The Valentino’s home was a one-story ranch, but from the rear it looked to be two stories. It was built into a leaving the basement exposed to a small patio. Shelia ignored the patio doors into the basement and instead climbed up onto the deck that protruded out from the back of the main floor. A plunger, a laser cutter, and thirty seconds later she was standing in the Valentino’s kitchen. Thanks Rufus. The house was completely quiet. Where the hell were Vinny and her kids? She slipped on a pair of night vision goggles – another gift from Rufus – and scanned the house.
The Valentino’s open concept kitchen was part of a great room with a vaulted, cathedral ceiling, a dining room, and a sunken living room. It was a nice place, but – just like the vast backyard – a phenomenal waste of space. It reminded Shelia how much she hated the suburbs. All the open space made her feel claustrophobic, too much atmosphere closing in on her. She preferred a wall behind her back. Off to her left a hallway led to three bedrooms. She checked them all, nothing. Next was the garage attached to the front of the place, she finally found something.
The Valentino’s garage was more like a giant storage closet than a home for vehicles. However, amongst the thirty years of garbage they had accumulated was Vinny’s Caddy, parked right in the middle of a mountain of useless crap. He and his boys had already been and gone with her kids. An unfamiliar, hollow feeling filled her insides. Where the hell could they be? She was always in control. Not this time though. Somebody else was calling the shots and she had skin in the game. It would be fine if Vinny were just a mark, but he wasn’t a mark at all. He was just a pawn in a game being played by someone far bigger than him. Shelia had to play that game if she wanted to see Alyssa and Matt alive again. If only she knew who her real opponent was.
The garage walls closed in on her as she spun a slow, nervous circle and groped for a handle on the situation. This was supposed to be the jackpot. All of the clues pointed in the same direction and she was standing right on the “X”. Rufus hadn’t offered anything else. This was it. If he knew any more, she’d already have it. Her right hand slowly brushed her hair back away from her face as a slow, deep breath worked its way in and out of her lungs. She’d been out of the game for a long time. Doubt was something that had never occurred to her when she was in the biz. The problem was that now she had baggage and she hadn’t been in the biz for fifteen years. The lack of control felt completely foreign to her.
She took a couple more deep breaths and talked herself down from her rising state of panic. Check the car. The driver’s door was unlocked. She searched the inside of the vehicle. There was blood on the front and back seats, total amateurs. They didn’t even clean the evidence off of their seats before dumping the car in a place that the police would definitely be looking for them. If she could have gotten her hands on Vinny just then, she would have slapped him for being such a dick. Instead, she just became more concerned about the condition of her children. Amateurs are so damn unpredictable. It suddenly occurred to her that most, if not all, of the blood covering the Caddy’s seats probably belonged to Mark. She took another deep breath and sighed. Heat swelled behind her eyes. ‘Don’t have time to cry,’ she thought as she popped the trunk.
The trunk was empty, but there was a little blood in there too. Not enough for a big wound or anything, maybe a bloody nose. ‘If any of those bastards laid a finger on my kids…’ her thoughts trailed off. Something caught her eye. It was a gum wrapper, Big Red. Matt had been in this trunk. Even though she had already been fairly certain about that to begin with, the simple fact that she now had a clue to support the theory gave her a strange sense of hope. Matt always chewed Big Red and he always left the wrappers in his pockets. He had definitely been in this trunk. But where was he now?
The cops certainly wouldn’t have been out here yet, and if they had they wouldn’t have had time to get a search warrant once they found that nobody was home. By the looks of the house, Vinny and his boys ditched the Caddy and moved on quickly. On top of that, the cops would have checked Vinny’s address before moving on to his parent’s house. No, she was still ahead of the cops. They’d make it as far as she was soon though. She had to figure things out.
She grabbed her radio. Before she could depress the talk lever, Rufus was barking at her. It startled her so badly that she jumped and nearly dropped it.
“Stiletto, you copy?” Rufus’s voice carried urgency with it.
“Yeah, I’m here. The kids aren’t though.” Before she could stop herself, “Are you sending me on a wild goose chase? I thought you knew everything about everything. The car’s here with my husband’s blood on it and maybe my kids’ blood too, but my kids aren’t here. Where the fuck is everybody?”
Rufus’s reply was calmer than it could have been. “Hey, relax. I just found something new on this punk ass, something I didn’t see before. Vinny’s mom and dad have a place on a lake up by Coleman. My guess is that even though our friend Vinny is an amateur and a big dick head, he’s probably smart enough to know that the cops would make it out to his parent’s house. They must have ditched his car and headed on up north. Once you get back to the van, you’ll find that I’ve already loaded the directions up to your computer. Don’t waste any time baby. You’re only about two days ahead of the cops.”
Shelia smiled and shook her head, “You’re a prince Thunder. I’m sorry. I should have known you’d have an answer before I asked the question. There’s one other thing. They left the Caddy a mess. There’s blood and evidence all over the place. If he knew the cops would be looking for him here, why wouldn’t he take thirty minutes to clean up?”
“He must be expecting a quick turn on those kids. Whoever’s callin’ the shots on this deal is gonna’ sever ties quick with Vinny the dick. Get your ass movin’. You ain’t got time to be jaw jackin’.” He was gone.
Shelia slipped back out of the house and headed for her van. Rufus had made good on his promise. Her destination was on the monitor when she started the van up. A three-hour drive stood right in the middle of her immediate future. As she pulled away, she realized that she was trying to bite her nail through her glove. She had a lot to be nervous about. The glove came off and she chewed away. ‘I wonder how the kids are doing,’ she thought as she got on the gas a little harder.