Feeling defeated, I sat down on the lowest step of the basement stairs, held my head in my hands, and mumbled, "Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse."
The following day,I woke with a start when I heard my phone chime. I grabbed it quickly, hoping it was Amy. Instead, it was Courtney calling to remind me that Amy's father had called again, demanding to know where his daughter was. According to Courtney, Mr. Russo had warned her that I would be to blame if he had a heart attack. However, Courtney's voice turned into a whisper before I could respond, and she exclaimed, "Oh, my God! Three black sedans just pulled up out in front of our building. What's going on?!"
Simultaneously there were three hard knocks at my front door! "FBI, open up!
"Courtney! It’s the FBI. They’re here too!"
The pounding on my front door echoed through the empty house, and my heart raced as I realized that the FBI was also at the Rosedale Tech office. My mind was racing with questions, but I realized above all else, I needed to stay calm and face the situation head-on.
As I opened the door, Agent Downing stood before me, his face stern and serious. "Mr. Detwiler," he said, "we've decided that it's necessary to take some of your staff and all family members into protective custody until the perpetrator has been caught and processed."
I felt a cold shiver run down my spine, knowing the threat was more extensive in light of the Rosedale case history. But at the same time, I felt a sense of relief that the FBI was taking action to protect everyone involved.
"We'll be driving you and the Rosedale co-owners to Guy's estate, Casa Palacious," Agent Downing continued. "It's easier to lock down and secure, which should provide a more effective barrier against any potential threats, and I understand you have an important project you're working on. That way, you can continue your work. Your friend, Carter Brown from the local PD, insisted on it."
Trying to process the information, I asked, "And the other family members, are they at Casa Palacious too?”
Agent Downing shook his head. "No, they've all been moved to safe houses not far from where Amy and your daughter are staying. It's for their safety, you understand. We'll reunite you with them as soon as possible."
"Let me grab some things."
As soon as I was out of the agent's sight, I called Courtney to confirm what I had just been told. When she answered, she was breathless. "Mr. Detwiler, Brad and I got away!"
"What do you mean, got away?"
Courtney explained, "We managed to hide in a storage closet together until the agents left the office. They didn't see us, and I don't think they knew how many of us there were. So, we slipped out the back door. We couldn't risk being taken into protective custody, too, not with everything going on."
I could hear the determination in her voice, and I couldn't help but feel a surge of admiration for her courage. But I also worried for their safety, knowing they chose to go off alone. "Are the other co-owners aware?"
"Yes. Brad has his laptop. He plans to work on the new app while we're hiding."
"Get a burner phone. I'll do the same and forward you the number as soon as possible. The rest of us are supposed to go to Casa Palacious. FBI's orders!"
"So, what's your plan now?" I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
Courtney hesitated for a moment before answering. "Brad and I are on our way to grab his camping equipment. We're heading for a campground near Palm Springs. It's secluded, and we should be able to lay low there for a while. We can't risk being caught since the news got out somehow that we are working on the app."
"Yeah, someone told Carter. He knows."
"Well, I suspect he still has access to our servers... due to the ongoing investigations."
We ended our conversation as I grabbed some essentials and prepared to leave with the FBI. I was pissed, saddened, and even grateful to a point that the nightmare plaguing Rosedale might be coming to an end. On the one hand, I was glad that Courtney and Brad had managed to evade protective custody, allowing them to continue working on the project so we could market it. But on the other hand, I feared for their safety, knowing that they were putting themselves at risk by going off the grid.
Before I locked my house and pulled my Lexus inside the tiny garage, I grabbed a picture of Amy, Ava, and me that Margaret took on the day she delivered Ava here and slipped it in my pocket.
The ride to Casa Palacious was a blur, my mind bouncing between worry for Courtney and Brad and the gnawing ache to be with Amy and Ava. As the black sedan pulled up to the estate, the imposing iron gates swung open, revealing the winding driveway that led to Guy's sprawling mansion. Of course, I'd been here many times for work and pleasure, but today it felt like a different world, a fortress designed to keep the dark forces at bay.
I was met at the entrance by Guy whose face was ashen. Daniel and Ryder were already rummaging through the wine cooler, and Chase was staring out the window, all sporting their unique blend of fear, frustration, and suspicion. They had been abruptly yanked from their normal lives too, and their families whisked away to safe houses. Now we were here, trapped in Guy's gilded cage, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"How are you holding up, Mitch?" Guy wondered, his eyes blazing with a fix of sorrow and fear. "Do you know where Amy is? I'm thinking everyone else must be near her location… at least, that's what Agent Downing told me."
I sighed, running a hand through my hair. "I don't know, Guy. But we're here now, and we have to deal with it. The FBI is taking this seriously, finally!”
Guy glanced over his shoulder at the agent standing on the back porch. "Hey, listen up! Let's meet in my office. It's soundproof."