Chapter 1

Miami, FL

Nestled in a tropical cove stood a small complex of apartments that glimmered as the midday sun reflected off the spackled exterior; the palm trees swayed in the warm breeze and the paved parking lot seemed to dance as the hot air rose in waves from the blackened top. The apartments were all identical in build; a two bedroom and one bathroom unit with a small kitchen and attached living area. The complex catered to singles and couples with no children and only small pets were allowed.

In a small corner apartment the single occupant sat in her home office and worked diligently on a computer. The petite woman typed away as she combed the internet for additional leads. Being in a home office and self-employed she didn't care to dress in much more than a tank top and a pair of shorts. Her shoulder length brown hair was pulled back into a pony tail and a pair of reading glasses was perched on her forehead. She sat with one leg tucked up underneath her in what appeared to be an awkward position. She reached over for her coffee cup on the large desk and took a sip. The coffee had gone cold but it didn't seem to matter much for the caffeine addict. She placed the cup back next to a manila folder that was littered with scarp papers, notes, photos and old outdated newspaper clippings.

Just then her phone rang; she answered it, "Hello."

The voice was familiar and sounded ever so sweet, "Hi Aunt Charlie," it said.

She grinned, "Hi Liz, how are you?"

There was a pause, "Okay. When you coming home?"

Charlie giggled, "You mean when I am coming to your house?"

"Ha-hu," the girl replied.

"My flight is tomorrow," she reminded. "Is your mom there, Liz?"

"Yup," the girl cheered.

After a moment Charlie asked, "Can I speak to her?"

"Okay," Lizzie placed the phone down and hollered, "Mom…Aunt Charlie is on the phone."

Another voice came on, "Charlie! You called?"

She shook her head, "Nope! Liz called me. Thought I would touch base with you though, Carol."

"Still staying here?" she asked.

"Sure," agreed Charlie.

Carol asked, "Promise me you will leave your work at home this time?"

Charlie sighed, "I will try."

"No," scolded Carol, "You leave whatever file you are working on at this moment on your desk."

"I will try," she stated again.

Carol asked, "What is it this time?"

"Cold case homicide," she replied.

"From how long ago?" asked Carol.

"Twenty-five years," she informed.

"You are working on a twenty-five year old case? It can wait until you get back. You are supposed to be on vacation…Stop bringing work with you."

"I'll try," she miffed.

"No try…You do," stated Carol.

Charlie puffed, "Are you channeling Yoda?"

Carol chirped, "Aye, aye my young Jedi."

Charlie rolled her big born eyes, "Okay, Vader…See ya tomorrow."

"We will be waiting, Charlie…Liz can't wait to see you again."

"Give her a big hug and kiss for me, sis," replied Charlie as she hung up the phone. She gazed upon the old file before her and slowly closed it. "I guess you can wait a week longer. I should start packing."

Next Day

Everything went rather smooth for Charlie. Her flight was on time, the rental car was ready and she arrived at her sister's house in the suburbs right on schedule. It felt good to be back in the state of New York but the chill in the air reminded her of why she chose to live in Florida…For the warm weather.

There she was, back in her old home town of Benson where the pavement turned to dirt on long back country roads. She couldn't believe how much it changed and not for the better.

The old shopping plaza was empty. No signs of life just a rusted hulk of a building and a deserted parking lot with faded yellow lines. The Pizza Hut was closed; her memories went back to when it first came to town and the grand opening. The classic red topped building was now faded and over grown with brush.

The grocery store was closed as well as the defunct department store. She recalled her first real job as a cashier part-time after school in her senior year at Ames. Minimum wage was only three dollars and fifty cents an hour but it paid for the gas in her first car.

She drove a few more miles down the road and came to a newer plaza with a Tops grocery store as the anchor. The new plaza was only half full, brand new stores sat empty as no one seemed to want to place a shop in the small town.

She kept going and finally arrived at her sister's home in a housing track located just a mile away from the new plaza. The area was quiet, peaceful and held a small town charm.

She opened the door of the silver two door coup rental car and stepped onto the driveway. She found a slight chill to the air as she grabbed a light coat from her seat. Though she was dressed in a nice blue skirt suit she had forgotten how the wind could chill in the north. She placed her thin trench coat over her shoulders, grabbed her bag from the backseat and marched up the driveway towards the home.

Her sister's house much nicer than her small apartment, it was a large two story home with brown siding and white accents. An attached garage was a pleasant feature and a large yard in the front and in the back of the home. Charlie rang the doorbell.

Her sister Carol Mott opened the door wearing jeans and a red sweat shirt; her short brown hair covered by a red bandana to keep the dust off as she cleaned. Carol's oval face lit up upon seeing her sister.

"Charlie!" she swung the door open and grabbed her sister around the shoulders and squeezed ever so tight.

Charlie regained her balance and gently placed her hand on Carol's shoulder, "I'm back."

"I see that," Carol cheered. She grabbed Charlie's bag, "Come on…I got your room all set up."

"Great," replied she. After closing the door she found her niece was home from school. Her eyes settled on the teen.

Liz obviously had Down syndrome. She was diagnosed at birth and the girl was very cheerful and pleasant over all though her IQ tests were far below her peers. The girl had a smile on her face, her brown eyes danced in excitement and her black hair was cut short for easy grooming.

Charlie waved her over, "Come here, Liz. What are you doing home from school?"

Carol exhaled, "We're having some issues with school. She vomited the minute she got off the bus."

Charlie's face drew long, "You okay?"

Liz nodded, "I'm fine now."

"Well," stated Charlie, "that's good."

Carol whispered, "I'll explain later."

"Explain what?" wondered Charlie.

"Later," her sister insisted. "Come on, let's get you settled."