In the spirit of the holidays, I thought Jo and some mischief would be fun.
I hope you enjoy the blog story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Rian bounced on the sectional as he passed Josephine her Christmas gift. She peered around at the faces of her friends and smiled. “Did you guys get me a gift certificate to a spa?”
She slid her finger under the flap of the envelope as Rian all but vibrated next to her.
Rhys chuckled from her left side. “You wouldn’t have the patience to sit still for an hour-long massage.”
“Maybe not if it was just me. But if you were with me and it was a couple’s massage? Hell, yeah.” Jo turned and stole a kiss from him.
“I’ll remember that for next time,” he said, gathering her into his side. “But this time, Rian and Arabelle picked the gift.”
More curious now, Jo dragged the card from the envelope and squinted. “Escape Room for four? What’s that?”
“Only the best thing ever,” Rian shouted with Arabelle nodding next to him.
Rhys laughed, his breath ghosted across. “I’ll explain later.”
“I can’t wait.” Jo grinned.
She didn’t remember much about the explanation Rhys gave her when they crawled into bed. Too distracted by his taste and heat as the spark between them ignited. And now, it was too late since she, Rian, and Arabelle were at the Escape Room building.
The name, Be Schooled in Escape, was ridiculous. Even though it looked like the event would be held in an old school building. Not that Jo could see much with all the blinking lights and flashing cell phones as the people around her took selfies and group photos.
Another car pulled into the parking lot, and Jo’s heart jumped, hoping it was Rhys. Instead, it sunk when she saw Karma step out.
Jo growled. What the heck was her half-sister doing here? Where was Rhys?
“Where’s Rhys, Karm?”
“He was called in and asked me to cover for him.”
Just then two squeals of joy pealed through the air as Arabelle and Rian spotted Karma. Giving in to the inevitable, Jo ushered her small group away from the crowd.
“I was hoping you’d get to come, Karma. You’ll help us rescue Santa faster than Rhys would. Wheneve–”
“Yeah, whenever he and Jo get together, it’s all mushy and not much solving stuff.” Arabelle talked over Rian just as excited.
Jo smacked Rian’s chest with the back of her hand and ruffled Arabelle’s hair. “That’s not entirely true. We eventually get around to the solving stuff.”
Before Rian could elaborate, several loud claps drew their attention and Arabelle bounced up and down. “It’s starting.”
She and Rian pushed in closer to hear the
man shouting out instructions.
Jo and Karma hung back letting the other groups go first. There were at least sixty people altogether. Decorations spilled across the front of the building. Candy canes, Christmas trees, and reindeer were on either side of the path that led indoors.
“Welcome to the Alabama substation of the North Pole….”
Jo tuned the man out while Rian and Arabelle hung on his every word. “You’re on call. Where’s your gun?”
“Hello, I’m on call which means I don’t have to be armed. My gun is in a lockbox in the trunk of my car.”
More clapping and shifting of bodies alerted Jo they were moving inside. She thought it’d only be her and her group, not sixty-odd people she didn’t know. Then they were inside, and different last names were called as the hosts broke the group up.
So much better.
The crowd dwindled until it was just Jo’s group as they made their way further into the refurbished school. Holiday decorations hung from the wall, ceiling, and around the door frames. Besides the decorations, the halls were barren except for lockers outside each room where people were placing their belongings.
Reaching the end of the hallway, the man who was leading their group turned with a flourish. “Welcome to the Be Schooled in Escape. I’m your escape master Michael. And this,” he waved his hand at a plain brown door. “Is the Escape Room: Santa’s Rescue. Do you all know how the Escape Room works?”
Rian and Arabelle’s head bobbed up and down as did Karma’s.
“No,” Jo answered.
Before he could explain Karma’s cell rang, and she excused herself to answer it. The man focused wholly on Jo. “Basically, you and your group are locked into this room for two hours.”
“Locked in? For two hours?”
“Two hours is because it’s two rooms. Everything is monitored in case you need to leave. We’d never actually lock you in. There are emergency buttons that release the locks, but if you hit them, then you’ve lost the game.”
“You have to find clues within the room that will allow you to open the far door to another room where Santa will be waiting. Then you have to find clues in there to free him so he can escape in time to deliver presents.”
Squeals from Arabelle and Rian. Jo was ambivalent but figured she’d treat the room like a crime scene and go from there.
“All cell phones and personal items need to remain outside the room.”
Arabelle and Rian immediately opened one of the lockers and put their phones in. Then they locked it and took the key. Jo shook her head. “My sister and I are cops we can’t be separated from our cells–”
“That’s fine. Just don’t use it to cheat on the clues.” Michael urged her to the door.
“Not that you’ll get good cell service in the rooms.”
Jo rolled her eyes. Just like a government building, even if it had been decommissioned.
Karma jogged up to them a puzzled expression on her face. “We’ve got a BOLO on a couple of jewel thieves.”
She held her cell up so Jo could get a look at the couple. The man was dressed in black pants and a nice blazer. The woman was more distinguishable with a silver clip in her hair, a black jacket with silver scrollwork woven through it and spiked polished silver and black heels.
“You gotta go?” Jo asked, expecting her sister to say yes.
“Nah, Maker said he and Abe would get the information and to go ahead with this. If they need me, they’ll call. It’s across town, so I doubt they’ll head anywhere close to where we are.”
Rian lifted his hand to turn the nob of the door. “Then we need to hurry–”
“Wait!” A harried-looking woman in a bright Christmas sweater that looked more orange than red raced to their side with a man and woman in tow. “Late arrivals. I was going to place them in one of the Medium Rescue rooms, but they have already started. Can they join your group?”
“Sure,” Rian said before Jo could say No.
Her gut clenched as the couple placed their items in the locker and joined them. Something about them pinged Jo’s radar. They didn’t look like trouble.
The woman dressed in a black dress, black stockings with spiky black and silver heels. She carried a black jacket. Her brown hair in a loose knot at the back of her head. The man was in a gray blazer paired with black jeans and a black turtleneck. As if they’d just come from a Christmas party. But why would they come here? As nice as they were dressed, why not a restaurant or a bar?
Rian’s tug on her arm pulled her from her study. “Come on, Jo. We only have two hours to save Santa.”
Huffing, because she hated when she couldn’t slot someone in their proper place, she followed Rian into the Escape Room.
It was a typical schoolroom. More sparsely furnished than a used one. The room held a teacher’s desk, six student desks, cubbyholes in the back, and two large bookcases. Behind the teacher’s desk was a whiteboard as well as two locked storage cabinets.
Rian and Arabelle raced in with the couple heading for the storage cabinets and began searching for clues. Jo and Karma followed more slowly, taking everything in at a glance. The snick of a lock engaging behind them set Jo’s teeth on edge until she saw the red button next to the light switch. At least they had a way out in case of an emergency.
Karma leaned in with a frown. “Where are the guards?”
Confused, Jo faced her sister. “Guards?”
“Yeah, the ones we fight to reach the hostages then escape.”
“We don’t fight people. We solve puzzles and open that door over there.” Jo pointed to the other plain door at the back corner of the room.
“Oh, I can take care of that without puzzles.” Karma held something out.
Jo gasped. “Put that away. What are you doing with those lockpicks? You know those are illegal in several states.”
“Not in Alabama. Besides, I heard Escape Room, and I brought them with me just in case.” Karma tucked them back into her back pocket. “Heck, Jenna placed once in the Netherlands locking picking championship.”
“Thieves and killers. Karm, they have got to get rehabilitated.” Jo pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Meh. They only steal when it’s
Jo snorted. It wasn’t legal, but as all their kills happened on foreign soil, Jo had no say in it. Arabelle’s and Rian’s squeal jolted her out of her thoughts. “I don’t think this Escape room is quite the same as Joseph’s escape rooms.”
“Ultimately, they’re all the same, and Dad runs us through Escape scenarios all the time.”
“That makes me feel so much better. A hitman teaching escape techniques.”
“He’s not a hitman, but his escape scenarios are close to real life.” Karma headed for the bookcases. Jo followed her. They took the books down only to find cardboard cutouts made to look like books, and they found a folded piece of paper behind it.
Father Time clicks down while Santa is nowhere to be found in the sky.
Opening the pages, Jo chuckled. “Looks like we need to check the clock.”
Karma dragged the teacher’s chair to the wall and climbed on it to reach the clock. But there was nothing there. She lifted to put it back, but Jo stopped her.
“It’s got marks on the numbers.”
Karma squinted at the clock. “I missed that.”
They gave the numbers to the group who tried each of the locks around the room. Karma pointed to the clock. “Try the numbers the way the hands of the clock would move.
“Woot! Thanks, Karma that worked,” Rian called opening the storage cabinet behind the teacher’s desk. He pulled out some rolled up map with Santa flying across it. Time zones scrolled across it and major cities in each country.
“Oh, Rian, the cities and countries would go with the clue back here,” Arabelle said from one of the cubbies in the back.
Jo nudged Karma. “That couple.”
“Yeah? Do they look like someone you know?”
“No, someone I’ve arrested.”
“I doubt that. Her shoes are Ferragamo. I know because Jenna and Juliette are clothes and shoes whores.”
“I think that’s supposed to be a clothes horse.”
“That’s just weird to say horse. What’s that even got to do with clothes?” Karma scrunched up her nose and shook her head. “Anyway, the dress and his clothes are the same. Top shelf brand. The way it moves and clings it speaks of money. Same with the man.”
“Jo, we’ve got the combination for the second room,” Rian called from the back.
“How can it be that easy?” Karma grumbled.
“Good thing it is because we’ve not done squat. And as it was supposed to be mainly for the kids, Rhys urged Rian and Arabelle to get the easy one by saying I’ve never participated in one of these games.”
They walked into the next room to find an art room with a similar setup to the first only with a person impersonating Santa locked in the teacher’s chair. Each cuff had a combination lock on it.
Arabelle and Rian took off toward the art supplies on the table at the far end of the room. While the couple headed for the cubbyholes. The woman stumbled and immediately lifted her leg to check her shoe, and Jo froze when she saw the heel slip away from the sole. Ferragamo’s did not have a heel that separated from the sole unless it was broken.
“Jo, Karma. We’ve got a clue, but it’s weird,” Arabelle said holding a piece of cardboard aloft.
Jo let Karma go help them while she turned to the storage cabinet and saw it was unlocked. Opening it, she checked that the couple was busy while she pulled her phone from her jacket pocket. Those shoes were distinctive.
Opening the BOLO, she stifled the need to yell in triumph. The woman wasn’t wearing the silver clip, and the jacket was black. Jo laid her phone down before heading to where the couple was.
She bumped into the woman. “Oh, sorry.”
“It’s fine.” The woman turned to the man.
“Oh what a gorgeous jacket. Can I see it?”
The woman clutched the jacket closer.
“Sure, hon just let her see it.” The man nodded as if to urge the woman.
The woman unfolded the material and shook it. Jo saw then the woman had turned it inside out. After turning it right side out the beautiful silver scrollwork throughout the midnight material, this was two matches to the BOLO. Jo wished she could set eyes on the jewels, but those could be in the locker or purse. Except if she were a thief she’d want to keep the gems on her.
“Here’s another clue,” the man crowed putting it with the other paper on the student desk.
Jo headed back to the cabinet and rifled through the shelf as if looking for another clue. “Hey, Karm can you come help me. I think I spilled some of the paint.”
Jo checked Rian and Arabelle who were busy putting the clues together.
Karma came up and slapped Jo on the back. “Made a mess, did ya’.”
Jo laughed, but there was no humor as her gaze tangled with Karma’s. Pointing into the cabinet, she lifted her cell a bit. Whispering, she showed Karma the picture of the BOLO.
“Yeah, sucky pic with how they kept their faces averted–”
“Quit looking at their faces. That’s what
I was doing. Look at the woman’s jacket and all the silver.”
Jo enlarged the picture to shoe the custom-made stiletto heels in polished silver.
“Son of a–” Karma’s hand reached for her gun which wasn’t there. “Dammit, no gun.”
“Rian and Arabelle are here. Not to mention Santa and a lot of other innocent people. We need to do this without guns.” Jo checked her cell to see if she could send a 911 text, but there was no reception in this room. She should’ve done it in the previous room. Glancing up, she saw the door between rooms was already shut and probably locked. It would be suspicious if she went back to that room and might tip the perps off.
“We should just jump them–”
“And if they have real guns?”
“Dammit.” Karma dropped her head into her hand. “What do we do?”
“Rescue Santa and use his restraints on them?” Jo couldn’t come up with a better plan given the limited resources they had.
Karma grinned. “I like that plan.”
“Good because I’ll need a distraction so we can take those two without any casualties if they do have weapons.”
“Oh, I have something in mind.” Karma patted her pocket, her grin turning feral.
Jo’s gaze narrowed on her sister. She wouldn’t put it past Karma to have stashed C4 or some other explosive material. “What do you have?”
“You’re such a drag.” Karma rolled her eyes, but she finally caved and said, “I confiscated some fireworks off a couple of teenagers in the parking lot. They were going to use them to scare their Escape room group.”
Satisfied, Jo nodded. “No big explosions.”
Karma huffed. “Yes, Mom.”
Satisfied Jo turned to help get Santa out of the cuffs so they could use them on their suspects. No way was there a jacket and shoes that distinctive on two women in one night within ten miles of each other. Especially, not matching the height and weight of the woman as well as the black dress and on the arm of a man that was similar to their suspect.
Jo didn’t believe in coincidences anymore than she believed in Santa or his flying reindeer.
It took another twenty minutes before they had all the clues and another fifteen minutes before she had three of the four cuffs open. Tipping her chin to Karma, she began entering the last combination ready to drag Santa down and out of the way in case their suspects were armed. Arabelle and Rian were next to her hidden by the desk.
Just as she clicked the lock, everyone was focused on her and missed Karma at the art supply cabinet. The boom was small but effective in the enclosed space as paint sprayed across the wall. Everyone fell to the ground.
Jo pointed to Arabelle and Santa. “You all stay down, Ri.”
He nodded sharply and tucked Arabelle behind him, his eyes rounded in shock.
“You two stay down, or I might get nervous and hurt you,” Karma ordered the well-dressed couple. “Jo! Quit coddling the kids they know what the hell to do. Get over here and cuff them!”
Jo rolled to her feet. A few snaps and she had the couple secured. While she searched them, Karma Mirandized them.
The man looked at the woman and snarled. “This is all your fault. You should’ve worn something less flashy. I told you that.”
“If you hadn’t hurried me we’d have gotten away without anyone seeing us. But no, you had to leave–”
“Because that female jeweler I slept with recognized me.”
“You two can seriously shut the hell up anytime now,” Karma stated sharply.
The door behind them swung open, and their escape master released a startled shout behind them.
“Michael, calm down. I need you to–” Jo was cutoff.
She grinned broadly and peeked over her shoulder from her second pat down. “Rhys, hon. Hey, can you call Maker and Abe? Tell them we have their BOLO couple.”
Rhys took his cell from his jacket pocket and stepped from the room.
Karma never looked away from the couple. “Did you find the jewels or whatever?”
Jo shook her head. “Maybe they stuffed them in their car or the locker.”
“They didn’t bring a car. They came by cab.” The woman who had added them to Jo’s group said from the doorway.
“I want you to stand in the hall with Michael and make sure everyone leaves safely,” Jo suggested to the female escape master. The woman nodded and raced off.
“Always some adventure, Jo.”
“Shut it, Rhys. This always happens when you’re not with me. It’s like I’m cursed with bad juju.”
“Or maybe the universe balancing itself. By keeping Rian and me safe and providing you with someone who can help in these situations. It’s why you run into trouble when you have a member of your team with you,” Rhys chimed in.
“You say tomato, I say next time your ass is coming with us, or we’re rescheduling.”
Rhys chuckled. “Whatever you think is best. Rian, you and Arabelle come out in the hallway.”
“Can Santa come too?” Arabelle asked.
Rhys snorted, cleared his throat, and answered, “Yes, bring Santa too.” His gaze tangled with Jo’s again when she rolled her eyes at him. “Only you would arrest people with two kids and Santa.”
“Dammit! They don’t have the stones anywhere on them,” Karma snarled.
The man sprawled on the ground smirked. Jo knew the jewels had to be on the couple. They wouldn’t have left them somewhere in the open and not easily accessible. It dawned on her what she’d seen hadn’t been her imagination.
Her gaze darted to the silver shoes. “I bet we’re going to find them any second, Karm.”
Jo touched the shoes, and the woman shouted and kicked out. They were on the right track, Jo could feel it. Snatching the strappy heels off the perp’s feet, Jo examined the heel. Her fingers traced the slide, and Jo grinned. The heel turned, then slid open. Tipping the heel over Karma’s cupped hand, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires poured into Karma’s palm. Gorgeous.
“The kids are both safe and sound chatting it up with Santa. Regaling him about your many exploits,” Rhys teased. “I should be thanked for saving them, right?”
“I’ll definitely thank you for that just as soon as we get these two processed.” Jo winked at Rhys.
Karma took over watching the two on the ground, and Jo stepped into Rhys’s arms.
“No mushy stuff just yet, boys and girls.” Maker stepped into the room.
Jo flipped him off and gave Rhys a kiss. He stepped away. “I’ll be at home waiting.”
That’s all she ever wanted. Every Christmas to come spent with Rhys snuggling in front of the fire while drinking hot chocolate and breathing him in.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year