IT'S ALWAYS MIDNIGHT SOMEWHERE
"It's always midnight somewhere," Anna said, as she read the note aloud for about the tenth time that night. "What is that supposed to mean?" She stood and paced around her office, rolling her neck and stretching. There was a knock at the door.
An officer in uniform poked his head in. "You wanted to see me, Commissioner?"
"Yes, officer. Were you the one working the desk when this envelope was delivered?"
"Did you happen to see who delivered it?"
"No ma'am. Detective Falconeri called in with an update and when I hung up the phone I noticed it sitting on the desk. That's when I brought it to you. Is there something wrong, Commissioner?"
"No. Thank you. That'll be all. Ask Detective Falconeri to come and see me as soon as he gets back, will you please?"
The officer closed the door behind him. Anna returned to her desk. She picked up the note again and put her glasses on to examine it more closely. She held it up to the light, lips pursed. The message was spelled out in letters clipped from magazines. No signature. Nothing. Just those four words. It's always midnight somewhere.
Another knock came. "Yes," Anna said, taking her glasses off.
"Commissioner?" The detective hovered at the door.
"Dante, come in please. Did you find anything new at the crime scene?"
"Maybe. We talked to all of the staff on duty again. All of their stories check out. But one of the bus boys says he remembers seeing a woman while he was out back on break. Said it was her first night. She was wearing a housekeeping uniform. Funny thing is, Carly says they haven't hired anyone in several weeks."
"That's interesting. A new employee that the owner of the hotel doesn't remember hiring? How did we miss that the first time round?"
"I don't know."
"Did you get a description?"
"Not much of one. It was dark. Medium height. Blonde."
"Well, let's follow on that. Keep me posted, all right?"
"Sure thing. What's that?" Dante asked, motioning toward the note in her hand.
"I'm not sure. It was left at the desk earlier today in an envelope addressed to me." She held it out to him.
"Looks like an old-school ransom note. Is this message code for something?"
"I wish I knew. There was no sign of anyone. It just showed up. The name on the envelope was typed. I don't know what to make of it."
"Probably just some kids messin' around. There've been a lot of teenagers hangin' out down on the docks lately pulling pranks."
Anna would have liked to buy Dante's suggestion, but her gut instinct told her there was more to it than that. She was convinced it was a clue of some kind. A clue to what, she didn't know. "Joke or not, let's keep our eyes and ears open, okay?"
"It's late. Why don't we get out of here and deal with all of it in the morning hmm? I'm sure Lulu would love to see you some time tonight." She put on her jacket and escorted Detective Falconeri out of her office, turning out the lights and closing the door behind her.
By the time Anna made it back to the Metro Court she was exhausted. She was rather glad that Duke was staying in his own suite tonight and hadn't insisted on spending the night with her. She was far more interested in sleep right now than anything else and she was in no mood for conversation. She climbed into bed and drifted off almost immediately. A while later she woke up again. She glanced around the room. It was still dark. Was it morning already? She picked up her phone. "Oh ,God. Midnight," she said to herself. "It's always midnight somewhere." She still didn't know what to do with that message. She got out of bed and put on her dressing gown. She found a bottle of water on the table in the sitting room of her hotel suite and flopped down on the sofa. She propped her feet up on the coffee table and took a drink. She ran her fingers through her hair. Her stomach growled. Only then did she realize she'd forgotten to take time for dinner. "I really need to stop living out of a hotel. I don't even have a refrigerator to raid," she thought. She threw her head back on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. Soon a small smile crept over her face as she recalled one friendly late-night chat with Olin and Robin eating a chocolate cake together in their kitchen. A lone tear lingered in the corner of her eye. She wiped it away with the back of her hand and exhaled deeply. She wondered how long it would be before she could remember her daughter without pain and regret. She knew Robin wouldn't want it that way, but it was still hard to avoid. She knew sleep was impossible at that point, so she headed back into the bedroom to get dressed again.
With no place better to go on her moonlight stroll, Anna ended up on the docks. She was standing on the pier for all of five minutes when she heard a rustling sound behind her. Instinctively, she reached into her bag and gripped her gun. She slowly turned and discovered three teenage boys creeping up behind her in the dark.
"What can I do for you," she asked.
"Do have any money in that thing?" one of them said, pointing to her small cross-body bag.
"Why? Who wants to know?"
"We do," another boy said. The three of them took a step closer. One of them punched his fist into the palm of his hand.
"Sorry. No money. But I do have a badge and a police issue weapon," she said, producing the badge.
"Shit. She's a cop," said the third boy, who'd remained silent until now.
"Commissioner Devane, at your service."
"Let's get out of here."
"Hold it. Just a minute," Anna said sharply. "I'd like to talk to you."
"About what?" one asked, his voice shaking.
"Do you know anything about this?" she asked, pulling a folded piece of paper from her bag.
"Never seen it before," the ring-leader said.
"What about you," she asked the others.
They both shook their heads.
She eyed what appeared to be a can of spray paint in one boy's pocket. They had to be the kids Dante had been talking about earlier. "Are you sure? You 've never seen this before?"
"Not even if I remind you that cooperating with me could keep you all out of Juvenile Hall for any crimes you may have committed whilst you were playing your little pranks down here?"
"No ma'am. Honest."
"We haven't done anything! You guys said we couldn't get in trouble for the stuff we did!"
"Okay. Take it easy. Why don't you just hand over the can of paint in your pocket and get on home to your mothers and fathers. Hmm? And don't let me find you all down here again. Especially not at this hour."
"Yes, ma'am," they chimed. Without another word they took off, never looking back.
Anna stood on the pier a while longer, looking out over the harbor through the mist. A ship's horn blasted somewhere in the distance.
"Anna, what are you doing out here at this time of night?" She heard Robert's voice in her head. She shook her head with a half-smile. He was always more protective of her than an ex-husband ought to be.
"I wish I knew," she said, as if he were standing next to her. "Sometimes I don't think I know what I'm doing at all anymore, Robert. Latex faces, a bullet that doesn't match the murder weapon, and just now I damn near pulled my gun on a group of teenagers. What's wrong with me? My instincts are… just not what they used to be. You and I… we used to make such a good team. Nobody could pull one over on us. Ever since… Ever since we lost Robin… I don't know. Nothing's the same anymore. Then again, maybe I'm just getting old."
As the harbor bells began to ring, a warm summer breeze blew her hair. She smiled, as if lost in some distant memory. She breathed deeply and exhaled, then took her phone from her pocket and dialed. No answer. She dialed again.
The familiar voice of Dr. Birchmeier, Anna's usual contact at the Swiss Clinic, came on the line.
"Yes. Hello, doctor. This is Anna Devane. Has there been any change in Mr. Scorpio's condition?"
"No, Madame Devane. I'm sorry."
"I see. Has Ms. Sutton been there yet this morning? I wasn't able to reach her."
"No Madame. His wife…"
"Ex-wife," Anna snapped.
"Yes Madame. She has not been here in several days."
"Oh. Well, have there been any other visitors?"
"None that I know of, though someone did leave an envelope for him."
"An envelope? What kind of envelope?"
"Nothing special about it. Just a plain envelope with the name Robert Scorpio typed on it."
"Open it. Please." Her eyes narrowed as she bit her lip.
She heard the tearing of paper as the doctor tore open the envelope. Her stomach tightened. She was glad now that she hadn't eaten or she might have wanted to throw up.
"What does it say," she shouted into the phone.
"It is a bunch of colored letters that spell the words it's always midnight somewhere."
Her gut had been right about this one. If she and Robert had both received the same message, then someone was up to something. They had far too many enemies between them to speculate as to who it might be without further investigation. With him lying helpless in a coma, she couldn't afford to take any chances that he was the target. She had to get to him.
"Listen to me. I want you to hold on to that note and don't let any visitors in to see Mr. Scorpio. Do you understand? No one. If you see anyone or anything suspicious you are to contact the authorities and me immediately, do you understand?"
"Yes, of course, Madame, but what exactly do you think is going on?"
"I don't know yet, but I intend to find out. Whatever it is, I don't like it. I'm going to call Interpol. There should be an agent there with in the hour. I'll be on the next plane."