Double T leaned back in his chair. “It’s almost as if whoever put this together is playing off the star going missing in real life.”
“Ya think?” They’d already gone over the possibility that Allie Kramer’s disappearance was staged to generate more interest in her and the film, but if so the production company, or whoever was behind her vanishing act, was taking the law into its own hands.
People had been known to pull outrageous stunts for publicity, but the idea seemed far-fetched. Yet they were getting nowhere with the missing person’s case. No one had heard from Allie Kramer since the night before the reshooting of the final scene. She’d called her assistant, Cherise Gotwell, and said she didn’t think she’d make the morning shoot, had wanted to make sure her stunt double was available, and had said that she would confirm in the morning.
She hadn’t. No more calls had come in from her. In fact that was the last bit of communication of any kind. Her cell phone records indicated that she’d received one final call from her sister, Cassie, but then nothing. No one had seen or heard from her since.
How the hell could someone with a face recognized by most of the people in America disappear?
“This is just one of the trailers for the movie. There are a couple more—variations of the same. I’ve got a call in to the producer and the director. Maybe I’ll get lucky and one of them will call me back,” Nash said.
“Yeah, right. And maybe I’ll go pick us up some Voodoo Doughnuts and there won’t be a line.”
She smiled at the idea, but her good humor faded as she turned her computer screen to face her and replayed the video one more time to stare at Allie Kramer’s earnest face. “Where the hell are you?” she whispered under her breath, then tamped down the feeling that the woman was already dead. Until a body was located, Allie Kramer was presumed alive.
But deep down, Rhonda Nash thought the chances of finding Allie Kramer living and breathing were slim.
And getting slimmer by the second.
When Cassie roused to look at the clock near her bed, it was nearly ten. Her bedroom was flooded with sunlight as she’d forgotten to pull the drapes shut the night before.
Stretching, she raised up on one elbow as she shook off the cobwebs of a night teeming with nightmares.
After weeks in the hospital room, hearing the sounds of murmuring voices, rattling carts, and soft dings of the elevator, the relative peace and quiet of her apartment should have brought on a slumber deeper than any sleeping aid could deliver, but it hadn’t. She was tired to the bone and felt as if she’d run a marathon. Or maybe two marathons.
Yawning, she pushed her hair from her eyes and found her computer where she’d left it, on wrinkled sheets next to her on the bed, its screen dark.
So now she was sleeping with electronic devices.
Instead of Trent.
In her mind’s eye, she saw a glimpse of life as it had been. She used to awaken to Trent stretched out beside her on the bed, one tanned arm flung over her waist, his hair tousled, his breathing rhythmic and deep. She would stare at the curve of his spine and muscles of his back, his taut skin showing a few scars.
God, how she’d loved him.
“It’s over,” she reminded herself, and rolled over to pick up the earring on her nightstand, the one Rinko had found in her hospital room.
For the next hour she searched the Internet for earrings in the shape of a red cross, scouring hundreds of images and comparing them to the little bit of jewelry she’d collected from the hospital. Some had dangles, others made of glass or rubies, still others in the wrong configuration. Eventually, though, she’d discovered several pictures of red crosses on posts that seemed to be a match. From what she could glean, the earrings were made sometime after World War II, and weren’t expensive, nor rare. At least they hadn’t been in the 1950s. Now, of course, they were little more than a cheap collector’s item that, due to the passage of over half a century, had become harder to find.
As she sat cross-legged on the messy bed, staring at the bit of jewelry in her palm, she realized the earring wasn’t a clue to who had worn it in her hospital room, but it was the only hard evidence that the nurse had really existed and visited her. No one would believe that she had actually seen the nurse, not in her state of tentative rationality. The same could be said of Steven Rinko, as no one at the hospital nor his parents trusted him since he had been diagnosed with some kind of neurological disorder in which, at least at some times, he hallucinated and couldn’t distinguish between reality and fantasy. Though he claimed his IQ was off the charts, and that’s why he saw things others didn’t, Cassie wasn’t quick to believe him. But she did think he actually believed his own warped view of the world, even though it was slightly altered from that of the general public.
She studied the earring for the hundredth time, then slid it into a compartment in her purse and made her way to the bathroom. She brushed her teeth, threw on her clothes, and twisted her hair onto her head. A slap of lipstick and sunglasses was her makeup as she grabbed the overnight bag that she kept with a change of clothes and headed out the door and into the bright morning.
A flock of tiny birds chatted and flitted in and out of the bank of bougainvillea that separated the parking area from the main house. The sun was high, sharp rays bouncing off the windshield of her car as she slid inside. She rolled down the windows and started the ignition.
As she backed up, she glanced at the door of her condo, the place she’d sought sanctuary after her last split with Trent. The unit had been available and she’d been able to rent it month to month, but it had never felt like home, had always been a place to crash when she was in LA, nothing more. The truth was that there was nothing to come home to here. No pets. No children. No husband. No reason to stay. Which is just as well as she intended to drive to Oregon the following morning.
If she could get through another night.
She’d already called the owner of the apartment and explained about the key going missing and asking that the locks be changed at her cost. Doug Peterson, who lived in the main house and was retired, was a handyman and promised to replace the dead bolt. Thankfully, he hadn’t asked a million questions about Allie.
As she drove to the local post office Cassie’s stomach growled. Somehow she’d missed dinner, opting instead for the Moscow Mules Holly had ordered and which had, as far as she could see, zero nutritional value.