Sunday, December 16, 2012

Always & Forever - Chapter Three

The ride to Richard's house was one Madison had taken only a few times before.  His home was in town and not far from the travel agency.  The neighborhood, like most on the island, was quiet.
They pulled into his driveway and parked behind his latest addition.  The white mast of a blue sailboat stood almost as tall as the house.  His home was a white, two-story, Mediterranean style villa.  A well-tended flowerbed surrounded it.  Brilliant red Birds of Paradise plants grew tall and wide.  Bougainvillea and lilies added soft color to the landscape.  Brugmansia shrubs accented the arrangement.  Palms and banana trees followed the property line.
Madison stepped out of the truck with her duffle bag, which Richard quickly relieved her of.  She then picked up the laptop bag.  He reached for it as well, but she held fast with a mischievous smile.
"You're as bad a Skyler," he said with a chuckle.
She gave a wounded look.  "I don't know about that.  I usually give in before he comes close."
Richard shrugged.  "I suppose that's a good thing.  I don't know what the world would do with two Skylers."  He narrowed his eyes at her.
She couldn't help but laugh.  He was right.  "I'll keep that in mind."
Sweeping his arm toward the house, Richard led the way.  The seashell-cobbled sidewalk parted the magnificent flowerbed.  Madison fought the urge to lean over and smell the blooming flowers.
As they came to the front step, he winked over his shoulder at her, and opened the door.  Madison looked at him sideways for leaving his door unlocked.  It was his routine, but she lectured him about it once before.  "Come in," he said with a smirk.  "Make yourself at home."
The front room of the house was wide open with a tall ceiling.  Four fans with blades shaped like giant leaves were powered by a series of belts and pulleys.  Skylights allowed sunlight to fill the room.  The polished tile floor shown with brilliance.  A white area rug was centered in the room.  Placed around it were dark leather couches and recliners with a brass framed coffee table in the middle.
Richard took a staircase to the left.  Madison followed after him.  The stairs led to a walkway overlooking the main room that stretched across the length of the house.
Coming to the first door, Richard stepped aside and ushered her through the door way.  It was a guest bedroom with a huge platform bed covered in a white and blue comforter.  The rest of the furniture was made of white wicker.  A dresser sat just inside the room with a grand mirror hanging over it.  An armoire stood against the wall opposite the bed beside a richly stained wooden door.  There were two nightstands, one on each side of the bed.  The far wall had two tall windows with white lace, floor length curtains.  The walls were a soft blue, and the carpet was a creamy white.
Madison took in the splendor of the room.  Shaking her head, she turned to Richard.  He laughed at her modesty, then walked over and set the duffle on the bed.  "Yours as long as you need," he said with a nod.  "You and Skyler both."
"Thank you."  She could feel herself blush.  "Your home is lovely."
He shrugged with a smile.  "If you say so."  He nodded towards the door next to the armoire.  "That is the bathroom.  It's shared between this room and the next one, but no one is staying there right now.  You get the whole thing to yourself."
She took another look around.  "Do you mind if I open the windows?"
"Do whatever you wish.  Your room, your rules."
Feeling eternally grateful, Madison walked to Richard and hugged him.  He chuckled and returned the gesture.  Stepping back, she started toward the windows.
"And I mean it, Madison, make yourself at home.  There's nothing off limits here.  Feel free to whatever you would do in your home.  I need to get back to the office and help Julie out.  Call up there if you need anything."
She nodded.  "Is there anything I can do to help?"
He gave a sideways look.  "I think you need to take some time for yourself.  Just take it easy for a bit."
Madison nodded in acceptance, and waved goodbye as he turned and left.  His steps could be heard on the stairs and across the tile floor.  With the sound of the front door closing, she stood in the silence of the large estate.
The quiet quickly reminded her that she was alone.  Her heart began to race, and her stomach turned.  She took a deep breath to calm herself.  Determined to overcome her trembling hands, she got to work sorting the few things she brought in the room.
When she was finished, Madison went downstairs and wandered into the kitchen.  She knew she needed to think.  She needed a plan.  Her mind always cleared when she cooked.
She scanned the well-stocked pantry, cabinets, and fridge for dinner.  It looked as if Richard was a regular at the local market with all the fresh fruit, vegetables, and paper-wrapped meats.  After considering all her options, she settled on blackened flounder, baked potatoes, and green beans.
It didn't take her long to have all the ingredients shaping up into a hefty dinner.  In her intent to keep busy, she added rolls, a salad, and even a small pot of soup.  She hoped Richard had a healthy appetite.
Madison couldn't help but think of where Skyler might have been.  She wished for him to be safe.  Images of their shattered home flashed in her haunted mind.  Maybe they were only trying to frighten them.  Perhaps they would not be so cruel with Skyler.
She wanted so badly to see him, to speak with him.  She needed to know he was all right.  She hurt to remember how battered and bruised he was from the last time he crossed Morgan.  She wished away the scar on his cheek every day.
But she knew Skyler was strong.  He was patient.  He could handle himself better than anyone she had ever known.  If anyone could come back from being kidnapped by bounty hunters and taken to face the wilds of heartless people, it would be him.
Even still, she worried for him.  He had come so far.  He had just only begun to relax.  Sleepless nights of rethinking his plan and tireless days spent scouring news articles for any signs of trouble had finally lessened in frequency.  They were settled.
And that was their first mistake.  They relaxed and he did not take the news of his arrest warrant with urgency.  By the time he considered the message from Chase, the bounty hunters were no doubt already on their way.  Skyler and Madison were too busy fantasizing of a cozy life as a family to keep track of their own ghosts.
With that thought, she knew what she needed to do.  She needed to get her family back together.  She could not carry out their plans on her own.  As her best friend and husband, she would not do without him.
There was no possible way she could intercept him before the bounty hunters delivered him to Chicago.  She needed to think beyond that.  There would be a trial.  That would be her only chance to make a difference.  She had to prove he was not a criminal.  Yes, he made bad choices, but he already suffered for it.  He seemed to be spending the rest of his days making up for his faults.
Getting to Chicago would not be a problem.  Once upon a time, it was impossible.  But Skyler was able to get them passports and the necessary documents needed for any travel.  The problem would be in finding others to stand up for him.  She would have to find one of Morgan's victims willing to testify in defense of Skyler.  How would she locate such a person?  Where would she even begin?
Since most of the meal was already prepared, she stepped out of the kitchen long enough to retrieve the laptop.  She set it up on the kitchen island.  In between stirring and checking temperatures, she looked up flights to Chicago.
Even though Richard was the man to go to for travel itinerary, Madison knew he would frown on her decision to go to the States.  She appreciated his help thus far.  It was more than she ever expected.  She would figure out her route on her own.
She did not realize the time until the click of the front door closing caught her attention.  It was already late in the evening.  The dinner was readied and she was thinking about making a dessert.
"Smells great in here," Richard called from the front room.  "There's a cook in the house."
Madison chuckled at his teasing.  Her cooking was nothing new to him.  He at times came home with Skyler for dinner.  Then she often took a meal up to the marina while they were working late.  He joked that he didn't cook at home anymore since she fed him so well.
Richard stepped into the kitchen with his hands on his hips.  "Wow."  His eyes widened at the sight of the large meal.  "Should I invite the neighbors?"
She finally slowed and looked at all she made.  There was enough to feed several people and still have leftovers.  "Oh, um …"
"Nah," he answered himself.  "We can take care of this just fine.  I'll set the table."
When he reached for the cabinet that held the plates, Madison eased over to the laptop and closed the screen.  Flights to Chicago would probably catch his eye.
"Hmm," Richard stalled.  "I see you found the flounder.  Very good.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it.  That would have been an awful waste."
Madison nodded.  "It was either that or those drumsticks."
"So you saved those for tomorrow?"
She caught on to his hinting.  "Sure," she answered with a chuckle.  "You'll get drumsticks tomorrow."
With dishes for two in hand, Richard went his way to the dining room.  Madison put the finishing touches on the flounder, then began moving each readied dish to the table.  She pretended not to notice Richard sampling a bit of each offering.
The dinner passed with light conversation.  Richard did most of the talking.  He spoke of a few tours that were set up for the next week.  When Madison still kept to herself, her mind preoccupied with planning her trip, he changed gears and mentioned some activities that were planned for the following weekend.  Madison could tell he was doing his best to keep her distracted.
Though the festivals and art displays were something she would usually want to attend, they did not even begin to appeal to her.  The only thing on her agenda was doing everything she could to bring Skyler home.  There would be no rest or enjoyment until then.
Richard started collecting the dishes when they were both finished.  Madison got up to help, and he waved her away.  "I think you've done more than your share for the day.  I can deal with a few dishes."
Settling back into the chair, she stared at the glass in front of her.  It started out as ice water, but the ice cubes had since melted, and the glass only held a third of what it began with.  Droplets of water condensed on the sides of the glass and gave it a distorted look.  She ran her finger down the front, collecting the cool sweat on her fingertip.  She drew back slowly and watched as a small drop fell from her finger and splatter on the glossy surface of the wooden tabletop.  That was when she noticed other smudges and rings left behind from the dinner.
Madison got up decided to find a rag to clean the table.  She stepped into the kitchen with her eyes fixed on the cabinet were she found the cleaning supplies earlier in the day.  She was a few feet away when she realized what Richard was doing.
The water was running with steam rising from one side of the stainless steel double basin, but he was not beside the sink where the dishes were stacked.  Instead, he stood beside the island in the middle of the kitchen.  The laptop was open, its glow bright on his aging face.  His expression was one of surprise, but it quickly shifted to one of disappointment.  "What are you doing?" he posed.
She went ahead and pulled out a rag and cleaner for the table.  If she was about to get a lecture, she wanted a reason to leave the room as soon as it was done.  "Before you say anything," she started as she met his eyes, "I know you know Skyler would do the same for me.  He's going to need help."
Richard raised a brow with an unimpressed look.  "Can I ask you one question?"  She nodded once.  He took a few steps towards her, his gaze still darkened.  "Why didn't you ask me to get you there?  You do know I'm the best agent around."
Her surprise froze the smile that wanted to form.  She lowered her eyes and shied at his telling.  "I'm sorry."
He shrugged and let out a sigh.  "Okay, Skyler isn't so bad, but he isn't here to say otherwise."  He chuckled when Madison's smile finally appeared.  "If you are wanting to go, I know I can't stop you.  You two are too much alike.  There's no sense in arguing with you.  I'm just wasting my breath."
Embarrassment and relief mixed as Madison let herself laugh at his teasing.  "Thank you."
"But," he held up a finger, "I have to make sure you understand that I can't just put you on a plane." He waved his finger when she moved to protest.  "You're not the only one worried for you family.  I want Skyler and you back here and safe.  That means if you would rather I didn't go with you, I'm taking care of the entire trip, there and back."
She felt her tense muscles calm.  "You would go?"
He nodded.  "If there is anything I can do to help."
Madison walked over and hugged him.  "Thank you, for everything.  But I'd like you to wait here until I know what we have to do.  Let me see what I can do for Skyler first, but I appreciate your offer more than you know."
Taking her by the shoulders, Richard stepped back and held her at arm's length.  "Now, Mrs. Andrew, if you would follow me into my office, we'll get you booked and walking in Chicago before you can say 'Happy Travels.'"
It was not such a quick process as Richard made it sound.  The only thing that took longer than he wanted was planning the trip from North Caicos to Miami.  The airport in Providenciales was a short distance away, but on another island.  After a few calls to a handful of his friends, he secured a flight from the local airport on a small plane to a commercial liner from Providenciales to the States.  She would leave the next day before lunch.  The flight to Chicago would be the following morning.
Madison heartened to think she would be able to see Skyler in less than two days.  She went from lonely and terrified to excited and comforted in a matter of minutes.  She dreaded the trip, not eager to get on a plane, but if it got her to Skyler, she would get over it.
"Do you want me to get you a room in the city?"
"As close to the courthouse as possible.  If there isn't anything near by, I can get to the train or a cab.  I'll be fine."
Richard worked his agent magic and got her within walking distance of the judicial district.  He then wrote down the numbers to car rentals and taxi services in the area.  "Call me first if you are going to use these," he said.  "I can take care of those as well."
"Richard, this is too much …"
"We'll have none of that," he interrupted.  "It's part of the deal.  Either I see you through this trip in person or in pocket.  No way around it."
She bit her lip to keep her protest to herself.  She knew the bill was quickly growing.  She and Skyler had a little savings that she planned to use even though it would most likely be exhausted before their return home, but that's what one does for the ones they love.  That's why they had a savings in the first place … an emergency stash.
"And since you have a big trip ahead of you, I suggest you get upstairs and rest up.  It's been a long day."
Remembering the sink full of dishes, she hesitated.  He looked at her with a fatherly glare, daring her to counter him.  She shifted in place.
"Go on, hon. I’ve got everything under control."
Madison got up and hugged his neck.  She wanted to voice her thanks once again, but she could not find how to express her gratitude.  His kindness was beyond words.
Doing as Richard suggested, Madison went upstairs and got herself ready for bed.  She didn't know if she would be able to sleep with all the emotions running rampant.  Even still, she tried.  Sleeping would make the night pass quickly and bring her one step closer to Skyler.
The morning did not take nearly as long as she expected it to.  She kept herself busy and ignored her rolling stomach by sneaking a few cleaning sessions when Richard was distracted with something else.  He had her packed up and in the truck before she found time to grow nervous.
It was almost chilly outside as Richard drove her to the airport.  The trip inland did not take long.  Even still, it felt like ages to Madison.  Her travel itinerary played over and over in her head.  Providenciales.  Miami.  Chicago.  Skyler.
Richard didn't offer much company throughout the drive.  His removed silence only fueled Madison's anxiety.  The man could support a conversation in a room full of mimes, and now he hadn't said two words since leaving his neighborhood.
North Caicos airport was smaller then Madison expected it to be.  She spied a single runway, two private planes, and a total of five cars including Richard's pickup.  The flat landscape gave more of a desert feel than that of a tropical island.
Holding tight to the straps of her bag, she waited in the truck as Richard got out and spoke with two men beside one of the planes.  They all shook hands and smiled like familiar friends.  Madison wanted to chuckle when she realized they each wore Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.  She could imagine Skyler standing with them, a part of the island's travel team.
One of the men turned and climbed into the plane.  The second walked with Richard back to his truck.  He was not much younger than Richard, but had a clean-shaven face and buzzed hair which was somewhere between blond and white.  Madison eased the door open and stepped out as they neared.
"This is Tom," Richard said after putting a hand on her shoulder.  "Derrick is making sure the plane is readied for the flight.  They'll get you to Providenciales, and then on to Miami.  Call me if you need anything."  He reached into his shirt pocket and held out a flip phone.  She was hesitant to take it.  "It's an extra line I keep around in case I lose track of my other.  Just take it."
The smooth plastic cover, warm from being in his pocket, was silver in color and clean, without any scratches or scuffs.  It could have easily been brand new.  "Thank you," she said as she tucked it into her pocket.  "I owe you big time."
Shaking his head, Richard gave a chuckle.  "Just bring Skyler back.  I don't want to have to train another agent."
She let herself laugh at his teasing.  She appreciated his attempt to make light of the subject.  Inside, she was a nervous wreck, her stomach in knots, her chest felt tight, and she was beginning to wonder if she developed asthma that moment.  But looking at the smiling faces, one of whom she had just met, that were going out of their way to give her a hand, it was enough to bring on tears.  She managed to hold them back.
Following Tom's lead, Madison made her way to the glistening airplane.  She climbed the waiting staircase and ducked into the fuselage.  All six seats in the passenger area were empty.  "You're our first customer for this leg of the trip, so you get first choice," said Tom.  He nodded to the open rows and offered to take her bags, which she surrendered to him.
"Thank you."
He opened a cabinet across from where they stood and set her bags inside.  "There's some drinks and snacks in here if you like.  Help yourself."
She nodded in understanding and took the first seat she came to, glancing out the tiny window beside it.
"Ready when you are," came Derrick's voice from the cockpit.
Tom gave thumbs up, and then turned to narrow doorway at the front of the plane.  "And away we go."
Once she settled in and conquered the seatbelt, she let out a nervous chuckle and waved to Richard.  He stepped back with bright sunlight shining on his hair.  One hand was in his pocket as he waved with the other.  He looked saddened.  Madison flashed a smile in hopes to cheer him up.  He forced one of his own.
Richard stood beside his pickup while the plane taxied.  Moments later, as the ground began to pull away, Madison watched him shrink into the distance, and felt a twinge of regret for not asking him to come along.
Her hand rested over the phone in her pocket.  She decided she would call him even if she didn't have any news.  He was involved.  He was close to Skyler and treated him like family.  He had every right to want to join her.  He probably would have gone alone if she could not.  That was just the kind of man he was.
Madison held to her place for the quick jump over to Providenciales and the longer flight to Miami.  The hours passed much more easily than she expected them to.  After the island faded into the watery horizon, her mind instantly turned to Skyler and her plan.
Spinning the ring on her finger, she thought back to the day they exchanged vows.  He was bruised and still had a limp in his step, but his smile was constant.  She kept waiting to wake up back in her little apartment in Chicago, but it did not happen.  She woke the next morning beside her best friend.  They were a team.  They were a family.
Now, here they were, once again separated by Morgan and his scheming.  Skyler bore the brunt of it the past two times.  She hoped to shield him this time around.  Not even the judicial system would tear her family apart.  She would find a way to bring him home to stay.  She would settle for nothing less.
When the pilot announced their descent into Miami, Madison stared out the window.  The city was as gorgeous as she recalled it to be.  She smiled to remember the nights she spent driving around with Skyler, just seeing what they could see.  She got an inkling to visit their quiet cove, the one he dubbed Madi Cove, but knew it would not be the same without him.
After a short taxi ride, she was standing in the lobby of the hotel Richard picked.  Madison's brows rose at the fancy establishment.  There was a water fountain in the center of the lobby with koi fish swimming lazily.  Saltwater fish tanks lined the walls with brightly colored fish swimming in small schools.  Starfish and coral littered the tanks. 
Madison gave her name and information to a cheery woman behind the counter whose short, dark curls bounced as she spoke with high-spirits.  She confirmed her ride to the airport in the morning once her room was selected. 
She took an elevator to the eighth floor, and then headed down a hall with deep red carpeting and navy blue wallpaper with golden seashells.  The fixtures were gold in color and spotless.  The hallway smelled of coffee and fresh linens.  It was very hushed.  The only sounds Madison could hear were that of her own footfalls, and the links on the duffle clinking.
She found her room number not far from the end of the hall.  Madison glanced at the dark window where the hall ended.  She could see lights from the shoppes along the shore, and the moon shining on the waves of the ocean.
In the quiet of the midnight blue room, Madison took a look around her accommodations.  Two golden floor lamps and one smaller lamp atop the nightstand dimmed and brightened with a turn of a nob on the wall.  She left them on a lower setting.  A dark wooden dresser stood opposite the large bed.  Above the dresser was a flat panel television mounted on the wall.  A round table with two gray chairs sat in front of the wide window.  She set the laptop bag on the table.
Just inside the front door was a double length vanity with a single sink on the outer wall.  The inner wall was a shelved closet area behind a black curtain.  The door to the shower room was a sliding mirror.  She guided it open with the thought that a bath would be soothing, only to find a shower stall encased in glass white towels hanging on the wall.
She let out a sigh and shrugged.  A shower would mean an earlier bedtime.  That was what she really wanted.
After a quick trip to the vending machine for a bag of pretzels and bottle of water, she snacked while she dug her nightclothes out of her duffle.  She left the TV off, content with the sound of the running shower, and closed the curtains over the windows to keep herself from standing and staring aimlessly at the ocean view.
Once she was settled into bed, Madison remembered she wanted to call Richard.  She found the phone in the pocket of her jacket.  When she flipped it open, the programed contacts came up.  Richard's home number was on the top of the list.
It rang only twice before the sound of Richard's sleepy voice answered.  "I'm sorry," Madison cringed.  "I didn't mean to wake you up."
"No.  Not at all," Richard said.  He cleared his throat.  "Is everything all right?  Did you get to Miami?"
"Yes," she answered.  "I'm already in the room and ready for bed.  I just thought I'd check in and see how you were doing."
"How I'm doing?"
She was slower to answer.  "Yes.  I didn't make the drumsticks like I said I would."
Richard's laughter was amplified through the phone.  "Don't worry about me, hon.  I don't think I'll starve.  I actually finished the flounder and soup tonight.  It was more than enough.  I'll save the drumsticks for when you get back."
She chuckled with a nod.  "Sounds good."
 "What about you?  How are you doing?"
"Fine," she said quickly.  "Everything is good.  Nervous about tomorrow, but excited at the same time, if that makes any sense."
"You have nothing to be nervous about," he returned.  "Just sleep through the flight or read a book.  You'll be in Chicago in no time.  The first flight was the worst part."
"That wasn't so bad.  I'll survive.  Have you heard anything?  Has anyone heard from Skyler?"
He let out a deep breath.  "No, hon.  No one has heard anything.  I'd call you the moment that changes."
Pushing back her disappointment, Madison nodded.  "All right.  I better go.  I'll call you tomorrow."
"Take care, Madison.  Goodnight."
"Goodnight."
She set the phone on the nightstand, pulled the alarm clock closer, and set it to get her up early before her morning flight.  Then she remembered she would be seeing Skyler by the same time tomorrow.  An anxious smile came to her face before she could stop it.
The hot shower had helped her to relax some, but now her mind kept sleep at bay while her body begged for it.  She felt strange to be without Skyler.  Staying somewhere other than their empty home took a bit of the edge off, but she missed the way he hugged her close as they slept.  She missed his presence.  Nonetheless, she closed her eyes and waited for sleep.
It was a dreamless slumber, as if a part of her never slept.  The world seemed to skip forward by six hours. The alarm sounded for only a second or two before she turned it off.
Wide-awake, she got herself ready for the day in record time.  She hardly unpacked the night before, so it was easy to get her things together.  After sneaking one last peek out the window, the made her way to the lobby.
From the elevator, Madison went straight to the front desk where a clerk greeted her.  She checked on her taxi.  It was on time.  She had fifteen minutes before it arrived.  That was more than enough time to snag a quick breakfast.  The aroma of sausage and bacon was the first thing she noticed when she stepped off the elevator.
It was a self-serve buffet.  She started to get some waffles, but her nervous stomach changed her mind.  Less sounded better.  A piece of toast with a small side of scrabbled eggs and sausage was all she managed before the porter came to tell her the cab had arrived.  She thought to grab one of the fresh cinnamon rolls for later, but decided against it.
The ride to the airport took longer than she expected.  They caught the Monday morning rush.  The driver tried a few short cuts, but it maybe saved them a total of eight minutes.
Even still, she was plenty early when she finally reached the airport.  She was standing in the terminal with forty-five minutes to spare before her flight.  Madison used the free time to browse several of the storefronts looking for a book for the flight.  Thank goodness there was a little bookrack in a corner of one of the shops.
Book in hand, she found her way back to her gate.  The collection of waiting people had grown since she wandered the stores.  She took a seat next to the ticket counter.  Passengers were not yet allowed to board the plane, but she could see the workers loading luggage into its belly.
Madison was nearly through the first chapter when they called for her flight to start loading.  The process was quick and painless.  She found a spot beside a window, and tucked her laptop bag under her seat.  The stewardesses went through the usual safety procedures and the plane was in the sky in no time at all.
She was grateful Richard was able to get her a straight through flight.  Once she was situated and had an ice water, she was content to loose herself in the book.  She did just so.
When they announced their decent, Madison's heart began to pound in her chest.  It was a mix of flight jitters and excitement to see Skyler.  She was so close she could feel him.  She fantasized of flashing from the airport to his side in a matter of seconds.  Then reality set it.  It would not be so simple.  She still had to find out where he was being kept.  There was also the fear that she would not be allowed to visit him.  She did not know what exactly he was being held for.  The excitement returned.  She would soon find out.
Madison concentrated on keeping her cool as the plane landed, reached the terminal, and the passengers were allowed to disembark.  Baggage claim was chaotic.  She paced the row of carousels twice before she found the one from her flight.  Her duffle was of course the last bag down the chute.
It did not take her long to hail a cab.  She gave the driver the address of the next hotel Richard set her up in.  It was a longer drive than the one in Miami, and the traffic was even worse.  She had forgotten how busy the city was.  The calm of the islands spoiled her.  Bumper to bumper standstills were unseen where they lived.  That was one thing she did not miss.
But the vibrancy of the city reminded her of how much she loved calling it home.  The glistening buildings of all shapes and sizes, people crowding sidewalks, and the sights were what she missed the most.  It seemed that every which way she looked rivaled a post card.  Active parks with people bundled up for the cold weather.  Heavy coats and colorful scarves made her hope for snow.  After locating Skyler, she would have to find a coat to get her through the frigid difference.
The hotel where Richard made her reservation was not far from Skyler's old apartment.  Chase still lived there.  Madison could see the tall building from the street where the cabbie pulled to the curb.
A porter came out of the double doors of the hotel.  His blue uniform was well pressed with a matching hat.  He greeted Madison as she stepped out of the cab, and then got her bags from the trunk.
She followed the young man into the lobby through the spotless glass doors with polished brass accents.  Just inside the door was a glossy white tiled section of flooring.  Red carpeting covered the rest of the flooring up to the counter.  Two clerks, one blonde, the other brunette, wore uniforms like that of the porter, but without the hat.  They both gave a smile as Madison approached.  Within minutes, she was checked in and shown to her room.
It was not much different from the one she had in Miami.  Its walls were a deep gray instead of blue and the carpet neutral beige.  The bed was slightly larger and had a blue and gray comforter with a gold colored trim.  The furniture in the room consisted of matching nightstands, a tall armoire opposite the bed, and a richly stained computer desk set in front of the massive window.  Madison smiled to see a garden tub and a separate shower stall in the bathroom with black tile flooring and thick, white rugs.  White towels were rolled and stacked in a wicker basket on the vanity.
Once she was settled into the room, she set the laptop up on the computer desk and opened the curtains.  She found herself staring out the panoramic view in a daze as thoughts swirled in her mind.  Where would she start?  Would she be able to find Skyler?  Would she be able to help him?  What if he was not brought to Chicago?  What if this entire plan was nothing more than a desperate attempt on her part?  She only wanted him home.  Beyond that, she did not know what to expect.
She sat down at the desk and powered on the laptop.  Its start up chime reminded her of the phone in her pocket.  She had turned it off for the flight and forgotten about it.
The cell phone came on quickly, and the screen flashed a notice of three messages.  Her heart raced.  Richard had news!  When she accessed the messages, they were from a number she recognized, but not Richard's.  Peering at it as she thought back, it was one she had dialed it before.
The messages were nothing more than hang-ups.  Whoever it was made the calls thirty minutes apart and didn't bother to leave a message.  They had something to say directly to her.
She started to dial the number, but the phone rang before she sent the call.  The same number flashed across the screen and triggered a memory.
It was Chase.

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