The Simsville Inheritance
Copyright ©2006 Elizabeth G. Cox. All rights reserved.

Chapter 6 - Charlotte, Who's Charlotte?

Soaking in the tub, I meditated on packing up my clothes and leaving in the middle of the night. Let the lawyers argue with Jones over who does what, I'm going back to my real life. I let a constant trickle of hot water run into the tub keeping the bath water at a nice steamy temperature. Once my skin was the right consistency of pruny, I dried off and went to bed, decision made. First light tomorrow I'd pack my car and be gone before anyone else was up. Dreams of nursing homes full of elderly spies and crotchety policemen disturbed my sleep a little; when the alarm went off at 5:00 I still felt tired, but still determined to leave.

Suitcase packed, I moved quietly down the back stairs. No-one was stirring in the kitchen. I propped my note to Smith and Jones against the coffee maker and quickly left the house. Turning the car toward the highway out of town I felt a little guilty about not telling them in person. Not enough to turn around, though.

My cell phone rang about twenty miles out of town. I ignored the rings and switched the cell off. At thirty-five miles, I stopped for breakfast at a truck stop near Sumter. Over soft scrambled eggs and buttery toast, I wondered how long it would take to sell Simsville lock, stock and barrel. Maybe the retirees could pool their money, after all it was there idea to turn the town into a retirement village. I'd be reasonable, not ask too much money, make them a real deal. Smiling to myself at my generosity, I left a nice tip for the waitress.

I glanced at my cell phone before cranking up again. Four messages. Well, I wouldn't try to explain myself over the phone but it wouldn't hurt to listen to a message or two.

Charlotte? Who the heck is Charlotte? Kidnapped? Oh come on, that's so hokey.

Charlotte Dunston has been kidnapped, the police need to talk to you, we'll settle the other stuff later, please come back as soon as you can. That's all message number one said. Jones' voice didn't sound terribly upset, wouldn't a kidnapping upset somebody? It's probably his way of getting me back to talk me out of leaving. I punched up message number two.

This isn't a joke, Avery, Charlotte's only 16, she owns one of our boarding horses. It looks like she was taken from here. You've got to come back, now please. This time his voice seemed a bit more agitated. Maybe he wasn't making this up... message number three was more of the same, only this time it was Smith.

Avery, Jones is afraid you're kidnapped too, he's getting the state police out to look for you, if you get this message, please call me.

The last message was Jones again. Short and sweet. Since I haven't heard from you I'm assuming something's wrong so I've got the highway patrol on alert for your car. If you get this before they stop you, call me.

Oh great. This sounds real. I cranked up the car and turned back toward Simsville. I hadn't gone five miles before I saw the blue light behind me and pulled over.

"Ma'am, may I see your driver's license please?"

It took a couple of minutes to assure the young officer that I was okay, I'd just read my messages and was on the way back to Simsville. I got back to town sooner than I would have alone with his car leading me right to the driveway. Smith met me at the car door with a relieved expression and a hug.

"Thank God you're okay, Avery. Everybody's in the den. Go on in." She retrieved my suitcase from the back of the car and followed me into the house.

Inside Jones introduced me to Charlie and Lisa Dunston. Mrs. Dunston was pacing back and forth, a lit cigarette dangling from her hand. Jones and Charlie stood beside the fireplace talking.

"These are Charlotte's parents, Avery. Charlotte was here yesterday morning as usual but she didn't show back up at home for lunch. Her dad called me first thing this morning. He got a ransom call yesterday afternoon telling him to collect $100,000 in small bills today and expect another call about where to drop it. He's got the money but he decided to call me this morning, against his wife's wishes I might add."

"You got that right," Lisa Dunston added, stubbing out her cigarette on the edge of the empty fireplace.

Jones continued. "When I found your note, I couldn't help but wonder if you were kidnapped too. I figured he'd ask a lot more money if he had the both of you, but I couldn't be sure."

"If you'd had a tight rein on that girl, this wouldn't have happened," Lisa snapped. "She had no business being out god knows where all the time by herself, no business." She fumbled for another cigarette in her purse, lit it and took a deep drag.

"We have no idea who her friends are, you let her do anything, go anywhere, you let her buy that horse, she shouldn't have been running around on her own, she's only sixteen. And now you're doing what he said not to do and we might never see her again." Lisa was throwing out anything that came to mind, angry tears starting down her face.

"Lisa, taking care of her horse at the stables here is not god knows where, get a grip why don't you." Charlie Dunston ran his hand through his short gray hair. His self-control was better than his wife's but it was being tested.

Jones finished his explanation to me. "We're getting the council together down at the saloon. Charlie's not calling in the feds at this point. We figure we've got the resources to figure this out ourselves. We're not certain exactly what this goon is up to money may not be all he wants in the long run. It's never a sure thing to pay off kidnappers, anyway. I'm sure you know that."

Lisa fell into a chair and put her face in her hands, the cigarette falling out of her hand to the floor. I scooped it up, stubbed it out and sat on the edge of her chair. I wasn't sure how to comfort the distraught woman.

"What about the highway patrol? You called them out to run me down, what'd you tell them?" I was just a little curious.

"Oh, I told them we thought you'd been carjacked, explained it was all a big misunderstanding when they found you weren't. They're okay with it." So that was that, I was back in Simsville, for the time being anyway. And in the middle of a mess.

"Who all is on the council, and when's the meeting?" Since I was back, I might as well help out. I could always leave again later.

"Smith and me, Green, Johnson and Silver, we're the council. We're heading over there now. You stay here and answer the phone if it rings. We might be a while." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Glad you're okay."

Smith had quietly entered the room and before I could protest being excluded, they were on the way down the hall and out of the back door. I stood and watched as they drove away. What now?

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 |