Twenty-Six

Deciding Dashiell should go home with me was an easy call. I could set the basement guest room up for him like I’d done for cat visitors in the past. Karen’s stress would become Dashiell’s stress and his blood sugar would end up all over the chart.

When we were leaving, Karen asked me to call her the minute Finn came back. She also asked if she could drop by my house later because she was sure Bob would start in on her again and she just couldn’t take it. I told her I would be happy if she came for a visit. Perhaps Finn would show up by the time she came by. Maybe they’d even have a talk about all this money—money he could sure use for his education. But was this just wishful thinking on my part? Both Karen and Tom seemed to have great difficulty talking about their feelings or about the big issues. A million dollars was a very big issue. But then I realized Karen might have kept this secret because she wanted to make sure Finn, and not Hilary and Nolan Roth, ended up with this fortune.

Since Tom had brought Dashiell to my house before, he wasn’t a complete stranger to Syrah, Chablis and Merlot. But there was still plenty of hissing when I brought him into the kitchen. Most folks don’t realize cats never meow to each other as a form of communication—even cats who live together. But they do hiss and even spit when dogs and other cats invade their territory. Even though they knew Dashiell, it didn’t mean they’d throw out the welcome mat.

I carried him down to the basement and spent a good while fixing up his digs, getting him a pillow, a litter box and food. He seemed content when I finally closed the door after me—shutting out my three inquiring fur friends. They didn’t follow as I hurried upstairs. I was sure they wanted to play the “paw under the door” game with Dashiell. I was certainly in a hurry, though, as I’d forgotten to refrigerate the insulin.

I put the small bottle of insulin away as soon as I got upstairs. Breakfast seemed an eternity ago and I fixed a sandwich and ate at the small table, watching a drizzling rain through the window without even tasting the ham and cheese. I was thinking how Tom would awaken soon—hopefully rested and ready to use all his technology tools and contacts in the private security world to find Finn. I sure hoped he’d call me so I could help. I so wanted to help.

Just as I finished eating, Chablis came up the basement stairs, obviously tired of waiting around for Dashiell to learn how to open the door and make an appearance. I was about to cuddle up with her on the couch and maybe take a rest—I’d slept very poorly last night—when my phone rang. It had to be Tom.

“Hey, Jillian. It’s Allison,” she whispered. My friend at the animal sanctuary didn’t sound at all like her cheerful self.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“I need your help. Can you come over to the sanctuary?” She sounded rushed and troubled.

“Sure, but what’s going on?” I said.

“Just come. Now.” She disconnected.

Allison never asks for help unless she really needs it. I decided this weather called for a little rain gear and I put on my flowered Wellies and a slicker. She might need me to rescue a reluctant cat from a tree. I’d helped her before, coaxing stubborn cats from odd places. We were a good team.

The slap of my windshield wipers seemed to offer a relaxing rhythm on the drive to the sanctuary. I had time to think about the argument between Bob and Karen—and what an awkward and uncomfortable few moments I’d experienced. But Karen opened up, and in his own way, so did Bob. If they wanted a therapist, however, I wasn’t the woman for the job. They needed professional help to heal the rifts in their family.

Then I thought about all the money—and realized Bob might not be the only one who knew about a small fortune within Finn’s grasp. Maybe Nolan Roth had found out somehow. That would explain why he wanted Finn back at his house. If he’d searched Finn’s computer and found his communications with Tom, perhaps he’d found more—found evidence of lots and lots of money to be had. But I still didn’t believe Tom or Finn knew anything about the million dollars. Tom may have kept secrets, but in the past few days, he’d told me what I thought was everything there was to know. After all he’d shared, why keep the money a secret? And then there was Hilary. Karen had been in contact with her. Maybe she knew about the money. Tom said that’s all she cared about and she would surely want Finn to stay home if he was about to become a millionaire. Yes. It made perfect sense why everyone was after this kid. Candace needed to know and I would call her after I helped Allison.

I’d just about reached the sanctuary when my phone rang. I saw Candace’s name on the caller ID and answered, wondering if she was psychic or something. Or perhaps she’d found Finn.

“Get this,” Candace said without saying hello.

“Please tell me you found him.”

“No,” she said. “But things are starting to fall into place. The calls and texts on these two phones are very interesting. I’m still poring over them, but guess who called Rory Gannon a week ago?”

“You mentioned Nolan Roth probably phoned the halfway house using Tom’s phone and—”

“No. This is from Finn’s phone. He called his biological father,” she said.

I pulled into the curving drive leading to the sanctuary. “But Gannon had Finn’s phone, so he could have called the place where he was living, maybe to check in at the halfway house or—”

“This was last week,” she said. “Before Finn left North Carolina and while he still had his phone. Why would he call his father?”

“I—I don’t know. He sure never told any of us he’d talked to him. He seemed afraid of the man.” Or was he simply avoiding the subject of Rory Gannon after a conversation that might not have gone too well?

“Not afraid enough, it seems,” she said. “Their conversation lasted twenty-seven minutes. Meanwhile, if Tom’s time line about when Nolan Roth had his phone is correct, Roth also called Gannon, and more than once. Seems like everyone was talking to the guy.”

I pulled the minivan into the small area reserved for sanctuary visitors. “You said if Tom’s time line is correct. What do you mean?”

“Talking to Tom is next on my to-do list,” she said. “Now that I have this printout of dates and times, I want to go over it with him. He wasn’t completely focused the first time I talked to him about what went on in North Carolina.”

“He’s home.” I checked the time on my phone. “He’s had time to catch up on his sleep and you know he’ll want to help.” Allison appeared in the doorway to the sanctuary and I rolled down the van window and held up one finger asking her to give me a minute. The rain had stopped but the air was chilly.

Allison nodded in understanding.

“Candace, I learned something today you should know.” Karen and Bob might not want me sharing about their major money spat today, but a million dollars is a lot of motive for someone to hatch a plan to get their paws on it. I hurriedly explained about the money and the argument between Bob and Karen about the money.

“Holy-o-heck, talk about motive,” Candace said. “This is huge. Tom’s shared account with Finn is small beans compared to this. Did Finn know about this account?”

“Good question. My guess is that he didn’t.”

“My mind is flying all over the place,” she said, sounding excited. “The calls to Gannon, his arriving in town, his hanging around. What if we’ve been blind, Jillian? What if Nolan Roth hired Gannon to take care of Karen? With this joint account, Finn would inherit and become one very rich teenager.”

“Oh my gosh,” I said. “And Gannon double-crossed Nolan, killed him and kept trying to make contact with his long-lost son—the son he probably didn’t care about at all but who would become wealthy and perhaps generous. Maybe Finn’s call to him was a return call. Or even a call in response to an e-mail from Gannon.”

“This is great information. I need time to piece together scenarios. Meanwhile, we still have a killer out there. Keep your doors locked and your security system armed.” She disconnected.

She had no clue I wasn’t at home, which was probably a good thing. Seconds later I removed my damp slicker and embraced Allison. I said, “Something is wrong. I heard it in your voice and now see it written all over your face. What can I do to help?”

“I figured you were the right person to call for this problem,” she whispered. She fixed strands of her brunette hair over one ear. A smattering of rain dotted her gray sweatshirt.

“Why are we whispering?” I said.

“I’ll show you, but be very quiet.” She carefully led me through the cramped office where so many wonderful pet adoptions had taken place. Allison cracked the door leading to the sanctuary examining room and told me to have a look.

I peered through the crack. There, lying on a mat with his spotted dog curled next to him, was Finn, fast asleep.

My hand went to my lips and relief washed over me. I quietly shut the door and then whispered, “How… how did he end up here?”

She pulled me away from the door and said, “I’ll explain. But first, want coffee? Shawn made it about an hour ago—before he left for the feed store to pick up dog and cat food.”

Snug, their African gray parrot, was perched above us and said, “Put on the pot, Allison. Put on the pot.”

Allison looked up at Snug and put her finger to her lips. “Shhh.”

He proceeded to respond with several “shhhs” of his own.

I said, “Yes. Sure, I’ll have coffee. I’ve been living on the stuff, so one more cup might perk me up.”

Once we both had our cups full, Allison sat behind her battered old desk and I took the lawn chair she used for visitors. I hung my slicker over the back of the chair.

“How long has Finn been here?” I said.

“He came this morning,” she said. “Surprised the heck out of me.”

“I don’t understand. Why did he come here?” I sipped the coffee and was instantly reminded how strong Shawn liked his brew.

“Yoshi was limping. Apparently they’d been walking down back roads and through fields all night, from what little he told me. He said he turned around and came back this way when he knew the dog was hurt. He still had my card and thought I could help.”

“Is Yoshi all right?” I said.

“He had a pebble stuck between the pads on his back paw. That can be pretty painful. I removed it and Finn was ready to head out again. But I pointed out the pebble had done a little damage—nothing serious—but Yoshi needed a day off from walking.” She smiled. “I didn’t add that Finn looked like he could use some rest himself.”

“Did he say anything about this latest journey he was taking?” I said. “We’ve been worried sick.”

“He said he’d caused trouble for everyone,” Allison said. “If he were gone, Tom and Karen could go back to the way things used to be.”

I blinked back tears of sadness and relief. “He’s like Tom. He blames himself for everything. None of what’s happened is his fault.”

“I figured as much. You’d helped Finn before and you know what’s going on with this kid.” She paused to drink coffee and then said, “He did ask me not to call the police, which worried me. I took that to mean there’s a lot more to this story I don’t know.”

“There’s plenty I don’t know, either. I am so grateful you called me.” I held the coffee mug between both my hands, considering what to do next.

Suddenly the door to the examining room opened and an exhausted-looking Finn looked at Allison. “Why did you give me up?”

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