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Title: Unraveling, Chapter 13
Author: dragontatt
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Neither Shelter nor Without a Trace belong to me. No profit is being made from this work of fiction, and no disrespect is intended.
Word Count: 3911



Shaun growled almost inaudibly, sending a quick glance at the rear view mirror before jerking the steering wheel sharply to the right. He stopped at the curb with an angry squeal of brakes, turned off the engine and glared down, yet again, at the crumpled strip of paper clenched in his fist. Where the fuck was this house supposed to be anyway?

He hadn’t been lying when he’d told Ellen he’d grown up in and around LA, but apparently he didn’t know his way around Bel-Air quite as well as he’d thought. Either that, or Jeanne’s practically unintelligible typing had bested whatever scant knowledge he had of that particular area.

Okay, he’d made it to Sunset Boulevard without a hitch. That was a no-brainer, even coming unfamiliarly from the south, up the 405 from San Pedro, instead of from the east like he normally would. Traffic had been backed up all the way as usual and he’d had to resist the urge to hit the HOV lane and speed by the slower cars. But he’d finally made it, rolling to an impatient stop next to a fire station while he waited for the traffic to clear so he could dart across Sunset Boulevard to Bel Air Road.

One short block and there was Bellagio Road off to his left, which was what Shaun figured Jeanne had meant when she’d typed Bollagero- so far, so good. But there his luck seemed to run out. The street sign showed all the addresses on Bellagio had five digits, not four…terrific.

He’d sat there confused until the driver in the car behind him had slammed an angry fist down on the horn, and he jerked in surprise before rolling down his window and motioning the driver to go around. He gave a placating ‘sorry I’m such an idiot’ wave as the other car passed. Then he’d turned left, and driven slowly down the road, wondering for the moment just what he was looking for anyway. Who said the owner of this big whitr hous would remember anything about Jeanne anyway?

A single block after he’d gotten on Bellagio, it had dead-ended into Copa De Oro, and he’d stared at the street sign a moment, till on a hunch he turned right. Sure enough, Bellagio picked back up on the left just beyond the bend.

Bellagio was a curvy, two-lane road closely surrounded in most places by stone walls covered in ivy, or thick green hedges. The widely spaced driveways were well hidden behind artfully planted trees designed to shield the houses from the peering eyes of passers-by. And from what little Shaun could see, all of the houses were huge and most of them were white to one degree or another. It was after the fourth or fifth block without any idea of where he was headed that he’d pulled over in frustration.

“Okay,” he snarled to himself, “Let’s figure this out.” The note, which he’d painstakingly copied - typos and all - from Ellen’s iPhone, read 1725 Bollagero. That’s got to be Bellagio, he thought to himself, there’s no other road near Sunset it could be. And that means that street number has got to be wrong.

He’d already driven slowly down the block with the 10700’s, but he’d noticed there was no house numbered 10725. So she didn’t just leave out a ‘0’ which would have been the easiest mistake for me to spot. Thanks, Jeanne.

He stared at the number he’d written again, as if by willpower alone he could divine the correct combination. He took a deep breath and tried again. “Okay, there’s got to be a zero in there, the numbers all start with one-zero. So assuming one-zero, it could be a six or an eight instead of seven, what with Jeanne’s drunk typing. Two numbers to choose from for a start…not too bad.”

He took another deep breath, flexed his fingers where they had been gripping the steering wheel as he thought, and then started when his phone rang, shrilly breaking the silence inside the car. He reached for the phone where it lay on the passenger’s seat and flipped it open.

“Hello?”

“Good day, sir. I’m calling from Global Collection Agency; I’m trying to reach Colleen Walker. Is she available?” a brusque male voice said in a rush, like he was trying to get all the words out in one breath.

Shaun rolled his eyes before replying, “No, she’s still not here. This has been my number for three years now, I told you guys to quit calling me,” and he cut the debt collector off mid-word as he flipped his phone closed with a snap, and tossed it back onto the passenger seat a little harder than he’d meant. It slid all the way over to the far edge of the seat before coming to a stop, wobbling a bit against the door panel. He ignored it and turned the key, checking over his shoulder for traffic as the Volvo roared to life.

He made a U-turn and headed back where he’d come from, and a couple blocks later he was back in the right area…sure enough, there was a house numbered 10625. Or a driveway rather, because the house was nowhere to be seen, just a slender strip of asphalt nestled among the trees that led up and away from the road. He paused a minute, considering and then thought to himself Fuck it. If they didn’t want strangers to just barge right in, they’d have a gate, right? And with a bit of an unspoken prayer, he pulled into the narrow driveway and followed it up around the curves and between the trees, wondering where he’d end up.


---

He drove carefully up the lane that meandered around a slight hill and then slammed on the brakes - the trees that had been thickly surrounding the road almost like a tunnel abruptly stopped just past a curve. The driveway continued on through vastly different terrain, along the edge of a huge green lawn, past exquisitely tended flower beds and a white marble fountain that would put most Vegas hotel lobbies to shame, before passing by a house with two-story columns gracing the impressive front porch.

“Well, it’s definitely white,” Shaun mumbled before starting up again, fingers tapping an uneven staccato on the steering wheel as he drove past the fountain without a second glance. “Could be where Jeanne was going, I guess.” But his voice sounded unsure even to himself.

He parked the car on a pristine expanse of pavers laid out in a herringbone pattern that was tucked in next to the far side of the porch before getting out of his car. He stood there listening a moment before closing the door as quietly as possible behind him. It felt like he was the only person for miles, the air was so still around him. The main road couldn’t have been more than a hundred yards away, yet all he could hear was the soft, almost polite gurgle of the fountain in the middle of the precisely manicured lawn. The trees he had driven through had absorbed the road noise and left a quiet blanket of peace draped over the white house and the land surrounding it.

He turned and faced the porch, then hesitated. Why would Jeanne have come here of all places, if she could even find it with her terrible typing? He didn’t think she was the kind who would appreciate the beauty and peace of a place like this; she’d be bored out of her mind. He took a half step toward the house and paused again, considering.

That’s when he heard it, a tiny sound - a new sound - behind him, and for a half-second his heart froze and he thought oh God. A vision of Zach lying crumpled in a heap in the CalArts parking lot flashed through his mind, and he spun around, one arm coming up unconsciously to ward off a blow or –

“Can I help you?” The voice was soft, feminine, tentative.

He jerked to a stop, blinked rapidly at the young brunette woman standing in front of him, one foot behind the other as if she was about to turn and run away. He put his hand to his chest and blurted out, “God, you scared me. It was so quiet I didn’t think anyone was here.”

She stared at Shaun a moment, body relaxing almost imperceptibly when she saw how nervous he was, and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wasn’t expecting any visitors, that’s all.”

Shaun nodded, and huffed out a tiny laugh. He could feel the racing of his heart slow back down a bit, and he shook his head. “It’s okay, I don’t blame you. And you’re right, I wasn’t expected. It’s just that, well, do you live here?”

“Yes.” She drew out the word curiously.

“Well, my name is Shaun Andrews and I’m trying to find some information about someone who may have visited this house back in September. Is there someplace we can talk?”

She moved a half-step back, and eyed him carefully a moment, glance sliding off him to take in the car beside him as well. He must have passed whatever mental inspection she’d given him because she nodded slightly before turning and motioning to a nearly hidden path at the rear of the parking area that led off behind the house. “I was almost finished with my lunch on the back terrace when I heard you drive up. Would you care to join me for some lemonade?”

---

Five minutes later, a much calmer Shaun sat in the shade of a large umbrella in the peaceful quiet of the spacious yet somehow cozy back terrace, sipping a tall glass of pleasantly sweet lemonade. His companion, who had introduced herself as Ashley, was carrying her plate, almost empty except for the remains of a chicken salad, back into the house, leaving him alone for the moment. Even though he was miles from the water, and even further from the house in Laguna Beach, somehow this house reminded him of that house, and all that wonderful time he’d spent there with Zach the summer before last. He took a deep breath. He had to be calm, he told himself, freaking out wouldn’t help find Zach. If this Ashley didn’t know anything about Jeanne, he’d just find someone who did – somehow.

This time when Ashley walked up behind him, almost as silent on the gray slate tiles of the terrace as she had been on the brick pavers out front, he turned to her with a smile. “Thank you for the lemonade, I think I needed something to help calm me down.”

She smiled back at him, her teeth bright against the pale pink lipstick she wore, and said, “You did seem a bit upset out front. What exactly do you need my help with?”

Shaun moved his glass away from the edge of the table, the condensation leaving a wet ring on the light blue tablecloth, and sat up a bit straighter. “Like I said before, I’m looking for someone who may have visited this house towards the end of September. Her name is Jeanne; she would have probably been here with a guy named Alan.”

“Why are you looking for this Jeanne? I mean, you’re not a cop, right?”

Shaun’s mouth twitched in amusement, and he shook his head. “I’m definitely not a cop, and to tell you the truth, it’s not really Jeanne I’m looking for. The thing is, my boyfriend’s been kidnapped, and he’s the one I’m trying to find. Jeanne is his sister, and I think some people she knows might have had something to do with it.”

He was watching her closely as he spoke, and he saw her mouth drop open the tiniest bit, and her eyebrows lift in surprise. Whether or not she knew anything helpful, he realized she hadn’t known anything about Zach’s kidnapping, and Shaun wasn’t sure whether he was grateful or disappointed about that.

“Wow, that’s so terrible about your boyfriend. But you’re not trying to find him all on your own, are you?”

“No, I have help. Law enforcement help, I mean…I just, I couldn’t sit around and wait, you know?”

Ashley smiled encouragingly, and Shaun opened his mouth and began to talk, haltingly at first, but then the words began to just spill out of him.

---


For the second time in one day, Martin followed Danny in through a door in the Montgomery Terrace apartment complex, guns drawn as they swept through a littered front room that stank of stale smoke and rotting garbage. And for the second time in one day, the place was empty. The four of them carefully checked everywhere a living person could hide, and then the two Portland PD officers stood watch in the hallway while Danny and Martin searched the place a bit more thoroughly.

The apartment where dealer Tony lived with his girlfriend and his muscle appeared to have been empty for a while, maybe even longer than Alan and Jeanne’s had. The place was filthy, living room floor covered in crushed beer cans and greasy pizza boxes. When Danny flipped the switch in the kitchen, a herd of cockroaches scattered from the light, running along the cracked linoleum to hide under the stove, and darting under paper plates piled with moldy food. Still, the tiny kitchen table was clean; its cheerful yellow tablecloth had no crumbs, and its small vase of artificial flowers was free from dust or grime.

Danny blinked at the table and the three chairs carefully tucked in around it before glancing around the rest of the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, checked the date on the half-empty carton of milk. It had expired five days ago.

Down the hall in the larger of the two bedrooms, Martin was rifling through drawers and checking out the closet. Two-thirds of the small closet held women’s clothes: designer knock-offs mostly, cheap but tasteful enough for working at a department store or as a receptionist somewhere. The other third was mostly long-sleeved men’s shirts, denim and plaid. There was a handful of empty hangers in the middle of the rod.

The sheets were crumpled at the foot of the bed, and with a grimace, Martin poked at a few of the high spots before flipping the pillows over. No telling where somebody might hide something interesting. He stood back and looked around the rest of the room, just letting his eyes take everything in without trying to analyze it right away. Ignoring the state of the bed, the pile of dirty towels on the floor that were beginning to smell like mildew, and the beer cans that covered one night stand, the room was well organized. There were photos on the wall, and some little trinkets on top of the dresser. Tony’s girlfriend had made an effort to decorate, and seemed to have good taste – so why all the filth?

There was nothing unexpected in the dresser drawers, but in the tiny bathroom, Martin only found one toothbrush, and both the medicine cabinet and counters were free of cosmetics of any kind. He paused in the bedroom, looked around again before ducking down to peer under the bed. There was no suitcase to be found. Huh.

Danny stuck his head into the bathroom off the main hallway. It was a little bit cleaner than the front room and kitchen had been. A couple of cheaply framed daisy prints hung on the wall on either side of the mirror. They matched exactly the yellow of the hand towels hanging on the rod.

There was a men’s shaving kit on the back of the toilet, but other than an expired prescription for Valtrex, the only other semi-interesting thing was a box of Magnum-sized condoms. Danny tilted an eyebrow at that before digging around a second more with the pencil he’d been using. He knew better than to stick his fingers blindly into places like that.

He turned around when he heard Martin come up behind him. “I got nothing, Fitz. You find anything?”

“Well, looks like some women’s clothes and maybe a suitcase are gone from this bedroom back here. Makeup, too. I think the girlfriend left before Tony and Wes did – that’s why it’s so messy.”

Danny gave a half-shrug of agreement and then let his gaze drift over Martin’s shoulder.

Martin turned around and looked behind him, at the only door in the apartment that had been closed when they’d come in. They’d already checked it briefly for any bad guys and there were none. But now he wondered why the door had been so carefully closed when everything else was mostly in shambles.

He made an ‘after you’ motion to Danny, who grinned before preceding him into the last unsearched room. Besides the fact that this room was nowhere near as dirty as the rest of the apartment, it had a different feel altogether. The tall, single bed was neatly made, its sheets as starkly white as the bare walls. There was only one window in the room, and its roller blind was pulled all the way down tight so that no light could sneak in.

“Huh,” Martin said, turning slowly in place. “Did Detective Cooper say if Wes has done time? Cause this says ex-con to me.”

“He didn’t mention it, but I don’t think they’ve bothered looking into either of these guys too closely yet.” The closet door was ajar after the search; Danny nudged it all the way open with his toe and peered inside. Nothing on the shelf, and the rod was nearly bare, just a few wire hangers holding some shirts and a jacket. On the floor underneath the clothes was a small wooden book shelf holding a few well-worn paperbacks: Watership Down,Helter Skelter, The Stand and a couple of what appeared to be soft-core porn written in the ‘60’s.

Danny looked back over his shoulder from where he’d squatted down to flip quickly through the books. All he found was a ticket stub from a movie that had come out almost a year ago that Wes must have been using as a bookmark. “Nothing interesting here.”

Martin turned away from the dresser he’d been rifling through. “All I’ve got over here is jeans and socks.” He let out a loud, frustrated breath. “Dammit, this hasn’t helped us one bit.”

“We’ll figure it out, Martin. We’ll find him,” Danny said softly.

Martin glanced at Danny, giving him a sheepish half-smile that couldn’t hide his worry.

Danny grinned up at him, but dropped his gaze when Martin turned away to slam the final drawer back into place.

“Hey, what’s that?”

Under the end of the bed, nearly hidden by the navy blanket that had been neatly folded and placed so it hung just so, was a black trunk. Danny only saw it because he was near the floor. He pointed at it, and stood up with a quiet grunt while Martin flipped the blanket out of the way, and ducked down to get a closer look. Then he grabbed the nearest handle and with an ‘oof’ of effort, slid the trunk across the beige carpet till it sat there centered between them.

The trunk was about eighteen inches tall, three feet by a foot-and-a-half, and covered in scuffed black leather. A round padlock, so shiny it appeared to be brand new, gleamed up at them. It was silver, and had ‘Master” stamped on it. Martin reached down and gave it an experimental tug, but the lock held fast.

“Well, that’s certainly intriguing,” Danny said. “Wonder how we’re gonna get it open.”

I wonder what’s inside it,” replied Martin and headed for the door.

---

Shaun sat back in his chair with a sigh before reaching for his glass. He took a swallow, and the cool lemonade was refreshing to both his mouth and his mind. No matter how many people he’d told by now, the story of Zach’s kidnapping never got any easier to get out.

Ashley looked at Shaun curiously for a moment, let out a tiny audible breath and then nodded. “Jeanne was here in September. She came to see my brother, and that’s why it was so weird.”

Shaun leaned forward in his chair as if urging her to speed up. “What do you mean, weird?”

Ashley pressed her lips together before saying, “My brother doesn’t live here, he hasn’t for years and my dad has forbidden him to ever come back. But my folks were out of town that weekend, and out of nowhere Tony showed up, saying he missed me. I know I shouldn’t have let him in, but he is my brother. Plus he had his girlfriend with him, it was kind of hard to refuse to let him in with her standing there, you know?”

She reached for her glass and took a quick swallow before setting the glass back down. “I’m pretty sure he was lying about missing me though, it’s not like we’ve ever been that close. And about an hour or so after they showed up, he got a call on his cell and then Jeanne and her boyfriend showed up. They were pretty wasted already, but between the four of them, they managed to drink up half the liquor cabinet and trash the pool house. And a few days later, my mom noticed some things missing.”

“Missing?”

“Yes, a couple of little jade statues, three leather bound first editions from the library. Even a pair of my dad’s gold cufflinks. He was really pissed when he realized those were missing and then of course I had to tell him that Tony had come for a visit.”

“So you think Jeanne or Alan stole your things?”

“She could have, she did have this huge shoulder bag she could have filled up. But whoever did the actual stealing, I’m sure Tony told them what take, they were all small, valuable things that wouldn’t be missed right away.” She stared at the tabletop and slid her lemonade glass in an absent arc.

“Huh,” Shaun said thoughtfully. “That’s pretty cold, stealing from your own parents.”

“Oh, he hates my dad, he has for years. My dad is very strict and Tony could never deal with that, and he rebelled. Eventually, he was kicked out of college for selling drugs out of his dorm room, and my dad disowned him. He thought maybe the shock of that would knock some sense into Tony, but it didn’t.”

“Do you know if Tony is still dealing drugs?” The words from the ransom note flashed through Shaun’s mind.

“Probably, because he could never keep a real job. But like my dad would say, he’s probably a fuck-up at that, too. I think he’d rather smoke all his weed than sell it, and it’s bound to be hard to make a living like that.”

“Hmmm.” What did it all mean? First Jeanne and Tony are robbing Tony’s parents together, and then two months later he kidnaps her brother. Why? Or were they in on it together after all?

Shaun shook his head in frustration – none of this made any sense. He just hoped Martin was having better luck than he was.

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