Rudy Two

an excerpt




Chapter One

"I'll do what I can, but you have to understand that it's the Friday before the Fourth of July and a long weekend..." Patrick blew out an exasperated breath as he tapped at his keyboard. Some people just didn't get it. "Okay, fine. According to the computer, the trailer is parked in the compound. I'll go out and check if the missing skid is still on it. I'll call you if it is and have it sent over." Patrick listened to the customer on the phone for a minute more. "I'm sure the shipper is probably closed by now. I can check the manifest papers but that will take a while because I'm the only one here and I'll have to find the paperwork."

Patrick gave a resigned sigh. "I'll do what I can and call you back." He hung up, running a hand through his hair before he picked up the phone again and dialed home.

"Hi, sweetie." Clarice, his wife, answered the phone. "Rudy and Clay have already picked up the kids for tonight."

"I'm sorry, honey, but I'm going to be a couple of minutes late. A skid got missed and I'm going to check the trailer and manifest before I head home."

"Okay. But don't take too long. Remember, you are the master of ceremonies for tonight's fundraiser. It wouldn't look good if you were late."

"God, don't remind me."

"Oh, shut up. You love it and you know it."

Patrick chuckled. "Yeah, you know me too well. I'll be there as soon as I can. Love you."

"Love you, too."

He disconnected the call and rose to his feet. Time to check the trailer. Patrick headed to the compound and tapped his security badge against the sensor panel. The chip in the badge was read and the light turned green as it unlocked. He opened the personnel gate, already scanning the line of trailers before him. There it was. The one he needed to check was at the end of the row.

As Patrick walked towards it, he noted the strong aroma of oil coming from one of the rigs. Over time his keen leopard nose had grown used to the odor of diesel fuel, oil and grease. He crouched down and looked under the rig where the smell was the strongest. Yup, there it was. His sensitive nose led him to a puddle of oil leaking from the engine. It was a company owned rig, so Patrick made a mental note of the rig number to inform maintenance.

He went around the truck in question to the back of the trailer. Skids being missed on a trailer did happen. Not frequently, thankfully. This particular rig and trailer were privately owned. The team must have taken a hotel for the weekend because the rig was there and still attached to the trailer. The owners would know the rig was safe in the highly secure yard. Cameras were everywhere and anyone entering the yard was tagged by the security system.

There was no lock on the back of the trailer because it was supposedly empty. Patrick flipped the handle and opened the large double doors, peering into the trailer's dark depths. Even with the sun still high in the sky, he couldn't see all the way to the back of the trailer. Damn it, he would have to climb in and physically look.

Putting one foot on the bumper, he hauled himself up and into the trailer. He groped for the switch, but the lights failed to come on when he flipped it. Patrick had hoped the trailer's power was still connected to the rig but wasn't surprised that it was not. The team wouldn't want to take a chance and run the rig's batteries dry.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, Patrick opened the flash light app and shone the light around the interior of the trailer. Nope, no forgotten or missed skids, but what the hell was that stink?

The strong aroma of bleach lingered in the air and worsened the further into the trailer Patrick moved. He shook his head and sneezed. The stench burned the lining of his nose and he tried breathing through his mouth. It didn't help. There was no reason for the trailer to be cleaned with bleach. The smell led him to the back wall of the trailer where he stopped in confusion. Patrick turned around, staring down the interior length of the trailer. His senses were screaming at him. Something was wrong, but what?

What was he missing? Heading back to the open doors, he trailed his hand along the wooden wall. It seemed unusually thick. Patrick hopped down from the trailer and strode the full length of it until he got to the hitch. He studied the length of the trailer then cocked his head as a thought suddenly struck him. He stepped heel-to-toe from the hitch to the rear doors, counting fifty-three feet. Then he climbed back inside of it once more. Doing the same to the interior, Patrick measured out the length. His foot hit the back wall before he was finished counting. The hell?

From front to back, the inside only measured forty-eight and a half feet. The inside was four and half feet shorter than the outside. Patrick ran his hands over the back wall. Off to the left, he discovered a seam. Following it with his fingers, he found a thin leather strap that seemed to be stuck in the wood. If he hadn't been using his hands, he would have never discovered the strap, it blended in so well.

Tugging hard on the leather, Patrick was stunned when a virtually invisible door opened. He coughed harshly as a cloud of bleach wafted out of the compartment, threatening to overwhelm him. Turning his head away, he took a deep breath and then passed through the two-foot-wide opening and entered the hidden room. The air in his lungs came out in a harsh whoosh as he looked around him in shock.

Skinny bunks, more like wide shelves, were bolted to the walls, four to a side opposite each other in the space, barely allowing for a narrow strip to walk between the two rows. Each bunk had a thick eye ring mounted to the wall at one end, a tiny portable chemical toilet sat in the open corner.

"Oh, my God," Patrick muttered out loud, having a difficult time believing what his eyes were telling him. If this setup was what he deeply, and horribly, suspected it was...then these drivers were trafficking in people. He needed to contact the police.

Immediately, he began to take pictures of the bunks, the hooks, everything. He kept taking pictures as he backed out of the room. Closing the door, he pushed it with his shoulder to make sure it was as firmly closed as possible. He photographed that too. He took pictures of the outside of the trailer, the rig, anything he could think of that might be useful.

Patrick backed away from the trailer and rig, taking one last picture of the two of them together. He spun, tapped his ID on the sensor and entered the building. During the day, a guard would monitor the incoming traffic, but not now. Only those with secure ID's could enter or leave the compound until Tuesday, after the long weekend.

He was shaking but trying hard not to show it. There was no way something this big, this horrific, could be operating under their noses without someone in the office knowing about it. Every run that rig and trailer went on had to have been carefully orchestrated. It was sickening to think that one or more of people he worked with could have something to do with a trafficking operation. He didn't know his people as well as he thought. What nightmare had he accidentally stumbled upon?

"Hey, Patrick. Still here?"

Patrick snapped his head up from his phone, startled. "Mmm, yeah, hi, Rick. Sorry, I didn't see you there. I had a call about a missed skid and I was just checking out the lot." He was surprised that his voice sounded so calm and wasn't shaking to match his insides.

"Find it?"

"Nope. Just going to check the manifest, then call the customer and let them know. Probably the shipper missed a pallet in his hurry to get home."

Rick rolled his eyes. "Probably. Not like that doesn't happen all the damn time."

"I know, right?"

"Anyway, I gotta go. See you tonight." Slapping Patrick on the back, Rick passed him in the hallway.

"Definitely. See ya later," Patrick said over his shoulder.

Patrick went into the main office and checked the rig identification against the stack of manifest books. There it was. The rig and trailer belonged to the Kemp brothers, Arty and Phil. He flipped through the papers. They were supposed to pick up ten skids from Michel's, deliver six to Hobson's and four to Duek's and it was Duek's that was shorted the one skid.

Patrick snorted in disgust at incompetent receivers. Hobson's had signed off on seven, not six, and that's how Duek's was shorted. Well, there was nothing he could do about it now. Entering his private office, he called Duek's receiver and told him what had happened, then called Hobson's, leaving a voicemail for the receiver about the error. So long as both parties were aware of the mistake, it could be fixed on Tuesday. He wrote a note to dispatch with the details of the screwup.

Then he turned his attention to the more serious matter. Plugging his phone in, Patrick quickly uploaded the pictures to his computer. His cell wasn't the greatest and he figured it would be better if he sent them as a batch file. He decided the best person to send them to would be Detective Matt Timmons. Trafficking was a federal offence so just calling the police wouldn't be enough. Matt would have the contacts, know what to do. The rig wouldn't be going anywhere until Tuesday.

The problem was, he didn't have Matt's email. But Matt was married to Allie, Rudy's PA and he did have Rudy's personal email. Rudy could easily forward them. He tacked on a quick explanation and requested that Rudy pass them on to Matt as soon as possible, before hitting send. He felt like he couldn't take a deep breath until he knew the pictures were on their way.

He glanced at his watch. Shit, he'd better get moving. After shutting down his computer, Patrick grabbed his suit jacket off the hook on the back of his door and hustled out of the office to his car. It was nothing short of miraculous that he didn't get a ticket considering the speeds he was going on his race home. Somebody upstairs must have been smiling down on him, wanting him to get to the fundraiser on time.

Almost leaping out of his car as soon as he had stopped, Patrick then burst through his front door at a run. He zipped past a frowning Clarice who had her finger raised towards him. "I know, I know. I'm going as fast as I can," he said quickly before she could say anything to him. He dropped a kiss on her cheek in passing, as she shook her head at him.

Patrick quickly showered and shaved. At least with his short hair, he didn't have to worry about making it look good. He preferred wash and wear to fussing. Clarice had thoughtfully laid his tuxedo out on the bed for him along with socks, underwear and polished shoes. What would he do without her?

Finally dressed, he walked into the kitchen. Spreading his arms wide, he did a spin. "Well?" he asked her.

She smiled at him from where she was sitting. "Baby, you look hot. As always."

"And so do you, love of my life." He bent over and gave her a sweet lingering kiss. She really was the love of his life. "And how are Rudy Two?" He gently patted her swollen stomach.

"Annoying the hell out of me. I'm really happy to be doing this for Rudy and Clay but damn, I am so done with being pregnant. Never again."

Patrick pouted, and she rolled her eyes. "Fine. Not pregnant for a little while. Okay?"

He kissed her again. "Thank you, precious. At least you only have to put up with them for a couple of more weeks, and then Rudy and Clay can have Rudy Two."

Clarice was one of those women who thrived with pregnancy, first with April and then with their twin girls. Clarice and her brother Clay were twins, not identical, but so close in appearance they could have been. She had offered up her uterus and eggs for her brother's husband Rudy to artificially inseminate. This way, the kids would technically be of both of their bloodlines. It was a truly selfless thing to do, in Patrick's opinion.

When Clarice had first approached him with her plan, he had wholeheartedly agreed. And of course, because twins ran in the family, then naturally, the implanted egg divided and now the men were going to be the proud parents of two boys, not just one. They were both over the moon about it. That's where Patrick's nickname for the babies came from. Rudy was the father and there were two of them, so...Rudy Two. He said it once as a joke and it had stuck even though he had thought Clay would be offended by it. He hadn't been. Clay thought it was hilarious.

"Let's go, baby." Patrick helped her to get awkwardly to her feet, her large belly making it hard for her to move. He guided her outside to the porch, released her, turned and locked the door.

"P-Patrick?" Clarice's voice quavered, and he spun in alarm to see what was wrong.

Two men stood before them, unpleasant expressions upon their partially shadowed faces. But what really sent chills down his spine were the guns clearly visible in their hands. He couldn't believe that Clarice and he were going to be mugged just outside of their own home. Hopefully, one of the neighbors would see and call the police.

Patrick held his hands up. "Look guys, we don't want any trouble. Just take our wallets and go."

One of them cocked his head. "You're kinda stupid, aren't you?"

"What?" Patrick asked puzzled.

The two men stepped forward. Their faces became visible as they moved more into the light. Patrick blinked. It was the Kemp brothers.

"Arty? Phil? What's going on? What are you doing?"

"We found out about you snooping inside our trailer and taking pictures. Hand over your phone."

"Okay, sure." Patrick didn't question how they knew he had been inside their trailer. Someone, likely their accomplice, had somehow found out he'd been looking at the trailer. Maybe from the security camera footage? He reached into his pocket, produced his cell phone and handed it over. Patrick could feel sweat trickling down his back even though the night was cool.

Phil snatched it out of his hand, opened it, and flipped through screens. He nodded at Arty. "They're here."

"Good."

Clarice was trembling and very pale. Shifting into his leopard form would be useless. He could only attack one while the other could easily kill Clarice, and at this stage of her pregnancy, she couldn't shift. Patrick wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to his body, trying to shield her from the men. "Guys, please. You got the phone, now leave us alone. My wife is pregnant."

"Tough shit." Arty sneered at him and raised his gun at the same time Phil raised his.

Patrick gazed down at Clarice as she gazed back up at him, knowing this was the last time they would hold each other. He could see the love in her eyes and tried to convey how much he loved her and how very sorry he was.

The sound of two bangs broke the night.

Had they missed? Patrick stared around him in confusion. Flashing police lights warred with ambulance lights, lighting up the night in a bizarre kaleidoscope. Clarice was in his arms and he tightened his hold on her. A long black bag was being loaded into one ambulance and several people were frantically doing something to someone on the ground.

Clarice looked up at him with frightened eyes. "Patrick? What's happening?"

"I-I don't know."

"Mr. and Mrs. May?"

They turned to face a dark-skinned policewoman. "Would you please come with me?" She beckoned with her hand for them to follow her.

"What is going on, officer?" Patrick asked her, not moving.

"Please, just step out of the way and I'll explain everything to you the best that I can."

Patrick nodded to Clarice and the two of them slowly followed the officer around the side of the house, away from the pandemonium on their front lawn. She stood before them, a solemn expression on her face.

The pieces clicked together in Patrick's mind. Police. Ambulance. A body bag. "Did we just die?" he hesitantly asked her.

Clarice clutched his suit in her fist. "Patrick! Don't say that!" She exclaimed in fright.

"Yes, Mr. May. You did." The policewoman's words cut like a knife.

Clarice dropped her hands to her now flat stomach. Neither of them had realized that she was no longer pregnant. "No!" She screamed, pulling from his arms and lunging towards the front of the house.

Patrick grabbed her around the waist and held her to him as she struggled wildly. "Sweetheart, don't," he gently coaxed her as he hauled her back to where the police officer stood waiting for them.

"The babies, Patrick, don't you understand?" She pleaded with him. "They aren't even born yet. I can't leave the babies, or our girls. I can't die, not yet. Who's going to raise them?" The volume of her words rising until she was shouting at him.

"Mrs. May." The officer's strong voice sliced through Clarice's hysterics. She had her palm aimed at the side of the house and a glowing white oval shone against the wall. Mist moved through it almost like clouds swirling in a soft wind.

He didn't know what it was about that oval, but something drew him to it. He wanted to go closer. Clarice fell silent as she also stared at it. She was just as affected, mesmerized by it, as he was.

"Your time here is done," the policewoman said to them. "You both must fulfill the next step in your fate." She pointed towards the oval with her free hand.

"W-who are you?" Clarice managed to tentatively ask.

"I am called a Guide and I answer to a team leader called a Sentinel. Many times, souls like yourselves who have died traumatically are unable to move on. It's my job, along with others like me, to help souls to go to the next stage of existence. Heaven, if you will."

"But the babies... If I die, won't they die within me?"

"The paramedics are doing what they can to keep your body going until the babies can be safely removed. There is a doctor assisting. For now, however, rest assured that they are alive. Please, Mrs. May, let them go. Let all your children go. They have their own destinies to fulfill."

"Will they be all right?" Clarice asked.

"I have no doubt that they will be," the officer assured her.

Patrick cupped her cheeks. "Rudy and Clay will make wonderful parents to our girls, Clarice. They couldn't be in better hands."

"Patrick?" She looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. "I'm scared. Don't leave me."

He gripped her tightly to him. "Never. I'll never leave you. You and I belong together."

They cautiously neared the oval and reaching out one hand, he attempted to skim his fingers across the oval, only to have them sink into it. The white mist felt warm, almost comforting. "Come on, my love. Think of it as the next great adventure we will share. I have a good feeling about this."

Holding securely onto each other, they walked together into—through—the portal. He didn't see the officer close her fist, but he did hear her swear as the opening closed behind them.

"Dammit. I didn't ask them if they knew who shot them. Fuck, I'm never going to hear the end of this."