by: Michele Lynn Seigfried
I awoke on a dirt floor. Head pounding. Disoriented. I was surrounded by darkness. I got to my knees and instinctively raised my hand to the back of my head. My skull was throbbing. What happened? I struggled to remember. I pushed myself up and stumbled back against a wall. It was cold and damp. I was in a fog and didn’t know where I was.
Clumsily, I felt along the cement wall until I came to a door. I searched for the handle and tried it. Locked. Terror flowed through my veins. As my head cleared, I had a startling realization—I had been kidnapped.
* * *
Two weeks earlier…
“What are the new neighbors like?” my husband, Jayce, asked, pushing aside the curtains in our bedroom to steal a glance at them.
“The woman always looks like she just sucked on a lemon.”
Jayce laughed. “You have quite a way with words, Bonnie.”
“And that is why you love me.” I strolled over to his side and gave him a peck on the cheek. His face still had those same handsome, chiseled features as when I met him over twenty years ago.
Looking like she sucked on a lemon would later turn out to be the least of the new neighbor’s issues. I returned to my full-length mirror and gave myself a once-over to make sure my outfit looked okay. It was a big night for me. I slipped on my only pair of Jimmy Choos for the special occasion.
“How do I look?” I asked Jayce.
“Extremely professional, my dear. Let’s get going. We’re going to be late.”
“Girls! Get your jackets on!” I yelled to our daughters, Callie and Kailyn.
We hustled into the garage and piled in Jayce’s white Cadillac Escalade. Jayce pressed the garage door opener, backed up, and stopped short.
I removed my compact from my Coach purse to check my mascara. “What’s wrong?” I asked without looking up.
“A moving truck is blocking us.”
Jayce got out of the car. I pulled out my lipstick and applied it liberally. I wanted to look nice. It was possible my picture would be taken for the newspaper. I was being sworn into office as the new municipal clerk of Coral Beach. My former boss and best friend, Chelsey Alton, had quit her job recently. I was being promoted as her replacement.
“If you could have kept your pants zipped, none of this would be happening right now,” the new neighbor snapped at her husband.
“I don’t know how many more ways I can say ‘I’m sorry.’ I bought you this big beachfront house that you’ve always wanted to show you how much I love you and care about you. I made a mistake. I’ll never do it again.”
Jayce cleared his throat to make his presence known. “Sorry, excuse me; um…hi! I’m Jayce Fattori. I live next door with my wife, Bonnie, and our two daughters.” Jayce extended a hand to greet them.
Jayce had taken them by surprise. They were so engrossed in their conversation that they hadn’t noticed him approaching. “Nice to meet you,” they said halfheartedly in unison. They introduced themselves as Cason and Lyla Spratt. They were from New Jersey, but this was their first time living beachfront. They exchanged a few words about their jobs and how nice of a neighborhood it was.
“I was wondering if you could kindly have the movers move their truck? They’re blocking our driveway and we’re kind of in a rush,” Jayce explained.
The couple apologized. Jayce thanked them, waved good-bye, and strode toward the SUV.
I put away my compact and wondered what was taking so long. The girls whined, “Why aren’t we going?”
“Daddy’s coming back now, girls.” My eight- and ten-year-old were not incredibly patient.
Jayce opened the car door and hopped inside.
“What did Lemon Face have to say?”
Jayce smirked. “It appears I interrupted a lovers’ quarrel.”
“Maybe they quarrel often. That would explain the sourpuss.”
The moving van inched forward, unblocking our driveway.
“Did they seem nice?” I asked.
“I couldn’t really tell in the twenty-second conversation.”
“Did you find out what they do for a living?”
“He’s some sort of a politician. I don’t know about her.”
“What did you say their names were?”
“Cason and Lyla Spratt.”
I picked up my smart phone and keyed in Cason Spratt. Bingo. Cason was recently elected to the fiftieth legislative district. Senator Cason Spratt.
“Are we there yet?” asked Kailyn.
“Is there going to be food there?” asked Callie.
“No and no,” I replied.
“But I’m hungry,” Callie said.
“Well, then, you should have eaten your dinner,” Jayce said.
“I don’t like peas,” Callie moaned.
“You didn’t eat your potatoes or chicken either,” I pointed out.
Callie sat back in her seat, folded her arms, and scowled.
“C’mon, girls; this is Mommy’s big night! Don’t be a lemon face!” Jayce kidded. I glanced at him and grinned.
Minutes later, we arrived at the Coral Beach municipal building. Inside, I rushed to get ready for the meeting, since I needed fifteen more minutes than I had. I threw out the name plates, tossed the agendas on a table, flipped on the switch for the microphones, and hustled to my place at the dais. I felt like Speedy Gonzales. Arriba arriba ándale arriba epa!
Aspen Ravens was our newest village president. I had almost forgotten to turn on the meeting recorder in my haste, when Aspen called the meeting to order. I felt sweat dripping down my back—a combination of nerves and running around. I was suddenly annoyed with my new neighbors for making me late. I hadn’t intended to look like a sweaty heathen in church in front of all the meeting attendees, but there I was, all disheveled.
Aspen decided to rearrange the agenda to do the resolution about me first. I tensed up as he asked me to do the roll call vote.
“By all means, yes!”
“Bonnie, we are thrilled to have you on board!”
“Was that a yes?” I asked.
“Absolutely, yes. Congratulations.”
The village attorney, Anthony Bellini, administered my oath of office. My husband held the Bible and the girls stood by my side. I raised my right hand and repeated after Mr. Bellini. There were a few camera flashes and several handshakes before I hurried back to my seat for the remainder of the meeting.
After my swearing in, Aspen asked for a moment of silence.
“If you would all bow your heads for a moment and say a little prayer or think good thoughts for our missing resident, Polly Pitcher.”
I had read about Polly in the papers earlier this week. She was living in an apartment in Coral Beach when she suddenly vanished. I used to babysit for Polly when I was a teenager. We both lived in Rumson at the time. Polly was in her late twenties, and I hadn’t seen her in over two decades.
A few votes on agenda items and, twenty minutes later, the meeting was finished. I had initially failed to realize that some good friends of mine were in the audience. Chelsey Alton, Jose Texidoro, and Norm and Betty Vetti. They approached me after the meeting.
“How’d you manage to get a gig like this?” Norm joked. I gave him a hug.
“It was her exit out of this joint that opened the door for me to move up,” I told him as I pointed toward Chelsey. Norman was a maintenance man for the Town of Sunshine when I was the deputy clerk there. Betty was his wife. Sunshine was the town I called home. It was a few miles away from Coral Beach on the same New Jersey barrier island.
“I’m so proud of you, Bonnie. Stepping up in the world,” Norm said.
“What are you doing here?”
“News travels fast in these small towns. We heard you were getting a promotion and we came to support you.” Betty smiled and I hugged her too.
“I can’t thank you enough for being here.”
I had gotten to know Norm and Betty over the years. They were both soft-spoken, honest, and amiable. Norm didn’t make an enormous salary as a maintenance person for a government building, so he also moonlighted as a handyman. His labor fees were reasonable and he needed the money, so it was a win-win situation when I discovered I could hire him to do odd jobs for me.
Norm became my go-to guy whenever I had a whim to change the paint color on my house. I relied on him tremendously after Hurricane Sandy. It was hard to find available contractors after that natural disaster. Scores of homes and businesses were wrecked. Nearly everyone was booked solid. I found someone to do the major construction, then Norm handled the finishing work—hanging drywall, putting up mirrors, installing toilets, tiling, flooring, and fixing gutters. Norm got my house back to normal a little at a time, in his spare time.
“How’s your daughter, Norm?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s doing better. Staying out of trouble.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Norm and Betty had a troubled daughter. She had been in and out of rehab since she was eighteen. She turned thirty recently and I hoped the problems she once had were behind her, although I knew they weren’t far behind her. I heard that she slipped off the wagon and returned to her coke habit a year ago. I felt bad about all the pain that Norm’s family had been through.
I gave Chelsey a hug next. “I’m so happy for you!” she said. “We need to celebrate! Let me know when.”
I told her I would call her soon and I moved on to hug Tex.
“Hello, my friend, and congrats,” Jose said. He was a police lieutenant from Sunshine. I also met him when I worked there. We called him “Tex” for short.
“Thanks, Tex! And thanks for coming!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss your big promotion; you know that.”
It meant a lot to me that all of them were there to show me how much they cared.
A reporter from the Lagoon Tribune newspaper yanked me aside and snapped a few pictures for what I hoped was going to be a good article about my promotion. It was silly of me, but I was proud of myself for landing the job. I wanted to share my joy and my five seconds of fame with the world…or at least the residents of the island where I lived. My photo had never been in a newspaper before.
Once the reporter left, I found myself alone with Jayce and our daughters. Jayce wrapped his muscular biceps around my waist and told me he was proud of me. His soft lips touched mine for a small kiss before he released his hold so I could clean up the boardroom. I looked forward to spending the rest of the evening with my family, since they were more important to me than anything else in the world.
We drove home and I put the girls to bed while Jayce popped open a bottle of Dom Ruinart. I descended the staircase and Jayce handed me a champagne glass.
“Is this the bottle we had in the fridge?” I asked.
“That was a hundred-and-fifty-dollar bottle.”
“It’s a big night. We’re celebrating.” He kissed me passionately.
“You keep kissing me like that and the celebration is going to have to continue upstairs,” I said coyly.
“What are we waiting for?”
“Just the strawberries.”
Jayce sprinted to the refrigerator and grabbed the chocolate-covered strawberries that we got from Lotte’s Belgium Chocolates. He raced up the stairs behind me and we continued the party for two in the bedroom.