I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The thin man with graying hair and huge glasses in the seat next to me on the airplane was squinting over his laptop. The screen was bright and had large text. He didn’t seem to be aware that I could see what was on the screen. For half an hour, I watched, fascinated, as he read his email and worked on documents.
I learned his name was Roger Newton, that he was the President of the Chase Bank branch in Casper, Wyoming, where I lived, that his wife, confined to a wheelchair, worked at a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. The couple had no children or pets and were trying to sell their house so they could move to a condo. Then, I saw something that made my blood run cold.
An instant message appeared from someone named Dirk G. “Hey, Roger, I’m all set for tonight around eleven o’clock. You sure your wife will be in bed by then?”
“Oh, yeah,” Roger answered. “She’ll be in bed by ten. The key is underneath the mat outside the kitchen door. I disabled the alarm this morning before I left. She doesn’t know this. Try not to make too much noise. I don’t want the neighbors to hear anything, okay?”
“No problem. My pistol has a silencer. You sure your wife won’t hear me coming in the kitchen door?”
“Naw, once Carla’s out, she’s out. A train could come through the house, and she wouldn’t know it.”
“Okay, I’ll sneak in the back door, through the kitchen and living room, and right into the bedroom. I’ll have to use a flashlight so I can see what I’m doing, but if I can aim for her head, she won’t know what hit her, and she won’t feel any pain.”
“Okay, so, what about the money?”
“Carla’s jewelry case is on the bureau in front of the bed. She doesn’t keep it locked. Inside are some really expensive necklaces and bracelets I bought her over the years. You can take and sell those, and that’ll be your deposit. Once the life insurance claim settles, I should be able to write you a check for the rest.”
“Sounds great! Let me be sure I have the right address. That’s 1531 Apple Tree Lane, right?”
I was a realtor in Casper. That address sounded vaguely familiar. I stood and made my way to a nearby lavatory, where I sat on the toilet and opened my phone. Sure enough, 1531 Apple Tree Lane was a house I’d shown the previous week. The woman interested in buying it needed a place that was handicap accessible because her husband had just suffered a paralyzing stroke. The house was listed with a different realty company, and she hadn’t made an offer.
Right then and there, I wanted to call my husband, Rick, a police detective, but I didn’t want to make my seat mate suspicious if he even noticed my absence. So, I stood, flushed the toilet for good measure, washed my hands, and returned to my seat. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and tried unsuccessfully to sleep.
The plane couldn’t have landed in Denver, Colorado, soon enough. After retrieving my baggage and rental car, all the while making sure Roger Newton wasn’t anywhere near me, I locked the car doors, and, with trembling fingers, punched in Rick’s cell number. It was only seven thirty, so he wouldn’t be at the station yet. When he answered, my voice was shaking when I said, “Oh, honey, you’re not gonna believe this.”
“Lucy, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
After I explained the situation, Rick gave a low whistle. “Jesus! Are you sure he didn’t see you watching him?”
“I’m pretty sure. He was hunched over that monitor the whole time, squinting. It’s a wonder he doesn’t have a headache.”
“He probably does. I sure hope he isn’t driving. I think I told you that only last week, my buddy Tyler, who works at Magic City Computers, spoke to a group of Chase Bank employees about protecting themselves while working in coffee shops or airplanes.”
“I remember that.”
“Well, he said Roger Newton, the President, wasn’t there. Go figure. Well, when I get the cuffs on him, I’ll tell him if he’d come to Tyler’s presentation, he wouldn’t be in this mess.”
I laughed, in spite of myself. “Seriously, I don’t know if there’s anything he could have done to protect himself. He looked like he was really having trouble seeing.”
“And he’s plotting to murder his wife so he can cash in on her life insurance policy. Don’t that beat all? Well, I’ll get on this right away. You stay safe. Call me when you get to the hotel, okay?”
I started the car and looked at my watch. The real estate convention I planned to attend wasn’t scheduled to start until nine. The Holiday Inn, where I would stay and where the convention would be held, was only about a fifteen-minute drive away. I figured I’d have plenty of time to get settled and grab a bite to eat before the first session started.
When I walked into the hotel lobby, I stopped short. Roger Newton stood at the registration counter, rubbing his temple as he spoke to the clerk. My heart pounded. His back was to me, so I didn’t think he saw me, but I wasn’t about to take any chances. I turned and marched out the way I’d come. With trembling hands, I unlocked my car, got in, and locked all doors. I drove away from the loading zone and found a secluded spot at the back end of the building, constantly checking my rear view mirror to be sure he wasn’t running after me.
After I parked, I called Rick again. When he answered, he said, “Babe, I was just about to call you. I just got off the phone with Chase Bank. Mr. Newton is in Denver at a bankers’ conference at the Holiday Inn where you’re staying.”
“I know. I just saw him in the lobby. I’m back in my car now, and I don’t think he saw me.”
“Good, look, I think you’d better skip this realtors’ convention and come home as soon as possible. This guy may not see very well but still…”
Normally, I rebelled against Rick’s protectiveness, but this time, he was right. What if Roger Newton did see me and was involved with some sort of mob? It wasn’t worth the information and insight I would gain at the convention. “Okay, I’ll see if I can get a flight out today.”
My heart sank when I discovered that there were no seats on any of the flights returning to Casper from Denver International Airport that day. I booked a seat on a flight that left early the next morning.
When I called Rick with this information, he said, “That’ll have to do. Now find another hotel, preferably with room service. You shouldn’t be going out once you get settled.”
“You’re right. I’ll see what I can do.”
The Mariott wasn’t too far, and they had a cancelation. It was more expensive than I would have liked, but it had room service, free wireless Internet, and other amenities I could use while hiding out.
Once I was settled, I called Rick to tell him where I was. “Great!” he said. “I’M heading out now to Mountain View, where Carla Newton works. Try to get some rest. I’ll be in touch.”
Despite my anxiety, I slept for a couple of hours, then spent the rest of the day working, watching television, and ordering delicious meals from room service. Every time someone knocked on the door, I looked through the peep hole and didn’t open the door until I was sure it wasn’t Roger Newton or a possible henchman.
Rick called every so often with updates. Carla Newton would spend the night at the rehab facility where she worked, since she needed specialized equipment to help with her personal care. Rick and another officer would steak out the property so they could arrest Dirk G. when he arrived. There wasn’t evidence of Roger Newton’s involvement in any criminal activity other than the plot to murder his wife.
I was still anxious when I turned in that night, but the bed was so comfortable, and I was tired. The door to my room was locked and chained, so there was no way anyone could come in without me knowing it.
When I woke the next morning, I found a text from Rick. “We nabbed him. Call me when you get to the airport. I’ll be up.”
I did just that while waiting for my flight in the terminal. “How did it go?” I asked.
“Great! This Dirk G. character was a real amateur. Right away, he told me who hired him and where he was. The Denver police have Roger Newton now.”
“That’s a relief.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the airport when you get into Casper.”
“You don’t have to do that. My car is there.”
“Then I’ll follow you home. Will see you then.” For once, I didn’t argue.
When my plane landed in Casper, I found Rick in the baggage claim area talking to a woman in a wheelchair. Could it be Carla Newton, I wondered. If so, what was she doing here?
Rick saw me, and we rushed into each other’s arms. After a quick embrace, he turned to the woman in the wheelchair and said, “Mrs. Newton wanted to come and thank you personally for being such a nosey seat mate to her husband.”
I smiled, bent, and extended my hand to her. “I’m glad I could help, but I’m so sorry about all this.”
She took my hand and smiled in return, then shrugged. “I should have known something was up. I recently discovered him having an affair with a woman with two good legs. When I confronted him, he told me she meant nothing to him and the relationship was over. He then insisted I buy this life insurance policy and was so happy when I agreed. I thought a move to a new place would give us a fresh start, but I guess I was wrong. It’s a good thing we hadn’t yet signed the lease on the place we found.”
“Did you have an offer on your house?” I asked.
“Nope,” she answered. “and I called the realtor yesterday and told him to take it off the market. I’ve got enough to deal with right now, and the last thing I need to worry about is moving. However, your husband tells me you’re a darn good realtor, so if I ever decide to sell, I’ll call you.”
“Thank you,” I said. I retrieved a business card from my purse and handed it to her. “If there’s anything else I can do, please let me know, and again, I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, I’m alive, thanks to you, so don’t be sorry. By the way, Roger called me this morning from the Denver police station. He said somebody set him up. I told him that if he’d only taken my advice and learned braille, he could have gotten one of those braille tablets, and nobody would have been the wiser.”
The above story appears in this year’s fall/winter issue of Magnets and Ladders.
Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books
When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.
Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.