(See the first chapter for disclaimer, notes, spoiler, etc.)
Chapter Sixteen: "Fools & Angels"
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread. - Alexander Pope
Ricardo led Olivia into the living room as a deathly hush fell over the gathering. Her eyes danced nervously, her hands trembling as she heard the detective say, "Keep them on the phone as long as possible. Tell them you want to speak with Louise. You need proof of life." He watched Paula leave and close the front door quietly as he slipped a pair of headphones over his ears. The deputy to his right pressed a button and the recording machine clicked on.
The shrill ringing pierced the silence, invading every molecule of Olivia's body. From across the room, she made eye contact with Gregory, who gave her a small, but encouraging, smile. Next to him, Bette hung onto Thomas, her arm wrapped around his waist. Slowly, she lifted the handset and held it to her ear, whispering, "Hello?"
"It certainly took you long enough to answer the phone, Olivia." Ricardo watched as Olivia's eyes flickered and a shaky hand covered her mouth. The accented voice oozed out of the phone line like honey and his brow furrowed as he listened to the caller say, "Was the intrepid detective telling you to prolong our call?"
"Yes," she admitted in the barest of sighs, her knuckles white as she gripped the phone. The voice on the other end of the phone chuckled and she turned away from the small crowd surrounding her. "Is- is my daughter alright?"
"Ah, the delightful Louise. Yes, she's quite well."
Thomas felt his aunt squeeze his hand as they watched Olivia lean against the arm of the sofa. Behind him, Caitlin and Sean hovered quietly, taking in the horrified scene. "I need to hear her voice," they heard Olivia murmur, her long hair shielding her face from view.
"No, no, I don't think so, Olivia. You see, you have something I want."
She sighed, nodding in response. "The Deschanel jewels."
Ricardo's eyes flew up, listening as the voice on the phone continued to laugh. "And here," he heard the man say, "I thought I would need to drag it out of you. But, there's no need for games...is there, Olivia? Not anymore."
"I give you the jewels. You give me Louise."
"A mere business transaction."
She raised her head slowly, trudging through the dizzy sensation that was quickly overwhelming her. "Please let me talk to my daughter."
The line dropped into sudden silence and Ricardo pressed the headphones closer, wondering if the kidnapper had hung up when he heard him ask, "Tell me, Olivia…have you told the police about the date?" Her spine stiffened and she listened to him breathing, the handset dangerously close to his mouth. "Have you told them about the jewels?" Her face melted and her breath ran shallow. Another chuckle danced over the line and he said, "I didn't think so."
"Please," she said again, even as the dial tone droned aimlessly in her ear.
"Damn," Ricardo sighed under his breath, ripping off the headphones. "Spence, that wasn't long enough, was it?"
"Not for an exact location, no," the deputy said, rewinding the tape. "I'll get on with the tech guys and see if we can get something to go on."
The phone slipped from Olivia's hand and it clattered to the floor, the plastic cracking against the tile. Her lips parted, a moan rising low in her throat as she raised her hands to her face. Through the gap in her fingers, she saw Gregory standing behind her son and she lowered her hands slowly. "I told you," she sighed, her voice as broken as her spirit. "I told you they were cursed."
Cole hung up the phone and turned around, watching as Annie anxiously pressed a cool compress to her younger sister's forehead. The teenage girl moaned softly, her eyes dazed as she looked pitifully up at her. Annie flinched and glanced away as Cole stood next to them. "What did she say?" she asked.
"Olivia knows we want the jewels. She'll give them up in a heartbeat to get her precious little Louise back," he muttered, kneeling next to the sofa. Gently, he reached out, his fingers curling as he stroked the young girl's cheek. "You are beloved," he said softly as she turned her face away, whimpering softly.
Annie's stomach muscles tightened as Cole stood and she watched him move away from the sofa. "When are we getting the jewels?"
"Soon. From the sound of her voice, very soon." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a crumpled carton of Gauloises. "We'll just toy with her a bit more," he said, the cigarette dangling from his mouth. With an affable grin and the silver lighter clicking, he stepped out onto the porch.
She watched him through the window, leaning against the wooden beam as silver smoke streamed out of his mouth. Behind her, Louise grunted and leaned up onto her side as she vomited on the floor. Annie spun around, disgust and horror filling her expression as her sister collapsed, racking sobs taking over. "Oh God," she moaned, her nose wrinkling. "Gross."
Louise forced herself to look up, ugly black spots clouding her blurry vision. "I want my mother," she cried, tears and snot dripping down her face. "P- please, Annie…I want Mommy."
A frightened sob rose in Annie's throat, her hands twisting anxiously. "L- look, Louise, you…you just need to lay down," she stuttered, nervously spreading the remnants of yesterday's newspaper over the vomit. She flinched when her sister reached out, her ice-cold fingers grazing her arm. Her younger sister's blue eyes were vacant, her complexion pasty. She stood quickly, nearly tripping over the shallow coffee table. "Just…lay down and be quiet. This will be over soon."
As she rushed into the kitchen, she heard Louise's quiet sobs fill the silence of the living room. "Damn," she muttered, blinking back tears. "Damn, damn, DAMN!" She sucked in her breath, leaning against the cool door of the refrigerator. Wiping her eyes, she looked up blindly, desperately ready for this charade to be over. Through the small window over the sink that looked out onto porch, she saw Cole with a cell phone pressed to his ear. "Finally," she muttered, relieved to see that he called Olivia back to arrange a time to trade Louise for the jewels.
She wandered over to the window, cranking it open slightly to listen. Hopefully, he would demand the jewels immediately so-
"I'll have the jewels tomorrow."
She grimaced at the thought of another night in the God-forsaken cabin. Leaning over the counter, she rested her chin in her hand and wondered if she could get him to change his mind when she heard him say, "No, I'll detour through Canada. It'll be easier to slip back into France if I leave from Montreal. I can blend in with the tourists and I'll meet you in Paris on the 15th."
Annie stood quickly, her eyes darkening. Canada then Paris? "No," she whispered, spinning away from the window. "No…no. This is all…wrong."
She wandered back into the living room, her entire body trembling as a hideous thought entered her mind. "He's going to leave," she whispered, her hands balled into tight fists. The truth danced before her, blazing with the blinding clarity of a supernova. "He's going to take the jewels and leave me." She froze, an awful truth whispering from the core of her soul. She knew too much. She and Louise could identify Cole. "He's going to kill me…kill us."
The door opened behind her and she froze when she heard Cole ask, "Why is the kitchen window open?" He brushed past her and she heard the crank whine as he rolled the window shut. "Well?" he asked when he came back. He grabbed Annie's arm and wrenched her around. "I told you to keep everything closed and locked. Why was it open?"
She pushed him away, rubbing her arm where he squeezed her. "In case you didn't notice the smell, here's a news flash: Louise threw up." His dark eyes flickered to the sofa where the teenage girl lay as she said, "It reeks in here."
He took his eyes off Louise long enough to watch Annie flounce off to the corner where she curled up in the overstuffed armchair, her arms folded tight over her chest. "Yes," he said quietly, watching as her eyes flickered to him. "Yes, it does."
Bette looked up as Gregory strode back into the living room, a grim expression on his face. She watched as he sat on the coffee table before them and touched Olivia's knee. Her eyes flew up to him, a gasp humming in her throat. "The jewels will be here within the hour," he said softly.
"That long?" Bette asked, her voice dulled and hoarse.
"How come?" Thomas asked, sitting up in the armchair. Caitlin and Sean exchanged a concerned look, waiting for their father to explain.
"Unfortunately, we can't just go in there and ask for them. Because of the insurance on them, the branch manager is required to notify the insurance company if they are removed from the bank. They're supposed to be accompanied by armed guards at all times-"
"And there's no way the insurance company will let me just give them away." They looked over as Olivia sighed, a sad smile briefly gracing her lips. "Not even to save my daughter's life."
Bette watched quietly as he reached for her sister-in-law's hand and nodded. "That's right. Luckily," he said quietly, his thumb rubbing her knuckle, "the bank manager has run up a substantial gambling debt. For the right price, he's agreed to turn a blind eye when my investigator goes to pick up the jewels."
An indescribable look passed between them and Olivia leaned forward, cupping his face briefly. "Thank you," she murmured, not caring that Bette and the children were watching. He smiled and kissed her palm, catching her hand as it fell from his cheek.
Ricardo came in from the patio, speaking quietly into the phone. They looked up, watching as he listened intently and ended the call. "There's been a development," he said as Olivia stood slowly, facing him with trepidation. The others stood too, Bette linking arms with her as Gregory placed his hands on her shoulders. "We've managed to keep Louise's kidnapping out of the news, but we still needed tips. So last night, I put out a BOLO with Louise's description to all of the surrounding law enforcement agencies. We've gotten some responses, but nothing solid to go on."
Olivia nodded, curling into the warmth of Gregory's hands. "But?" she asked, leading him on.
And, for the first time in nearly twenty-four hours, the detective smiled. "The telephone company wasn't able to complete the trace before the kidnapper hung up, but they were able to determine he called from the area surrounding Lake Tahoe. Knowing that suddenly made one of the tips we got from a state trooper very interesting. This trooper reported seeing a girl who looked like Louise asleep in the back of a white BMW outside Tahoe City."
"Asleep?" Thomas asked, his mother reaching for his hand as the breath caught in her throat. "Not de-"
"Appeared to be asleep," he clarified as he sighed, anticipating their reaction to the next part of the trooper's statement. "The white BMW was being driven by a young woman. A young…red head."
Olivia stiffened, her audible gasp filling the sudden silence. "Annie," she murmured, her knees giving way as she sank back to the sofa. She reached for Gregory's hand, clinging to it as she shook her head, trying to make sense of it all.
"No! No-no-no-no!" Bette gasped, whirling around. "Annie's not the only girl with red hair in California." Olivia's eyes turned up slowly, the blue irises deadly as she continued, "Livy, believe me, she wouldn't do this! Louise is her sister."
"She drives a white BMW," Thomas murmured, rubbing his bleary eyes. He turned away, running an anxious hand through his dark hair.
"Bette, where is Annie?" Ricardo asked finally.
The older woman froze and turned slowly. "Ricardo, you can't think…you've known Annie since you were children! She was Maria's best friend!"
His eyes darkened and he shook his head. "Bette, don't make this more difficult than it needs to be. Please. I need to know where she is."
Gregory watched her falter, helplessly shrugging her shoulders. "She's not a child. She doesn't check in with me every day."
"Bette, she lives in the same bloody house as you," Olivia snapped, looking up. "Tell him where she is!"
"I don't know!" she exclaimed, looking between Olivia and Ricardo. "Truly! She's got a new boyfriend, some French guy, and she's been spending all her time with him lately."
Gregory looked down at Olivia, feeling the way she stiffened. "A French man?" he heard her ask, her question dangerously low.
Bette nodded, confused. "Yes."
Olivia stood slowly, rubbing her arms as her mind worked furiously. None of it had been a coincidence. It was all planned, she realized with a shiver as she remembered the way the French curator's eyes burned into her, telling her the awful origins of the Deschanel jewels. The way he scared her the last time she saw him at Grenadine's. "Is his name," she asked quietly as she turned around, "Cole? Cole St. John?"
"Yes," Bette whispered, a horrified hand coming to her mouth. Her fingers trembled as she heard Ricardo open his phone, dialing a number. "Livy…"
"Spence," they heard Ricardo say into the phone, "run a check on a Cole St. John. He came from France, so C&B should have paper on him."
"He wanted the jewels," Olivia thought aloud, feeling his phantom lips on her hand. "He wouldn't take no for an answer. He was going to take them, no matter what."
Annie gulped hard, holding Louise's shoulders as she vomited into a plastic bucket. It was the third time in an hour she had been sick. "I think she has a concussion," she said over the girl's retching.
Cole looked up, uninterested. "If she passes out again, don't try to wake her. She can't throw up if she's unconscious."
Louise leaned back, gasping. Her head rested against her sister's arm, her voice weak as she said, "My head…hurts."
Slowly, Annie sat down behind her sister and let her sister lean back. Louise slumped against her with a sniffle and she slowly wrapped her arms around the girl. "Like a headache?" she asked, whispering in her ear.
"Worse," she sighed, curling against her. She reached up, covering Annie's hand with her own. The woman flinched as the teenager looked up, her eyes unnaturally dilated. "And, I can't see right."
An uncomfortable chill went through her, watching as the never-ending tears rolled down Louise's face. Without realizing she was doing it, she hugged her younger sister and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Be very still," she said after a long moment, standing slowly. Gently, she lay her sister back on the sofa, listening as she began to sob again.
"Merde!" Cole said, standing. "Enough with the crying!" He grabbed his cigarettes and stormed out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
She moved to the window, watching as he stalked across the lawn to lean against a tree. "Louise," she said, her eyes locked on him as he stood with his back to the cabin, furiously puffing on his cigarette, "can you walk?"
The teenage girl moaned, blinking rapidly as her sister turned to look at her. "I- I don't know," she admitted in a small voice.
Annie crouched next to the sofa, squeezing her hand. "You need to try," she said, helping her sit up. "I really need you to try. I'm taking you home to Olivia." She wrapped her arm around the girls as she helped her stand, ignoring the lingering scent of vomit as she walked them to the front door. "Be very, very quiet."
She nodded, blinking past the dark spots in her vision as she leaned against her sister. She heard Annie's car keys jingle and a moment later, the door opened. She winced as her sister led her onto the porch, the sunlight burning her eyes.
"Shh," Annie whispered when her sister moaned, her knees starting to buckle. She steadied the girl, her own heart pounding against her rib cage as they crept slowly around the porch to the driveway. With a fearful glance over her shoulder, she saw Cole still leaning against the tree as they stepped off the porch. Dust kicked up around their feet as they made their way to the car. "Come on, Lulu, we're almost there," she hissed when the girl faltered, her throat working as a green hue tinged her pale complexion. "I'll let you throw up in the car, I promise! Just come on!"
Louise gagged and stumbled, crying out as she slipped from her sister's grasp and fell. Dust flew into her face and she coughed, tasting dirt in her mouth. "Oh my God…hurry!" she heard her sister gasp and she felt her grab her arm, dragging her across the unpaved driveway to the car. "He's coming!"
She whipped around, her name echoing in the cold air. Cole was running across the lawn, his face a mask of fury. She fumbled with the lock of the passenger door, swearing under her breath until the key turned. With her arms underneath Louise's armpits, she heaved the nearly unconscious girl to her knees, sweat trickling down her face. "Get down," she cried, dumping her onto the passenger seat and slamming the car door shut.
As Annie raced around to the other side, she heard Cole's feet on the cabin's porch and she looked up. Her eyes widened as she saw him lean against the railing, aiming a handgun at her. She ducked, screaming as a gunshot ricocheted through the cool spring morning. Tears of panic stung her eyes as she stuck the key in the door, the lock mercifully turning on the first attempt. She jumped into the driver's seat, slammed the door shut and deployed the automatic door locks just as Cole fumbled with the handle of the passenger door.
She jammed the key into the ignition and started the car, screaming as Cole's elbow slammed into the passenger door window. It exploded, glass shards raining down over her and Louise as she threw the car into Reverse and floored the gas. Tears streamed down her face as the wheels spun for several terrifying seconds, allowing Cole to lean in the open window, reaching for her. "You bitch," he growled as Louise shrieked, pressing herself back into the leather seat.
The car finally flew backwards, causing him to lose his grip and stumble. He fell away as the BMW's engine roared, the distance between him and the car quickly growing. Though it wouldn't amuse her until many, many years later, Annie's final image of Cole St. John was of him laying facedown in the dusty driveway as she sped backwards, her younger sister safely at her side.