The first thing he noticed was the old door.
The blue paint had long ago submitted to the elements. In fact, the rest of the old bath house had given up long ago. Windows that ran across the top of the wall just under the eaves to let in light and maybe some air on hot summer afternoons were broken and paint on the cement walls was faded and peeling.
As he approached the door he noted that the louvers on it had somehow managed not to be cracked and broken, in spite of the heavy use it had seen in its day.
It was then he noticed the small pink sand bucket hanging on the door handle. It stopped him in his tracks for a minute.
The bucket was new.
It had not seen the years of weather and rust that the rest of the old beach house had. Looking around he saw no signs of anyone having been there recently.
The little bucket sent chills up and down his spine. Who had been here?
And more importantly, are they still here?
He carefully removed the little bucket from its perch on the door handle. Setting it on the ground next to the door, he gently tried the lever. The lever released the door from its catch. The hinges squeaked with annoyance at being forced to work.
The room was dark, with only light streaming in shafts making odd shapes along the floor and walls. Glass was scattered around the floor.
Standing in the doorway, he surveyed the room. What he could see of it in the dim light. It was clear it had been years since the glass had been broken. It had been walked over many times over and ground into fine shards. In a few spots, it had been roughly pushed to one side making small piles of shattered glass and fine glass dust.
He felt the chill again as he looked around.
On the bench on the other side of the room lay a neatly folded beach blanket.
This too was new. Approaching it he saw it was a child’s blanket. At least the print on it indicated that it was probably a child's blanket.
But where were they?
Listening he heard nothing but the waves gently working their way in and out some distance from the house. A light breeze came through the open windows as the breeze shifted slightly and moved a torn piece of notebook paper lying next to the blanket. He hadn’t noticed the paper, which caused a shudder to run though him. It took some time for him to work up the nerve to pick it up.
Bending down, he carefully picked up the paper. He recognized the writing immediately. It was his wife's.
Reading the hastily scrawled note, he pushed it into his pocket and picked up the small blanket. Under the neatly folded blanket was a picture. The picture showed him and his wife in better days. He knew where the picture had been kept. In their bedroom. This told him all he needed to know.
He stopped at the door and took the small bucket from the sand by the door. Carrying everything, he put it in the back of his car.
The gravel flew in several different directions as he turned his car around in the dirt driveway. He drove for several minutes before his mind cleared.
Images of what could be happening to his wife tried to force their way into his mind. He refused to let them stay. Almost physically pushing them out.
By the time he reached his house, he had a plan. Sort of.
Checking the house, he found it as he feared. Empty. And sure enough, the picture was missing from the dresser in their room. Standing in the middle of the room, he studied it. He knew exactly how his wife liked to keep everything. Going over their usual morning routine in his mind. He knew what should be where. Her nightgown lay on the bed. The bathroom showed the telltale signs of a recent shower. And the damp towels hanging neatly on the rack waiting for the trip to the laundry basket later that day. Checking her dresser, he found a set of clothes missing. So, she had gotten dressed before they came. In the kitchen, coffee was getting cold in the pot.
Going into his office he opened his safe. Taking out the guns, he loaded them. First, the pump shotgun, four slugs in the tube magazine, and one in the chamber.
Then his revolver. Taking a speed loader and dropping the shells into the chambers of the cylinder of the gun then closed it, keeping a box of ammunition and reloaded the speed loader. Guns and extra ammunition in hand he closed the big safe. He already had the rest of his gear, a knife, and a flashlight.
Back in his car, he noticed his breathing and heart rate were up. Leaning back in the seat he closed his eyes. Breathing in and out slowly he was able to bring his respiration and heart rate down. Not to where it should be, but he was calmer at least for the moment. Pulling out the note from his pocket. He read it again.
Damn, he was almost out of time. He pushed the car harder than he had before.
Pulling into the dirt road, he pulled the revolver from his holster and laid it on his lap. Edging the car a foot at a time down the road he finally found the clearing.
The old cabin looked like a set from a movie. Stopping the car in the mouth of the driveway that led to the cabin. He got out.
“Where is she?” he called.
“Right here.” She stepped out of the shadow of the building.
“You're late.” Another voice came from the other corner of the building.
He recognized the voice just as he appeared in the sunlight.
Raising the shotgun he released the safety.
She approached him. It was then he noticed the pistol in her hand.
“Did you really think I didn’t know about her?”
Her eyes narrowed as she positioned herself directly in front of him.
“Or about your plan to kill me and run off with my money?”
By now she was within a few feet of him, directly in front of his shotgun.
“Go ahead, pull the trigger. You’ll be dead before I hit the ground.”
He stepped back a few paces to give himself time to think and room to move.
It came together. The kidnapping note, and the old beach house.
He had spent many a happy day there decades ago, with his first wife.
It had been so long he forgot about the beach house and the connection with his first wife now dead. Oh, he knew she was dead. He buried her in the ravine near the cabin where he’d shot her.
“Charlene was her name? Right? And your grandpa’s name was William Webber?” she prompted.
“And your real name is Webber, Cole Webber. Not this bullshit name you made up when you met me. In fact, this whole life is bullshit. A lie. To con me out of my money. If that doesn’t work, kill me and inherit it. Either way is ok with you.” Her voice trailed off into a half cry and whisper.
He spun around looking down the barrel of his shotgun. First at her. Then at James, her brother. Both holding guns. He lowered his gun. He knew there was no way he could shoot his way out of this.
His only hope was to talk his way out.
“You’re right. My name’s Cole Webber. And I did, I did kill my first wife Charlene. But you must understand what she did, and the games she played. And lives she ruined.”
“And you're not playing games and ruining lives?” She visibly trembled. He imagined from anger.
“Yes. Yes, I guess I am. It didn’t start out like that. Honest. I love you, but...”
“But you loved my money even more,” she interrupted.
“NO…! I wanted to stay here with you, but I had to have the money to pay off some people I owe.”
“Yeah right, how much money can you owe these guys?”
“20 million,” Cole stated flatly and with a finality that caught her off guard.
“20 million? Who owes that kind of money and to who?” Even her brother James was taken aback by the numbers.
“It’s a long and complicated story. The money I got from my grandpa, William, was robbery money from a job he did decades ago. Long before he married. It had been hidden away for years. He had let it slip one night when he was drinking. And when he had the heart attack, I remembered it and found it and kept it. I thought it was safe to use. After all, it’d been decades from the robbery. I used some to set up a new life and invested some in an internet scheme that stole data from secure servers. And used the information to make more money. It all went pretty good. Until…”
“Until what, Cole?”
“The people grandpa stole it from found me. I guess through the money, they must have had traces on the serial numbers. When the bills started showing up again, they found me.”
Cole leaned against the car. Too tired to put up a front.
“Let me guess, they wanted their money back?” James pushed. Stepping closer, he was starting to relax.
“With interest. The principle which was about 5 million, and interest over the last 30-40 years comes to a round figure of about 20 million, so they say.”
“I don’t have anywhere near that,” she observed.
“I know, but what I could get out of you would hold them for a while, while I figured out what to do next.”
“So you were going to kill me to save your skin?”
Cole shook his head. “No, no, I never wanted to hurt you. Steal your money, only because I had to, yes, but never hurt you.”
“Why do you think I came here with these?” Cole indicated the guns. “To rescue you from what I thought was a kidnapping.”
“I’m not sure I believe you. Even if what you say is true, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. Go directly to jail.” A voice came from out of the woods. Cole turned and raised his shotgun, aiming it where the voice came from.
Clayton Morris. His old friend stood before him, holding a shotgun. The badge pinned to his coat told another story.
“Cole Webber or whatever the hell you're calling yourself these days. You're under arrest for the murder of Charlene Webber, your wife, and the suspicion of the murder of William Webber, and the federal theft of military secrets and a lot more I don’t have time to go over.” Several more uniformed officers appeared out of the woods and from inside the cabin.
“You alright Mrs. Reynolds?”
She nodded. Opening her blouse, she pulled the clip from the front of her bra, handing the microphone and the tiny box connected to the wire, to Clayton. “Here. You get everything?”
“Yes ma’am, more than enough to convict him.”
The officers relieved Cole of his shotgun and the revolver.
As he was being put in the unmarked police car, it all began to make sense.
The drive back to the police station was long and quiet. Clayton rode in front while an officer sat beside him, his gun never too far from his hand.
Hours later, after being booked and fingerprinted and logged into the federal system, he sat in an interrogation room. It was empty except for the chair and table which had been bolted to the floor. His handcuffs had been removed and longer cuffs that were mounted to the table hooked to his hands.
Clayton Morris came into the room. Sitting down, he plopped a large stack of files on the table in front of him.
“Cole, I knew you as a kid. But none of that matters now.” He let it hang.
“I always suspected that you killed Charlene but could never prove it. We never found the body. You disappeared right after she did, so folks just naturally assumed you two left together. When you didn't come back, we began to wonder, but with no hard evidence or body, we didn't have anything to go on.” Morris smiled. “Until now. We ran your prints through Interpol, and half a dozen other databases. And we got a hit. Robert James Lacy. That's your real name, you were adopted by the Webbers. You’ve probably forgotten it. Been so long since you heard it, I suspect. At any rate, that's the name we’re charging you under. Along with the alias you’ve collected and used over the years.”
So, it came to be that Robert James Lacy/Cole Webber was charged with the murder of his wife Charlene, embezzlement, extortion, and a host of federal crimes stemming from his little venture on the tropical island a year or so ago.
Word got back to the guys who William Webber had stolen the money from all those years ago where to find Cole.
Early one morning, a prison guard found him dead in his cell.