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KISS AND TELL
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 MRK Productions
All rights reserved.
Annie de Silva blinked, then blinked again at the e-mail she was seeing on her computer screen. Her hand snaked out to the phone to the right of her computer, only to withdraw it a moment later. Another one of those weird e-mails she and Myra had been getting lately. She read it again. Only three lines, it was the most ominous-sounding of all the e-mails to date:
If you don't act quickly, it will be too late, and it will be on your conscience. Open your eyes wide TODAY and SEE what is in front of you.
Annie didn't realize that she had been holding her breath until it exploded from her mouth like a gunshot. She clicked the keys to bring up her saved mail, then scrolled down and read through her past e-mails, not that she really needed to read them. Over the past months, she'd memorized them and talked them to death with Myra and Charles as they collectively tried to figure out what the cryptic messages could possibly mean. All to no avail.
The first e-mail, sent three months ago, had only one line:
Nothing is as it seems.
Sent by someone named firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, Annie thought to herself, that was true of most things in life. But why did the man or woman who went by the name of Kat send it to her and to Myra? She and Myra had both tried to respond to the e-mail to ask questions, but their replies bounced back.
The second e-mail, like the first, had only one line. But this time there were two sentences, both questions:
Why haven't you acted on my e-mail? Do you need a road map?
They had tried to reply again but had the same result—neither reply went anywhere. Well, yes, they did need a road map. Even as brilliant as Charles was, he couldn't figure it out. Nor was he able to trace the IP address.
The third e-mail consisted of three insulting sentences, expressing their correspondent's fury. An insult Myra, Charles, and she took personally:
I thought you were the Vigilantes. You people are a joke. I spent a lot of money and time trying to trace you to get your help.
Again, as with the first two e-mails, their replies did not reach their intended destination.
The fourth e-mail was short and to the point. Again, it had three sentences, breaking the pattern of adding a sentence to each e-mail:
Go to the source. Wake up, ladies. You are such a disappointment to me.
The source of WHAT? They tried to respond once again, to no avail, at which point they were almost pulling their hair out in sheer frustration. What good, they asked themselves, was calling for help, then not allowing the people from whom you seek the help to find out what the problem was?
Annie rubbed at her temples. She felt a headache coming on. Each time she brought up one of the e-mails, she got a headache. Myra said the same thing. Charles, however, more practical, shrugged it off. She should call Myra. It was early, so maybe her friend hadn't checked her e-mail yet today.
There were six more e-mails, but Annie decided she'd seen enough. She turned off the computer and looked at her watch. It was early, not yet seven. She decided to take a shower, have coffee, then drive over to Myra's.
As the steaming water pelted her body, Annie let her mind race. What was today? Nothing special as far as she knew, unless Myra had something planned that she hadn't shared. What was she supposed to see ? She wasn't blind, and she sure as hell wasn't stupid. So why wasn't she seeing what Kat at Gmail wanted her to? And, perhaps even more to the point, where was she supposed to be looking for whatever it was?
Annie toweled dry, fluffed at her wet hair, then looked out the bathroom window to see what kind of day it was outside. Her jaw dropped when she saw snow flurries slapping at the window. Whoa! Well, it was the week before Thanksgiving, but the weatherman hadn't said a word about snow, flurries or otherwise. So much for meteorological science. About as reliable as bets on the roulette wheel in her casino.
Within minutes, Annie was dressed in fleece-lined sweats, heavy wool socks, and ankle boots. Minutes after that, she had a pot of coffee going. While she waited, she sat on a stool at the counter, drumming her fingers on the granite surface. Why couldn't she figure this out? This, of course, meaning the anonymous e-mails. Anonymous because she knew in her gut that there was no way Kat at Gmail was the real name of the person sending them. So who was Kat? What kind of stake did Kat have in whatever game he or she knew was going on? Annie threw her hands high in the air and let loose with a few choice expletives that only succeeded in turning her ears pink.
Annie doused her coffee with cold milk and gulped at it. She was so anxious to be on her way to Myra's that she barely tasted it. After setting the cup in the sink, she looked around to see if she was leaving a mess for her day lady, who came to work at nine. Then she was out the door and buttoning her jacket as she ran through the snow flurries to her car.
Ten minutes later, Annie ran through the open door to Myra's kitchen. "Did you get the e-mail, too?" Myra asked by way of greeting.
"That's why I'm here. What's going on today? What are we supposed to see? Do you have something planned you didn't tell me about? I don't have a clue what this person is talking about. Do you, Myra?" Annie asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee.
"Of course I don't. How could I? Kat refuses to give us anything concrete to go on, and do not say we are stupid, Annie, because we are not stupid. This whole thing could be something as simple as that person jerking our chain. Why, I have no idea. Then the Vigilante part of me kicks in and tells me Kat is afraid and is trying to tell us something without giving himself or herself away. There is also the mention, if you recall, of its being expensive and time-consuming to find us. Assuming that, at least, is true, it pretty much means that Kat is not jerking our chain."
"I agree," Annie said, snatching a piece of cold toast off Myra's plate. "By the way, it's snowing out. Flurrying, but the weatherman didn't mention snow at all."
"And this bothers you ... why?" Myra asked. Annie grimaced. "Which just goes to prove what Kat said, to wit, nothing is as it seems. Get it?"
"I get it, Annie." Myra sniffed.
"So today seems important to Kat. Today is the day we're supposed to see something. But the only thing going on that I know of is our twice-monthly therapy-dog visit out at King's Ridge. Unless you have other plans. Do you, Myra?"
"No. I gave Lady a bath last night and brushed her out. She smells great, and she just loves going out there. All that ear scratching and those delicious belly rubs. What's not to like? I like it myself to see how happy those oldsters are when Lady prances in and does her routine. That dog is a real ham. She loves applause."
Suddenly, Annie pounded both hands on the old oak table so hard that the coffee cups danced with the force of the blow. "Maybe that's it! Quick, Myra, get out a calendar. Let's see if those other e-mails came in around the dates we took Lady out to King's Ridge."
Excited to finally have a possible clue, Myra raced into the laundry room, where a colorful calendar featuring magnificent golden retrievers marked the months. She ran back to the kitchen and shoved it under Annie's nose.
"Do you remember the dates those e-mails came in, Myra?"
"No, but it won't take more than a minute or so to find out." Myra whirled around and hit a key on her computer. Within a minute her saved- mail folder popped up. Looking at the e-mails from Kat, she rattled off the dates, which Annie scratched on a pad on the counter by the phone.
"Aha! I think we're onto something, Myra! Look at this!"
Myra leaned over Annie's shoulder. "Aha is right! They were all sent either the morning of our therapy visit or the night before. Oh Annie, how could we not have seen this? Maybe we are stupid. But what were we supposed to see?"
Annie shrugged and rolled her eyes.
"I can't think of a thing, but obviously there is something out there that Kat thinks we should see. Having said that, perhaps Kat lives out there in one of the facilities and what she thinks is obvious to her should be obvious to us. I don't remember seeing anything out of the ordinary, but by the same token, I wasn't looking for anything. My attention was on Lady and the other animals with their owners. Does anything ring a bell, Annie? Anything at all?"
"One visit we stayed for lunch. It was quite good as I recall. I liked the part where we didn't have to clean up. The lunch was a thank-you for all the volunteers. Nothing unusual happened. If something did happen, then I missed it."
"I'm with you. It was just a nice luncheon, and they even had plates for all the animals. I thought that was nice. There was that time when Ellen and Abe Speer sought us out to talk about ... nothing, as I recall. Do you remember what we talked about, Annie?"
"I don't. I vaguely remember them, nice couple. Didn't they say they moved out of Olympic Ridge to King's Ridge, the assisted-living section? Am I wrong, or did they make a big point of telling us that?"
Myra frowned. "I can't say that I remember that specifically, but I do remember thinking either then or later on that they were new to King's Ridge. I guess that means subconsciously it did register on me. The only way to move to King's Ridge is if you have a disability of some sort and need the help of the trained staff. Didn't Charles tell us you have to live in Olympic Ridge in order to move into King's Ridge? Then, if you become more disabled or sick, they move you to Queen's Ridge, which is the nursing home. From there it's Angel Ridge, the hospice. Which, by the way, kind of creeps me out."
"It creeps me out, too. Once you move into that complex, you know where you're going every step of the way. That would not be for me, that's for sure. You said you checked out King's Ridge before you signed up Lady to be a therapy dog. You never told me what you found out. Is there anything you can remember that might shed some light on what we're facing now?"
Myra shook her head. "Charles checked it out. Olympic Ridge is a 150-home community. You have to be a client of Emanuel Macklin, that financial wizard who has more money than Fort Knox, to buy in there. The houses start in the seven-figure range and go up and up and up. One-of-a-kind custom-built homes. Each applicant is vetted thoroughly. And you can't sell to just anyone if you want to move. You need to go through a whole, long, drawn-out process to sell. You need to be at least sixty years old to move into Olympic Ridge. You can, however, move to the second tier, King's Ridge, the assisted-living facility, and so on until you end up in Angel Ridge, the hospice."
"Sounds like the guy has a lock on everyone who lives out there. Think about it, Myra. He's got you once you move into the high-end house, then to assisted living, on to a nursing home, and, finally, at the end, into a hospice. And he owns all of them and pretty much controls to whom you can sell what you bought. Like I said, it gives me the creeps."
"That's exactly how Charles feels," Myra said fretfully.
"Maybe we need Charles to do a background check on Mr. Emanuel Macklin. I think it was the fourth e-mail—check it out, Myra—that said we should look to the source. That has to be a reference to Emanuel Macklin."
Myra clicked the keys. "Yes, Annie, it was the fourth e-mail, the one Kat sent after she said she was disgusted with us. It has to be Macklin. What other source could it be?"
"Maybe I should call Abner Tookus to do a financial hack job on the man. The papers are always saying Macklin has more money than the government and should bail out said government. But don't be upset, Myra, since I do not think he has as much money as I do, not by a long shot. But even so, I'd kind of like to know where he got it all. Wouldn't you?"
"I absolutely would love to know that. The money people call him a one-of-a-kind financial wizard. I remember someone saying, or else I read it somewhere, that he owns one of the homes in Olympic Ridge. He also has an apartment in the Trump Tower in New York. And a big spread in Carmel, California, where he is supposedly a neighbor of Clint Eastwood, the guy who has conversations with empty chairs. Don't look at me like that, Annie. It's just lazy-Sunday-morning reading in the Life section of the Post. In case you have forgotten, you are the owner and publisher of that paper. Don't you ever read it?"
"Not really. Why should I? I've got good people, including Maggie and Ted, running it. Speaking of whom, let's kick this up a notch and call in the kids to see what they can come up with. Out of our archives. There's always stuff that never gets printed for one reason or another. This is made to order for Maggie and Ted. Should I call them, Myra?"
"Before or after you call Abner? Of course you should call them. Make arrangements for them to come out here ASAP. Later, we can all go out to lunch after our therapy session. I'm thinking this is right up their alley, something for them all to sink their teeth into."
Annie made the calls while Myra brewed a fresh pot of coffee. They then looked at each other across the table. "Are you going to say it, or am I going to have to say it first?" Annie asked.
Myra sighed. "I have to say, Annie, that I am very distraught that there are only two of us now. If we count Charles, three. Marti is off with Peter Ciprani, and it looks like wedding bells. She doesn't have time for us these days. Pearl is knee deep in her underground railroad, helping women and children. That's her first love, and we can't fault her for that. As for Nellie, she's taking Elias's advancing Alzheimer's seriously and won't leave his side. Even though he has round- the-clock care. She wants to be there, and we can't fault her for that either. It's the way it should be. It's just a shame that all those special gold shields are going to waste."
Annie sniffed. "If that's your way of saying we're chopped liver, I'm not buying it. So our numbers are down by three. We're still three, counting Charles, and don't forget the kids. They really came through for us in Baywater. And we still have Abner. I'd say that makes it all okay unless you, Myra, are getting cold feet?"
"I am not getting cold feet. I'm just reminding you that there are only three of us, counting Charles, and I'm not sure how good Charles would be out in the field."
"For God's sake, Myra, Charles used to be a spy. He worked in clandestine operations. What makes you think he couldn't cut the mustard these days?"
"He's out of practice," Myra said lamely.
"Then maybe we should put him through his paces."
"It's just that he's so good at what he does behind the scenes. And he worries about us. He would see danger where you and I won't. He'd try to stop us if he thought we were doing something wrong even though you and I would know it would come out okay. He'd be more of a hindrance, and I say that with all due respect for my husband."
"You have a point, Myra. Okay, then it's just you and me and the kids."
"That works for me," Myra said smartly as she offered up a sloppy salute. Annie laughed.
"So, when are you going to call Charles to do that background check?"
"Will right now work for you, Annie?" Myra said as she headed for the intercom that would reach Charles in the underground catacombs. Annie shrugged.
Ten minutes later, Charles appeared in the kitchen, a look of concern on his face. "Is something wrong?" he asked, looking at the two women, "or did you call me up here to make breakfast? Good morning, Annie. Nice to see you so bright and early. My word, it's snowing out! "
"We're not hungry, dear. We have some orders for you. We'd like you to get right on it. We got another e-mail this morning that we'd like you to see. And to remind you that today is therapy day out at King's Ridge."
Charles leaned over Myra's laptop to read the latest e-mail from Kat at Gmail. "Hmmnn. I'll get right on it. Anything in particular?"
"Macklin," Myra and Annie said at the same moment.
"My thoughts exactly. I'll call you when I have something. By the way, are you two going to wing it on your own or call in the second string?"
Excerpted from KISS AND TELL by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2014 MRK Productions. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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