Two things were obvious.
One … Donnie had somehow bought himself a kickass townhouse. And two … with all the police activity going on outside, something big was going on inside. As soon as Elise approached the front door, a police officer greeted her with a piercing stare and a gruff, “Can I help you?”
“I’m Elise Grady. Donnie Osco’s friend. He called and said there was a problem at his house. He asked me to stop by.”
“Hold on,” the officer replied. “Hey Logan, I got an Elise Grady out here. Says the owner called her and told her to come and check on things. Okay to send her up?”
“Affirmative,” confirmed the voice on the other end of the radio.
“You can go in miss, but first I need to see some identification.”
After showing him her license, Elise walked through the open front door and into a small entranceway. To the left was a sitting room with a fireplace, a brick-red leather couch accented with purple pillows, a black-and-white geometric-patterned rug, and classic-looking tin tiles on the ceiling. The room was stylish and modern.
And so not Donnie.
A vision of his apartment with its peeling tile floor; old, brown-tweed couch; and mismatched kitchen chairs flashed through her mind. As she looked over the contemporary art on the walls and the dramatic bronze light fixtures hanging from the ceilings, her head started spinning. It was hard to connect Donnie to this place. How exactly did he go from his college apartment to all this? After pulling out her phone to send Donnie a quick text, she heard activity and voices coming from the second floor. Putting the phone back in her purse, Elise walked up the staircase and then stopped in her tracks when she got to the top step. The second floor was even more amazing, opening up into a loft-type layout, with high ceilings, huge arched windows, a warm, Brazilian wood floor, and exposed brick walls. And just like downstairs, the space was decorated with warm colors with splashes of purple and red. Added in was just the right mix of contemporary furniture and accent pieces. Off to the right was a chef-inspired kitchen with high-end appliances and granite counters.
Elise stood there taking it all in and, for just a brief moment, she was so caught up in the layout and design of her surroundings, she didn’t notice the flurry of police activity going on around her. That was until the sound of a police radio, along with the sight of an approaching officer, broke her out of the spell.
“Elise?” A thirtyish-looking cop with blond hair and a stocky build extended his hand out to her. “Pat Logan. Eighteenth precinct. My partner and I did some work on the Luna crime ring busts last year.”
“Of course. Nice to see you again Pat.”
“You’re a friend of Osco’s?”
“That’s right. What’s going on here?”
“We received a call from the security company and when they couldn’t get a hold of anyone, we were dispatched. When we arrived we saw the door broken in. Doesn’t look like anything valuable was taken, but they were clearly looking for something.”
Pat gestured to the all the drawers that were pulled open and the books and papers that were scattered around a bookshelf and desk in the corner near the windows. “We finally tracked down a Donald Osco, but we understand he’s out of town. Would you be able to tell us if anything is missing?”
“Um …” What could she say? She had never been here before. And nothing inside, neither the furniture nor the belongings, looked the slightest bit familiar to her.
“We’re done processing the scene, and I just need to check on a few things with one of the other officers. Why don’t you take a look around and if you could come up with a list of missing items that would be helpful.”
Elise let out a deep breath as her eyes scanned over the room.
“Crazy how they walked right past the good stuff. Bose speakers, plasmas.”
The voice came from behind her and when she turned around and looked up, she was staring into a handsome face. A handsome face with a day-old beard and skin the color of warm bronze. He was a tall man, dressed in jeans and a black-fitted t-shirt that accented his powerful build.
“Not your typical breaking and entering,” he added, nodding his head toward an expensive-looking flat screen that was hanging untouched on the wall. “Any idea what they might have been looking for?” His voice was commanding, with the slightest Latin accent, and when he spoke, his dark eyes bore through her, waiting for a response. He wasn’t wearing a badge and there was no gun clipped to his belt. Over the years, she had met a good number of the detectives working for the Boston police departments, but she didn’t recognize the man standing here before. He gave off a strong, confident presence, and matched with his good looks, he was definitely someone she would have remembered.
“I’m sorry who are you again?”
“Are you a detective?”
“Not exactly.” His reply was curt and tinged with arrogance.
“What exactly then?” Elise asked, straightening her shoulders and speaking in the tone she usually reserved for courtrooms.
“My sister, Angie, lives here.”
“Your sister? Really?” That would explain the we, Donnie had talked about. “So she lives here with Donnie?”
“Is that his name?” Marc asked, his demeanor softening ever so slightly.
“You mean you don’t know?”
“Well, apparently you didn’t know about his girlfriend.” His arrogant side had returned. Okay, so the handsome guy was officially getting on her nerves. But just as Elise was crafting a witty response to lob in return, her cell phone rang.
Saved by the bell.
“Excuse me, but I have to take this,” she said, looking down at the caller ID, before turning and walking away.
It was Donnie. “Is everything okay? Angie is worried.”
“Donnie, who is Angie?” Elise asked keeping her voice low as she moved to a quiet spot near the kitchen. “And this house. Why didn’t you tell me? And how did you buy it?”
“We’ll talk when you get out here. So much has been going on. But you have to tell me, is it a mess? Angie worked so hard putting it all together. I don’t want her upset.”
Elise’s eyes scanned over the second floor again. Pillows from the couches were strewn about, there were papers and books all over the floor and the contents of the desk and kitchen drawers were all spilled out. It was turned upside down, but nothing a few hours of cleaning wouldn’t fix.
“Don’t worry. Nothing looks permanently damaged. And everything else, like the televisions and the speakers, none of that was touched. But whoever did this was looking for something. Could it be something you were working on? Should I call Brim at the lab?” Elise added, referring to Donnie’s boss and the computer and engineering lab where Donnie worked.
“Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing there they could have taken.”
“Who exactly are they? What’s going on?” Elise asked, lowering her voice even further so no one would hear. She was beginning to get an unsettled feeling that Donnie was mixed up in something he shouldn’t be. Looking up, she saw Marc Ruiz was standing near the windows watching her.
“Don’t worry about anything,” Donnie replied again. His response was like a mantra. “We’ll take care of cleaning up when we get back. Right now I need a favor.”
Now what … Elise groaned silently.
“I’ll walk you through it. Okay?”
“Uh, okay,” Elise replied with a deep sigh.
“There’s a bedroom past the kitchen. In it, there’s a large dresser. The one with the mirror. Do you see it?”
“Hold on.” As she spoke, Elise walked down a hall, past a bathroom and a small laundry room before coming upon the bedroom. A beautiful and expensive-looking dresser was against the wall to the left as she entered. The wall to the right had the same large arched windows that looked out over Cambridge.
“Found it,” Elise replied.
“Good, there’s a drawer on the left. The second one down. It has a fake bottom.”
“A fake bottom. I made it myself. Just listen. Open the drawer and you’ll find a little release on the right side in the back. Push it.”
Elise pulled open the drawer and inside was a handful of black gym socks. The kind Donnie always wore. The kind she bought him last Christmas. Reaching her hand inside, she found the button and pushed it forward.
It opened to a deep compartment below.
“There should be a manila envelope in there. Do you see it?”
“Got it,” she said, reaching to pull the package out of the drawer.
“Thanks. I need you to bring that to Vegas with you.”
“No prob …” she started to reply but the words caught in her throat as she felt her stomach drop to the floor. She was stunned by what she saw beneath the envelope.
“Donnie, wait. What is this?” Just below the envelope, stashed deep inside the drawer was cash.
Lots of cash.
With her heart racing she quickly counted ten stacks of bundled hundred dollar bills. All tied with red rubber bands—easily ten thousand dollars or more if she had to guess. “Oh, my God. Donnie, what is this? Donnie? Donnie.” But he had already disconnected the line.
Where the hell would he get that kind of money?
The house, the girlfriend, the break in, and now hidden cash. The whole situation was quickly moving from odd to potentially dangerous. Maybe even criminal.
She stood there for a moment and shook her head. Maybe it was
nothing and her prosecution radar was on overdrive. Once she got to Vegas, she’d sit him down in and get some answers.
This whole detour to Donnie’s house wasn’t on her carefully planned schedule for the day. A quick check of her watch told her she had two and a half hours to get home, grab her bags, and get to the airport.
Stashing the envelope in her purse, she quickly repositioned the wooden bottom, closed the drawer and then, turning around to leave, was surprised see the hot, arrogant, and not-exactly-a-detective, Marc Ruiz standing in the doorway.
Crossing his arms, he leaned back against the wall, his face expressionless. “Find anything interesting?”