Jeffrey walked from Dutch's office to his home a mile away. The fall day was clear and crisp. There had been fog earlier rising from the ocean, slithering up the cliffs then covering the countryside. But it had dissipated, burned off by the sun by ten, and now that same sun was sinking into the ocean, its rays orange and golden.
Jennifer and he had built their home on the cliff's edge so they could watch the sun set and the waves crash against the rocks below. Jennifer! Dead now, what? Seven years. He sighed. He missed her most at sunset and on stormy days when she would find joy in watching the wild ocean's waves, hearing their roar. It seemed the ocean had always been part of his life ... in St. Yves, France; in Southampton, New York; and here in California, north of Morro Bay.
He loved the colors of the sunset. How do I see, people wonder, and how do I explain? On some days I see fairly clearly and on those days I take out Jean-Marie's picture and Jennifer's. I study them and I study Johanna and the children, and sometimes Johanna asks, "Jef, why are you looking at me like that?" And the children will say, "Daddy, you're staring," and I look away. They don't realize how precious sight is, even sight like mine.
Most of the time now when I picture Jean-Marie, I see Gigi. It's been so long since I saw Jean-Marie ... and then I try not to picture Jean-Marie. It seems almost incestuous to see Gigi in her place, our daughter, so much like her mother.
He neared his house. Johanna and the children were out. It was quiet. Normally music would resound, and lights would be turned on even though twilight had not darkened much. Dutch had flown Jeffrey's family down to Santa Barbara to visit Gigi, Mike and their baby for some secret expedition. Probably planning my Christmas present already. He smiled at the thought. He was almost forty-four, tall, slender, with emerald green eyes and burnished brown hair with a smattering of grey at the temples. All of his life people had told him he was handsome, a true statement; his children certainly were.
He walked into the unlocked house, entering from the poolside French doors, not bothering to turn on any lights. He liked the dusky light. It seemed normal to him. His vision was poor; he had been blind and partially blind for most of his life. He felt more at ease with the rest of the world in twilight dimness.
He sensed rather than heard or saw anything an instant before it happened. In that split second, he realized the dogs were not greeting him and there were strangers in the house. He tripped and fell face forward, pushing a table slightly as he fell. He felt a large, heavy foot placed on his back and his arms were jerked behind him and bound. He felt the cold steel of a gun against his neck.
"Don't bother crying out, Mr. Laurance, we know no one is here," an unfamiliar voice told him.
"Blindfold him." A scarf or some material was tied around his head, covering his eyes.
He was pulled to his feet.
"Where's the safe?"
"There is none."
"Where do you keep your money and jewels?"
"The bank in San Luis Obispo. Nothing's here. I have about sixty dollars in my wallet."
Someone took the wallet from his rear pocket, emptied it and let it drop to the floor. "Sixty-seven dollars."
"You're sure?" another voice asked.
"Yeah. That's all the money, some pictures and junk."
"I wonder how much you're worth to your family?" the voice of the one who appeared to be the leader asked rhetorically.
"It appears we'll find out," Jeffrey answered.
"I tol' ya he waz smart," a gravel-voiced, uneducated sounding voice said. "His family's loaded. They got him outta the cell when he waz in stir."
"Shut up. You talk too much. Let's not waste any time, huh, boss? Let's leave him and get outta here." Jeffrey could tell by the man's voice and shuffling of feet that the fellow was nervous.
"He's telling the truth. No jewels or money around here," a deep voice said.
"Okay, Mr. Laurance, or do you prefer Jeffers?" the leader asked politely.
"You're coming with us. You're not gonna give us any trouble, I hope. We don't want to hurt you. There are several of us."
"Four," Jeffrey said.
He could hear the smile in the leader's voice. "Yes, four here, another outside."
"Should I put the tape over his mouth, Fred?"
Fred snarled, "You keep your own stupid mouth shut."
"I won't cry out," Jeffrey said, and mentally noted that one man's, not the leader's, name was Fred.
"Maybe not, but we don't like to take chances, Mr. Laurance." To the other man, the leader said, "Tape him."