He raced through the halls searching for her. But Rog could not find Bella anywhere, though her faint cries echoed softly in the distance. The catacombs became darker and the doorways smaller, but he had to find his love. Bella was in danger, and time was ticking away.
Carefully, he walked the corridors, going by feel, and moving toward Bella’s cries. He turned a corner, and finally, at the end of a long corridor, a light! Her cries grew louder. “Bella!” Rog yelled frantically. “I’m coming to find you!” but his words were swallowed by some unseen force before they left his lips. He ran down the hall at breakneck speed, but it seemed he was running in slow motion, almost against time itself.
“Rog! Help me!” she begged him.
Suddenly, the booming voice of a man, a familiar man, a friend, stopped Rog in his tracks, and an icy chill ran down his spine. “You’re too late, ‘Doctor’,” it shrieked. “You’ll never find her body!” Then the sound of evil laughter…
“No no no! Bella! I’m coming for you, my love!” His pleas were desperate.
He heard a sickening cry uttered in terror… followed by one of agony… screaming… screaming… and then nothing.
Rog sat up in bed, drenched in sweat, his heart pounding. Sleeping sweetly beside him was Bella, safe and secure at his side. This was the third such nightmare that night, and he was tired of hearing screams when he closed his eyes.
He got up to pee and then turned the computer on in Chris’s old room. In the search engine, he looked up one name: Nick Fournier. Just ten hits on his name alone were returned. Curious, he clicked on a link, and an innocuous-looking website appeared before him. Back on the browser, then another link. Fournier and Son LLC Law Firm. That’s the one, thought Rog. He clicked on it and it was a closed link. Damn.
Since the incident with Bella and Nick, he was haunted by nightmares of what would have happened to her if he’d been three seconds longer, or couldn’t get to her at all. What bothered him was why Nick was such a lecher when his father had been such a great family friend. Nick used that family tie to gain Bella’s trust, only to breach it in the most sinister and vile way possible. Except, he didn’t succeed. Only in Rog’s worst nightmares. And with a powerful attorney like Nick Fournier, it would be difficult to bring these types of allegations without something concrete. When he couldn’t sleep, Rog was on his laptop, trying to find the real reason he was being haunted in his dreams.
Nicholas, of course! Rog thought. I should try his full name. Nicholas Fournier was entered into the search engine of his browser. That search was much more fruitful for Rog and helped him to at least begin to form a pattern of violent behavior towards women, even to the point of sexual abuse. Rog copied the website and put it in his briefcase for morning. If the nightmares wouldn’t end on their own, he at least wanted real-life justice for his sweet Bella.
“Charlotte! Oh, is it ever wonderful to hear your voice!” Bella sang as her daughter spoke on the other end of the line. “How is college? How are your classes? Tell me everything!”
Rog smiled. She looked so forward to the weekly calls from the children, though, he supposed, they weren’t children any longer. Empty nest syndrome had hit Bella harder than she thought it would, and she was back to feeling the house was just too big for the two of them. But Rog loved their life in this house, and was in no hurry to go back to the bungalow by the park.
Bella handed the phone to Rog, so Chris could get some advice. She finished gathering laundry to wash and started the first of three loads. Even though it was just the two of them, they still had the same amount of dirty linens and clothing. “You can hang up,” she said as she walked back through the dining room to sit down.
Rog caught a whiff of Bella’s musky perfume, which she had just started wearing. She smelled so good, he had to follow her into the formal living room to sit with her. She giggled when she saw him, looking like a schoolboy who got caught being up to no good. Gently, she patted the cushion on the sofa, and he joined her.
He moved closer and took a breath in, soaking in her scent. She giggled harder, ”What in the world are you doing?” she laughed as he sniffed her skin.
“It’s that new musk you’re wearing, darling,” he said. It’s intoxicating, sensuous…”
“You don’t have to play anymore, you know. We have this All. To. Ourselves.” She stretched out on the sofa, inviting him.
“No, it really is the musk. I promise!” He smiled slyly at her. “But, if you’re inviting, I’m knocking.”
“May I speak with Rog, please?” the voice on the phone asked.
“Speaking. Who is this?“
“Rog, this is Mike from Shores Private Investigations. You left a voicemail yesterday. I am returning your call.”
“Oh yes, thank you for returning my call so quickly.” Rog covered the phone with his hand and whispered, “I have to take this,” and walked into his office and closed the door.
“What can I do for you, Rog?”
“About 2 months ago, my wife had an appointment with Nicholas Fournier, are you familiar with the firm?”
“Mr. Fournier’s name has come up on more than one occasion, yes.”
“Nick, I mean, Mr Fournier, tried to sexually assault my wife. I say tried because I responded to a text that she sent saying he had been acting oddly, and she was afraid. Mike, if I had been just 10 seconds later, I don’t know if I could have saved her.” Rog could still see him trying to undress her, restraining her, and it made him sick.
“What is it you need from me, Mr. St John?”
“I need to know if there are any complaints, any allegations, any proof that this man has a history of sexual assault or violence against women. Because without that, it’s two people against a powerful, corrupt lawyer. What chance would we have?”
“I see your point, Rog. I can’t promise anything because those types of things could be sealed or protected with the help of a corrupt judge, but I’ll poke around. See what I can find, if anything.”
Rog nodded. “Thank you. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s the only one we have right now. I appreciate it.”
“I’ll be in touch,” Mike said, and hung up the phone.
Rog left his office, feeling hopeful, but not optimistic.
Bella was preparing dinner when he pulled into the garage and he walked through the door. He admitted that he missed seeing the kids doing homework, and roughhousing after school. He was starting to wish they’d had another little one at home.
“Smells amazing, Bella,” he said as he walked to her, wrapping his arms around her. She smiled sweetly.
“Thank you, my love,” she replied. “It’s your favorite.” Chicken teriyaki stir fry. The chicken was marinating and the veggies were resting on the counter as she wiped it down. She turned around and faced him, still in his embrace. They shared a tender kiss, and he stroked her cheek.
“You just get more beautiful as time passes, you know that?” She loved his adoring expression.
“I can’t forget it, Rog,” she said, swooning at him,” You remind me every day.” His phone rang, and it was Mike from the PI office.
“I need to get this, darling, I’ll be right back.” Walking into the spa room, he closed the door.
“Hello?” Rog answered the ring.
“Mr. St John, Mike from Shores PI, how are you today?”
“I’ll be better if you say you have something for me.” Rog was hopeful.
“I might have something for you. I keep seeing phone records connecting to Strangeville, but I’m not sure if there’s a connection there. Is there a significance to that, Rog?”
Estevan? “We do know, kind of, someone at the prison there.” Rog stroked his chin. “I’m not sure how that would even connect, but he is a weasel. Nothing would surprise me at this point.”
“I’ll keep looking into that connection then. Also, we might have some luck with surveillance footage from the building on the day in question. Mr. Fournier has no control over the video in certain parts of the building, those are kept centrally.”
“Excellent job, Mike,” Rog said. “The person of possible interest in Strangeville is Estevan Best.” And then silence on the other end of the phone.
After a few moments, Mike returned. “That name is infamous in my part of the world, Rog. If your wife is involved with him, she is most unlucky.”
“Crazy ex-boyfriend, emphasis on crazy.” Rog’s blood was beginning to boil. If Estevan had anything to do with the assault, he might go kill him personally.
“I have to tell you, Rog, I’m expecting there to be a link between the two men. I don’t want you to be shocked,” he advised.
“Nothing would shock me anymore. He’s been a thorn in our side our whole married life.” Rog thanked Mike and hung up.
“Who was that, sweetheart?” Bella sang from the kitchen, the sound of sizzling chicken coming from a very hot frying pan.
“A colleague,” he lied. It wasn’t time to tell her just yet. She was already having her own nightmares, and she didn’t need any more of them. The answer seemed to satisfy her curiosity, and he was thankful. He hated lying to her more than he hated Estevan Best.
Nick, please, don’t do this… When I see something I like, Bella, I take it, the voice echoed…. Please, Nick… I have children. What about your wife? What about her, the voice said… She struggled against him, but he was too strong, too powerful. He leaned to kiss her, and she held her breath… No! You can’t!! He pinned her on a desk, bent forward. He can’t hear you, the voice told her. By the time he finds you, it won’t matter… Her heart pounded… he raised his hand to her…
“NO!” she screamed, sitting up in bed, crying. Rog, who had been awake in the other room, came running when he heard her.
“Oh darling,” he soothed her, “not again.” He sat on the bed and held her.
“I want the dreams to stop, baby. I want to not be afraid.” Bella was shaking as though the assault had just taken place.
“I’m working on that, my darling.” He kissed her forehead and hugged her tightly.
“How?” She swallowed, trying to stop crying and blew her nose. Her head felt as if it would explode.
“I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure. But I have been in contact with a PI, looking into Nick’s background. He might have something we can use.” He gently brushed her hair from her face. “There might be a connection with Estevan, but the PI isn’t sure yet.”
Slowly, her temper began to boil. “I am sick and tired of that man controlling our lives, even though he sits and rots in a prison a thousand miles away… “ her words trailed. “It needs to stop, Rog.”
“I know, love,” he tried comforting her. “Hopefully soon.”
Knowing that Rog was already in the works with a private investigator, she thought she would try to find a legal counsel that wasn’t connected to either the Best family or Nicholas Fournier. She, like Rog, couldn’t believe that Hal’s son would be so dirty. She had the utmost respect for his father, but she wondered how deep the connection went, and if Hal wasn’t involved somehow. Now, she would never know.
On a hunch, she dialed a long-familiar number. “Jen Crawford Agency, this is Jen!” answered the perky, lovely voice she missed so much.
“Hi Jen, it’s Bella!”
“Bella!” Jen squealed into the phone, and Bella held the phone from her ear while Jen giggled. “How are you? It has been way too long!”
“We’re good, the kids are at Sim State, Rog is awesome,” Bella giggled. “You know how we’re always saying we should do lunch together?”
“Oh my goodness, YES! Finally!” Jen screeched. Her energy was too much for Bella, but she laughed anyway.
“How about tomorrow?”
“It’s a date! Oh, Bella, I’m so excited!”
You might not be tomorrow, Bella thought. “I can’t wait, Jen! I’ll bring pictures of the kids.”
They hung up the phone, and she felt better. If anyone could help her with this and had the connections, she knew Jen could. It was Jen, after all, who helped Rog get reservations at The Tower for their anniversary. She was better connected than a public cell phone charging hub.
The next morning, Bella drove to The Tower, where Jen had reserved her own table, the very same one where she and Rog had spent their 20th anniversary, to meet her for lunch. She was so very happy to see Bella, and hugged her, not really believing their long-proposed lunch date was finally happening.
“So tell me, Bella,” Jen started, ordering a bottle of wine for the table, “how is your wonderful life?” Jen crossed her legs and kicked off one shoe, making herself totally at home and comfortable. “I mean, you have a gorgeous husband, beautiful children, a perfect life! I’m so jealous.”
“Well, it’s almost perfect Jen,” Bella said. “The first two parts are accurate. Rog is…” she smiled, “a hunk, and the kids are awesome.” Then she shook her head. “The rest, I’m afraid, hasn’t been so idyllic.”
“What’s wrong, and how can I help?” Jen’s happy face turned serious as she saw the concern on Bella’s.
“You remember Hal Fournier, right? The lawyer who helped us get rid of that loon I used to date.” Bella wrung her hands, trying to keep her voice low.
“Yes, I do, lovely old gent,” Jen commented. “I was sad to hear of his passing.”
“Me too, more than you realize. His son, Nicholas, has been helping me with my legal issues since I started writing the Charlotte and Chris books.” Jen’s face went white.
“Bella…” Jen said, “Hal didn’t have any children. He and his wife always wanted them, but she couldn’t bear any.” Suddenly, Bella felt violently ill. Seeing her friend’s face, Jen became afraid. “What? What’s wrong, Bella?”
She felt dizzy and pushed her chair from the table. “I’m sorry, Jen. I just need to use the restroom.” She made it to the toilet in time to vomit. Shaking, she sat on the floor, trying not to cry. Instinctively, she called Rog, but got no answer.
You have reached Dr. St John. If this is an emergency, please dial my beeper. Otherwise, please leave a message.
“Rog,” she said into the phone, frantic. “Call me as soon as you get this message!” She hung up the phone, got up off the floor and walked to the sink to wash her hands and face. Jen opened the door to the ladies’ room and saw Bella, still looking pale and ill.
“What is it, Bella? What did I say that caused such a visceral reaction from you?”
“Let’s go back out and sit, where it’s comfortable,” Bella suggested. Jen took her arm and helped her back out to their table.
After they sat, Jen poured a fuller glass of wine for both of them. She had a feeling they would need it. “When I needed legal help, for my first book contract, I called Hal’s office but found out he had passed away. Someone who claimed to be his son, Nick, told me he had taken over for his father. I mean, the office looked just like it did the last time I was there with Hal, except for a painted portrait of him hanging over some fake fireplace.”
Jen nodded. “He looked at my contracts and advised me on them, he never took a penny, saying my beauty was payment enough. It sounded just like something Hal would have said, so I didn’t think anything of it.” Bella took a sip of wine. “When I was contacted by a large publisher to write my Mama’s biography, I took the contract to him to check it over. Everything he said and did seemed legitimate.”
“Then, when I decided to go public with my announcement, I went to his office to get his advice and tried to get a feel for what to expect, from a legal standpoint. Jen, that man tried to…” Bella paused, her voice cracking, “if Rog hadn’t come when he did, I might not be sitting here with you.” Jen shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. “I think he intended to rape and kill me, Jen.”
Jen took a long sip of wine, finishing the glass. “This is unbelievable, Bella. I’m so sorry. How can I help?”
“Do you have a lawyer that you trust implicitly? Someone who can help me? I don’t know where to turn anymore, who I can trust. But I know I can trust you, Rog and my kids. Outside of that, I’m done.”
Jen scrolled through the contacts on her phone and scribbled down a name and phone number. “This is my personal attorney. Sarah will absolutely be able to help you. Oh honey,” Jen cried. “I can’t tell you how much this grieves me. I’m so sorry.” The waiter appeared at the table. “I think we’re going to need another bottle of wine.”
Bella was going to call a taxi to get home after her lunch date since she was in no condition to drive, but Jen’s limo graciously brought her home. She stumbled to the house, shamelessly intoxicated. Waving to the limo driver, she locked the gate behind her and fumbled with her key. The phone began to ring.
“Of course,” she slurred, pulling her cell from her bag. “Hello?”
“Baby? What’s wrong? I just got your message.” Rog was frantic.
“I need you, Rog. Please come home,” she said.
“On my way.”
Ten minutes later, Bella was still trying to unlock the front door to her house. Rog saw her fiddling with the door, and ran to help her. “Oh my,” he said, taking her arm, “you reek of wine.”
“That’s because I had lunch with Jen at The Tower,” she mumbled drunkenly at him.
“Did you drink your lunch? Bella, I’m surprised at you!” He wondered what could have happened during their meeting to make her drink like this. Noticing she was having a rough time walking, he picked her up and carried her to the sofa, where he placed her gently. He walked to the kitchen and started a pot of strong coffee, and walked back to where he had placed her. She had slumped on the sofa, resting comfortably. Suddenly, her eyes opened, and with no warning, she vomited all over him, retching violently. “Oh darling,” he said as she got sick on the floor. “You don’t hold your liquor well at all, do you?” He rubbed her back as she settled down, and collapsed back on the sofa.
“I don’t feel well,” she said. “Maybe I should have eaten something.” He laughed, but picked her up, and brought her to the downstairs shower inside the spa room, and hopped into the shower with her, cleaning her hair, face, everywhere that got splashed with the contents of her gut. She could barely stand, but threw her arms around his neck to give him some leverage so she wouldn’t fall.
He wrapped her in a towel and carried her upstairs, placing her on the bed. “Is your tummy feeling better, darling?” he asked, leaving a small bucket with her before he went back to clean the colossal mess she had made in the living room.
“Yeah, I just want to sleep,” she said, drifting off. She curled up on the bed, still wrapped in her towel, and fell asleep. He kissed her cheek, and covered her with a blanket, and went back downstairs.
Rog picked up Bella’s phone and dialed Jen’s number. “Hey, Bella!” she greeted.
“Jen, this is Rog. What the hell did you do to my wife?” He was furious that she would allow Bella to get that intoxicated, and then just leave her to fend for herself outside their front door.
“Whoa, wait a minute there. I didn’t do anything to her except buy her lunch, which she happened to drink. But I made sure she got home safely. You’re welcome,” she snipped.
“Your driver left her at the door and didn’t even make sure she got inside. She was sitting outside on the step when I got home, and I don’t know how long she was out there by herself. You know the Shores isn’t safe for her! What happened to make her do this, Jen? She never gets this drunk, ever. Why did she want to see you?”
“I’m not sure I should be the one who tells you, Rog.” Jen’s office phone rang in the background. “Look, I need to go. I’m sorry my driver left her with no help. I’ll address that immediately. Call me later if she still isn’t well, and we’ll talk.”
Rog grabbed the mop, cleaner, and the wet vac, and began to tackle Bella’s mess.
The next morning, Bella called for him as he sat and read in the kids’ old room. “Ooh, I feel awful,” she said, her head pounding.
“You should,” he replied. “You were pretty drunk. I almost thought you had alcohol poisoning.”
“Was I bad, Rog?” She walked to the bathroom and recoiled at her reflection. Dark circles under her bloodshot eyes. Ashen, pale skin, and a terrible taste in her mouth, much worse than normal morning breath.
“There was a bit of a mess downstairs, but I cleaned it.” He sat her down on the bed and then sat beside her. “Do you remember your meeting with Jen yesterday?”
Her memory was fuzzy in parts, but she remembered why she became intoxicated to begin with. “You know how we thought Nick was Hal’s son?” Rog began to nod, and then stopped.
“Wait, what do you mean, ‘we thought?’”
“It turns out, Hal and his wife had no children, Rog.” Bella’s head throbbed, and she felt woozy.
“Oh my goodness,” Rog said. “If he isn’t Hal’s boy, then who is he?”
“That, baby, is the million-dollar question.”
Up Next: Chapter Sixteen, Generation Three