Long Way Home (Chapter One Teaser)

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CHAPTER ONE

 

Every new beginning comes from

Some other beginning’s end    Dan Wilson

 

October 3, 2008

 

Anne Cassidy sat behind an antique walnut desk watching the steady stream of people flow past the front window of her Carytown law office. She positioned her desk just for this reason; however, it also afforded her a direct view of Kat, her paralegal/receptionist whose addiction to spider solitaire often interfered with official duties. It was after five and Kat, her only employee, was gone. Anne usually welcomed this time of day. Alone in quiet reflection, she could catch up on routine tasks such as dictation, bill paying, or email. But on this particular day, Anne’s thoughts were on matters of much greater urgency. Fighting back tears, Anne pushed her case notes aside. Removing her glasses, she rubbed her temples as if to erase the information received from a frantic young girl a day prior. Desperate to ease the throbbing blood rush pounding inside her head, Anne opened her eyes and focused instead, on the sidewalk circus parading by the front bay window of her office.

Anne’s office space might have been considered modest by some standards, but nonetheless ample for her needs. She was, after all, still young and on the move upward. There would be plenty of time for her to grow the practice into something a bit grander. Located a half block off of Cary Street, in the heart of the bohemian section of Richmond, Virginia known as Carytown, Anne Rutledge Cassidy ran her practice out of a unremarkable row house, converted to office space during the business boom of the eighties. She bought the building two years ago with the help of inheritance money and an advance from the sale of her husband Jim’s first novel. The brick, two story structure was built in a shotgun style, as are many in the Richmond historic district. Shotgun style homes, narrow structures with one room leading into another, became popular in the South following the Civil War. Anne, born and reared in Charleston, South Carolina, always had a preference to antiquity over the slick, chrome and glass style of the downtown set. Access to the office required visitors to enter via a narrow hallway from either the back or front of the building. A staircase, at the front entry, lead to another shop upstairs. At the foot of the stairs, signage directed those seeking legal services to the right. Most visitors, in fact, were seeking attorney services as Anne leased the upstairs space to Marcus, a violin maker whose day to day presence depended on the number of PBRs consumed the night before. She was fully aware the upstairs space could lease for twice the current rate, but she was attached to the peculiar gentleman, and liked the peace and quiet his style of business afforded. Anne’s clients entered into a front office consisting of a receptionist’s desk and a small waiting area furnished with a sofa, two side chairs and a coffee table. Kat, an aspiring singer with purple spiked hair, greeted the public with warmth and casual conversation to those obliged to indulge her. Entry to Anne’s office was through a set of mahogany double doors she purchased at a demolition salvage warehouse and refinished to a lustrous shine. Her office was masculine in appearance as most of the wood and red leather furnishings came from her father’s law office in Charleston. Hunting prints and engraved etchings of the Charleston Harbor adorned the walls. Anne’s desk, positioned directly opposite the double doors allowed her, when open, full view of the front office. A second door behind her desk lead to a third and final room, remodeled to accommodate a kitchenette, modest dining area, a bathroom and space for supplies. To Anne’s dismay, the back office area was usually cluttered with soft drink cans and fast food wrappers. Try as she may to change her, Anne’s assistant was not a “neat freak”. The back room, also accessed through a rear hallway door, was Anne’s main point of exit and entry to the offices on a daily basis. A small parking area in the rear of the building, allowed her to come and go without being seen by anyone that might be waiting in the reception area. The convenience of the office layout and its location were major selling points for her. Her only concern was making sure the back door was locked after business hours. It was Kat’s responsibility to ensure this was done.

Anne could feel the muscle tension in her neck relax as she exhaled deeply, and settled back in her chair to watch the passersby. A group of young girls from nearby Saint Gertrude Prep huddled in a tight group, obviously sharing a hilarious story. Their laughter and squeals penetrated the silence of Anne’s legal sanctuary. Their uniforms, consisting of white button-down shirts and green plaid skirts, were rumpled following an after school romp around Carytown. Their shirts were unbuttoned a bit lower than what would be considered appropriate, perhaps to entice the boys from neighboring Benedictine. Anne became immediately transported to her days at Ashley Hall, a similar all-girls school in Charleston. She was well aware that much of her success in life could be attributed to an affluent upbringing in, as she called it, the “Holy City”. Anne’s formative memories of her parents however, were far less than holy. Robert, her father, was a prominent attorney, who provided all that money could buy, and nothing it couldn’t.  She had never been able to erase the memory of a childhood, cut short by the tumultuous lives of the adults around her.

At thirty-two, tall and lean, with the striking features of a fashion model, Anne Rutledge Cassidy was not only appealing but as tough as nails.  Looking back, she had always considered herself to be a survivor.  This was due, in large part, to her nanny, Ernestine, rather than her parents. Their attention was usually elsewhere.  Ernestine spent most of her life raising white children in the insular neighborhoods south of Broad Street, and she knew well the skills these privileged youth would need to survive such a fate.  Anne learned from a tender age that “appearance” was the only reality for the people of authority in her life. That life lesson saved her on many an occasion.

The only child of Robert and Katherine Ellerbe Rutledge, Anne was alone more often than not.  In the absence of siblings, Anne emulated and identified with adults more than children.  She quickly learned what adults expected of her and diligently made every effort to please them.   More often than not, pleasing them required little more than being quiet and playing independently.  Guests in their home often marveled at what a well-behaved and delightful child she was.  Little did they realize her behavior was really a survival technique to avoid the foaming wrath of a drunken father whose rage could be triggered by even the slightest provocation.  Anne’s mother, Katherine did nothing to buffer the tirades.  She instead, devoted her efforts toward maintaining the appearance of a perfect Charleston family.  Anne’s lasting image of her mom was that of a woman sitting at the kitchen bar, martini in one hand and phone in the other, busy organizing the next big event of the social season.  Katherine Ellerbe, born and bred to live the life of a Charleston socialite, was not about to let the behavior of a drunken husband deny her that birthright.  Now, both Robert and Katherine lie together in quiet accord in a peaceful ancestral plot besides Saint Michael’s Anglican Church in Charleston.  The absurd irony of their idyllic resting place is lost to even those that professed to know them.  With the exception of Ernestine, who stops by occasionally to place some oleander blooms on their markers.

Lost in the swirling images of cocktail trays and palmetto fronds, the voice of her beloved Ernestine comes to her.  It is the same soothing voice that comforted her following the sleepless nights, alone in her room trembling, flinching at every crash and shattered glass.  Even in adulthood, sudden loud noises would terrify her.  Anne’s therapist told her it PTSD.  Whatever it is, the violent, drunken battles of her past never strayed far from the surface.  She found comfort in Ernestine’s angelic voice inside her head…  ”You are better than that child.  Don’t you ever forget what Ernestine tell you.  You rise above them that try to bring you down. You hear me child?” 

I hear you Ernestine…I hear you.

Released from her memories, Anne suddenly became aware of the eerie quiet surrounding her.  The laughter of students and the hum of commuting vehicles had given way to the quiet resolve of the evening. The waning early autumn sun painted a pink glow to the world outside of her familiar confines.  Thoughts turned to her husband who was probably on an evening run through their Westover Hills neighborhood with black lab, Bonnie at his heels.  Her fleeting smile vanished with the reality of her predicament. She firmly sets her jaw in preparation for the calls she has to make. Fighting the urge to grab her bag and run home to the comfort of her husband’s arms, she instead reached for the phone on her desktop.

 

The man saw the familiar number flash up and stepped out of the dark club, escaping the blaring music and flashing stage lights. Temporarily blinded by the evening sun not yet blocked by the expressway above, he groped to find the correct button before the Guns and Roses ringtone rolls over to voicemail.

“Where the hell are you?”

Caller: “In a parking lot across from the law office.  We’re gonna tail her when she leaves”

“You idiot. I told you to find the girl. She’s not in there again is she?”

Caller: “No, but don’t you want us to keep an eye on the lawyer too?”

“Don’t worry about her. I’ve got her covered. Find the girl and find her now!  Not tomorrow or the next day.  She’s too stupid to have gone far.  We’ve got to get hold of her before she runs her mouth anymore.  You already fucked up once. It won’t happen again.”

Caller: “We got eyes on the bus stations and the motels. We’ll keep cruising the streets. You sure you don’t want us to put somebody on the Cassidy bitch?”

“What did I say?  Bring the girl to me.”  With that, the man clicks off and disappears back into the darkness of the Lion’s Den.

 

With the requisite calls made and the plan in place, tears formed patterns on the desk blotter as Anne released the emotions welling over inside her.  Fear and anger compete to create gut wrenching sobs that she’s not afforded herself since childhood.  Her thoughts were with the young girl, still in her teens, but having endured more pain and suffering than most will experience in a lifetime. Anne knew the decision to help the poor girl might threaten her own safety.  The words of her husband, from months prior, rang in her head like a warning bell…”Do not take him on as a client…He’s a scumbag.”  Jim remembered him from high school.

Why didn’t I listen?  I’m better than this Ernestine, why didn’t I listen. If it wasn’t for that lowlife bastard, that girl would have never known who I was.

Self-pity is replaced with a sudden composure as Anne is convinced she’s the only person who can save this poor girl from what will be certain death , if he can find her…That bastard will not find her.  Fighting for strength from deep down within herself, she started gathering her belongings in preparation to leave.

 

A gravel drive, or alley, running between Elwood and Cary Streets is illuminated by streetlights as darkness fell on Carytown.  Parking areas on either side of the alley accommodate Carytown residents, merchants and shoppers since street parking on Cary or Elwood is limited.  Although lit after dark, vehicles, out buildings, trees and privacy hedges all provide shadows for stealthy individuals to travel unnoticed.  Dressed in black, a man moved confidently through the alley toward the building in the middle of the block.  He knew to look for the red Mazda MX5 in the rear parking area.  Careful to avoid the streetlight’s glow illuminating the little red convertible, the man’s path took him along the backside of the building where he hopped up on the cement stoop and quickly unscrewed the single bare bulb lighting the backdoor.  Immersed in shadow, with a gloved hand, he silently tested the doorknob.  Incredibly enough, it turned.  With a smile toward the heavens, the man stepped inside.

 

Exhaustion washed over her as Anne locked the file cabinets and hastily attempted to tidy up the reception area.  Her plan set in motion, there was no turning back now.  Reaching for a wad of tissues, she wiped the sweat of terror from her forehead and the remaining tearstains from her cheeks. It was time to get home to the warmth and safety that only her husband could provide.  She offered a silent vow to keep the events and plans she made a secret.  No one must know, not even Jim.  He would do something stupid.

Turning off the light in the kitchen and exiting through the back office door, Anne was greeted by total darkness in the outer hallway.  Swearing an oath to kill Kat, she bent down in the open doorway, placing her bag on the floor, allowing a free hand to grope along the wall for the light switch.  Upright now,  muttering under her breath, she had no time to react as simultaneously, a hand covered her mouth and a steel blade entered her chest cavity just below the sternum, slicing upward, and bringing death an instant later.

 

Illuminated only for a brief second, the man, dressed in black clothing, made his way through the small parking area and into the shadows.  His mission complete, he reached for his cell phone before remembering the strict instructions from his employer.  With head down, he disappeared in the shadows of the alleyway, headed north to Broad Street where a bus will take him home to his family.

 

 

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About Phil

Hi, my name is Phil. I’ve managed to escape the corporate world, rid myself of excess belongings, travel the country extensively in my old Winnebago, and find a new home on a beautiful barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. I define myself as: a free spirit, a writer, a philosophical anarchist, a poet; a lover of nature, a lover of art, a protector of animals, as well as a devoted friend and partner
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