Read the beginning on Amazon.
Patrice would’ve preferred to skip breakfast after the long, busy night. She hadn’t thought to tell cook not to come today. The staff, Hugh’s staff, had been good to her, so she really hated deceiving them.
This would be the last time to enjoy the best coffee she’d ever tasted, thanks to Hugh’s cook who mothered her more than her own mother had. She hadn’t been hungry or homeless, but she’d known little affection or supervision from her parents.
She learned to protect herself and put herself through college. She told Hugh her parents were dead. They might as well be, as far as she was concerned.
Until yesterday her marriage to Hugh had given her security. All the time she’d stripped for a living she had done nothing illegal. To this day she didn’t do drugs, never turned tricks for extra money. She hadn’t dated crooks and would’ve starved rather than marry one. Big joke! She married a crook.
Time to make some changes. Time to get moving. Purse strap over her shoulder and her briefcase handle in her hand, she strode to the garage and her car. She left the only real home she had ever known, a house where she had felt safe.
As she backed from the three car garage and followed the paved circular drive down toward the tall iron gates, she wished things could’ve been different, that she didn’t plan to betray the man who had given her security, then stolen it, no matter unwittingly.
Dammit all, Hugh was a thoughtful companion, funny and witty, good to look at. They made fine eye candy for each other at parties. He always made her feel so special. But he didn’t know the real Patrice. He wouldn’t have married her knowing her background. She was too good for him!
Her resolve gave her scant comfort as she pulled into the tree- lined street. Manicured lawns on both sides of the street were testament to the wealth she had learned to enjoy, to the lifestyle she left behind with each passing mile.
All the way to her office building her thoughts splintered in a dozen directions. She thought about the old clunker she drove to work before she met Hugh. That old VW was her first car, bought with stripping money to take her back and forth from Georgia State classes to her night jobs.
She grabbed her Gucci briefcase and matching laptop case and exited her Lexus, a better fit for her designer clothes than her VW Bug had been for her Salvation Army second hand designer wardrobe. She strode from her reserved parking space into the Strauss-Daily Building for the last time.
Her Italian leather pumps beat a rhythmic tattoo across the gleaming parquet floor to the elevator. The mirrored walls inside reflected a sophisticated woman with green eyes and long, straight hair pulled back from her face with a tortoise shell barrette. She resisted the urge to check her teeth for smears of the neutral lipstick but straightened her rimless glasses.
The elevator ride to the sixth floor seemed to take forever but wasn’t long enough to delay her last day at work here.
No longer the shy accountant just out of college that Hugh had met in the offices of Crestway & Associates, she now had her own office and her own clients. At the end of today she’d walk out on all of it. So much had changed since her interview here seven years ago.
She lasted through the hour-long staff meeting, her stomach tied in knots, by sheer willpower and two cups of coffee. Two more hours in her office gave her time to check on her accounts and tie up loose ends. A voice inside her head told her to save the files on a CD. She’d worked hard to get them and keep them in good shape. One last account check was Hugh’s. She copied his statistics to another CD.
Damn, she’d loved this office with its oak desk and sapphire, cushioned leather sofa. She had loved the soft, sumptuous leather chairs and matching navy executive chair. Hugh had bought the expensive floral oils. Even the tall crystal vases of fresh flowers were from Hugh, delivered as a standing order every Monday and Wednesday. The scent had become heavy, cloying.
Time to leave. Gathering her papers and briefcase, she ran her hand over the smooth polished wood as she rounded the desk, then strode to the door. With one last look and a lump in her throat she walked out.
Her first stop after leaving the office was to the bank to close out her accounts. At the drive-through she handed the teller a check for five thousand dollars, which he returned.
“Sorry, Ms. Strickland. You’ll need to come inside to cash that check.” He sounded apologetic.
“Excuse me?” she asked, adopting an affronted expression. “My husband and I have hundreds of thousands of dollars in this bank and we’ve done business here for years. You can make an exception this time.” She sent the check back to him.
He pointed to a notice. She had purposely written the check for more than a drive-through teller would accept.
“We’ll just see about that.”
After smearing her lipstick and mascara just a little, she rubbed smears of each on her blouse. She strode inside to the teller counter. She selected a young, new teller. With a head toss, she breezed to the window, purpose in her step.
“I am Mrs. Hugh Strickland and I cannot believe the rude young man at the drive-through window.”
By the time she slammed her keys on the desk, she could feel lots of attention on her. Surely someone would remember that she hadn’t been her usual neat, pleasant self.
“He certainly wouldn’t mean to be rude. He was just following bank policy. I’ll be glad to help you.” The woman couldn’t be more than twenty, if that old.
Patrice shrilled. “You’re defending him? I cannot believe this. I’ll close my account and take my money elsewhere.”
After thirty minutes of signing papers and cashing the bank check for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars she left.
Next she added to her false trail.
At a fast-food restaurant she slipped into the restroom to change her khaki slacks for the tight skirt and her tan blouse for one with a lower neckline. In the car she removed her tasteful pumps and pulled on the high boots. She drove toward the jewelry store where Hugh had bought the bracelet.
She parked. After teasing her hair, she added heavy blush and red lipstick. The extreme nails took five minutes to apply, time to get into the new persona. By the time she popped a couple of sticks of gum in her mouth, she was good to go. With the bag in her hands she strutted down the block and into the jewelry store.
“Can I hep you, ma’am?” the baby-faced salesman drawled.
“I do hope so.” The sunglasses stayed on. She couldn’t risk showing her eyes, even with the street-walker makeup.
“I’ll certainly try.” He leaned on the glass counter and looked straight into her cleavage, naturally generous, and even more impressive in a pushup bra.
“See, my boyfriend gave me a bracelet from this store. I told him we were havin’ a baby…” Her voice quivered
She licked her lips, a slow, practiced movement of her tongue around her mouth, then pouted her lips. “He said he was married and I couldn’t prove a thing.”
“What a shame, ma’am, that man is scum.”
She held a hand over her stomach and tried to hint at a belly. “He gave me money, but I can’t wear this bracelet where me and my baby’ll live.” She handed the man the bag, popping her gum twice for good measure.
He was solicitous, but explained he could only credit the credit card number on the receipt.
Her voice came out tremulous. “But then he’d get the money back. That won’t buy food for me and my kid.”
“I’m real sorry, ma’am.”
Faking tears she took the sack and left. No way security shots would look like her. Now she could pawn the expensive bracelet downtown.
Her mind raced as she drove into Atlanta. She stopped in a shopping center parking lot, parking as far as possible from the other cars. She put the seat back, removed the boots, and, after scanning to be sure no one was close enough to get a good look at her, she shimmed out of the tight skirt. Cool air reminded her to move quickly as she donned a pair of jeans.
I haven’t changed in a car since my stripping/student days. Another quick glance around showed no one nearby so she yanked the low-necked blouse over her head and replaced it with a tee shirt. She pinned her hair up and put on her black wig, then added a Braves baseball cap.
After dropping her briefcase, her suitcases, and the cash at her apartment, she hopped on a bus to go for her fake ID.
The photographer told her about finding an obit for a child with the name Angela White. The short, balding man was proud of his work, so she listened as though she had all the time in the world. The child died at ten and, if she had lived, she’d have been the same age as Patrice. Her parents had applied for a social security number for her and had never cancelled it.
She even admired the boudoir portraits on his wall. If he captured those images, he had legitimate talent with lights and cameras and women. A shame he’d risk it all, doing illegal work.
Patrice, no, Angel – gotta remember that – walked away with a copy of a birth certificate from Birmingham, Alabama, a photo ID, and a printout about the person whose identity she would take for a while. She hopped a bus to a large and busy bank where she opened an account for Katherine Angela White.
She caught another bus to the closest driver’s license office where she took the test and earned a new license, using her copied birth certificate and new address.
Walking the three blocks to buy car insurance, she watched for anyone who seemed to pay her undue notice. Several men stared at her, one even whistled, but they all kept walking. Flashy Angel White would have a life. And Patrice Strickland would now disappear.
Exhausted after leaving the bank, she had more to do. Hundreds of thousands of dollars needed a place to hide.
She caught the bus back to her car and drove to another shopping center to change again. A trip downtown took her to buyers who asked for no proof of ownership. The furs, the tennis bracelet and good jewelry pieces brought her only six thousand in cash. They also added to the false trail, since she went as the big haired woman with sunglasses, red nails, short skirt, and boots and the wad of gum to pop occasionally.
After she left, she cut her palm and smeared blood on the white blouse she’d worn to the bank. Still wearing her cap and glasses she took a small tote to her car and stashed the blouse and a shoe in her trunk.
She left her expensive car at the Brookwood MARTA station then drove off in her cheap one. Anyone who searched the Lexus would fine the bloodstained blouse, a shoe, and a cell phone. She’d emptied her purse and wallet and left those in the trunk.
At a Walmart on the way back to her apartment she bought a blow up mattress and linens, Dove body-wash, a folding chair, TV trays, and two disposable cell phones. When the clerk at the register grinned at her, she grinned back. Hugh and his society friends weren’t grinners.
At a grocery store she purchased a few supplies. Tomorrow she’d shop more. She parked in the lot by her building, then trekked up to her apartment.
After nibbling a few bites of the salad, she stepped into her shower and washed away the scents of Patrice, society wife.
Still damp, she made up her mattress and stretched out. She slept deeply until morning sunlight flooded the corner she had chosen for her bed.
Stretching, she yawned loudly. A glance at her watch told her she had slept ’til ten o’clock. Tonight her husband would be at the airport waiting for her to pick him up. How long before he would call the police? Or would he call them?
She grabbed a Coke and her laptop. Sitting on the mattress she plugged in the power cord, then turned the computer on. The CD slid easily into its slot and she opened it. Some documents appeared to contain everyday correspondence. Hugh had a list of investments, account numbers and their recent values. Maybe she could divert some of the money. Hmmm. Or not!
By noon hunger pangs rumbled. She grabbed cheese slices, then returned to her work. Leaning against the wall to ease her back, she opened more documents. A spreadsheet detailed the house finances. One detailed finances for an H & H Corp. She’d look into that tonight.
By two thirty she’d dressed in her navy slacks and a white blouse. Quick makeup and her black wig transformed her into Angel. With a thousand dollars in cash and her new ID in her wallet, she grabbed a cell phone and tossed them into a cheap straw tote. She added a red lipstick and her car keys.
At the telephone company she ordered phone service, a cell phone, and internet access, leaving cash deposits.
Her second stop was the cable company to order a cable package. She left cash there, too. At the nearest Rooms-to-Go she purchased tall room divider screens and a matching sleeper sofa and two comfortable chairs. These were soft but not real leather. She didn’t need to give the impression she could afford the best as a big spender. That would draw too much attention. She added a round, wood-grain veneer table and four matching chairs. If she had to leave in a hurry she could leave these things or donate them without much regret.
Staples had a great price on a home office set in white with a desk, printer table, and shelving unit and chair set. She also bought a printer-copier-fax combo, paper and ink cartridges. This shopping thing is fun. Especially when there is no man to tell me what I should buy!
At the checkout counter, she added pens, note pads, and a pack of legal pads. She paid for delivery of the furniture, but took the supplies with her.
Back at a Super Walmart she bought a TV, a coffeemaker, cheap dishes, glasses, an alarm clock, and groceries. On impulse she bought a couple of flower bouquets.
A week ago she’d have laughed at the idea she’d spend less than a thousand dollars for today’s purchases. Hell, a place setting of the china at Hugh’s house – and it is Hugh’s house – costs more.
But then ten years ago I’d have laughed at the idea I could shop with a thousand dollars in cash and a checkbook.
Who’d have thought I’d leave a perfectly good Lexus at the Marta parking lot and buy a cheap used car?
In front of her building she unloaded her car, shoving her stuff just inside the door before parking. Surely no one in her building would bother her stuff.
As soon as she placed the TV box inside the door, Chantele appeared.
“I’ll help you,” she offered.
“Oh, you don’t need to do that, but if I could shove everything inside it would help.”
“Go ahead. I’ll get the stuff to the elevator for you.”
“You’re a life saver.”
Angel hurried back and forth. Finally she had everything inside, so she parked her car. Carrying her flowers and her straw tote, she rushed back to the entry hall. Everything she had unloaded was gone. Had Chantele walked away and left her stuff? When she started toward the manager’s apartment, she heard Chantele’s voice.
“Angel, Angel, come on to the elevator. A neighbor helped me get everything up to your apartment.”
Angel let out a sigh of relief as she strode to the open elevator doors. “Thank you so much.” Leaning against the wall, she watched the numbers pass for each floor and Chantele checking her reflection in the mirrored walls.
Everything waited stacked neatly at her apartment door and the helper hadn’t waited for her to thank him. Chantele lifted even the heavy food bags as Angel unlocked her door, then moved inside the apartment.
In minutes the women had everything inside the large room and put out of sight.
“You have a computer?” Chantele asked, pointing to the copier box and the paper. “I love computers.”
“Oh, yeah. I brought my laptop.” She lifted the flowers, then filled the sink.
“I’ll get you a vase, little Angel.” Chantele turned toward the door. “Be right back.”
While the landlady was gone, Angel made a decision. She had a feeling this woman would become a friend. She might catch her tenant wigless. Angel would explain about the black wig. Tomorrow Angel would have shoulder length red hair and she didn’t want to confuse the kind Chantele.
At the soft knock, Angel looked through the peephole in her door, then let her company in. They arranged the flowers in Chantele’s vases.
“Would you care for a Coke?” Angel asked.
Chantele checked her watch. “Thanks, but I can’t stay. I’m expecting a call from a friend.”
Angel followed Chantele to the door. “I thought you should know, I’m wearing a wig. I didn’t want to confuse you.”
“Oh, honey, I knew that. I am, too. Are you going job hunting tomorrow?”
“In a couple of days. I’m expecting workmen and deliveries tomorrow. I’ll be combing the Classifieds.”
Chantele planted a quick kiss on Angel’s cheek then left.
When had anyone offered Patrice such a warm gesture of friendship? Well, can’t think about that now, I have a date with a box of red hair color and a pair of sharp, new scissors.
Hugh glanced at his Rolex as he paced the penthouse apartment, his secret home away from home, listening to Patrice’s message on her cell phone for the fifth time in two hours. Eleven o’clock is late in the evening for her to be out alone, if she is alone. Of course she was alone. He trusted his wife. Maybe she had a migraine and left the phone ringer turned down.
“Just called to say I miss you.” He kept his voice calm, though he had begun to worry. “Give me a call so I’ll know you’re all right. Love you.”
He hadn’t called her the first night because she always said it was unnecessary. Where the hell could she be? He’d expected her to be home tonight, but she hadn’t answered the phone. Figuring she’d gone out with friends from work or to kick-boxing class, he’d also called her cell phone each time. She hadn’t even returned his calls. Maybe she went to a sappy movie. She’ll call me tomorrow.
He still expected wealthy business clients here soon to discuss how many women he could supply them for their own clubs in other states. They’d expect his full attention and he needed a clear head to remember what he promised them, so he pulled himself together. There were also some of his best women due to entertain the clients.
LOOK FOR ONE MORE CHAPTER OR JUST GRAB THE BOOK NOW.