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Chapter 2

King of Rules

by
Michael L. Piazza

Matt tossed and turned during the night. Between bizarre dreams and his mind racing about the possible events of the coming day, he did not get more than a few hours of sleep. He sat up and looked out the window, glancing over at the clock. It was six o’clock and it was already daylight outside. He lay back down, not ready to get up.

Since coming to Oregon, Matt’s and Sandy’s routines have been very relaxed compared to their audit days. With no set office hours to keep or some place to be at a specific time each day, they generally get out of bed at will, usually between eight and eight thirty a.m. Matt was in no hurry to get up this morning after his night with so little sleep. He rolled over and immediately went back to sleep.

Shortly after seven thirty, Sandy pulled the covers off and sat on the side of the bed for a moment. She slowly walked to the bathroom. Matt waited for her to return. When she came back and lay down, he placed his hand on her stomach.

“When do you think you and Jenny will want some breakfast?” he asked in a raspy, sleepy voice.

“Not for a while,” Sandy said, glancing at the clock, “probably another hour at least.”

Matt could hear the sound of a faint scratching on a surface somewhere. He sat up and listened closely. It took him a minute, but he realized that it was Rex at the back door.

“Silly, mutt!” he said aloud, “guess you are ready for your morning meal.”

Matt stood up and stretched, looking for his moccasins. The night temperatures made the wood floors chilly, so he needed his trusty leather shoes before making his journey through the living area. He located his moccasins and slipped them on, then grabbed his robe from the chair next to the bed. Rex was persistent with his scratching.

“I’m coming,” Matt said, as he ambled through the living area, “hold your horses. Go catch a rabbit or something if you’re that damned hungry.”

As Matt pulled the curtains open to the sliding glass door, Rex jumped up on the door, standing tall and wagging his tail. Rex is nearly one year old and has become a full grown German Shepherd, standing almost as tall as Matt is.

Matt really enjoys Rex and chuckled at his impatience. He opened the door, greeting his dog and heartily petting him, then walked over to the cabinet and scooped out a large cup of food from the bag.

“Thar ‘ya be,” Matt said, mocking a redneck tone. He poured the food into Rex’s bowl, “that should hold you until late afternoon.”

 As Rex chowed down on the food, Matt looked around at the early morning shadows and highlights of the desert and the surrounding mountains. The discussions and events of yesterday filled his being. He knew in his heart that Sandy was right. The time was nearing for them to return home and clear the record. Though he was ready to go back and do whatever was needed, he was committed to returning to this place when everything was settled. He has loved it here. It had become home to him.

 Matt walked back to the bedroom and could hear Sandy lightly snoring. He decided to stay awake and think through what may be coming down in the next few hours, especially the return of Jason and Malory to the shop at ten o’clock.

He walked into the kitchen and found a container of Sandy’s coffee blends from the night before. She had trained him on how many spoonfuls to use in the automatic coffee machine. He put the coffee in, filled the container with water and pressed the start button. He was ready for some good coffee.

Matt poured himself a large mug of the freshly brewed coffee and walked out to the deck. It was a really delicious, hazelnut tasting blend. He sat on the deck looking out at the mountains, dreading the possible events that may materialize during the day. As much as he fights the memories of their last few days in Mississippi, they were overtaking his thoughts.

He sighed deeply remembering that Monday morning, he and Sandy’s bantering over Herb Jinson’s poor performance, then the bugging device that Herb made him aware of. Event by event played out in his mind as he sipped coffee and stared out at the mountains. Time seemed to stand still as those days rushed back into his consciousness.

Matt walked to the kitchen and poured his second cup of coffee, then returned to the deck. As the memories raced into his mind, he recalled coming into his condo that night returning from his trip to visit Ben Chipman, getting the voice messages from Sandy. He thought about their meeting for a late dinner that night and the surprise of seeing Rusty Payton. He smiled as he remembered how attractive she looked in her shorts and tee shirt, the first time he had seen her without her professional attire. Matt turned and looked through the open door into the living area of the house, straining to see the doorway to their bedroom.

“I could have never imagined this,” Matt said, smiling, talking to the open glass door, “being with you that night, I would have never dreamed we would be here…waiting for our baby. Nothing in my life is the same,” he smiled.

The rest of the events streamed one by one through his memory. He smiled thinking about their night together in New Orleans, and how it was abruptly interrupted by Jack Leonard’s appearance.

Matt still simmers with anger when he thinks about the depth of deception that emanated from his old friend and college buddy. But, as the CAIN system was slowly being dismantled, Jack had been removed from office and was awaiting final sentencing for his crimes. Matt still felt in his soul that whatever time in jail Jack may receive, it would not be enough punishment for the horrible slanders that Jack’s office had leveled against Herb Jinson. For the moment, though, he knew he had to drop the anger and keep cool to prepare for the potential activities of the day.

After a while on the deck, Matt went back into the kitchen. He looked at the clock and noticed that it was almost nine o’clock, pretty late for Sandy to still be asleep. He figured that she must have tossed and turned as he had. He walked into the bedroom and sat softly on the bed next to Sandy. She was still asleep. He decided to wake her and see when she planned to get up.

“Sandy,” he said softly, gently shaking her shoulder, “I’ve put some fresh coffee on, can I bring you some?”

Sandy opened her eyes and looked over at the clock. “Give me about another half hour,” she said, as she stretched and yawned, then pulled the covers under her chin. She closed her eyes and appeared to go back to sleep.

Matt showered and had a small breakfast, preparing to go to the shop so that he would be there when this Jason and Malory returned. He mused at Sandy’s comment before falling asleep last night that everything would depend on who this Aunt Jane was, knowing there was no actual Aunt Jane, just a story made up to make an appointment for. Since Mr. Anderson had gone missing, Matt knew it wouldn’t be Ben Chipman. His mind raced creating several different scenarios of just who may show up with the two strangers when they came back to the shop.

When Matt walked from the bathroom back into the bedroom to finish dressing, he noticed that the bed was empty. He put on his shirt and walked into the kitchen, seeing Sandy standing by the coffee machine, sipping from a small cup. In her pregnancy, her coffee consumption has been limited each day. She prepares it for Matt, but only takes small sips to taste the brew. Matt walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist.

“Not a bad cup of coffee from such an amateur,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, took me a while last night to come up with just the right blend,” Matt chuckled.

“Guess you will be leaving in a minute to meet our guests,” Sandy said, looking at the clock. “Call and keep me informed as things unfold.”

“Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t be up for the drama, so I didn’t bother you,” Matt said, pouring some of the coffee into his travel mug. “Knew you needed the sleep, especially if you slept as poorly as I did.”

“Actually,” Sandy said calmly, “I slept very well.”

As Matt stared at her, he realized that she had a deep sense of calm about her. It was as though, no matter how deeply she has feared the events that may be unfolding, somehow she had gotten a strange sense of peace in the face of the potential brewing storm and its possible repercussions.

“So, what does your intuition tell you about who this Aunt Jane is going to turn out to be?” Matt asked, as he placed the top on his travel mug.

“Not, sure,” she replied, sipping her coffee, “but I’m sure it will be someone we know. Not many strangers involved at this point.”

“Yeah,” Matt said, glancing at his watch, “that’s probably true. Better get a move on if I’m going to be there by ten.”

“Be safe, my love,” Sandy said, kissing his cheek, “stay calm. This is all going to turn out right, it’s time for the dust to settle on our life. Call me when you can.”

Matt drove into the shop’s parking lot a few minutes before ten o’clock. He wanted to be there when his guests arrived. He unlocked the door and walked into the shop, punching in the codes on the keypad to turn off the alarm. As he walked around the counter, he saw Kiki’s car pulling into the parking lot. She quickly got out of her car and came into the shop.

“Good morning,” she said, as she walked in, “how are you today?”

“Pretty good,” Matt responded, “didn’t expect you to be here this early.”

“Yeah, I know,” Kiki said in her youthful exuberance, “nothing going on at the resort so I left early, figured I could get a lot done here. Plus, I can be here to help Jason and Malory pick out a gift for their aunt.”

Matt stared blankly at some of the papers on the counter top. He shook his head at the completely parallel universes that he and Kiki were living in at that moment. Matt is anxiously waiting to see who is going to show up and what series of events will follow. Kiki was excited about helping her new customers with a birthday gift for their aunt.

Matt’s thoughts were broken as the black SUV from yesterday pulled into the parking lot. Just as before, the passenger side door opened and Jason stepped out, then Malory opened the driver’s side and got out. Both had their coats on, Jason with his tie on, just as Sandy had predicted. Matt stood very still awaiting someone else to come out of the vehicle.

“Great!” Kiki said, “they’re here like they said they would be. I worked on a couple of things late yesterday that they may be interested in. Tell them I’ll be back out in a few minutes,” Kiki said, rushing into the studio area.

The back passenger door of the SUV opened and a familiar figure stood up, putting his coat on. Matt smiled at first, but then became very unsure as he recognized the man to be Rusty Payton. He had a momentary thought that he should make a quick escape out of the back door to the shop. But he thought, where would he go? How would he get away? They would surely see him get into his vehicle.

As the three visitors approached the door, Matt forced himself to remain calm. He began to understand Sandy’s sense of serenity when he left the house earlier. This situation was now going into its eighth month. Time had removed a lot of the anguish from the intensity of their last week in Mississippi. Ben Chipman’s surprise visit caused them to feel a greater sense of relief, feeling like their pathway through the CAIN system had been closed. This day was destined to arrive though, and it just had.

As Rusty Payton walked in the door, Matt noticed a tremendous aura of confidence from him. He held himself and walked as one with great authority. Matt had seen this trait in many of the executives that he had worked with through the years. Rusty was wearing a very expensive suit and some high dollar shoes. He was not the Rusty Payton that Matt encountered at the cemetery on that memorable afternoon. This man was poised, calm and confident.

As the three of them walked up to the counter, Kiki came into the shop from the studio, carrying a couple of her glass pieces.

Matt looked at Rusty Payton and said in his cynical way, “So, you must be Aunt Jane. We have been waiting for your arrival.”

At Matt’s words, Kiki stopped still and studied the scene at the counter. Jason and Malory were on either side of Rusty Payton, Matt on the other  side of the counter glaring at them.

“Hello, Matthew,” Rusty said, smiling at Matt’s humor, reaching his hand out to greet Matt. “Good to see you again, you are looking well.”

“Yeah,” Matt said, shaking Rusty’s hand, “you’re looking rather well yourself. I really like your new style, expensive suit and shoes, and that really sharp way about you. You wear authority well, it is quite becoming to you.”

“Sure thing, Matthew,” Rusty smiled, “I like your new artist look, too. The beard is a nice feature, but the long hair,” he said, wrinkling his brow, “well, you know, us cops go for the short cropped look.”

There was a noticeable silence between the two. They just kept eye contact, no movement or facial expressions.

“Malory told me that Sandy was here with you yesterday,” Rusty said, breaking their silence, “says she is expecting. Glad she is doing well, too.”

Suddenly, Kiki placed her hand over her mouth, then said loudly, “Oh, my god, you’re that Marshal dude from the CAIN thing in Mississippi! WOW! I can’t believe you’re standing here in our shop!”

“How would you know about that?” Matt asked her, his brow wrinkling.

“My father was in the Air Force and he was stationed at Keesler on the Gulf Coast when I was in high school,” she said, catching her breath. “Just after Hurricane Katrina, I left for college, then my father retired. He was very involved in the rebuilding efforts so he and my mother still live there. I have been very interested and staying up with the whole CAIN thing. You’re the man in the pictures on the internet and in all of the news articles,” she said, pointing at Rusty as she recognized him from the photos she had seen in  news coverage.

“My, my,” Matt said, shaking his head, “such a small world we live in.”

“Holy crap!” Kiki shouted, “Matt and Sandy. Oh, my god! Can it really be!?” Kiki paused a moment staring at Matt, “Oh, WOW! Are you Matthew Petricelli? The Inspector General guy? Oh my god, and of course! And Sandy Burtron. Oh, my god! That is totally who you are! This is totally awesome! This can’t be happening for real!” Kiki looked like a kid getting ready to get on a roller coaster ride, almost jumping up with excitement.

Malory walked over and spoke softly to Kiki, trying to get her to calm down a bit. Jason and Malory politely asked Kiki to join them in the studio area while the two men discussed their business. The three walked through the door to the studio with Kiki still carrying on about how ‘totally awesome’ all of this was.

“So what’s next?” Matt asked calmly. His cynical side wanted him to chide Rusty about hand cuffs or warrants, but he decided to be calm and controlled. Sandy had advised him to stay calm and he was intent on doing so.

“I think we should leave here and have some privacy,” Rusty said kindly, looking through to the studio area. “Is there a place that we can meet with Ms. Burtron as well…”

“Mrs. Petricelli,” Matt corrected him.

“Why, of course, please excuse me,” Rusty smiled, “is there a place for you, me and Mrs. Petricelli to meet in private?”

“In fact there is,” Matt replied, “Sandy is home and I’m sure she would welcome our visit. If you would like, I’ll call her and ask if she has time available on her calendar,” Matt said with a sly grin.

“Same old Matthew,” Rusty smiled. “Sure thing. If Mrs. Petricelli can make some time for us, we have a lot to discuss.”

Matt grabbed the shop phone from its cradle and pressed a speed dial number for their land line at home. It rang a couple of times, then Sandy answered.
“So,” Sandy said, “looks like Aunt Jane was on time.”

“Yep,” Matt responded, “standing right in front of me.”

“And who would this person be?” Sandy inquired, a little nervous as she waited for Matt to answer.

“Hmmm,” Matt said, smiling at Rusty Payton, “why don’t I give you three guesses and see if you can figure out who Aunt Jane actually is?”

“Ummm,” Sandy said, playing along. “I would say it is probably…ah, Rusty Payton, or Rusty Payton, or maybe Rusty Payton,” she said, emphasizing different syllables of his name with each response.

“You win the prize!” Matt chuckled, looking at Rusty, “all three were correct. Aunt Jane is our favorite law enforcement officer, the honorable Marshal Russell J. Payton. He is requesting some private time with the two of us. Can you check your calendar to see if you can work us in sometime this morning?” Matt asked in a mock professional tone, smiling at Rusty.

“Okay, Matt,” Sandy said seriously, “no use in putting this off at all. I’m putting the coffee on, it will be ready by the time you get here.”

“Music to my ears, see you shortly,” Matt said, pressing the off button on the phone. “She’s making some of her gourmet coffee, should be brewed by the time we arrive. Ready when you are.”

Rusty walked to the studio area of the shop, Matt followed but stopped in the doorway. Rusty talked to Kiki, asking her to keep their arrival to herself until they returned back to the store later. He said that he wanted to buy some glass pieces for Jason and Malory for their offices, then they could talk while they shopped. He emphasized how important it was that no one know of their presence, at least not for today.

“Sure thing,” Kiki agreed. “Gosh, Matt,” she said, looking at him in the doorway, “I would have never known who you really are. You and Sandy have been so great to me, you…” Kiki had tears in her eyes and stopped talking.

“No biggie,” Matt said, “just watch the shop until we get back. Then we’ll make Mr. Payton here keep his word and buy some of your glass. Deal?”

“Deal,” Kiki replied, wiping the tears off or her cheeks, “I’ll be here.”

In Rusty’s assumed authoritative way, he walked ahead of Matt towards the front door, Jason and Malory following behind Matt. As they entered the parking lot, Matt asked Rusty, “Do you know where we live, or do you need to follow me?”

“We’ll need to follow you,” Rusty answered with a slight smile, “we haven’t gotten that far along yet.”

They pulled out of the parking lot, with Matt driving slowly to be sure that Malory was able to keep up with him. There was very little traffic, so he was able to maintain a good speed and keep her in his rear view mirror. He pulled out his cell phone and called Sandy.

“So you are really okay with all of this?” Matt asked her.

“Definitely,” Sandy replied. “He didn’t have any warrants or read you your rights or anything. I don’t think we have much to worry about from them. We can only listen and react. Not much else we can do at this point.”

“Somehow, I think you are right,” Matt said, “but one complication. Kiki recognized Payton and then inferred who we are. She freaked out and got pretty upset as we were leaving…”

“Yeah,” Sandy said compassionately, “she’s already called me. I settled her down a bit. Then, I invited her and Frank to come over for pizza tonight, told her we would tell them the whole story. She agreed to keep a lid on everything until after then.”

“You think you can trust her?” Matt pressed.

“Well, you trust her with the store, your cash register and everything there. What do you think?” Sandy said with a smile.

“Okay,” Matt answered, “point made. See ‘ya in a minute.”

“I’m here,” Sandy responded.

After a few more minutes, Matt turned down the road leading to their house. Malory was right behind him. He approached their driveway and put his left blinker on, slowly pulling in. Malory pulled in behind him.

Matt stood on the sidewalk to the front door waiting for the three. Rusty walked ahead of Jason and Malory, paused and gazed over the area.

“A far cry from the gated community at the reservoir,” Rusty said. “Man, this is really different from what I’ve known of you. Most of your adult life spent in the heart of some city, riding jets, offices in high rises…”

“Well,” Matt said, leading them to the front door, “some things change, I guess.”

As Matt was about to insert his key into the door handle to unlock it, the door opened. Sandy was standing there, fully dressed with make up on, hair styled and a relieved look on her face. She stood to the side as Matt walked by, followed by Rusty, Jason and Malory.

In her well-developed Southern style, Sandy extended her hand and graciously welcomed Rusty Payton.

“Marshal Payton,” Sandy said, shaking Rusty’s hand, “I’m Sandra Burtron Petricelli. I don’t think we have ever formally met,” she said with a smile, “please just call me Sandy.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rusty answered with a slight nod, “the last time I saw you I believe you dropped some coins and were searching for them…all the while scanning me to see who I may be.”

“Yes,” Sandy responded as Rusty walked by, “that was quite a different evening for me. Hi,” Sandy said to Jason, shaking his hand “good to see you again. And you are…?”

“Agent Jason Stovers, mam,” Jason replied, “Office of the Attorney General, Special Task Force.”

“Welcome,” Sandy said to him. “And, you are?” Sandy smiled, shaking Malory’s hand with her right hand and slightly opening Malory’s coat with her left hand, exposing Malory’s weapon. “Just as I thought,” Sandy said, smiling looking at Matt.

“I’m Agent Malory Winslow, Special Task Force as well,” Malory replied with a cynical smile looking at her exposed weapon. “I’m sure you have plenty of experience with one of these yourself, Ms. Burtron,” she said to Sandy.

“Mrs. Petricelli now. Yes, I ‘had’ plenty of experience,” Sandy said, as Malory passed by, emphasizing the word had, “and no longer ‘have’ experience with any weapons. Gave all of that up for this one,” Sandy said, poking her stomach out emphasizing her condition. “Super auditor is not a good role for a mama, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Malory responded with a smile, “I know exactly what you mean. I have one coming along sometime before Thanksgiving.”

“Congratulations,” Sandy said sincerely, “it’s going to be quite a different journey for  you. Your life, and your body, and you will never be the same.”

As they made their way into the living area, Rusty walked over to the glass doors and gazed out over the desert and the mountain view. He noticed Rex laying stretched out asleep on the corner of the deck.

“Wow,” Rusty said, “quite a view. That your dog?” he said, looking at Matt.

“Yep,” Matt smiled, “man’s best friend.”

“Why don’t I serve us from freshly brewed coffee,” Sandy interjected, acting like the host of a formal gathering, “then we can get down to the business at hand. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to exchange pleasantries later.” She pointed to the living area, “Please have a seat so we can begin.”

Rusty sat on the right side of the couch near a chair that was obviously used by Matt. Jason and Malory sat to his left. Sandy served each of them a large mug of her freshly brewed coffee. They all commented on how unique and wonderful the flavor was.

Sandy sat in the chair next to Rusty, and Matt pulled up a kitchen chair and sat next to Sandy.

“Well,” Sandy said, getting to the point, “it would be interesting if you shared with us why you are here. In fact, first, why don’t you tell us how it is that you are here?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rusty said, taking a sip of this coffee, “we, ah, accidentally found you.”

“Please tell us more,” Sandy said in her professional style.

“Over two weeks ago, Mr. Anderson,” Rusty continued, “oh, I’m sure you are familiar with who Mr. Anderson is.” Matt and Sandy nodded, Rusty continued, “like I said, over two weeks ago, Mr. Anderson suddenly disappeared. We immediately began our search for him. That search is what led us here…”

“And was there some circumstance or event,” Sandy interrupted, “that prompted Mr. Anderson’s disappearance? Or did he just ‘fly the coop’?”

Sandy’s behavior reminded Matt of the way she took control of interviews on their assignments. Like the day that Ben Chipman arrived, Matt could tell that Sandy was mentally prepared to deal with Rusty’s sudden appearance. He decided, as he did with Chipman’s visit, to let Sandy have the floor.

“I presume that you have kept track of the CAIN investigation,” Rusty said, a serious look on his face. “In short, there were some odd anomalies in the system recently that appeared to tie directly to Mr. Anderson. When we confronted him about them, he became very nervous. He came into his office the next day, stayed overtime, then left. We have not seen or heard from him since.”

Sandy looked at Matt with a stern look on her face. She had told him that she never really trusted Ben Chipman. There was something about him that just did not add up for her. News that, as Mr. Anderson, Ben became uncomfortable and fled the scene was not surprising to Sandy. She paused a moment, then looked back at Rusty.

“So, Marshal Payton,” Sandy continued.

“Please call me Rusty, we are all friends here,” Rusty interjected.

“Hmmm,” Sandy said, glaring into Rusty’s eyes. “Okay, RUSTY,” she said, emphasizing his name, “how did your search for Mr. Anderson bring you to our humble home here in the Great Northwest.”

“Fairly simple,” Rusty said, finishing off his coffee, “that is great coffee, may I have some more?”

Matt stood quickly and brought the decanter over and filled Rusty’s cup, topping off Jason’s and Malory’s cups as well. Matt was impressed with Rusty and his two member team. They were very professional and polished, no super cop or hint of any HIT Team perspective.

“I like your new team members,” Matt said, pouring coffee into Malory’s cup, “what happened to your other guys?’

“Thanks,” Rusty said, knowing Matt was sincere, “they are now with a special unit with the FBI. A life style more suited for their skills.”

“Please, Rusty,” Sandy interjected, “continue on how you made it here to our glorious desert estate.”

“Well,” Rusty continued, “we searched Mr. Anderson’s office and were able to unlock his desk. In the back of one of the desk file drawers, we found an envelope with an airline ticket receipt under the name Benjamin Chipman, obviously an alias. It was for a round trip ticket to Portland in March. Also in the envelope was a car rental receipt, and a printed out map with the Summit Glass Shoppe circled on it, with a phone number hand written on the bottom of the page. Malory…” Rusty said, looking at Malory sitting on the couch next to him.

“Oh, yes,” Malory quickly responded, “we were assigned to follow up on the flights, etc. of this Benjamin Chipman. We arrived here two days ago, visited with the car rental agency in Portland and got the mileage of Chipman’s car usage. We calculated the approximate round trip and miscellaneous miles of where the shop is, and compared that estimate to the miles from the rental agency report. We concluded that Chipman came to Portland, drove to Bend, made a few stops, and returned the next day back to Portland and flew home to Jackson.”

“So, how does this Chipman relate to Mr. Anderson?” Sandy asked.

“The gate agents at the Jackson airport easily recognize Mr. Anderson, since he comes and goes so much,” Malory continued. “They told us that Mr. Chipman and Mr. Anderson could pass for twin brothers. We concluded that they are one and the same person. Mr. Anderson obviously used an alias for his trip here.” Malory looked at Rusty, he motioned her to continue.

“After we completed the mileage review,” Malory said to Sandy, “we decided to call the phone number that was written on the page. We called a couple of times the other night and each time we got an unfamiliar female voice that just said ‘hello.’ She never identified herself as being with the shop or anything. We were unsure if she was someone that Mr. Anderson knew or not. We decided then to drive over from Portland and visit the shop.”

“The first time we came to the shop yesterday,” Jason interjected, “it wasn’t open yet, so I called the number again and got the same lady. As we rode around town checking things out, I called the number again and, well, Mr. Petricelli, you answered.”

 “And how on earth did you know that it was me?” Matt asked almost startled.

“We didn’t,” Jason responded, “but we recorded each call. Since the lady only said hello, we didn’t have enough voice data to effectively search through our voice recognition system. But when you answered,” Jason said, looking at Matt, “we had enough conversation to follow up on. So we contacted Rusty, ah, Marshal Payton, and sent him a digital copy of the recording so he could run it through our voice recognition data base.”

“Yes, Matt,” Rusty interjected, “as soon as I heard the recording of your voice, I knew it was you. No need to do any searches. I told them to go back to the shop and stake it out. When they returned, you were there. When the young lady introduced you as Matt and Sandy, these two then made positive identification of you. Pretty simple. I made travel arrangements immediately and arrived late last night,”

“So,” Matt said, laughing and shaking his head, “right in the middle of the investigation of probably the most sophisticated digital fraud scheme of the decade, you found an envelope, then followed up on a hard copy receipt and a map that were in it, then recognized my voice on a land line phone number that was scribbled on the page.”

“Pretty much it,” Rusty said with a chuckle, “kind of ironic isn’t it.”

“I don’t think ironic even covers this thing,” Matt laughed.

A silence ensued as Matt walked over to the glass doors and stared out. Rusty continued to sip his coffee. Jason and Malory remained quiet, waiting for Rusty to speak next. Sandy looked intently at Rusty, trying to determine what should be her next question.

“So, now that you are here, accidentally or not,” Sandy said, breaking the silence, “how can we help you?”

“Mrs. Petricelli,” Rusty said softly, “when Mr. Anderson joined us last fall, he told me and Attorney General Stanford that the man with CCRI who had approached him about the CAIN system made him guarantee that he would provide you and Mr. Petricelli asylum while he brought the system down. He said that since you were the ones who had opened the gate to this scheme, that you needed to be protected until it was all over and done with. He insisted that we honor his pledge to his friend. General Stanford agreed with him, so we never pushed Mr. Anderson about you. All he would ever tell us was that you were okay, and when the time was right, he would provide you safe passage back to your lives. We made whatever statements we could about you to the press to de-fuse their coverage, but Mr. Anderson was the only one who had any information concerning your existence.”

Rusty stopped speaking and silence engulfed the room again. Matt came back across the room and sat down. He decided that Ben must have had to make a quick getaway for some reason. He felt confident that their seventh code use was not known to anyone other than Ben. As he looked at Rusty and his assistants, he realized that they must be flying by the seat of their pants, making this up as they went.

“So,” Matt said  to Rusty, “what you are saying is that you think Mr. Anderson had to leave before bringing us in. Pursuing him, you have inadvertently stumbled onto us in the sanctuary that he provided for us. Is that a good, quick and dirty summary?”

“Pretty much,” Ruston responded with a blank look on his face.

“Then what are you expecting from us?” Matt asked.

Rusty looked at the floor for a few moments, then looked at Matt.

“We have to find Mr. Anderson, for his safety as well as for the investigation,” Rusty said, pausing, “you can help us by relating anything you know about Mr. Anderson.”

“I don’t know anything about any Mr. Anderson,” Matt said assertively. Sandy looked sternly at him. She didn’t like his tone.

“Then why did he come visit you in March?” Malory asked strongly.

“He didn’t,” Matt answered calmly, “it was Ben Chipman who came to see me. My friend and colleague for many years. I don’t know any Mr. Anderson.”

“I don’t understand,” Malory protested, “what do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” Matt continued. “It was Ben Chipman with CCRI that I went to see in California that weekend,” he said, looking at Rusty, “and it was Ben Chipman who came here in March. That’s it. Nothing more to say.”

“But…he came here…you met with him…” Malory attempted to protest again.

“I think I understand,” Rusty said with an intense look on his face, putting his hand in front of Malory, cutting off her statement. “Not sure of all of the implications at the moment, but I think I understand what you are saying. You’ve known Benjamin Chipman for quite some time, but you did not know or have had any interaction with Robert Anderson.”

“Good job, Rusty, and well said. So,” Matt said in his practiced cynical tone, standing in front of Rusty, “we’ve enjoyed your visit, but unless you have some other business with us, I’ve got a stained glass shop to run…”

“No, you don’t, Matthew Petricelli!” Sandy shouted, “It’s time for all of this crap to come to an end! I can’t take it anymore!” she said sternly, glaring at Matt. “I believe Rusty when he says that we are all friends here. I want to hear them out, not bluff or double talk around them. Do you understand me!?” she shouted, looking at Matt.

“Whatever…” Matt said, stunned at Sandy’s outburst. Other than when she reacted in the car on the way to New Orleans when she thought he had her check herself out for a bugging device, Matt had not heard her raise her voice, much less shout.

“So, Rusty,” Sandy said in a shaky voice, turning away from Matt and looking at Rusty, “what is it that you came to our house for? You and your two agents didn’t come here to sort through conjecture.”

“No, ma’am,” Rusty said, a kind look coming over his face, “I believe, especially in your condition, it is time for us,” Rusty said, pointing to Jason and Malory, “for the three of us to provide you with that safe passage back home that Mr. Anderson had said that he guaranteed to provide to you…”

“Nope! Not in this lifetime!” Matt said loudly, shaking his head, “we are where we are and unless you have something to base a use of authority or force to bring us back with, we are where we are going to stay!”

“No, no, no, NO!” Sandy said loudly on the verge of tears, “you are not going to do this to us! Not over some stupid glass store and this small house in the middle of a damned desert! We, at least I,” she said, strongly emphasizing the word I, “must go home. I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t do this anymore!” she said, placing her face in her hands as she started to weep.

Malory quickly got up from the couch and stood beside Sandy’s chair, putting her arm around her. Matt was stunned. He did not know what to do.

“Don’t you see?” Sandy asked, sobbing and looking at Matt, “I’m about to have a baby! I don’t know anyone, I have no family around! No friends. Each day I get more and more scared!” she said loudly, with her hands starting to tremble. “I don’t know what any of this is supposed to be like, how it is supposed to go, or what I need to be doing! I have to go home. I can’t do this alone…I just can’t keep doing this alone anymore!”

Matt walked over and knelt before her, placing her hands on her knees, “I’m sorry,” he said softly, “you never told me about how you feel. I thought you loved it here as well.”

“No, no, this has been your refuge! You remember when Ben, or whatever the hell his name is, sat there with us at the resort that day,” Sandy said, still crying, “and I told him that you were hanging off that cat walk and asked him what he was going to do. Lift you up or step on your fingers?”

“Yes,” Matt said, trying to console her, “you saved my life that day. It gave me the time to get back to near normal. You did a wonderful thing…”

“Well, Matthew Petricelli!” she shouted, “why can’t you see past yourself and understand that I am hanging off that cat walk now!? What are you going to do? Lift me up and take me home…” she said, pantomiming him pulling her up, “or step on my fingers and let me die all alone in this goddamn desert!?”

Malory pulled Sandy close, trying her best to comfort her. Matt’s hands started shaking and tears streamed down his face. Since Sandy had always been the strong, forceful personality, he had never seen inside of her to see her true emotions. Like a ton of bricks falling in his heart, he realized that even though he thought he was taking good care of her, she needed so much more than he could ever understand. She, like him, was very alone. She was needing love and guidance that he had no clue about, much less knew of any way to provide it.

A rush of understanding came over him. She needed her mother, her friends, and others to help her through the next few months. At that moment, he became willing to do whatever was needed to make that happen, regardless of the consequences. He had dragged her along into his escapade, and he was going to see her safely home and get her out of this fugitive life. Once and for all.

“Listen,” Matt said softly to Sandy, trying to get her to look at him. “I’m so sorry. You are so right. I have been looking at myself and not thinking about you. But you must forgive me, this is all so new to me,” he said, gently lifting her chin so he could make eye contact with her. “We will take this safe passage they are offering to us and go home. Okay, I love you.”

Sandy reached out and hugged him, still slightly sobbing. Malory rubbed her shoulders and the middle of her back. After a few more minutes, Sandy leaned back in the chair and took several deep breaths, finally able to control her crying. Matt stayed on the floor in front of her. Malory sat on the arm of the chair and continued to pat Sandy’s shoulders.

“So,” Matt said, looking deep into Rusty’s eyes, “knowing you and your quick ways in any situation, have you devised a working plan for all of this.”

“Yes, we have,” Malory spoke up as Rusty looked her way, “I have a solid travel plan and Jason has secured your living arrangements at home. We have made reservations on a mid-day flight tomorrow from Portland to Dallas. It takes a little over three hours to get to the airport from here, so we will have to leave by nine o’clock.”

“We will be glad to come by and pick you up,” Rusty said, “we have two vehicles, the one they have been using and the one I drove over in last night.”

“The first flight takes around three hours,” Malory continued. “The connecting flight to Jackson takes under two hours. There is an hour and a half layover in between, so it would be about a ten hour day if you make the whole trip tomorrow. However, when we get to Dallas,” Malory said, grabbing Sandy’s hand, “if you don’t feel like you can make the second flight in your condition, we have made a tentative hotel reservation at the airport for tomorrow night. You will have plenty of time to decide what you are able to do once we get to Dallas. You can get on the connection, or if you are not up to it, you can stay the night and leave out mid-morning the next day.”

“Oh, my Lord,” Sandy said, squeezing Malory’s hand, “thank you so much! But, honey,” she said with her Southern accent flaring, “if I’m only two hours from home, believe me, I’ll make the connecting flight! Don’t worry about that! Nothing could stand in my way…”

“And then,” Matt said, looking at Rusty, “where to from there.”

“Well,” Rusty responded, “in late September, Mr. and Mrs. Burtron packed up all of Sandy’s personal things from her apartment and then had movers pack her other things and took them and her furniture to a storage unit. It’s all still there.”

“We are well aware of that,” Matt smiled, “so what else?”

“We reviewed your records to the extent that the bank would allow,” Rusty continued, “we found that your condo mortgage payment and related utilities and other costs are automatic deductions, and there is enough money in your account to cover it for the remainder of the year. So it is still yours without any complications.”

“So what else did the bank tell you?” Matt asked, smiling.

“That  your staffer Randall collects a thousand dollars per month payment in a direct deposit from your account into his account,” Rusty answered. “We interviewed Randall in September when we found him using your car and staying in your condo. He told us that you made an arrangement with him from the conference in New Orleans, the day before you left. He says you pay him to occasionally house sit the condo and drive your car around a couple of times a week.”

“And does he?” Matt chuckled.

“As a matter of fact, he does,” Rusty said with a big smile, “at least three to four times a week we observe him cruising around town in your BMW and taking full advantage of the amenities of your condo complex. He feels right at home.”

“Well, Randall always was thorough in his work,” Matt smiled, “can’t blame a man for doing his job well.”

“The bottom line is,” Rusty said to Matt, “your condo is as you left it and your car is in fine shape. You can return to your condominium and relax in the comforts of your home.”

“Plus,” Malory said to Sandy, “we contacted the cleaning service that does Matt’s condo and had them go over today and do a full cleaning, changing the sheets and all. It will be clean and ready for you. They also stocked the kitchen and the refrigerator with some of the basics so that you will be taken care of your first couple of days until you can get to the store yourself.”

Sandy reached her arms around Malory and hugged her. “Thank you so much,” Sandy said, “thank you so very much. This is all a miracle!”

Matt was still hesitant about returning home. Though it seemed to be occurring in real time with no planning involved, he just wasn’t sure what would await them when they settled at home. He was becoming eager to escape again. But on the other hand, looking at Sandy, he knew that she had to be at home, no other alternatives would suffice. He sighed and decided to take things as thy unfolded. There was really nothing else that he could do. He knew he needed to get her home, then if things took a wrong turn for him, he could look for an exit at that time. For today, he needed to get Sandy to her comfort zone.

“Will you be on the flights with me…ah, us,” Sandy said, looking in Malory’s eyes.

“Yes, ma’am,” Malory said, holding Sandy’s embrace, “I will be with you every moment of the way until you are safe and sound and at home in your condo.” Sandy closed her eyes and laid her head on Malory’s chest.

“Plus, I’ve communicated with Randall,” Jason spoke up, “and made arrangements for him to deliver your car to the airport tomorrow morning. It will be fully gassed up and ready to go. One of our agents will meet our flight in Jackson and deliver the keys to you.”

“So, just like that,” Matt said skeptically to Rusty, “we fly home with you, get in my car and go our merry way?”

“Not exactly just like that,” Rusty responded calmly, “but close. As far we have been able to tell, Mrs. Petricelli was not involved in any way in all of this until she accompanied you to New Orleans. We discovered where Brand Reiger purchased an airline ticket for her to accompany you to Florida while you were at the conference together. Then neither of you have been heard from after your first day in Florida. I’m sure in a small amount of time with Malory, Mrs. Petricelli can clear the record of what she may or may not know, and then she will be done with all of this.”

“But not the case with me,” Matt said with a cynical smile.

“Come on, Matt,” Rusty said in a very friendly tone, “I don’t know the series of events that led up to your decision to take flight, but the few minutes we spent together the afternoon that you left Jackson, you were extremely tense and agitated. And I’m sure you had a very good reason to be that way,” Rusty said, looking in Matt’s eyes, “but we need you home safe and sound. A few meetings with Attorney General Stanford and me, I’m sure we can obtain the information that you have and tie it in with the mound of facts we have from our investigation. Hopefully tying up a few loose ends, and end whatever has been haunting you. I’m sure we can sort it all out in less than a week.”

“And, after that, I just cruise through life, no worries or cares,” Matt said with a fake smile.

“Well,” Rusty smiled, “at least until the end of the year when the funds run out in your account. But, I’m sure there will be many wonderful opportunities offered to you, you are a very valuable member of our community.”

There was a long silence between the two. Matt just could not convince himself that Rusty was telling him the truth. The recent flurry of activity surrounding Ben and his disappearance in the role as Mr. Anderson may have more consequences than even Rusty may be counting on. Matt stared at the floor, feeling as the saying goes, ‘between a rock and a hard place.’

“Look, Matt,” Rusty said, leaning over with his face very close to Matt’s, “I know you don’t trust me. At this moment, I don’t know if you trust anyone other than yourself. And probably rightfully so. But we are ninety nine percent confident that all criminal elements of this scheme have either been arrested and sentenced, or, like Governor Leonard, are awaiting sentencing.”

“And what about that one percent that may still be out there?” Matt asked softly, “these are some pretty nasty people.”

“Consider this,” Rusty said, as he placed his hand on Matt’s shoulder, “your friend, Mr. Anderson, he found you. We found you. If there are any elements still at large that really want to locate you, they will easily trace you down. If they were to find you here,” Rusty said, pointing out the door at the desert, “no one would ever know the difference. You would simply disappear without a trace. At home, we are there. We will see that you are safe.”

Matt looked over at Sandy. She sat laying against Malory with her head still on her chest, her eyes closed. Malory’s chin was pressed against Sandy’s forehead as she held her close. Matt placed his hand on Rusty’s forearm and shook his head affirmatively.

“I think you are right, my dear Marshal Payton,” Matt said gratefully. “I think that you are absolutely right. Home is definitely where we need to be. As Dorothy said, ‘there’s no place like home.’”

Sandy sat up in the chair, still holding her embrace with Malory. “Are you saying this for real?” Sandy asked in a cracking voice, “please don’t play with me on this one. Do you really agree with him, or are you just saying that as a ploy, stalling to buy some time?”

“She knows me well,” Matt said still looking at Rusty, then back at Sandy. “Yes, my love, I am saying this for real. At this moment, every fiber of my being is committed to pulling you in off of that cat walk and getting you and our precious Jenny home. Our home, where you will be loved and well taken care of. Nothing else matters to me right now…nothing.”

Sandy leaned away from Malory and hugged Matthew. “Thank you, I need you and love you, but we have to go home,” she said.

“I know,” Matt said softly, “we leave in the morning.”

Sandy stood up and leaned over Rusty, placing her arms around his neck. “Thank you so very much for this,” Sandy said sincerely. “I never could have fathomed,” she said, looking in his eyes, “that those cold steel blue eyes I saw that night in the restaurant would turn into Sir Galahad and come to our rescue in this high desert.”

“No, ma’am” he smiled at her, “I would have never imagined that that super auditor who surveilled me would turn into such a soft and loving mother to be.”

Sandy sat back in her chair and leaned against Malory again, laying her head on Malory’s shoulder. Matt stood up and kissed Sandy on her forehead, then sat in his chair again.

“Well, troops,” Rusty said in a cracking voice, obviously moved by Sandy’s hug and words, “guess we better get this show on the road.”

“Look,” Sandy said, sitting up again, “why don’t y’all stay here. We have two fully equipped extra bedrooms with queen size beds. This couch folds out as well if we need a third bed. You could stay here and we could all leave together in the morning.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Petricelli,” Rusty replied as he stood up, “but we are all settled in at the hotel. Plus, we are well over an hour past check out time, so we have already been charged for another day.”

“Please, Malory,” Sandy said to her, “we can pay for the charge for your room tonight, the State won’t have to. You said…” Sandy said like a child not wanting her parent to leave her alone, “you said that you would be with me every moment until we are home and I am safe and sound. Please, please don’t leave me. We can have a lot of fun,” she said, smiling, pointing to the kitchen. “I can show you how to make that wonderful coffee, we can have a great time together,” Sandy said, squeezing both of Malory’s hands.

Malory looked up into Rusty’s eyes, “Well, it would be nice to learn how to make that coffee,” she said. “Plus, it may be nice for both us future mothers to have some girl’s time together today.”

Rusty smiled and then nodded, “Yeah, you may be right. Why don’t we go back to the stained glass place, get the pieces for your office, then you can go back to the hotel and pack your things and come on back out here,” Rusty said, smiling at Malory. “You do ship things to customers don’t you, Matt?”

“Sure thing,” Matt smiled, standing up with Rusty, “Kiki can handle that for you. I know that she would ‘totally’ love making a sale to that ‘Marshal dude from the CAIN thing,’” Matt said with a laugh.

Rusty and Matt agreed on the plans for the evening and the next morning. Malory would take him and Jason back to the hotel and then she would return in the SUV. They could ride with her back to town the next day and meet them at the hotel, they would leave from there and make the drive to Portland.

As Rusty, Malory and Jason left out of the house, Sandy immediately grabbed the phone. As she was punching in numbers, there was a light knock on the door. Matt opened to see Malory standing there.

“It’s okay to call your mama,” Malory said, pointing to the phone in Sandy’s hand, “but she cannot meet us at the airport. We don’t need such an emotional scene there. Invite her over for the next morning.” She smiled and winked at Sandy.

“You are a mind reader,” Sandy smiled.

“No, just a girl that loves her mama, too,” Malory said, walking away.

Since early October, in order for Sandy to communicate discretely with her parents, Matt would buy a prepaid throw away phone and mail it to one of Sandy’s parents neighbors who would get the package to them. Sandy was able to have routine conversations with her parents, then when the time ran out on the phone, Matt would send them another.

“Well,” Sandy said to Matt as she continued to make her call, “looks like you won’t have to send another phone this week. When these last ten minutes are used up, we will be there!”

 

View Chapter 1