EXCERPT from SOUL CHASER
Three days after Reece proposed he and Charlotte were at LAX waiting for their flight to Las Vegas. Charlotte was excited as she’d never been to Sin City before. It would be a wonderful vacation―honeymoon, and she couldn’t wait to arrive at their hotel. Eloping had been a perfect idea. It would be just them, something intimate and personal only the two of them would share.
Their flight would be boarding in twenty minutes, enough time for her to pop to the restroom and freshen up. “Reece, I’m just going to the bathroom before we board. Won’t be long.” She picked up her flight bag and headed to the ramp leading to a selection of takeaway stores, vending machines and public conveniences.
No one knew about their plans. Only Tommy and Mrs. Jenkins knew the truth. Reece told Andre after everything they’d been through he and Charlotte needed to get away for a while. If anything urgent came up, he could be contacted on his cell phone.
While Reece waited, he gave Tommy a quick call. He felt guilty for leaving him behind, but this trip was their honeymoon, and you couldn’t have a honeymoon with your kids around, could you? “Hey, buddy, how’s things?”
“Hi, Reece, everything’s good. Mrs. J is making pancakes again. I looove pancakes.”
Reece laughed. “I think you love food in general.”
“Yeah, I think I do,” Tommy agreed. “Where’s mom?”
“She went to the bathroom. When our flight lands I’ll get her to give you a call. Ok?”
“Sure. Tell her I love her.”
“I will. We’ll bring you back a special surprise from Vegas.”
“Gee, thanks. Now I’m excited.”
Reece checked the time on his cell phone. “Hey, buddy, I better go hustle your mom up. Our flight’s almost ready to board.”
“Ok. Have fun. Take lots of photos. See you when you get back.”
“We will. Love from mom… and me.”
He stood up and gazed around the waiting area to see if Charlotte was on her way back. She wasn’t. She said she wouldn’t be long and it had been fifteen minutes since she’d left. He pressed speed dial. The phone rang for a few seconds then her voicemail kicked in. He left a message. “Hey, hon, where are you? Our flight will be boarding in five.”
Reece collected his flight bag, Charlotte’s purse and jacket and followed the direction she had taken. When he reached the ladies restroom, he waited outside contemplating whether or not to go in. His gut tightened. He tried her number again. As he did, he heard the musical ring of her cell phone getting closer and thought she was on her way out. Instead, a woman came out of the restroom with Charlotte’s things.
“Excuse me, those belong to my fiancé,” he said, pointing to the bag and phone in the woman’s hand.
“Oh? Here you go.” She handed them to him. “They were sitting on the vanity. I was going to hand them to security because I thought someone must have left them by mistake.”
Reece frowned at her, then at the bag and phone. “No one was with them or near them?”
The woman shook her head. “Sorry, no.”
The woman smiled. “I hope you find her before your flight.”
“Yeah, me too.” He headed back to where they’d been sitting. Charlotte wasn’t there. Where’d she go? She wouldn’t have gotten cold feet, would she? Reece didn’t know what to think. He continued past the waiting area and made his way to the airline counter.
The young woman smiled. “Yes? Can I help you, sir?”
“Can you broadcast a request for Charlotte Delaney to come to the counter, please? Our flight is boarding and I can’t find her.”
The woman gave him a concerned look. “Oh? Of course.” She picked up the telephone receiver and pressed a button on the base.
“Would passenger Charlotte Delaney please come to the Alaska Airlines reservations counter? Charlotte Delaney. Thank you.”
“Thanks.” Reece turned around and scanned the people moving about the airport. No sign of Charlotte.
“I hope you find her. If you have any problems we can change your reservation to a later flight.”
“I appreciate it, thanks.” Reece moved to the side and waited. After ten minutes he asked the young woman to change their reservation and went back to where he’d been sitting. He dropped the bags onto a chair and sat down. It doesn’t make any sense. Charlotte wouldn’t have run off like this.
Reece sprang forward and snatched Charlotte’s flight bag off the seat beside him. He unzipped it and pulled it open. Sitting inside was a note. He picked it up, his heart hammering, and unfolded it. Had she changed her mind? Had she taken off?
He read the words scrawled in black.
‘If you want to see your lady again, alive, you’ll do exactly what you’re told. DO NOT inform the authorities. Board your flight and act as though nothing has happened. If anyone asks, your companion got sick and couldn’t make the trip. You’ll be given further instruction in Vegas.’
Could this be the work of MacKinnon? Was it his revenge from the grave?
Reece couldn’t relax during the flight. All he could think about was Charlotte and what could be happening to her. No one knew where they were going, except for Tommy and Mrs. Jenkins, and he knew neither of them would give the information to anyone. Not even Andre. So who had found out their flight itinerary and how?
The flight was twenty minutes into its forty five minute journey and Reece wished they were already on the ground. He felt confined and useless sitting in the half empty plane unable to do anything. He wanted to get there, head to the hotel and wait for the next communication from whoever had Charlotte. This trip was meant to be a wonderful beginning to their married life and now it had turned into another horrible nightmare.
He had contacted Andre before boarding and hoped he’d be on the next flight out. They had to figure out who these people were, if they were people. Could be more monsters for all he knew. Why Charlotte? Hadn’t she been through enough? Was this whole scenario something to do with her or something to do with him? Some kind of payback?
A flight attendant asked if he needed anything and he said no. What he did need was to know Charlotte was still alive.
He pulled the window shade down and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the pilot announced they were five minutes out of McCarran International and gave a running commentary of the weather conditions. Passengers were requested to fasten their seatbelts and put away all devices before landing.
Reece was relieved and clipped in his belt. He wished he could check his cell phone. Why couldn’t someone develop a way for passengers to use their goddamn phones inflight?
The landing was smooth and Reece was glad he had a seat close to the exit. As soon as the plane taxied up the tarmac to the terminal and the door opened he’d be out the door and on his way to the hotel.
Inside McCarran International, Reece headed to the luggage pickup carousel to collect his and Charlotte’s luggage. This should have been the happiest moment of their lives, preparing for their wedding tonight. Instead he was heading to their hotel alone wondering if he’d ever see her again.
His cell phone vibrated and he whipped it out of his shirt pocket to check the text message. ‘At LAX. On next flight out. See you soon.’ Reece breathed a sigh of relief. At least with Andre here they could cover more ground. And, if anything or anyone supernatural was involved he’d know. It might give them an advantage.
Reece picked up his rental car, threw the luggage in the trunk and drove out of the parking garage, heading for the older part of Las Vegas, Fremont Street and the Golden Nugget Hotel.
Vegas was a 24/7 hustle. No one slept. Even the roads were congested with a sea of tourist traffic making their way from one venue to the next. It was right on sunset, the time when the city looked her best, and Charlotte would have been in awe of the glitz and glamour of sparkling Sin City. He had seen it all before and it didn’t impress him, but he would have loved showing his beautiful bride around.
Reece turned onto South Casino Center Boulevard, continued through the menagerie of pedestrians and cars and pulled into the Golden Nugget’s valet parking. He popped the trunk, left the keys in the ignition and grabbed his flight bag. A bellhop informed him his luggage would be in his room by the time he finished at the front desk. Reece handed him five dollars and headed through the brass and glass doors into the foyer.
While he waited in the queue, he noticed a woman dressed in a gypsy costume standing by the steps, watching him. At first he thought he’d imagined it, but after a few minutes he knew he was her target.
After collecting his plastic swipe key for the room, Reece scanned the lobby. The woman was gone. He climbed the steps and headed along the carpeted walkway, past the huge pool and assorted restaurants to the elevator banks, pushed the button and waited. While he stood in the center of the lift lobby, he spotted movement from the corner of his eye and turned his head. The gypsy was at the entrance.
“Is there something you want?” Reece asked, his voice tight. Seeing her again made him feel uneasy. He didn’t like it.
The gypsy woman sauntered up to him. “Perhaps there is something you want. You are missing something, yes? I have seen your future Reece Daniels. There is death in it.” She turned on her heel and disappeared into the hotel.
Reece rushed to the entrance and scanned the sea of hotel patrons. She was gone. How did the woman know his name? And whose death did she mean?
Charlotte woke up in a seedy motel room gagged and with her wrists attached to the old metal bedhead behind her. What had happened? She could smell something. What was it? Chloroform! Someone had drugged her and taken her from the airport. Her heart thudded against her ribs as she gazed around the hazy room and panic washed over her.
Tears stung her eyes. This was meant to be her wedding day. Reece must have been out of his mind with worry. She rubbed her engagement ring finger against her middle finger. The ring was gone! Why? Who brought her here? And where was here? Was she in Las Vegas or still in LA?
Charlotte tried to see over her head in the gloom. She was flat on her back with no pillow under her head. Using her weight to pull herself backwards along the bed, she caught sight of the glint of metal. Handcuffs. She tugged and tugged, but couldn’t free herself.
Something else she noticed too. She was in her underwear and her feet were bare. Where were her clothes and shoes? Why had she been undressed? If she could get free she wouldn’t hesitate to run in only her underwear. To hell with vanity when your life is at stake.
The room smelt of stale cigarette smoke and beer, so did the bed she was on and a prickling sensation crawled over her skin.
Charlotte lifted her head and glanced at the open venetian blind. An orange light cast intermittent swatches of color across the dirty window pane and she could see a reflection. What was it? Part of the name looked like a number. There were dozens of motels across the country with numbers in their name. She could be anywhere.
The tears she’d held back slid from the corners of her eyes and down her cheeks. How could she get free? She tugged at the cuffs again, knowing the futility of her actions, but this time she felt something slice her skin and the warm sensation of blood trickling down her arm. Charlotte held in the sob threatening to escape. She had to stay strong for her son’s sake or she might not get out of this at all.
She pictured Tommy in her mind and was calming down when she heard voices outside the door. A woman and a man. Were they coming in? The woman’s laugh was sultry, seductive. The way a woman laughs when she’s in the mood for sex. Was she in a hooker motel? The voices passed the door and continued along the walkway. Charlotte let out the breath she’d been holding in one long rush.
An idea came to her. If she bent her thumb as far into the palm of her hand as she could and twisted her wrist in the cuff she might be able to pull free. The blood would act as a lubricant and maybe she could slip her hand out. She worked to free herself but the cuff was too tight. Her head dropped back onto the stale bedspread and more tears spilled.
How long had she been here? It was sundown, so it had to be a few hours. She knew Reece would be looking for her. He’d have the team out searching. But without any clue as to her whereabouts how would they find her?
By the time Andre arrived at the Golden Nugget it was after 8 PM. He entered the foyer and headed to the elevator banks. Once inside, he called Reece. When he came out of the elevator hub on the fourteenth floor and walked along the hallway, his friend was standing outside the room waiting for him. Andre gave him a man hug and asked if he’d heard anything. Reece told him he hadn’t.
Inside the room, Reece showed Andre the note left in Charlotte’s bag and told him about the gypsy woman. After reading the instructions, Andre asked if he believed Charlotte was in Las Vegas. Reece said at first he didn’t think so, but now he believed she could be. Why would whoever took her have him fly all the way to Vegas unless they’d brought her here?
Andre suggested they go in search of the gypsy woman and question her about what she knew. She had to be part of Charlotte’s abduction, otherwise why would she have approached Reece? Perhaps she was part of an act performing in the hotel or another one nearby. They checked the Vegas entertainment guide in the room and found nothing relating to a gypsy show.
Reece told Andre he needed to get out of the hotel room for a while or he’d go stir crazy, so the pair headed out to Fremont Street. The undercover arcade was packed with tourists, performers and stalls. As the two men wandered through the hoards watching the lightshow, keeping an eye out for anything gypsy related, they spotted a fortune telling wagon on the left not far ahead of them. The sign emblazoned in large white letters on the side of the colorful wooden caravan read Madame Vadoma Sees All In Her Crystal Ball. Reece stalked over to the wagon and burst inside. No one was there. The cardboard clock hanging outside the door indicated she would be back in an hour. Was she the woman they were looking for?
Andre held one of the gypsy’s scarves and used his senses in an attempt to locate her. An image of a woman in costume appeared in his mind sitting at a table outside the Tasti D Lite ice cream shop half way along Fremont Street. He and Reece pushed through the pedestrian traffic and raced to the store. By the time they got there the woman was gone.
Reece stood with his hands on his hips and did a 360 degree turn, his eyes scanning the entire area and the people moving about. “Where the hell did she go?”
“Don’t know. But I sense she isn’t going to make it easy for us.”
“Yeah? Well we’ll keep her wagon under surveillance until she comes back. She’ll have to at some point.” Reece took a final look around the crowded street. He couldn’t believe she’d managed to escape them.
The pair made their way back to the wagon and when they reached it found it was locked. Reece came to the conclusion she had to be working with someone. Were they involved in Charlotte’s disappearance? The answer would only reveal itself when they found the woman.
As they headed back to the Golden Nugget, Reece received a text message telling him to be at the Luxor Hotel by 10 PM. And to come alone. Someone would make contact with him there. He wondered how they knew Andre was with him. Were they being watched? He glanced over his shoulder and moved his eyes around the crowd. Could be anyone. How would he know?
Back in their room on the 14th floor of the Carson Tower, Reece and Andre discussed what their next step would be. The room phone rang, interrupting their conversation and Reece gave Andre an uncertain look. He had never felt so unsure of himself. This was personal.
“Answer it. It might be them,” Andre told him.
Reece picked up the receiver and took a deep breath before placing the phone to his ear. “Hello?”
“Is this Reece Daniels?”
“Who’s asking?” Reece’s voice tightened.
“Sheriff Lozano, LVPD. I need to speak with Reece Daniels urgently. It’s an official police matter.”
“You’ve reached him. What can I do for you?”
The sheriff cleared his throat. “We’ve got a couple… unusual cases I’d like your opinion on. Are you available to assist while you’re in Vegas?”
“How did you know I was here?” Reece didn’t like being so easy to find.
“Not much gets by us. We always know who’s visiting our city. We have a good relationship with border protection.”
“It still doesn’t answer the question, does it?”
“Your girlfriend’s babysitter told me. But our guys at the airport do have a good working relationship with border protection.” He chuckled.
Reece shook his head. Why had Mrs. Jenkins given a total stranger the information? The sheriff must have been very persuasive. “I’m working a case right now and don’t have the time.”
The sheriff sighed. “We could really use your input. These deaths are unorthodox to say the least. Look, I understand you’re busy and all, but if I could stop by and talk to you it wouldn’t take up much of your time.”
Reece ran the information around his brain for a moment. Unorthodox deaths? It meant only one thing. Something unnatural was loose in the city. “We’ll come to you. Where’s your office?”
“Thanks. Appreciate it. Got a pen?”
Reece opened the bedside drawers and took out a notepad and hotel pen. “Yeah, go ahead.”
“Four hundred South Martin Luther King Boulevard. Can I expect you in the morning?”
“We’ll be there at nine.” He hung up and turned to Andre. “The Sheriff’s got some deaths they can’t explain. He wants us to take a look.”
“So we’re meeting him in the morning?”
“Yeah. My gut tells me some otherworldly activity is going on here. I don’t know how much Sheriff Lozano knows, but I think he’s suspicious. Why else would he contact me?”
“Maybe you should talk to him about Charlotte.”
“And put her life in more danger than it is already?” He shook his head. “Not an option.”
Andre walked over to him. “It might be the only way we can find out if she’s here.”
Reece gave him a skeptical frown. “How? They would’ve taken the highway. I doubt they’d put her on a plane.”
“They grabbed her at LAX, Reece. Maybe they did.”
The PI’s cell phone rang and he answered it. “Hello?”
“Bring your vampire friend with you tonight and don’t be late,” the distorted voice on the other end of the phone said. The line went dead.
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© 2016 M. A. Anderson
Bella Luna Books, Australia
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission of the Author.