Mal hadn't expected anything to come of submitting the anonymous letters to Hood for forensic analysis. These days, even the dumbest crooks knew better than to leave fingerprints on threatening letters. He had been all the more surprised when he'd gotten a message from Hood late that afternoon telling him that the fingerprints of one Corinne Dawson had been recovered on both anonymous letters.
Corinne Dawson's address had been in the phone book and Mal hadn't given breaking in a second thought once he'd assured himself that the woman wasn't home. He wasn't sure what he'd expected to find, but whatever it was, the small flat wasn't yielding much of anything. The whole place gave an overcrowded feel, with photographs and knickknacks covering every available surface and then some. Mal paid close attention to the pictures for any clues that Corinne was somehow linked to a past client of his or Jake's, but he spotted not one familiar face. If there was any connection between a past case and this woman, it wasn't obvious.
The easy option would of course be to ask Rose to work her magic on the computer to try and dig up some background info on Miss Dawson, but he hesitated to involve her. He didn't want to worry her. Not when there might be nothing to it all. There was still a chance that the attempt on Jake's life was linked to what he'd witnessed yesterday morning. He didn't really believe that, but he wanted to be sure before bothered Rose about it - or so he rationalized.
He was just about to make a final tour of the apartment to make sure he hadn't overlooked anything when his cell phone chirruped. It was a text message from Rose, asking him to come home as soon as possible.
Somehow, Leslie managed to pay the driver and get out of the cab without passing out and falling flat on her face. She made it onto the Doyle's doorstep, bracing herself again the wall. She rang the bell. What had seemed like a good idea at the time was suddenly not looking so smart anymore. After all, she didn't know for certain what had happened to Jake. There was a possibility, slim though it was, that Hood would find Jake along with his cell phone.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Rose opened the door.
"Leslie!" she exclaimed, surprise on her face. "What happened?"
"It's a long story," Leslie said tiredly, not sure how much longer she would last on her feet.
"You better come in then," Rose allowed.
Leslie nodded, but the motion turned out to be ill-advised as a new wave of pain and dizziness swept over her. The ground was rushing toward her just before blackness enveloped her, swallowing her completely.
Rose caste a doubtful glance at the figure lying on the couch. The younger woman looked like she had had one hell of a morning - her hair was in disarray, several streaks matted with blood, no doubt coming from the gash on her temple. The gash was being held closed by a butterfly bandaged, so evidently she had sought medical attention at some point, bur Rose doubted that she'd been declared fit to roam the streets. Not when Rose had been barely able to catch her in time when Leslie had collapsed on their doorstep. With Mal out somewhere, she had had quite a hard time getting Leslie settled on the couch, but in the end she had managed it. Out of breath from the effort, she had typed a quick text message to Mal, asking him to come home asap.
"I really think we should call the paramedics," was the first thing out of Mal's mouth once Rose had explained what had happened.
"Let's give her a few more minutes," Rose argued. She was certain that Leslie had her reasons for coming here, especially when she was in the condition she appeared to be in. She would also bet a tidy sum that that reason had to do with Jake. Jake, who should be at the hospital, but who knowing him at probably found some way to convince Leslie to let him in on the investigation into the murder of the nurse and his own attempted murder. But it was useless to speculate, until they knew more, so Rose kept her theories to herself, not wanting to upset Mal. Although she was hard pressed to imagine that he wasn't thinking along the same lines.
"Leslie," Rose tried, shaking Leslie's shoulder softly. Leslie stirred in response and a few seconds later opened her eyes, blearily looking up at Rose and Mal.
She turned her head, wincing as she did so, then pushed herself up on her elbows.
"You okay?" Mal asked.
"I'll be fine," Leslie replied somewhat unconvincingly, but there was a serious to her tone of voice that forestalled any further questions Mal or Rose might have had on the subject.
"Have you heard from Jake in the last few hours?" Leslie asked. Rose shook her head and looked at her husband. "Jake should be in hospital, but knowing my son, I guess that's not where he is. But no, I haven't heard from him."
"I think...I think he might have been kidnapped," Leslie admitted.
Malachy and Rose stared at her. Malachy was the first to recover his powers of speech. "What happened exactly?" his tone was cold and sharp.
"Jake and I, we were in my car, driving to speak to someone connected to the abduction that Jake witnessed at the hospital. We were just outside of town when someone ran us off the road. I'm not sure what happened next, I must have blacked out, but when I came to, Jake wasn't there."
"He might have wandered off," Rose considered.
"Officers are searching the area now. I've asked sergeant Hood to track Jake's phones via GPS, and he's on his way to the location now. He said he'd call me back as soon as he got there. It..." Leslie was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. The caller id indicated that it was her partner.
"Yes?" she replied, her heart suddenly beating rather fast.
"We found the phone, but no sign of Doyle. We also found the SUV, it's been torched."
"Are you sure he wasn't..." Leslie trailed off, horrific images rising unbidden in her mind.
"They only just put the fire out, but according to them it doesn't look like anyone was inside when it was torched."
Leslie breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Anything else?" she asked, almost not wanting to know.
"A few drops of blood, some tire tracks. Crime scene guys are going over the area now. Listen Bennett, I think we should let Malachy know about this."
"I'm already there now," Leslie replied. "Can you keep me posted?"
"Yes, will do. Take care of yourself, Bennett." With that Hood hung up. Leslie lowered her cell phone, looking into the tense faces of Malachy and his wife. She quickly summarized what Hood had told her, leaving out the part about the torched car. There was no need for Mal and Rose to ponder the possibility however remote that Jake had been burned along with the car.
The heavy silence that had settled over the Doyle's living room after Leslie had finished relaying the news, only interrupted the the sound of Mal pacing about the room, was suddenly broken by the sound of a key being turned in the lock of the front door. A few seconds later, Tinny stepped into the living room. She looked from one to the other of them and a frown settled on her face.
"What's going on here?" she finally asked, her voice trembling slightly. She had clearly sensed that something serious must have happened.
Rose got up from where she'd been sitting and walked over to Tinny. "Jake's missing," she told her gently.
The next morning came all too soon, as far as Leslie was concerned. Rose had driven her back to her place, even though Leslie would have been perfectly content to take a cab. Once inside her place she had staggered into the bed room. She had managed to slip off her shoes, but after that, she collapsed on the bed like a sack of potatoes. She was out like a light before her head hit the pillow, but her night was far from restful. She slept fitfully, her dreams filled with black SUVs, torched cars and burned bodies.
When her alarm clock finally woke her from yet another nightmare as she been far too beat to deactivate the alarm the night before, she felt remarkably unrested. A shower and a few bites of an aging sandwich later, she felt at least somewhat human again although the effects of a bad night combined with the lingering effects if her injuries were still making themselves painfully felt, without even factoring her worry over Jake.
However worry wasn't the only thing she felt, part of her felt guilty as well for allowing Jake to accompany her on what had definitely been a police matter and another part of her was angry at herself for feeling this way. Yet another, less rational, part was angry at Jake for not staying in hospital like he was supposed to. None of that was going to help anyone though, least of all Jake, Leslie thought. She needed to pull together and start thinking with her head instead of with her heart. It was her heart that had gotten her into trouble in the first place. If she didn't have those feelings for Jake which she tried so hard to deny, she would never have let herself be bullied into letting a civilian accompany her.
Leslie sighed, all this was giving her a headache and she had been up for less than an hour. She needed to do something, sitting her was only going to drive her crazy. She didn't remember everything the doctor had said to her at the hospital the previous day. In fact, she recalled only a small fraction of it, but she was pretty sure that he'd mentioned that she wasn't cleared for duty. Not surprisingly, she thought. She had barely recognized herself in the mirror this morning now that the area surrounding the gash the side of her head had had a chance to swell and assume a nice purple coloring. Plus, her neck and head were still protesting every movement despite the ibuprofen tablet she'd taken earlier. She wouldn't be much good for chasing after criminals in her condition. But staying home wasn't an option either, not as far as she was concerned, so she did her best with concealer and make-up, put on some fresh clothes and called for a cab to take her to the station.
When Rose had come down into the kitchen early that morning, she hadn't exactly been surprised to find a note addressed to her on the counter next to the coffee maker. Unfolding the piece of paper she read the words written in the familiar hand.
Dear Rose, it read. Didn't want to wake you, but I've got some errands to run. Might be back late. Don't worry."
Rose sighed. It was typical. In an effort not to worry her, her husband was achieving the exact opposite effect. Rose pondered calling Malachy, but decided against it. He clearly wanted his space, so she was going to give it to him. At least for now. But she wasn't going to let him shut her out forever. They would talk, eventually of that she would make sure. In the meantime, she could only hope that he would be careful in whatever he was doing. It was bad enough that Jake was missing, presumably having been kidnapped, she really didn't need anything happening to Malachy as well.
A few minutes later, the coffee was percolating and Rose had just gotten a carton of juice from the fridge, when she noticed the empty vase standing in the sink. It was the same vase that had held the red roses the other day. She looked around, but the flowers were clearly gone. She frowned in puzzlement, but eventually decided that she had better things to do than ponder the fate of a bouquet of flowers, especially at a time like this. She was further distracted by Tinny walking into the kitchen. She too looked like she hadn't gotten much sleep.
"Morning," Tinny mumbled to her, her head already stuck in the fridge.
"Good morning," Rose replied. "If you're looking for the orange juice I already got it."
Tinny didn't reply, but shut the fridge door again and turned back to Rose. She looked she was going to say something, but seemed to think better of it and walked out of the kitchen.
When Rose made it to the table after the coffee was done, Tinny was sitting there, absently picking at a leftover roll that, along with the dishes from the previous evening were still on the table. Rose smiled at her and poured herself a cup of coffee.
"Don't you want to eat something?" Rose broke the tense silence between them. Tinny only shook her head and continued to pick apart the bread roll. To be honest, Rose thought, she didn't feel like eating either. Still, she got the sense that there was something bothering Tinny, beyond the obvious.
Rose was on her second cup of coffee when Tinny spoke.
"Rose, can I ask you something?" Tinny's voice was hesitant.
"Sure, what is it?" Rose replied.
Tinny hesitated further, still playing with the bread roll. Finally she spoke: "You can't tell anyone about this, not my mother, not Des and especially not Pops."
Rose nodded, her curiosity piqued. Patiently, she waited for Tinny to continue.
"I think...I think someone might be following me," she finally said.
That wasn't at all what Rose had expected. The surprise must have shown on her features because Tinny hurriedly continued: "I mean, I'm not sure, it's just...it's just some weird things have happened."
"What kind of weird things?" Rose questioned.
"Red roses in my locker at school along with these weird notes," Tinny said in a rush. She reached into the pocket of her hoodie and pulled out several pieces of paper. They all contained what appeared to be lines from a poem or perhaps a song. All were signed, with the words 'your secret admirer'.
"How many of these have you gotten?" Rose asked.
"About a dozen over the last three weeks," Tinny shrugged. I didn't know what to make of them at first. I thought it was kind of cute in the beginning."
That would probably explain the bouquet of roses that had shown up on their doorstep and what had happened to them. Tinny had probably gotten rid of them.
"What happened to change your mind?" Rose asked, getting the impression that there was more to the story.
"A few days ago, I started getting text messages too. Stuff like: Loved the top you wore today, you looked so beautiful when you were waiting for the bus. Now I feel like someone is watching me."
Rose had to agree with the sentiment. From the sound of those text messages, it definitely seemed like someone was following Tinny around.
"Do you have any idea who it is?" she asked after some consideration.
"I thought I did," Tinny replied. "There is the guy from my school, he's a year ahead of me and he keeps bumping into me, things like that. But I went to see him yesterday, he works at a movie theater in town, to tell him to stop, but the weirdest thing happened. When I got there, someone had beaten him up, telling hm to stay away from me. He thought it was uncle Jake, but..."
"But we know he couldn't have done it," Rose finished when Tinny trailed off.
"Besides, when I got home, I got another text, from the same guy. Here." Tinny handed Rose her cell phone. On the screen was a text message reading: "Steve won't get between us again."
"Steve?" Rose queried.
"That's the guy from school," Tinny explained. "I was sure it was him with the notes and the flowers, but now I'm not so sure anymore," said Tinny and shrugged. "To be honest, I don't know what to do," she admitted. "I didn't want to tell anyone, because I knew how Jake, Des and Pops would react."
"I won't tell them," Rose promised, mentally adding, not yet anyway. Her husband had enough on his plate at the moment, and there was nothing they could do right now because, while those things were creepy, without knowing who was behind the unwanted advances, it would be impossible to take action.
"Listen," Rose said after a moment's thought. "I'll look into it and see if I can't find something out."
"Thanks." Tinny looked her watch. "I need to get ready for school now."
"One last thing," Rose called after Tinny's retreating form. "This Steve character, what's his last name?"
"His name is Steve Travis. He works at the Romantica Cinema."