Crime analyst Cait Pepper finally finished clearing her desk Monday morning at the Columbus police station when the phone rang. She reached over a stack of case files and flipped on the speaker.
“Pepper,” she answered as she tucked a strand of her curly hair behind her right ear.
“Is this Caitlyn Tilson Pepper?” a soft male voice asked.
The use of her full name surprised her. “It is. How can I help you?”
“Ms. Pepper, my name is Stanton Lane. I’m Tasha Bening’s attorney. I’m sorry to inform you that your aunt has passed on. As Mrs. Bening’s sole heir, it’s imperative that you come to California immediately.”
Cait retrieved her most current case file. “I don’t have an aunt, Mr. Lane. You have the wrong person.” She was about to hang up when the man continued.
“But you are Caitlyn Tilson Pepper, born at Mount Carmel Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, thirty-five years ago?”
“Yes, but apparently not the one you’re looking for.” She flipped open the file she was about to hand over to one of their detectives.
“I understand Mrs. Bening’s sudden death has come as a shock, considering she’d been in excellent health—”
“I told you, Mr. Lane, I don’t have an aunt—”
He ignored her interruption and continued. “However, because of the substantial inheritance involved, decisions have to be made as quickly as possible. The Shakespeare festival she was deeply committed to is already scheduled and the actors are under contract.”
Shakespeare festival? Actors?
“Mr. Lane, you’re assuming I know what you’re talking about. I assure you I don’t. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
He cleared his throat. “I’m not only Mrs. Bening’s attorney, but a personal friend as well. Unfortunately, she told me only what she thought I needed to know to prepare her trust, not details about her relationship with you.” He paused. “There is a stipulation in the trust that you may find difficult to honor.”
Cait struggled to curb her growing annoyance. She didn’t need this just before her vacation.
“Mr. Lane,” she interrupted. “Apparently, you haven’t done your homework. It’s Mrs. Pepper. And I’m a crime analyst for the Columbus Police Department. You can stop trying to con me into believing I’ve inherited some bogus property in California.”
“I apologize,” he said. “I only meant to save us both time and—”
“As I said, I do not have an aunt. Good luck in finding the bona fide heir.”
Her finger was poised over the disconnect button when she heard him plead, “Wait, Mrs. Pepper. Please. I’ll fax a copy of the trust to you right now. I’ve taken the liberty of booking a flight for you. Your ticket is waiting at the American Airlines counter at the Columbus Airport for tomorrow’s flight to San Francisco. It leaves at twelve fifty-eight p.m. and arrives at SFO at five forty-five. I’ll meet you. So you’ll recognize me, I’ll be wearing a—”
“Let me guess. A single red rose tucked in your lapel? Spare me the drama. I’m not going to California tomorrow, next week, or next month.”
Cait pressed the speaker button and broke the connection. “Unbelievable,” she mumbled.
“What if it’s legit?”
Cait looked up and saw Detective Sergeant Shep Church grinning and leaning against the doorframe. Tall, trim, and almost every female’s dream date.
“And what if this elusive Aunt Tasha did leave you a bucket of money?” he continued. “You could retire and I could inherit your office.”
She shook her head. “In case you didn’t know, today is April Fool’s Day. That call was obviously a joke.”
The fax machine whined and papers began to spit out. Cait glanced over. “You’ve got to be kidding.” She stepped behind her desk and watched as the Lane & Lane Attorneys at Law letterhead spilled from the machine.
Shep walked over and sat on the edge of her desk. “As I said, what if it’s legit?”
“It’s someone’s idea of a joke, Shep. I’m not amused.”
He rose and bent over the emerging document. “I don’t know, Cait. Looks like the real thing. And the timing couldn’t be better. You’ve sold your house, cleared your calendar, and probably have nothing but a haircut and a manicure scheduled for the week.”
She rolled her eyes.
He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Free ticket to sunny California? With nothing to do but step off the plane, soak up some golden rays, and collect your inheritance?”
“The timing’s too damn convenient, don’t you think? I inherit a fortune just as I’m trying to put my life back together? Not likely.” She ignored the pages from the fax machine, handed him the file folder, and walked to the door. “What I do need is a cup of strong black coffee.”
He waved the fax over the shredder. “Sure you don’t want to read this? Looks like this so-called Tasha Tilson Bening person meant business when she named you her heir.”
Cait froze. “What did you say?” Before Shep could answer, she yanked the shiny paper from his hand and sat back down at her desk. “Tilson?” she mumbled as she scanned the fax. A chill ran down her spine.