What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Four

The remnants of a nightmare startled Marah awake. Only it wasn’t a nightmare it was all too real. Laying on her side Marah surveyed her surroundings. The room was shrouded in darkened shadows so it wasn’t much and any movement brought an immediate throbbing pain to her head. The last thing she remembered was Carlos tying her hands then gagging her mouth, he must have knocked her out with something. She tested her arms and found they were no longer bound. She gingerly reached up and felt the back of her head and winced. He had definitely hit her with something, a large knot had already formed and when she brough her hand back down she caught the metallic scent of blood.

She listened for any movement to indicate if Carlos was nearby but the only sound she heard were of the vermin variety. Though logically she knew he was close, no one went through the trouble of kidnapping a person to simply abandon them, she let herself relax slightly. Where had Carlos taken her? He said they were going to the scene of the crime. What crime? She had just met the man a few months ago! Sure she thought something was fishy going on. For one small moment in time she even worried that Danny and Tony had gotten mixed up in the mob again. But this was a little extreme and never crossed her mind.

Tony.

Her husband’s face flashed before her and brought a wave of tears to her eyes. After that fight they had Tony probably didn’t even know she was in danger. The very idea made Marah even more determined to make it out of here alive. Yes, Tony kept secrets and had a nasty habit of letting that trashy Eden put her lips on him but Tony and Marah had always had a destino. They had been forever since the day they met, they just got delayed for a while. She silently vowed that when she got out of wherever in the hell she was that they would clear the air once and for all. Make a fresh start for them and for their baby.

Marah once again listened for any signs for Carlos but he still hadn’t returned. Ignoring the intense throbbing in her head she managed to push herself up into a sitting position.  Pausing to catch her breath she saw him, sitting in a nearby chair patiently waiting for her to make the first move. His smile was cruel and taunting. “Got tired of playing opossum? Sorry princess we are still waiting for our other guest to arrive. You know how women are, always making you wait. But I have been waiting years for this so a few minutes more won’t kill me.”

Marah was done playing his little games. She wanted answers and she wanted them now. “Why did you do this? What is it you want?  Money?”

He waved her off as if the very idea was ridiculous to him. “Don’t be absurd.  Your money is inconsequential.  I am afraid my motives were a bit more Machiavellian in origin.” Carlos leaned forward on his chair, his arms resting on his knees. Though his posture was relaxed, she knew he was just scrutinizing her and trying to intimidate. “Let’s see if this will help clue you in Marah Santos.  My real name is Carlos but it is not Riviera, it is Quesada, and I do believe you knew my sister.”

***

Tony looked at the stunned faces currently gathered in his living room and felt the same mix of bewilderment. What Frank was telling them was so beyond what any of them had imagined.  The more they tried to untangle the strings on this web the more messy it became.  “So let me get this straight, I was drugged?  That is why I can’t remember anything after leaving the bar that afternoon?”

Frank picked up one of the documents that had been tucked inside the envelope. “According to this letter John wrote he said that he was paid $1000 to slip you the date rape drug Lady Q, otherwise called Queen of Hearts, into your drink.  So you were correct Michelle, Tony was drugged.  Talked to one of the vice cops, he said Lady Q is quickly becoming a thorn in their side.  It’s quick acting and in less than eight hours completely out of the blood system.”

Michelle hardly looked satisfied knowing she had been right. “That is not exactly a good thing Frank.”

Frank continued explaining. “He didn’t ask why he was asked to drug Tony, he just did it for the money.  But when he saw Eden escort you out he had what he called ‘a feeling’.”  Frank took a breath before continuing, “John Anderson really wasn’t a bad guy.  A little misguided and he fell into the wrong hands.  You two know what that is like don’t you?”

From behind Tony’s shoulder Danny muttered. “Yeah he was a real stand up guy.”

Frank pretended to ignore Danny’s comment and the looks he got from the group at large.  He knew John Anderson had made poor decisions, but he hated to see such a young life filled with potential cut down in its prime.  Instead he continued to search the contents of the envelope for clues.  Perhaps something that would further tie this case together.  He pulled out a photocopy of evidence checkout and suddenly he knew what John was trying to show him, it was right in front of his face.  He slid the paper across the table towards Tony, “Recognize this?”

Tony quickly scanned the sheet but he couldn’t say he really read a word of it.  They were wasting time, time Marah didn’t have.  “Get to the point Frank!”  He felt a restraining hand on his arm and he knew it was Reva holding him back.  “Frank please just tell us.”

“John was paid nearly 10,000 to get a specific piece of evidence out of storage.  Evidence pertaining to case number 041602.”

041602.  That number bounced around Tony’s brain frantically until it finally hit home.  April 16, 2002.  The day Catalina was murdered.  “Catalina.” Tony leaned forward and pinned Frank with a look so lethal even Frank cringed. “Are you telling me all of this is somehow connected to Catalina?”  At his master’s harsh words Toby raises his head and whined.   Sensing the tension in the room the dog had been restless all night, pacing from one room to the next.  Tony absent-mindedly stoked his soft head, reassuring him though Tony wasn’t certain if he was convincing himself or the dog more.  He looked back at Frank and continued, “She never really spoke of her family, not in a way that I would think they would come after my family or myself .  You think this is all about revenge?”

“I think they are connected somehow and frankly it is our best lead in finding where Mr. Riviera, if that is his real name, has taken Marah.”  He pointed to the envelope but didn’t take his eyes off of Tony, “All of this screams that it is personal Tony.  Say Catalina’s relatives came back for revenge where would they take her?”

From where he stood nearby Rafael growled. “Damn it man he’s not a detective.  You figure it…”

“The Santos mansion.” All eyes on the room flew to Tony and he continued. “That was where Catalina was killed.  If it is as personal as you say it is than you don’t get more personal than that.  And it is certainly secluded enough.”

Frank turned to Danny. “The Santos mansion still empty?”

“It has been on the market for years but no takers.  I have refused to set foot on the property since I moved back home.  Too much bad blood there.”  Danny winced at his poor choice of words.  Hopefully no more blood would be spilled that night.

Frank stood and opened his cell phone to mobilize a police unit to that location but stopped speaking when he saw the looks exchanged in the room.  “Don’t even think about it.”

Tony barely spared Frank a look as he stood and walked towards the door flanked by Danny and Rafael. “That is my wife and child damn it!  Don’t even think of stopping me or you’ll have to arrest me for assault.  Even then I would find a way to get to them so save yourself the time and hassle.”

Josh held Frank back when he moved to intercept the trio at the door. “Don’t argue with him Frank.  Just get your men moving!  Nothing matters except bringing Marah home safe where she belongs.”

Frank growled but he finally made the call he had intended to make moments ago. “I need all units to the old Santos place.  Let’s go in under the radar, no lights.”  He turned to the remaining members in the house and shook his head. “I doubt you will listen but this is police business.  You will be more help to Marah here than out there acting like cowboys.”  He closed the door behind him with a resounding click.

Reva stared at the closed-door and dropped her head.  After taking a few deep breaths she turned and faced her husband and grown sons.  Shayne had grown up along side Marah and they had always been close.  Even though he was younger he had always been protective of her and she could tell by his posture that he wanted nothing more than to run to her aid.  And Jonathan?  Though he had grown up away from the family fold he had built bonds with all of them on varying levels.  Since Marah had moved back home Jonathan and Marah had grown close and she knew he was no less worried than Shayne.  So it was with a heavy heart, knowing she was sending her men into a dangerous situation, like the cowboys Frank alluded to, when she simply said. “Go.  Help Tony bring Marah home.  We will stay here with the kids like good women folk.”

As if permission was what they were waiting for her stoic men moved towards the door, ready to do what was needed to bring back their little sister.  Josh paused by her side. “I trust Tony, but that’s our baby girl.”

She kissed him sweetly, “I know Bud.  Just keep the boys safe.  Keep yourself safe, and come home to me.”

He touched her face tenderly.  The face he had loved since they were teenagers in Oklahoma, the face he had always loved.  “Always.”

***

A hard nudge to her side brought Marah awake.  She must have passed out from the concussion.  The smell of sulfur filled the air and when Marah opened her eyes she saw that Carlos had lit candles, the room was filled with them.

Carlos crouched down beside her so that he was in Marah’s line of sight. “Rise and shine princess, our guest has finally arrived.”  He gripped her arm tightly and yanked her to her feet.  The room blurred before her eyes and tilted sideways and Marah stumbled forward.  Carlos stopped her with one of his strong arms. “Can’t have that Mrs. Santos.  Why we’ve barely just begun.”

Marah swallowed down her nausea and was about to tell him where he could shove his ‘fun’ when she caught sight of the newcomer to the room.  Her brain may not have been firing on all cylinders at the moment but she knew this wasn’t a welcome addition to the nightmare this night had become.  Carlos unceremoniously plopped her down in a chair and Eden slithered up to her like the snake she was.  “Why hello Marah.  Having fun yet?”

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