Pat brought his gaze back up to the road in front of him. Emergency lights in the distance chased the Ramsey woman’s eyes away. There were a lot of them. Half a mile in front of him, the freeway looked like the stage at a rock concert with enough flashing lights to cause a seizure. Just before he had a chance to ask himself any of a handful of obvious questions just aching to pop into his head, he noticed flares in the road. ‘Son of a bitch,’ he thought. ‘The road’s closed.’ Then he commented under his breath, “Well that’s just perfect.” It had to be something big. They had both sides of the freeway blocked off.
The phone rang just as Pat made the turn onto a two lane highway. He hadn’t caught what road it was. A cop in an orange vest waving him in the same direction that a makeshift detour sign was pointing him in grabbed all of his attention. He answered the phone just as he spotted another orange sign about a half mile up the road. “This is Pat,” he said.
The thin, almost soothing voice on the other end said, “Hi there, Pat. It’s me again.”
“I figured,” Pat replied. Then he glanced at the clock on his dashboard. It was two minutes fast. “Well, you’re a man of your word. It’s been about thirty minutes since we talked.”
“You will find that I am a man of my word, Pat. It has been exactly thirty minutes since we spoke.”
“I’m not sure that means I should trust you.”
“Whether or not you trust me is up to you,” the voice replied in the same soothing tone. “I will give you the information that you seek, and you can do what policemen do.”
“What’s that?” Pat asked, honestly expecting some smartass generalization about cops.
“Investigate and confirm the validity of what I have to say,” Pat could almost hear the shrug that would accompany such a matter-of-fact statement.
“Okay,” Pat decided, “give me what you’ve got.”
The caller cleared his throat before he began, “I told you to trust your gut about Shelia Ramsey, and you should. She is not the person that she pretends to be. I do not believe that she is quite what she once was, but she is more than she seems. Shelia Ramsey – or Brody before she married Mark – is a fake name. Her given name is Stiletto Rose.” After a pause too short for Pat to comment, the owner of that eerily-soothing voice asked, “Does that name mean anything to you?”
Pat didn’t have to think long about it before answering, “Nope, not a thing. Should it?”
“Maybe,” the voice replied, “maybe not. Ask Huft about it. He may have heard something. If not, ask around. You’ll find someone in your circle that can fill you in on the myths about her. I can fill you in on the reality. Stiletto Rose was a killer, an assassin, probably the best I have ever seen. She was even better than her infamous father. That girl was a deadly, deadly flower.”
Pat chuckled, “You really expect me to believe that the scared soccer mom that wrapped her car around a tree used to be a gun for hire? I mean, I do think she’s involved somehow, but an assassin? I don’t know.”
“Like I said, believe me or do not. That is entirely up to you. Are you curious why the road was closed?”
“You’re still watching me.”
“Keeping tabs, Pat, I am merely keeping tabs on you. I really do need your help. In any event, the road is closed because there are corpses of six professional killers and the remains of a van that was blown up at a rest area a short jog up the road from there, all courtesy of sweet Ms. Ramsey. Trust your instincts, Pat. You know that she is involved in this. She was the other party that surprised the cleaner. You saw what she did to him. Your hunch about her involvement is almost perfect. The only thing that you are mistaken about is the nature of her involvement. She did not hire the men that killed her husband.”
“I didn’t really think that,” Pat interrupted.
“Of course not,” the voice agreed. “The thought did cross your mind, however. Rest assured that she is the cause but not the culprit. The family orchestrating this macabre symphony is trying to get to her. That is why the children were taken. Poor Mark Ramsey was not supposed to be killed. He was collateral damage, wrong place, wrong time. They actually wanted him to be at his wife’s side so he could witness her slip back into her old self. The goal was to completely break her, tear her down to nothing, and then finish off the shell that was left. Unfortunately for them, Shelia Ramsey had not quite killed off Stiletto Rose, and that flower is once again in full bloom.”
“Well, there you go,” Pat sighed. “This reality of yours sure does sound like a myth. You’ve used a whole lot of words, but you haven’t really said much. What I’ve got so far is that Shelia Ramsey is a mythical killer named Stiletto Rose that is systematically wiping out professional killers to get to bad guys that killed her husband and took her kids. That doesn’t really get me any closer to my goal.”
“And what is that goal, Pat?”
Pat thought for a moment, “I don’t know. I really don’t.”
“Perhaps you feel that solving this case will scrub your soul of the filth of feeling like you let a killer go, or maybe you are chasing answers as to what is so damned familiar about those eyes,” he paused. After a long, uncomfortable silence, he asked, “Well, Pat, which is it?”
Pat scratched his head, “I guess it could be a little bit of both.”
“Whatever your reason is, I can help you achieve your goal. Just prior to Stiletto dying so that Shelia Brody or Ramsey could be born, she worked for an extremely powerful family, the Rosattis. She fell in love with one of the patriarch’s grandsons, Danny. It was not long before she was carrying his child. The rough exterior of a killer, an assassin, hid something far more vulnerable. Beneath the thick armor of detachment that she had built to protect herself from the emotional effects of coldly taking lives for money lived the psyche of a fragile sixteen-year-old girl, a girl who never had the opportunity to explore that frailty. Her feelings for Danny cracked that armor. The child growing inside of her opened those cracks wide, exposing all of the natural, human weakness that she had hidden so deep. It gave her a new purpose, one she was excited about. When she shared the news of the child with Danny, he killed that excitement. She dropped the armor, let her guard down, and allowed someone else into that place in her that had for so long been protected. That someone pushed into that crack in her armor and crushed her completely, stabbing into those hidden spots like a toothpick finding the exposed nerve in a rotting tooth. He offered to pay for an abortion and told her that he never wanted to see her again. That is the moment that Stiletto Rose became a different person.
“When Danny turned his back on Stiletto, she was hurt, crushed. She wasn’t angry, however. She did not kill Danny Rosatti. Rufus Walker did that. When Stiletto…”
“Wait a minute,” Pat interrupted. “Who the hell is Rufus Walker?”
“I was getting to that, Pat. You interrupted me. That gives me the impression that you are not enjoying my story,” the calm, soothing tone remained, lacking any of the irritation that the words floating on it might suggest.
Pat sighed, “It’s a great story. I would love to hear it over a beer sometime, but I need facts right now. So far, the only valuable fact that I’ve been able to pull out of your story is the name Rosatti. Now I know who I am looking for. What I really need to know now is where I can find them. Don’t get me wrong. Eventually, I would love to get the rest of the details on why this is all happening, but I don’t feel like I have the time for it right now.”
“Life is nothing more than a series of stories, Pat,” the voice countered, “and facts are nothing without the stories that accompany them, just generic statements without any context. The reason that you care about the Ramsey story right now is because it has overlapped with your story. This is not your case. Without the story they come from, these facts are not yours either.”
Pat switched the phone from his left ear to his right ear, as he approached another detour sign directing him back toward the freeway. Then he said, “I’ll give you that.” He paused as he made his turn and caught sight of the freeway overpass about a half mile up the road before continuing, “I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the story. I just don’t think I need it right now.”
“You are wrong about that. You do need it right now. If only to understand why you should care,” the voice paused. “I need you to care, Pat.”
“Obviously, I do care,” Pat sighed. “If you’ve been paying attention while you’ve been watching me, you know that I can’t let it go.”
“I have seen that,” the caller agreed. “But you need to understand why you cannot let this one go. You are walking into a war, Pat, and I cannot afford to have you back down once you are in the thick of it.”
“So quit dicking around and tell me why then,” Pat’s tone rose as he slipped back onto the freeway, quickly glancing at his rearview mirror. He still couldn’t see the cause of the roadblock.
After a long pause followed by a slow sigh, the voice said, “Fine. I will come quickly to the point then. But first, your mother never told you about your father, did she?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“A bit of both, I suppose.”
Pat chuckled, “Well look at that. You’re finally wrong about something. She did tell me about him. My parents sat me down and told me that my dad wasn’t really my dad. When they married, I was too young to know the difference. Anyway, they gave me a name and told me that they would help me find him if I wanted to. I didn’t. My dad was my dad, and that was good enough for me for a long time. As I got older, I had to know. I found him. I could have gone and introduced myself, but I didn’t. He didn’t want to know me, and I guess I didn’t want to know him either. So what? What does that have to do with anything?”
The voice on the other end of the phone remained silent.
“Wow,” Pat chuckled again. “You’ve been so wordy. Now you have nothing to say?”
“Your father had other children,” the reply was slow and had a deliberate quality to it. “One of those children was with the wife of John Rosatti. That child’s name was Johnathon Junior. They called him Jack. Mr. Rosatti suspected that his wife had been unfaithful, but he did not find evidence of that until the child was about twelve years old. He had his wife killed. He would have done the same to Jack, but Christopher – an uncle on his mother’s side – was able to get him out of the house. Since you are not a fan of stories, I’ll leave out the rest of the details that aren’t relevant. There are a couple of tidbits that should be important to you though. Jack shortened his name to Rose and had a daughter. He named her Stiletto.”
It all made sense. As Pat listened to that calm, soothing voice drone on in his ear, he saw Shelia Ramsey’s eyes again. The weird familiarity no longer seemed so weird. It was a family resemblance. Her eyes reminded him of his own eyes, “That would make Shelia Ramsey or Brody or Stiletto Rose, whatever the hell she calls herself, my niece.”
“Yes it would, Pat. You should regroup with your cop friends. We’re going to need them.”
“Got it,” Pat agreed. “Where? I need to know where.”
“John’s son, Mario, has a summer home on Lake Geneva. That is where they are keeping the Ramsey children. Stiletto will find her way there. You should do the same.”
“Okay, thanks,” he finally had a direction to head in. “Do you have an address?”
The voice was gone. As Pat set the phone down, the questions that he would have asked popped into his head too late. Who is the mystery caller, and how does he know so much? That long pause, could he have been talking with that man that he didn’t really want to find? There wasn’t time for any of that. He picked up the phone and dialed Cheeks.