I canceled my reservation with the resort, and we returned to the road. Driving back to my house was out of the question; the agents monitoring her microphone would have traced the area as her last location and would likely have the place swarmed. Instead, she asked me to drive to La Jolla. During the drive, Cassiopeia talked about everything: the high-tech surveillance inside the office, how most of the agents had never seen Zachary Jupiter face-to-face and only dealt with his cavalcade of right-hand men and women. Except her, of course. She had more access to him than anyone.
“Do the other agents know he’s your father?” I asked.
“No, but a few of them know that I’ve been inside the inner sanctum on the 28th floor. His private office. Which means the popular rumor among the ranks is that I’m one of Jupiter’s girlfriends.” I listened to her softly laugh at the silly rumor and eventually joined her.
Around 3 that afternoon, we pulled up to the gate of the La Jolla Sun Condominiums. I keyed in in the code that Cassiopeia gave me, after which she directed me toward the fourth building from the entrance. Before entering the building, we took Jack Russell for a walk around the complex.
“Who lives here?” I asked her.
She smiled at me. “My mother.”
“Mom, this is Elliot Percy,” Cassiopeia explained when her mother opened the front door. “Elliot, meet Laura Benson, my mother.”
“Please, come in,” Laura replied after shaking my hand. She was tall and graceful like her daughter; not one wrinkle marked her dark brown skin. She looked more like her older sister than Cassiopeia’s mother.
We entered a spacious, bright living room. I immediately noticed the photos on the walls. They were photos of Cassiopeia throughout various stages of her life; from the curly-haired girl in elementary school with the shy smile, to the grinning young woman standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe, her arms wide open, to the confident, strong woman standing before me today. My heart swelled. I couldn’t really comprehend how seeing like her this, normal and happy throughout her life, infused me. Laura caught my eye and regarded me knowingly, her eyes gleaming. The women in this family certainly knew how to read me. She then guided us toward the dining area, where we sat.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Elliott. It’s nice to finally meet you in person,” Laura said.
She’d heard a lot about me?
“Oh, my daughter talks about you all the time,” Laura continued, as if she’d heard my silent question. “Would your friend over there like a treat? I dog-sit for some of my neighbors here and there, so I have plenty.”
My dog’s ears perked at the sound of “treat.” Minutes later, after I gave him plenty of treats to fill his belly, Jack Russell padded away towards the corner and occupied himself with chewing on a dog bone.
“So, what happened? What did your father do?” Laura asked matter-of-factly when I returned to the dining area.
“Nothing yet. I destroyed my microphone, so I’m sure the alarm has been sounded,” Cassiopeia said.
“He won’t harm her,” Laura said, looking at me. “But he will do everything to make her miserable. He refuses to let her go. As if he doesn’t have a roomful of children with other women.” Disgust crossed her youthful face. “I’ll never understand that Zachary Jupiter. Why he chooses to control my child is beyond me.”
“Because he loves you the most, Miss Laura. Pretty obvious to me.”
I turned around at the sound of this new voice. (Jack Russell was too busy with his bone to notice.)
Crew Cut leaned against the front door.