Cover Image
Monika R. Martyn
Black Aura

Sandra clamped down on the candy between her teeth, and, with a black marker in her hand, circled the local classified advert. Bingo!

 

     "Hello, Daddy."

 

     She read the advert out loud. There were a few key factors in the description that captured her attention, as always. William — she didn't give a shit about his name, but, at least, the name was easy to remember and pronounce. Especially in a foreign country. Attractive — weren't they all until you meet them up close. Not important. But the word luxury was worth underscoring and celebrating. And the best qualification was in the magic number: 71. It moved William into the number one slot as a potential candidate. Men ages 70 and up were her specialty.

 

     She plugged the numbers into her phone and dialed, but before she finished, she set the phone down. Excitement got the best of her and being on the run, well, it had been a dry couple of months. Undoubtedly, being a pro, and from hard-earned experience, she knew it was best to rehearse and prepare. On the back of the newspaper, she made a bold list.

 

     Her go-to name, the one she used over the phone, in Germany this time was Gisela Schmidt. Other attributes for Gisela's fake profile needed to be massaged to fit each application. Over the phone or via the web, lying was so damn easy. But she needed to make a list. After tapping her pen on her teeth she wrote:

     age 59

     born in Vienna, just moved to Wiesbaden to be with family

     former profession: pediatric nurse — (men know so little about babies)

     widow, husband's name Hubert.

     dead — 4 years. Heart — bad ticker

     children? — just the one.

     music: Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven. Anything with a violin, clarinet, or piano.

     current address in Wiesbaden —

 

     Sandra googled the map. She chose two places on opposite ends of the city and Google-walked the neighborhoods to ensure they weren't seedy.

<  2  >

yes, living with her son and his family until she could sort out a place of her own. Been looking, but nothing suitable as of yet.

 

     VoilĂ ! She took a drag of the cigarette she left smoldering on the dainty saucer; it didn't mix well with the sweet caramel in her mouth. There were a few more elements to round out this fictional character to make her believable.

 

     Yes, she read. Contemporary, mostly American authors. Or that guy from Sweden, what's his name? Of course, she enjoyed walking. Yes, she'd laugh, strolling was more like it. She loved traveling. Yes, Hubert, bless his heart, was an avid traveler. Been to the best. Too many to count and remember. Mostly Mexico, the Caribbean.

 

     Sandra performed her little charade in front of the mirror and morphed into the Gisela character on a whim. She had a small tickle of flirtatious laughter down pat. In-person she had an uncanny talent to laugh with her big eyes. The color of them depended on her mood and what contact lens color she had in her vial. But her conquests seldom met the fictitious character she invented on the phone to set the trap. Sandra had an ace up her sleeve that they never saw coming.

 

     Sucking on the cancer stick clamped between her lips, Sandra searched through her YouTube favorites and found the white noise she liked to play in the background. It was a ruse to employ while pretending she couldn't hear properly, at the same time allowing her an excuse to get away with her high school German. Then she promptly scratched out Vienna. No, Gisela had been to America, lived in Rochester most of her adult life. It was her son who motivated her to return.

 

     Perfect! She congratulated herself, she was a competent liar.

 

     She inhaled a long draft from her cigarette, and blew a plume toward the sunlight streaming in, it was so pretty to watch as it danced in the shaft of light, while the phone rang three times.

 

     "Becker."

 

     She jotted the name down on the page.

 

     "I'm calling about the ad. If I'm not too late. Am I speaking with William?"

 

     "Ja. You're not too late. The first actually."

<  3  >

"Oh, that's exciting. I'm Gisela. I was taken by the romantic wording of your advert. There's nothing more charming than the German countryside, mountains, and meadows in the background. I'm a fan of classical music too. Your words really moved me."

 

     "You sound young." William couldn't believe it. That she'd call him on the first day the ad went live.

 

     "At heart. But a gentleman isn't supposed to question a lady's age." She giggled.

 

     "And you have an accent." William cursed himself, he shouldn't have said that, he wasn't as skilled as he thought.

 

     "True. I've spent most of my life in America. I've only just returned."

 

     Sandra's cheeks were flushed. She was a bit rusty, and the old man was much more direct than she had expected.

 

     "Amerika? Ha! I know it well. Where did you live?"

 

     Sandra could hear his shallow breathing, typical for a man of his age.

 

     "Rochester. You know it?"

 

     "Near Buffalo. But no. I've been to Florida, California."

 

     "That's nice. Your ad said you enjoy adventure and travel."

 

     "Still do. You're not married?"

 

     "Widow. Hubert left me," she coughed faking grief, "four years ago." She had to check her fabricated answer page to ensure she didn't deviate from the make-belief facts she created.

 

     "My Rose died nearly ten years ago."

 

     "Would you be interested in having this conversation over coffee sometime?"

 

     There was a deep inhale, a loud and disturbing exhale, followed by a warning silence.

 

     "I'm not sure. Your voice. It's too young, and my family warned me about gold diggers." William had been warned that she enjoyed playing hard to get. And that she'd switch the game back and forth.

 

     "I'm neither, but you should trust your family's advice. I wish you well, and I enjoyed your romantic advert. Bye, William."

 

     Sandra waited before hanging up. She heard his breath, followed by an emphatic, "Wait!"

 

     "Yes?"

 

     "There's no harm in meeting a new friend."

 

     "I'm not sure. Your family. They won't like it. They're rightly very protective, and I'd hate to start a relationship on those terms. I'm sure many lovely ladies are waiting to meet you. Like I said, your advert is charming. And sincere women won't mind about age. You sound like a lovely man."

<  4  >

Sandra had many talents, but playing a two-headed serpent approach was a skill she excelled at.

 

     "It's just coffee. You sound like a nice lady. And it's not like I'm handing you the keys to my house and bank account."

 

     "I assure you, I am nice. But I'd rather not offend your family."

 

     "I'm my own man. How about tomorrow? Do you drive?"

 

     "I'll be coming by train."

 

     "Have you been to the Opera Haus on Christian-Zais-Strasse?"

 

     "I'm not familiar with the area, but I can find my way."

 

     Sandra wrote down the instructions.

 

     "There's a coffee shop called Der Eifler. I will meet you at, let's say, at 2 o'clock. I'll be wearing a Loden Jacke and a rose for you to recognize me." He had rehearsed this ten times, but in person, it was much harder to pull off.

 

     "William, that sounds lovely. But I insist you check with your family. I wouldn't want them to worry."

 

     "I will mention it, but it's none of their business."

 

     "Tomorrow then. Bye, William."

 

     William set the phone down, picked up his cell phone, and made the call. Tomorrow. And just like that, the plan was set in motion.

 

     Sandra flew about the room. The Opera Haus, Eifler. She wanted to check out the location as soon as possible. She put on a pair of Adidas sweats, a hoodie, her dark wig, and her oversized sunglasses. She caught the train, grinning the entire time, watching her smile in the reflection, she had hooked a live one. These old bastards were the easiest targets and as horny as young ones. Time to give them what they deserved.

 

     Despite being a franchise, der Eifler was a quaint bakery and coffee shop. Three tables were set up outside under the sun, two were under the vast canopy of trees, and inside were another three barstool tables. She doubted William would choose those. Plus, a set of park benches circled along the walkway. She snapped a few photographs for reference and wondered where he'd come from and where he'd park his luxury car. But, in Europe, everyone drove luxury vehicles. She was continually sidestepping an onslaught of Mercedes-Benzes, Audi after Audi, and Bimmers as if they were mass-produced and cheap. On the train back, she considered which game to play, despite already knowing exactly which card would come into play first.

<  5  >

*

The morning started with promises of sunshine and blue sky. Although she arrived ten minutes early, Sandra was already too late. William, comfortable in his seat, had sequestered a table outside, a red rose was prominently displayed in the center. To her surprise, for an old man, he was good-looking. His smooth-shaven cheeks were nearly unlined. He looked cool in his aviator shades. But, she reminded herself, he was seventy-one, that's if he hadn't lied about his age.

 

     For this escapade, Sandra had chosen a softly demure summer dress. The sort that engaged the imagination instead of flaunting it. She walked with a map in hand, a camera dangling from her shoulder, and a confused look that people would surely notice if they happened to overlook how beautiful she was. Every so often, she posed herself as if she were a semi-professional photographer and snapped pictures of this and that. Her camera was a professional Leica. A gift, as she liked to call these small tokens, came from a previous conquest. This one had owned a collection of cameras, surely missing one wouldn't impact his life.

 

     One of the first skills she had to learn in her line of work line was utilizing periphery vision. While prancing around the coffee shop, she had an uninterrupted view of William. She sensed his impatience, he checked his watch five times, waiting for his fictitious date. And he surveilled every woman who walked past him on the cobbled plaza. He drummed his fingers between checking on the time, and his head swiveled like a weather vane during a hurricane. That was the hook. Keep them waiting and drive their impatience until it reaches the inevitable summit.

 

     William saw her as soon as she sauntered toward the plaza. She was a stunner. He was nervous, he had never done anything so daring and dangerous. She was so young or looked so much younger than she was. Captivating, she was performing for the crowd; undoubtedly, every man within her radius had tuned in to her sexual transmission. She was the sort of woman who always had a backup plan.

 

     At ten minutes past 2 o'clock, Sandra moved closer. She was sure he had noticed her by now, but since this rude woman named Gisela was obviously a no-show, she giggled to herself, she might as well give William a good look at what his other prospects were.

<  6  >

It couldn't have been easier. William relaxed into his chair and watched while the breeze played with the gauze in her frilly dress. He'd been to the opera and theatre, this was the performance worthy of a stage, and he had a front-row seat.

 

     The soft breeze worked to her advantage. She couldn't have chosen a better garment than this pale yellow dress. It was virginal, happy, and without a stain, she bought with her usual discount in some exquisite boutique in Paris; she outsprinted the snobbish sales clerk. Sandra read someplace that yellow homes sold faster than any other. It worked with yellow dresses too. She sold what she had on offer. She put the cap on her camera and pretended this was the first she noticed the coffee shop. Sandra was an Oscar-worthy actress who could enthrall an audience. And not only did William fall for her ruse, but several younger versions noticed her too. This part was tricky; to ensnare the right one.

 

     A quick survey revealed that all the tables were occupied, but she ordered a coffee anyway. Germans had this quaint habit that people weren't shy about joining a table. She would make it easy for her other admirers and choose William's table.

 

     "May I?" She asked, balancing her cup and saucer while struggling with the wind in her dress and the plate of Apfelkuchen in her other hand. "Unless, of course, you're expecting someone?" She allowed her lip gloss to do the selling.

 

     Before Sandra fell into this line of work, she'd been a semi-successful model in Canada. Her good looks were in demand to sell suntan lotions, diet potions, shampoos, and she even had a gig hosting the annual car show. But modeling was a lecherous business; also, it taught her everything there was to know about the world by the time she was sixteen.

 

     "Of course." William rose and pulled the chair out for her.

 

     "Oh, I'm sorry. You're expecting someone?" Sandra said when she set the plate next to the red rose in the middle of the table. Easy pickings.

 

     "No. It's fine. The rose is a token for a lovely lady. For you." William handed her the delicate flower.

 

     "How lovely. I'm Sandra, by the way." Sandra brought the petals to her nose and inhaled.

<  7  >

"William Becker. You're visiting?"

 

     "Exchange student." Sandra deposited her lip gloss on the rim of the cup.

 

     "What are you studying?"

 

     "Culinary arts." Sandra beamed. Experience taught her that men adored women who said they could cook. It seldom mattered after the fact.

 

     "You enjoy cooking?"

 

     "Love it. But I admit, it's not good for my waistline. German bakeries are the best." Sandra allowed her hands to caress her slim curves, accentuating how lean and athletic she was beneath her dress. Her lace brassiere was trained to play peekaboo on demand.

 

     "I'm afraid you've nothing to worry about. Have you been here long?" William dragged his eyes away and tried to focus on what she was saying.

 

     "No, just arrived two days ago. I'm still sorting out my living accommodations. Bit of a disaster, actually." She batted her eyes and sighed in exasperation.

 

     "Does the school not provide you with contacts?" William looked into his empty cup.

 

     "Yes. But ultimately, they aren't responsible, as I'm finding out too late, if the photos from the landlord don't match reality. My landlady is overbooked. I'll be sleeping in the broom closet."

 

     "That's terrible."

 

     "And she won't refund the money I was asked to pay in advance." Sandra could pout with the best of them.

 

     "I'm not shocked. People are getting worse and worse. Have you any recourse?"

 

     "Besides sleeping on a bench?"

 

     "Oh, dear. Excuse me for a moment, would you like another coffee?"

 

     "That would be lovely. Thank you. Two sugars."

 

     William snapped his fingers, this was easier than he had imagined. His son had talked him into being the pawn in a dangerous game. But he was wise. There was no doubt in his mind that he could steer Sandra right into the pen. And, he may as well enjoy the adventure.

*

Sandra stretched her tanned legs out in the car, making sure the hem of the dress rose conveniently high on her lean thighs. William had difficulty keeping his eyes on the road despite having many years of experience driving on this familiar route. He understood the dangers someone like Sandra wielded. He had to remain diligent and not blow his cover.

 

<  8  >

     Sandra had never seen a Mercedes like this one. When her fingers trailed over the hood, she noticed the emblem on the sleek sedan: Maybach. She had no idea what that meant other than elegance and luxury. Inside, it smelled of new leather and William's cologne. William had even held the door open for her as if she were a lady.

 

     "It's really quite a big house. You'll see. You can have the entire upstairs to yourself. I seldom venture up there anymore." William noticed that his grip on the steering wheel turned his knuckles white, exhaling he forced himself to relax his grip.

 

     He swung the car into the swift-moving traffic, and to complete the image he had painted with the lure of his advert, Mozart conducted a clarinet solo to a crescendo on the high-end audio system. But what remained paramount was that the young woman displaying her stunning legs was conniving. How he managed to keep calm and ensnare her attention took skill. She was consumed by the promises he made her over coffee: free room and board in exchange for some minor cleaning duties, cooking, and whatnots. He calmed himself; almost there.

 

     Sandra caught her reflection in the tinted glass. She looked like a movie star, and the make and model of William's car were to her taste. She deserved this, and for the next six months, she'd be living rent-free until her visa expired. She just had one more battle ahead of her. William's family. But she had graduated from the School of Hard Knocks at the top with a handy Ph.D. in seducing old men. The lesson when it came to men was that their children didn't stand a chance once she paraded in her skimpy lingerie around the house. Which she planned on doing, as soon as she kicked off her heels. But she also knew her line of work had its share of pitfalls. Bilking old geezers like this, she smiled in William's direction, had its share of consequences. Back home, arrest warrants with her real name on them were stacking up. That she had escaped on a false passport made even her heart flutter. But she'd worry about the fallout tomorrow. She couldn't wait to see William's house, the lucrative inside of his bank account.

<  9  >

"I'll gladly show you Wiesbaden when you're not in school. It's such a wonderful city."

 

     "That would be lovely. Do you live in one of those?" Sandra pointed to the stunning row of neoclassical buildings as William slowed the car.

 

     "I do."

 

     Sandra's breath fogged the tinted glass of the car while she stared up at the detailed architectural carvings of mascarons, corbels, festoons, and balconies. There was no way she could stop her mouth from spreading involuntarily.

 

     "A bit old, isn't it?" She tried to fake disappointment, though her delight wasn't willing to take a backseat.

 

     "It's modern inside." William veered the car into the underground parking lot that was hard to find unless a person knew exactly where to turn.

 

     When the car ducked beneath the automatic barricade, Sandra sensed an ominous feeling. Something wasn't right. William had tensed when he swung the car into the parkade. She made a quick, mental sketch of the parking lot, the exits, and doorways. She saw the elevator.

 

     "Almost there. Then we can make arrangements to have your belongings sent over." William slipped the fob into his Loden jacket and smiled. Don't blow it now, old man.

 

     Sandra was out of the car before William could come and open her door. She had to take the lead from here. While he keyed in the secret code on the elevator pad, she watched and memorized the sequence, 1951. He ushered her into the small stainless steel shaft and pressed the third-floor button. "It's nice," William promised.

 

     William wasn't lying. When Sandra entered the elegant foyer, the apartment empty of the danger she had suspected, she dropped her guard. Maybe she was just tired. She felt William's hand press gently on the curve of her back, "here, let me show you around."

 

     The foyer was an exercise in elegant marble, wrought iron, and walnut paneling. A ceramic umbrella vase stood on guard at the base of the curving stairway, and only a brass door handle gave away the secret in the panel that there was a doorway. "A powder room." William gestured.

 

     A long red and floral patterned rug led into the interior. Sandra almost vomited in her mouth at the opulence in the sitting room. "My room is just over there, the kitchen is in here." William pushed on a swinging door. The kitchen was state of the art, and as modern, as anything, she'd ever seen. Miele appliances, some unfamiliar stone countertops, a basket of fruit in the center, Sandra kept score.

<  10  >

     "May I have a glass of water?" Sandra felt her heart thunder, her internal core was set on burn.

 

     "Of course. What kind? Sparkling, tap, fruit, ice?" William sensed Sandra's turmoil. Her color was that of fever, as a doctor, he recognized the signs of anxiety.

 

     "Ice." Sandra clung to the cool counter to steady herself. This will pass. Keep calm.

 

     As indiscreetly as he could muster, while filling a glass with ice and water, William glanced at the digital clock on the oven. All he had to do was stall Sandra for ten more minutes.

 

     The ice rattled in the glass as Sandra's hand shook. Her color shifted from pink to ashen in a matter of seconds.

 

     "Do you need to sit down? Are you unwell?" His doctoring instinct took over.

 

     Sandra saw it in the reflection of the oven mounted at head height. William. She'd seen him before. When she shifted his sunglasses on his head, she recognized the resemblance, to the slightly younger version. This was a trap. She had to think fast. Fuck!

 

     "I'm fine. Jet lag. I haven't been eating well, and then all that caffeine and sugar have gone to my head." Sandra lied. In the kitchen were two doors, the one they entered, the other that undoubtedly led to a stairwell. If she was going to make a run for it, it was now. She just had to think of a diversion.

 

     William's heart softened. Last year, when his son, a man who should have known better, fell for a young gold digger who stole thousands of dollars from him, he had scolded his son for his stupidity. Now that stunning gold digger was in his kitchen, and he contemplated how to best hide her from his son and the law. He had to think and come up with a diversion. This girl was just an innocent child. Eight minutes.

 

     In the distance, he thought he could hear the wail of a siren. Looking at Sandra, her brassiere's lace trimmings made an appearance as she leaned on a stool, and it didn't take police training to read her thoughts and that she was planning her next masterful chess move. His son had lost so much more than a few thousand dollars when he steered his modest marriage into the ditch when he dabbled in the disastrous affair with the young woman smiling at him through her enormous eyes. Seven minutes. Although she lied and said she was twenty-two, she was thirty, but under the right light, she could pass for someone even younger. He'd seen footage of this formidable chameleon in action. She was the sort of woman who could make a grown man cry and had succeeded in bringing his son to his knees. Six minutes.

<  11  >

     Sandra set the glass on the counter, shook her luxurious hair, and put on a Sunday smile. "So. What's it gonna be?"

 

     She was nearly as tall as William, he had lost an inch or two over the years, she had eyes the color of a kaleidoscope, and she peered directly into his soul.

 

     His loyalty divided, William conceded that Sandra needed to be brought to justice. The money she stole was one thing, but his son's pending divorce robbed him of a daughter-in-law he had adored until her fangs showed while trying to survive his son's indecent digression. And he missed spending time with his grandchildren who were torn to shreds in the conflict. Standing only inches from Sandra, he understood how dangerous she was and that when backed into a corner: unpredictable. His son should have known better. Five minutes. His son should have made an ethical choice.

 

     Sandra watched the clock tick. Someplace in the house, the grains of sand were running out, and William was her only escape hatch. She'd seen that glint in his eyes softening toward her; she hadn't miscalculated his feelings toward her. She knew the cards she had been dealt; there was only one way to play them: call or bluff.

 

     When his son confessed what had caused the split in his marriage, William had been angry, then he wanted nothing more than revenge on the gold digger bitch his son described to him. That she was as cold and vicious as Medusa and deserved to be sent back to the gates of hell seemed fair. His son implied that he was a victim of a scam, but William now saw the truth. She was standing in the kitchen as if she belonged there. Four minutes.

 

     "I think I should go." Sandra reached for her purse. The minutes of posturing set her nerves on fire. She didn't think William would stop her. If Jurgen was his son, then she understood their need to settle the score. It was a principle she lived by too. But the old adage: two wrongs don't make a right also came into play. Jurgen got what he wanted. He was never sorry when he flaunted her at the lavish parties in Cannes, in Monte Carlo, New York, or in Barcelona. That he had a wife and three children were an after-dinner mint he refused to swallow. All he cared about was the fantasy, the gluttony, the sex. Until he got busted by his wife and hung out to dry. That was when she took what she thought she deserved as payment and left.

<  12  >

Three minutes. William heard the elevator head into the basement. If Sandra was on to him, or them, she played it cool. He had to decide. Stall or abet. He'd never been the sort of man who trespassed on any law. He followed the lines written in the sand and stayed on his side. In marriage, he had chosen well, Rose was his partner in everything. In his practice, he had come across temptation too. He could have tasted the tempting morsels, and, probably, come out unscathed. But it was about trust, love, respect, and his son had failed in all three categories.

 

     "Where to?" William asked, taking a step closer. Her intoxicating scent wafted up, and he inhaled. He enjoyed being in her company. Walking from Der Eifler to his car with her on his arm, flirting and laughing, people glanced with envy. He'd seen men eye her up, it wasn't hard to read what they were thinking. Of course, he understood the appeal. Two minutes.

 

     If she was going to live another day, Sandra had to make a move. She could kick William in the balls, she had a deadly aim, and he'd not suspect what was coming at him. She had heard the ding of the elevator too. She figured she had minutes, if not seconds, to make a move. But what she found interesting about people was that they seldom saw or believed in the genetic miracle of DNA. Looking in the mirror of life, they saw past their flaws, past the similarities they shared with family. Experience, however, had taught Sandra that much. The apple doesn't fall far. William was just about to take a bite. "Come with me?" She said, planting the words into the soul of his fading blue eyes.

 

     One minute.

 

     *

     Jurgen jammed his finger on the elevator button, it was moving too slow. When his contact made the call that his father was en route with the stunning bimbo on his arm, he had flown into overdrive. The plan was to get Sandra to his father's house. They had aimed for four o'clock. It had been a sporadic scheme, and surprisingly, Sandra fell into his trap. His source had tracked Sandra to Wiesbaden; why she'd come back to his territory was unfathomable and stupid. But Sandra liked hiding in plain sight, she was sly as a cat on a tin rooftop.

<  13  >

The drive over had been fraught with panic, he had to slip away from his children unseen, it wouldn't look good when he disputed the custody battle that kept him awake at night. Either way, he wanted retribution, Sandra was going to pay. During his six-month affair, he learned many of her tricks. Older men were her calling card, although he didn't see himself in that category. That his father agreed to be the cheese in the trap, well, he owed the old man. Two minutes.

 

     Fumbling with the key in his pocket, Jurgen moved slowly. Sandra could hear a pin drop, she was always in fight or flight mode. That frenzy she simmered really turned him on at the beginning of their affair. But, now, there was nothing for it, the elevator would ding. He had even tried to dismantle it, but in the end, he ran out of time. He moved stealthily and pressed on the door handle, his instructions to his father were, "leave the door unlocked, move her into the kitchen."

 

     He held his breath, afraid that Sandra would hear the air whistle in his lungs and his heart pound in his chest. He still needed to decide where to cut his father off. This was his business. His father didn't need to be involved once he had a grip on Sandra. Jurgen found he was salivating, although his mouth was dry.

 

     The chime of the grandfather clock nearly stalled his heart. He strained for sounds of life in the house, or words and movement. Keeping Sandra in the kitchen wasn't going to be easy for his father, she had a way of leading a man straight to the bedroom, all the while playing coy and at the same time being the seductress. In a way, he couldn't wait to see her again. To confirm his suspicions and to prove that he was a hapless victim.

 

     Time's up.

 

     *

     Detective Hanson lit a cigarette and watched Jurgen Klein through the lens of his spyglass. If there was one thing he loved about being on assignment in Germany, smoking was still aloud. Even ice cream parlors and coffee shops allowed a person to enjoy a drag while sitting under an umbrella on the terrace.

<  14  >

Jurgen Klein was the worst sort of criminal, Hanson had seen the bloodbath he left in his wake. Although Hanson resided permanently on the right side of the law, if he had to choose sides, he would do everything to defend that small-time con woman who had a list of aliases as long as her glorious hair. It didn't surprise him that men fell like timber, and Sandra Gordon didn't become a con because of some psycho flaw in her system. She'd learned to survive on the hard edges of life. And she was, all that.

 

     That Dr. Becker allowed himself to become the pawn was explicable too. Though a bad seed, Jurgen was his only son, and by trapping Sandra, he'd been led to believe he'd get his grandchildren back into his life. The poor old man had no idea what a scumbag his son was.

 

     Hanson didn't have jurisdiction to enter Dr. Becker's home; he had followed Jurgen like the sticky substance of gum on a shoe. What Jurgen planned to do to Sandra wasn't much of a mystery either, he was into buying and selling. From where Hanson was parked, he had a clear view of the underground parking lot. There was only one way in or out.

 

     Lighting another cigarette, the window rolled down, the sun in his face, Hanson wondered what it would be like to have a home in these stunning buildings decorated with frescos, ivy, statues, and whimsical decorations you had to be an architect to understand. It was sad that Dr. Becker had to be dragged into this seedy mess. He was a kind man, the sort who still followed the elements that shaped a man into a gentleman. A plume of his cigarette smoke ricocheted off the windshield and funneled out the window into the sunshine.

 

     Before he could take another drag of his cigarette, Dr. Becker's fancy Maybach shot out from the underground, screeched its tires, and merged with slow-moving sidestreet traffic. Hanson had to decide, follow, or stay put. The driver was clearly Becker. Despite the slight tint in the windshield, the sun wasn't the sort of light anyone could mess with. It appeared as if he was alone. But why the speed? He decided to follow. Jurgen didn't know it, but he had a tail planted in his car. Hanson pulled out, merged in and out, and kept his eye on the ruby-black sedan. At this pace, neither vehicle would get far.

<  15  >

A ping alerted him that Jurgen's Bimmer was also on the move and stopped at the first red light that separated him from them. If it worked out, they'd lose him quick enough, Papa was obviously on a mission — possibly a rescue. Sandra had that power, she even duped him once. Hence her spur-of-the-moment escape to Europe. That she came back to the very city that started it all was just plain dumb. But Hanson knew, trapped animals were highly unpredictable.

 

     His sensible Audi meshed into the traffic, there was no reason for Dr. Becker to suspect anything, and if Sandra was in the car hiding, then she had played her game well. He'd been tracking Jurgen for five years. It all started in New York. Jurgen was under surveillance, suspected of securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, money laundering in Panama, seedy threads that pointed toward human trafficking. And so many lies that it was a miracle that even Jurgen could keep tabs on the falsehoods that were his calling card. But in the end, Hanson discovered his secrets: Jurgen was meticulous to a fault. His soft spot and his biggest error were Sandra. Despite being a cop, Hanson had even found himself cheering for Sandra when she ran and stole twenty grand, or chump-change, from Jurgen's Barcelona apartment and vanished while Jurgen was passed out on the bed from too much white stuff up his nose. That was the one thing Sandra never went near. She adored champagne, especially Spanish cava, but drugs were never part of her palate.

 

     Although the traffic didn't lessen, on Highway 66 heading east, it picked up speed. Hanson suspected they were heading toward Frankfurt, logical if they were planning on leaving via air. They were slowly losing Jurgen to badly timed traffic lights. Would Jurgen automatically assume the airport too? Or was there some mysterious location they were heading in? His only choice was to follow and hope he had chosen the right car.

 

     *

     "Is he following us?" Sandra asked from the back seat. The scent of William's cologne had permeated the raincoat he covered her with. She hated having to trust him, but it was the only option at the time. And she had watched his eyes shift as he came to terms with what he was about to do. William was choosing her over his son. What became apparent in the brief discussion, when she said, "If you help Jurgen you will be an accomplice," was that William had no idea the sort of criminal activities Jurgen traded in. William had simply taken her hand and said, "run," led her to the kitchen's back door, and as predicted, it led to the stairwell. She didn't have time to thank him, for an old man, William was spry and a fast runner.

<  16  >

"No. He got caught by the first set of lights." William looked in the rearview mirror then his gaze stopped on the slim form hiding on the backseat. What on earth had he just done? Should he pull over and kick her out? Should he go to the first precinct and turn her in? Sandra was undoubtedly guilty of some crime, but he couldn't bring himself to hand her over. For some stupid reason he couldn't understand, he wanted to keep her for himself. The last ten years were hard. He still missed his Rose, and when Jurgen's stupidity cost him that last link to his grandchildren, he felt genuinely lonely. Of course, he dated. There was a succession of lovely women, but they didn't exude that sort of sexuality oozing from Sandra. She was too young for him, but just once, he wanted that dangerous experience of being with someone like her. Sandra, he couldn't deny the feeling, aroused him. And he wanted to protect her.

 

     "Thank you." Sandra tried to find William's eyes in the mirror. She was strangely drawn to him. In her little black book were many notches. Young and old, she could make men beg, and she wanted to repay William with the one form of currency she had in abundance. "Do you think leading Jurgen toward the airport will work a ruse?"

 

     "You'd know better than I. This is entirely new territory for me? I still can't believe I'm doing this." William almost smiled. The juices of adrenaline made him feel alive, younger than he had in years. "So Munich then? By train?"

 

     "Yes. Jurgen will think I boarded the first flight out. I'm not sure what he'll think you will do."

 

     "Well, he betrayed me too. If we can get a private berth on the train, you will have to tell me everything. I want to know what I'm up against."

 

     "I will."

 

     "So, I do have to ask. If I were just one of your conquests, how would this have ended?"

 

     "Let's just say you would have had a good time. I would have taken care of you at least for a little while." Sandra allowed mischief to brighten her smile.

 

     "You don't cook, do you?"

 

     "Not even boiling water," Sandra laughed, "but don't worry, I would have appeased your appetite."

<  17  >

*

Detective Hanson drove through the vast parking, by sheer luck, he found the Maybach parked in the long-term area underground. Jurgen was only minutes behind him. Inside the airport, he caught his breath, there were so many people that it was impossible to decide which way to run and start his search. But he had to try. Scanning the crowd, he gave up hope quickly. He tried to channel what Sandra would do on the run. Would she panic and book a flight to Canada? Or her favorite, Spain? She was slippery. She would have made a great cop because she could think on her feet almost better than anyone he knew. But then life had taught her that lesson early and repeatedly. Lucky for her, she had brains and beauty. A lethal combo when used as a tool in crime. Sandra's file was thick. Although she was small fry in the big scheme, she stole, at best guess, five-hundred grand in cash and jewels from her marks. Most deserved what they had coming, but a law is a law. You can't bend them to suit your needs. There is a law against that.

 

     Sandra Gordon was a victim and con rolled into one. Not that that would ever serve her if she was apprehended. He and his superior hoped to swing her to testify against Jurgen, but Sandra had standards and the will to remain silent. They held her once in an interrogation room, the entire time she said precisely nothing. Intimidation made her laugh. But what held true, every cop at the precinct took a look through the two-way mirror and stared. Hanson didn't stick around to hear the dialog, he knew it word for word.

 

     While he walked briskly, scanning face after face, he caught sight of Jurgen. Red-colored his cheeks, fury clouded his vision, Hanson stepped sideways and avoided his gaze, and disappeared into the crowd. He doubted Jurgen would recognize him, he was searching for more familiar faces. While ducking through the throng, he saw a sticker on a piece of luggage rolling over the tiled flooring. He stopped, audibly reproved himself, dumb ass. Deutsche Bahn, they were taking the train.

 

     Looking up, Hanson scanned the symbols leading to the train lines. He pushed a family apart, they stared and protested as he ran down the escalators, skipping two or three steps at a time. He swore at his own stupidity; he should have known better. Sandra always had a contingency plan, and the airport trick might fool Jurgen, but not him. He built a career on matching chess moves, despite Sandra just having moved the queen into place. From the ticket machine, he bought the most expensive ticket despite not knowing which way to travel.

<  18  >

*

     "Do my entire back." Sandra twisted and smiled up at William. Thank god for the European Union, no one bothered to check her passport since they fled. The scent of suntan lotion wafted, and she already had a fabulous tan, William was a shade of leather and bronze.

 

     Bibione was a perfect hideaway, and the Pensione Accademia had all the charm to heal the wounds of their near-disastrous escape. It had been William's idea to come here by way of many small excursion trains until they finally arrived after hopscotching through Munich, Salzburg, Klagenfurt, and Udine, instead of taking the direct train. Ten days later, Williman was utterly in love with her. Such were the consequences of her lifestyle. He was kind, gentle, loving, and after finally going to the Farmacia, the little blue pills did much to improve his stamina.

 

     "How about tomorrow, we take the shuttle and go to Venice?" Williman kissed her tanned shoulder blade while sinking down to lie beside her on the double lounger. They had fun shopping for new wardrobes, and she talked him into coloring his hair into a shade of rich dark blond, while she had hers tinted into a shade of Irish red and took five inches off its length. Every inch of her was gorgeous.

 

     Complete in his new disguise, she selected sporty denim slacks and crisp cotton shirts, William cut a dashing figure. If she kept her eyes closed, she found him a tolerable lover, though she acted as if he discovered all her secret buttons and moaned so loud that the woman who owned the pensione couldn't look her in the eye without blushing and stuttering.

 

     "Sounds lovely. Mind getting me a drink, mein Schatz." She turned, beamed, and kissed William on the hand.

 

     "What would you like? Liebling."

 

     "Something cold. You know that shop around the corner? The one we bought the gelato at when we first arrived?" Sandra stroked the inside of William's arm, and her eyes promised him rewards he couldn't dare imagine. "I'd like an Orangina."

 

     William got to his feet and brushed the sand from his legs and shorts, he slipped the cotton shirt they hung from the umbrella on and buttoned up. He felt in his pocket for his wallet.

<  19  >

"Anything else? Schatzie?"

 

     William had been happy in life, but that feeling now paled in comparison. Being with Sandra, he discovered a vigor he didn't know could exist in a man of his age. And Sandra, he was convinced, was just as much in love. He looked at her golden tan, that thong bikini sure left interesting tan lines.

 

     Sandra shook her head, pulled her Serengeti shades down her nose, and said, "hurry back."

 

     He whistled; his sandals filled with sand but he didn't care. The sun was shining on him as he walked toward the heavily crowded tourist shop.

 

     Propping her chin on her stacked fist, she watched as William's legs vanished among the sand, the towels, the sandcastles, the children running to and fro with buckets and balls. As she did that, her deft hand rummaged in the straw beach bag for the phone she had slipped into the lining. She plugged in her passcode and texted. "I'm on my way. Give me ten."

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