C.A.R.O.L.L.: Part 1

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Candice began her new life away from the influences of her past. Her old habits and past dealings come to bare when her relationship with her boyfriend Alex becomes strained. In the first installment of the CAROLL series old habits and old wounds become uncovered and exposed.

Submitted: April 28, 2016

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Submitted: April 28, 2016

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CAROLL: Part 1

 

 

By: Michael Hall


Every morning Kevin Braun and Candice Wither carpooled to their mutual workplace in a medium sized office building in Southern Indiana. To save on gas costs and help the environment they switched every other week, one week Kevin drove and the next Candice would drive. This had been going on for quite some time, ever since Kevin received a transfer to the same department where Candice was already working. From an outside point of view it seemed that the pair had been getting closer and had a little more than just a coworker relationship, although without being fully-fledged friends. After a while Candice’s boyfriend Alex Young, began to wonder if she was thinking of Kevin as more than just a coworker.

“Alex, I know that you mean well but you’ve got to trust me, I would never jeopardize our relationship for some guy that I carpool with on the way to work.” The pitch of her voice rose as she became frustrated. She was only halfway through changing her clothes after she came home from work when Alex confronted her about her relationship with Kevin.

“Well I’m sorry but that guy seems like he’s a bit too interested and I feel like you enjoy taunting me about it. You’re clothes are getting more skimpy on days you go to work, I feel like you only dress nice when he’s around.” Alex walked out of the bedroom and into the living room and sat on the recliner to the right of the couch. He was so close to the edge that he could have fallen off at any moment. He was wearing a black shirt with a large logo on the chest, blue jeans, dark blue and black running shoes, and had his hair cut short.

After a very short amount of time Candice walked into the living room wearing jeans, a light blue and white striped t-shirt, and had her long blonde hair hanging freely. She quickly walked to the right side of the couch and leaned on it with her left hand. “Honestly, do you really think I would want that guy over you? He’s always talking about air pollution and camera equipment. I only carpool with him because it frees up money every paycheck so that we can go out to eat more often.” She began pacing back and forth behind the couch trying not to go overboard and make the fight worse.

Alex realized then he was jealous and it had become apparent to him that it took over his sense of reason. He hung his head in shame for even entertaining the idea that Candice would be unfaithful. After a few moments of awkward silence he picked his head back up and stood up with a slouch. Candice, still pacing back and forth realized something had changed in the argument and stopped dead in her tracks facing Alex but not lowering her guard for a moment. She felt that Alex had betrayed their mutual loyalty and understanding of their relationship.

Candice stood tall and made her final stand on the issue with her determination and pride resolute. “Listen Alex, I don’t care what you say or do…but don’t ever doubt me again. You and I are in this together, what could I possibly want from that weirdo?” She looked directly at Alex and waited for his response patiently. Alex wasn’t typically the type to lose it over something small, so Candice was sure something else was going on. Could it have been that comment from the block party last week? Did he see something that I missed? Maybe he just isn’t getting very good sleep lately. Wait, did he figure it out? I’m not ready to tell him yet.

In the audible silence of that moment which seemed to last for an eternity, Alex took a breath in and stared directly into Candice’s eyes. “I’m sorry…I just-I don’t know. I guess I just miss some of the old routine we used to have back in Florida when we first met, I just- I miss some of the spontaneous things we would do with our friends.”

“I will agree that it was fun, for a little while at least. But we didn’t know who we were then either…now we do.” Candice shrugged her shoulders slightly and took a couple small steps toward Alex as the argument began to diffuse. “I guess we found ourselves recently and lost something in the process.”

Alex took a step towards Candice and began to quietly plot a night out on the town. “What if we go back to how we used to do it then?” He smirked and took another small step towards Candice. The pair became closer until they were just a couple of feet apart and slowly inched their way together.

She inched closer to Alex once again, tilted her head slightly to the left and ran her right hand through her hair. She pondered the thought for a moment before flirtatiously remarking “I thought you didn’t want to do that anymore. What made you change your mind?”

He was still staring at Candice before he took the last small step between them and bent down just enough to whisper directly into her ear. “I can’t stand the look of boredom on your face; I just want to see you lose it one more time.”

Candice smiled and giggled for a moment before she whispered back to Alex. “Well then, should we start with Kevin? I’ve been looking at him for quite a while…and I hear he has a girlfriend now.”

After a little while they ordered some food and after about a half hour a delivery driver for a pizza place arrived. She was a 19 years old with long brown hair; her ponytail went through the hole in the back of the hat and was so long it nearly went to the middle of her back. Candice had spotted her from the window as she walked up to the door. She quickly got up and opened the door, “Hey there, how much?”

The girl quickly said, “$25.50 and we’ll be squared away.” As she continued her last few steps up to the door. Candice quickly grabbed the cash she had placed near the door which totaled $32 and traded it for the pizzas that the girl had in her hand. Immediately after, the girl smiled and thanked Candice for the tip as she closed the door. Alex got up and walked over to Candice, he grabbed the pizzas and went over to the table in the dining room and opened them both. As he had looked down at the pizzas he remarked to Candice. “So, was she not your type? She looked alright to me.”

Candice slowly strolled into the dining room after she locked the door. She sarcastically scoffed at Alex as if she was trying to goad him into a fight. “If she was so special you should have answered the door, besides…I highly doubt she had a boyfriend with that walk she did.” She then reached down and grabbed a slice of pizza before he had the chance to respond.

He snatched up a slice of pizza and quickly took a large bite of it. The smirk on his face made it nearly impossible to chew. He looked at Candice for a few moments as he finished chewing the food; once he was done he took a step closer to Candice. “So should we call them now or wait until we have something more concrete?”

Candice took a moment to think, and then looked directly at him with a lopsided smile. “Let’s wait for this one; I want to make sure that we don’t have to worry so much about the little details.” She smiled and gently held his hand then took a breath in. “After all, we haven’t had another couple over for a date night since we lived in Florida.”

The pair looked at one another for a moment before they smiled and laughed uncontrollably for around a minute. The rest of the night the two kept close together until dinner was over, then they decided to go to separate rooms and began preparing for their date night with Kevin and his girlfriend. Candice decided to finish picking out her clothes before she moved on to planning the food possibilities. Alex did the few dishes remaining in the sink and cleaned up the living and dining rooms until everything glistened. As the night drew on they decided that the rest of the planning and preparation could wait until the next day. They both went to bed for the night so they could go to work the next morning.

As the night crept forward to morning and their alarms began ringing to wake them up, Candice and Alex woke up to a clear sky with the sun shining in the windows. After hitting snooze a couple of times Candice finally emerged from the bedroom; followed later on by Alex around 6:30am. Both of them began quickly preparing for the work day until around 7:30am. Alex worked from home as an online business consultant so he began his work as quickly as possible; checking his emails, voicemails, and doing check-in’s on websites to ensure they were being maintained properly. Candice waited until 8:00am and then walked out to his car where Kevin was already waiting for her.

“Morning, Kevin.”

“Yeah it is. How are you today?”

“Oh, not so bad. Can’t wait until that meeting is over though, those things always drain me.”

“Yeah same here. Not a whole lot going on to keep us going either.”

Candice and Kevin got in the car as they were already running late. Other than the small interruption of opening the doors and getting sat down inside the conversation went on fluidly.

“Well my husband and I are having a big dinner. Why don’t you and your new girlfriend come over for a couple’s night tonight? We’re having some chicken breasts and a few side dishes because we bought too many at the store when they were on sale.”

“Really?” He chuckled for a moment before he continued. “Well…I’m up for it if she is. I’ll call her on my lunch break and let you know.”

“Awesome.”

The meeting Candice and Kevin were attending ended just in time for lunch. Kevin quickly made the call to his girlfriend while he had the chance, before returning to Candice with the answer. “Hey Candice,” Candice looked over to him and eagerly waited for the answer. “She said yes for dinner tonight. Is there anything we should bring?”

Candice was delighted at the news that the couple’s night was good to go. She nearly bounced off of the ground she was so excited. “Well…we don’t have a dessert yet. So if you wanted to bring that it’d be awesome.”

“Great, I’ll pick something up after I drop you back off at your house.” He then walked back to his desk which had a stack of papers and binders that was so tall it cast a light shadow over his keyboard. 

Candice also went back to her desk; she began responding to her emails and voicemails that had slowly amassed over the time she was in the meeting and from over the lunch break. As the work day drew on and the clock was ticking away the excitement of the nights potential activities were driving Candice to finish all of her work as quickly as possible. One more hour and the weekend is here…just one more hour.

Kevin was going through a similar line of thought in that same time frame. He put everything he had into getting the large stack of papers whittled down until he could finally see his desk again, and for that shadow to finally be away from his work space. His mood lifted even higher as the final minutes of the day ticked away and drew to a close. The pair rushed as fast as they could to his car and hurried back to their neighborhood as if they were being chased by a pack of wolves.

As they reached the street just outside of their houses Candice hurriedly got out of the car and waved Kevin goodbye as he left once more to get to the store to find the dessert. Candice skipped inside where Alex was already cooking dinner. “He went to the store to get a dessert, that will be a surprise on what he brings but I have a feeling he has a sweet tooth so we should be okay.”

Alex, now feeling the excitement and anxiety of hosting a double date, had to take a deep breath to keep calm. He didn’t have many people over for dinner; usually he just went to restaurants when there were guests so this experience was new for him. Candice saw he was nervous and walked up to him. She wrapped her arms around him and softly said “Tonight is going to be a lot of fun. I’m going to go change then I’ll be back to help you get everything ready.” She briskly, but confidently marched into the bedroom and changed into more casual clothes. Her favorite jeans fit her perfectly, and her favorite white and blue button up shirt was an obvious choice for the occasion. Whenever she wore these particular clothes she felt invincible and had an undeniable charisma about her. Alex always thought it was because she regarded them as a lucky charm like someone who wears the same jersey to every football game whether it was on TV or sitting in the stands.

As dinner was just a few minutes from being done they heard a knock at the door. Kevin and his girlfriend were welcomed inside by Candice quickly. Kevin was holding a box with a plastic window in the top of it. Candice was correct in her assumption earlier on. He had a sweet tooth, aimed at chocolate cake with fudge icing; it was his favorite type of dessert. Kevin introduced Linsey to Candice immediately.

Candice told him that he could take the cake into the kitchen where Alex was finishing up with the chicken. He walked into the kitchen and they began a typical dinner conversation; talking about the food, spices, and day to day work stress shortly after that. Candice and Linsey were already talking about the food before Kevin even reached the kitchen doorway.

Linsey was wearing a red shirt and jeans with her favorite running shoes. All the pair of women could think about was the after dinner plans. They both had pride in everything they did and not too long after they met inside that house were like two peas in a pod. They gossiped about their partners and made sure to put emphasis on the juicier details before they were done talking in the kitchen. They didn’t want the men to hear them tell some of the more personal details but the women didn’t seem to mind at all.

Alex and Kevin soon entered the dining room with plates and bowls full of food. The table was already set with any dishware they might need for the meal. The four sat down and quickly began to fill their plates; talking about work and family, funny stories from the past, and keeping things fairly normal throughout the meal as the couples try to figure each other out.

Candice felt confident in herself so much that she began telling stories of her escapades in Florida. She didn’t say anything to racy or risqué but did test the waters to see if Kevin and Linsey would be okay with something, as well as testing Alex’s reaction to the stories as well. She had always felt like she was hiding ever since she moved from Florida to her new home in Indiana. She told of an embarrassing encounter she had with a woman while still in Florida.

“Alright so this is kind of an odd story but I feel like I can share it with all of you.” She took a second to gather her thoughts, pondering which details she should omit from the account. After all, she wasn’t very close to Kevin and didn’t want to be thought badly of because of her past escapades. A couple seconds later she decided to tell all of the essential details necessary but leave out some of the more personal details. “I met this girl at a bar while I was traveling in Florida. This was before I met Alex, and even he hasn’t heard this story yet.” Alex’s attention was fully focused on Candice as her stories were always entertaining and he was curious to find out what secrets she had. “Well to set the story up I’ve got to say I did not expect this to happen and had no idea who this person was beforehand….I was walking into a bar a few miles away from the Gulf Coast. While I’m there this woman walked up to me and asked me if I was lost or confused about what was going on. Apparently it was a business party that I had stumbled into and had no idea. So I’m sitting there in jeans and some tie-dye hippy shirt I bought earlier that day and just getting a nice buzz. I didn’t even look around to see who else was there. So when she walked up and said that to me I’m like ‘what do you mean.’ Then I looked around and the people there were dressed in suits and ties, they looked really proper and in a way seemed to be ready to make a business deal. So I’m feeling so embarrassed and apologize to the woman. I’m like ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize this was a closed event.’ So I got up to leave, and she just went ‘no, no, it’s okay.’ She walked with me to the coat room and gave me a coat to wear so I could stay at the event. Apparently even she didn’t like being there either so having me there was a blessing. So I got to drink free liquor all night on some businesses tab all because they didn’t think hiring security was necessary and one of the employees hated her boss.”

Alex was stunned at the story but didn’t really think much of it and began chuckling, though awkwardly got up afterwards and said “On that note I’m going to get dessert, I have a feeling we’re going to be sitting here a while.” Kevin was just mesmerized by how this would or could happen and was lost in his own thoughts. However Linsey was very happily intrigued by the story and decided to ask a couple of questions after Alex went to get the cake. “How were you not noticed by the suits? What are the odds of that?”

“That is exactly what I was thinking. But the best part was the woman I was talking to. She made sure she brought the most expensive drinks over, and she had this tattoo she showed me that was absolutely gorgeous. Not to mention her hair was perfect, it really complemented the dress she was wearing with the straight but curly at the bottom look to it.”

Alex walked back into the room with the cake, which was now cut into even triangular pieces and placed it into the center of the table for everyone to eat. “Alright, here we go. This cake looks like magic made real.”

Kevin almost immediately shifted his attention to the cake and grabbed a piece before anyone else had the chance. Linsey looked over as he was grabbing it and giggled a bit. Then Alex also grabbed a piece for himself and went ahead and grabbed a piece for Candice while he was at it. Linsey then looked at Kevin with the ‘you better’ stare and he quickly realized what he needed to do as he reached forward and picked a slice for her as well.

“So what ended up happening? Did the suits ever realize you weren’t part of the party?”

“Surprisingly no, they just stayed in their little groups and talked amongst themselves. I had a great time with her though, we even got together a few times for drinks after that.”

Alex then joined in on the conversation. “Well, we don’t have any liquor in the house but this cake is good enough to make me forget that. Where did you get this cake?”

Kevin finished the bite he had taken and quickly responded. “Actually Linsey made it, I was going to go to the store after I had picked her up and she surprised me with it when she got in the car.”

“Well, this is probably the best cake I have ever tasted. We need to invite you over more often.” The group then chuckled and agreed unanimously. They began planning more couples night activities they could do for the next half hour until they decided that the next night they would go bowling and compete for the best couple score, and the losers would have to buy a round of drinks for both couples.

As they were wrapping up the night and preparing to go home Alex snagged another piece of the delicious cake and put it in the fridge. He had a habit of late night snacking when he liked a certain dessert and this was a definitive choice for his bad habit, as he had no intention of stopping that night. Candice and Linsey were in the living room, sitting on the couch talking about life and work. Alex and Kevin were in the kitchen collecting leftovers that Kevin would take home for the next day’s lunch.

After a few more minutes of chatter Kevin and Linsey said their goodbye’s and went back across the street to Kevin’s home. Candice and Alex went into the living room after cleaning up the dishes that were still left from the meal. They spent the night much like any other, watching a bit of TV and checking their social media accounts before they went to bed. With Alex wandering into the kitchen at some point to finish off the cake he had in the fridge.

In the morning however it was very clear that something was wrong. Candice woke up feeling extremely groggy and lethargic. She could barely open her eyes and she was cold like winter had come all at once and frozen the air in place. Her breathing was shallow and she could barely move, but she felt someone standing over her and trying to wake her up.

“Hey…Candice…We need you to wake up…Candice can you hear me?” The words barely reached her mind at first but slowly became clearer as the grogginess faded and her breathing returned to near normal. The nurse’s words barely reached Candice in the daze and were jumbled up and nearly incomprehensible, but the words turned into coherent sentences. Her eyes felt as heavy as concrete, as she slowly opened them there were 3 nurses hovering over her in a hospital bed. Oh my god…Am I dead? Alex is that you?  Who are you people?

The hospital staff helped her comprehend the situation after she became more stable and conscious. A doctor walked in shortly after she was able to wake up so that he could talk with her for a few minutes asking her standard questions any medical professional would ask. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Candice Wither.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Umm…I…Is this a hospital?”

“Yes it is, do you know why you are here?”

“No, who are you?”

“I’m your doctor. I need you to tell me the last thing you remember.”

“I went to bed…Umm…I, uh…what happened?”

“There was a carbon monoxide leak in your house. We were afraid we lost you there for a minute.”

That was when the panic set in. “Alex, where is he!”

“I’m sorry…there was nothing we could do. He passed away in his sleep.”

The news hit Candice harder than anything had ever before. It took a few moments for her to make a visible reaction, the monitor for her vitals starting beeping more rapidly until she had a full panic attack. Her breathing once again became shallow and her mind began racing, yet stopping at the same time. She couldn’t focus her eyes on anything and the room quickly became a blur as the tears began to flow.

The doctor eventually calmed her down and tried to console her while continuing her examination. “I’m so sorry for your loss but I need to make sure you are okay. What is the last thing you remember?”

“I remember…watching TV with Alex-“ She stopped cold and put her hand up to her forehead. “I feel like someone bashed my head on a wall.”

“A headache or migraine is normal after carbon monoxide poisoning, it should pass but we’ll run tests to make sure there is no long term damage just in case.”

Then 2 men walked into the room. They were Detectives Martin and Ralley from the local police department. “I’m sorry to interrupt but can we have a moment to ask a few questions doc?”

The doctor stood up and began to walk out of the room, stopping just short of the doorway he turned around. “Don’t pressure her, she’s still in a daze and it could cause mental distress with her condition.” He then left the room and waited in the hallway near the nurse’s station a few doors down from Candice’s room.

“Hello Candice, I’m Detective Martin. This is my partner Detective Ralley. We just need to ask you a few questions about what happened at your home.”

Candice was slow to respond but agreed to answer the Detective’s questions even though she really just wanted to sleep.

“We’ll start at the beginning…where were you last night between 8pm and 8am?”

“I was at home. We had company over and were relaxing before we went to bed.”

“Who is we?”

“Alex and me. We are going out…or…I guess were…the doctor said-“ Candice began crying and it took her a few moment s to bring herself back to her present situation.

“My condolences, I know this is hard but I only have a few more questions. How long were you staying with Alex?”

“I was uhh- I moved in some time last year. We moved here from Florida to start over, I lost my job and he could work from home so it wasn’t hard once I found work.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I work the phones in the clerical department for the city. I just answer phones and emails, at least when I’m not entering data from new projects.”

“Okay just a couple more and we’ll let you rest. Do you know a Kevin Braun?”

“Yeah, we carpool to work. We had him and his girlfriend over for dinner last night. Why?”

“How long have you known him?”

“I met him the first day he started the job. What does he have to do with anything?”

“He’s a person of interest in your boyfriend’s murder.”

“Wait- murder? I thought it was carbon monoxide that did this. What is going on?!” Her heart monitor started racing, the beeping was becoming deafening as it rang throughout the room and into the hallway. The doctor started walking back into the room as he heard the monitor becoming more frantic by the second.

“I’m sorry Detective’s but you’ll have to go. Her health comes before your questions. I’ll call you when her condition is more stable but you have to go- now.”

The Detectives agree to leave as they had other avenues to investigate. As they are walking down the hallway, the small echo of the heart monitor could be heard all the way to the nurse’s station alongside the doctor talking to Candice to try and calm her down. Detective Martin muttered to his partner “Not even she had a clue; we need to find this guy.”

A few days after the visit to Candice in the hospital, Detective Martin held a press conference with local and national media present as he was looking for any information on his current whereabouts, and was now at a point where he required the public’s help.

“Kevin Braun is now a wanted man. He was suspected in multiple attacks on couples ranging from stalking and vandalism, to voyeurism and attempted murder. Florida, Ohio, Indiana, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania all have open case files where similar methods of attacks were used at varying intensities. The file also had a similar pattern, everywhere he went on business trips there were a series of blackmailed women that were forced to separate from their boyfriends or risk being exposed with unsolicited and sometimes outright stolen private pictures of the victims. From there it would only get worse; he would actually use these women when he needed to look better for a client, telling them if they did anything they would be harmed. No one who knew him ever expected he would have done these things, but he was very good at what he did and spent a lot of time to perfect his horrific crimes. This man is a well-practiced and sophisticated master manipulator and cannot be trusted. He used government computers to access personal information, as well as social media to gain information on which targets he would choose. If you see this man please call the number listed behind me on the board. Do not approach this man, if he is backed into a corner he will lash out violently. So please if you see him call the number, do not risk your life. Thank you.”

Candice was watching the news when this came on and it stopped her dead in her tracks. The man she carpooled to work with all that time was getting ready to turn on her, and she had no idea. It took her a few weeks to figure out how to move forward. Alex had already made sure Candice got everything in his life insurance policy…and after she had looked through some of his belongings with his parents she found a ring at the bottom of a box in the closet. She broke down, and until the next morning couldn’t even move from the bed she found herself in.

The Detective’s came by a few times to ask follow up questions in the following few days but there was still no sign of a good lead on Kevin’s current location. Linsey had also disappeared, it was presumed that Kevin took her as a hostage while he made his run but no evidence had been found to support or dispute this theory.

After a few more days of searching for herself she decided to leave and start over somewhere new. She put in her two weeks’ notice at her job with the city, and informed Alex’s parents that she was going to try and get on her feet somewhere new. The pain was just too much for her and finding out he was going to propose only made it hurt more. She packed her things and even before selling the house moved into an apartment a few miles away while it was up on the market. It didn’t take long to sell the house; Candice wanted just enough to finish paying the mortgage off, so the house was almost exactly at market value.

On the following Tuesday, after the house had been sold, Candice received an unexpected phone call from an old acquaintance. “Hello Candice,” His voice was like a strong whisper, but had a deep undertone that carried quite well, “I heard about your unfortunate loss recently…my condolences.”

Candice, now shaking after she recognized the voice, was caught completely off guard. It took her a few moments in the silence to respond to the caller. Sternly and with a vicious lash of her tongue she snapped at him. “What are you calling me for?”

“Now, now Candice, That’s no way to talk to a friend, is it? After all…we have so much history together. Besides, I remember the deal we made when you wanted out. Unfortunately not everyone wanted to honor that agreement; Luke is coming to pick you up. It would be better if you went with him than Omar.”

“Why the hell would I go with any of you? I told you I’m done!” Candice stopped shaking and became extremely focused; her right hand went to her side as the phone was up to her left ear.

“The reason you can’t say no is the same reason you just reached for a knife that is no longer on your waste, Candice. Go with Luke, it’ll be easier that way.”

“Give me a reason, or I’ll fight to the end.”

“Luke already picked her up last night around 11pm. Omar doesn’t like to be kept waiting, you know his tendencies. The quicker you arrive, the easier it will be.”

“His, tendencies, are the reason I left Florida.”

“Don’t worry, this time it’ll be done differently. Not even I have a choice this time.”

“What do you mean?”

“Answer your door. I’ll explain when you get there.”

The phone call ended there. Candice walked slowly to the door and opened it; a man in his late 30’s was standing there waiting for her. He had short, blonde, crew cut hair. An earring in his left ear, and an odd shaped scar going from his temple to his jaw on the left side defined his face. He stood over Candice by at least 7 inches and outweighed her by at least 150 pounds of muscle. “We need to go.” He said calmly and without emotion, some would have called him a robot if he had any less inflection when he spoke.

Candice took a moment to gather her thoughts and simply turned around and grabbed the bags full of clothes and her most personal items. She handed them to the man and uttered, “Luke, how bad is it?”

He took a moment and straightened his back as much as he could before he replied. “Omar is a necessary ally.” Luke then walked to the car with the bags in hand and placed them in the trunk. He returned to the driver’s seat and waited for Candice to grab the last bag and walk to the car.

As Candice opened the door and placed her purse in the middle seat a voice from the other side gently made its way to her ears. Candice got sat down and addressed the elephant in the vehicle; she sarcastically remarked “Well it feels like it’s been ages Anna. What have you been up to lately?”

Anna shifted her attention fully towards Candice and quipped. “Well I was seeing this handsome thing named Kevin, but he seems to have run off somewhere with a pretty little thing named Linsey. He was blabbering on about running away with this Linsey chick; I met her a few times but never really liked her. He was so clingy there wasn’t much to do but let them disappear together.”

“That figures, you just can’t trust many men. Oh well, probably for the best anyways. So where did we leave off?”

Luke interrupts the conversation between the two women. “Sorry to interrupt, but are we okay to leave miss?”

“It’s Candice, and to answer your question, yes. Everything is squared away; we can go to our destination now.”

Luke put the car into gear and began the journey to the meeting place where the man from the phone would meet Luke, Candice, and Anna a.k.a. Linsey. Only Luke knew where they were going but had no problem acting like a cross country driver for the ruse. After all, his specialty was helping others to blend in and to provide cover stories and fake identities.

Candice and Anna returned to their conversation from earlier a few minutes into the drive. “So, what did you keep this time? Was it some family heirloom like a watch or something?”

Anna looked at Candice with her left eyebrow lifted up and her right eyebrow tilted down as she glanced for a second and then glared for a moment longer. “Do I look like an amateur to you? Taking heirloom’s lead to being found out much easier, I took something far more valuable. I had him wrapped so tight around my finger he bought me an expensive diamond necklace and so many clothes I ran out of stores to shop in. Kevin wasn’t all that bright when it came to managing finances over his passion for a beautiful woman. It was kind of sad when I did him in, I almost felt bad.”

Candice chuckled for a moment before divulging her secret as well. “First of all that cake was wonderful, it’s amazing how easy it is to get people to eat chocolate cake. I just wonder what the odds are of finding two guys who ended up living across the street from one another who both liked the same kind of cake to the point where we didn’t even need to talk them into pigging themselves out.”

“Yeah, that actually made me wonder if they knew and wanted to set us up. That was until they ate the 2nd piece and later when Kevin fell asleep eating a 3rd piece.”

“I can’t argue with you there. Alex ate that third piece so fast, when I popped the line loose he may have already stopped breathing.”

“Well, I upgraded the poison for this time around. I made it harder to detect and generally easier to overlook because it resembles multiple other normal things you would find in a decaying body. Although that paperwork took a while to get together, framing a man for a series of crimes he wasn’t even aware existed wasn’t easy.”

“I never did get to ask you, when did you call to get someone over to my house and take me to the hospital?”

“What do you mean? I never called them. I thought you called them after you woke up and used something to knock yourself out for a few days.”

Candice was dumbstruck. She had always thought Anna had called it in after getting rid of Kevin, but now it was clear that no such thing happened. Anna wasn’t the type to give false information to a friend and it made her a bit uneasy. “Hey Luke, can you find out who called it in?”

“I’ll need a minute at a rest stop to find out, but it shouldn’t take long.”

“Thanks.”

Candice and Anna continued on their conversation for a few more minutes when Luke had to stop for gas and decided to take a break for food. He went into a fast food restaurant and ordered food after placing a call to an unknown associate for information on how Candice got to the hospital. By the time he came back to the car he had the information Candice asked about.

“Records show that a door-to-door saleswoman had stopped by and you didn’t answer, apparently the pipe you loosened was a little bit too loose and some of the gas smell had gotten out. So your mistake ended up saving your life on accident.”

“Does it say why they were stopping by?” Candice was intrigued by this information. She didn’t get close to anyone but Kevin because he was the way to play off Alex’s death as a horrific crime; no one else knew where she lived or anything about her personal life. There were also strict policies put in place by the homeowner’s association that prevented door-to-door sales. “They don’t allow that kind of sales without foreknowledge. Before I moved in to the neighborhood some con-artists went through and scammed a few people so they set up the gate so you couldn’t go door to door anymore.”

Luke paused for a moment; he was at a loss for words. He had never been bested and wouldn’t start now. He combed through the information that had been gathered and found a familiar pattern. “Sorry for the delay…I have full confidence that it was Riley.”

Candice was shocked at the news. “Riley? I thought she left the life for good. I wonder what brought her back.”

Anna sharply cut in on the news. “Actually I knew she was still working but had no way to prove it until recently. But I didn’t know she was the one who called it in.”

“How did you find out she was still working?”

“She helped me with the paperwork. Apparently the people who actually committed the crimes were dead and gone already, I asked her if she knew of an unsolved we could pin on him and she gave the details.”

Candice was shocked by the news. The last time Riley and Candice had spoken it wasn’t a very pleasant experience for either of them. Riley and Candice were the first 2 members of CAROLL, followed by Anna, Luke, Omar, and the mystery man from the phone call. The situation surrounding Riley leaving CAROLL wasn’t very pleasant either.

The rest of the journey to the meeting place was mostly quiet. Candice and Anna fell asleep while Luke, who barely spoke as it was, kept driving to the destination. After around 4 hours of driving Luke woke the women up and pulled up to a building in the middle of nowhere. It was now dark out and that made it nearly impossible to find your bearings without some small hint of the terrain. The screen door of the building was unlocked while the front door was wide open. Luke went in first as he already knew exactly what was going on. Candice and Anna went in immediately after with a cautious but confident stride. On the far side of the room was a man with un-kept black hair and a beard that needed a trim. He looked over at the trio and cracked a wicked smile before standing up and greeting them like a host would greet a dignitary from a foreign country. Albeit a bit psychotic how he announced it, and even more unnerving that he seemed to point to everything when he gave directions like he was on a game show and had the honor of showing off the grand prize to the contestants.

“Welcome to the house of some poor schmuck who didn’t know I was standing behind him with a knife. The kitchen is through the living room to your left, the dining room is the same to the right. Bedrooms are upstairs; to your immediate right you will find the stairs. Spare bedrooms and office space is to your immediate left through the living room. Bathrooms are in the hallway, 2nd door on the left; as well as upstairs first door on the right. If you have any questions feel free to ask.”

The trio remained silent for a moment as they sized up the strange man. Candice broke the silence with a simple gesture of recognition to break the ice. “Omar, is there a reason you’re still holding the knife?”

Omar looked down and in his hand he had gripped the knife even tighter. It took him a moment to realize what had happened and then he looked to his right and left and that was when he began scratching his head in confusion. I don’t remember there being any blood on the walls when I got here…how’d that get there?

Luke decided to interrupt his line of thought with what he thought would be a simple question. “Omar, how long has it been since you killed the owner?” He then waited patiently for a moment as Omar readied his response.

Omar’s demeanor had shifted suddenly. He was much more composed and had lost some of the erratic body movement he had just moments ago. However his mind was just the same as it was previously. “Well…the sun was down…and he was looking out the window when ya…uh pulled up…so…maybe an hour ago.”

Candice, Anna, and Luke all stood still for a moment as they tried to figure out if he was joking around or if he was serious when he made his statement. After all, they pulled up no more than 10 minutes ago. Candice and Anna were not excited about the possibility of working with Omar again, he had a history of memory problems when he was ‘on a job’ and often caused problems with other members of CAROLL. He would fail at his task and blow someone’s cover or just outright forget what he was doing and would wander wherever his mind took him. Luke was not enthusiastic about Omar being involved in whatever was going on and had his own reasons for being cautious. Luke was the only one involved with CAROLL who knew why Omar was so unstable and he swore to only tell someone after Omar had been confirmed dead by at least 3 sources, including himself.

Those who had the pleasure of meeting Omar noticed a few things very quickly, as it was quite hard to ignore these odd behaviors. When Omar was composed he would talk more slowly, he would say ‘ya’ instead of ‘you’, and his memory was spotty and unreliable at best. When he was erratic his body movement would be whimsical and unorganized while still being loosely focused on a task, he was easily offended and quick to anger, but most of all when he became erratic he had little to no memory and this usually coincided with a witless bloodlust. These odd quirks that defined him were a curse to those around him, and it made it impossible to trust the man.

Perhaps the most peculiar part of Omar was his own awareness after he became calm again. His mind could understand what he had done, unfortunately only after the fat; however there were only 3 people who could bring him back to reality. In this case, when Luke asked him when he killed the owner Omar saw the blood on the wall and the knife in his hand so it was rather simple.

“Sorry…I uh…I need a nap.” Omar began to slink off to a bedroom down the hallway to the left with the knife still in his hand.

“Wait, Omar.” Anna had spoken up for the first time since entering the house. She was being cautious but she couldn’t wait to ask him a question while he was calm, she worried that if she waited she would lose her chance if he became erratic again. “Do you know why you’re here?”

Omar stopped suddenly and turned his whole body slowly towards Anna. His slack posture suddenly became more firm as his back straightened and he raised his head high. He smiled like he just got a promotion at work and could finally afford to buy his dream car. With a quickly quipped and sly remark he grinned wider than should have been physically possible and spoke with earnest and pride. “Mother is going to visit for my birthday.”

Candice and Anna are stunned at the news that she would be coming to visit. The last time she visited was in Florida, and shortly after she left the group fell apart. She had been on the run for quite some time to avoid multiple charges ranging from fraud and embezzlement to murder. Omar was her most loyal follower, and he would never do anything to upset her. The other members knew never to speak about her if Omar was around because he would become extremely aggressive as well as mentally and physically abusive to keep you in line. Candice and Anna always felt that her treatment of Omar was the reason he could act like two completely different people.

Now that they knew why it was necessary to meet the tension rose and the women decided to stay near each other until others of the group arrived. Candice, Anna, Omar, and Luke were already present inside of the house where they would wait for ‘Mother’ but there were still two more who had yet to arrive. The man from the phone and one other were still missing for the time being. The group at the house decided to lay low in the house for a while until they could move somewhere nearby and keep a better watch on their surroundings without being so exposed and vulnerable to someone knocking on the door.

At this point in time it was late May. There wasn’t a whole lot to do but wait for the group to arrive, and before long another member of the group appeared. The man from the phone had given this new woman directions to where the group would be located, and gave the group inside the house a message that she was finally on her way in the middle of June.

As she approached the front of the house she heard a familiar voice coming from inside the house. “Oh my gosh! She’s here, get the whiskey!” Anna ran out of the house at a full sprint and came close to tackling the new arrival before greeting her with a kiss on the cheek. She laughed out of pure happiness and hugged her closely. After a few moments she loosened the hug and leaned back slightly. Candice, having heard Anna become so increasingly excited had walked up to the door and watched from a distance as Anna welcomed her to the house with the kiss and hug followed by a quick explanation of who was there and some basics of what she knew so far.

After a few minutes they decided to go inside and say hello to the rest of the group which had gathered. They reached the first of the steps when Omar burst past Candice and slammed into the door, breaking the small latch off of the flimsy screen door. “Mother-,” he stopped abruptly, realizing his mistake and he quickly became upset and frustrated. “Why are you here and Mother isn’t? She should be here now. You! Why didn’t you bring her when you came?!”

The women were stunned as his brazen nature and immediately became defensive in both mindset and posture. Luke had now reached the doorway and interrupted the argument before it got any worse. “I’m sorry, I told him someone was here and I couldn’t stop him.”

Everyone but Omar understood it was a misunderstanding and calmly tried to explain to Omar what was going on. The woman who had just arrived spoke first, “I was told to come here, Mother should be here soon.”

Omar snapped at her. “No, she should be here now! It’s your fault she isn’t here yet! Where is she?” He was starting to pace back and forth on the small stoop very quickly and was grabbing at his hair. His breathing had increased rapidly and was starting to lose track of his thoughts. His voice began to crack when he spoke from the stress and it became apparent that they may have to fight him if they couldn’t find a quick end.

Candice spoke up next to try and focus his attention on someone other than her. “Listen, she wants to see Mother just as much as you do, we all do. We all miss her very much.”

Omar, bewildered and confused, decided to question Candice’s loyalty in a very abrupt and callous way which even caught Luke off guard. “Prove it! Tell me where Mother is, if you lie I’ll cut you first.”

Luke stepped in and challenged Omar directly. “I thought only Mother could punish us Omar, are you trying to tell us you are in charge? I always thought Mother was the only one with that authority.”

Omar snapped into a wildly different personality. He began tearing up and whimpering until he couldn’t physically stand up any longer. The only thing Omar ever truly cherished in his entire life was to respect Mother; everything else was nothing but expendable to him. Omar eventually slinked over to Anna and the other woman and begged for forgiveness…from Mother.

The pair forgave him and hugged him, hoping for the debacle to end where it was. It was clear Omar wouldn’t continue trying to attack anyone and the three women plus Luke decided it was best to let Omar rest for the night while they caught up with one another. So Luke, being the only one who could control Omar helped him into bed and returned to Candice, Anna, and the new arrival Riley.

When Luke was walking into the room he heard Riley beginning to talk about a job she had. The story was familiar to his ears, everyone had heard it before. She always recounted her greatest achievement in life, meeting Candice and Anna three years previous to their current meeting, and creating a small make-shift family between them. She spent the night celebrating their recent achievements of insurance fraud, theft, and murder against Alex and Kevin. She was always very supportive of the pair and wanted them to remember they were loved, no matter what situation they were in, so that they would never feel that horrible pain again.

Eventually Riley divulged her recent whereabouts and traveling stories became the new theme for the night. She spoke about her vacations in Europe, Central America, and Japan. She was always the type to tell a long drawn out story; she hated missing a single detail. Although Luke did bow out of the conversation he always had an ear for juicy details, which Riley was well aware of and would occasionally drop random sentences in just to mess with him and try to watch his subtle reactions.

As the night drew on and the stories ended the three women went upstairs to their bedrooms to lie down for the night to sleep. Luke decided he would sleep on the couch that night; he always had trouble sleeping on a mattress. Omar was already asleep and would wake up early the next morning. He drank 5 cups of coffee every morning after he woke up…exactly 5 cups; no more, no less. Omar got up and as quietly as he could, then made and drank his coffee from around 5am until around 6:15am when Luke was just beginning to wake up.

Omar and Luke sat down at the kitchen table to talk for a little bit before everyone woke up. Omar was nervous and upset, but also hopeful that this would be the day Mother arrived. Luke supported him but did not raise his hopes any higher than they already were; when Omar had his heart broken he could be even more unpredictable than usual. After a little while Omar’s spirits were lifted and he was determined to have a productive day, so Omar and Luke went to the store to get some food and other minor supplies as the fridge was running close to empty.

Riley woke up when she heard the front door close, as she looked out of the window Omar and Luke were getting into the car that Luke had used to bring Candice and Anna to the house with him. She looked on for a moment before deciding to go and watch television. That was until the phone rang at least. Riley panicked for a moment before finding the phone and quietly answered it so she wouldn’t wake up Candice or Anna who were still sleeping. The man on the phone gave her instructions to follow to the exact letter of every word, she agreed to prepare as instructed and began her work for the day.

As the hours passed Luke and Omar returned with groceries and some other miscellaneous items. Around 10am Candice and Anna woke up and wandered downstairs to get something to eat for breakfast. After everyone had gathered Riley gave everyone the good news as she was instructed to do when the man called earlier. With everyone in the kitchen she announced that Mother and Father would be coming to the house for a family reunion with a surprise for the whole family.

Omar nearly threw the gallon of milk he was holding into the air he was so ecstatic. Instead he slammed it onto the table and began jumping in circles and cheering. Luke looked on and smiled, it had been quite some time since Omar was so happy and it made Luke happy to see him this way. Candice and Anna were also excited but kept their celebrations on the ground with a group hug with Riley. They began to prepare a large dinner feast; turkey and ham were to be the main course. Green beans, peas, mashed potatoes, and a large batch of dinner rolls were prepared later in the day. They all wanted the meal to be ready for when Mother and Father arrived, that way they wouldn’t have to wait to eat after their long trip.

The large table was overflowing with placements so they brought up an old card table from the basement to fill the space for the rest of the family to be seated. As lunch came up the family took a small break to eat before continuing on cleaning and preparing for the night’s long awaited grand event. Candice, Anna, and Omar were cleaning the house while Luke and Riley cooked the food.

Candice focused on cleaning the bedrooms both upstairs and downstairs. Anna decided she would clean the bathrooms and vacuum. Omar was left to clean the living room, including the red tinted stain left behind on the wall from their first night. Omar would spend most of his time scrubbing the walls.

Luke was focused solely on preparing the turkey and ham and checked in constantly to ensure it was cooked to perfection. Riley set the rest of the placements and tidied up the dining room; after it became closer to dinner time she began cooking the side dishes.

The whole family had pulled together to make a miraculous meal for their Mother and Father. At 6pm exactly Riley received a phone call from the man once again, after a short and one-sided conversation she walked to the door and propped it open. A man took the first steps inside of the home. He was wearing a button up white shirt with a pocket on the front, khaki pants with a black belt, and pitch black shoes; his brown hair was neatly kept and clearly combed while his chin was completely smooth, not one hair missed during the shave. He took a deep breath in through his nose. “It’s nice to be together again…good food, and good people.” Then the man looked around at the group who were now standing in the living room with smiles on their faces. “Well we have a surprise for you,” he turned towards the doorway and took a small step backwards, “please welcome our newest member of the family.”

At that moment a voice from outside of the door whispered, “Go on in, they’re your family now.” A small and scared boy, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, meekly and nervously stepped inside. He took small steps inside the house, and behind him Mother followed with a small nudge to get him closer to the center of the room. He took a few stumbling steps forward and looked at Luke, with his eyes wide from his nerves being so high. The child spouted one of the most innocent lines ever heard by the members of the family. “Can I have a popsicle please?”

This child was innocent and full of hope; something the rest of the family had never had the chance to enjoy. Mother directed the family towards the table in the dining room to eat. As the meal began she looked at the boy and made sure he was paying attention. “We are your new family now, and family members can’t have secrets from one another. So, we are going to tell you how we became a family.” Mother looked up to Candice, Anna, and Riley. “Who would like to tell the story?”

Anna smiled and quickly volunteered. “I will Mother.”

 


© Copyright 2017 Michael Hall. All rights reserved.

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