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He had become an expert at pretending. Pretending he was happy, pretending he wanted another child, pretending he wanted to get married to her, pretending he wasn’t devastated at losing his son. Pretending, pretending, pretending. Everyone around him acted like nothing had happened. He didn’t understand that. His son, Jake, was gone. There wouldn’t be any more impromptu visits playing with motorcycles and getting to hear his sweet, little voice. There wouldn’t be any more accidental sightings of his son playing with his brother. No more of anything. He was just....gone. His life was now spinning out of control and he was too numb to stop it.

He was standing out on the balcony when he heard Spinelli come in. He listened to see if he was alone. Some days he brought Sam with him when he came home at night but it seemed like today it was just Spinelli. Elizabeth was on his mind so he was grateful his roommate had not brought company. He heard Spinelli moving around in the kitchen. He turned and watched as the younger man came out with a plate and a glass. He set them on the table.

“Would you like me to make you a sandwich, Stone Cold?”

“No thanks, Spinelli.”

Spinelli turned on the radio and opened his laptop as he sat at the table. It was a daily ritual and it didn’t bother him. He turned back to look at the evening skyline as the music filtered through the room. Spinelli was quietly singing along.

“My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble. Hey la, hey la, my boyfriend’s back.”

The music faded away as the announcer’s voice came out of the radio.

“We don’t usually play oldies but that was ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ by The Angels and it was a special request for Jason from Franco.” Jason turned suddenly from the view and quickly came to the table as Spinelli stared at the radio. “Franco hopes you’ll play his little game and won’t break his heart.’ Back after this, listeners.” The notes to Don’t Go Breaking My Heart danced into the room despite the now somber mood of the two men. Spinelli waited for instructions.

“See if you can trace the call he made to the radio station. If we can get a location that will give us a place to start. Having Franco in town is never a good thing.”

“Right away.”

Jason headed to the front closet to pull out his lock box. He opened it and selected a gun. He locked the box and put it back in the closet. He grabbed extra ammunition from the desk. There was a knock at the door as he tucked it behind his back in his waistband. Jason opened the door to find a college age male.

“Delivery for Jason Morgan.”

“That’s me.”

He passed Jason a clipboard.

“Just sign at the bottom, please.”

Jason signed and was given a letter in exchange for the clipboard. The young man was soon on his way and Jason was studying the envelope. It was addressed to him with a return address he was sure was fake but the sender was listed as BF Franco. He didn’t know what game Franco was up to but he knew it wouldn’t be good.

He slit the envelope open and pulled out a single sheet of paper.

“What is it, Stone Cold?”

“It’s some kind of word puzzle.”

Before they could do much more Spinelli’s computer beeped.

“I got it, Stone Cold. The number was easy to find and I’m now tracking the signal.”

“Let’s go.”

It didn’t take them long to get down to the garage and into Jason’s SUV. Jason drove while Spinelli continued to keep the signal within his sights on the laptop.

“Stone Cold?” Jason heard the uncertainty in Spinelli’s voice.

“What is it, Spinelli?”r32;
“The signal is coming from the Maternal One’s street.” He paused. “Right outside her domicile.”

Jason and Spinelli exchanged worried glances. The rest of the drive was made in silence, each man deep in thought. Spinelli kept working on his laptop but wasn’t making much headway. They turned onto Elizabeth’s street and Jason slowed the vehicle to a crawl. As they neared Elizabeth’s house they saw something in the street, not far from the curb. Jason parked and he and Spinelli got out. They didn’t get far when they heard her voice.

“Jason?”

They turned to see Elizabeth approaching from her driveway.

“Greetings, Maternal One.”

She met Spinelli’s gaze.

“Hi, Spinelli.”

Her eyes swung back to Jason.

“Hi.”

“Hey.” The seconds ticked by but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. “What are you doing here?”

Before he could answer they heard Spinelli’s voice.

“Stone Cold.”

Spinelli was pointing to a small yellow miniature motorcycle on the ground. There was a cellphone taped to it. Elizabeth’s voice, laced with confusion and pain, broke the silence.

“Jason, is that Jake’s?”

Jason’s answer was swift.

“No, it’s not Jake’s. His is on my mantle. This is Franco’s doing.”

She gasped. He reached out and grasped her arm just above her elbow.

“Franco? I thought he was gone.” Elizabeth felt Jason tense. She looked up and watched him scan the street with a careful eye. She didn’t know what was going on but knew instinctively it was better to go inside. “Jason.” He looked down at her. She motioned with a nod towards the house. She led the way with Jason and Spinelli following. Jason took the small toy from Spinelli and laid in on the chair on the porch and followed them inside. He shut the door, locked it and turned to Elizabeth.

“Where are the boys?”

“Upstairs. Asleep.”

“I’d like to check on them.”

Her voice was soft, understanding.

“Go.”

He took the stairs two at a time and was soon out of sight. Elizabeth looked over at Spinelli. “Can I get you something to drink?”

He started to shake his head no, but stopped.

“Yes, please. Thank you, Maternal One.”

She sighed quietly before heading into the kitchen. When she came back to the living room Jason had returned. She handed Spinelli an orange soda and a water bottle to Jason.

"I have beer, but I figured..."

They shared a look.

"No, this is good. Thanks."

Elizabeth noticed Spinelli's surprise at his drink.

"Cam tried it at Kelly's once and he's been hooked ever since. I remember seeing it at the penthouse and thought you might like it.”

“Thank you. I do.”

“You’re welcome.” She sat down and the men followed suit. “Do you think we’re in danger?”

Jason looked her in the eye.

“You might be. I just don’t know yet, but we’re going to protect you as if you were. I think we have to assume he found out about Jake given the fact he led us here.”

“How did you end up here?”

“We know he called the radio station Spinelli listens to. He traced the call. It led us to the phone outside. He also sent a word puzzle. They have to be connected somehow."

“Mind if I look?”

Spinelli pulled it out of his bag and passed it to Jason who gave it to Elizabeth.

“Stone Cold, I’m going to see if I can trace the phone’s origin.”

Spinelli went outside for a few minutes only to return with the sim card from Franco’s phone. He sat at the table and started working on his laptop.

Jason reread the note over Elizabeth’s shoulder.

Dear Jason, Never fear, Franco is here! I’m sure you went back to your dull and dreary life after I left. Well, no more! I’m excited to “drop in” and play with you once again. Don’t disappoint me, Jason....others will pay. Miss you, Franco



Elizabeth mused out loud.

“Drop in? Drop the letters in maybe? If you drop the single E into the same column there’s only one place to put it.”

Jason understood.

“The M is the same. And it looks like some of the words wrap-around.”

They worked silently for some time trying to slide the letters down each column into the correct squares. When the puzzle was filled in they both just stared at it, trying to process the answer.

“Jason?” He saw the shock in her face. “Is he saying he killed Jake?”
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