Rog left early for work the next morning. He had an important phone call to make, and he didn’t want Bella to be worried. The lunch with Jen had been invaluable, even though poor Bella was still recovering from it. Rog also worried about Jen’s safety, hoping she didn’t unwittingly blow the lid on a huge conspiracy. Estevan could no longer be dismissed as a harmless lunatic. He meant business, and quite frankly, Rog was petrified.
He had no surgeries scheduled for that morning, fortunately, so he went into his office and closed his door. Dialing the number for Shores PI, his heart was pounding out of his chest.
“Shores Private Investigations, this is Michael.”
“Mike, Rog St John.” He cleared his throat and took his first sip of coffee.
“Hey Rog, what can I do for you this morning?”
“I wanted to call you yesterday, but my wife was… sick, and needed me. I have some information for you that you might not know.”
“I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and check out any emails regarding your case, but I’ll take the information down. Shoot.” Mike said, readying his notebook.
“My wife had lunch with her former agent two days ago, and she had some information about Nick Fournier. Bella mentioned to her agent that she was consulting with Hal Fournier’s son, and I guess she told my wife that Hal and his wife never had children.”
Mike dropped his notebook. “Well, that’s quite a development, Rog. I have a contact at the PD, I’ll have him run Nick through the system, see if we get a hit on his real identity, and we’ll see if we can get a warrant to look through his office. This would be probable cause, and I don’t think a judge would deny a warrant for this.”
“Bella paid a huge price for this information, so I hope it leads us to the end of all of this. I’m starting to fear for her and my safety, and the kids. Oh, the kids!” Rog made a note to call campus police after the phone call.
“I’ll be in touch, Rog. Thanks again!”
Next, Rog dialed the campus police captain. “Sim State Campus Police, this is Eric.”
“Eric, my name is Rog St John. My children, Charlotte and Christopher are students there. Look, a situation has come up at home, and I have reason to believe they might be in danger. Is it possible to have someone keep an eye on them? I’m willing to hire extra, money is no object when it comes to my wife’s babies. Anything to protect them.”
“You might be better off with a private security company, Mr. St John. We just don’t have the staff for this type of thing.”
“It wouldn’t be for 24/7 monitoring. They have a security system in their house. I just want to make sure they aren’t harmed. It would destroy my wife if someone were to hurt them.”
“I can assure you, Mr. St John, our campus is patrolled and safe. My own kids walk the streets of the campus safely.” Yes, but your kids aren’t targets of Estevan Best, either, Rog thought.
“Thank you anyway, Mr?”
“Jordan. Eric Jordan.”
“Please, take my cell number, in case there is a problem. And please, don’t call my wife if something happens. She’s fragile right now.” He read off his cell number to Eric Jordan, thanked him and disconnected the call.
The phone was ringing as Bella was reading her book. Charlotte’s number appeared on the Caller ID. “Hi, honey!” Bella beamed. The weekly phone calls from the kids were her favorite thing these days, and reminded her that she had a reason to fight.
“Hi, Mama!” Charlotte sang on the other end. “Just checking in, and letting you know we’re doing well.”
“How’s your brother? Tell him I miss him bunches.”
“Here, tell him yourself. He’s right here.” Charlotte handed the phone to Chris.
“Hi Mama,” Chris said happily. “I miss you so much!”
“Happy birthday, little man!” Bella chirped. “Seventeen, going on, forty?” Chris laughed.
“Nope, seventeen going on seventeen.”
“I wish your Dad and I could be there, sweetheart. We’ll make it up to you when you get back home.”
“Just a few more months,” Chris said, excited about the prospect of going back. Though he had Charlotte with him, he missed home, his friends and his parents. “Charlotte wants to talk to you again, Mama. I love you and I miss you!” Chris said as he handed the phone back.
“Okay, I’m back,” Charlotte replied. “How have you and Daddy been, Mama? I’ve been hearing some stuff, and it doesn’t sound good.” Bella froze. How did she possibly find out what’s been going on back home?
“Oh, we’re doing just fine princess,” she lied, and Charlotte picked up on it immediately.
“Don’t lie, Mama. I hear it in your voice.”
“Is your brother around? Did he hear you ask me that??” She did not want Chris to worry about her.
“Don’t worry, he went outside to play hacky sack. It’s just us, but I’ll go up to my room, so it’s more private,” Charlotte replied as she climbed the steps to her room.
“Sweetie, I don’t want you to worry. It’s just a little problem with my lawyer. Nothing we can’t handle.” Bella lied again, wanting to hide the truth from her until they had a definite answer and solution.
“That’s not what Jen said, Mama.” Charlotte was adamant about getting the truth.
Bella sighed. “It’s too complicated to explain on the phone, love. Just know that I am okay, your dad is okay. That’s the important part.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Okay,” she finally relented. She knew Bella was stubborn, and when she didn’t want to talk, there was no dragging it out of her.
“I promise I’ll tell you when you’re home. Just, not on the phone.” Charlotte understood.
“I hate to cut this short, but I need to make dinner and get homework done. Travis is coming for a study group tonight.”
“Oh, how is Travis? How are you two getting along?”
“We’re just friends, Mama.” Charlotte blushed.
“Okay, honey, I’ll talk to you next week. I love and miss you!”
“Love you, Mama,” she answered. “I miss you more.”
Rog dialed Jen Crawford’s number, for two reasons. One, he wanted to check on her. He worried about her since the revelation at Bella’s lunch date with her a few months back, and two, he wanted to see if he could get her table at The Tower for a special dinner with Bella. It had been a long time since they’d been out together, and they needed some feel-good time. He knew Bella loved it, and he knew how Jen felt about her.
“Jen Crawford Agency, this is Jen!” her perky voice answered.
“Jen, Rog St John.”
“Well, hey! To what do I owe this honor, Doctor?”
“Bella needs some fun time, Jen. I was hoping you could let me borrow your table at The Tower this week at some point. Tonight, tomorrow.. Doesn’t matter.”
“For you guys, any time!” Jen beamed. “I’m not using it tonight, so go ahead! Do you want me to have it set up like the last time?”
“No, no need for the extravagance, I just want to take her for a special dinner. We need this desperately.” Rog was tired of fighting and wanted to forget, if only for a night.
“I’ll do it anyway. My treat!” Jen was excited. Rog never asked for favors, so she was happy to spoil her favorite couple.
“Thanks, Jen. I owe you a few.”
“Nonsense,” she replied. “I love you guys.”
They hung up the phone, and Rog was happy. He opened his texting app and sent a message to Bella.
Bella, my love,
I have a table at The Tower tonight for dinner, courtesy of Jen. Meet me at 6pm.
Waiting to see you, Rog
Bella got the message and immediately started thinking about what to wear. It was a long time since they had been anywhere in public, but she felt safe with Rog, and especially at The Tower. She sent a quick message back.
My sweet Rog,
I’ll be there. I can’t wait.
All my love, Bella
She nursed Art’s old speedster downtown to The Tower and had the valet park it. The young man looked at the antique car and admired it. Rog tried to keep it in tip-top condition, but the engine was showing signs of age. Excitedly, the young man hopped into the car, handing her the claim check. She walked inside, past the hordes of potential patrons to the host station.
“Bella St John, guest of Jen Crawford,” she told the host.
“Ah yes, Dr. St John is already here, awaiting your arrival.” He took her arm and escorted her to the table. Rog stood when she approached and took her hand.
“Thank you,” he told the host and held her chair for her. “Darling, you look simply elegant tonight.” Her dress was sapphire blue, fitted and simple, but classic. Her hair had been pulled up into a ponytail, which fanned out. She looked like a movie star.
“Thank you, Rog. You are just drop dead gorgeous all the time.” She smiled at him, flirting. He smiled back, holding her hands.
He ordered a bottle of sparkling nectar, and a small appetizer to share while they perused the menu. The waiter returned quickly with two crystal champagne flutes and popped the bottle. “No wine for Monsieur et Madame tonight?”
“No, thank you. This will be fabulous.” The waiter poured the nectar and set the bottle back into ice to chill.
Rog picked up a glass and swirled it. Bella picked up the other and raised it for a toast. “To everlasting love, unending, and unconditional.”
“Here here!” Rog agreed, and their glasses clinked together. Taking a sip, his eyes widened. “Oh my, this is some good stuff!”
“Mmmm,” Bella replied. “Oh wow, it is!” He sat across from her, staring into her violet eyes, and she laughed. “Is it the musk again?” she teased.
“I didn’t even notice it tonight,” he said. “I’ll have to pay closer attention.”
They sat talking, excited for the children to be home from school in less than 6 months’ time. But they were also aware Charlotte and Christopher could be walking into a snake pit if they didn’t get things figured out soon. The last thing either of them wanted was to expose their precious children to the current situation.
“Have you heard from Mike recently?” Bella asked.
“They’re still working on a warrant for Nick’s office, but I am guessing it’s more complicated than Mike made it seem.” Rog tasted the nectar again, enjoying the sip.
“If they don’t hurry, there might not be anything left to find.”
The waiter brought their dinner, with an extra side from Jen, and a note:
Try this, you won’t be disappointed!
“I’m going to call Mike in the morning. I guess I need to be more proactive than I’ve been, especially since we’re up against time.” Bella nodded, tasting the calamari Jen had sent.
“Ooh!” she exclaimed. “You have to try this!” She picked up a piece and fed it to Rog.
“I know what it is, but it doesn’t taste like squid,” he said. The morsel was so tender and delectable, it nearly melted in his mouth.
They slowly enjoyed their meal and took their time. Neither wanted the evening to end, or go back to the nightmares that waited for them.
When they were finished, and Rog had paid for dinner, they walked to the valet to retrieve her car. He had walked from the hospital, so they were leaving together in the same car. The young man who parked the car retrieved it and handed the key to Bella, who handed him the slip. Rog gave the boy a generous tip and held the door for his wife.
They drove home and parked the car in the garage. He sat, finally able to smell her musky perfume, and smiled. “Now, I smell it,” he said. She looked at him and blew him a kiss.
“I know you love it,” she said, flirting. He leaned and kissed her. “Let’s go inside, babe,” she suggested.
“I’m right behind you.” They walked hand in hand into the house, up the steps, and to their bedroom.
Rog had meant to call Mike the next morning, but instead, a call from Starlight Shores PD rang his cell phone.
“Dr. St John, this is Detective Sherman from the Shores PD. I want to let you know we are taking over for Mike McKinnon at Shores Private Investigations. This is now a criminal investigation, as we have discovered some information about Alexis Rockwell, or as you know him, Nicholas Fournier. We have a warrant to search his office, and we have ordered security for your family here in Starlight Shores. Please tell your wife to alert the department if she needs to leave your home alone, and she will have a security detail.”
All the information was freaking Rog out. “Are we in imminent danger, Detective?”
“We have no intel that suggests you are. These are just precautionary steps to keep your family safe.”
“What about my children? They are at Sim State, and one of them, my son, is only seventeen years old.”
“Not to worry, Doctor. We will contact the city police and inform them of the situation.”
“Could you do me one favor, Detective? Please, don’t let them know they’re being protected. Our son doesn’t know about any of this, and my daughter… Well, she will worry. I don’t want this to affect their schoolwork. They’re almost finished, and…”
“Don’t worry, Dr. St John. We have it covered. They won’t even know we are there.”
“Thank you. I need to talk to my wife. Maybe we’re close to being done with this nightmare.”
“We will need a statement from her regarding the assault, Dr. St John, the sooner, the better.”
“I understand. I’ll arrange it today.” Rog thanked the detective and hung up. He grabbed his briefcase and car keys. “If you need me today, I have my cell and my beeper. I need to be home right now,” he told his staff and drove home to be with Bella.
Bella was running on her treadmill when Rog came home early from work. She saw him come through the door out of the corner of her eye and stopped her run. She was sweaty and smelled awful, but she ran to greet him anyway. “Hey love,” she greeted, “why are you home so early?”
He gave her a peck on the cheek, making a funny face and laughing. “You stink,” he said. She took his hands and led him to the shower.
“Let’s fix that right now.”
When they were finished showering, they got out, wrapped in towels and sat on their bed. “Okay, now what’s the real reason you’re home early, Rog?” she asked, drying her hair. “I know it wasn’t to get some lovin’…” she joked.
“That was a nice perk, but no, you’re right,” he said. “I got a call from Detective Sherman from Shores PD. You’d remember him. He responded to that letter I got from Estevan.” She nodded. “Well, they are taking over the case from Mike at the PI office. They found out Nick’s real identity, and they are executing a warrant as we speak for his office. They also need a statement from you about the assault, darling.” He was hesitant to tell her about the security, as he didn’t want her to panic. But, he knew he had to, for her own protection. “You and I will also have security detail for awhile. The kids, too.” Her eyes widened in fear. That was exactly the reaction he wanted to avoid.
“The kids? Are they in danger, Rog?” There was a panicked urgency in her voice.
“No, darling, they have no information that suggests any of us is in danger. It’s just precautionary.” He tried to soothe her, but he knew once it involved the children, it was the point of no return as far as worry.
“Rog, what if…” she started to cry.
“Shhh,” he soothed. “Don’t even let yourself go there. They will be fine.”
“He can kill me, but he better not hurt my babies.” She was approaching hysterical. He held her tightly, and let her cry it out.
He helped her get cleaned up and they drove together to the police department, where she gave a sworn deposition about the assault. Rog was there to hold her as she was forced to relive it in excruciating detail. The detective thanked them both and told them they would be in touch as soon as something was discovered.
A few days later, Rog received a call from Detective Sherman. “Rog, I have some big updates on this case. It would be better to hear this in person, so if you wouldn’t mind coming down to the station, and please bring Mrs. St John. She will want to be here for this.”
“Thank you. We will be down shortly.”
Rog and Bella arrived at the precinct and were shown into the captain’s office. Joining them were the two detectives that were working on the case, with a box of files pertinent to Estevan and Alexis. “We’re just waiting on one more person. Can I get you something to drink, Mrs. St John? Doctor?” the captain asked.
“I’m fine,” answered Bella, “but thank you. And please, call me Bella.”
“I’m good, too, thank you,” said Rog.
Five minutes later, the door opened, and Jen Crawford entered. “Miss Crawford, please have a seat. We’re ready to start.”
“I want to make this as understandable as possible, so I’ll try to explain myself, but I also want to be brief,” the captain began. “Thanks to a tip by Miss Crawford, we finally have found Alexis Rockwell, who has been wanted in three cities for crimes ranging from grand theft to murder. According to city records, Fournier and Son LLC was never established as a legitimate business and has no record of any official business operations. He was able to access the office, maintain the phone number, and he was ordered to lay in wait to carry out a hit. For this reason, Rockwell is considered a person of interest in Mr. Hal Fournier’s death.”
The captain turned an overhead projector on, referring to a slide. “We have traced all of this activity back to one man: Estevan Best. Rockwell was a prison friend of Mr. Best, and it is believed that Rockwell was paid money from the Best estate to perform a hit on Bella and terrorize her immediate family. Your sisters and parents were never mentioned in any of the files. Bree and Bianca are safe. However, there is nothing in the case files that mentions anyone but Bella Atwood. It seems you were always the primary target.”
Bella turned white and felt ill. “Rog, I’m going to be sick.” The captain handed Rog a bucket, into which Bella vomited. For the next few moments, there was little talking while Bella dealt with the news. “What about the children?” she asked, “Charlotte and Christopher?”
“They are safe, Bella. The Sim State city police department detectives have been keeping close tabs on them, from a distance, as requested by your husband,” the captain assured her. Rog rubbed her back gently as she rocked in her chair, sick with worry.
“We also have some forensic analysis from Rockwell’s law office. You are a very lucky lady, Bella. Someone was watching over you that day. Careful inspection of the office revealed that the door was equipped with a deadbolt lock that could be triggered by a switch, installed under his desk, similar to a silent alarm. This mechanism failed to engage the day of your assault. Had Rockwell been able to engage that lock, it’s almost certain you would have perished. We also found duct tape, rope, gags and other assorted… items, at the office, along with a cubby hole or an escape hatch in the floor behind the desk. We aren’t sure what his intended purpose was for that.”
“You mean,” Rog asked, “The only reason I was able to save Bella that day was because something malfunctioned?”
“Yes, that is correct,” affirmed the captain.
Rog began to shake, but he wasn’t sure if it was emotion or rage. “This is just too much to handle.” Bella was in his arms, weeping uncontrollably, and Jen sat totally dumbfounded, but it finally made sense to her why she had never heard of Nicholas Fournier.
A knock on the door revealed a detective outside. “Captain,” he said, peeking his head through the closed door, “I have some news. May I speak with you for a moment?”
“Would you excuse me, please?” the captain asked, and stepped outside.
Rog hugged Bella close and tried to comfort her. “Are you okay, my love?” His nightmares were not far off reality, and the actuality of her dire situation that day made him feel nauseated. Keep that bucket nearby, he thought to himself.
“I knew he was after me, but to hear this… it’s overwhelming.” She sniffled and took a deep breath.
Jen dabbed her eyes, sniffling. “Let me know how I can help you guys,” she offered. “You know I love you.” Bella smiled and took Jen’s hand, giving it a squeeze. The door to the room opened quickly.
The captain returned, sounding jubilant. “We have great news! We have confirmed that Strangeville police have Alexis Rockwell in custody. We are extraditing him back here to Starlight Shores to face charges for enough crimes to keep him locked up for life. We also have word from the prison in Strangeville that Estevan Best was taken to the hospital last night with stab wounds inflicted in a fight. He is not expected to survive, as he was badly injured and his condition is critical.”
Bella stopped crying long enough to talk. “Does that mean…”
“We believe your ordeal is finally over, Bella.”
Alexis Rockwell arrived at the Starlight Shores police department two weeks later, and they called Bella and Rog to identify him in a lineup. There was no mistaking his face. Bella knew it intricately and saw it nearly every night in her nightmares. Or, at least she did. Since Estevan Best’s death, her nightmares ceased.
“He is number 3, officer.” Bella pointed directly at the man who assaulted her, the man she knew as a friend, Nick Fournier. Rog pointed out the same man in a different lineup, but he thought of this man as no friend, but a mortal enemy.
Rockwell admitted to everything. He confessed to the murder of Hal Fournier. That he had been paid by Estevan Best to keep an eye on Bella, and when the timing was right, to take her out. He confessed his plan had been to rape and murder her, though he had only been contracted to kill her. At his arraignment, he plead guilty to all charges, and the judge ruled the case to go directly to sentencing.
Rog and Bella sat in court and watched as Rockwell was sentenced to death, and cried tears of relief. They were present when the lethal injection took his life four weeks later. Bella took no joy in either man’s death, but at the same time, she was grateful it was them, and not any member of her family, that met the Reaper. Jen Crawford hugged her longtime friends and treated them both to a celebration at The Tower. Over dinner, the three of them laughed and cried, remembering the past 23 years of torment at the hands of Estevan Best. And at long last, it was over.
Up Next: Chapter Seventeen, Generation Three