Convicted, стр. 5

Convicted - _10.jpg

People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything.

—Terry Goodkind

Sighing, Claire fastened the final clasp on her luggage and turned toward Phil. “I’m glad you didn’t need to fly back to Iowa, to meet with the Iowa City Police Department.”

Golden flecks shimmered in Phil’s hazel eyes as he responded, “Well, Mrs. Alexander, it wouldn’t be very husbandly of me to let you travel to Venice all by yourself.” Nodding toward her midsection, he continued, “Especially, not in your condition.”

Claire’s hand instinctively moved to her growing baby. With a small smile, she replied, “Mr. Alexander, I certainly appreciate that.”

While Phil spoke, Claire made the final adjustments on her dark wig. She’d gotten good at making the fake hair look real. That didn’t mean it didn’t itch. She was beyond ready to forgo the disguises.

Phil continued, “It seems the ICPD no longer needs my information. The prosecutor’s office said they had new evidence to investigate and asked that I keep in touch.”

“Hmm,” Claire hummed in agreement as she placed a few more hairpins. When her lips were clear, she asked, “I wonder what new evidence came their way?”

Stepping behind her, he gazed into their reflection. When their eyes met, he grinned and answered, “Since I heard your end of the conversation, I’d say they were informed of a very—”

A loud knock interrupted Phil’s words. The straightening of his stance told Claire he saw the concern in her eyes. Every contact was suspicious and required scrutiny. Phil nodded silently, stood taller, and walked toward the door.

Claire didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until she released it, hearing her husband announce, “It’s the bellhop. Are you ready to leave?”

Allowing her shoulders to relax, Claire took one last look around the suite. The luxurious furnishings paled in comparison to the lovely view beyond the balcony. As the sun rose in the East, hues of blue and sparkling waves danced across the water of Lake Geneva. The unseasonably warm breeze bathed her cheeks as she paused and gazed at the sight for one last time. She knew it was time to go; their things were packed and ready. Exhaling, she replied, “Yes, I’m ready to move on.”

Phil nodded as he opened the door and allowed the hotel employee to enter.

Signore, Signora,” Although the predominant language of Geneva was French, the Alexanders were thought to be Italian, as such, even the staff addressed them in their native language. Truthfully, most residents of the metropolitan city spoke fluent French, Italian, or German, or a combination.

Claire silently reached for her purse as her husband instructed the staff regarding their luggage. Standing patiently, Phil placed his arm casually around his wife’s waist and led her toward the elevator. Their performance remained flawless as they sat within the confines of the taxi.

The streets filled with people blurred as Claire contemplated her future. “Are our reservations set?” Claire asked in a whisper.

Phil leaned closer. “Yes, my dear, let’s discuss it further in private.”

Claire sat straight, gazed toward the driver, and nodded. No one could be trusted. She reminded herself to be mindful of listening ears. Disappearing into the night was Phil’s specialty. Doing that with a pregnant wife and multiple pieces of luggage was a new test of his clandestine skills.

As the early morning streets of Geneva passed by the windows, Claire reflected on her last piece of business. She’d made one last visit to the financial institution, the one that only a few days ago made her an incredibly wealthy woman. If the bank employees were surprised to have Marie Rawls visit for a second time, they didn’t show it; instead, they willingly took her to the safety deposit box where she completed her business. Claire couldn’t be one hundred percent certain, but her intuition told her that—when push came to shove—Tony would make his way to this hidden fortune. She decided his pot-of-gold shouldn’t be totally empty. She also knew the contents she left wouldn’t make him happy; nevertheless, this time, it was her game—she was the one holding the cards. He’d follow her rules, or he wouldn’t. She had no intentions of trapping him. No, she knew what that was like. In their figurative game of chess, she had him in check. If she’d taken the conversation with Marcus Evergreen another direction then it could have been check-mate. Watching the sidewalks fill with people, Claire wondered if Tony deserved the opportunity she was providing.

Truthfully, she couldn’t answer that question. She could only say that she wanted him to have the opportunity. With that said, what he did with the opportunity was his choice.

Phil gently squeezed her hand. “You seem far away. Are you going to be all right?”

Claire shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess time will tell.” She wondered how she and Phil had come this far, how their interaction had become so casual. Given their initial meeting in San Antonio, it seemed unlikely. Sighing, Claire turned back toward the window as the car slowed. It seemed very few of the relationships in her life could boast normal beginnings. Placing her hand gingerly over her midsection, she prayed for a normal ending.

Their reservations on Air France had them leaving Geneva early in the afternoon and flying directly to Rome. They both knew they’d miss their flight. Phil had a private plane waiting to whisk them away from Switzerland and take them directly to Venice. Claire’s new-found wealth allowed him the luxury of creating a rather tangled web of trails. She wasn’t sure if anyone would seriously try to unravel their trail, but if they did, she agreed Phil was making it difficult.

Once they arrived in Venice, their identities would again change. Sometimes Claire felt as though she needed a name tag to help her answer to the correct name. She really didn’t care what name she used as long as she could forgo the wigs and colored contacts.

Unfortunately, her sister, Emily, was working overtime to keep Claire’s name and face in the news. The last information Claire read online said she was still missing and speculations were centered on Anthony Rawlings. It reassured Claire to know that her call to Evergreen cleared Tony’s name.

If Claire could make one more call, it would be to Emily. As she and Phil rode toward the airport, she remembered how it felt to have her communication restricted by Tony. Ironically, she recognized she was once again in the same situation. This time, Claire didn’t know who to blame. Was it Catherine’s fault? After all, she was the reason Claire fled. Or was it Tony’s? If he’d never taken her—Claire couldn’t even imagine that scenario. Her life was so different than anything she’d foreseen in her youth; nevertheless, she reminded herself if Tony had never taken her then she wouldn’t be having his child. Tears threatened to permeate her colored contacts as Claire accepted the truth. Her current state, current deception of friends and family was self-imposed. She couldn’t place blame anywhere but on the woman in the mirror, no matter who she looked like at any given moment. Once again, her impulsivity played into her opponent’s hand. When the cards were dealt, Claire should’ve demanded a re-deal. She should’ve stayed true to the agreement she’d made with Tony, and she should’ve trusted him; instead, she wagered with fear and went full in.

The payoff, the safety of her child, was too important. Claire needed to see the game through until the end—folding wasn’t an option.

Mr. Evergreen explained that the FBI would soon be involved and instructed Claire to check in periodically. Evergreen warned that the FBI would more than likely want direct contact; however, Claire wasn’t willing to give the prosecutor anything more than Geneva as her current location. She’d lived through too many lies to trust anyone.