It was her first day of work all over again and Lila followed Morris into a glassed-in office. It was empty and she was shocked all over again to realize that it was meant for her, that she wasn’t being shunted off to a gray cubicle the farthest from the window and natural light. Instead, the rays of the rising sun reflected off of the building on the opposite side of the street, turning the glass walls into a reflection of the fiery ball pushing its way up on the horizon, round, bulbous clouds slowly marching across the sky. The office was for her.
“Let Human Resources know if you have any specific needs,” Morris said, “And they should have your laptop delivered and up and running by the end of the day.”
She had nodded wordlessly, overwhelmed at her change in fortune.
The young man from Nerds R Us had knocked on her door a few minutes later. She had passed him on the way in, leaning in to talk to the bright-eyed receptionist.
His black polo shirt sported a bright yellow splat on the front left breast, the words Nerds R Us filling it. Below his name badge read Alex M.
“Hi, Miz Benoit? I’m Alex and I’m here to get you up and running on your new computer.”
The sun shining in her eyes was bright. It bleached out everything else.
The first bright rays of the sun crawled through the windows and across Lila’s covers. She was awake, lying there in the bed, her mind racing. This is how it was for her in the mornings. Often before the sun rose, Lila’s brain would turn on and she would know that sleeping in was simply not in the cards. Instead, she would plot out her day, review whatever duties or errands were necessary for the hours ahead, and jump into problem-solving while others were still blearily reaching for their coffee cups.
Today, despite her lack of sleep, was no exception.
She had to get back to work, she needed to get her laptop from work and check it out. The dream still hung in her mind, like gray smoke curling from a chimney, no substance, but still a reality. Those files on her computer, the ones she had found the other day and asked Morris about. That was what the dream had been telling her. She had to take a look at those files and see if she was on the right track or not.
Dreams are funny things and Lila usually took hers quite seriously. She had good reason to. A week before her dad had died in a car accident she had woken up screaming, the image of a huge tractor/trailer bearing down on her as she straddled a bicycle in the middle of I-70. It had been less than a month after earning her driver’s license and her mother had dismissed it, “It is nothing but nerves, dear.”
Lila had listened to her mother, smoothed over the image of that enormous tractor-trailer and intentionally changed it to a more positive mental image of her driving a convertible in the summer. On a sunny day in March, a long-haul driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, just long enough to cross the median and crush the compact Smart car Anthony Benoit had so proudly purchased the year before. He had died instantly.
Lila closed her eyes and willed the memories out of her mind. Those empty years after, first in their overly large, quiet house, watching her mother fade, losing her color, her laughter, her ambition. And then later in the small apartment that they had moved to when the mortgage payments had proved too much for a widowed, grieving mother. Mom had never recovered. They had been high school sweethearts, separated for a decade after high school before reuniting and marrying in a whirlwind romance. They had been inseparable all of Lila’s life and losing Dad had hollowed them out, removed the heart and soul of their family.
She pushed the sadness away. She needed to focus on getting to work, the laptop, and taking another look at those files. Those files could explain everything. She stretched, pushed the covers aside and caught a whiff of…bacon? Apparently, she wasn’t the only early riser.
A quick review of the closets and built-in dresser revealed basic sweats and t-shirts, all sizes and colors. Lila found a pair of black yoga pants and a zip-front gray sweatshirt, both of which had plenty of room on her lean frame, and slipped them on. They would do for now, until she could get back to her apartment and change.
By now, the delectable smell of bacon and fresh coffee had drifted fully into her room and her stomach had responded, growling. Lila walked out onto the landing, then down the carpeted stairs barefoot, finding her way to the kitchen with ease, guided by her nose and grumbling stomach.
Shane was dressed in black jeans and a white t-shirt, his back to her as she entered the kitchen. Beside him was a plate filled with bacon and he was apparently cooking as full dozen eggs.
“Where is the army?” She asked, reaching for the bacon.
He smacked her hand. “Not yet,” he said, “wait for the eggs. Have some coffee.” He didn’t even make eye contact and she was amused and annoyed at the same time.
“Good morning to you too!” She said and poured the rich black coffee from the glass French press into a waiting coffee mug. A man who cooked, what a novel concept. Her dad had been completely hopeless, and Todd, the few times she had stayed over, was even worse. He had kept microwaveable bacon in his cupboards, rows of it. She shook her head, remembering it, absolutely disgusting.
“Cream? Sugar?” Shane asked, jolting her out of her memories of Todd, bad sex and even worse eating experiences. He pointed to the small sugar dish, “There’s creamer in the fridge.”
Lila sat at the long dining room table, the mug steaming, warming her hands. The sun’s rays lit up the eastern set of sliding glass doors and she would have been blinded in the bright light if it hadn’t have been for the thick curtains. Shane’s work at the stove yielded two large plates, one of bacon and one of the scrambled eggs, both heaped high. He handed her a plate and a fork and helped himself after she had finished.
“So where’s everyone else?” Lila asked, gesturing towards the food left on the plate.
Shane quirked an eyebrow, “I have a high metabolism.”
He wasn’t kidding. He ate every scrap on his plate, before returning for more, stopping only once to offer one last chance at the food before he finished it off. Lila watched, fascinated until the last bite was consumed. She had never seen anyone eat so much food in one sitting.
“I need to get to work,” Lila said, breaking the silence that had gathered between them.
Shane shook his head, “No. Call in sick.”
“What? I can’t call in sick, I don’t want to call in sick!”
Shane leaned back in his chair, tossed down the last of the coffee in his mug and regarded her steadily, “Last night someone tried to kill you.”
Lila snapped, “Yes, I do remember that I was there.”
Shane raised an eyebrow, “I can’t protect you in a public place. You need to stay here until we can get to the bottom of things.”
“I can’t just stay home from work. I can’t, I’m new. I need this job.” Not just that, but she needed to look at those files and they were on her work laptop.
“No can do. Besides, no one in your office will be at work today. I checked in and they still have it roped off while they process the scene. The only place you are going is to the police station to make a statement, and that’s when they contact you.”
Lila thought of the men dead on the floor. The priceless art, the possible finger of blame that might be directed at her. She had been there. They would dust the cups in the sink and find her fingerprints, and, and…
And what? Know you worked there? Big deal. They had bodies to deal with.
The eggs and bacon suddenly turned in her stomach. She gulped hard, trying not to think of the blood staining the carpet amid shards of the priceless vase.
Can I even go back there after that?
Still, his attitude rankled at her. He wasn’t asking her, he was telling her what she would do. And that didn’t sit well with her, not at all.
She tried a different tack, “Look, I need to be at work, or at the very least working, and that requires my laptop.”
“And your laptop is at the office.”
“Let me make a couple of calls and I’ll see if I can’t get it for you.”
“And what am I supposed to do until then?” She sounded bitchy, she knew she did.
If I just let him railroad over me, though, he’ll just dismiss me as nothing but a silly, helpless girl. Fuck that!
He stood up, gathered her empty plate and turned to the sink, “I’m sure you will think of something. Stay inside, though. I need to talk to my boss and get some updates and by noon we should have a plan of action.”
Lila swallowed back a biting remark. Her life had been turned upside down in the past few days. The hearty breakfast she had eaten sat heavy in her stomach. A week ago, her life had been perfect. Well, nearly perfect. And now it felt like a train going off the tracks. She sighed and stood up.
“I’ll wash, you dry.” She shooed him away from the sink and plunged her hands into the soapy water. It was, after all, an excuse to be near him.
Miles away, Dominic Riehl dialed the number and let it ring. There was a short pause after the second ring and then, “Morris speaking.”
“I was told you needed an update on the situation.”
“An update? Christ on a crutch, I need more than an update. I need to figure out what to say to the detective in charge of the case. He hauled me in last night and it looked like a goddamn war had erupted. It’s on the goddamn news right now!”
Riehl rolled his eyes up, staring at the crack on the wall near the ceiling that traveled the width of his rented room. He had spent three days cradling his balls staring at that crack, sure that the two assholes they had pulled in after his failure in the parking garage would get the bonus. They worked as a team and had about half as much brains as him when you added them together. Low rent simpletons – still, Lila Benoit should have been no match for them.
Morris was still nattering on, his voice raised an octave as Dominic said nothing in return and let the man sit and spin himself up into a lather.
“They are asking for a personnel list. They’re gonna go down the entire list and talk to her and find out about her being attacked the other night and put two and two together and…”
“Don’t include her name on the list.” Riehl interrupted.
“Leave it off the list and let the police work their way through the office personnel. I’ll see that she’s taken care of before the police come back to you asking why you forgot her. And if they do, well, tell ‘em she was new and you forgot to add her to the list.”
There was silence on the other end. Riehl closed his eyes. If he concentrated he was sure he would hear the wheels of this simpleton’s brain turning.
“Do you know where she is?”
“No, but you do.”
Morris sputtered, “No I don’t!”
“She has a company phone, right?”
“Uh, well, yes, she should.”
“It should have a tracking app in it. Find it and send it to me via the secure email I provided you. I’ll take it from there and contact you when the job is done.”
“Christ. Are you sure this isn’t going to blow up in my face? What if she calls the police?”
“What if she does? It will give me her exact location and I’ll move on it then.”
“This better work. I don’t want this blowing back on me. I’ve worked too hard to get caught up in this bullshit.”
Riehl held his tongue. Obviously, Morris Endon had worked hard, he had worked very hard at lining his pockets. But he hadn’t covered his tracks well enough, hence the issue at hand.
“I’ll wait for the email.” His hand pressed the end call button.