Andrea Harding had gone to bed late in order to finish packing. Her graduation from Princeton, followed by a party with her family, had been two days ago, and she had put off packing long enough. Today—actually yesterday—she had finished packing and prepping her condominium in order to lease it out for the summer. She planned to spend a couple of weeks with her father, Nicholas Harding, and would then go to Europe for the summer before staring law school at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina that fall.
Andrea heard an incessant noise—Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”—and coming out of a deep sleep, recognized the ring tone of her iPhone docked in its iHome base.
Now at least semi-awake, Andrea reached out to pull the phone out of the dock. She also glanced at the time displayed on the iHome front screen and wondered who could be calling her at three o’clock in the morning.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Ms. Harding?” replied a firm sounding, but unrecognizable male voice.
“Yes, who is calling please?”
“Ms. Harding, are you awake?” the unknown, but commanding voice replied.
Andrea was now fully awake and beginning to become alarmed. Calls from strangers at three o’clock in the morning could not be a good thing.
“Yes,” she replied, “but I need to know who is calling.”
“This is Sergeant Thompson, New Jersey State Police, and Officer Harris. We are downstairs at your front door. It is important that we speak to you in person ma’am. Can you please come down? We have our identification to show you.”
Andrea was now awake, confused, and alarmed. Clearly, something very bad had happened. She immediately thought of her father, Nicholas, who lived in Florham Park, New Jersey.
“Why can’t you talk over the phone?” she asked.
“Please, ma’am, it’s very important that we speak in person, and it is urgent.”
Andrea jumped out of bed, pulled on jeans, a baggy sweatshirt, and sneakers. Before she left her second floor bedroom, she opened her nightstand drawer, and pushed aside her Walther PPK 9 mm to retrieve her Taser. Her dad and Uncle Michael had taught her that a young girl living alone could not be too careful and needed to be able to protect herself. She also looked out the front window and in fact saw a state police cruiser with alternating blue and red flashing lights on. That reassured her a tad that these guys were real.
Nicholas had purchased Andrea a three-bedroom condominium her freshman year at Princeton, figuring it would be a good investment for her later. Also being a very independent only child, Andrea was not the dorm or roommate type. Nicholas had asked her if she planned to look for a roommate to share the condo and she had just laughed and said, “Absolutely not!”
Andrea went downstairs to her front door and looked out the peephole. She saw two officers, one a tall male exuding ex-Marine, who she pegged as Sergeant Thompson, and the other a young, very professional looking woman who must have been Officer Harris. Both were immaculate in their New Jersey state trooper uniforms.
“I need to see identification,” she shouted through the door.
Both officers immediately held up their shields and credentials in small black leather folders for her to see through the peephole.
Andrea removed the safety chain, unlatched the deadbolt, opened the door, and stepped back. She had both hands in her back jeans pockets and one on her Taser, just in case.
Sergeant Thompson and Officer Harris removed their big trooper hats and stepped inside sweeping the room with their eyes, then closing the door behind them. “As I said on the phone, ma’am, I’m Sergeant Thompson and this is Officer Harris. We are with the New Jersey State Police.”
Officer Harris then started to speak. “I am afraid that we have some bad news for you, Ms. Harding. Your father, Nicholas Harding, has been hurt very badly. Is there someplace we can sit?”
Harris reached for Andrea’s elbow, but Andrea reflexively took a step back out of her reach. “What do you mean my father has been hurt? What the hell is going on here?”
“Perhaps it would be better if we sat down, Ms. Harding,” Officer Harris said.
“I do not want to sit. I want to know specifically what the hell is going on. Was there a car accident?”
Sergeant Thompson replied, “Ms. Harding, I’m very sorry to have to inform you that late yesterday evening, your father and his brother, Michael, were both shot. They are still alive, but both are in critical condition at Morristown Medical Center.
“The Morris County prosecutor, Kerry Marcus, dispatched us here to personally inform you and bring you to the hospital,” Harris continued.
Andrea gasped and raised her hands to her mouth in shock and horror. “Oh my God! Shot! There must be some mistake.”
Andrea now allowed Officer Harris to lead her to a chair in the living room as she started to cry softly.
“How badly are they hurt?” she asked.
“All we know is that they’re in critical condition and in surgery,” Harris replied.
Thompson said, “Ms. Harding, if you can grab some things, we’ll have you in Morristown in no time.”
Harris said, “I’ll explain as much as I can during the ride up. Why don’t you go upstairs, get a few things, and we’ll drive you to the hospital, OK? We will talk during the drive.”
Andrea, hating herself for letting these strangers see her cry, wiped her tears away. “Right. I just need to get my computer and some things.”
“Do you need some help, ma’am?” Harris asked.
“No. I won’t be long” she replied as she stood to go upstairs.
In her room, Andrea pulled out her everyday leather bag that doubled as a briefcase and large purse. Then she grabbed her wallet, cell phone, iPad, and MacBook laptop and chargers. She figured that anything else she’d get in Morristown, and she had plenty of clothes at her dad’s house in Florham Park. She pulled the Taser out of her back pocket and moved to put it back in the nightstand drawer, but then, as an afterthought, threw it into the bag as well.
The flashing lights outside her window pulled her back to the present. Everything seemed out of sync. A few hours ago, her life was perfect. She had a brand new BS in Economics from Princeton, plans to spend her summer traveling through Europe, and then was off to Duke Law School in the fall.
Now, after talking to the two state troopers, she felt like a meteor had crashed onto her world. The two people she loved more than anything on earth, her father and her Uncle Michael, shot. Who would want to shoot them? They had no enemies that she knew of.
Andrea quickly brushed her teeth, washed her face, tied back her hair, grabbed her bag and went downstairs for what she knew would be a long drive to whatever awaited her in Morristown.