As Tara swung her silver Mercedes sports car into the entrance to her driveway, she thought she saw someone sitting on her front steps.
With a frown puckering her dark forehead, she began to search her mind to recall who she may have made an appointment to see. No one came to mind who she would be meeting at her house.
Then she grew cross.
"It had better not be another reporter looking for a story," she grumbled out loud.
Tara tried to get a good look at her visitor as she drew closer, deliberately driving slowly to give her time to complete her scrutiny. A young black woman who looked to be in her early twenties or late teens sat on the top step. She was wearing jeans, a pink buttoned top, and white tennis and had a backpack clutched closely to her. Tara was twenty years older than the young woman looked. She was also black with slightly greying hair which made her look distinguished.
Still no wiser about who her visitor was, Tara brought her car to a stop in the driveway and got out, looking around cautiously in case the young woman was part of a ploy to attack her or something. She had heard about a lot of things happening around town recently.
The young woman had stood up as Tara pulled up and stopped. Standing just outside her car door, Tara called out to her.
"Hi, can I help you with something?"
"You are Ms. Tara McPhee, right?"
"Who wants to know?"
"I am Anna Harding, you told me to come by today."
"I told you that?" Tara asked confused.
"When was it that I told you that and what were you coming for?"
Shock registered on the young woman's face.
"You, you told me y-yesterday."
"Yesterday? Young lady, I have never seen you before in my life. You must have me confused with someone else."
Tara closed the car door and locked it. Before she did, she pushed her hand with her cell phone into her jacket pocket. She touched number 2 on her phone which was speed dial for her manager. Then she walked over to the steps and stood on the opposite side of the woman.
As she got close enough to see her face, she could see that her eyes were filled with tears. Tara began to soften and then she quickly hardened her position again because the tears could also be a part of the scheme.
"No ma'am. I answered your post about the short story contest. I submitted my story and was told that I had won and you would work with me to polish it and get it published."
Tara was flabbergasted.
"There is no contest. I never told you any of that."
Tara started to walk past her and then stopped.
"Where did you get the information about this contest?"
"It came to my email. There was a phone contact and I called and spoke to you." She paused. "Well, I thought it was you."
“I am telling you that it wasn't me."
Tara was about to walk away again when the woman said, "But I also spoke to you on a video call."
With this, Tara spun around to face the woman.
"You what? A video call? And it was me you saw and spoke with? What else am I supposed to have said?"
"Well, there is supposed to be a cash prize as well."
Tara laughed cynically.
"Really, now. How much?"
"$2,000," the young woman said softly.
"You expect me to believe this story? There is no contest and I have never spoken to you before today."
The young woman burst into tears.
"Miss, I would not have come here if it wasn't true. Please I don't want any trouble. I will just leave."
Just then Tara heard her manager calling to her on the phone in her pocket. She took the phone out and answered him.
"Tara, don't let her leave. The police are on their way now and I am coming over. Just don't go in the house. Keep her outside."
As he spoke two police cars pulled in the driveway. The young woman sank on the steps weeping. Two uniformed officers lighted the first and came to where Tara stood. The other officers remained in the second car.
The officer who was the driver spoke.
"Ms. McPhee, we got a call that you are having some trouble, ma'am."
"Yes, Officer. This young lady is saying she I promised her $2,000 and help with being published and she is here to collect. The problem is, I never did no such thing."
The officer turned to the weeping woman.
"Ma'am, what are you basing your claims on?"
Tara's manager, Bruce Thompson walked up the driveway at that moment.
The young woman tried to compose herself.
"I got an email about the competition and after I entered, I got a call saying I had won."
"And the prize was $2,000 and a publishing contract?" the officer asked her.
"Well, they said Ms. McPhee would help me get published."
"Did you pay to enter this competition?" the officer further asked.
Tara was incensed.
"How much?" she questioned.
"Who did you pay it to and how?" the officer continued his interrogation calmly.
"I was sent a payment link. I just assumed it was going to Ms. McPhee."
"What was the email address that the information came from?" Bruce asked speaking for the first time.
The woman read off Tara's email address.
"This is ludicrous. I didn't send any emails."
"Could someone using your account have sent the emails?"
"That is my private email and I have not given anyone access to it. It would have to have been hacked."
"That is possible," the officer responded.
"But what about the video call she is saying I made? How do we explain that?"
The officer addressed Anna.
"What is your name ma'am?"
"Anna Harding, sir"
"Ms. Harding, you also state that you spoke with Ms. McPhee on a video call?"
"And Ms. McPhee you are saying that it never happened."
"I didn't speak to her."
Anna suddenly spoke up.
“I have a picture. I-I snapshot it while we were talking.”
Tara’s heart leaped. This was the first sign of hope of proving that she hadn’t contacted Anna.
“Let me see it.”
Anna reached into her backpack, took out her cell phone, and found the photo. Tara made to take the phone but the officer stepped in front of her.
“We will take that.”
He took the phone and looked at the photo and then at Tara. He then showed it to his partner. Tara watched him carefully to assess what he was thinking. He turned back to speak to her.
“And you’re sure you didn’t make the call in question?’
Bruce spoke up extending his hand to the officer.
“Can I have a look?”
The officer held up the phone so that Bruce was able to see it. Tara stepped closer to look at the photo also. What she saw caught her breath away.
“Oh my God! If I didn’t know that I hadn’t spoken to Anna, I would say it was me too. Just who is this?”
“And you’re sure that this is not you?” the second officer asked indicating the photo.
“Yes, I am sure!”
The first officer said to Anna, “We will need to take this phone with us so that we can track the calls. Do you happen to have a copy of the email as well?”
Anna slowly reached into her backpack, took out some sheets of copy paper, and gave them to the officer. The officer took the pages, then he stepped back so that she could move past him and then he spoke again.
“Come with us ma’am while we look into this.”
Anna sucked in a sharp breath and her eyes again filled with tears. The second officer with one hand beneath one of her elbow, steered her towards the police car. The second car had driven off, after confirming that their presence was not needed.
Tara watched as Anna was led to the car. She spoke to the officer who was still handing nearby.
“Officer, what do you want me to do?”
“Wait for us to contact you.
The officers left and Tara turned to Bruce. Her mind was churning. She was not just going to sit and wait to hear back from the police. Her reputation was in jeopardy. Who knows how many other persons the culprits may have contacted?
“See what you can find out about this contest. Send an email to the address and see if anyone will reply.”
Then she thought of something else.
“I wish I had gotten the number that Anna said called her.”
“That would have been a great help, but again maybe not because you may scare them off before the police find them.”
Tara sat down on a white patio chair on the porch.
“Hopefully then, someone will answer your email and supply a number. I will give you a short story to send to them as an entrance into the competition.”
“I will do it now. I have my laptop in the car.”
Bruce swung on his heels and went down the driveway to his car. He had parked beside the road because there wasn’t space for him when he arrived as the police cars were still there. He was of mixed heritage and was lighter in his skin coloring.
He was soon back and he sat down at the patio table that Tara was sitting at and opened up his laptop.
“We’ll see if the email goes to them or comes to me.”
“It may take a few days for them to respond.”
“Then I will wait.”
Bruce set out to draft the email. As he typed he said.
“You know, I have a cousin who may be able to see what hacked into your email.”
Tara looked at Bruce questioningly.
“Is this cousin skilled enough to have sent that email?”
Catching on, Bruce replied.
“Oh, no, not what you are thinking. He would not have done it.”
Tara shrugged her shoulders.
Bruce didn’t answer but took out his cell phone, and dialed. He spoke to his cousin, Adam Thompson giving him the details but his cousin told him he would need to come to the house to do the trace from Tara’s computer. Bruce told Tara what his cousin said and she agreed to have him come.
“He should come immediately before the police realize that they need the computer and come back for it.”
And so Adam came and began searching Tara’s email account. Tara didn’t know what he did but he soon told her that the email was found in her sent files but it had not been sent from her computer.
“Can you tell where it was sent from?”
“It was sent from a computer on the Western end of the island. I can give you an approximate location that you can give to the police.”
“Or we can go and see for ourselves what is at that location.”
Bruce had been sitting with one leg crossed over the other. He sat up straight at Tara’s words.
“This is not one of your books, Tara.”
“You’re right, this is my life and so I need to get to the bottom of this.”
She stood up.
“The two of you can come with me. I will need Adam because he has the location.”
Bruce sighed and Adam grinned. Seeing his cousin’s enthusiasm, Bruce shook his head and stood up.
“But I am driving.”
A short time later, Tara disguised in a cap low over her face and glasses, the three of them were driving down Tonique Darling highway, heading west. Adam had told them that the location was in the Sandy Port area. This was a more high-priced part of town and Tara wondered why would someone living in that area be involved in such a scam. But she thought, maybe that is how they got to live there in the first place.
They found the street. It was an estate enclosed by a high wall. The walls were painted baby blue. For a minute, Tara wondered how they would get in but as they pulled up to the gate, she saw that the gate although it appeared closed, was not locked.
“We can get in but we will have to walk up the driveway.”
“We need a reason to be there. Maybe we should not all go,” Bruce recommended.
“Then Adam and I will go.”
“Are you out of your mind? What if something happens to you?”
“I have nothing to lose,” Tara said then turning to Adam, she asked. “Are you gamed?”
Adam was out of the car in a flash.
“And to answer your question, if anything happens, call the police,” Tara told Bruce, and she and Adam set off through the gate and up the driveway.
As they neared the front door, Tara told Adam that their cover was that they were representing a new political party and doing a survey. They rang the bell and Tara gave her line to the housekeeper who answered the door. She asked to speak to the owners of the house. The woman left them at the door and while they waited, Adam set up his laptop as if to take notes but he was doing a scan of the computer systems inside the house.
A middle-aged, well-dressed woman came to the door and asked them what they wanted. Tara engaged her in conversation, talking about the current political issues and asking her views, while Adam was doing his magic on the device he had.
Suddenly Tara detected an excited twitch in Adam’s posture. Was it because he had happened on something concrete or was it his normal behavior Tara wondered. Then he cleared his throat and spoke up.
“You said to remind you about our 3 p.m. appointment. We’d better make tracks if we want to make it in time.”
Catching on, Tara thanked the woman for her time and they turned to leave.
“Wait a minute, what party you said you are with?”
Tara answered without hesitation.
“We are just in the infant stage and we are doing a poll of public opinion to see whether the people are open to considering another political party at this time, so we don’t have a name as yet.”
The woman looked skeptical but they moved off again this time picking up their pace.
“We have to be going. Thank you again for your time.”
She was saying something else but they kept walking at a steady firm pace. They needed to get out of that gate before the woman got the notion to lock them in. And just as the thought crossed Tara’s mind. No sooner had they slipped through the gate, than the gate click closed.
In the car, Bruce told them that the police had called and said that they traced the call.
“To guess where?” Bruce asked.
“Sandy Port,” Tara answered.
“Yep. I didn’t tell them that we were here so we’d better be going before they get here.”
“They are coming then?”
“Yes, on the way now.”
“Let’s leave here but stay in the area so we can hopefully see some of what happens.”
Bruce shook his head, started the engine, and drove away. He told them he would go around Old Fort Bay and circle back. He did this, taking his time driving as if they were sightseeing. Tara was anxious to get back to the area but Bruce thought better of it.
When they got back to the area of the estate, they could see that the police cars were there, four parked outside the gate. Bruce stopped their car along the road a little way above the estate and they watched from the car. They could see the officers in the yard and some up at the house.
Then there was the sound of a scuffle. Tara opened the passenger door and got out for a better view. A young man was running and two police officers were giving chase. One of them tackled him and they both went down to the ground. The officer cuffed him while he had him down and then he stood up and pulled him up with him.
They began the walk down the driveway to their cars. Tara suddenly saw that two other officers were escorted by two other prisoners; another man and a woman. They all seemed young except her. The officers put them in separate police cars and then they drove off.
They had to pass where Tara and the others were parked. As one of the cars passed, Tara tried to see the faces of the prisoners When the car with the woman passed, she happened to be sitting on the back passenger’s side. She looked out the window as the car passed and Tara’s heart stopped. It was like looking into a mirror.