LET ME GO (Eva Rae Thomas Mystery Book 5), Page 2Willow Rose
“Yes. They’re scattered all over the school in backpacks. I placed them there myself. There’s a timer on them. They’ll go off in ten minutes.”
The small Lebanese restaurant Suraya in Fishtown in Philadelphia was turned into a café and market during the day while there was a full-service restaurant and a bar for dinnertime. The beans were Stumptown, and their Middle Eastern and French pastries weren’t to be missed, or so it said in the online review I had read when looking for a good place to meet.
I wasn’t there for the food, even though I had already gulped down two cups of coffee and two pieces of greasy yet yummy pastry by the time he was supposed to be there. I had chosen a place in Philadelphia because that’s where he had lived all his life. If I wanted him to come, then I needed it to be convenient for him.
The décor was not fancy, and that was part of what I liked about this place. Just a few wooden chairs and tables scattered about in what looked like the lobby of a boutique hotel.
I stared into my oversized mug as someone approached my table. I lifted my glance and saw him.
“This is not something I usually do,” he said. “It better be good.”
A few other guests recognized Liam Berkeley, and a woman beamed in his direction but left it at that. I had hoped that no one would bother us in this place since it wasn’t one of the trendier cafes where young people went to get their coffee.
“Me either,” I said. “Sit down, please. Do you want some coffee? It’s good, and so are the pastries.”
Liam didn’t even smile. He did sit down, however, and that made me relax slightly.
“Do you know how many messages like this I get every time I do a book signing?” he asked. “Asking to meet up or even if I want to have sex?”
I chuckled lightly. “I bet it happens a lot. But that’s not why I did it.”
“I kind of got that. Yours was different. How did you know it would work?”
“I didn’t. But I had a feeling it might.”
The waitress arrived with coffee for Liam and a refill for me. It was obvious that she had recognized him in the way she looked at him and then at me before rushing off.
He stirred sugar into his coffee. I readied myself for what I was about to tell him. I knew it might not go over too well.
He sipped from his cup. I expected him to make a ruckus about how awful the coffee was, but he didn’t. This wasn’t his TV show. We weren’t on set, and he was off duty. Maybe he wasn’t as nasty as they all said he was, as he was made out to be on his TV show. Sitting there in front of me, he seemed like a surprisingly normal guy in his mid-forties, if you didn’t count all the stares and giggling coming from women behind his back, that was. He had lost his wife to pancreatic cancer five years ago and was alone with his teenage son, I had read. Since then, he became known worldwide as the angry chef who was impossible to satisfy. It wasn’t a pleasant image, and I, for one, couldn’t stand watching it, but his show had sky-high ratings, especially among young people.
“So, how do you know my son’s gaming username?” he asked. “You wrote it in the message? When you asked me to meet you here? You said it had to do with him? BOOTERS4U?”
I cleared my throat. This was the hard part.
“So, what’s going on? Is he in some kind of trouble?”
I sipped my coffee, bracing myself, then nodded. “You could say that.”
Liam Berkeley groaned, annoyed, and I assumed this wasn’t the first time his son had been the center of a conversation like this.
“What kind of trouble?”
I leaned forward, took a deep breath, then said:
“I have reason to believe that someone wants to kill him.”
Liam raised both his eyebrows. I wondered how he had managed to become such a big TV star. He had a crooked nose, floppy ears, and narrow-set eyes. On top of that, he had this angry energy to him that I found appalling. He was far from likable, in my opinion.
I cleared my throat. “I am sorry to have to be the one…”
“Did you just seriously say that you believed someone wanted to kill my son?” he asked, narrowing his eyes so they almost disappeared.
“Yes, that is what I said.”
Liam scoffed. “And just who might you be?”
“Eva Rae Thomas,” I said. “Former FBI-profiler.”
He lifted his eyebrows again and gave me a look. “Former, as in used to be?”
“Yes. I used to be.”
“So, you’re not with the bureau anymore?” he asked, sounding more and more condescending. I had a clear feeling of where this was heading.
“I am not, no. I quit a year ago to be with my family.”
Liam leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “And why exactly are you here and not with them now?”
A very good question, indeed. I should be with my children. But instead, I am here, far away from home, trying to save the life of someone I don’t even know.
I paused too long, and he continued without waiting for my answer.
“If my boy’s life is in danger, then why am I not sitting with someone who’s actually working for the FBI or the local police?”
Another very good question.
“Because they don’t know what I know,” I said, trying to keep it simple. I didn’t want to have to explain to him how the local police and FBI didn’t believe me when I told them. That wouldn’t exactly help my credibility with this guy.
He gave me another look that told me I was losing him. I exhaled deeply while feeling him slip between my fingers.
“Listen, I need you to take this very seriously. If you could just give me a chance to explain…”
He rose to his feet and took out his wallet. “It’s too bad. I had really thought you weren’t a lunatic. I liked you from the moment I saw you, with your unpolished, raw, bitten-down nails and your no makeup and feisty red hair. You have this spark in your eyes that I enjoyed, and you were…different. I really believed you weren’t one of the crazy ones. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. I should have known that no good ever comes from responding to a message like that. But I am sad to prove myself wrong. It’s sad, really,” he said as he pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and placed it on the table.
“This should cover the cost of the utterly despicable coffee they serve here. I want to say it was nice to meet you, but it really wasn’t.”
I opened my mouth to protest, to tell him that if he left now his son would be killed within twenty-four hours, but before I could get the words across my lips, he was out the glass door and gone.
“Dang it,” I said a little too loudly and slammed my fist on the table, causing everyone else in the restaurant to turn their heads and look at me. I didn’t even care if any of them posted about this meeting on social media and humiliated me publicly. All I cared about was his son and whether or not he would live to see the next day.
The way it looked now, he wouldn’t.
“Do you want me to throw this old chair out too?”
Matt’s mother grabbed the back of the chair and pulled it out so he could better see it.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” she continued.
“It’s old, and Eva Rae doesn’t have that much space.”
“But it’s such a good chair,” she said and gave him that look again, the one that said is she going to let you bring anything that is yours?
“You can have it,” Matt said and turned his back on her. He grabbed a lamp, then looked at it, wondering if it was of any use, then decided it wasn’t. It had gotten an ugly spot on it by being left in his mother’s garage for years. Most of his stuff was worthless, really, and needed to go. It wasn’t just because he knew Eva Rae didn’t want him to bring too much stuff when he and Elijah moved in with her and her three kids, it was also that
he didn’t want to bring crap. Eva Rae had nice things, and she was good at decorating. She wouldn’t want old worn out chairs or spotted lamps in her house.
“But what will you take then?” his mother asked. “If none of this is any good?”
“I’ll bring my personal stuff, clothes, and so on.”
“And what about all your trophies?” she asked and glanced up at the shelf on the wall where all his running trophies were standing, gathering dust.
He chuckled. “I can’t bring those. That was back in high school, Mom. I’m forty-two now.”
She shrugged. “So, what do you want to do with them?”
“Can I leave them here? You don’t use the space anyway.”
She forced a smile. Matt knew she wasn’t too pleased about him and Elijah moving out. It was only natural. They had lived with her for quite a while now since Elijah’s mom died, and she had taken care of the boy. But now it was time for Matt to take matters into his own hands. He had never managed to forge a good relationship with the boy since he blamed him for his mother’s death, and if Matt was honest, he hadn’t tried very hard. He had barely known the boy when his mother was still alive, and he had no idea how to go about it. Not until now, that was. Now, he wanted to. He wanted to be the dad he knew he could be, and it was time for him to take care of the stuff, the day-to-day things that his mom had done for him up until now. He wanted to be the one who packed Elijah’s lunches and picked him up after school. If other dads could do it, then so could he. He was a detective at the local police station, and Chief Annie was fine with him taking care of his own hours as long as he was there for the important meetings and solved his cases in a timely manner. Plus, he didn’t want to be a burden to his mother anymore, either. She shouldn’t spend her life taking care of her grandchild. It was his job. He wanted to move on with his life and take his relationship with Eva Rae to the next level.
It was time he grew up.
Elijah came out to him, holding his backpack in his hand. The boy was angry that he was going to move and hadn’t spoken a word to Matt since he announced it. It didn’t make that big of a change since he hardly ever spoke a word to Matt before either.
“You ready, buddy?” he asked, smiling.
The boy didn’t say anything. He just stared at him, holding his backpack tightly. If Matt knew him at all, he knew that it probably contained only his iPad and Xbox…maybe a shirt and a toothbrush, but that was probably all. Matt had packed the rest of his things earlier, and they were already in the truck.
Matt grabbed a box and walked it out to the driveway, then placed it in the back of the truck where there was still a little room. He had borrowed his mother’s truck for the move, and it could fit almost all their stuff, except for two boxes. Elijah got into the front and slammed the door shut. Matt kissed his mother’s cheek.
“I’ll be back tomorrow for the rest.”
His mother answered with a sniffle, then tightened her lips.
“Take good care of our boy, will you?”
Matt sighed, then nodded. “It’s not like you won’t see him.”
“I just don’t like the idea of him being in aftercare now when he could be with his grandmother.”
“I know, Mom, but I’m trying to take care of him myself now. If he’s with you all the time, there’s no need for him to attach himself to me. I think this will be good for us, Mom. I really do.”
She nodded and kissed him back. “All right, kiddo. Just remember that I’m right here in case you need anything.”
Matt nodded and stifled his tears. It felt like he was moving away for the first time. He waved at his mom, then got into the truck and drove off, Elijah playing the music in his air buds so loud that Matt could hear every beat of it.
I couldn’t sit still. I was pacing back and forth in my hotel room in Philadelphia, flipping through the TV channels for news broadcasts, only stopping to bite my nails. Still, there was no breaking news about the son of a famous TV chef being killed, but I knew it was only a matter of time.
And it was about to destroy me.
I had tried to call his publicist to get the man to listen to me. I had even called the local police and told them to be aware, but they wouldn’t give me the time of day. And since I didn’t really know exactly where Liam Berkeley lived, and since he kept his address very private as most celebrities did, I couldn’t drive there and try to stop it from happening.
At seven, Matt called me. I picked it up, heart in my throat.
“I thought you were coming home tonight?” he asked.
“I wanted to; I really did, but…well, the meeting took longer than planned and…”
Matt exhaled. “I’m here at the house. Your house, or rather our house. I moved most of our stuff today, and you weren’t even there when we got here. Your mom and Olivia had to help us carry the stuff inside. I thought you’d be here, and we could celebrate that we are officially moved in together? I bought champagne?”
I closed my eyes. I had completely forgotten. I was supposed to drive home this afternoon and be there when he and Elijah arrived.
“I…I’m so sorry, Matt.”
“You forgot, didn’t you?” he asked, sounding more than disappointed.
What could I say? There was no excuse. Yes, I had forgotten it completely. I had been so immersed in getting to Liam Berkeley to warn him, and for what? It didn’t make any difference. He wouldn’t even hear me out. And now Matt was mad at me?
I felt embarrassed.
“I’m coming home tomorrow,” I said. “I promise.”
“Okay. But you better keep that promise. It’s kind of lonely here without you.”
“Did my family at least treat you well?” I asked. “Did the kids behave?”
Matt sighed. “They did. Your mom made cauliflower steaks with Chimichurri sauce. It was quite good.”
“How’s Elijah coping?” I asked.
“Well, he didn’t eat any of the food tonight. He normally likes a burger or hot dog, but I’m sure he’ll come around.”
Matt, the eternal optimist. He refused to give up on the boy even though he had barely said five words to his father since his mother died. He didn’t even look at him when he spoke to him. Still, Matt believed he’d come around. Eventually, he would.
I could only be impressed with his will to constantly remain optimistic.
“How’s he doing with my kids?” I asked.
“Well, so far, they haven’t really spoken or had any interaction. Elijah stayed in his room all afternoon and evening. I don’t think he and Alex are talking yet, though.”
Alex had been thrilled by the idea of sharing a bedroom with Elijah since he thought the boy was so cool. I wasn’t sure Elijah shared the enthusiasm to have to share a bedroom with a seven-year-old boy when he was nine. But it would have to do for now, at least while my mom was still living with us. I had asked her about it cautiously, suggesting that she at least sell the old house, but she wouldn’t hear talk of it. Every time I as much as mentioned it, she’d just turn her back on me and walk away. I guess I just had to give her the time she needed, and I didn’t want her to feel like I wanted her out of the house, so I had stopped bringing it up.
“So, when are you going to tell me what you’re up to?” Matt asked. “Why you had to leave so suddenly?”
I sighed and stared at the TV screen in front of me, my stomach in knots when thinking about Liam Berkeley and his son.
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Try me,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve been working on for a few months now. I’ll tell you everything when I get back.”
“How was your day?”
Liam stood on the threshold of Tim’s room. The boy was sitting at his screen—as usual—playing Fortnite or Call of Duty. Liam never knew the difference, and he didn’t care either.
They had drifted apart when Ann
a got sick six years ago and died a year later. Tim was still angry with Liam for not being there…for traveling and taking care of his career.
And he was right. The boy had been absolutely right. Liam had beat himself up for not prioritizing Anna more back then. But his career had just taken off, and if he was brutally honest, Anna’s sickness was unbearable. He couldn’t stand watching her wither and die. It broke his heart. So, he threw himself into work and said yes to any assignment that came his way, hoping it could take his mind off the many worries and the sadness that engulfed him.
Losing her had almost crushed him. He had barely been able to pull himself up from the dark hole he had ended up in. But working had helped. When he filmed his TV show, he wasn’t Liam, the sad father who had lost his wife. He wasn’t lonely. It was a part he played like an actor in a play, a mask he put on. While doing the show, he could get as angry as he wanted. He could yell at the contestants and act as crazy as he needed to. It became his outlet for his many frustrations…for his helplessness when seeing the woman he loved die while he stood by and could do nothing.
Tim couldn’t forgive Liam for not being there in the weeks that followed when he needed him the most. But Liam had been such a mess. He didn’t think he could have been there for anyone.
“What’s it to you?” Tim answered without turning around.
“Just asking. Out of curiosity and genuine interest in your life,” Liam said.
Tim didn’t say anything; he kept playing. The boy was fifteen now. Five years had passed since then, and it wasn’t getting better between them.
Liam stood for a few minutes, staring at his back. He was wearing the old gray hoodie that his mom had bought for him when he was nine, but had been a couple of sizes too big back then. Now it was tight in the shoulders and the sleeves were a little short. Still, he refused to wear anything else. He would only take it off when Juanita, their housekeeper, scolded him and said that it was a dirty rag that needed to be washed.