Ben’s nose woke before the rest of him, taking in the soft scent of Rachel’s hair. They had eaten their pizza and cuddled back up in the guestroom bed together. They made love again and fell asleep cuddled up to each other. Ben had only meant to nap, but snuggled up to Rachel, he slept more soundly that he had intended. He took in another deep breath before forcing himself to open his eyes. He knew that when he woke, he would have to leave, he didn’t want to let go of Rachel whose head rested on his shoulder. He opened his eyes, surprised that see that the sun was up, he had accidentally stayed the entire night. Looking down at Rachel sleeping so peacefully, he didn’t want to wake her but he had to leave. The last thing either of them wanted was for one of Rachel’s sons to walk in.
He kissed the top of her head and then shook her gently.
“Rachel, honey, please wake up, I have to leave.”
She roused slowly, and Ben found it endearing. There was a look panic when she realized it was morning.
“Don’t worry, I think we are up before them, the house is quiet.”
“You have to go. I don’t want them to see us in bed together.”
Rachel shot up out of bed wrapping the blanket around her, covering her body, before she got up and walked out of the room. Ben hated having to end what had been one of the best nights of his life. He got up, fetching his clothing that had been strewn on the floor. Ben had hung his gun holster over the back of the one of chairs next to the cello. He walked over to grab the rest of his clothing and noticed the gun was missing from the holster. With his shirt still unbuttoned he raced out of the bedroom knowing, that one of Rachel’s boys must have had it. Ben ran through the house past Rachel, who was now in a bathrobe, on her way back to the guest room.
“Ben, what’s wrong?”
Ben raced up the stairs and Rachel followed knowing something had to be wrong.
He walked into Luke’s room as he saw the boy duck and hide on the other side of the twin bed. Rachel walked in behind him.
“Ben, what is going on?”
“Luke, did you play my gun this morning?”
The boy’s blond curls ducked lower so only the very tips of the curls could be seen. Rachel let out an audible gasp.
“Lukas Alexander Lawson, you answer Mr Carter right this minute!”
The little boy stood up, his shoulders slumped as tears streamed down his face. He nodded in acknowledgement that he had taken the weapon. The older two boys hearing the commotion had walked in to see what was going on.
“Luke where did you put it, just point, I don’t want you to touch it.”
The little boy pointed sheepishly to the dresser.
“It is in the dresser?”
“What? Luke took Mr Carter’s gun, no way!” Evan, Rachel’s middle son blurted out.
Rachel turned and looked at Evan who instantly went quiet.
“Lukas tell Mr Carter where it is right now.”
“I put it in the last one, on the bottom.” The boy said, now crying.
Ben pulled the drawer open. On top of a green, dinosaur t-shirt his gun sat. He picked it up, making sure the safety was still on. He let out a deep breath.
“Whoah,” Tommy said, “How did Luke get Mr. Carter’s gun? Did you go to his house?”
“Boys, downstairs now,” Rachel said sternly.
The two older boys did as they were told, knowing their mother meant what was said. Rachel walked over to Luke and picked up the little boy who was now red in the face from being so upset. Ben walked over too.
“We need to talk about this. Luke, what you did was incredibly dangerous.” Ben stopped he didn’t want to overstep, Luke was Rachel’s son.
“Lukas Alexander, you know not to touch things that do not belong to you. Even more, you know guns are completely off limits!” There was anger in Rachel’s voice.
“Daddy lets me.”
“Daddy lets you what?” Rachel asked.
“He lets me hold his gun. I just wanted to see Mr Cater’s gun. I’m sorry mommy.” The little boy began to cry again as he hid his face in his mother’s shoulder.
Ben reached out and touched the top of his head. Luke turned and looked at Ben.
“Lukas, I want you to promise me you will never ever touch any gun without an adult’s permission and their supervision. You could have gotten so hurt, or hurt your brothers or your mom.”
“I’m sorry Mr Cater. I promise I won’t do it again. Mommy, do I still get to go to the beach today?”
“We’ll talk about it after Mr Crater leaves. I want you to sit here,” she placed her son on his bed, ”I will be back up here in a minute to talk to you.”
The little boy began to cry harder, large tears rolled down his chubby cheeks, as Rachel turned to walk out of the room and Ben followed. Rachel shut the bedroom door and took a deep breath.
“Rachel I am so sorry. This is entirely my fault. I should have been more careful.”
Rachel reached out for Ben and he stepped towards her, taking her in his arms.
“I cannot believe he did that. I know he is fascinated with guns, and I could kill Rhett for letting him anywhere near a firearm. There is no way I can’t tell him about this. He is going to know you stayed here. Ben, he can’t know you stayed the night.”
“Honey, accidents happen. I think the bigger concern is that Luke picked up my gun, and took it, not that I stayed over.”
Rachel pulled away.
“You don’t know my ex.”
“Would it help if I talked to him, and explained that this was my fault?”
“No! I am going to have to figure this out and you probably have to get to work.”
“Rachel, I am the one at fault here. It isn’t right that you would get blamed. I will talk to him.”
“No, Ben! Please don’t do that.” There was desperation in her voice.
Ben knew there was more to this than he was being told. He wondered if Rachel was truly done with her ex. Why else would that be her biggest concern of the morning, not that her son was playing with a gun but what her ex-husband would think?
“No Ben, I need you to go now.”
“Okay, but are you alright, I mean will you be alright?”
“Yes, have a good day.” Her tone was distant like he had already left.
“Hey, come here.” Ben reached out and pulled Rachel back into his embrace. “It will be okay. I won’t let anything happen to you or your boys. Last night was the best night of my life, and although neither of us planned to wake up next to each other, it was by far my most favorite way to wake up.”
Rachel looked up at him. Ben leant down and kissed her, as the world fell away for both of them. His kiss brought her back, as he felt the fear slide away in her body.
“Can I call you later?” Ben asked with Rachel still in his arms.
“Yes. I am sorry this happened.”
“Just the gun part, right?”
“Yes. I am glad last night happened.”
Ben was relieved to hear that. He kissed her again and then turned to go downstairs.
Ben walked into the station an hour later showered and cleanly shaven. He had expected to see Marty already in, but then he remembered Marty had spent the night at the hospital with the victim. He sat at his desk looking over the work from the day before to review, wondering if he was missing something in plain sight. He reached in his desk drawer for his stapler, when he saw the file from Marty, that contained the information about Rachel’s ex. He could hear Marty’s voice telling him it was Rachel’s choice to tell him the story of her ex, if that is where her trauma came from.
Ben held the yellow envelope in his hand and stared at it. He thought back to this morning’s events, her fear at her ex knowing that he had stayed. Temptation got the better of him and he opened the report. Rhett Lawson, Rachel’s ex, had a long list of domestic assault and battery charges, but none that ever resulted in jail time. The police reports made Ben seethe with anger. Rachel was named as the victim along with pictures of the injuries she incurred. Ben looked closer, reading the details of the reports and saw Tommy’s name on the last one alongside Rachel’s. Yet for all of the reports she had never pressed charges, the state had on her behalf, twice.
Ben looked further back, and read a report about an alleged rape back in college of a co-ed. It never went to trial. Ben wondered why. He logged into his computer and began to do some digging on Rhett Lawson. It appeared that Rhett’s family’s money bought their son a lot of “justice .” Ben told himself, that if Rhett even breathed in Rachel or Tommy’s direction meaning harm, he would take care of the situation, for good. Reading the file, it now made sense why Rachel was so afraid.
“Ah, couldn’t help yourself, huh?” Marty said as he walked in, sporting a five o’clock shadow.
“There was an incident this morning.”
“I’ll tell you about it later.” Ben did not want it overheard. “Any news from the hospital?”
“She woke up?” Ben cut Marty off.
“Not quite, the doctor thinks she is coming around though, most likely by tonight. They don’t know what kind of shape she will be in though. The family knows to call us as soon as she is awake, good people. It’s too bad what happened to their daughter.”
“It is. So, do you want to start with looking for Duke again or…?”
“I know that look, it is the do you want to gamble your badge look. The last time I fell for it, we both got our asses in a sling. So, no. Let’s do this one by the book Ben.”
Marty sat down at his desk and began to go over the list of the poker players that had been at Jim Danwood’s poker game. He could feel Ben still looking at him.
“Alright what was the “or” option?”
“Want to go to a poker game?”
Marty looked up.
“You are kidding, right?”
“I am pretty sure they are meeting tonight for their game at the garage.”
“How do you know this?”
“Well, these guys aren’t exactly discrete about it.”
“Ben, no way.”
“Our killer is connected to this game, I know it in my gut. Besides, let’s see if our friend Stephen Duke shows up.”
Ben and Marty pulled up just as the evening sun had ducked behind the buildings, allowing the grey Jeep that belonged to Marty’s wife to blend into one of the long shadows in the industrial park. They were only there to observe who came and went, nothing more. They watched as players arrived, some in their own cars and some driven. It was clear that these players were well connected and wealthy. They crossed names off of the list as they spotted players they knew based of pictures. In between arrivals, they grabbed license plate numbers. The last car, a black Mercedes E-Class pulled up and parked. Ben instantly recognized the driver, Rhett Lawson, Rachel’s ex-husband. His name had not been on the list. The detectives knew probably didn’t have everyone who played. Ben swore under his breath.
“What?” Marty asked.
“That is Rachels piece of shit, ex.”
“They guy in the Merc?”
“Yeah. Did you read the report you pulled?”
“Yeah, a lot of money behind that asshole. His parents own the big construction firm up on the Northside, the one that is doing all of that building in the loop. Imagine that, from construction to investment banking in one generation. More money than sense, all of these guys.”
“You know we have seen some pretty sick shit over the years, but that guy, man. How do you hit your wife, or worse your own kid? I’d love to go over and put my hands on him, give him a taste of his own medicine.”
“Don’t worry those guys always get what is coming to them in the end.”
Ben looked squarely at Marty, knowing that wasn’t always true.
They stayed in the Jeep through the game, once again watching who came and went. There was no sign of Stephen Duke. Marty started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, he made a left out of the industrial park when he saw flashing lights behind him. Ben and Marty looked at each other and then back towards the car that was pulling them over.
“What the hell?” Marty said as he pulled over.
Two men got out of the car behind them as Ben and Marty both pulled their badges out. Marty rolled down his window, as the men approached.
“So, did you two enjoy the game?” FBI agent Yee asked.
“Shit,” Marty said under his breath.
“We were just watching, nothing more. We are looking for a suspect. We wanted to see if he would show tonight.” Ben said.
“Watching and blowing our cover.” The other agent at Ben’s side said through the open window.
“We won’t come back. We are trying to catch a serial rapist and killer here, we are on the same team.”
Yee leant on the car. “Look, I appreciate what you guys are trying to do, you cannot jeopardize my entire operation though. I have been working on this for two years. I know most of these guys are a crooked as they come.”
“We won’t interfere again,” Marty said.
“Any of these guys seem like they might be the sort that we are looking for?” Ben asked.
Yee’s partner looked at him.
“Yeah, if I were you I would look at Mark Fields, Tony Carlson, and possibly Rhett Lawson.”
Alarm bells went off in Ben’s head.
“Thanks,” Marty said.
“Why these guys?” Ben asked.
“Have you seen their records, not a giant leap. That is where I would look if I thought one of these guys was good for it.”
“Thank you. Two of those guys you just mentioned weren’t on our list, it isn’t exactly like they keep a roster, or do they?” Marty said.
“I’ve given you what I know, so please don’t come back. I don’t want to make this into an official incident.” Yee said.
“Hey, one last question. Have you ran across Stephen Duke?” Ben asked.
“I was going to ask you the same thing. I doubt he was smart enough to run off. I bet he turns up, they always do, the question is breathing or not.”
“Steer clear from here guys.”
Ben and Marty agreed, said goodbye and pulled away.