This is a strange funeral.
The reverend had almost spoken the words aloud as his eyes lifted from the Book of Common Prayers into the nave where members of his congregation sat in attendance for the funeral of a man who had no friends. No assigned pallbearers. No lilies sat on display. The obituary only a single paragraph that said Eric Marcoux had been born, had a daughter and died.
His teenage daughter sat alone, the empty pew beside her casting hints of a lonely life. Instead of in mourning, she looked – of all things – joyful. He imagined she chose the end of the pew to avoid talking to anyone else, but her face was far too beautiful, and her hair too long, black and curly like hair made specifically for the playful winds of summer.
The black dress she wore also didn’t help. Plain yet chic, it did little to hide a grown woman’s curves. When he had shaken her hand and felt how small it was in his, images of the most carnal, spirited, sweaty sex any man could share with a woman had come into his mind.
“…and as the early dew that passeth away. Amen.”
A shimmer of light in the narthex caused him and the others to look in the same direction.
The reverend closed the book, then clutched it in one hand. An older woman moved quickly for her age. High heels snapped across the hard floor like fingers demanding attention. “Save your holy water, Reverend.”
Elektra Marcoux stood when the woman turned up the pew in her direction.
The reverend looked down at the coffin, curious about the life of the man for whom he had performed the rite of commendation.
A business card exchanged hands. Only then did the woman, Elizabeth Klein, acknowledge the coffin on top of the silver casket lift. Its polished shine gleamed brighter than the Star of Bethlehem in subdued light. She knew Eric Marcoux had purchased the casket months before his death. Instead of an ordinary one, he made certain his was made of solid brass and cast a mirror reflection.
A waste of money, but there was nothing Elizabeth could do about that now.
“We need to talk, Elektra. Unfortunately, I can’t say more at the moment. I’m sorry the two of us are meeting like this.”
Elektra gave an understanding nod because Elizabeth showing up wasn’t the only thing strange. The absence of her father’s attorney, Daniel Prado, hadn’t gone unnoticed. Only now did Elektra realize Daniel worked for the woman standing in front of her. The two hadn’t met before. Not once in the past had she ever heard mention of Elizabeth’s name.
The mansion staff not being present was perplexing. Most had worked in the mansion before she was born. Her father never referred to them as ‘the staff,’ but friends. Two weeks before his death, the staff often huddled together and whispered. On sight of her, they scurried like rats with knowledge of the mansion’s many corners. Hours after her father died, Daniel fired them all and gave only an hour to vacate the premises. This had all been done before Elektra had been told her father had drawn his last breath and while she slept.
“It’s imperative we meet as soon as possible. Legally, I can’t wait any longer.”
This time, Elektra didn’t misinterpret Elizabeth’s silent meaning.
Elektra sensed from Elizabeth’s eyes she was grappling with the decision to grab her hand and lead her away. Not so the two of them could go off somewhere to meet.
What Elizabeth had wanted was to get Elektra away from the coffin – get her away from her father.
The meeting was important enough for the Law Offices of Klein & Klein to open its door on a Sunday morning, which was the first and last time this would ever occur.
Fearing what she would hear, Elektra arrived with only minutes to spare. For more than a day Daniel hadn’t answered or returned any of her calls, which was more than odd. Pushing through the single glass door, she got a sense of what she would soon face when the receptionist jumped to her feet in a rush, staring at her then at a closed door along the wall as if uncertain she should go to it.
Before Elektra could reach her, the front door opened again, and two police officers entered, one of them reaching a hand toward the pistol holstered in his Sam Browne belt. The receptionist saw this and, staring at the three newcomers, batted her eyes and twitched her lips.
It was the front door opening again that forced Elektra to look over her shoulder.
The man wore jeans, a brown blazer, and soft leather shoes. The ID badge pinned to his blazer read Dr. Christopher Brady, Clinical Psychologist. He moved in a headlong gait as if he had an elevator to catch and a meeting on a specific floor. A cell phone stayed tight against his ear. Realizing where he was, he stopped and searched the room until he found Elektra, hung up the cell phone without saying goodbye, then looked at the receptionist and gave a furtive nod in Elektra’s direction. The receptionist’s head bounced on her shoulders like a ball on asphalt, stuttering in one place.
Elektra tried not to show that her emotions had shifted from fear to suspicion.
The officers saw the look then examined her, then gave an even longer look at Dr. Brady before moving in a slow gait closer to the reception desk.
The receptionist pushed from the desk before they could reach her and ran to the closed door and banged a fist hard enough to make it hurt.
The door jerked open.
“Everyone’s here!” the receptionist said.
Elizabeth gazed into the lobby. A gesture was made to the officers. “Elektra? Dr. Brady? Can you also come in, please?”
The same knees that brought Elektra into the lobby weakened like tendons detached from bones.
The office was as small as the lobby. A few extra chairs had been arranged in it, but not enough because there wasn’t enough room. The officers stood close to the desk, their eyes on Daniel Prado, who sat behind the desk and closest to the window.
The desk was large enough for one chair, but two more had been squeezed behind it. Elizabeth sat in the middle. Beside her sat another man around Daniel’s age. His head had been lowered, but seeing her come into the room; Elektra saw sympathy come into his eyes.
As she sat in the chair directly in front of the desk, she noticed that Dr. Brady was the only one sitting comfortably. His cell phone had been put away. The curve of one leg relaxed on top of his knee. Both arms hugged the back of his chair. He looked impatient and ready to leave.
Elizabeth waited until Elektra was seated then spoke right away.
“Since this meeting is being recorded, I’ll start with an introduction. My name is Elizabeth Klein. To my left is my son, Donald Klein. Between us, we make up the Law Offices of Klein & Klein.”
She hadn’t mentioned Daniel. Even if she had, Daniel wouldn’t have noticed. His head slumped between his shoulders far enough to expose thinning hair at the center of the crown. As soon as Elizabeth began talking, tears fell from his eyes. No attempts were made to wipe them away.
Elizabeth got comfortable and gave Elektra her most stern gaze yet.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” she admitted before looking at her son, then at the officers before bringing her attention back to Elektra. Elektra drew in a small breath to calm her nerves.
“It’s not often I’m at a loss for words,” Elizabeth said. “Neither my personality nor my time permits me the pleasure of dallying, so I’m going to make this meeting as brief as you all want it to be.” She leaned forward, clasping small bony fingers so they looked like a tiny pile of matchsticks. “And as concise as I can with you, Elektra, fully understanding what I’m saying. First, and foremost, I’ve come to understand you are unaware of your real name. Your legal name is not Elektra Antoinette Marcoux as your father made you believe.”
Elektra reached up with a trembling finger and brushed the lower part of her mouth, and wondered why she wanted them all to believe she was made of steel.
“Your legal name is Elektra Jennings. Before you become completely unglued, I will tell you that Eric Marcoux was your father. I’m sorry to hear of his passing. I was also told that you believe your father left behind a will. The truth is your father has no such will that any of us can find proof of.”
Elektra averted her gaze to a clock on the wall.
Elizabeth’s voice softened.
“Your father has embezzled from you since you were two-years-old. Your father was not and has never been wealthy, Elektra. You are the wealthy one.”
Before, it had been hard to pay attention. Now Elektra knew she had to if she wanted to understand the things Elizabeth said.
“Daniel Prado also embezzled from you. This building we’re in…” A tiny hand gestured over the desk. “…the many luxuries that were purchased over the years by he and your father, including the home your father purchased for his ex-wife, Lillian Marcoux – everything – was purchased with money you should have inherited. The money they spent came from a trust set up by your mother.”
Elektra gave a firm shake of her head. “My mother couldn’t have set up a trust. She isn’t wealthy and never was. I can’t tell you how many times she came to my father to borrow money.”
Elizabeth lowered her head and drew in a long, slow breath. She kept her head lowered when she spoke again. “Elektra, the man sitting beside you is a personal friend of mine. He does well in situations like these. I asked Dr. Brady to join us today. After I finish telling you everything, I encourage you to spend a little time with him. Klein & Klein will pay for any services rendered. It’s the least we can do. The reason I’m telling you this is because… the woman you believe is your mother is not your mother.”
Elektra’s eyes narrowed. Her hand tightened on the armrest until the wood cut into her palm.
Elizabeth kept speaking.
“Lillian Marcoux is not your mother. She’s only the woman who married your father six years before you were born. Your real mother’s name was LeVergne Jennings. She died when you were two. It is her will we are discussing. You should have inherited everything two months ago when you turned eighteen. I happened to come across your file and saw it wasn’t closed. My office is in Los Angeles, and I’m afraid the distance kept me out of the loop. Daniel also works at the LA office. We had no idea about this building.
“According to LeVergne Jennings’ will, you inherit with no stipulations. Since you personally didn’t hire us to handle your estate, everything in your mother’s name should have transferred to you. After I found your file, Daniel left the LA office and refused to answer any of my calls. I hope you’re following along.”
Elektra found her voice.
“The day LeVergne Jennings died, she possessed several bank accounts, a stock portfolio, the mansion you reside in, cars and jewelry. It was her wish that a separate trust be set aside for your father to use for expenses until you became of age. It’ll take some time to figure out where all of the money went. Less than six months after LeVergne died, your father’s trust was totally depleted. What you should have inherited two months ago was somewhere around the ballpark of fifty-eight million. At this time, we estimate your assets somewhere around thirty-one. This, of course, is minus the millions your father embezzled. So far we know Daniel has embezzled close to ten million. Elektra, the two of them worked closely to keep all of this from everyone. The thirty-one million I mentioned is from the stocks and bonds your mother invested in. All of the cash, approximately twenty million, is gone, Elektra. Other than the mansion and the home that Lillian Marcoux resides in and this building, there’s nothing left. I do believe your father and Daniel had every intention to bleed you dry. I’m sorry to have to tell you all of this.”
Elektra stared at Daniel. Pain had a new meaning. Since she could remember she called him uncle. Now she knew that her father, Lillian and Daniel had betrayed her in the worst way and it would take years to understand why.
The chair Daniel sat in slammed against the credenza when the officers stepped closer. Elizabeth and Donald were on their feet faster than Daniel was. The desk laden with books, files, and personal objects pushed heavily across the floor. Once Elizabeth and Donald were on their feet, they had to keep moving. The police either didn’t see them or assumed casualties would be forgiven in their attempt to make an arrest.
Daniel threw his arms far apart. The lower part of him made an attempt to leap over the desk and escape. His foot hadn’t reached high enough. The desk groaned from his weight. Elektra found herself reaching both hands toward him as one of the officers collided into the back of her chair. The other officer came up behind Daniel. Shouts to surrender were made. Daniel’s arm was twisted and pinned against his spine.
“Stop resisting!” the officers’ ordered.
Daniel’s arms flailed, his face pinched in concentration.
Donald rushed forward and pulled Elektra closer to him.
“I’m telling you I did nothing wrong,” Daniel said looking at the officers over his shoulder.
Elizabeth may not have known where the money went, but Elektra had a clue. Extravagant vacations, timeshares on tropical islands, cars, clothes, jewelry, fine restaurants, and hours spent inside of casinos. Daniel had spent a lot of time in her home. Now she knew why Daniel fired the mansion staff. They had known the house belonged to her mother; it was this reason Elektra had found them whispering. That and their knowledge that Daniel, her father, and Lillian had lived the past sixteen years extravagantly and on borrowed time.
Donald righted her chair. As he did this, Elektra looked at Dr. Brady sitting again as if nothing had happened. A thought came to her. This is my lowest moment.
In less than an hour, she would realize it would play second fiddle at best.
Getting home became urgent. If her father could lie about her name and her mother, she wondered what other secrets had he kept.
The truth had been in front of her all along, only her father had presented it in a way she couldn’t see it. Never had she attended public school. For the past sixteen years, she and her father had spent every waking minute together, traveling mostly. The only moments they spent apart were when Lillian visited and she and Eric went off into a room alone.
As soon as Elektra climbed into her car, she called Lillian. Lillian didn’t answer. Elektra hung up and called again. The call went straight to voicemail. A third and fourth try also went straight to voicemail.
“I just want to know who Albert and Alexis Jennings is you bitch!”
Tossing the cell phone, it hit the seat beside her and fell to the floor.
The first time she saw Albert and Alexis had been from a distance. Both men were exceptionally tall, making it easy for them to spot. Daniel grabbed her by her shoulders and pushed her away before the men could see her as her father ran to head them off.
Relatives her father said later that day. More lies. Her father wasn’t a Jennings. Her mother was.
Elektra wanted to know more about these men as she raced to the mansion.
The mansion was located in the Haven View Estates in the city of Rancho Cucamonga. The estates ranked just beneath Bel Air as one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Southern California. As she pulled up to the gates, a black Mercedes came out of it then swung around behind her. She recognized the car. Forbes listed René Rain as one of the world’s richest bachelors.
As she drove through the gate, the Mercedes stayed close on her bumper – close enough to make her stare back at it through the rearview mirror. Although he lived in the home that faced hers, he rarely resided inside the sprawling mansion that spread across two lots. Believing he had recently returned to his mansion and learned of her father’s death, she led him to the home that had always been legally hers.
After she parked, she grabbed her purse and a copy of LeVergne’s will as her foot pushed the driver door further open. When she turned, the purse and will were pushed out of her hand.
René leaned into her seat with a gun.
Sharp sunlight shone through the largest holes of the ceramic planter that had been placed over her head to keep anyone from seeing her. Keeping her eyes closed had been the only way to stop dust and dirt from getting into them. The afternoon before René had dug a hole into the ground, then buried her neck high. Before leaving he warned it was important to stay quiet. One look at his face and all of her senses warned her to trust him.
Again a noise, this time closer.
Someone was speaking, the tone of the voice close to a whisper.
“You shouldn’t be out here. Who knows when he’s bringing the rich bitch up?”
Holes had been knocked into the planter so she could breathe, but weren’t large enough for her to see much. Footsteps moved closer. Elektra strained to see and saw a plump foot that looked painted with oil and black dust. It took a moment to realize she was looking at skin that hadn’t been washed in a long time. Black toenails curled out of a Pali sandal like escargot removed from their shells.
The owner of the foot made breathy sounds far from human, very deep and throaty like someone gargling with an empty mouth. The Pali sandal lifted up and down like someone marching firmly and deliberately in place. And then the Pali sandal moved away.
Silence told Elektra she was again alone.
The hours passed slowly. The hole cramped and tight. Sleep stole upon her. When she awakened, she saw a man sitting not too far away on what could have been a stone bench. The duct tape around her mouth and in her hair prevented her from yelling. Again she remembered the look in René’s eyes. Somehow he figured out you were coming!
He. René had been frightened of a man finding her. The fear in his eyes when he spoke warned that someone nearby was far more dangerous than René was.
Elektra locked her eyes on the man as best as she could just as someone approached him. A tree blocked most of her view. The man leaned back and it looked as if his arms lifted in defense. Fleeting motion. And then the man was upright again. Without warning an object lifted in the air and stabbed brutally into the man’s hip. To keep him from pulling away, the person locked his head in the strength of their folded arm until the man visibly weakened. A woman. Elektra couldn’t be certain, but she sensed the person with the man was a woman.
As gently as the woman could, she pushed the man back further onto the bench.
Elektra’s eyes narrowed when a blouse was removed and corpulent breasts exposed. A fist flew into the air. The woman crossed her arms in front of her chest to block more blows thrown at her. Pretending to attack high, the man waited until the woman’s hands went up then drove his fist low into her gut. Caught off guard, the woman doubled over and stumbled away. Elektra tried hard to see her face.
The man was winded. One of his arms fell and dangled off of the bench. And then his face turned in Elektra’s direction.
The face belonged to René Rain.
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