JD Dunne glanced around the deserted monitor room on the security level of the Montecito Casino and Resort. Chief of Security, Chris Larabee, was in a meeting with the resort's owner, Orin Travis. Vin Tanner, Deputy Chief of Security, and Chris's second in command, was on a walkabout of the casino floor, while Buck Wilmington, Hospitality Host, was waiting on a wealthy 'Whale'…a female. JD smiled to himself, recalling Buck seemed particularly chirpy this morning, now he understood why.
JD checked out the room's bank of monitors. He could see Josiah Sanchez, Head Valet, was at the main entrance, his smile as wide as his face while he greeted or bid 'adieu' to the guests.
"Shoot, Ezra's rubbing off on me," JD chuckled to himself. Once again looking at the cameras, JD could see their stylish Pit Boss walking his domain. Despite the early hour, the casino was pretty busy and Ezra Standish was monitoring the tables far more closely than anyone playing would realize.
"Looking real smart today, Ezra," JD spoke into the comm.
"Why, thank you," came the softly spoken reply. "Let me guess Mister Dunne…bored?"
"Jeez, can't a guy pay a man a compliment without…"
"…Point taken, JD, my apologies."
JD sighed. "Yeah, I'm bored." He heard Ezra chuckle. "Have you seen Vin?"
"Mister Tanner has just moved off from this location. I believe his parting comment was that during his return to the security area, he intended to purchase corpulent, fat and sugar-laden comestibles for yours and his consumption."
There was a pause.
"Donuts! Awesome, thanks Ezra."
Wishing there was someone else in the room so he could go make coffee to accompany the forthcoming treats; JD's prayers were answered when two colleagues came in, greeted him and took their seats.
"This day just keeps getting better," JD grinned. He heard the phone in Chris's office ring and JD intercepted the call using the phone on his own desk.
"Security, Dunne speaking. 'Morning Mrs. Headley…" he listened as the head of the Montecito's housekeeping staff spoke. "Chris is in a meeting right now…I see, okay, I'll be right there." As he stood and reached for his jacket, JD keyed his mic. "Vin can you meet me at room 231, ASAP?"
"On my way," the Texan drawl announced.
By the time JD arrived at the room, Vin was already there. Seeing Candice, JD gave the pretty girl with a soft spot for him, a huge smile. It faded the moment he noticed her red-rimmed eyes. Instinctively, as he walked toward her JD reached out, halting sharply when Vin grabbed his arm. Vin's head gestured 'no' and he held fast to the confused tech.
"You were sayin'." Vin urged Beatrice Headley to continue.
JD glanced around the ensemble, and realized there were two guests standing with them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Dorfblatt explained to me that they were in the casino all night, and before heading there, Mrs. Dorfblatt decided that, on this occasion, she would leave her best jewelry in the room safe. On their return this morning, Candice was in the room, cleaning, and decided to call me when the couple said that, after checking the safe and then the room, their jewelry was missing."
"Was the safe open when you came back?" Vin asked of the couple.
Lucille Dorfblatt dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. "No…" she pointed to Candice, "but she was here while I searched, and it was only when she moved to leave with her cart did I think…well…you know."
Vin felt the boy next to him stiffen, and was just a little too slow to stop his friend from speaking.
"Are you suggesting she took the jewelry?" JD looked at Candice's distraught features and knew instantly he'd assumed right.
"Well, unless you can show someone else coming into this room while we were out, yeah, we are." Herman Dorfblatt stared out the young tech as if daring him to challenge his words. Vin was again a fraction too slow.
"Well, if you're so sure of the facts, you won't mind if we check the room, will you?"
Vin's warning look to JD would have melted steel right about then if it had lingered any longer. "What exactly has gone missin'?" he asked when he turned back to the couple.
"My diamond necklace and matching bracelet," Lucille offered.
"Did you register them with reception on arrival?" JD asked. He winced and glowered at Tanner when Vin's iron grip on his arm increased.
"What? It's a standard question."
"Yes, we did," Herman announced, triumphantly. He looked at Vin, and pointed to JD. "I don't care for his tone."
Vin spoke into his mic. "Larabee and Wilmington to room 231, please." He turned to JD, and released his hold. "When Buck arrives, escort Candice and Mrs. Headley to the staff lockers." He looked apologetically at Candice.
"We have to…"
"I…I know, Vin…I understand," the young housemaid cut in, saving Vin from having to state the obvious.
Again taking JD's arm, Vin excused them and urged him out of the room and into the corridor. He kept his voice low. "Get a grip and maybe start actin' like a security officer sometime soon."
Exasperated as he spoke, JD's arms spread wide. "You can't seriously believe Candice took those things? Oww!"
He rubbed his forehead, which stung from the effects of a thump from the heel of Vin's hand.
Vin's gaze softened at JD's confusion. "By the book, Kid. If we get this right, Candice'll be in the clear. We follow procedure, to the letter…even if it's a friend..." He squeezed JD's arm. "Especially if it's a friend."
JD's shoulders slumped and he stared at the floor for a moment before eventually looking up. "You're right, I'm sorry." JD pushed fingers through his hair, and looked at Vin in earnest. "Just tell me one thing…do you think…?"
Vin grasped JD by the back of the neck, his grip comforting this time. "No, I don't think she stole the jewelry. So let's go prove it, okay?"
They both looked up when Buck and Chris arrived. Chris did not look pleased about being called from his meeting, and instantly demanded information.
Vin quickly filled them in.
Chris nodded. "Okay, Buck, JD, go check out Candice's locker, then report back to me at the security office. Vin, let's go talk to the Dorfblatts."
With heavy hearts, the four men set about their unenviable tasks.
Outside Candice's apartment building later that day, JD pulled up and looked across at the sad girl seated in the passenger seat of his Dodge Neon.
"It's gonna be okay," he promised.
"I have a police report filed against me, JD…how can things ever be okay?"
"It was just a statement," he explained. "No one's accused you of anything."
"Oh yes they have…it's just not official, yet. I've been suspended, isn't that proof enough that everyone believes I took those things?"
"Standard procedure." JD almost choked on the words, they sounded meaningless after all she'd gone through so far. "Come on…let's get you inside."
"Will you stay…just for a few minutes?" she pleaded.
"Sure," JD grinned, "I could go for a coffee right about now."
Finishing the coffee, JD looked at his friend curled up in the upholstered chair next to the sofa. She barely spoke during his time there.
"Uh, Candice…I really should be getting back." Seeing her offer a sad nod, he stood, approached the chair she was in and taking her hand, squatted down next to her.
"I swear, I'll do anything and everything I can to put this right."
Candice gave a watery smile. "So…you really believe it wasn't me?"
JD nodded. "We all do, and no matter how long the investigation takes, I'm gonna prove it. The guys and me'll figure this out, you'll see." He leaned into the touch of her hand on his cheek.
Candice squeezed the hand holding hers. "I'm so lucky to have a friend like you, JD."
JD stood, and winked. "I was just thinking the same thing of you."
In the corridor outside her apartment door, JD leaned back against the wall. Exhaling, JD closed his eyes. He hoped to God that he could keep his promise and help her.
Chris canceled Team Seven's upcoming rest day and after reallocating the schedules, put them exclusively on Candice's case. JD spent all morning on the monitor footage to uncover anything that might suggest the Dorfblatts had acted suspiciously. His head pounded after long, relentless, and fruitless searching. Between visits with the Dorfblatts, and Lieutenant Luis Peres of the LVPD, Vin joined JD to help. Mid-afternoon arrived to find all seven in the conference room. The Chief of Security addressed his men.
"What do we have so far?"
"The second room sweep showed nothing, the jewelry isn't there," Vin reported.
"The front desk records confirm the jewelry was seen by Sandy, and logged on their arrival," Josiah said.
"The Dorfblatts haven't asked for much in the way of service, seem happy just gambling," Buck added. "And it's been confirmed that they were in the casino the whole night that the jewelry went missing."
JD nodded in agreement. He'd searched hard to prove the Dorfblatts left at some point, but they hadn't.
"My sources tell me they've lost heavily in several casinos in Atlantic City, but not as much here," Ezra relayed his information.
Chris cocked an eyebrow Ezra's way. "Interesting." He looked at his sullen tech. "JD?"
"Candice's locker was clean, and nothing suspicious has shown up on tape so far."
Chris and Buck exchanged glances. "But?" Chris prompted.
JD sighed, choosing not to look up from his laptop. "It…I mean…" Now he looked up. "Is this how we treat one of our own? It feels as if we're presuming Candice did this."
"How so?" Chris asked, his calm question belying the turmoil this incident was creating for him and his team.
JD shut his laptop with force. "She's been suspended! The message we're sending her is clear…guilty until proven innocent." He looked at his six best friends. Seeing a mix of compassion and frustration in their expressions, JD stood.
"I need to go check out the monitors again. The Dorfblatts are up to something, I can feel it." Without waiting to be dismissed, JD packed up his laptop and left the room.
Buck glanced at Chris. The blond waved off the look.
"Let him go do what he needs to do. He's pissed at us right now, and he knows it's the situation, and not us he's mad at. JD'll work it out." He turned to Nathan. "Did you uncover any health issues?"
The doctor shook his head. "Nope. Candice agreed to the examination, and was found to be in excellent health. Her parents live in Washington State and although their medical records are off-limits, local sources confirm both check out as happy and in good health."
"So, we can eliminate financial difficulties due to health?" Josiah asked.
"Lieutenant Perez said he was checking out her bank credit and her accounts, and if they're okay, then, yes to health, and any debt issues." Chris confirmed. Having no financial difficulties would bode well in Candice's favor against a need to steal.
Outside the conference room door, JD listened and sighed heavily. He knew the team needed to be thorough, but it hurt to hear Candice being talked about that way.
"Aahh, to hell with this!"
JD walked away and headed to the parking garage. He had somewhere else to be.
Inside the conference room, Buck sat back in his chair. "This sucks."
Vin nodded. "Big time. I agree with the kid…can't quite put my finger on it, but those folks seem a little too relaxed about all this. I got the feelin' they knew we wouldn't find anythin' in that room when we searched."
"May I suggest we take them to one side and interview them…individually," Ezra said.
Chris nodded, and rose from his chair. "That's my next step. It'll be interesting to see how well their stories match up. Ezra, keep digging into their financial situation, I reckon you're heading in the right direction there."
The southerner nodded.
"Buck, I want to know anything and everything they've done since they arrived."
The Hospitality Host agreed.
"Okay," Chris announced, "let's do this."
With that, they all separated with the intention of getting the situation resolved as soon as possible.
Answering a knock at her door, Candice peeked through the spyhole and smiled as she opened up. JD grinned and offered up the bunch of flowers in his hand.
"Thought you might like some company."
She took the flowers, sniffing them as she stood back to let JD in. "Mmmm, these are lovely, thank you…and...I'd love some company, thanks."
Coffees made, the pair sat together on the sofa. They chatted for ages, avoiding the obvious ticking time bomb, but now it was quiet. Evening was drawing in and a lamp glowing in one corner bathed the room in a soft light. JD held Candice's hand.
"Did you get any sleep last night?"
Candice shook her head. "No, not really. I kept going over things in my head." She looked at him, blue, shimmering eyes reflecting her anguish and weariness.
"I've been doing this job for five years, JD…never once have I been in trouble. You'd think that would count for something."
JD squeezed her hand. "It does…trust me. Chris and the guys are going all out on this to help you…" He smiled. "...Me too, I just decided to call it a day and come see how you were doing." Instinctively, as she burst into tears he wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm scared, JD. I hate that everyone thinks I'm a thief. I would never do anything like that." She sobbed hard and JD's heart ached for her. Kicking off his sneakers, the young tech shimmied back into the corner of the sofa, pulling Candice with him as he lay down and rested his head on some scatter cushions.
"You're exhausted. Come on, relax and get some sleep."
With a sniff, the young housemaid snuggled into her friend. She laid her head on his chest and got comfortable as she softly inhaled his cologne. He was right, she was exhausted…because any other time she would totally have taken advantage of a situation like this…since, bless him, JD never would.
"Thank you." She could feel herself drifting off while JD rhythmically stroked her hair. In less than ten minutes, both of them were fast asleep.
An intense red luminosity filtered through his closed eyelids. At first, JD tried ignoring it, but the brightness wouldn't go, and eventually he squinted open his eyes to figure out what the hell was disturbing him. Yawning, he frowned at the light-filled window to his left. His bedroom didn't face east…what was the sun doing…oh shit!
JD's eyes widened and he tucked his chin right in to look down at the sleeping girl draped across him. With a grunt, he wiggled his arm free of the dead weight pinning it down, and raised his wrist to check his watch. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! He should have been in work five minutes ago.
Ooh, and he needed the bathroom!
Feeling movement under her head and the loss of the heaviness around her back, Candice sighed into a yawn and a small stretch. Her eyes opened at the feel of a warm body under her. She raised her head to gaze into wide, twinkling, hazel eyes.
"'Morning," JD grinned, his grin widening when Candice shot upright.
"Uh…'morning. " The girl blushed, and quickly got up and straightened her clothing. "Coffee?"
JD sat up. "Sure, why not. I'm late anyway." He felt his cell phone vibrate in his jeans pocket. Watching Candice move into the kitchen, JD answered it.
"Hey, Buck." He wiped a hand over his face. "I know, I know…sorry, I'm running late. I should be there in around half an hour." He snapped his phone shut before Buck could get into the 'whys and wherefores' of his tardiness.
"They don't need to know about this", JD said to himself. He looked up and smiled as Candice offered him a mug of coffee.
Candice sat down next to him. "JD?"
"Are you going to be in trouble for staying here with me?"
The boy waved off her concern. "Nah…don't worry about me, I'll be fine…" 'as long as Chris doesn't get to hear about this,' he thought.
Later, after a few slices of toast and a freshen up, JD was saying goodbye at the door. Candice leaned out, held his face in her hands, and kissed him tenderly on the lips.
"You're a good friend, JD. I'll never forget last night…thank you."
They both jumped on hearing a cough, and went pale to see Beatrice Headley and Chris Larabee standing in the corridor and staring back at them.
"If it's not too much trouble, Miss Merryweather, Mr. Larabee and I would like to speak with you," Beatrice announced, tersely.
"I'll call you," JD whispered and after touching her face, he moved to walk past the glowering pair. The look from Chris sent a chill through to JD's bones, and he sighed inwardly as he walked away. 'So much for Chris not finding out.' A low command caused him to stop.
"My office, JD, one hour."
JD nodded and continued on. Yep…he was a dead man.
At the Montecito an hour later, Vin and Buck sat quietly on the couch in Larabee's office and watched JD pace. They had no idea what was wrong, just that Chris called to say he wanted to see JD the moment the Security Chief's feet hit Montecito turf. By the time Chris was on the stairs to his office, JD was like a coiled spring. He turned to look when Chris opened the door.
"Chris, it's not what you think," he blurted out.
"This should be interesting," Chris fired back as he stood there with his strongest glare in place. "Feel free to explain."
Buck and Vin exchanged confused glances.
JD opened his mouth to speak, but a streak of defiance tinged with a desire to protect his friend suddenly kicked in.
"You know what? It's not up for discussion. What I do in my off-duty time is my business."
Chris moved intimidatingly closer to the boy and with his back to the other men, spoke low and soft. "When a member of my investigating team is seen coming out of the suspect's apartment first thing in the morning, it damned well better be my business."
JD swallowed, and his gaze locked with Chris's. Still unsure as to what was going on, Buck and Vin stood. Their expressions reflected their confusion and concern. Sensing Buck about to speak, JD raised his hand to halt him as his focus stayed on Larabee.
"Don't you trust me, Chris?"
Larabee paused before he answered, his heart suddenly reaching out to the two young people he and Beatrice were trying to protect.
"I think the question JD, is, do you trust me?"
JD's whole demeanor changed as his stiffened body relaxed. "Yes," he rasped.
Placing his hands on his tech's shoulders, Chris offered a tight smile. "Then stop fighting me and help me and the guys prove Candice is innocent."
Eyes glistening, JD bobbed his head. Chris nodded his approval and released the youth with a quick squeeze to one shoulder. Vin ruffled JD's hair and Buck's hand rested against his back. The youth looked at Larabee.
"For what it's worth…it really wasn't what it looked like."
"You wouldn't still be standing here if I thought it was." Chris gestured with his head. "Now, go back over the camera footage. I want us to try and pinpoint when Mrs. Dorfblatt stopped wearing those rocks."
With a nod, JD left. Buck and Vin stared at Chris. "What did it look like he'd done?" Buck asked, a squeaky quality creeping into his voice.
Chris smiled, dryly. "That's information I can't disclose, but I will just say that it turned Beatrice's ears red."
With two men none the wiser, and while ideas of how to help the young housemaid played on their tired minds, the three made their way out of the office.
9:30 the next morning found four of the exhausted team sitting in the break room. They had been on the case all night, but turned up nothing new. JD's head pounded so badly from staring at flashing screens for hours on end that he was now laying on one of the couches with a damp cloth over his forehead and eyes. He wasn't asleep, but listening to the gentle conversation around him.
Two new voices entered the room. An unmistakable southern drawl was conveying a tale to a chuckling Josiah.
"Of course, Mother is renowned for her 'special' luggage with those closest to her, so the poor man had no idea the case had a hidden compartment."
Moments later, JD sat bolt upright, causing the towel on his head to slide off and drop to the floor with a soggy 'slap'. He grimaced slightly at the sudden movement but was already standing. He glanced between his friends as Ezra's words sank in to each man's drained mind.
"Aren't the Dorfblatts leaving this morning?" JD rasped, his voice hoarse from lack of sleep.
"Yes, they're at the front desk now," Josiah informed them. All guests were required to check out by 10 a.m.
JD hurried out of the room. "Come on! We've got to stop them leaving."
At JD's cry, the five men headed out after him. Vin spoke into his mic.
"Sandy, get security to detain Mr. and Mrs. Dorfblatt and escort them to one of the holding suites. And call in Lieutenant Perez." Still on his comm. Vin got into the escalator. "Chris...we may have something."
JD explained what was on his mind while they traveled down in the escalator, and their breathing quickened in the hope that he was right. Chris joined them, and once he was briefed, the seven entered the holding suite, gathered around the room and the two security officers watching over the Dorfblatts were dismissed.
A knock at the door heralded the arrival of Luis Perez. "What's going on?"
Josiah closed the door now everyone Chris wanted involved, was there.
"The Dorfblatts are helping us with our enquiries," Vin replied.
"What the hell is this?" Herman complained. "We have a plane to catch."
"Is this the suitcase I searched yesterday?" Vin asked.
Herman nodded. "Yes, why?"
"Has it been outside your room until now?"
"And, per our agreement, no one has cleaned your room, or entered it, since your valuables went missing?"
"Too right," Mister Dorfblatt snapped back.
Chris took over. He lifted the Dorfblatt's suitcase onto the desk in the room. "Could you empty your valise please?" he asked, not missing Lucille's look of concern to her husband.
The pair complied until just an open, empty case remained.
"Satisfied?" Herman spat out.
"JD." Chris watched the young man step forward and he knowingly glanced at Perez.
JD looked at Chris, and then across to Ezra.
"Press, and release," the Pit Boss advised.
JD's hands trembled, but he was comforted when Buck and Vin drew alongside him. JD tapped a knuckle against the floor of the case, and then the lid. It sounded hollow. The youth licked his lips, and glanced around at the rest of the group. He stopped on Vin.
"I...I can't," he said, softly. JD wanted this so badly he could taste it, but feared they could be wrong.
Nodding his understanding, Vin pressed the palm of one hand hard against the patterned lid lining. He smiled as he felt a click and the partition shift slightly. Removing his hand, the piece fell away from the valise lid to reveal a hidden compartment and two secured, clear plastic bags containing jewelry.
Herman and Lucille were clearly mortified. Chris smiled crookedly and spoke into his comm. "Sandy, would you call Mrs. Headley and ask her to go to my office."
He glanced around his grinning team and turned to Perez. "I believe we've found the missing necklace and bracelet."
The atmosphere was electric in the break room as the now rejuvenated Team Seven celebrated their success with a round of coffees.
"Someone up there was looking out for us today," Josiah grinned, casting his eyes Heavenward.
"Man, can you believe Ezra was telling Josiah that story at that very moment!" JD bounced as he perched on the sofa, causing Buck to chuckle, while convinced the young tech was going to crash out any minute, he was so keyed up.
"Fortuitous indeed," Ezra added. His gold tooth flashed when his dimpled features broke into a wide grin. "I must remember to call Mother and thank her for contacting me the previous evening, which prompted my discussion with Josiah."
Vin leaned forward in his chair, and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I'm just glad it's all over," he yawned.
"I'm sure Candice is, too," Chris agreed.
"Poor girl went through hell all because the Dorfblatts wanted the insurance pay-off to clear their gambling debts," Buck rounded.
At that moment, Candice came in, followed by Beatrice Headley. On seeing JD, Candice squealed and ran to him. JD stood and caught the girl, swinging her around as the pair giggled like kids. When they stopped spinning, she gave him a long hard kiss on the lips and a tight hug. Still holding onto his arms she pulled back to reveal tears rolling down her cheeks.
"You never gave up on me, JD…thank you." She looked around at the remaining men, who were now all standing. "Thank you so very much. You're all my heroes."
Beatrice smiled. "Come on, sweetie, we have some paperwork to do and then, if you'll have us, you have work tomorrow."
Candice sniffed and looked at each smiling face. "How can I not want to work alongside such wonderful friends?" The grinning girl left the room with a wave.
Beatrice gazed fondly at the men. "You are all wonderful…thank you." She narrowed her eyes at JD and wagged her finger. "I'm watching you, sunshine!" When she left, the six amused men looked at their youngest.
JD spread his arms imploringly. "It wasn't what it looked like!" he whined.
Calls of 'Oh yeah, what's this?', and, 'there's no smoke without fire, Kid, what've you been up to?' reverberated around the room.
"What did what look like?" Buck pleaded; frustrated about whatever it was he was missing, here. "C'mon, Kid, you can tell ole Buck...JD...JD! Don't make me have to think up ways to get it out of you..."
Too tired and happy to be concerned, JD simply grinned at his friends and shook his head. Looking forward to going home to get some much needed sleep, he wearily followed the other equally exhausted men out of the building.
He'd set things straight about the other morning eventually but, for now, it would be fun keeping them guessing. He'd explain tomorrow…or in a day or two...or three...maybe. As the elevator doors closed, JD recalled Mrs. Headley's stern warning in the break room.
He shuddered. Okay, tomorrow.