, Wayne would pay, and Chris would be sure of it if it was with his dying breath.