“Tracy! What's up?” asked Bob Schlagel. As she walked into Bob’s Best Bakery shivering. Bob could see that Tracy was unusually nervous. Normally she was pretty laid back and kept it together when she was under pressure.
“You need a to drink that coffee, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” said Bob
“Oh, Bob, if you only knew how close that was to the truth” replied Tracy Blane. Bob grew concerned.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
Tracy slapped a smile on her face as she realized that Katrina was coming over to the table where she and Bob were sitting.
She said, “Tracy I need to borrow Bob for just a minute, I need some rolls pulled out of the oven”
“Yes, of course Mrs. Schlagel!”
Bob indicated he’d be just a couple of minutes then he’d come right back. She picked at her breakfast and sipped her coffee. She was in an awkward position; she didn’t know how she’d explain to Bob what had happened. Bob returned to the table. Tracy said, “Bob, let's walk. It’s a bit too noisy in here.”
“Okay” he said, “I’ll tell mom and meet you out front.”
Tracy stepped out the front door into the cold January air. Bob came out a minute later. He was really concerned now, this behavior was so unlike Tracy.
“Tracy, for pity’s sake, what IS going on?” He asked with some urgency in his voice
“Bob, you know the story I did about your engagement to Lilli went viral. Well, with the byline comes a bigger following for yours truly.” She said.
“Yes, naturally.” He replied
“Well, this turned up in my email 24 hours ago.” Tracy said, handing Bob a copy of the email.
“Dear Ms. Blane,
I have information regarding the death of Finn Ewan McCarthy.
I came by this information in my professional capacity and cannot therefore, give you my name. Knowing Mr. McCarthy was greatly beloved by so many, I could not in good conscience sit by while I had the power to help end the years of doubt.
I cannot reveal all that I know but I can set you on the path to the truth.
I will contact you again in 2 days time.
“Holy Mackerel Tracy!” Exclaimed Bob. You’ve had this email address checked and everything right?” He asked
“Of course! There is no real identifying information associated with the account, but as far as we can tell it’s a genuine email account. I’ve replied to the person and I’ve got 24 hours to wait until I hear from them.” she replied
“What are you going to do?” asked Bob
“I’m going to follow the lead until I find out whether this person is legit or not. The question is, what do I tell Lilli?” she said
“Tell her the truth. I want to help find out what happened to Finn as much as she does. Bringing an end to the pain we all feel by exposing his killer. I know Lilli will want some closure. I’ll go with you after the bakery is closed. It might be better if you call her Aunt Pauline. Ask her to hang out for a bit after work. Tell her you have a follow up to the story you did on Lilli and I.” He replied calmly.
“Right, I’ll call now.” said Tracy as she headed for her car.
Pauline Hyde-Bennett was the sister of Lillian’s father Davis James Hyde. Pauline had helped Lillian through the death of her Aunt Ginny (of Ginny’s Cookie Jar fame). Since that time she had become Lillian’s indispensable right hand in her business and advisor in her personal life. Especially since her mom and dad had moved out of state.
Lilli's parents Davis and Teresa (Alexander) Hyde had retired from business to take up residence at a beautiful ranch in the high desert. They offer therapy animals to help military veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was always their dream.
Bob stepped back into the bakery turning his mind to the business at hand.
“That was quick.” said Mrs. Schlagel
“Yes apparently there were follow up questions from the public and Tracy wanted a comment from me,” said Bob.
“How the power couple lives.” Mrs. Schlagel laughed
At 6:00 that evening Tracy sat in her car waiting for Bob to close up the bake shop. Then Bob stepped out after what seemed like an eternity of waiting Tracy got out of her car. She and Bob walked silently up to Ginny’s Cookie Jar where Pauline unlocked the door. She invited them in with a wave and a smile.
“Hello you two!” exclaimed Lilli
“Hello beautiful!” said Bob
Tracy gave Lilli a little hug and said “Hey!”
“More questions from our adoring public?” Lillian laughed
“Something like that,” replied Bob
“Okay you three, sit down I get you all something to eat.” said Pauline as she breezed in from the bakery.
“Thank you!” said Tracy, I’ve hardly had time to eat and I’m starved.”
“Will omelets work for the 3 of you?” she asked.
“Aunt Pauline you know I cannot resist your omelets!” Said Lillian
“What is this REALLY all about? I haven’t seen this many shifty looks since little Pete Smith came in here with his buddy Toby and tried to take cookies from the display!” She continued.
Bob said “Lilli, what Tracy has to say may come as a shock. She has some news. It’s big.”
Tracy reached into her bag to pull out the email sent to her by “A friend”. She handed it to Lilli. “This came in my email 24 hours ago… I showed it to Bob this morning because I thought he should be here when I talked to you about the contents.” she said.
Lillian read the contents of the email over to herself 3 times just to make sure she was reading it correctly. Thoughts were racing through her mind at a hundred miles an hour. She must have turned pale, because Tracy said something about her turning white as a sheet. Lillian was too shocked to reply. She sat there thinking about what it would mean to finally know how the accident happened and who was driving the vehicle that struck Finn head-on. They drove away from the scene leaving Finn, her high school sweetheart, to die by the side of the road all alone. What kind of person could do that and then just leave everyone to suffer with the uncertainty all these years?
Bob could hear Ginger, Lillian’s cardiac alert dog barking out a warning from the back room. He reached over and touched Lillian’s hand. “Tracy, please ask Aunt Pauline to get some of Lillian’s tea.” He said emphatically.
“Right!” She replied, racing back to the kitchen.
Tracy stepped out less than 5 minutes later with Lilli’s calming tea. It helped with the tachycardia that she sometimes experienced. Lillian gratefully drank the hot tea. Aunt Pauline came out with their omelets and toast on a tray.
Bob said, “Pauline why don’t you pull up a chair for a moment”
“Yes, I think I should. Our girl doesn’t look good. What’s happened?" Pauline inquired with a serious look on her face. She was very protective of Lillian especially since she’d developed the heart problem.
Bob picked up the copy of the email and handed it to Aunt Pauline.
Pauline read the email from “A friend” to herself. Then she looked up. “Is this for real?!” she said aloud.
Tracy replied, “Yes, as far as we can tell it’s the genuine article. There was no full name associated with the email but it’s a genuine email address and the IP checks out.”
“No wonder she turned pale! It is a shock to be sure!” exclaimed Pauline.
Lillian ate in silence not really knowing what to say. She fought back tears. She was angry, but she didn’t know why. There were questions thundering in her head like hand grenades. Finally she took a deep breath and asked, “What now, Tracy?”
Tracy answered “We wait for the next email. My editor has given me permission to pursue the story. I might need your help if you are willing.”
Bob and Lillian answered simultaneously “Of course.”
Bob saw Lillian home then drove to his loft. It had been quite a day and he had a feeling that more interesting days lay ahead.
Good as their word the “Friend” sent Tracy another email.
“Dear Ms. Blane,
I will hand over the information I have at a safe location. I assure you it is genuine as is my desire to do the right thing by Mr. McCarthy’s friends and family.
Below you will find directions to a secluded cabin. It belongs to a relative. I have left some documents you will need in an envelope along with a memory card. The cabin has no electricity, phone service, or internet. Just so you are aware of the circumstances. I will send you a separate email to let you know where the key is hidden.
For my own protection and as an act of good faith please bring only one other person with you. Seeing a lot of activity at the cabin may raise suspicions.
As you can see from the attached photo the cabin is grand and spacious. Given the time of year and the possibility for fast moving storms I recommend you bring some food along with fresh. There is wood for the central fireplace and for cooking.
Tracy immediately sent a text message to Bob and then Lilli to let them know that the second email arrived. Bob arranged to meet them both for dinner at the Schlagel’s house on the lake. Lillian suggested that Bob’s parents be there for the meeting. She also asked Bob to pick her, Aunt Pauline, and Ginger Pye up at her house. Neither of the women felt like driving, they were both nervous.
At 7:00 pm everyone assembled at the Schlagel’s house on the lake. Over dinner the entire group discussed the situation. Together they decided that Bob and his father would drive out ahead of time to look over the location for the drop site. Tracy would continue investigate the "friend". They all agreed that if everything checked out satisfactorily, Lillian and Tracy would go with Ginger Pye. Ginger was an excellent guard dog as well as a service animal. They planned to stay just long enough to get the information and leave.
The Linoak County Gazette allowed Tracy to borrow a specially outfitted van with satellite internet, laptop and satellite phone. Though absolute care was taken by all involved the paper had to assure Tracy and Lillian would be safe. They couldn’t take chances with their new star reporter. Ginger Pye was great protection but they might just need 911.
The next morning; Bob, Lillian, Tracy, and Aunt Pauline began to pack necessities into the van for the trip to the cabin. While they were packing up the email with the instructions as to where to find the key to the cabin arrived. This meant that they could leave at any moment.
Tracy would drive the Gazette’s van and Lillian would drive her SUV. Everyone was very edgy. Lillian was feeling the strain and her heart was giving her a reminder to chill out. Bob reassured her that he’d be at his buddy Greg’s camp 10 minutes away if she needed anything. Tracy emphasized they would drive out and right back. Lillian took a deep breath in her head she said; “3 hours to answer 15 years worth of questions. It would be worth it.” Lillian got her coat, heavy boots, hat, scarf and mittens and put them on the back seat.
“Are you sure you are going to be okay with all of this sweetie?” Asked Aunt Pauline
“No, to be honest, I am not. It’s important, for so many reasons, that I see this through. You understand?” said Lillian
“Of course I do honey, it's just that you already look pale to me. I fixed your calming tea. There’s a flask in your lunch bag.” replied Pauline with a little smile.
“Ready Lilli? We gotta roll. Those clouds do NOT look good. Typical January weather.” bemoaned Tracy.
“Yep, I’m ready, let’s do this!” she answered as the dog jumped into the back of the SUV.
Tracy started up the van and rolled slowly down the hill into Bushwick. Lillian wasn’t far behind in her little SUV talking to Ginger Pye about what was about to happen. She was followed by the ever adoring Bob Schlagel.
An hour and a half later Tracy and Lillian pulled into a long, tree lined drive, to a very large Cabin. Probably what some would have called a house, a big house. Both women got out of their vehicles and walked toward the cabin on a rose granite pathway. Lillian stopped.
“Tracy! I know this place!” She exclaimed. “This is the Belden camp! I used to come here as a kid with my parents. Mr. Belden owned a big engineering firm, they moved out of state a while back. I think they still visit here in the summer. Wait until you see the inside of this place!” Lilli added.
Tracy noticed that the clouds had begun to darken dramatically as snow fell from the sky. “We better get this done while we still can get back.” She said. Locating the key, Tracy opened the massive door. On the hall table there was a big manila envelope. She handed Lillian the satellite phone.
“Call Bob. Tell him we have arrived. Then call my office and your Aunt. Tell them the weather isn’t looking great here.” Tracy said as she picked up the envelope marked with her name.
Lillian did as Tracy asked, then joined her in the parlor. The interior was even more awe inspiring than she remembered. Beautiful woodwork, marble carvings, ornate fireplaces, candelabras and even old fashioned candle lit chandeliers.
Ginger Pye was less than impressed with her surroundings.
“You know they could at least try an electric generator,” said Tracy with some irritation. “Apparently the house doesn’t even have electrical wiring,” replied Lilli. “The Beldens love this place. It’s where they literally unplug from the rigors of business.” she added.
Just then the phone rang startling both women.
“Hello?” Answered Tracy “Yes sir. Absolutely I’ll do that right now,” she continued “Of course. Goodbye sir.” Tracy said, hanging up the phone. “Call Bob NOW. I don’t care what our "friend" says. There are snow squalls coming. I’ve been told to stay put until they pass, around 11:00 tonight!” She cried.
Lilli agreed wholeheartedly. She did not want to be here during a storm without Bob.
She dialed Bob’s number.
“Bob I think you better come over now. Yes, we heard! That’s why we want you here at the camp with us. We don’t want to be here alone until the squalls move off later tonight. Okay see you in 10 minutes. Love you! Bye" She said.
She and Tracy started the process of carrying the food, water and overnight bags out of the vehicles.
Just as they had finished setting up in the kitchen Bob phoned to let Tracy know he was in the driveway. He didn’t want to surprise Ginger Pye. Tracy agreed that wouldn’t be wise. She let Bob in the house. He walked in with sandwich fixings in a cooler and a big wicker basket. Ginger let out a happy bark. She seemed relieved to see Bob too. Lilli kissed him on the cheek.
Tracy said “We have the envelope our “friend” left. I know I was only supposed to bring one person but with this weather...," She said, not finishing the sentence.
“No worries Tracy, my father plays golf with Mr. Belden every Summer when they come to stay. I used to hang out with their son Lee. If anyone asks we are friends of the family.” said Bob “I forgot how massive this place is! Without electricity it’s a bit of a challenge under these circumstances. That's a cold wind seeping in.” he continued
Bob started a fire in the main fireplace first, then lit logs in the oven so they could warm food through. Meanwhile Lillian and Tracy lit the candles in the dining room then sat down at the sprawling table to look over the paper documents taken from the envelope. The memory card had been uploaded to the satellite laptop.
“What are these papers?” Tracy asked.
Lillian answered “They look like business documents. Articles of incorporation, receipts, repair bills, purchase orders… ordinary legal or tax stuff” She stopped short. “Here’s a hospital bill!” She exclaimed!
“What!?” replied Tracy
“Bob look at this!” said Lilli
The name was blocked out of the hospital bill but the date was clear enough. It was for the day after Finn had been hit and killed.
Tracy picked up another bill. “This is a bill for an alcohol rehabilitation center all the way across the country where "nameless" stayed for 6 weeks after the accident.” said a shocked Tracy.
Lilli said “I really hope they got the help they needed so they’d never put another community through what Linoak County went through after Finn was killed.”
“We have our trail of breadcrumbs.” said Tracy consoling Lilli.
“Exactly” said Bob. “We’ll figure out this mystery together”.
The three stood in silence watching the light from the candles play off the polished surfaces in the room. Individually they were each determined to find the person who killed Finn. Together they'd find the truth.