As they approached Robert’s front door, Sam felt that something was wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was an extra sense, honed by his service in Viet Nam and developed more fully in his service since then.
“What’s wrong?” Beth asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But something is.”
Beth’s car was parked in the driveway. The outside of the colonial-style home and the neatly manicured yard looked normal, but…
The front door was wide open, like someone in the family had run next door for something and would be right back.
“That’s odd,” Sam said. “Unless one of the kids was in a hurry.”
“They’re in school,” Beth said as she walked in. “Sam!”
Inside, the house had been turned upside down. Furniture was upended, file cabinets were open and papers scattered all over the floor. Drawers were strewn around the living room floor with their contents dumped on the carpet. Every cabinet door was either open or torn off its hinge.
“Oh no,” he said. “They hit him too.”
“Who hit him?” she asked.
“The same animals that hit my place.”
Beth walked toward the kitchen. “How do you know this isn’t a robbery by someone else?”
“Look around,” he said. “All the electronic and video equipment is still here. Look at that hutch. There’s an expensive camera sitting right out in the open. No, these people were looking for something in particular.”
Sam jerked around, startled by the sound of the female voice coming from the direction of the front door. A middle-aged woman with short-cropped auburn hair and wearing the green scrubs of a medical person stood before him.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But I’m Ruth, the next door neighbor. I just came home for lunch and I noticed their front door was open. What in the world happened here?”
Sam reached out his hand. “Hi, Ruth, I’m Sam Ralston, Robert’s brother.”
She shook his hand. “I’ve heard Robert talk about you.”
Beth walked back into the living room. “I’m Beth,” she said. “Where’s the family?”
“Robert and Ellen had make a quick trip to the Bay Area – Stanford I believe – in order for Ellen to take some medical tests. They left the kids with me. They’re in school right now. This is terrible.”
“Yes it is,” Sam said. “Did Robert say anything else to you?”
“Oh I almost forgot,” she said. “He told me that if you came by to give you a note he wrote. I have it on my kitchen counter. I’ll go get it and be right back.”
She left and Sam walked upstairs to the bedroom. Beth followed.
The master bedroom looked like all the other rooms – completely disheveled. He walked in the large master closet and pulled back the clothes on Robert’s side to reveal a wall safe. He opened his wallet and pulled out a folded piece of paper, read it and then unlocked the safe. Inside were two pistols – a snub-nosed Colt .38 and a 9mm Glock – and a manila envelope of papers. He took out all the contents and closed the safe.
“What are you doing?” Beth asked. “Those things aren’t yours.”
“In a war everything becomes utilitarian,” he said. “He’ll get this stuff back.”
“Hello? Sam?” Ruth was back.
Sam and Beth hurried down the stairs and Ruth handed him the note.
Sam read: “Sorry we had to get out of town so fast. Too much going on to cover here, but I don’t like any of it. Beth’s keys are in a small magnetic box that I hid under the passenger door of her car. Talk soon. Robert.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Ruth asked.
“Yes there is,” he responded. “Call the police.”
“But where are you going?” she asked.
Robert was already outside and taking the keys out of the box. He threw the keys toward Beth. “Let me have Robert’s keys.”
She threw Robert’s keys back to Sam. “Okay, but what for and where are you going?”
He jumped in Robert’s truck and rolled down the window. “San Francisco,” he said. “My brother’s in serious danger.”
Beth hopped in the passenger seat next to him. “Then I’m going too.”