Protecting Her Secret Son(95)

By: Regan Black

Cody found that fact odd. RMJ was expensive, exclusive and not usually involved in simple custody cases. It raised questions for which he had no answers. Unless this wasn’t a simple custody case.

As was protocol, if Viktoria or Gregory Mateev were found, he’d been instructed to report to local law enforcement and offer all information obtained and any assistance required.

The final document contained a known picture of Viktoria along with basic personal information. In it, a smiling Viktoria wore a tailored red blazer and gray silk blouse. A double strand of pearls hung around her neck. She had large brown eyes and perfectly straight chin-length blond hair. She was attractive in a very cosmopolitan kind of way—beautiful, really. And certainly, the woman in the picture bore a striking resemblance to the one in the traffic photo. Still, it was Cody’s job to be certain.

Alongside was a picture of Gregory Mateev, a family snapshot of a kid with a mop of dark hair, sitting on a beach with a bucket in his hand.

A short bio followed: Viktoria Mateev, age twenty-nine, was the wife and now widow of one Lucas Mateev. Viktoria was the custodial parent of the missing Gregory Mateev, age four. Residents of New York City—Manhattan, specifically—Viktoria was a stay-at-home mom and Lucas was listed as a medical sales representative. Or he had been until his death in July, the victim of a hit-and-run accident while crossing a New York City street.

Neither the driver nor the car that struck and killed Lucas was ever found. Alarm bells began clanging in Cody’s brain.

Cody returned to the original traffic picture, expanding it until it filled the screen. The woman’s hair was longer and now fell around her shoulders, but that was to be expected if she no longer had it cut regularly. The nose and lips were the same, but there were also differences. He studied her face, complexion—pallid, with dark smudges under her eyes and a tightened jaw. In a word, she looked haunted.

Or maybe hunted.

Without question, that was Viktoria Mateev in the photograph. Like the best Christmas present in the world, Cody had been gifted with a Mateev needing to be brought to justice. And this time would be different—this Mateev wouldn’t get away.

But to find out where she was now, he had to figure out where she’d been. The bottom of the photo had a small location and time stamp—Telluride: West Colorado Avenue/South First Street. 23 December, 1:32 p.m.

Cursing, he ripped his fleece cap from his head and threw it on the counter. More than two hours gone. If Viktoria Mateev was just passing through, she could very well be in New Mexico by now. Then in Mexico by tomorrow. He compressed the picture, examining the whole. The car was a late-model sedan, from an American manufacturer, gray and covered with dust.

The car was completely unremarkable, maybe even intentionally so. He examined the photo further. Strapped securely to the roof was a small pine tree. In the back seat, Cody could see the outline of a child.

No, Viktoria Mateev was not simply passing through Telluride. She was local, planning to celebrate Christmas with her son—and who knew who else. Maybe someone from the Mateev family?

Using her license plate number, Cody searched satellite images from earlier in the day and traced a route that led to a cabin tucked away in the foothills of the Rockies. The same car was parked in the drive. Another search gave him an address and the property’s owner. The cabin had been rented for the winter, and the current tenant’s name was not listed. Bingo.

Cody slipped his phone out of his pocket, then paused. For a moment, he thought about the significance of the date—December 23.

Casting his gaze at his refrigerator, he quickly glanced at the card his sister, Sarah, had sent—a family picture taken at Thanksgiving was attached with a magnet. On the bottom, next to the printed holiday greeting, was a note in Sarah’s loopy script inviting him to visit.

Memories of other holidays—some happy, some bittersweet—came to Cody. He blocked them all. He’d never been much for celebrating, but this year might be different. Would anything bring him more joy than bringing down a Mateev?

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