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Friends and Lovers and Thieves and More

Sydney smelled coffee as she lay snuggled under quilts. The tiny bedroom in the log cabin she had rented with friends, Abby and James, was cold. She jumped up, threw her flannel shirt on over her long-johns and opened the door into the main room of the cabin. James was adding wood to the roaring fire in the fireplace and his wife Abby was pouring coffee for the three of them.  Abby was a petite woman with short dark hair, olive skin and big brown eyes. She turned to Sydney with a smile as she said, “Good morning,” in her low warm voice. A stroke years ago had left the right side of her face a little droopy, but other than a slight limp, the rest of her body had recovered and her speech had not been affected.

“Good morning to you two,” Sydney said as she took the warm cup with both hands. Her smooth, dark, shoulder length hair fell close to blue eyes as she sipped the hot coffee. Tall and slender, she moved quickly towards the warm fire. “How did you sleep?” she asked.

James, a stocky, masculine, handsome man stood up, dusting wood chips from his hands, and took his cup of coffee from Abby. “I slept great, but am a little stiff and sore this morning.”

“Oh poor baby,” both women chorused.

The three had hiked five miles the day before and James was not used to that.  His job as news anchor for a local TV station kept him at a desk most of the time, but this week he was all about the three of them enjoying the outdoors in Estes Park before the snows of winter hit later that month.

“Sorry Rey couldn’t make it yesterday,” Abby said. I haven’t seen her since she got back from her trip to Italy.”

I have hardly seen my daughter since she got back from Italy,” grumbled Sydney. “She sort of brought Italy back with her, Antonio Lodevico Albanio,” she said to Abby’s quizzical look.  


“OOOOh, and have you met Antonio Lodevico Albanio?” 



“I’m not sure; I hope he grows on me. He could not be more handsome.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

James broke in, “OK ‘mom’, you know no one will ever be good enough for your Regina, give the guy a chance.”  

“I will, we will all have to get together and get to know him."                                                                                                                                                                   

Sydney and Abby began to put some things together for breakfast. The two women, college roomies, had stayed very close through the years and been there for one another through life’s loves and losses. As a young couple so many years ago, Abby and James had lost their first child when she was two years old. She had drowned in their swimming pool. Abby, nine months pregnant, had found her and jumped into the pool screaming as she swam to her baby. Neighbors called 911 as Abby tried in vain to revive her child. The ambulance rushed her and her dead two year old to the hospital where Abby gave birth and had a stroke.

Sydney, a widow for the past three years, had only recently been able to get through a day without longing for her beloved husband every minute. They had built a prosperous business together and she, her husband and their daughter Rey had experienced life to the fullest for twenty-five years. It had ended too soon.

James objected when his wife suggested another hike on this, their final day in Estes park. “Let’s take a ride he pleaded. There should be elk herds to see if we drive around.”

“OK.” Abby said. “Then have lunch downtown Estes Park before heading home?” she asked.

“Yes, that would be nice.” Sydney chimed in as she finished washing the breakfast dishes.


Three weeks after their weekend In Estes Park, Abby called Sydney to invite her to their small ranch southwest of Denver for the weekend. “Do you think Rey would come and bring Antonio?” she asked.

“I really don’t know Abby; I have seen little of her since he moved in with her!” 

“Oh my, it’s that serious?”

 “Looks like, give’er a call.”

The following Saturday, a dozen family and friends gathered around noon at Abby’s and James’ wooded thirty-acre ranch about an hour out of Denver. The four-bedroom house built of huge, golden logs nestled among tall pines. Smoke drifted from the stone chimney. A light snow-fall had blanketed the area during the night and everything sparkled and twinkled in the sunlight.

Sydney arrived early with her dad.  He and Abby’s parents were good friends. Soon after, Abby’s parents arrived with James and Abby’s daughter Bethany and her two little boys. James was sparring with his grandsons as the others sat or stood around the roaring fire in the big stone fireplace. It had been a while since they had all been together so, glad to see one another, everyone was catching-up when Rey and Antonio arrived. They stepped inside the door laughing and stomping snow off their boots when they became aware of the sudden quiet in the room. They looked up to see all eyes on them. Rey had warned Antonio that he would be under a microscope of curiosity.

Antonio Lodevico Albanio was very tall, handsome and expensively dressed. His dark good looks complemented Rey’s creamy skin and mop of red curls. They were a striking couple. Rey was a remarkable woman, tall like her parents, beautiful and self assured. Her loft in lower downtown Denver, LoDo, was elegant and modern, an excellent showroom for her art and exotic pieces. Working for a variety of private collectors, she acquired artifacts and art for them as well as for herself as she traveled the world.

 Abby moved toward them with arms outstretched saying, “Welcome, come in, I’m so glad you came.”

Greetings and Introductions made, everyone moved back to the warmth of the fireplace. James refilled wine glasses and once the newcomers were warmed Abby called, "Let's eat." Everyone turned to the kitchen at the other end of the great room to gather up food and put it on the long rustic dining table.


Antonio was given the third degree as they ate. “What brought you to the U. S.?” “How long have you been here?” “What do you do?” “How long will you stay?” Antonio was charming and interested in each person he talked to and quickly had them chattering away about themselves but really gave little information about himself.

After lunch, Sydney and Abby were talking about their plans for an upcoming trip to Utah. “When is this trip?” Rey asked.

“Next week,” Sydney replied.

“I wanna go!”

“Regina Hemberly, you just got back from a month long trip. Don’t you have work to do?”

 “Mom, I kept up with my column while away. Ever heard of computers?”

“Hey sassy, I’m not totally out of touch with today’s world. What about your novel?”

“Well, I have to admit I’ve done little for the last month on that. But I’m serious, I want to go with you guys.” Sydney looked over at Abby and Abby said, “We would love to have you come with us Rey.” The two women had raised their children together. The four women were very close.

Beth overheard and whined, “I wanna go.”

“You have a job nature girl,” Abby said.

“Oh yea Mom, how could I forget that?” Beth replied sarcastically. She bent over her mother’s chair and with a quick kiss on the cheek she was off to see what her two boys were up to.

                                                                                                                                             0000                                                                                                     None of the trio driving to Utah that first day of their trip had been there before. The pines of Colorado gave way to cedar and sage.  They were expecting heat but instead experienced partly cloudy and cool breezes. They surprised upon the incredible miles of compressed and tortured layers of rust oxide, cream and bronze colored sandstone. The highway curved around the massive mountains and sheer cliffs on one side of the road that plunged to the depths of a narrow canyon cut into the earth by the stream far below on the other. Giant boulders the size of a house had tumbled down here and there to the bottom of the canyon over the ages. The grandeur and beauty of this sandstone land of huge formations carved out by rain and wind in southern Utah captivated them all.

They stopped at the visitor’s center as soon as they entered the town of Escalante for information on what they should see, then found their hotel and made plans for the next couple of days over martinis in the lovely cool bar.

The three women were in awe of the beautiful red and cream colored rock formations as they toured the area the next day. They hiked a different long trail each morning and enjoyed the pool at the hotel each afternoon.

Over dinner their final evening, Abby expressed to Rey a concern she had. “I worry that Antonio is living with you. Do you really know him well enough to share your apartment with him?” she asked.

As close as she and Abby were, Rey bristled a little. “I think so. I was so impressed by his behavior and by his lovely family I met in Italy, yes, I feel I know him well enough,” she replied.

“OK, I trust your judgement. My only concern is for you, that you are safe."

“Thank you Abby, I love you and do appreciate your concern for me.” Rey had deadlines for her weekly column in the Denver Post and she wanted to write about their adventures in Utah, so she left her mother and Abby right after dinner to go to her room.


When they returned to Denver Thursday afternoon, Sydney and Rey dropped Abby off first at the apartment she and James kept in the city, and then drove the few blocks to Rey’s loft. Rey was a little sunburned and irritated because she had not been able to reach Antonio since day before yesterday. He had stayed at the loft while Rey was away and she wanted to tell him she was on her way home. Sydney slipped into a parking space in front of Rey’s building and turned to her daughter and said, “OK, tell me about Antonio.”    


“Not much to tell mom. He’s very nice, very sexy, I met his family. They are old world wealth, living in a fourteen room castle-like home. His mother is grey and a little stooped, but elegant and his father is a big blustery man and where Antonio got his dark good looks. They were charming and showed me around the estate. We had a sumptuous dinner and left the next morning. That’s when Antonio told me he planned to come to the States with me.”  

“What is he doing here, except bumming off you?”

“No mom, he is paying his way. He contributes to all expenses.”

“Gland to hear that, is this a relationship that could get serious?”

“I don’t know. I really like being with him, but that old ghost Jake does waft across my consciousness now and then."

“What really happened there Rey?” 


“He dumped me.”

“I don’t believe that.” 

“He dumped me and went home to his ranch and horses and cows. He said I was a spoiled city girl.”

“Well you are, but that shouldn’t interfere with true love.”

“I know Mom, maybe I was the only one of the two of us in love.” She kissed her mother, gathered up her luggage and waving goodbye at the entrance, walked into her building.

Rey unlocked the door to her loft, opened the door and stepped in as she removed her keys from the lock. She looked up and ---the room was totally empty. No sofas, no rug, no table lamps, no tables. Her beautiful collection pieces, her valuable collection pieces gone, everything gone. Stunned, she dropped her things and just stood there. She really couldn’t comprehend that this could be happening. She walked to the other rooms, everything gone, even her expensive clothes.


When her phone rang at one in the morning, Sydney jerked awake. When she saw it was Rey she answered with, “What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

The police had gone and Rey explained to her mother what she had found when she entered her loft.

“Where is Antonio? Wasn’t he staying at the loft?”

“I haven’t heard from him in days Mom, maybe the thieves kidnapped him, or maybe worse. The police seem to think it would be him that cleaned out the loft.”

“Oh my god Rey.”

“Can you come pick me up? I don’t have a bed, in fact, I don’t have anything.” And she began to sob.

Detectives scoured Rey’s loft the next day, dusting for fingerprints, gathering bits here and there as Rey and Sydney watched. They checked all the security cameras in the building and interviewed neighbors. They assured Rey they would be searching for Antonio as a missing person as well as a suspect.

Rey kept her phone close hoping to hear something about Antonio. She went shopping for a few clothes to make do for a while and her mother encouraged her to come to the family home where she had grown up. “Stay with me Rey, your room is just as you left it.” The house was spacious and beautiful. Sydney had debated whether to sell it or not when William died but just couldn’t part with it. All those memories, William was still there in some ways, she just couldn’t let it go. 

Rey had a wing upstairs all to herself so she and her mother fell into a routine, Rey writing, or trying to write, Sydney going off to work.

Within the week, Rey got a call from a Detective Turrell. The thieves had smashed the security cameras that they thought could record them throughout the building but had missed one in the parking garage below. Would Rey please come down and see if she could identify anyone. The images she saw at the police station showed men loading a truck way on the other side of the big underground parking garage. Even though the camera was evidently quite a distance from them, it was easy to identify Antonio. She did not know the other four men.



A few weeks later, being on the board of directors, Sydney was invited to a gala at the Denver Art Museum and encouraged Rey to come along. “You need a little cheering up and a break from work.”

They arrived a little late because Sydney got away from the office late but when they did get there, they made an entrance. They were beautiful women. Sydney had on a fitted, black lace, knee length dress with long fitted sleeves and black high heels. Her thick dark hair turned under at her shoulders. 

Rey, even taller than her mother and with more curves, was stunning in her black silk sleeveless dress cinched in at the waist and strappy high heels. Her mass of dark red curls was bound up in a French twist and she wore long silver earrings.

There were many friends among the eighty or so attending the gala who had heard about the robbery. They were sympathetic but discreet and did not ask a lot of questions. Abby and James were there. Abby looked wonderful in a muted floral print of peach and green that showed off her beautiful olive skin, dark eyes and lovely figure. James, handsome in suit and tie, was always popular, especially with the ladies, and Abby always stuck close to him to let them know he was not available.

While she and her mother chatted with Abby and James, Rey scanned the faces in the crowd to see who she might know and there stood Jake on the other side of the room. Brawny, tanned, six foot Jake in his western suit stood watching her, waiting for her to see him. She excused herself and walked through the crowd toward him. With his big white smile, he handed her one of the two glasses of wine he held. “You are even more beautiful than ever Miss Rey."

“You look pretty good yourself sir, what are you doing here?”

“I’m on the Kimble Art Museum’s board in Ft. Worth and was invited here to meet with your curator.”

“Wow, doing things other than cow wrestling!”

“Yes, Miss Priss, doing things other than cow wrestling. You gonna invite me to your place for dinner some night?”

“I don’t have a place,” and he could see the sadness move across her face and was immediately alarmed.

“What does that mean?” Jake asked. They walked over to a secluded corner while she told him about her “experience.”

The weeks rolled by. Rey sent the first draft of her book to her publisher. It had been a mild winter; ski resorts had suffered and Rey had been too busy to go skiing anyway, or at least that’s what she told herself. In reality she had been glad she had the book as an excuse to bury herself away while she grieved not only her loss but how she had misjudged Antonio. It was nice having Jake around as her good friend, no longer thinking of him as her lover.  She did wonder occasionally why he was still in Denver instead of taking care of his ranch in Texas.

Early spring, Detective Turrell called Rey to tell her they had Antonio and four others in custody. She could hardly believe it.  He heard her unspoken question, “No sign of your things ma’am. There was some gunfire during the arrest and Antonio is in the hospital a-----“

“Is he badly hurt?” she interrupted. 

“No ma’am, shot in the leg. We were hoping you might be willing to visit him. We thought he might let something slip, tell you something he hasn’t told us.”

“Of course, when can I see him?” 


Detective Turrell could hear the anger in her voice and said, “Now ma’am, we would like to have you come down to the station and talk about this meeting and discuss what questions to ask. Would that be possible?”

Before Rey entered Antonio’s hospital room, she stopped in the hall and took some deep breaths. She felt shaky and did not want that to show. She had to keep her cool. Antonio, on the other hand, was visibly shaken when he saw her come through that door. His leg and head were elevated. “What are you doing here?” he said, no smile.

“Checking on your injuries, making sure you’re all right. You have no idea what I have been through to make the authorities allow me to see you.” She walked to the side of the bed and put her hand on his arm.

“Yea right,” he said.

Using the technique the detectives had encouraged her to use, letting Antonio think she was still in love with him and terribly hurt, she said, “Antonio, I told the detectives that you must have been forced into the robbery; that those men had to have had something on you. Your poor parents, they must be devastated.”

“My poor parents indeed,” he said looking down at his leg.

“Please tell me what we had was real. I just can’t believe you set me up from the beginning.” 

“Stop, you’re a smart, beautiful woman Rey and I certainly enjoyed our time together, in Italy and here, but I had to get some money for my parents.”

 “Your wealthy parents, those sweet people I met?”

“Those ‘sweet’ people are destitute. We are losing the property.”

 “I don’t understand.”

“Well while I was being the rich young man around town with my head in the clouds my parents had stopped paying attention to investments, finances - - - -,” He looked up at Rey, “Where are they going to go? I had to get some money.”

“Oh you poor thing, so devoted to care what happens to your mom and dad.”

Dejectedly, staring out the window, Antonio said, “I knew where to go to find rich women tourists Rey. You were not my first, you just happened to be the one that came along as I found out about my family’s state of affairs.”

“I guess the money raised from the sale of my collections and things will help them.”

“Greenhorn that I am, the four guys that I contacted to help me took everything. I had just found them again to demand my share of the take when the cops got there.” 


“Antonio, what a fool you have been. They insist you are their ring leader.”

“Rey, help me. Convince the authorities that I’m a victim. What will happen to my parents if I’m in prison here?”

“Ummmm,” she said, hand to chin, looking out the window,” If you could find out who those four guys dealt with, sold to, and I told the authorities that I do not plan to press charges against you, maybe, just maybe you could go home to take care of your family.”

“I have no idea who those guys deal with. I gave the police the name and phone numbers I used to get them to help me. I have no idea who they deal with or where they are, but you could help me Rey,” Antonio reached out and took Rey’s hand in his, “by not pressing charges against this naive greenhorn just wanting to help my parents.”


“Do you think anything Antonio said is true?” Sydney asked as she and Rey were having coffee on the patio Saturday morning. They were waiting for Jake, he was taking them to brunch at The Teatro Hotel, downtown Denver. The door bell rang.

Rey said, “Who knows?” as she walked away to let Jake in.

Sydney poured more coffee for the three of them preparing the question she wanted to ask Jake.

“Jake, who’s taking care of the ranch?”

 “Oh, I have a manager.”

 “Don’t you miss it?”

“Yea --- sure, but I’m enjoying myself more being here,” and he turned to look directly into Rey’s eyes. Rey looked surprised at that look and Sydney thought, “ Hummm, is there something going on here again that I don’t know about?”

 As Jake drove, he asked Rey about her loft. “Are you going to set it up again or sell it?”   

“I’m going to sell it Jake. Mom and I are going over next weekend to see what needs to be done in order to get it on the market.”

“Oh? What time of day do you think you’ll be there?”

Sydney replied, “We’ll go over early Jake. I have to go into the office Saturday afternoon and work Sunday. We have a special project opening up.”

Both Sydney and Rey were comfortable around Jake. The three of them were surprised that they had lingered over breakfast for three hours. When they got back to the house, Jake asked Rey if he could come in, he wanted to talk to her and the two of them went upstairs to Rey’s sitting room.

“Rey, I made a terrible mistake when we parted, I want you in my life, marry me,” Jake blurted out as soon as they entered the room. He turned to her and grabbed her hands in his.

“Jake, I’m ------ I------ I don’t know what to say,” she said.

“I love you Rey, say yes. We can make a good life together. We don’t have to spend all our time on the ranch. I realized what a selfish thing it was for me to expect that of you.”

Rey pulled away and moved towards a chair. “Jake, I was broken hearted when you broke it off but I dealt with that. I got over that and see you now as my dear friend.”

“I will court you, I will make plans with you, whatever you want. Let’s spend some time together and see what happens, OK?”

“Sure Jake, sure, we can give that some time,” she said, thinking this turn of events was really strange.


 The following Saturday, Rey was down on the floor in her loft looking at what appeared to be a leak under the sink in the kitchen when the door bell rang. Sydney went to the door and as she opened it she saw a flash of blond hair, an arm upraised and then the glint of the knife that plunged into her jaw as she staggered back in shock. The man then leaned in toward her and plunged the knife into her shoulder as she collapsed to the floor.

“Mom. -------------Mom, who is it? --------------Mom?” Rey called as she stood up and walked to the living room. She screamed as she saw her mother lying in a pool of blood. There was nothing in the loft, no towels, no sheets. Rey pulled off her t-shirt and pressed it to her mother’s wounds. She jumped up and rushed to her purse on the floor to get her phone and dialed 911 as she moved back to put pressure on the wounds. It seemed an eternity until three firefighters in big black boots, rattling equipment hanging from their belts, rushed into the open front door. Two bent to Sydney immediately. One lifted Rey and moved her back and put a silver thermal blanket around her. More emergency workers came and swiftly had Sydney on intravenous fluids while others treated her wounds. They soon had her on a gurney and Rey was calling, “Where are you taking her?”

In the hospital waiting room, Rey had been given green scrubs to replace her t-shirt; she still had her mother’s blood on her hands and arms. She couldn’t stop sobbing. Abby was there, holding her, her daughter Bethany was on her way and Abby had called Jake.


Sydney had many visitors during her stay at the hospital after she had gotten some relief from the pain. Flowers had filled the room. Even the private collector Mr. Widmere, whom Rey had worked with for years, came one day. He had called Rey to offer an assignment and she told him what had happened to her mother. He was a quiet, rather pale, thin young man, with blond hair. He had been known to drive across country to see something he was interested in, but he hated flying, so he had others looking for items he wanted both in the U S and abroad. He had been especially interested in a piece Rey had picked up for herself on one of her India trips. She had found a small Buddha that she bought for herself and he had lusted after that little Buddha ever since. He had even come to her loft a couple of times to insist she sell it to him.     

It had been a long month and there were weeks of recovery yet to come before the wires could be removed that held Sydney’s jaw closed and immobile. The stab wounds in her shoulder had healed nicely but Sydney would eventually need plastic surgery to her face. Rey entered the hospital room and cringed, once again, at how thin her mother was, but was excited. She was taking her mother home today. There was no excitement on Sydney’s face about going home. She had been through so much. Nurses helped Rey get her downstairs and into the car, Sydney was very weak. Somehow, Rey got her into the house once they got home.


Finally, after weeks of recovery, the wires were removed and Sydney could eat real food again. Both her weight and spirits improved and she began to take more part in company matters by phone. 

Rey and Jake were at the empty loft one afternoon inspecting the work that had been done to put it on the market when Detective Turrell called. “We have not been able to find a trace of evidence that might lead us to the assailant on your mother Rey. We have reached the end of our investigation.”


“I’m sorry. The case will stay open but the department will no longer be aggressively working it.”

“What about Antonio’s family?”

Rey had been shocked when Detective Turrell had told Rey those family members were far from the frail darlings she thought they were. He had discovered that Antonio and his “parents” were part of a large crime syndicate. He even thought there was a possibility they had sent someone after Rey for pressing charges and putting Antonio in jail and hit her mother instead.     

“Rey, I said maybe it was they who hired someone, but we have found nothing to tie them to the attack and we have no way to pursue that into Italy. We have nothing, zilch. I am so sorry. Call me if you or your mother remember anything. You have my number, right?”

 Rey threw the phone down as anger rushed through her body.

“How can I tell my poor mother this?”

Then she put her head in her hands and began to cry. Jake took her in his arms to comfort her.

After that call to Rey, Detective Turrell turned to walk away from his desk when his fellow co-worker in the department, Detective Bradley, walked up. “So you’re leaving the Hemberly case?"                                                                                                    

“Yea, and it’s a shame. Some killer is still out there.”

Detective Bradley said, “How about the woman’s collector employer? Maybe he was the blond attacker.”

“For a while we thought for sure he might be the one, because he was arrested at one time for theft of an item he wanted when the guy wouldn’t sell to him. He held that poor man and his family at gunpoint and took the piece. Did he come to the apartment prepared for violence if that’s what it took to get the little Budha Rey had that he wanted?”

“But I have nothing concrete to enable me to make an arrest of that guy. My bets are on her “friend” Jake who is trying to sell his ranch and if that doesn’t happen soon he will lose it. He needs money desperately. If he married Rey and something happened to her mother, well, she would inherit a fortune. I found out that Rey was no longer interested in marrying him, so maybe he thought if he got “mom” out of the picture Rey would turn to him for comfort and marry him and he would have access to the money he needs.

“Ummm, sounds like Sydney and Rey could still be targets. Revenge from Italy or a desperate boyfriend.”

“Frustrating” said Detective Turrell and the two men turned out the lights, closed the door and headed for the parking garage.


A light breeze blew fall colors across the road as Sydney drove from the church towards home after the wedding. Remembering the good times she had shared there with William and Rey she thought, “If only William was here to share this special day, Rey’s special day.”

Jake had pushed for a small affair right away, but of course Rey wanted her big dream wedding so planning had taken weeks.

Parked cars filled the neighborhood as she pulled into the driveway. She walked through the house and out the back door. Friends and family filled the huge white tent in the yard. Abby waived and motioned towards the bar where they met up. “How are you holding up?” she asked.

“It was all worth it Abby. To see Rey so happy, to think of her and Jake’s future ahead of them, all of the work it took to get to today, to this wedding. It was worth it.”

“Well you look great but please think about taking a rest. You have been through a lot these last few months.”

“I’ll go in next week for some final correctional surgery on my face but then Jake has insisted I come to his Texas ranch to recuperate. They will honeymoon in Hawaii for a couple of weeks then go to the ranch. Rey says Jake really wants me to join them there for a while.”  



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