Chapter 15: Mark and Jamie Westbrook — by Nichole R. Bennett

The smell of coffee filled the room. Jamie had been sitting quietly on the bed while Mark talked on the pre-paid cell phone reserved for the Neuhaus family. He had been pacing as he spoke and Jamie could see signs that the conversation wasn’t going well even though Mark’s words continued to be comforting and consoling. Mark’s left hand, the one not holding the cell phone, was balled in a tight fist which he occasionally opened as if to stretch out the muscles and tendons in his fingers. The knuckles of his right hand had long since turned white with the tension he fought to keep out of his voice. The longer the phone conversation continued, the more Mark’s eyes began to squint and his nostrils flare.

It took all of Jamie’s willpower to ignore Mark’s half of the conversation, which didn’t make much sense anyway. Hearing only half a conversation left too much to the imagination and Jamie had learned long ago not to jump to conclusions where Mark was concerned.

“Keep in touch,” she heard him say before he snapped the phone shut.

“Shit,” he said, glaring at Jamie. She could tell by his tone that he was angry. “We have a problem.”

Jamie gulped, trying to keep her fear at bay. Mark’s temper was nothing she wanted to encounter. “What’s wrong?”

“I have a bad feeling about this con. The Neuhaus woman is stonewalling us.”

Jamie threw her empty coffee cup into the trash and returned to the bed before speaking. “What do you mean? She already paid. And she promised more. It’s still the perfect con.”

Mark glared at Jamie, his anger barely disguised. “Don’t you get it? That was the Neuhaus woman on the phone. She says she needs more time to come up with the rest of the money.”

Jamie felt sick to her stomach with a sense of foreboding. This con had been her idea, her baby, her chance to prove herself and now it might be falling apart. She sipped her coffee searching for the right words, but they eluded her. Since there was nothing to say, she chose to remain silent.

It was the wrong choice.

“What the hell are we supposed to do now?” Mark’s voice was getting louder with each word. “You got us into this mess. How do you expect to get us out?”

“Keep your voice down,” Jamie retorted in an exaggerated stage whisper as she reached for the television remote and clicked it on, hoping the extra noise would drown out Mark’s yelling. “The damn cops are downstairs in the restaurant.”

Mark threw his head back and stared at the ceiling. “Could things possibly get any worse?”

“Everything will be fi—” Jamie had started to reassure him when she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. A still shot of a lone television in the desert caught her attention. As the camera widened, Jamie could see the roof of the Bed & Breakfast where they were staying. Bile rose in her throat as the realization that the news crews were in the neighborhood dawned on her. She turned the volume up further, even as she closed her eyes in horror at the reporter’s words.

“KRBR has learned the body of a child was discovered this morning near the resort community of Rubicon Ranch,” said the reporter. “Local law enforcement haven’t released any details, but a source close to the investigation tells us that the body of a young girl was found this morning and foul play is suspected. We will bring more details as this story unfolds.”

A commercial for a male enhancement drug began to play. Jamie looked back at Mark, his anger had receded, but another emotion began to fill the void—an emotion Jamie couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“You don’t suppose—” she began.

“I’ll bet it’s that girl—” Mark started simultaneously.

Jamie motioned for Mark to continue.

“I’ll bet that’s why the cops where here earlier,” he said. “That must be the kid who’s body was in the television. Shit! We’ve gotta blow this popsicle stand. The cops probably think we had something to do with it.”

Jamie stood from the bed and walked to the small table where Mark was still sitting. Taking a seat across from him, she willed her voice to remain calm. “If we leave now,” she began, “we will only call more attention to ourselves. That’s a bad idea. You taught me that.”

“So what are we supposed to do? This whole con is starting to fall apart before our eyes because someone killed that little girl. Things can’t possibly get worse. We should have just gotten the money from the Neuhaus family and left it at that.”

Jamie ignored Mark’s last comment. “We can’t leave. The cops would be all over us in a minute if we did.” And who knows what else they might find if they looked too hard. The thought caused her to shiver involuntarily.

The two sat in silence for few moments, each lost in their own thoughts. Mark finally spoke. “What were they talking about?”

“Who? What was who talking about?”

“The cops. What were they doing downstairs?”

Jamie shrugged. “I dunno. That sheriff and the other two cops were sitting with that lady we saw with the camera. Remember her? It looked like they were eating breakfast or something. I wasn’t really close enough to hear what they were talking about, but I don’t think they noticed me at all. Besides, we have nothing to worry about. We’re not involved with this kid’s death.” Right? she added silently, remember Mark’s absence the previous evening.

He let out an exaggerated sigh. “Nope. Not at all.”

Something about his voice was elusive. It was the same tone she’d heard him use when the truth was close to, but not exactly, the way he presented it. Others never noticed it, but she’d been with Mark long enough to notice subtleties other people didn’t.

Mark began to fumble with the papers on the table. “Obviously, we can’t leave. And now the Neuhaus family is getting cold feet or something. That well might have run dry.” He glared at Jamie until she began to fee uncomfortable under his scrutiny. “This was your idea. What do you propose we do now?”

She had no idea. The con had started to spiral out of control, but Jamie was sure something could still be salvaged. There really was no other choice because she wasn’t going back to jail. Ever. In her mind, Jamie tried to evaluate options and look for possible money-making opportunities, as well as anticipate everything that could go wrong. Well, maybe not everything. How could anyone have known that little girl would die?

Jamie was so lost in her own thoughts that she hadn’t noticed Mark speaking to her. The papers flying into the wall and Mark’s hand slamming down upon the table top forced Jamie to look back at Mark. He stood over her, though she wasn’t sure when he had gotten up from the chair.

“Are you going to answer me?” he demanded.

“I’m sorry, honey. I was thinking. What did you—”

“Your thinking got us into this mess.” He practically hissed the words.

Even if she hadn’t seen the tips of his ears start to redden, Jamie could tell just by Mark’s tone of voice that he’d reached a point beyond anger. She frantically searched for something to say that would calm him. “I still think—”

The echo of Mark’s hand across her face filled the room louder than any shouts ever could and Jamie fought to keep from crying the tears welling up in her eyes. She gingerly touched her painful cheek and knew there would be evidence of his anger for at least a few days. She only hoped make-up could cover it all.

Mark glared at her. “How about I do the thinking for both of us from now on?”

Jamie could only nod as silent tears began to stream down her face.

Without another word Mark picked up the car keys and left the room, slamming the door with enough force to shake the picture decorating the wall as he did.

Do I follow him? Do I stay? She struggled to determine which option was the lesser of the two evils.

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One Response to Chapter 15: Mark and Jamie Westbrook — by Nichole R. Bennett

  1. Wanda says:

    Great chapter and nice to see these two having some trouble from their con job! I’m left wondering why Mark would kill the little girl he’s hoping would bring him ton of money… but these great authors will surely find a way to keep me wondering!

    Great chapter, Christine!

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