April Martin sat cross-legged in a large brown leather chair. Her eyes were red from crying; wads of tissue paper were strewn about the desk in front of her. She was a slight girl in her early twenties, with red hair and pale skin. Her face was thin but pretty, dominated by her green eyes. She wore green silk boxers, an oversize white T-shirt, and pink socks.
The walls of the room were lined with bookshelves. The bookshelves held an esoteric mix of books. Her father had read voraciously - the classics, best sellers, science fiction, and history. Late in the evening, he would be in this chair reading. This room had been 'Daddy's room' to everyone in the family except Daddy. He had called it the library.
He, along with April's mother, was now dead, killed last week in a car wreck, their car struck by another and crushed in the collision with a concrete piling. In the back seat without seatbelts, at 100 kilometers per hour, they stood no chance, dying instantly. A Mercedes-Benz sedan couldn't protect them from the forces of the impact. Passenger cars aren't designed to go from 100 to zero kilometers an hour in one meter.
April's grief at their loss, nearly overwhelming, was now compounded by the loss of her brother. Ted had always been her protector. Unlike some brothers and sisters, they had been good friends as they grew up. He was one year older than she was. She was precocious and happily helped him with his homework. He was tall and handsome, he listened to her hopes and fears and scared away boys that he didn't think were good enough for her. They had been a team. He told her the facts of life; she told him which girls wanted to go out with him.
The police said that his death was due to a drug overdose; too much Ecstasy had cooked his brain. Bullshit! He would never take drugs. April didn't like conspiracy stories but someone had killed her family. Why? What could be the motive? Am I next? Could I be in danger?
Without conscious thought, she found herself moving to the locked middle desk drawer of Daddy's desk and then stopped. When she was thirteen, Daddy had made her promise never to look in the drawer. While he was alive, she never had. Now he was dead. She yanked on it, and the antique lock appeared to be a simple latch. It wasn't hard to grab the metal letter opener and jimmy it open. It was empty except for a single envelope. She picked up the letter and jumped as the phone rang. She ignored the phone as she had all morning. She didn't want to talk. She had no really close friends except for Ted and since she had worked for her father, no boss needed to be notified. She was sure the family attorney was trying to call her but she didn't care. He knew what to do, let him do it. Why talk? What could people say that would help her grief?
Her family had been close. She called home or Ted nearly every day but Daddy had been an only child and his parents had died young. Mom too had been an only child. Mom's father was dead and she didn't talk to her mother. I guess I'll never know why, April thought. She was relieved there were no platters of food brought over for gathering relatives; she had no relatives. It would have been depressing. Her closest friends were all email friends, scattered through several countries. Here, she only had acquaintances. The neighbors were 'snow birds.' By May they had already fled Florida's heat heading north towards cooler climes.
The envelope in the drawer was thin, maybe a single page in it. Had this been one of Daddy's jokes? She smiled as she remembered when she was in 3rd grade. He made chocolate covered soap for April Fools' Day. The look on Jimmy Boland's face had been priceless. She had sat in the corner of her classroom for an hour that day, but it had been worth it. Now Daddy was gone, she started to cry again.
She blew her nose and threw another tissue on the desk. Daddy wouldn't have liked the mess. Too bad, I don't like him dying. There was a sticky note on the outside of the envelope, with a handwritten note. She read it as the phone stopped ringing.
'Mary, Ted, or April, if you are reading this, then I am dead. If at any time you suspect your life is in danger, call the number inside immediately and follow all directions. New instructions will be sent to you from time to time. Pass them on to your children as I have done.'
Randall Francis Martin.
Had Daddy expected to be killed? She grabbed the letter opener and tore the top of the envelope. There was a laminated business card sized piece of paper with a phone number on it, and also a regular sized piece of paper with what looked like a list of instructions. The doorbell rang. She put the papers back in the drawer, shut it hurriedly replacing the letter opener before jogging to the front door.
When she looked through the peephole, she saw the same two detectives dressed in the same cheap dark grey suits who had questioned her about Ted. She turned and spoke into the intercom.
"May I help you?"
"Ms. Martin, it's Detective Reagan and Detective Overby. We have a few more questions we would like to ask you. Can we come in?"
Not when I'm dressed like this, she thought. She hadn't liked them when she met them and she liked them less after talking to them. Detective Reagan had spent half the time staring at her boobs. "Alright, just wait a few minutes while I change," she said. She didn't give them a chance to answer, but hurried upstairs to her bedroom. She pulled on some old jeans and a faded green sweatshirt.
When she returned, she opened the door and led them into the kitchen. "Wait here for a moment," she said. She had been more polite the first time they met but they had worn out their welcome. Her brother did not take drugs. She grabbed a box of tissues from the living room and returned to the kitchen to sit across the table from them. It irritated her to see that one of them was looking at the little stack of mail.
"What do you want to know?" April asked.
"Do you know where your brother may have bought the Ecstasy he took?" As before Overby asked the questions and Reagan watched her.
"I already told you, Ted would never have taken drugs. He didn't even like to have more than one drink. There is just no way he bought or taken any."
"Ms Martin, I know these questions are hard, but we have to ask. We don't want any more people dying like this."
"Then treat his death as a murder not a drug overdose. Ted and I were close, very close, we told each other everything." She looked Reagan in the eye. "He told me when he lost his virginity and I told him when I lost mine." She looked back at Overby. "There were no secrets between us. If he had ever taken Ecstasy, he would have told me what it felt like. Hell he never even tried marijuana, I would have known."
"Maybe he was too embarrassed to tell you," Overby said.
April was stunned. Were they that stupid? Were they not listening? "You two are idiots. Get out of the house and don't come back."
"If you won't talk to us here, then you will come down to the station," Overby rose to full height.
"No, I won't unless you arrest me. Even then I won't talk to you. Leave now. I gave you my attorney's number. Call him."
April turned and immediately walked through the living room and opened the front door. Reagan and Overby followed but didn't leave. They stood in the living room, trying to look intimidating but she had grown up with Daddy, they didn't come close to intimidating. A phone was sitting on the small table by the stairs. April walked to the phone and dialed 911.
"This is emergency 911, do you need police, fire department, or ambulance?" A woman's voice calmly asked.
"Police," she said.
Two clicks and another voice came on the line. "What is your emergency?"
"This is April Martin. There are two men in my house who won't leave."
"What is your address?"
"Number 15, North Washington Drive, Sarasota Beach."
"A police car is on the way. What are the men doing?"
"They are standing and staring at me. They are both police officers and they have no warrant. I've told them to get out of my house."
"Would you put one of them on the line please?"
April held the phone out to Overby. "Detective Overby," he spoke into the phone.
Overby grunted into the phone a few times and then spoke a single "Yeah". He hung up the phone and said "Let's go" to Reagan. He didn't look at April as he walked out the door. April locked the door behind them.
The phone began to ring again, and again she ignored it. She sat in a rocking chair near the door. It was a wooden chair with woven seat and back. It had been her great grandmother's. She rocked back and forth, as she had when she was little and the house was filled with friends and neighbors at Christmas or Thanksgiving. She had liked to watch the adults and the children. She would decide who was mean and who was nice and compare her list with Ted's the next day. Too bad the nice ones had long since scattered. Reagan and Overby were definitely in the mean column.
She walked back into Daddy's room. Another tissue went on the desk. She looked critically at the tissues and swept them into the trashcan. The oak desk had two drawers on the left side and she looked in both now. The top drawer held paper, pens, and pencils; Daddy refused to buy a computer. The bottom drawer held a pistol and a key ring. April left the pistol and the keys where they were. She sat back cross-legged in the chair and pulled out the envelope and papers from the middle drawer to read them.
Time is of the essence.
Take the key and the pistol that are in the bottom drawer. Put them in your purse or brief case.
Leave Sarasota, take I-75 to 275 and go to the Tampa airport, take nothing but a purse or a brief case; no baggage of any kind. You won't need anything except any medications you may be taking.
Park in the Red Concourse, Short Term Parking and leave the pistol in the car.
Walk inside. Do not go through any security checks. Instead, go to the Blue Concourse and then to Long Term Parking.
In Long Term Parking, in space I5 you will find a Toyota Camry. The key in the drawer will fit the Camry. There will be a pistol in the glove compartment along with instructions.
Call the number on the back of these instructions before you leave the house.
With all my love, Randall Francis Martin.
April reread the note on the envelope and then reread the instructions. She called the number. A man answered.
"To whom am I speaking?" He asked.
"April Martin," She replied.
"April, what is your father's name."
"Randall Francis Martin."
"Please hold for a moment."
Within fifteen seconds, a woman came on the line and asked, "April, are you in your father's home?"
"Yes I am. Who are you?"
"Just a moment please, I have a few more things I need to ask you. Where in the house are you?"
"I'm in Daddy's room."
"Please hang up, go to the library, and call me from there."
"That's where I am. We call the library Daddy's room."
"Okay April, behind the desk there are rows of book shelves. Please tell me the title of the first book on the left, on the third shelf from the bottom."
"Wait a moment," she said as she turned the chair and looked for the book. "It's The Left Hand of Darkness."
"Right then," the woman said, "Who in your family is in danger?"
"I guess me. Ted, Mom, and Daddy are dead."
"I'm sorry for your loss. Do you have your instructions?"
"Yes. Who are you?"
"I was hired by a friend of your father to see that you follow the instructions and to make a phone call. You need to leave right now. Will you do that?"
"April your life may be in danger. Your father made these plans, will you follow his wishes?"
April though for a minute, "Yes."
"Good luck," the woman hung up.
It all seemed unreal, but so did all the deaths. Why would Daddy leave these instructions? What is going on? Why? April walked into the kitchen. Blue I5, Blue I5, Blue I5. She didn't exactly follow the instructions; she took a box of tissue with her when she walked to her Black Lexus.
Sarasota is a gorgeous city, a rich city. During the tourist season, it is overflowing with snowbirds, a native term for the Yankees who spent the winters or their vacations here. In May, it is already hot, not bad if you are used to it, but too hot for the snowbirds. The drive through town was uneventful; it gave April time to think.
I must be crazy to do this. I should head back home, but Daddy wouldn't use a pistol as part of a practical joke. He would use his death, he'd think that was funny, but not a pistol. He really didn't like pistols. Did he think his life was in danger? If not, why these preparations? How long had that woman been waiting for someone to call?
Daddy had enough money to pay for a practical joke on this scale. The Martins were comfortable. In the 50s they'd invested in beach-front land on Lido and Long Boat Key, land on the water in a state that had now run out of waterfront.
April loved Sarasota, an artsy kind of town, always something interesting to see and do, with good restaurants, good bars, and incredible beaches. From Lido all the way to Anna Maria, the beaches are unbelievable. With sugar sand so white that shine off it would sunburn under your nose and water unbelievably blue, it was an unforgettable scene. In the winter, when you were safe from mosquitoes and sand flies, you could dine outside and watch the sun melt into the Gulf of Mexico.
She left Sarasota behind her and drove up I-75, over the Manatee River - a wide, slow moving river traveling through brown grasses and palm trees - then over the Sunshine Skyway. The bridge always brought some irrational fear to her. She had not been even been born that day in 1980 when a freighter slammed into southbound span of the bridge and knocked over 300 meters of steel into Tampa Bay. April wouldn't cross the bridge during storms. Her irrational fear was further fed by all those who had jumped to their deaths from the bridge.
The drive through St. Petersburg was boring. St. Pete is an ugly town - the beaches are beautiful, but not the town. Tropicana Field, home of the Rays (the wus of a city was afraid to call them the Devil Rays), was even emptier than it was when the Rays were playing. The Howard-Franklin Bridge was always a nice drive except during rush hour. With no room for more homes, or at least no reasonably priced homes, workers in Clearwater and St. Pete lived in Lutz or other towns north of Tampa. At the end of the day, the road is packed with them.
In happier times, April liked to watch the pelicans and the Herring Gulls ride the updraft over the bridge. They could cross northwest Tampa Bay without flapping their wings at all. Effortlessly they would ride the air flowing over the bridge. Watching them, you could almost see the waves of air. Most of the light poles would be topped by a gull, a cormorant, or an osprey
She grew nervous as she neared the airport. The Short Term parking lot was almost empty and she felt vulnerable. Once in the terminal she began to relax. If this is Daddy's last practical joke, I will find someone to curse his soul. She took the escalator to the Blue Terminal and the shuttle bus to Long Term Parking. A white Camry was where it was supposed to be. She opened the door, climbed in, and started the car, turning on the air conditioner before looking in the glove compartment. The pistol was there as promised, as were three other envelopes. The thin white envelope held directions to what it said was a safe house in Winter Haven and a warning not to use credit cards. The two manila envelopes held cash, lots of cash; five thousand dollars in one-hundred dollar bills and one thousand dollars in twenties. The money surprised her.
She paid for thirty days parking in cash and took I-4 east and the Polk Parkway to Lakeland, then on to Winter Haven. With nearly a hundred lakes near the city, no road went in a straight line for long in Winter Haven. The city had been planned but the plan didn't survive contact with the terrain. She had been to Winter Haven before, it was a maze.
The original two main streets were predictable, Main Street and Central Avenue. The city was divided into quarters: northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. Avenues ran east and west and were assigned letters, and streets ran north and south and were assigned numbers. There were four places in town that had 1705 Avenue G, one in each quadrant. Where the lakes interrupted the streets and avenues, the roads were given the lake's name, like Lake Hancock Drive. A visitor needed GPS or local help. After asking for directions twice, she finally found the address she wanted, 645 Avenue I, NE. She pulled up to the house. It faced north; across the street was Polk Community College, built on what had been the municipal golf course.
She didn't know whether to use the key or knock on the door, so she did both. "Is anyone home?" she asked as she stuck her head in. If there was, they liked it hot. She found the thermostat in the hall and turned it down from 80° to 70°. She looked around. It was a small house, not more than 115 square meters, built of cinder blocks with hardwood floors. It was typical of the homes built on the GI bill after World War II. It smelled stuffy, the couches and chairs were old, thread-bare, an ugly shade of faded purple, and there was a dead cockroach upside down on the kitchen linoleum floor. Too bad it hadn't checked in to the black plastic roach hotel in the corner. It was too big to fit.
There was food in the kitchen pantry but nothing in the refrigerator. She'd have to go shopping later. The ringing phone made her jump. "Hello," she answered.
"April, did you have any problems on your way?" A man's voice asked her. He had almost no accent. The kind of voice you might hear from a TV anchor.
"No. I'm ok. What's going on? Who are you?"
"I'll explain when I see you. But for right now, don't leave the house. Wait until I get there and then you'll be much safer. We can get you clothing, more food, and whatever else you need right away."
"What the fuck is going on?"
"My name is Martin I owed a debt to your father and so I owe you a debt. Please stay inside. I'll see you in the morning."
April fell asleep immediately but woke 2 hours later with her mind racing. She couldn't sleep any more that night and gave up trying around 3 AM. She set the thermostat to 75˚, and sat in the living room drinking tea. It was plain, stale Lipton tea but at least it had caffeine in it. Her thoughts came and went with such lightening speed that she couldn't even register them. Eventually the sun rose, and she was able to look out of the windows of the house. The back yard was unkempt and full of weeds. The sides of the house were the same, but the front yard had some grass and had been mowed. Patches of sand were visible under the Live Oaks that dominated the front yard. The sand was the gray sandy soil of central Florida. A thunderstorm could drop 6 inches of rain in an hour, and an hour later all the water would be gone, drained into the soil.
She heated a can of chicken noodle soup and made a pitcher of southern ice tea. April boiled water in a pot and added teabags. After ten minutes, she took out the tea bags and poured the hot tea into a pitcher. She added sugar and stirred until no more sugar would dissolve. When you ask for tea in the south, that's what you get. She put the pitcher in the refrigerator to cool and drank her soup.
At about 10 AM, there was a knock at the door. April picked up the pistol, she pulled the slide back just far enough to see if a round was chambered; it was. She cocked the pistol and set the safety off. Again, the door was struck three times. The door had no window so April cracked it open as she held the pistol behind her.
"Good morning April. You look like your father." A short man stood in front of her. He couldn't be over 160 centimeters tall. In a crowd, he would be easy to overlook. He was dark, but he looked more Ethiopian than Afro-American. He had the handsome features of the Coptic people, light brown with a thin nose and thin lips. He wore a white polo shirt and dark blue casual slacks. If you looked closely, you would notice that his shoes were expensive as was his watch. Otherwise, he looked like any other man in his late 20s who had kept himself in shape. Yet there was something odd about him. There was another man standing next to him and one standing by his car. The men's demeanor screamed "body guards".
"Hi, are you Martin?"
"Yes I am and you're April." She is hard to read, as if she has been taught a trick. Who would have done that?
Who else could he be? So she opened the door and lowered the hammer of the pistol. Collapsing on the lumpy couch, she wiped tears from her eyes.
"What is happening?" she asked.
"I don't know but I'll find out. If your parents or brother were murdered, I will exact vengeance. No matter what, I'll protect you."
"How are you connected to my family? Did my mom and dad know you?"
"I'll explain everything later. I need you to come with me to a place that is very safe. May I see your pistol?" he asked.
She hesitated before she handed it to him. He took the pistol, and with well-practiced movements he removed the clip and ejected the chambered round. He caught the round and put it in his pants pocket. He lowered the hammer, inserted the clip, and handed the pistol back to her.
"Ok, grab your stuff and let's get out of here," he said, "I'll take you to a place where you can grieve in safety. What do you want me to do with your brother's body?"
"Have it cremated. I'll have a ceremony later."
"Very well." Martin gestured out the door to his car. She stepped outside to a black Lexus. He opened the back door for her and they drove back the way she had come. She must have fallen asleep; when she woke up, they were in a hanger.
Workers moved around a medium size airplane with two jet engines mounted at the rear of the plane. She could see two pilots in the cockpit of the plane, a Gulfstream V. They appeared to be readying the plane for a flight.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Lakeland, you've been asleep for half an hour and look like you need a lot more. Come on, you can eat and sleep on the plane." They climbed up the ramp and into the plane. Its interior had seats for eight people and two doors at the rear of the plane.
One of the pilots approached, "Mr. Martin, when would you like to leave?"
"Just as soon as you're ready, Jim. April," he continued, "There should be clothes your size in the starboard cabin. There's no shower but you can clean up in the head. Please wait until we take off. Would you like a small steak, some pasta, and a salad?"
"What would you like to drink?"
"Scotch, neat, please."
Martin poured her drink and poured a glass of wine for himself before the plane took off. He sat across the aisle from her. Once the plane leveled off, April went to the bedroom and then to the head. When she came back, she was dressed in grey slacks and a white top. She had no make-up.
"I'm sorry I didn't think to gather an overnight kit for you, I guess you'd like a toothbrush and a hairbrush? Just make a list of what you need and I'll see that it is waiting for you when we land," Martin said.
He looked at her face as he spoke, not through her thin shirt. That's reassuring, she thought. She didn't feel as ill at ease with the people on the plane as she sometimes felt with strangers. Martin introduced her to two men, Howard and Tommy. They obviously worked for Martin and treated him with respect. There was something else in the relationship that she couldn't pin down and it surprised her because she and Ted could always read the social dynamics in a room. Now Ted was dead, his death a dull ache when it wasn't overwhelming.
April realized how hungry she really was when her meal was served by a small woman who returned a second time with her own plate and sat at the back of the plane talking to Howard and Tommy. April ate the entire steak and pasta before she ate the salad. Hunger does make good sauce, she thought. Exhaustion hit her when she finished eating. Martin helped her to the starboard bedroom. "Where are we going?" she asked sleepily.
Martin tried to approach the problem logically. The girl was telling what she thought was the truth. Her surface thoughts, though hard to read, were clear on that. It appeared that his Martins were being killed, although it could be random events occurring simultaneously, just coincidence. Was someone attacking his Martins, or were they using his Martins to get at him? He was safe here in his Vancouver home. His guards were loyal.
He would have to go to Sarasota to pick up the trail. That meant danger but couldn't be helped. He was making no progress here. Studying the young ones didn't seem to help. Except for their art, they were almost useless. They were driven to breed and consume and they did both very well. Those are not endearing traits.
He rose from a chair in front of his impressionist paintings. The lowest floor of his house was a museum containing room after room of art that had been created in his lifetime. This room had paintings from the 19th century, Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. He studied the art constantly, hoping that he would learn how to make art. All his attempts had failed. Maybe his kind couldn't make art. Few of his kind could appreciate it. He wished he could stay in the room longer but today he needed to talk to the last of his Martins.
Thanks to TeNderLoin for the final edit.