There she was

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There she was

There she was, Amy Gerstein, over by the pool, kissing my father. How I hated her for what she did to mother. Amy betrayed a trust my mother had in her, to help my father with his business. She slowly took the business duties from him, bit by bit, and did the same for my mother. There was a time I didn’t hate Amy. A time when she would tell me the secrets to running a business successfully, without owing the banks money.

Amy was a professor of business studies, turned business advisor for hire. She helped lots of small companies like my father’s shop turn their turnover into profit. She stayed around long enough to realise she was on to a winner with dad’s business. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t work out what it was. I’d got enough problems with school, I didn’t see what she was doing until it was too late; for the business and my family.

Look at her. A youthful woman in her late twenties. Look at him, late forties feeling like a teenager again.

“There you go, making up lies again.” That’s what they told me when I finally figured out what she was up to. I’d come home one evening and found her going through dad’s paperwork in his study. I didn’t think anything of it at first, maybe it was a little odd her being in the house in the evening, a bit too dedicated to her job perhaps?

“Hey Jack,” she said through the open door. “Good day at school?”

“I guess.” It wasn’t.

“Your dad’s just getting me to go through some of the older paperwork, just to make sure we’re not missing out on any owing bills. He should be back in a little while.” I didn’t really care, I was hungry, and at sixteen, that trumped curiosity at that time in the day.

“Whatever, I’m getting something to eat,” I said. “Where’s mum?”

“Don’t know. She wasn’t here when I got here a couple of hours ago.”

This was suddenly trumping my hunger, as mum would always be home when I was back from school. If she wasn’t, and it was very rare, she’d always leave a note or make sure dad was there. They didn’t like me being at home by myself. Not since the accident with the fire. It was an accident, honestly!

Eloise was my half-sister, but everyone thought she was my cousin. She was sitting in the lounge with her feet up on the poof, watching TV. She was three years my senior and was a bit of a bitch when she was interrupted, so I let her be.

“Shit head,” she said as I walked past her into the kitchen, not taking her eyes of the box.

“Sis.” It wound her up when I didn’t rise to the insults. Hey, we’re siblings after all. The fridge door clunked open as I stared at the contents, wondering what I was thinking about before. There was some left over pizza that I grabbed, still a little voice mumbling to itself in the back of my head.

“Mum,” I suddenly remembered. “Elly, where’s mum?” I said sticking my head through the serving hatch, ready to dodge any incoming projectiles.

“Buggered if I know. She wasn’t here when I got home an hour ago.”

Now that was unusual, a straight answer from her and – “Ow!” I spoke to soon. The shoe bounced off the service hatch door and clocked me in the eye. They were all the same I decided. Girls I mean. None of them can cope with their hormones, but then again, we as a gender don’t seem to cope with them any better at that age. Something I look back on and laugh about now.

I checked the fridge door–no note from mum. This was very unlike her. I grabbed the phone from its stand on the kitchen worktop and speed dialed her mobile. It went straight to voice-mail.

“Mum’s phone is switched off,” I called through to Eloise, far enough away from being caught again.

“So what?” she shouted back. Eloise was dad’s daughter from his first marriage. Her mum died when she was only one, and she never really took to mum as her own. Maybe she knew deep down early on that she wasn’t her real mother. Dad had married again quickly, so we’ve been told, to make sure Elly had a sound upbringing.

I rang mum’s mobile again. Still going straight to voice-mail. I rang her office number in case she’d had to go back to work for an emergency.

“Proctor, Shelby and Ward. How may I help you?” said the lady on the other end of the phone.

“Elizabeth Crane please.”

“Please hold,” the lady said cheerfully. “I’m sorry, Ms Crane is not in the office today, can I take a mess–“ I hung up. She’d not been in all day? Now I was beginning to worry.

Tom lost twenty five bucks at the races,” said Amy as she waltzed into the kitchen and straight to the refrigerator. “Sorry, your dad lost twenty five bucks at the races. Should have seen his face, when the nag he put his money on came in last.”

“What?” I said, distracted by the random statement, and her short skirt. Hey, I was young with hormones remember? “I can’t get hold of mum on her mobile and her office said she’s not been in today.”

“Oh, don’t worry about her. She’s probably out shopping or something,” Amy said as she took a beer from the fridge door and popped the top. “Want one?”

As tempting as that was right then, I declined. She walked back through the lounge and into the study. I mentally slapped myself about the head and focused. Amy didn’t seem to care that I couldn’t get hold of mum, and this was where my suspicions started to form.

I checked the key hooks on the wall by the back door. Her car keys were gone. She’d not taken her work bag that was sitting on the floor by the wall. So she ditched work?

“Hey guys,” called my dad as he walked in the front door, closing it loudly behind him. He was carrying a neat pile of papers I presumed were for Amy to look through. I was more concerned now that she was doing this in our house, out of office hours. “Jack, give us a hand with these will you?” he called across the lounge.

I quickly closed the distance to him and took the papers he offered me from one hand as he put the pile from the other hand on top.

“Dad, where’s mum? I can’t get hold of her.”

“I thought she was home. Have you tried her mobile?” he said.

“Of course I have. And the office. Not been there all day.”

“Huh. Unlike her to disappear without telling us.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” came Amy’s cool voice from the study. “I just remembered, she said that she needed to go and see her sister in Idaho this morning. Not well or something. Completely slipped my mind.”

“Just remembered?” I said incredulously. “You could have told me that a minute ago when I was panicking.”

“I’m sorry Jack. Don’t worry, she’s fine. Maybe she just can’t have the phone on where she is?”

I smelled bullshit, and I called her on it.

“Jack!” my dad shouted. “Amy forgot to give us the message, don’t take that tone with her.”

“Something’s going on dad. I’m worried.”

“If Amy says your mother is fine, then she’s fine.”

And that was the moment. Amy Gerstein was under his skin and getting herself comfortable. I suddenly saw it for what it was. On Tuesday she asked me the most peculiar question. I didn’t understand why she wanted to know about mum’s family, but it was now as clear as water. She wanted to know how to get rid of mum so she could spend time with dad. But, no. That makes no sense at all. Once mum got to her sister’s house, she’d see that she’s fine and call dad. Why didn’t she call dad and tell him, instead of leaving the message with his PA?

“What have you done with mum?” I said bearing down on Amy, dropping the large pile of papers I was holding. The words came out of my mouth without me evening thinking about them. My mind had jumped to a conclusion, and I prayed it was the wrong one.

“Jack, calm down.” She said this in a far too controlled way. I was a good eight inches taller than her and much broader. Maybe naively I’d assumed she’d be scared of me for that alone. Amy didn’t flinch.

“Jack!” dad shouted as he grabbed my arm and pulled me away from her. “What the hell are you doing? You can’t accuse people of – whatever you’re planning of accusing Amy of like this. I’m concerned that your mother hasn’t called, but I’m sure there’s a logical reason for it.”

I’ll never forget that night. The Police officer knocking on our door at three in the morning. The solemn look in his eyes when he asked if Elizabeth Crane lived here. They said a trooper had found her car in a ditch one hundred and fifty miles north of Oklahoma. That’s nearly a thousand miles away from Idaho and my aunt’s house. We never did find out why she was heading to Oklahoma, or why she didn’t call us. The teenager in me knew Amy was the reason for her death.

I left home shortly after that, I just couldn’t be in the same town as Amy and I don’t think she cared one little bit. As it turned out, I was right about her, dad’s business and dad. She moved in with him a few months later and they married a year after that. She now runs the business and dad lives the quiet life playing golf and drinking with his buddies on the nineteenth.

Just look at her in that bikini, perfect tan and perfect figure. I didn’t want to come, but I had to. I had to confront Amy and tell dad what I know. I found out why mum’s body was found near Oklahoma, why she never called us.

“You guy’s better be ready for this,” I said quietly as I sipped my drink. The ears on the other end of the microphone, sitting in a plain van on the hotel forecourt, recording every word. The FBI Agents concealed in the foyer hearing a “Standby” in their earpieces.

I took a gulp of my cold beer and walked over to Amy and my father.

“Hello Alexis,” I said to their backs as they talked to their friends. Amy turned around, her face expressionless as if every muscle had frozen at the terror of hearing her name.