Annabella ushered me into the kitchen and quickly sat a cup of coffee and a plate of cookies in front of me. Both were delicious. She sat down opposite me and looked me over.
I had only met Annabella at Marcus’s restaurant with Marcus and other people around. She had been polite but distant the first time. She had watched me interact with Marcus. Once she realized we weren’t romantically involved, she quickly warmed up. I found her charming, but direct. This was a woman who pulled no punches.
“So how are you going to save my son?”
I choked on the cookie and had to cough several times before I could answer. Annabella rose, filled a glass with water, and handed it to me. She patiently waited until I stopped coughing before prompting me again.
“Well, what?” I demanded. “What do you mean how am I going to save your son?”
“Pssh,” she replied with a wave of her hand as she sat back down. “You look into things like this.”
“Things like what?”
It’s true that I had helped catch two murderers recently but both had been by pure chance. I’m nosey and know a lot of people who will talk to me. I’m also somewhat stubborn.
“Annabella, I’m not…”
“Don’t!” she interjected. “Don’t tell me you will not help him. I know you care for Marcus. That woman will not bring him down! I won’t allow it.”
“Okay, okay. Calm down.” Annabella looked ready to explode. I took a deep breath. “Did Marcus know Brandy?’
“Yes. They went to high school together. All of them. Damian, Marcus, Lucy, and Brandy. Damian is the oldest. He was a senior when the others started high school, but they all knew each other. My husband died that year. It was hard on the boys. Damian dropped out of school, but Marcus was determined to finish.”
This had all happened long before I moved to Reed Hill. What Annabella wasn’t saying was that Damian dropped out of high school to support the family. From what I knew that meant picking up where his father had left off by selling drugs to the local teens. Marcus had probably stayed in school as the contact. At least, that was how it had worked when I found their stash of heroin all these years later. Damian and Ricky were running the operation, and Mike had been in high school pushing the stuff, but Marcus was long gone.
He had left town with his wife and three-month old son when he was nineteen. Marcus had moved to California, worked full-time while attending college at night, and finally opened his own restaurants. He only returned to Reed Hill because Annabella had a health scare. She had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. It wasn’t serious enough to require surgery but serious enough to make Marcus return home to help his mother.
The first thing he did was make sure the family drug dealing business was shut down. He then moved his mother into a new home and tried to find legal employment for the family members not in jail. With Damian’s recent release, all the family was back in Reed Hill and under Marcus’s control. At least as much as anyone could control the Cantonos.
Marcus’s background wasn’t clean. I was sure he had broken the law more than once to get where he was today, but he seemed to be making an effort to put his family on the right track now.
“Do you know if Marcus has had any contact with Brandy recently?” I asked.
Annabella nodded. “That vixen came by the restaurant last month. She told him she was looking for more work. She wanted to clean the place. She has some type of cleaning service.”
“I saw that online. It seems to have been well-received.”
“Oh, she was a hard worker,” Annabella said. “There’s no denying that. She wasn’t looking for a free ride, but she was trying to get her claws into Marcus again.”
“What do you mean again?”
“Back in high school, Marcus and Lucy were a couple, but they had their ups and downs. Their senior year, they had a fight and broke up for a couple of months. Brandy swopped in. She wanted Marcus. She would invite him to picnics by the lake, and well, Marcus was a boy…he took what she offered. It was a sore spot between him and Lucy when they got back together.”
It is generous to call the small body of water near Reed Hill a lake. Technically, its name is Reed Hill Lake, but it’s small. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but it seemed like the ideal place for teenagers to congregate. There’s a wooded area near by, and a few small docks. You can’t ski on it, but it is deep enough for fishing.
“Do you think he is seeing Brandy now?”
Annabella twisted her hands in her lap. She looked worried. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but he has been acting mysteriously. He disappears sometimes, won’t answer his phone. When I asked him about it, he just says he forgot he had it turned off. Once he did answer and I thought I heard a woman’s voice. He said it was just the TV.”
I needed to talk to Marcus. I needed to find out more about Brandy. And I needed to do both before Griggs tried to stop me.