His Secret Life. Debra Webb
she added, “There could be any number of reasons that have nothing to do with criminal activity. A former celebrity.” She flared her hands. “A recluse for purely personal reasons. That’s why we’re going to take a cautious approach from this point forward. Though I understand that you’re very grateful for what Mr. Benson did, it would be in your best interest to know who this man is and what his motives for seclusion are before moving forward with a meeting between the two of you.”
Stuart nodded. “I suppose you’re right. I certainly don’t want to endanger my family by becoming involved with a man with a troubled past.”
“Unfortunately,” Victoria offered, “it goes with the territory, Stuart.” She knew this all too well. “Wealth and power can sometimes prove a magnet for those seeking easy money. Self-protection is essential. If we uncover disturbing details perhaps it would be wisest to show your gratitude anonymously through my investigator.”
“So his name is definitely not Troy Benson? How did you find him?”
“My investigator, Jane, used the description your wife gave of the man who rescued her to start the search. Since the man was thought to be on foot that night, our first assumption would be that he lived nearby. Along that deserted stretch of road, there are only a few scattered communities. The occasional farm, but not much else. We focused on anything within walking distance.”
“Reese vividly recalls catching a glimpse of someone as her car spun out of control,” Stuart confirmed. “She believes he was, indeed, on foot.”
“That being the case,” Victoria went on, “we assumed that the man was likely from somewhere nearby. Jane checked the surrounding communities until she found someone matching the description. He goes by the name Troy Benson and he works at a diner in Plano.”
“If your investigator hasn’t spoken to this man yet, how can she be sure it’s him—other than the description my wife gave, I mean? This Troy Benson could simply be someone who looks like the man who rescued my family. Is she sure it’s him?”
Again, Stuart’s anxiousness was showing. He wanted this man found, but he also wanted to find the hero he had created in his mind. “Reese stated that the man who rescued her cut his left forearm as he pulled her from the damaged car, correct?”
Stuart sat forward a little. “Yes. Yes, she did. Does this Troy Benson have an injury consistent with what my wife recalls?”
“He does. Jane has him under surveillance and is hoping for an opportunity to lift a latent print. We can have a friend at the bureau, as well as our Chicago PD liaison, run the print through the systems to see if he shows up in any databases.”
“You’ll keep me informed?” Stuart asked, his expression clearly crestfallen.
Victoria’s client stood, sighed. “The waiting game it is, then.”
“It won’t be long,” Victoria assured him. “Trust me, Stuart, Jane will work as quickly as possible.”
When Stuart had taken his leave, Victoria stood for a long moment staring at the door that separated her office from the small private lobby where Mildred greeted clients and took care of Victoria’s calendar.
Waiting was the hardest thing to do.
A person’s whole life was spent waiting on one thing or another. For Christmas to arrive. To find love. For the safe birth of a child…to live without fear.
Waiting was all Victoria could do for now as well.
Plano, Illinois, 4:30 p.m.
The Sunshine Diner was filled to capacity as usual. Jane selected the only vacant stool at the counter to facilitate a better view of the kitchen’s serving window.
An apron-clad Troy Benson set two plates on the serving window ledge and announced, “Order up.”
With his shirtsleeves pushed up, the bandage on his left arm was visible.
“You ready to order?”
Jane dragged her attention from the window to the waitress who’d stopped on the other side of the counter. “I’ll have the special.” Burger and fries. A girl couldn’t go wrong with the basics.
The waitress, Patsy, scratched the order on her pad, flashed a smile and headed over to post the order on the cook’s wheel in the service window.
Benson glanced at Jane as he tugged her order from the wheel. Jane held his gaze, wanting him to know she wasn’t here for the food. She’d come in and out the past couple of days. She felt certain he realized she was watching him, but he hadn’t gotten nervous just yet.
She’d been cautious with her questioning of the locals. Not wanting to spook him, she’d resisted talking to the waitresses or the busboy in the diner.
Benson drove a beat-up old truck. The license plate was registered to a Troy Benson, originally from Michigan. His driver’s license went back four years. No work or credit record for six years prior to that. Mainly because the man, the real Troy Benson, with that Social Security number had some nine years ago entered a private extended-care facility in Michigan after a tragic automobile accident. Since the facility wasn’t funded by government insurance, there was no reason for any government agency to be suspicious of the use of the Social Security number some five years later. While the real Troy Benson withered away in Michigan, this pretender had started a whole new life in Illinois.
If Jane could get this guy’s prints, it would be reasonably easy to determine if he had a criminal record or if perhaps he was in Witness Protection. There had to be a motive for his having taken an alias and living such a low-profile life. A low-profile life, according to the few people she’d questioned, that he went to great extents to keep very personal.
After work Benson drove his ancient truck to an equally aged farmhouse on Grissom Spring Road. He had no friends, no social life that anyone she’d asked was aware of. He had simply blown into town, driving that old truck, four years ago and had been working at the diner since.
He didn’t look like a short-order cook.
Tall, well-muscled, mid-thirties, blond hair, blue eyes. Damned good looking. A little glimmer of warmth swirled beneath her belly button. Any woman would have to be in a coma or dead not to notice how handsome he was. But guys who looked like that never took a second look at Jane.
Her nickname in grade school had followed her into adulthood. She hadn’t bothered attempting to dispel the unflattering moniker. She liked wearing jeans and T-shirts when she was off duty. Even on duty she stuck with serviceable slacks and conservative blouses along with practical shoes. And she hated makeup and all the hair fuss that most women took great pride in skillfully sporting.
If that, along with her generic brown hair and eyes, made her a plain Jane, then so be it.
“Here ya go.”
Patsy settled a stoneware plate in front of Jane. “Thanks.” Jane considered the burger and fries. “How about some coleslaw?” What she needed was a small enough item touched by the cook that she could take with her. And return it, of course, once she’d lifted the necessary prints. She’d noticed some side orders, coleslaw in particular, were served in bowls small enough to suit her requirement.
“Sure thing.” Patsy strolled back to the window. “Need an order of coleslaw, Troy.”
Benson flicked another of those suspicious glances from the waitress to Jane. Troy disappeared from the window for a moment and returned with a small, single-serving-size stoneware bowl of slaw. Patsy immediately placed the side order in front of Jane.
“Great.” Careful not to touch the little bowl with her fingers, she dug in. She was starved. Though she’d been in the diner earlier this