Part 4: Cagney and
Lacey: Restitution--- Dark Shadows in the Land of Dreams
by Lorraine Ann Balint
PART FIFTEEN--- THURSDAY, APRIL 20 (B)
There was barely time for Michael and his mother to talk when Harvey was rushed into the emergency room, except for the disturbing knowledge that, though Amy had obviously been hinting about this turn of events, Alice had NOT been brought to her hateful former Principal's personal domain. Amy was now unresponsive anyway, the sun having finally come up. Unless a treatment could be devised to revive her, questions would HAVE to wait until dusk.
Christine, duly authorized by Mary Beth, had already set the wheels of the new investigation into Alice's disappearance into motion, as well as the excavation of David Collins's body from the ruins of the caretaker's cottage. The arrival at the hospital of the devastated Collins family, including Elliot, who tenderly assisted his mother into the waiting room, while little Hannah Louise helped her weeping grandfather navigate his electric wheelchair, dispelled any further suspicions that the young man had anything to do with Alice's abduction.
At first, Mary Beth could not face the family of the innocent decoy whose trust she felt she had betrayed by listening to that damned electronic know-it-all. "Set up--- we were ALL set up!" she'd raged to Christine. Maybe the owner of the electronic voice had jerry-rigged the cottage, injured her cops, masterminded the kidnapping.... There was NO telling in this Hell called Collinsport!
"Mary Beth, while we're waiting for
Doctor Heard to check Harvey, you know you HAVE to face Hallie,"
Christine said as gently as she could. "She's just lost her husband....
It's possible you may lose yours.... Both your family and poor Elliot are also
devastated over what happened to Alice. It's a harsh thing to say, but as far
as loss goes, your families are running neck-and-neck. I have a feeling this
isn't going to be as difficult as you believe it will be." She walked her
friend to where the Collinses huddled at the opposite
end of the waiting room. Hallie, who signalled to
her son to help her up, stood as straight as she could, her belly accusingly in the faces of the Sheriff and her partner, her normally serene face streaked with tears. Her greying straw-blonde hair was in two neat plaits framing her heartbroken expression. Brunhilde, about to jump into her husband's funeral pyre, baby and all.
"Mrs. Collins--- Hallie--- Ma'am," Mary Beth began in confusion. At first, she thought, this woman could have been my first REAL Collinsport friend, compensation for the fact that Christine would necessarily be absent from the Laceys' daily lives most of the time. A loving wife and doting mother, just like Mary Beth had always fancied herself, even though the Collinses were far wealthier than Christine's family, something that had always stood in the way of complete understanding with the trusted, but childless, single partner. Mothers tended to band together. And now, I've destroyed THAT dream, the Sheriff mourned. This sweet, saintly woman was now just another victim's widow to be dealt horrible facts when she was in one of the worst conditions to receive them, and as the Sheriff, Mary Beth would just have to force herself to act as a professional, or SHE would collapse under the weight of these facts. As the cottage had collapsed....
"Mrs. Collins," Mary Beth said quietly, "I know you probably won't accept this apology now, but I am TRULY sorry for what happened to your husband while he was in my custody. I take full responsibility for the dangerous situation that robbed you of a fine husband and father--- and Mr. Collins---" she gazed at Roger, hunched in his wheelchair--- "I will regret to my dying day, sir, that my actions have deprived you of your only child." I regret killing your only child.... Wasn't that the gist of what she had said, in her halting high-school Spanish, to the Gonsalvez parents when they gathered up the bleeding body of THEIR only son, Renaldo, just 12 years old but tall for his age, shot because he'd just robbed a convenience store, using a toy gun, and fled with a few dollars, a pocket-full of junk food, and a package of fresh caps for the fake weapon?
Mary Beth remembered that her partner back then, a man, told her off for making such a foolish, self-incriminating statement. But at the time, she had little Harvey Junior at home, and was feeling the first stirrings of the pregnancy that was to produce Michael, and her own mother was dying, and the sight of the pain in the faces of those parents was too much, too much.... It HAD worked out, she was cleared of any possible charges of irresponsible action, and the parents had gone on record as saying they understood the policewoman thought she had no choice in the matter. Their son HAD been firing his cap gun as he ran away, and the reports from the shots, echoing through the narrow alley, certainly SOUNDED like the real thing.
No such consolation was to be had for THIS misjudgment, not from THIS grief-stricken parent, anyway. "You HATED my son," Roger, suddenly full of the energy conferred by bottomless outrage, snapped. "He gave you the opportunity of a lifetime, and how did you repay it? By arresting him on trumped-up charges, and coercing him into helping your insane scheme. Now my poor daughter-in-law will have to raise EIGHT children alone.... Assuming she survives the bearing of this last one, thanks to the debilitation of grief!. Then, dear God, what shall I do, in that terrible event? What shall I do without my son? My David.... If you only knew, how hard it was for us to get along when he was little, and how I had to almost lose him several times before I realized how much I loved him.... And now, he's TRULY lost.... My little boy.... Lost ...." Just as suddenly, the outrage gave way to choking sobs. Hannah patted his shoulder, though she, too, was sniffling for her Daddy. Roger took her small hand, kissed it, rubbed it against his own tear-stained face.
"It was an accident, Mr. Collins," Mary Beth argued feebly. "If Amy hadn't chosen to hide out in such a rickety building...."
"She PUSHED him into the beam that collapsed!" Christine explained urgently. "Though I doubt KILLING him was her intention, she did it to escape from US---"
"I have a hard time believing Amy could DO such things," Roger said, shaking his head. "She was such a GOOD little girl, a gentle young woman, bitter about her brother's death and David's jilting her, true, but she could NOT have thought up all this devilry. It was surely, surely, the work of a malignant spirit, something we Collinses have ALWAYS had to fight against, for over 300 years.... Something YOU, Miss Cagney, and this APPALLING excuse for a Sheriff will NEVER understand! Ah, if only David had listened to me! 'Pick Job Woodard!' I urged. 'The spirits will stay dormant another generation, because Job is one of our own.' Instead, he MUST have an outsider."
"That was MY doing, Roger," Hallie wept. "I BEGGED David to consider Mary Beth, even out of better-qualified female candidates. Even our unborn baby would not relax until he consented to give her a try. At first I believed it was for the best, because it DID give Willie a family, in spite of the bad things going on. God forgive me, I even believed David should be used to attract Amy--- but within the secure confines of the JAIL, or some other safe setting. All I knew was that they were taking him to the cemetery, really not a BAD choice, but to allow him into a condemned building---!"
"We didn't know, we didn't know!" Mary Beth lost what shred of control she had left. "We're babes in the woods around here--- JOB warned me---"
"Warned BOTH of us," Christine added. "There's a sneaky mouse, or RAT, rather, who knows the ins and outs of every dirty little secret of the Collinses, the Laceys, even the Cagneys! People who had NO known connection until a few weeks ago, when a peculiar chain of events was set in motion by the death of one very eccentric billionaire . And now, this malevolent individual, or spirit, or ambience, has claimed two more victims--- Alice, as you know, has been abducted, Harvey's nearly dead---"
"If at least ONE of them dies, it will be restitution," Roger hissed viciously. His daughter-in-law and grandchildren gasped. Mary Beth now wept openly, and tottered away, to collapse in a chair. Her son knelt by her and held her, but couldn't check his mother's sobs.
"THAT remark, Mr. Collins, was COMPLETELY uncalled-for, I don't give a DAMN how bad you feel about losing your son!" Christine stalked over to comfort her friend. She had as little success as Michael.
"Roger, that WAS atrocious," Hallie scolded. "I KNOW it's just your sorrow and your illness talking, but You'll HAVE to apolo--- Roger? ROGER, what's happened to you?" She stared into her father-in-law's eyes. There was an odd light in them, an ugly glint of evil glee. THIS wasn't Roger's way, Hallie knew. Sure, he would snap at people, occasionally make them uncomfortable, but deliberate cruelty? Perhaps he'd had his moments in his younger days--- David had shared with his wife, as much of what he could recall of his unhappy childhood--- but in the 30 years Hallie had been living under the Collins roof, she had seen nothing but Roger's constant efforts to treat his son and, in fact, everyone in his orbit, with tolerance, good humor, and a brisk, unsentimental, but genuine, kindness. Whatever was animating her father-in-law now, Hallie firmly believed, was the very insinuating rat-like spirit Christine had credited Job with predicting.
The odd light left Roger's eyes, and he was an ordinary grief-wracked parent again. "WHAT did I say, daughter-in-law?" he asked in genuine puzzlement. "I do believe I have really injured the Sheriff's feelings. I WILL have to make up for it somehow. Hallie, do you recall how Amy behaved right after old George Patterson came to tell us about what he had to do to Christopher? She nearly beat him up! Not that I blamed her all that much, she was just a miserable little adolescent who had just lost the last blood member of her immediate family, but she DID vow revenge. I just wrote it off, as I'm sure George did. And we lucked out, she seemed to snap out of it in the course of one day. But the point is, somehow I'm behaving just as badly, and I haven't the excuse of youth."
"Maybe you needn't make excuses, Roger.
Perhaps something out of your control prized that terrible statement up from
your subconscious, and added some embellishments. In any case, I guess we
shouldn't blame Mary Beth or Christine all that much. They were taking a risk
with David, but I'm SURE they calculated the odds. That shaky beam was a
wildcard they just didn't count on. But,
God...." Hallie cried and clutched her middle, "It's going to be SO hard. I counted on David being with me when this little one was born. He missed a couple of the last ones, being on business trips and all."
"WE'LL be with you, Mother," Elliot spoke at last. "Hannah and myself. And all the others will be coming home, for the funeral, I guess...." His voice trailed to a teary whisper.
"Yes, sweetheart. We'll just have to take care of each other, like we always do." Hallie now observed Dr. Heard and Harvey's regular cardiologist, a Dr. Mehta, approaching the group on the other side of the waiting room. She moved closer to hear Harvey's prognosis. Now, she wept anew--- for someone else's imminent loss.
Dr. Mehta, his small dark face mournful, said, "I'm so terribly sorry, Sheriff--Mrs. Lacey. Another by-pass would be useless, and he'd likely die on the table. As it is, he's in extremis. I KNOW what has just happened to your family, and I also know that your other son and your brother-in-law are both far away, and may not get here in time.... But I'm afraid there's little to do now, except say good-bye while you can."
"There's NOTHING you can do?" Mary Beth pleaded. "You're just going to give up? You're NOT going to stop medicating him, maybe he'll snap out of it somehow---"
Now Dr. Heard spoke. "Mrs. Lacey, we'll keep him as comfortable as possible until the end, but trying to force stimulation of his heart now would only bring him suffering, and rob him of what little time he HAS. We are sorrier than you will ever know." The doctor made that odd, nervous gesture again, scratching his neck in the same place. "There IS something we've discovered, however, you SHOULD know about this--- There are two fang-like bitemarks on HIS throat."
Michael said, "I must have missed those when I was trying to do the CPR. So I guess Amy got to him, too, maybe that made his heart weaker."
Dr. Mehta replied, "No doubt. And Harvey WAS missing a couple of pints' worth. We DID transfuse him when he was first brought in, with some of the X-factor blood we still have on hand."
"Then, maybe," Mary Beth said with renewed hope, "the new blood MIGHT do something for him, turn the tide for my husband?"
The Indian doctor shook his head. "I doubt it. It may keep him going for a while. But his heart is basically gone."
"Dr. Mehta, Dr. Heard...." Hallie now spoke up. "If Harvey CAN be made to rally somehow, what about a heart transplant?" All heads turned and stared at the pregnant widow in amazement.
"Mrs. Collins, didn't you hear me before?" Dr. Mehta shook his head. "We can't even do a by-pass--- it will induce the inevitable just that much sooner. A transplant would be outright butchery, to be blunt. Not that we have the resources to do it in this hospital in any case. And even if we DID, it's a bit late to search for a suitable donor. This is the sort of procedure that takes weeks, if not MONTHS, to plan, assuming the patient lasts that long!"
"My late husband had a "donor" designation on his driver's license," Hallie insisted stubbornly. "If his--his body can be brought back here within a reasonable amount of time, you could test him for compatibility. He and Harvey ARE related, so there's a CHANCE.... Then you could air-lift them both to the big hospital in Augusta. I would pay for everything."
"Hallie, you CAN'T do that---" Roger choked, then looked guiltily at the Sheriff and the doctors. "I'm sorry, she IS David's wife, I suppose she can do whatever she thinks best." His head sunk to his chest.
"Mrs. Collins," Mary Beth said, "I THINK I understand what you're trying to do here...."
"Yes, I don't want BOTH of us to have to lose a husband due to what Amy did," Hallie sobbed quietly.
"But there's no point, like the doctors say, it seems my Harvey will end up dead no matter what. Still, Hallie, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your husband's last words, in fact, most of his conversation in the last hour of his life, was about YOU, ma'am. About his appreciation for your character, your advice...."
"I guess not ALL my advice was good...." Hallie sank into a vinyl sofa.
Mary Beth sat next to her and took her hand.
"David accepted his own responsibility for all the problems with Amy. He
said he should have made her leave town a long time ago. And he didn't hold
anything against you for your suggestions--- it wasn't YOU who told us to take
him to Eagle Hill, anyway. Some damned anonymous informant.... But anyway, Hallie, he told me to let you know, he sent his love to you
and the 'last Collins heir'--" Now BOTH women broke down, and embraced,
though crying noisily.
This went on until a nurse came in, and
whispered to Dr. Heard, who then announced, "It seems that Mr. Collins
has-- has finally been brought to the hospital. Hallie---
Roger--- I don't know if you should
Hallie rose with difficulty, but without assistance. "I
will go. Roger, I don't think you should, until
he's-- he's laid out properly." Her father-in-law looked as though he would protest, but Hannah squeezed his hand. The old man closed his eyes, and slumped further into his chair.
Elliot joined his mother, over her protests. "No, Elliot, you should try to remember your father as he was the last time you saw him alive!"
"No, Mother. I'm the oldest son, and I think Grandfather will better accept not seeing Father right now, if he knows I'm going in his stead." At this, Roger sat up a little straighter, and gazed upon his grandson with pride.
Mary Beth said, "I'll go, too, ma'am, it's my responsibility---"
Hallie replied, "No, Mary Beth, you go to your own husband."
"I'll accompany them," Christine offered. "You just take your time with Harvey, pump him up a bit.... Maybe all is not lost." She and Elliot supported the heavily-pregnant widow, both hoping that the sight of the deceased David wouldn't have deleterious consequences on the birth of his last child, due any day now.
Mary Beth followed Dr. Mehta up to a plain hospital room, where Harvey had been moved when his preliminary examination was over. The sick man had an oxygen apparatus in his nostrils, an IV attached to his arm, a sensor on his chest, and small machines to monitor his intake, heartbeat, and pulse/oxygen level, but that was all. A single nurse was checking the numbers, and left him as soon as the others had entered the room.
"I see you HAVE given up on him," the heartbroken wife said. "Otherwise, he'd be in Intensive Care with the works."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Lacey, but he IS receiving all the medication and attention due his current condition. Did you really WANT him to spend his last hours hooked up to all kinds of machines?"
"Only until I was completely convinced these WERE Harvey's last hours!" Mary Beth hurried to her husband's side, and grabbed both his hands, to which she pressed her lips, then laid her head against his chest. "His heart seems to be knocking out a steady beat," she said with a tiny hope.
"Well, if it changes in any way, alert the nurse. Again, I'm sorry, Mrs. Lacey." Dr. Mehta left the room. Mary Beth heard a commotion outside, and a familiar voice--- apparently Dr. Mehta had run into that oddball Dr. Lang, who sounded excited about something, and who peeked, briefly, into Harvey's room. Mary Beth nodded at him, and turned back toward her husband.
"Harvey, I know you can hear me.... but do you know I'm here?" Mary Beth said softly. Harvey's eyes opened briefly, glanced at her in seeming recognition, then shut again. His wife was surprised at the expression in them. There had been a furtive look in those eyes, almost GUILTY. How strange. It wasn't his fault that someone had managed to kidnap Alice right out from under his nose--- the perverted scum who'd murdered Polly Klaas took her out of a house full of people, including her girlfriends and her own mother. A little girl in Connecticut had been removed, literally, from her mother's side, and the murderer, a friend of the family, had tiptoed over a roomful of fellow vagabonds sleeping on the living-room floor. So yes, it COULD happen.
"Harvey? Please wake up for a minute or two, sweetheart. I just wanted to say, I'm sorry about all the things I said earlier. It really doesn't matter, whatever happened when you were out. I know it you weren't to blame, and even if you were, I just want you to get well--- me and Mike and--and Alice---" (Mary Beth thought it better not to mention the kidnapping, in case Harvey had temporarily forgotten it; the stress would impede his recovery.) "Mike's trying to get in touch with Harvey Junior, and your brother Carl---"
"Carl.... Saw Carl," Harvey muttered.
"Oh, Harv," his spouse said brightly to conceal her anxiety, "we haven't seen Carl and his tribe since Christmas."
"Saw Carl.... Collins.... maus--maus--"
"Now, Harvey, how COULD you have seen Carl Collins?" Mary Beth said in a panicked tone. "He died over 40 years before you were born." He's having a final hallucination, she thought wildly. And what's this about.... "A MOUSE, honey? Where did you see a mouse?"
Harvey's eyes filled with tears. "Amy. Saw AMY. She hurt me---"
"Yes, Harvey, we KNOW that. And like I said, it's okay, it wasn't your fault. If I'd taken a few minutes to check you over earlier, none of this would have happened. Please, sweetheart, try to forgive ME," Mary Beth sobbed.
"No, forgive.... please forgive.... Alice? Where's Alice?" Harvey tried to sit up. His wife tried to hold him down.
"Alice is--- is HOME, Harvey," his wife lied bravely. "We'll bring her here as soon as---"
"Alice! Alice!!" Harvey wept. "All my fault.... Willie.... Where is WILLIE?"
"Harvey, calm down, PLEASE, honey. Christine will check up on Willie for you. He had just gotten home to the Old House before she left there. You don't think he had anything to do with--with--" Mary Beth stopped herself before she said "Alice's kidnapping", though it was clear that her husband was now cognizant of the incident. She pressed the nurses' call button, and the nurse who had been in the room earlier rushed in, followed by Dr. Mehta, Dr. Heard, and Dr. Lang. Harvey fell back onto the pillows, gasping and blue in the face.
Mary Beth backed into a corner. She heard the doctors arguing quietly. "It's the ONLY hope," Lang said.
"It won't work, we discussed this with his wife earlier," Heard said. "It's unfortunate, but these things DO happen. Besides, where the Hell have YOU been the last day or so, Conrad?" he asked angrily. "Are you even UP to what you're suggesting?"
Mehta said, "Look, if you REALLY think there's a chance, we'll get him on a Medi-Lift 'copter to Augusta, and THEIR surgeons can give it their best shot."
Lang said, stubbornly, "I hope there's time enough.... The compatibility tests look promising, but you two dawdled around, and there may be NO time---"
Heard sounded defeated. "You win, Conrad. If Mrs. Lacey consents, you and Mehta get downstairs STAT, and harvest the organ. God knows, it would be hard enough for ME, who knew David most of his life...."
Lang said, "That's the trouble. Sometimes we have to forget WHAT, or WHO we know, in order to make progress." He glanced at Mary Beth and tried to look reassuring
Dr. Heard huddled next to the Sheriff, and said, "Your husband will probably pass away within a couple of hours, but, in spite of all the evidence, my colleagues there believe a transplant IS viable. Mrs. Collins is still eager to try, and will pay the freight. So, it's YOUR call, Mary Beth. Now or never."
"What did you THINK I was going to say? If Harvey dies anyway, at least I'll be able to say it wasn't for lack of trying. Though how I would EVER make it up to Hallie.... I've refused loans from other friends in the past. But what else can I do? One chance, that's what I ask...."
"If it works at all, Mrs. Lacey, Harvey's not going to spring back to life and all its joys. He will need constant follow-up exams, a stream of expensive anti-rejection medications with their own set of side effects, and will have lifelong physical and even mental deficits from the distress he's suffered."
"He'll be ALIVE. We'll have
grandchildren soon. Maybe that will lift his spirits, even if Alice isn't---
Please, Dr. Heard, if just one other doctor is saying Harvey might survive,
that's good enough for me. I couldn't bear to lose BOTH my husband AND my
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine, angry as she was at Officer Rooney for his part in the disaster at the Caretaker's cottage, had no choice but to accept his assistance on the call to the Old House. She had a hard time believing WILLIE might have had something to do with Alice's abduction, but it WAS in his history, and he HAD acted strangely when he'd arrived home earlier. Barnabas had, too, but perhaps, it was because he knew Willie so well, he suspected something was up with his houseman.
Still, she wouldn't have acted on a mere
intuition, based on ancient history. It was the testimony of Mark Wilkins, the
very same helpful passer-by who'd reported the peeping-Tom incident involving
Willie and Vicki Shaw almost 2 weeks ago. Now it seemed like a hundred years
ago, and, of course,
it had, since, been learned that Willie's intentions in that instance WERE honorable, even if his actions were somewhat bizarre. But tonight, if what Wilkins said proved to be true, there was NO such excuse.
"It was pretty dark, but it sure looked like Willie to me," Wilkins bleated breathlessly. He was a tall, thin, greying-blond of about 50, with a thin, whiny voice, but unshakeable in his insistence on this identification.
"What are you? Willie's guardian angel, following him in the wee hours of the morning?" Christine snorted.
"NO! I live around the corner from the Laceys--- I have to go down their street to reach the main road, which also happens to take me past the Shaw house. Ain't MY fault Loomis still likes to go prowling the same time I have to get to work in the middle of the night!"
"Alright, alright, what did you see? And when?"
"'Twas about 2 A.M. I had to head in early--- I'm one of the maintenance crew, and got a call that one of the canning machines was out of whack. They had a rush order and they needed that machine, and it was my turn to be johnny-on-the-spot, so.... Anyway, I'm taking the corner off my street, and onto the Laceys's, and there I almost run into this guy jumping into a big, dark sedan--- he wasn't wearin' a mask or anything, so I could see him plain."
"Never occurred to you to stop and ask why he was outside the Lacey house at 2 A.M., did it?"
"Ma'am, YOU come from New York City. YOU would know, better than myself, how dangerous it is to ask ANYONE about their doings when they're out that time of the night, even if you've known them most of your life, like I know Willie. Besides, he's probably still pissed off that I got him arrested the last time. No tellin' what he might do, then."
"I suppose you're right," Christine sighed. "Well, we'll take a ride to the Old House, properly prepared, of course, and see what Willie has to say about this."
"Just don't tell him it was ME who reported him, ma'am."
"I wouldn't dream of it--- until the trial, anyway."
So, there Christine was, with Bob Rooney, on the steps of the Old House, which gleamed in the morning sun. While they waited for someone to answer their rings, their knocks, and, finally, their poundings at the door, Christine wondered if the other officers were making progress in locating ANY sign of what had happened to Alice. If THIS lead doesn't pan out, she thought dismally, what am I going to tell Mary Beth? Her friend was forced to wait at the hospital with her son, in agonizing suspense over both her husband's and daughter's fates. Dr. Lang had more or less bullied Dr. Mehta and Dr. Heard into allowing him to supervise the risky, even fool-hardy transplant, and Michael had to be on hand with what little more blood he could provide. But, based on the expertise with which he had saved Job Woodard, Lang WAS their last, best hope in the absence of the extra assistance and equipment that would have been available in Augusta. And if, God forbid, Harvey WAS to pass away, Mary Beth surely could not have borne it if he was so far away--- she would have HAD to stay behind in Collinsport for Alice....
It's divide-and-conquer, all right, Christine mused. Still no answer at the door, though Barnabas's Silver Cadillac and Jeremy's powder-blue Passat were parked right near the garage. Perhaps Barnabas had gone for a walk beneath the cliffs, but why was Jeremy still home, and why wasn't HE answering the door? And where was Willie's old black Lincoln? Obviously THAT would be the "big dark sedan" in question.
It was clear that nobody would answer the door. "Let's have a look around, and then try one more time," Christine suggested. She and Rooney cautiously explored the grounds around the Old House, then circled it closely. She passed right under Willie's bedroom windows, which were, thanks to the lay of the land, just above her head, though it was on the ground floor. One of the windows had a massive air-conditioner permanently mounted into one window, with brackets for support and a vinyl cover to keep out the drafts in winter. The other window was boarded up, the barrier nailed tight.
"Bob, this is a little peculiar--- A boarded-up window on a room in use. Let's go in." Christine thought it would be easier to force a way in from the back--- there was just a plain door that led onto the veranda from the kitchen. As it was locked, she gave it a mighty kick, but it wouldn't budge. Rooney added the necessary force, and it came unstuck.
First, they fanned through the house. Neither Barnabas or Jeremy were there. The cellar door was heavily padlocked. Christine thought it might be worth getting a warrant to search down there, but in the meantime, she had to investigate Willie's room. It, too, was locked on the outside. "He wouldn't be so DUMB as to keep Alice in there, but you never know," Christine commented grimly, as she and Rooney shot the lock off the door. They were astonished to find WILLIE, covered with blood and bruises, huddled in a corner of the room, dozing fitfully, though his abused face showed signs of copious crying. When Christine shook him, he appeared delirious, and felt feverish. "Where's Barnabas?" he asked fearfully.
"BARNABAS? HE didn't do this to you, DID he, Willie?" Christine asked in consternation.
"Don't know, don't know, don't know," he babbled in reply. "I've been in here all night. Could I go pee? I've been holding out all night, and it hurts," he added, plaintively.
"Sure, umm.... Bob, let's escort Mr. Loomis to the lavatory." While Willie was inside, Christine said, "He's been in there ALL NIGHT? He came in around 10 P.M.or so, while I was here, and Barnabas locked him in his room all night? Why would he do such a thing?"
"Well, if Loomis has been locked in that room all night, with that AC in the way, and the boarded-up window, it's a safe bet he WASN'T out at 2 A.M. Wilkins must've made a mistake."
"But--But---" Christine sputtered--- "The man seems to be an absolute OWL when it comes to recognizing people in the dark! How many Willie-look-alikes ARE there in this miserable town?"
"Only one I know of, and YOU, too," Rooney said, shaking his head. "But it's just too--too crazy a thought."
A chill ran down Christine's back. "You're right, of course, Bob. That IS too crazy a thought. Impossible."
"Well.... SOME things aren't impossible.... Not around here.... What you need to do is talk to Amy."
"Amy. Yes. I will talk to Amy. And we'll
tell the Sheriff we need a warrant to get into that cellar, not to mention a
crowbar.... But we WON'T mention our, um, crazy thoughts to her, WILL we, Bob?
Your big mouth has cost us a LOT so far---"
"Point taken, Ma'am. I'll never live down what happened to poor Mr. Collins as it is."
When Willie emerged from the bathroom after what must have been the longest urination of his life, Christine put a reassuring arm around him, and said, "We're going to take a little trip to the hospital to have you checked out, and so you can answer a few questions for us."
At this, Willie panicked, and tried to run away, but was so dizzy and weak that Christine and Rooney were able to grab him easily. "I didn't KILL him, I DIDN'T, I SWEAR! I LOVED him!" he cried.
"Killed WHO?" the others shouted in unison.
"BARNABAS? JEREMY?" Christine yelped in panic. Perhaps THIS is why he had been locked up---
"HARVEY!. Harvey is DEAD!. And it's ALL my fault," Willie blubbered. "Even though--- even though--- " Suddenly he collected himself. "You mean, you don't---don't KNOW? Oh, JESUS---"
Christine became stern, as stern as Barnabas. "Willie, shut up for a minute, and LISTEN. Harvey, at least as of a half-hour ago, is NOT dead. He had a terrible heart attack, it's true, and he MIGHT die, but how could you have known this? And, before you answer--- your rights---"
Rooney recited them, but Willie cut him off. "Who cares about my rights?" the miserable houseman moaned. "I tricked Harvey. He TRUSTED me. I brought him someplace where he might die and--- and he did! BARNABAS said so! Did you and the Sheriff find Harvey that way? Barnabas said he made sure Harvey would be found."
"Barnabas?" Christine whispered. Suddenly, Barnabas's peculiar, guilt-stricken behavior earlier made sense. But Harvey had apparently recovered, and got home somehow on his own, before he suffered the REAL "Big One." So Barnabas panicked.... made a mistake.... it was negligent, even callous, but surely not deliberate--- Willie himself confirmed it.
"It just happened that way. Harvey fell down, and Barnabas thought he was dead. But it's all my fault," Willie insisted. "I was supposed to take care of Harvey, but SHE told me to trick him."
"Who, Willie?" Rooney urged. He shot Christine a meaningful look. "D'you notice, Miss Cagney? There's a bit more blood on Willie's collar than on his face or anywhere."
Christine gently undid Willie's collar button, and saw the marks. "My God," she gasped. "Well, now we know who Amy's other little helper was. Willie, I know you say you've been cooped up in that room, but for how long? Did Amy get you to do anything else before you were locked up? Or did she somehow help you escape for a while to do something terrible for her?"
"What else is there? I tried to fix her hiding place for her. And then, I made my cousin, my really best friend that I EVER had, sick enough to die. That's what Amy wanted, to get even with the Sheriff. To hurt her in the WORST possible way. I know why she hated Sheriff Patterson, but I don't know why she's so mean to the Laceys.... And how did she know about Jason?"
"JASON!" Christine shouted. "Jason McGuire! His name keeps coming up, over and over, in this mess.... and yet, he MUST be dead, or at least stuck in an old-age home somewhere...."
Willie shook his head. "He was a rotten scum who knew how to get people to do rotten things for him. Someone like that--- dies, but the rotten-ness is still around, waiting to get dug up, and spread like the dust off a mushroom." At that point, he quietly said, "Please take me to the doctor. And can I go see Vicki after?"
In the police car, Willie fell into a fitful doze. Christine whispered to Rooney, "Bob, you believe in ghosts?"
"Until this all started, Miss Cagney, I'd'a said 'No', but the evidence seems to be pointing that way. My folks had some hairy stories to tell, and I kind of remember the doings of 30 years back."
"Bob, if you wanted to hurt someone in the WORST possible way, how would you do it?"
"I guess the first thing would be to work through whoever that someone trusted more than anyone else in the world.... but we're getting into crazy thoughts again, Ma'am."
"NOT so crazy, after all. But keep a lid
on it until we make sure there's NO mistake."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mary Beth literally pounced on poor Willie the instant Christine and Bob Rooney led him into the Emergency room. When she heard the gist of his "confession", she buzzed and buzzed at him like a gadfly ("You're absolutely certain there was NO way for you to leave that room once Barnabas locked you in?") until she was convinced he told everything he knew. He sat in a daze of shock when she asked him point-blank about Alice's whereabouts, whimpering nonsensically that whoever had taken her, must have taken Vicki as well. Sedatives alone did not work on him until Vicki herself came to the hospital. When the young woman heard about Harvey's situation, she immediately offered her blood.
In spite of her gratitude, Mary Beth had to question Vicki anyway--- where was Jeremy? "We broke off our engagement the other day, and I haven't seen him since," the young teacher said in a straightforward manner.
"Right after you got that mysterious bite, Miss Shaw," the Sheriff observed.
"That had NOTHING to do with it! And how is this relevant to poor Alice's kidnapping, and what happened to my father and your husband?"
"Well, it's like a drug ring, Miss Shaw. There's drug dealers, of course there's plenty of those, but they get their supply from some central source, through channels. Amy was like a drug dealer, all over the place, supplying all these men with red-hot thrills for the price of a mouthfull or two of their blood. But she wasn't born that way--- this only happened in the last two weeks. If young Dr. Collins attacked you, he, too, may be just a conduit for this syndrome. We have to find the source of the affliction. I'm not afraid to say that I suspect your former fiance's father, though as for motive, well, that's a mystery. Barnabas was a very sick man once, and may be having a relapse. The taking of my child may be part of this illness. Like Amy, he seems capable of convincing people to act out of character. Your own father is an example.... And they WERE both implicated in your mother's kidnapping---"
"Nothing was EVER proven, and now my mother and I both rely on Dad--Uncle Willie."
"Willie put my husband, his own first
cousin, into a situation, about which he won't go into detail, which started
the chain of events that led to Alice's abduction, and might lead to Harvey's
death. He MUST know something, he WAS seen, and his car.... And neither JEREMY
nor Barnabas have been
around.... If you should hear from Jeremy, or if you could pry the tiniest clue from your father---"
"How could Uncle Willie be in two places at once, Sheriff Lacey? A man can't be locked up in a sealed bedroom, and on your street at the same time!"
"How else to explain it?" Mary Beth was getting a sensation of deep, nauseating unease down in her gut. STOP IT, she told herself, what a RIDICULOUS, HIDEOUS idea.... Oh God, Harv, please let that Dr. Lang or Dr. Mehta come out soon to say the surgery is a success.... Because I need to find out why you looked so guilty, why you said everything was your fault....CAN'T BE....
In the meantime, Christine sat with the unconscious Amy. There was a new, strange-looking sack of medication hung up on her IV tree, flowing through several tubes to her arms, neck, and under the blanket to one of her thighs. The liquid in the sack looked like plasma with odd bits of glitter suspended in it. "What IS that?" Christine said to Nurse Craig, who came in to check all the monitors and tubes.
"It's a new medication Dr. Lang ordered. A Dr. Bertrand brought it--- his assistant, it seems."
"Doesn't look like something the FDA's approved."
"It isn't. It's a desperate measure for a desperate situation. At least, that's what Dr. Bertrand called it."
"Think it will wake her up? Or, cure her progeria?"
"How can one cure a sickness for which there's no known cause?" Nurse Craig shrugged. "Well, it isn't killing her, at least. The monitors are no better, but they're no worse."
After the nurse had left, Christine signalled to the officer waiting outside the room. "If you see me nod off, Ted, run in here and give me a good shake!" Then, to keep her mind busy, she began to ruminate on the possible cause of Amy's aging. She thinks she's a vampire, drinking all that blood's supposed to keep one young, like that horrible Hungarian countess Bathory.... At least, it isn't supposed to make one old in a DAY! And that blood from Harvey and Willie.... Their blood had the X-factor, it's supposed to HEAL, isn't it? ISN'T it? Well, maybe.... if Amy had been partaking of just ONE of them.... But TWO old men with the blood protein? Could be, the two bloods would have overwhelmed each other, and had the opposite effect? Then, of course, in order to become YOUNGER, one would have to have the X-factor from younger people. Made perfect sense.
Christine really began to wonder just what the new medicine was composed of. At that moment, the officer outside announced that a doctor was coming in. She stared up at the newcomer, a darkly handsome, solidly-built man of about 50, wearing a typical white doctor's coat and the shiniest shoes she'd ever seen on anyone except a cop or soldier in dress uniform.
"I'm Dr. Bertrand," the stranger said. He had a slight accent, one Christine would have recognized anywhere.
For some reason, she thought it worth commenting on. "Irish. And yet 'Bertrand' isn't exactly an Irish surname."
"I am, on my dear mother's side, of course! And I was raised there--- County Cork. But what has this to do with Miss Jennings, yonder?"
"I'm---I'm not sure." Cork, Cork--- There WAS someone Christine's father, Charlie, had told her was born in County Cork--- couldn't put her finger on it. HER people, the Cagneys, came from County Kildare. "Forget it," Christine said. "You're the one who brought Miss Jennings the medicine, right?"
"Ah, that I did. Dear Dr. Lang worked all of the last day or so on it--- it just needed some extra fine-tuning before it was suitable for Miss Jennings."
"Tell me, does it have any X-factor blood in it?"
"Some corpuscles culled and strained through the pineal gland of one very dead Timothy A. Samwell."
Christine began to shiver. What did the late billionaire have to do with THIS? Something was fishy here. "Tell me, Dr. Bertrand, from which donors was the X-factor collected? Michael Lacey and Vicki Shaw, or Harvey Lacey and Willie Loomis?"
"Ah, dear little Christine, you ask too many questions---"
"HOW do YOU know my first name?" Christine rose, and pulled out her gun. "TED," she barked, "Get in here NOW. I think we have an impostor---" She drew a bead on "Bertrand", and pressed the nurses' buzzer. "Nurse Craig, notify Dr. Heard, and get in here ASAP. Miss Jennings is being POISONED!" The other officer came in, his own weapon drawn, followed closely by the nurse.
Ted was pulling out a set of handcuffs, and was almost upon the smooth-talking stranger, when the latter shouted, "A pox on the both of these worthless whores! The stupid SLUT on the bed, and the bleach-blonde old DRUNK with the gun! Just like her dear old Dad!" Suddenly, there was a dark puff of nasty-smelling smoke, and by the time it had cleared, the so-called "doctor" had vanished. Nurse Craig stifled her coughs in order to flick all the IV needles from Amy's veins. She called for help to move the sick woman's bed, but the instant a couple of orderlies entered the room, it took them a minute to control their gagging on the sulfurous fumes their respirator masks couldn't filter out!
In the meantime, Ted and Christine pounded each other's backs as they spewed out the bad air. Ted WAS able to choke out a call for hospital security, but apparently the phony doctor had gotten away undetected. Mary Beth, looking haggard, came in, and hacked her way to Amy's bedside. "I just got a call from Quentin Collins," she said. "He's bringing in the REAL Dr. Bertrand, a WOMAN, first name Allarice, with the REAL medication for Amy. I can tell you one thing, whatever that bastard tried to do, had a boomerang effect on Willie. He was sick as a dog just now. I can only hope it hasn't interfered with Harvey's surgery." She gazed down at Amy. "How the Hell did you guess that joker wasn't for real?"
"No reason--- I was just thinking about how Amy could have aged like that. I figured the logical thing was that she'd taken an overdose of tired old blood from the two cousins. Then this 'Bertrand' in his shiney shoes showed up out of the blue and started broguing away about being from County Cork, but wouldn't give a straight answer about the medication.... Which he mentioned was processed from some gland from Timothy Samwell! Then he starts in, calling me by my FIRST name, and mentioned my DAD--- Mary Beth, if I didn't know any better.... JASON McGUIRE was born in County Cork! This guy looked just like some of the old mug shots and newspaper clippings Charlie used to show me! I don't know how it could be HIM--- maybe Jason DID have a son back in Ireland, and now he's on the prowl. Unless there's still a chance it's Joe Haskell---"
Mary Beth shook her head sadly. "No, we can scratch him off the suspects list. I finally got a call forwarded to me by Judge Garner. He was just informed that Haskell died from complications of the flu, yesterday morning. The landlord had been out making the funeral arrangements. It seems that his body will be brought back to Collinsport for burial in the family plot."
"You know, I'm truly sorry to hear that. Poor guy had a tragic life, and he wasn't much older than ourselves.... Well, at least he was spared the shame of being a suspect in this case. But now we're back to where we started." Barnabas.... and if not Willie, then---- perish the thought!
When Quentin arrived with Allarice Bertrand, they were both frisked by the officer outside the door of Amy's new room, and their I.D's were double-checked. "Well, it's come to that at last," he said sadly. "We're all suspects! Even this doctor---"
"Can't be helped, Mr. C.," Ted said. "An impostor doctor tried to slip some poison to your cousin. Lab just said so. He was a slippery eel of a guy, with an Irish accent."
Dr. Bertrand appeared very interested at this, though she fumed at the indignity of being felt up and down by the too-eager hands of the officer. "Ireland, eh? Amy's never been to Ireland, has she, Quentin?"
"No, she's never been out of the country at all. I've only heard of one Irishman who's ever done harm to our family, and from what I understand, he's, very probably, long since shuffled off this mortal coil--- some time before anyone at Collinwood ever HEARD of Amy--- or myself."
"Well, trust me, Quentin, from this moment forward, NOBODY like that will EVER interfere with your cousin's treatment again" At this, the doctor's eyes became as cold and hard-looking as they could possibly be under the brown contacts, and her pretty, dimpled chin thrust forward, her lips set in fierce determination.
At that moment, Quentin was almost unbearably reminded of someone he once knew, a woman who would brook no interference with her plans, and with the power to see them through. And yet.... how could it be.... Angelique? Reincarnated? As a PHYSICIAN--- albeit in a very peculiar specialty? The irony of it--- that the witch should have been reborn as a healer, like her former rival Julia Hoffman.... The real test would come if she should express a desire to meet Jeremy Collin's father, or if they bumped into Barnabas himself in town. God forbid, Quentin thought. And God forbid, if this really WAS Angelique, formerly known as Cassandra Blair Collins, that she should get angry at her new admirer, Conrad Lang, as she had been directly responsible for his uncle's death. "At LEAST, Lord," Quentin prayed, "keep her under control until the crisis at hand is over!"
As Dr. Bertrand set up her own medicines and instructed Nurse Craig, she asked, "IS Conrad--- I mean Dr. Lang, on duty today?"
Nurse Craig nodded and sighed. "But he won't be available for hours. He's in surgery, very complex emergency surgery. I suppose I can tell you, since this will likely be in the news, successful or not. Dr. Lang, assisted by Dr. Mehta, is performing Seamen's Memorial Hospital's first HEART transplant!"
Quentin gasped. "Heart transplant! My God, and Conrad was on his feet for hours already, preparing this medication!"
"Yes, but that's our Dr. Lang for you," the nurse shrugged. "Wouldn't take 'no!' for an answer, and after the way he repaired Job Woodard, it really was Mr. Lacey's only chance!"
"HARVEY LACEY?!?!" Quentin nearly shouted, then looked at his reposing great-grand-daughter. An instinct he could not have explained told him that Amy was somehow involved in this fresh tragedy.
"Oh, it's a long story," the nurse sighed. "I take it you didn't hear about your cousin David, either?"
Now Dr. Bertrand gave a start. "What---what about David Collins?" Her voice had a shaky edge. Impossible that anything about David Collins should rattle a woman who'd never met the man, Quentin thought, but if she had once been his stepmother.... And had acquired the capacity for guilt over the way she'd treated the boy....
"He's dead---- terrible accident over at the old Hinckley place when they were trying to catch Amy. You and Mr. Collins will have to ask the Sheriff or Miss Cagney or that loose-lipped Bob Rooney. Anyway, Mrs. Collins agreed to donate her husband's heart to poor Mr. Lacey, but if he survives, it'll be a plain miracle!"
"Well, somebody had better make sure that he DOES," Dr. Bertrand said with grim determination. "We can't have the same thing happen as it did with Amy."
"It's going to be hard to keep him going, in any case," Nurse Craig shook her head sadly. "Surely, you didn't also hear the news about poor young Alice Lacey being kidnapped, right out from under her father's nose--- So to speak. And her brother's! It brought the attack on, that's my understanding. At first they thought poor old Willie did it, but he was apparently in a bad way himself, and locked in his room the whole time, nobody knows why that happened. Everything's at sixes and sevens---- just like it was 30 and more years ago."
Dr. Bertrand, though her face crumpled with dismay, competently checked and re-checked the I.V. tubes, whispering to herself all the while. She seemed to say the word, "new man," and "karma" under her breath, but Quentin, himself shaken by the nurse's news, didn't comprehend the references. "I'm going down to find out how the surgery is progressing, anyway. Quentin, stay here and watch Amy with the nurse. The color already seems to be coming back to her face. And have no fear, this time the cure is real and will stand." The ash-blonde doctor turned to walk out of the room, when she nearly bumped into Christine Cagney.
"Doctor Bertrand, I PRESUME---" Christine choked out. What's an exquisite uber-model type like THIS doing, being a DOCTOR? the non-feminist side of her brain demanded.
"Yes, I AM," the petite physician replied evenly. "YOU seem familiar---"
"Can't imagine how that could be, unless you lived in New York City and kept track of news about the police and the District Attorney. I'm Christine Cagney. My face WAS featured once or twice, but only on the law-abiding, law-enforcing side. And now I'm here to help the Sheriff, my former partner---"
"Yes. Interesting. Who'd have thought you'd end up working together---" Dr. Bertrand cut herself off, and blushed. "Sorry. I was thinking of someone else. Someone I knew long ago."
Christine WAS taken aback--- now that she thought about it, there WAS something familiar about this woman. In a vague way, this Dr. Bertrand--- "Please, call me Allarice!"--- reminded Christine of her own mother, as pretty, blonde, and dainty, refined, and seemingly born to demand, if not command. And maybe, further back, in the reaches of a memory she knew she SHOULDN'T have--- wasn't she once friends with someone like this, or had TRIED to be friends with someone like this---- was rebuffed somehow? .... She shook off the odd thought.
Obviously, THIS Dr. Bertrand was as wierd in her own way as the Dr. Bertrand wanna-be. Allarice HAD to be, given what was known about her regular occupation. Cryogenics, frozen parents and that Samwell, for God's sake! Christine could only hope the medicine THIS one had brought would be of more benefit than the poison-laced witches' brew it replaced. "If you're new to Collinsport and haven't been to New York, I can't imagine whom you could possibly know, outside of the few you've already met."
"Every turn brings me a face that seems familiar. It gives one a feeling of belonging, does it not?" For a moment, Allarice's and Christine's eyes locked and held--- the contacts on the doctor's eyes seemed to vanish, and large aquamarine orbs probed the small, dark blue eyes of the former policewoman. Christine was at first afraid----she had never been hypnotized and didn't want to find out, at this late date and in this manner, whether it was even possible. "The REAL curse of the Collinses," the eyes told her. "They destroy those whom they love, yet nobody is able to stop loving the Collinses. And the Collinses can't stop loving and destroying each other. This curse was upon them at the very beginning.... long before I came."
"Who are you, really?" Christine's mind asked. "And what about the Laceys? They are also Collinses, but they never destroyed each other until they came HERE!"
"The final power rests with them.... and you."
"They have no power! And I---"
"You hold Barnabas's heart in your hands."
Christine's mind swirled. "He HAS no heart! Harvey needs a heart because of him! He's broken too many hearts! He's broken MINE!"
"Find Jason, and you will know the truth. This is YOUR destiny."
Then the aquamarine dissolved, and the brown eyes Christine now beheld were full of compassion! For some reason she glanced at her watch, but instinctively knew that, at most, only a few seconds had passed.
Dr. Bertrand said, briskly, "Well, I'd best be getting down to find out more about what's happening to the Sheriff's unfortunate husband. I know the doctor who's doing the surgery. Conrad Lang helped develop the new medicine, you know. The nurse or Quentin here will inform me at moment's notice if there's a great change in Amy's condition." She trotted out of the room, and moved so quickly, Christine couldn't hear her footsteps after she rounded the corner.
Quentin stood by Christine and looked at Amy. "This is the REAL curse of the Collinses," he murmurred. "They destroy those whom they love, yet nobody seems able to stop loving the Collinses. And the Collinses can't stop loving and destroying each other."
Chrsitine gasped. "Where did you hear THAT?"
"Why.... I can't quite recall. I think it's something a Gypsy woman said to me once." Magda Rakoszi, his former sister-in-law who had cursed him and his seed, and lived to regret it, for in doing so, she had cursed those of her own blood, including poor Amy here. They had met one last time in Budapest, shortly before Magda's death, after enduring 40 years of guilt and loneliness as everyone she had ever cared for perished or vanished from her life, due to their unlikely connection to the Collinses. Quentin had just confessed one last, atrocious pecadillo to the only woman who really knew him, and this was her verdict. "I wrote it down, and told a friend about it," he now told Christine. "She laughed at its truth." Angelique, who had also, unaccountably, re-appeared in his life one last time as she boomeranged through time and space. "Where could YOU have heard it?"
"I can't--- I can't remember either. Maybe it's just the logical conclusion to thoughts I've been having about your family since I arrived here."
"Especially Barnabas, I'll wager. Well, you'll have to follow the implied advice. Beware of the Collinses. Including me, I suppose."
"And the Laceys? They're Collinses---"
"Harvey, like Willie, was Carl Collins's begetting, so to speak. Carl was the Collins with the least natural malice of the lot, I believe. Born to be victims rather than perpetrators. Even Willie, I'm told, was a rather inept criminal while he was at it, and look at him now! And Hallie's brood.... The Stokes connection saved our sorry hides through generations. God knows why!" Quentin stopped--- he heard a tiny sigh from Amy. She was stirring, and opening her eyes, just a crack, but--- "We should get Allarice to come back---"
Nurse Craig went out to page Dr. Bertrand.
Amy was whispering, "Damn you, Jason! Damn you.... Harvey--"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Dr. Bertrand immediately found the Sheriff. At first, she headed straight for the vinyl couch where the broken Mary Beth huddled with her son. It was Allarice's intention to murmur some conventional words of comfort and assurance, and then gauge the degree to which Mary Beth resembled someone else she had once known in another time, though in a place not so far from here. However, Allarice stopped short. She sensed the presence of an Interloper. No time for sentimentality now! She whirled on her heel, and ran toward the elevator that went down to Surgery, leaving a mildly bewildered Sheriff and Michael Lacey to be confounded by her action.
"That's Dr. Bertrand, " Michael said. "I remember her from when I designed and came up here to build the Cryogenics place."
"YOU"VE been up here before?" Mary Beth exclaimed. "Why didn't you ever tell me about it?"
"It was just part of my job. That was
months before you and Dad and--and--- who knew you'd end up here?
I guess I would have said something under normal circumstances, and taken you and Dad to see the place, but these haven't been normal circumstances. Not by a long shot." He sighed painfully.
"Well.... Let's try to keep distracted for a minute.... When you first met this Doc Bertrand, did she seem, you know, basically sensible? She looked awfully flighty just a minute ago. Confused, almost."
"Oh, she was VERY lucid, Mom.... Really, in total control. Like Queen Elizabeth the First, or Catherine the Great. Knew JUST what she wanted. With an instinct about the right thing to do in an emergency. And, please don't tell Iris this, but she WAS one of the most beautiful women I'd ever met. A guy would have a hard time getting someone like THAT off his mind...."
Just then, they heard the page for Dr. Bertrand, peculiarly-garbled as all such announcements tended to be, whether they were heard in a hospital, an airport, or the local fast-food restaurant. Nurse Craig herself came running from the direction of Amy's room. "Amy's recovering, she's coming to!" the nurse told the Sheriff. "She even mentioned your husband's name!"
Mary Beth rose, shaking. The moment of truth was going to come from Amy, it seemed. "Does she appear to be in any condition for questioning?" the Sheriff asked, her voice trembling.
"I'm not really sure--- she was also saying the name 'Jason'--- who is HE? Mr. Collins was of the opinion that she's still 'out of it.' In any case, Dr. Bertrand asked to be informed the instant there was a change. SHE would be the best judge of Amy's state, short of Dr. Lang, I suppose."
"Jason, so my partner, Ms. Cagney believes, is the name, or alias, of the fake doctor who tried to poison Miss Jennings earlier. Before his escape, he DID imply that they had a prior connection. Maybe they were plotting these incidents all along, but I NEED to get some kind of statement from Amy. It might be my daughter's only hope!"
"You'll still require the go-ahead from Dr. Bertrand. You must have had to wait on a doctor's judgment before, Sheriff."
"Of course." Mary Beth, much as she dreaded the interview with
Amy, visibly fidgetted at the necessary delay.
She thanked God Christine would be present, to lend her courage in the face of the revelation she feared.
Michael said, "Well, she was just here, we thought she was going to talk to us--- maybe about Amy, but she dashed off to the elevator just as she came near. I think it was going down."
"To SURGERY? I know she was impatient to consult Dr. Lang, but
he's surely deep in--in the process of helping Mr. Lacey," the nurse said
tactfully. "Well, I'll call down there."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The surgery, up until then, was going surprisingly well, even more quickly than Lang and Mehta had hoped for. The heart had turned out to be a 20-point match out of a possible 24--- not bad, considering that the recipient was several degrees of relationship removed from the donor. The doctors performed different functions during the surgery, some of which kept them standing a short distance apart from each other. Conrad Lang, who had done such an incredible job repairing Job Woodard's jagged wound, was now slowly and delicately connecting some blood vessels.
He actively recalled some old notes his late Uncle Eric had left for him, in the event that the nephew attended Medical school as both had intended. The techniques Eric Lang had developed for the tricky business of fixing circulation and nerve endings were a great help in times like these. Conrad had often wondered where his uncle had come by such detailed knowledge, so much more advanced than the conventional wisdom on the subject. When he had examined the body of the late Timothy Adam Samwell, he knew he was closer to that secret, but he only had time to consider the pineal gland. Of course, that process alone took nearly 24 hours....
Conrad was now attaching a particularly crucial artery. He heard a soft, insinuating male voice say, "THAT is not the way, you idiot!" Lang, distracted, halted a moment, and said, "Hedayat, did you say something?"
Dr. Mehta replied from across Harvey's chest, "Nothing, Conrad. Everything looks fine so far, according to what I have ever learned. Kept moving, time is fleeting!"
Lang resumed his activity. Then, he heard the voice again. This time, it sounded distinctly like his late uncle's, not soft at all. "You're doing it wrong, all wrong," the voice barked. "Let me show you!" Another doctor had come into the room, and stood by him, about to grasp the instruments and the blood vessels.
"That's incorrect, and you know it, Uncle Eric!" Conrad snapped back. "And why are you wearing those shoes in the O.R.? They should be properly covered, at least!" He wondered why the nurses hadn't kept Eric out of the way.
Mehta said sharply, "Conrad, you must have been awake far too long, working on that medication. You are dreaming on your feet, and will surely kill Mr. Lacey! You'd better get out of here and let me finish. It won't be PERFECT, but he will probably survive---"
"I'm sorry, sorry, Hedayat, but this new doctor is interfering!" Why did Mehta blame Conrad, and not UNCLE ERIC, the former wondered desperately.
"WHAT new doctor?" Both men then looked wildly about for the invader, who had suddenly, conveniently disappeared.
A nurse spoke up from the doorway. "There WAS someone here, Dr. Mehta, but he's bolted out. I don't know how he snuck in, but maybe the police and guards thought it was Dr. Heard."
Conrad looked gratefully at the nurse, who had big brown eyes that he hadn't noticed before. "Please, Hedayat, I will be fine." He proved it by connecting the artery to perfection.
"Very well, but another outburst, and I'll have to wing it alone," Mehta grumbled. "And nurse, please make sure NOBODY invades this O.R. again."
"Yes, doctor." Allarice Bertrand turned her considerable powers of concentration to the task of keeping Conrad alert. He HAD faltered a bit, due to exhaustion, but she thanked the benign Powers that she had arrived in time to give Jason McGuire second thoughts about screwing up Harvey's transplant. "Nurse" Bertrand watched now, as the doctors gave the transplanted heart electrical stimulation to start its beat--- once, twice, three times was the charm!
Later, Conrad looked for the helpful nurse after the surgery was successfully completed. He realized that he had become unaware of her presence soon after he had re-established his mastery over the procedure. It wasn't until he came back up to the waiting area with Mehta, to make his trademark dramatic announcement of success, and Sheriff Lacey, Michael Lacey, Christine Cagney, AND Allarice threw themselves at him, that he realized who his savior had been. "The procedure went far better than even I dared hope," he trumpeted. "A great day for this hospital!"
Mehta stood oddly alone, though he had been 50 % responsible for Harvey's safe passage through the surgery, and said, irritably, "Hail the conquering hero, I am sure."
Mary Beth broke from the group embrace along with her son, and hugged Mehta so forcefully, that he almost regretted his semi-serious complaint. Still, he took it with a measure of good grace, and actually was far more consoling than the self-aggrandizing Lang. "Mary Beth, of course you can sit with Harvey in recovery, but it will be a hour or so until he regains enough consciousness to understand, and even then, it will be some time before he can speak coherently, once the breathing tube has been removed. We have to give him some credit for his own survival, as much as our surgical skill, which was SORELY tested, and as much as the very healthy heart he received. Harvey has ox-like reserves of strength, even I was surprised, especially when the going got a little rough in the O.R. Someone tried to get in there and interfere, but a nurse apparently stopped him."
"Dear God, it couldn't have been the same bastard who tried to poison Amy Jennings earlier, could it?" the Sheriff demanded. "The force has been watching this place with eagle eyes since then, surely someone would have detected him?"
Christine offered, "To someone who doesn't know much about operating room procedures, one Sawbones in scrubs, masked and acting like he knows where he belongs, looks like another. The bogus doctor could have popped out of nowhere--- God knows he popped back INTO nowhere, the first time he got away! No fire and brimstone this time, though, I take it?"
"Thank God, No!" Lang laughed uneasily. "I doubt he needed it to effectively escape this time. This is an old hospital, there are many passageways underground, near the surgical area. Though I'm a bit surprised--- I would have thought one could not get through such a maze without prior knowledge--- many of those areas have been off-limits for about 30 years!"
"Well, there some cops stationed around the basement exits--- I can't believe NOBODY snagged him on the way out, at least!" Mary Beth shook her head. "I'd better get someone to watch the recovery area when I'm not there." She turned to the doctors Bertrand and Lang, who were still standing together. "Dr. Bertrand, I have no idea where YOU were during the surgery--- my son and I saw you headed that way, just when the Nurse was coming to tell you about Amy's amazing recovery. They paged you several times. Yet, here you are now."
Allarice made an innocent face. "I just went down to find
out the latest--- Amy's, Harvey's and Willie's conditions seemed related
through some peculiar empathy. I came upstairs by another elevator. I stopped
to consult with Dr. Heard just before Conrad and Hedayat
came up. Ask Dr. Heard. Heavens, you don't think
I was in cahoots with your impostor doctor, do you?"
Lang cut in, "Of course she wasn't! There's too much at stake here for all the doctors involved. And Allarice has told all of us that she's never even been to Collinsport before. What could she possibly gain by aiding a criminal out to destroy people in this town?"
"Good Lord," Allarice protested, "Why on EARTH would I want to harm the father of the young genius who designed my Institute, and to my utter satisfaction, I might add?"
"No reason, no reason at all," Mary Beth replied, chagrinned at her usual over-reaction. "The timing was just weird, and though I don't usually make excuses for myself, Doctor, please understand---" Her red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes misted once again.
"Believe me, Sheriff Lacey, I understand. More than you will EVER know. I realize it must be horrible for a mother to worry about a husband and child." Especially if they are victims of the tail end of a curse I cast 200 years ago, which in its time cost the lives of an innocent child, her guiltless mother, and my beleagured husband who had once been her other beloved child....
Mary Beth sighed. "Well, to make everything square, I'll have a talk with Dr. Heard. Just go check on Amy. I want to see my husband before I have to start grilling her. I guess Christine could tackle that chore. And Dr. Lang probably wants to see the results of his other work, before he drops from exhaustion.. Young Dr. Collins had some part in this breakthrough. Too bad he isn't around...." She glanced toward Christine, who shrugged sadly--- there had been no news of the whereabouts of Jeremy or his father--- or Alice, of course.
Lang had walked with Allarice down the hall, and gazed into her eyes. "Why did you lie to the Sheriff, 'Eagle Eyes'? Though, thank God, you helped me. For a moment, even I thought I was hallucinating about Uncle Eric and his shiny shoes."
"It was a spur-of the moment decision, Conrad. I saw the intruder heading in, and there were no police in the immediate area. I didn't think it a good idea to yell into the O.R., so I threw on some scrubs and hoped I could save the day--- discreetly, and with as little danger to the patient as possible."
"You made the right decision, dearest," Conrad said tenderly. "You saved both Harvey's life AND my reputation. I can't think of a better way to show my heartfelt gratitude...." He drew Allarice close, and kissed her passionately. At first, Allarice thought to resist, but decided it would do no good to cause a further commotion, so she relaxed, hoping the embarrassing moment would pass before anyone saw the couple. Conrad took her acquiescence for happy consent, holding and caressing her for a minute before releasing her. "That is the first time I have had ANYTHING to do with a woman since my beloved late wife passed away, and we haven't had a date yet," he said with breathless delight. "I know this really isn't the time or place, Allarice, but when the current crisis is over, would it be possible--- or have I already overstepped your boundary? If so, forgive me---"
It was on the tip of Allarice's tongue to spit out, "YOU'RE not the widower I wish I could step over boundaries with, you fool!", but she still required his co-operation, and when she saw his pathetic, almost silly look of contrition, she felt a surge of pity she would NEVER have granted to his late uncle. After 300 years, I'm finally learning some self-control, she thought with wonder. She replied, her voice softened and eyelashes fluttering, "I really have to think it over, Conrad. This is too overwhelming a moment.... Your first heart transplant, our first 'vampire' cure. And we have to give Sheriff Lacey her answer about questioning Amy Jennings."
As they entered Amy's room, Quentin Collins rose immediately. "I'm amazed you're still on your feet!" he said to Lang. "It's nearly midnight!"
"I shall happily collapse once I'm sure both my patients are on the mend," the doctor said with a smile. "This IS quite a change--- Miss Jennings looks closer to her age now, maybe even a little younger. Has she spoken?"
Quentin said, "Yes, a little gibberish about Harvey and Willie, and someone named 'Jason'."
Amy's eyes fluttered open. "It wasn't gibberish," she said in a sad, pleading voice, quite at odds with her former arrogant, cruel attitude. "Please, I need to talk to someone. Where is the Sheriff?"
Lang replied, a bit coolly, "With her HUSBAND, for whose death you were very nearly responsible!"
Christine had arrived just in time to hear the last statement. "Please! That's for US to determine. After all the trouble you, Dr. Bertrand, and Dr. Collins went to, reviving Amy, you must let the law take over and try to find the truth. I take it, then, that, in both your judgments, Miss Jennings IS capable of giving some kind of statement?"
"She knows what she wants, apparently," Lang said. "However, I had no idea that I would have to be the one to remind you all of this, but perhaps you SHOULD summon legal counsel for the lady. Isn't Tony Peterson the Collins family lawyer?"
"He's a corporate lawyer, I don't think he'd want anything to do with MY case," Amy sniffled. "And who could blame him?"
Christine was irked to have to go through this delay, with Alice's life hanging in the balance. But it was too late for starting strong-arm tactics, and it never looked good when one badgered a suspect in the hospital. If only she could clear the room somehow, and question Amy alone, with a promise of a reduced sentence or some other incentive that would have meaning for the ruined, defeated high-school principal. One needed a strong ally for this kind of bargaining, and the only one she trusted completely was at her sick husband's side.
For the time being, though, she conceded, "At this point, almost any lawyer is better than none, and unless you can think of someone else in a pinch, I'm sure Mr. Peterson can give adequate advice for now, and can certainly recommend a defense lawyer for the long haul. You know his number, Quentin, give him a call, and tell him to get here, PRONTO."
Quentin wore an odd smirk as he ran to answer Christine's request. Down the hall, safely out of earshot of the others, he pulled out his cell phone, and rang up Collinwood. Carolyn answered, and said, with a quaver in her voice, that Tony had gone out around 9 P.M. to meet with some "colleagues", in spite of the difficulties arising from the death of the head of Collins Enterprises. Quentin could tell from his cousin's tone that she didn't believe that excuse any more than HE did. He wondered why the betrayed wife didn't just call her cheating husband on HIS cell phone, the better to disrupt his rendezvous, but perhaps Carolyn was leery of having her suspicions confirmed at this point, with all the trouble already in the house, and their daughter about to come home. Quentin had no such compunction, and punched in the number.
Tony answered with a familiar growl--- Quentin had often made such a noise himself, when interrupted in "the act", and he even fancied he could hear a feminine mutter of complaint in the background. He was somewhat shocked--- he thought Maggie would have been chastened enough, in the last couple of days, to stay close to her daughter, not to mention having better taste in the face of the Collins tragedy. David, after all, had once been her charge when she'd been a governess over 30 years earlier.
Then, Quentin had an uncomfortable thought--- maybe Tony was two-timing HER, as well? In any case, it was none of his business--- right now. Instead of his usual mocking attitude, Quentin quietly and even humbly requested Tony's presence at the hospital. "Oh, don't worry, Peterson, I won't let Amy utter one INDISCREET word, until you arrive." And you'd better arrive in record time, you heartless, hypocritical sleaze, he thought. Quick kiss to your honey, enough of a shower so you don't come in SMELLING of her, and haul your sorry ass here inside a half-hour, before Miss Cagney gets really impatient and starts picking on my sick great-grand-daughter.
And, please God, before something terrible happened to poor young Elliot's pretty little Lacey minx. In HIS younger days, Quentin might have enjoyed enticing one such as Alice into her first indiscretion, but Pauline was the last time--- he HOPED--- that he would ever consider an involvement with a young girl, a relative, or a relative's sweetheart or wife. Alice was all these, and moreover, was the daughter of the Sheriff, who, in spite of all her current problems, was not someone to be trifled with, and, apparently, some relation or connection, maybe the God-daughter, of the equally-determined Christine Cagney.
Quentin was developing a respect for these two New York "aliens", oddly like the relationship he'd once had with Magda, and, more recently, with the late Julia Hoffman Collins. Quentin, Magda, and Julia, AND Barnabas, though all guilty of evil, misguided acts at one time or other, had united many times to battle opponents FAR more evil, the knowing kind of evil that threatened to reach out beyond the cursed corners of Collinsport, to fatally poison an already polluted world.
Quentin wondered how far the evil of the late Jason McGuire would reverberate--- would it just stop when Barnabas and Amy were captured and, in the former's case, destroyed, and the Collinses, including the Laceys and Willie, had their hearts broken through their children? How did Christine figure into this? Was it her portion of the coming doom to carry the seeds back into New York City--- and beyond? He felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned--- it was Christine, herself.
"Quentin, you've got to help me out. You contacted Peterson, right?"
"Yes, but I reached him via his cell-phone. I have no idea where he is, nor did he volunteer the information, for ���reasons--- errr, anyway, it may be at least a half-hour or more before he gets here."
"Damn! Look, something's been roiling around in my brain for hours since we freed Willie Loomis from being locked in his room. Something that I am terrified to suggest to the Sheriff at this point. What I NEED to do is get Amy to tell everything she knows BEFORE Mary Beth questions her. I want to get out there, with Bob Rooney and a few others, and find Alice before my best friend in the entire world hears something from Amy that will cause more destruction and misery. Lang's gone, Dr. Bertrand's about to call it quits for the night. You, above all, should have the best chance of worming it out of your cousin. I am willing to go over my partner's head and get concessions from Judge Garner in Amy's behalf in exchange--- PLEASE, Quentin!" Christine's small dark-sapphire eyes bored into his large azure ones.
"Miss Cagney--- Christine--- Nobody would be more willing to do it than I, and I will certainly give it my best shot, but remember what Amy almost tried to do to me the other day. What if she still has any of those bitter feelings?"
"Quentin, I KNOW you want to do the right thing here, just like poor Willie, poor Hallie, poor Elliot, poor everybody. You HAVE to be straight with me NOW. What does Amy have against you? A memory of early abuse? I've heard it said that, when you first came to town years ago, she feared you, though you both seem to have mended fences until recently."
"NO!" Quentin almost shouted. "It was a misunderstanding that could only happen in Collinsport, at Collinwood. My little, long-lost cousin, had, until that time, been seeing visions, along with young David, of the spirit of--of my look-alike ancestor. You've seen Barnabas the First's portrait, you know Harvey and Willie; anyway, you know this is a peculiar tendency of Collins genetics. All that inbreeding! Though, at least, we have no trait as ubiquitous as the Hapsburg chin!"
"So you're saying, Amy somehow got you mixed up? Well, I guess that's understandable, with all of her family more or less dying on her up till then, save for big brother Christopher, who, alas, had a nasty little habit of going Jack-the-Ripper wild during the full moon!"
"I was getting to that! You see, Chris's
wolf-like madness was a hereditary malady going back to that same mutual
ancestor. Like the hemophilia that began out of nowhere in Queen Victoria's
family. Oldest sons are most afflicted, though younger sons also can have
problems. I've been pretty lucky---
I have, well, special medication that, alas, only works for ME. But ALL descendants can pass on the trait. That was a chief fear of mine when I learned of Pauline's condition. And it came up when Amy wanted to marry David. We who were in the know, myself, Barnabas, Julia, had to explain it to Amy. But THAT wasn't the main cause of her bitterness, towards myself, Barnabas, or the Sheriff."
"Out with it, then!" Though Christine was beginning to suspect the unhappy answer.
Quentin explained, "Amy WAS old enough, by age 15, to be told of Christopher's affliction. She had always suspected it, and, because she was of the blood, she was always able to stop him from hurting anyone--- IF she could get to him in time. Unfortunately, he was being held in Windcliff, miles away from her, awaiting a promised treatment. His wife, Sabrina, and her brother, Ned Stuart, had just left after consulting with Julia, who said the cure would arrive in the morning. Somehow, Chris had a burst of extra strength that night, broke out of the cage, slashed a guard badly. HE survived, but Chris made it to the remote part of the parking lot where Ned had his car. Sabrina was already inside, though, because she was his 'mate' and wolves mate for life, Chris had never harmed HER physically, either.
"He had NO such restraint toward Ned, who had always hated him--- years earlier, Chris had TERRIFIED Sabrina into a 7-year breakdown during his first, errr, "transformation', you might call it, at age 21. Ned had taken care of his sister, until the 'animal' reclaimed her, against HIS advice. He was always after Sabrina to get the marriage annulled. The poor girl witnessed her beloved brother being torn limb from limb by her beloved husband. Sheriff Patterson, who WAS a good man, had his hands full--- the wife, traumatized once more, was torn EMOTIONALLY, and we Collinses couldn't decide what to do.
�Amy was stuck making the choice, visiting Patterson in secret--- which is how a dozen silver bullets came to be made, five of which pierced Chris's extremities, then his heart. Unfortunately, he did not die immediately--- Sabrina and Amy sat with him. The next day, after he died, and Amy realized the enormity of her necessary action, she tried to kill herself. Julia and I saved her--- Julia hypnotized her, and she forgot almost everything except how much she resented sheriffs in general. But the knowledge was always there, lurking inside, and came roaring out of its lair when we were in that attic."
Not for the first time, Christine was moved to tears by the tribulations that had led an innocent child into guilty acts. Sweet Jesus in Heaven, what an ugly story--- no wonder Barnabas had once said of Amy, "Much can be forgiven on twice as many grounds!" Amy had been in the right years ago, and had been cheated of the therapy that might have helped her deal with it--- but one could hardly blame Quentin and the late Dr. Collins, either. They saw a teenager dying for her brother's sins, so to speak, and moved in the only way that was likely to spare her reputation and save her ��future--- as understood 27 years earlier in a small, isolated fishing village.
Still, that was no excuse for Amy's late activity, UNLESS it could be somehow proved that she was operating under the duress of an influence as powerful as the "spirit" she once thought she saw as a child. Like Jason McGuire, perhaps?--- whom Christine doubted little Amy would have known during his sojourn in Collinsport 33 years earlier. Her parents and brother Tom had been alive and well then, not even knowing they WERE Collinses, too, and Amy didn't come to live at the mansion until late 1968, well over a year after McGuire's "departure."
"Quentin, do you believe this 'Jason' is a real person, whether or not related to the rogue Irishman who caused trouble years ago, capable of turning your unstable cousin's head around, or another 'ghost' that only exists in her overwhelmed brain?"
"Christine, I am rather older than you probably think I am, and in the course of my life and travels, have seen many bizarre things inexplicable by ordinary or scientific standards. The late Professor Stokes and I were great friends, and we often got together with Barnabas and Julia to discuss these ideas. I had a great-uncle who believed the Collinsport area, going back to Indian times, was a great vortex, where the rules of time, space, and substance, even life and death, were occasionally suspended. We who haved lived here most of our lives, have all been affected by these incidents. Certain circumstances have to be in place for them to go forward, but once set in motion, they change everything and everybody from their usual behaviors, usually for the worse, until a catalyst appears to set things straight. Trouble is, a lot of people have to suffer, even die, before this becomes reality, but it's like any war, I imagine. You and Sheriff Lacey MAY be our only hope this time." As he said this, Quentin touched Christine's hand, a silent signal that started them both walking back to Amy's room.
Quentin DID slow his pace for Christine when she asked,. "I suppose that was your roundabout way of saying, that Jason IS a real being, a physical entity, though maybe one we ordinary non-Collinsporters can't understand?"
Quentin said, quietly, "That's EXACTLY what I mean. And don't worry about understanding--- WE'VE taken care of MANY such problems without having to understand EVERYTHING, though there IS something about YOU that makes me think you are closer to the spiritual than YOU may even believe. Perhaps it's--- you are Irish, I take it you're also Roman Catholic?"
"Yes, and I have the rusty command of Church Latin to prove it. And I mean, RUSTY. The only times I've been in ANY Church since my father's funeral--- almost 15 years ago!--- had mostly to do with police business."
"It's probable JASON was also Catholic,
though FAR more lapsed than yourself. Hold on to that faith,
Christine, even if it's in shreds right now--- a little is better than NONE." They stopped in front of Amy's door, and stepped inside.
Dr. Bertrand rose from her place at Amy's bedside. She gazed at the couple who had returned. "If you need any further assistance, I'll still be in the hospital for a while. I have some matters to attend to that have to do with--- with my Institute."
"New client?" Quentin was thinking of the heartless shell of David Collins--- what a "catch" for the Institute! Well, if THAT'S what Hallie, or maybe even ROGER wanted .... Allarice smiled enigmatically in reply, and silently bowed out.
Christine whispered, "I KNOW you were
advised to wait for Tony Peterson, Amy, but it's going to be a while before he
gets here, and I'm so afraid Alice Lacey might DIE. I want to help her family,
but I'm also willing to help YOU, if you co-operate. Please, you have to tell us---
if you know ANYTHING about Alice Lacey's disappearance. I will do all I can to
convince the Sheriff and Judge Garner to grant you immunity from prosecution in
that case, and POSSIBLY, a degree of leniency in the case of the wounded
a long stay at Windcliff, or some other ritzy asylum that might have a prayer of making you well."
"If I get well and get released, it will only be to a prison, I guess," Amy sighed. "What's it matter, anyway? I have nothing left .... No job, no REAL family, no--- no David." She started to cry in a self-pitying way. "It's too late anyway, for Alice."
Quentin took his great-grand-daughter's hand. "Amy, Baby.... Do you want the same thing to happen to poor Alice as happened to Ned, and Donna Friedlander, and old Innkeeper Welles, years ago, or even what happened to Sabrina and your other cousin Joe Haskell?"
"Oh, oh, NO! Alice isn't going to get her GUTS torn out, or driven insane. Something--- something BAD will happen, but you'll know her when you see her, and she'll know you---"
Christine was wild with despair. Amy sounded as confused and cryptic as Candy Cane. Damned vampire SHIT! "Amy!" she said sharply. "Cut it out! There's an answer, you KNOW the answer, because YOU told somebody to steal Alice from her house, and where to take her!. The ONLY person who could have gotten away with it! And I KNOW who that person was. And, by God, you PATHETIC excuse for Dracula's HO, you're going to tell us, just myself and your cousin here, WHERE that girl is now. Because if ANYTHING happens to Alice, or her mother, or her poor, benighted FATHER whom YOU drove to betray HIS own family---"
"Christine--- no...." All heads turned at the broken sound.
"Mary Beth! We didn't hear you come in---" Christine rose quickly, and ran toward her partner, who, judging by her startling appearance, had obviously left Harvey's bedside in a hurry. The Sheriff was shrouded in sterile protective garb that was unnecessary for the visit to Amy's room. "Mary Beth, Mary Beth, PLEASE, I didn't mean you to hear that." She put her hand on the Sheriff's shaking shoulder. "Mary Beth, I'm sorry, it's just MY theory, it doesn't have to mean anything, you remember how we used to use a little 'shock treatment' on certain suspects. Of course Harvey wouldn't hurt Alice!"
Quentin was shaking a little himself---- CHRIST, is THIS what his bloodline had come to! Still, he forced himself to be gentle. "Amy, what Miss Cagney said isn't TRUE, is it? You didn't--didn't get HARVEY to put his only daughter in danger, DID you?" Please, Amy, he prayed, tell me it was someone else under your power, there had to be SOMEONE else to blame!
Amy's face took on a sly look. "Jason told me it would be the best way to---" Then she stopped, and whined in terror, as she had when a child. "No No NO, it WASN'T Harvey, honest, Sheriff, it was JASON'S idea, HE did it---"
Mary Beth lunged at the woman on the bed.
"You LYING BITCH!" She cried. "It's too late. Harvey
CONFESSED--- but he can't remember where--- can't remember--- the surgery did
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It hadn't taken nearly as long to discover the secret of Harvey's earlier, seemingly irrational outburst, as Mary Beth had alternately feared and hoped. She looked from an observation window into the Intensive Care room, as the nurses removed the large breathing tube from Harvey's throat, under Dr. Mehta's watchful eye. They immediately replaced it with oxygen tubes in his nose, but Hedayat was pleased to see his patient's chest immediately rise and fall and rise again on its own power, and was even more delighted to see how quickly Harvey opened his eyes and muttered when the nurses shook him awake gently, but firmly. However, there was still a lot of the anesthetic still in his system, and he dozed on and off. In spite of this, his breathing was deep and regular.
Mary Beth, meanwhile, had taken off a layer of her grubby clothing, and donned a large surgical-style robe, a white net for her hair, bootees, gloves, and a surgical mask as well, the better to avoid infecting the new transplantee, whose immune system would be weakened for some time to come. She clutched Harvey's hand--- the one that didn't have an I.V. tube attached, and hoped that the sight of herself in doctors' clothing didn't frighten him the next time he woke . Mehta and one of the nurses departed after a few minutes; the other stepped out into a connecting hallway to check another patient.
Harvey's eyes flew open the instant they left, as though he had been waiting for this opportunity. He gazed up at his attendant. Mary Beth made her eyes assume a look of calm, and she knew he recognized her. He whispered hoarsely, "Throat hurts. More than last time...."
Mary Beth whispered back, "Some nurses have a knack for sliding that tube in and out. I remember after I had that breast operation, the tube must have come out easy, 'cause all I needed for relief was a little ice water. Then, after I had the operation to dig the bullet out of my shoulder, I felt like I had the worst case of strep on record! That damn thing must have been coated with SANDPAPER!" She stroked her husband's grizzled hair. Maybe I was wrong, she thought. If he really had something to tell me, it would have been the FIRST thing---
He grabbed the gloved hand that was touching his hair. "Mar-Mar-Beth--- Alice--- I have to tell you, before I go to sleep again. Please don't hate me." Tears streamed from his eyes. "I was like dead before, but it's coming back to me. Attacking like sharks. SHARKS."
"Shhh, Harv, don't get agitated. It will screw up your new heart, honey.... I know that Alice is missing, my guys are out there beating around every bush." Mary Beth resumed stroking Harvey's hair, though in short jerks now. "Besides, there isn't a hell of a lot you could tell me that would ever make me HATE you. I'm sure I've heard it ALL by now." I have, I have, I HAVE! DON'T tell me---
"Mary Beth, listen! I took her! I had chloroform, I DON'T know how I got it, there's a lot I don't remember. I knocked Michael out, I put my hand over Alice's mouth and SHE went out too.... There was a big dark car waiting for me. I threw her in the trunk, and.... and.... AMY told me to do it! I don't understand how she could get me to--to hurt my family, my little precious baby girl---"
"MY precious baby girl.... Oh, Harvey, HOW could she have done that? What did it DO for you when you got bit? How turned on did you have to get in order to throw your OWN CHILD to those sharks? And WHAT sharks? Where IS she, Harvey? WHERE?" Mary Beth squeezed Harvey's hand so hard, he moaned weakly in pain.
"I-- I don't remember! I can see me shutting the trunk, and getting into the car, and someone--- maybe Amy--- telling me where to go, but the rest--- Willie's fault, all Willie's fault," Harvey muttered angrily. "If he hadn't done what he did, then I wouldn't have seen Amy and--" At this point, he grinned, a smarmy, stupid smile. "She said go do it, and I did! Maybe she'll reward me...."
Mary Beth dropped her husband's hand, and stood up. "AMY did something that made you forget over 30 good years with ME? That made you forget that you're supposed to PROTECT your children? Maybe I should ask, do YOU hate US? Is there something deep inside of YOU to make you WANT to do these things? I can't believe she just upped and convinced you, just like that, even if she was sucking your blood to beat the band, and promising you a billion dollars AND great sex! Nothing exists in a vacuum. There is no action without an equal reaction. The desire to destroy what you love.... It must be the COLLINS in you!"
She backed away from his bed. "I--I
don't know why WE'RE together. Maybe there's something wrong with ME, to want
someone who did something even MY own father would NEVER have done!" She
went to the door. "And now you tell me, you don't know where you took her.
Jesus, Jesus, my FIRST baby, and my LAST--- LOST because of their FATHERS---
their god-damned, lust-crazy BASTARD FATHERS! And it's MY fault for not
seeing--- I have to talk to Amy now. You see, she's in custody here, SHE can't
do any more harm, but she HAS to tell me...." And headed out, stumbling
towards Amy's room, as Harvey tried to call her back with his horrible,
scratchy, weak voice. Amy's room, where she heard the truth confirmed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now, Quentin asked sternly, "WHERE IS ALICE, AMELIA?"
Amy gazed up at her great-grandfather now, filled with an old terror. A memory of something that she was told never happened, like the buried memory of what she'd done to her brother. A memory of someone who would NOT be lied to, though he once demanded that she and David lie to everyone else. But her mind was jumbled, couldn't recall precisely for some reason. "Eagle Hill, or Widows' Hill," she whispered, trembling with trepidation. "It's one or the other. Quentin, don't hurt me, Quentin! I'll be good!"
Christine, armed with what Quentin had
already told her, wasn't too surprised, but the degree of Amy's reversion was
incredible. How could a man be so like his ancestor, unless he was a clone--
same person? Images of the Cryptkeeper portrait and Barnabas's ancestor's, flitted across her mind, but she had no time to sort out the meaning. Mary Beth, in the noise and confusion, had backed out of the room, and vanished!
Christine ran out of the room, nearly knocking over Tony Peterson, who looked back at her in astonishment. She ran to the elevator, and punched the buttons with angry jabs. Mary Beth could be down in the parking lot by now, maybe driving away! But to which Hill, Eagle or Widows'?
Down in the lobby, she saw Michael Lacey, a
couple of police and a hospital security guard. "I take it you all saw the
Sheriff hauling out of here in that white outfit," Christine said without
One cop spoke up. "Yeah, she looked SPOOKED, just ran by all of us, even her son here."
Michael Lacey asked fearfully, "It isn't--- isn't my DAD, is it? Did he--- did he just suddenly DIE?"
Christine said reassuringly, "No, no, no--- Your Dad was doing okay, as of a few minutes ago. Amy, though, said something that really upset your mother. The Sheriff, as you all know, is under a great deal of strain, and hasn't slept in almost 48 hours. I'm just going to look for her, and bring her back for a rest." With that, SHE dashed out the door, hoping against hope that Mary Beth would have calmed down, realized the folly of searching alone, and, perhaps, fell asleep in the Sheriff's car. Christine DID see why her friend didn't tell the others; it would have meant exposing Harvey's "guilt", such as it was. As for keeping quiet herself--- this was like the old times back in New York; sometimes, one just had to go along keeping things under wraps for one's partner. After all, each had to entrust his or her life to the other, to a degree seldom expected of spouses, or even parents! If Mary Beth was harassed by her own police while in her current mental state, there was no telling what she might do.
And that damn Amy--- she might be lying. After all, the entire force had been up on Eagle Hill, and saw nothing but the action at the caretaker's cottage. And as for Widows' Hill, Collinwood, it would have been foolhardy for Harvey, who had only visited the estate once, to bring Alice up to a cliff walk with which he was unfamiliar, trying to sneak past the nearby mansion full of people who might have caught him. Better for Christine to handle this herself. After all, she recalled, didn't I stop a Mack Truck on a busy bridge when my car had broken down, to get Mary Beth to the hospital in time to give birth to Alice? (Pure luck that was, too--- Christine HAD passed the standard training in first aid which included a chapter and a graphic film about emergency midwifery, but BARELY, and Alice's birth HAD turned out to be rather more complicated than anyone had anticipated.)
To Christine's dismay (though she wasn't really surprised), the Sheriff's car was already gone. Then she saw Willie Loomis walking toward the hospital. It was nearly midnight! He explained, before she even asked, "I was getting antsy at the Shaws', waiting for news about Harvey and Alice. I was afraid I would get lied to, if I called. And you know how I am, I have to check these things for myself. Anyway, I felt like I should be close to Harvey when he woke up, so I could apologize for what I almost did to him earlier. And Barnabas."
Christine had a flash of inspiration. "Willie, just WHERE did you take Harvey, and have that fight or argument that made him almost die the first time? It's extremely important, it may help us find Alice!"
"I--- I left him in the mausoleum at Eagle Hill. There's a big tomb built under the hill--- I shouldn't have tricked him like that, but you know why I did it." Willie, with a shamed expression on his face, looked down at the hospital steps, and drew a sobbing breath.
Christine said softly, "I understand, Willie. Amy had a run at Harvey, too. But you're both safe now--- from HER, anyway. She said Alice might be at Eagle Hill. The Sheriff is out there, alone, not knowing just where to look. I have to help her."
"Then--- take me! I know JUST where to
go, and how to get in! It doesn't take a genius, but it was pretty hard to open
last time, and I used to open it all the time! YOU might need some help with
Oh--- I forgot, the other cops will be there."
"NO. No other cops. Mary Beth can't-- can't deal with other cops right now. But maybe you should stay anyway--- I thought you were worried about Harvey's condition?"
"Miss Cagney, I KNOW you wouldn't lie to me. If Harvey was in real bad shape, or dead, you'd have said so right off, if only to guilt me into helping you. But you didn't play that game."
"No, because I believe you deserve
better. In any case, Harvey's going to make it. He'll make it quicker if he
gets his wife and daughter back. Maybe you CAN help, after all. Now let's
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When Alice first came to, she was lying in a box-like bunk with a soft mattress, or so she thought, until she sat up, and saw, by candlelight, that she was in some kind of a large, windowless room Moreover, she examined her "bed", and discovered, to her horror, that it was a CASKET--- and an old, musty one at that. She scrambled out of it, and barely landed on her feet upon the marble-tiled floor. She ran, skidding a little, in her thin socks, up three stone steps, to what looked like a door--- the tiles and steps were cold, and there was dirt strewn across them, but she tried to ignore this. She threw herself against the door, which, she noticed, was ALSO made of stone. No point in trying to pry it open, though she shouted and screamed for a while. She sat on the steps, and though she cried, tried to think as sensibly as her mother or aunt in a similar situation.
"I've been kidnapped", Alice thought between sobs. "If the kidnapper wanted to rape or even MURDER me, he--- I suppose it's a HE--- would have done it by now. Maybe he WILL do one or both soon, but that means he'll have to come back. If he's looking for ransom, he'll also have to feed me, at least for a while. Maybe I can make a plan for escape, maybe there's SOME kind of booby-trap I can rig up with that casket---" She went back and tried to move it, but it was very solid and very heavy, as well. Still, it gave a bit when she pushed it around on its stand. "If I hide behind it, and he comes near, looking for me, I MIGHT be able to push it onto him, but first I need to see how he opens that door...." Alice's mind was so distracted, making these plans, that she was barely aware that her foot had slipped into soft earth. Then her toes contacted some hard, sharp object.
"Yiiiiiiii!" she cried, as she drew her foot back, and looked behind her; in the flickering candlelight, in a ditch dug up from under the stone tiles, she saw a grinning skull, jaws slightly parted. She must have stepped on some of the teeth. What WAS this place? A casket, albeit empty; a skeleton--- maybe fallen from the casket. Okay, okay, she thought, it's a tomb, but that person is DEAD and can't hurt me. There's air to breathe, even if it smells kind of bad--- like something else only just recently died in here. She pulled off her sock and examined her foot, and was relieved to discover that the scratch hadn't broken her skin. Still, she was cold, and was alarmed by the guttering of a couple of the candles. Whoever put her here had better come back soon, or she'd soon be sitting in darkness!
She worried that the kidnapper might have also hurt, maybe killed her father and poor Michael. She had no idea how much time had passed, but supposed her mother and Aunt Christine, and, perhaps, even Elliott, were already looking for her. Alice had an awful thought--- what if this was Miss Jennings's doing, or whoever owned the animal that had bitten her and that Candy girl? Miss Jennings hated Alice, she had nearly killed those policemen--- maybe this was going to be WORSE than just any old "normal" kidnapper, maybe Miss Jennings was just going to let Alice starve to death and ROT here, with the poor skeleton person already in residence!
This unbearably sad thought made Alice sit once more upon the steps, to hide her head in her arms and weep copiously. Suddenly, she felt a strong hand on her arm, yanking her up. "Whah---aaht?" she muttered. dazed. The DOOR hadn't opened, she hadn't heard a footstep, yet here she was, facing a tall, dark-haired, grinning man with a sharp nose like Bob Hope's, but without a trace of benignity or softness in his expression. He pulled roughly at Alice's pajama top, ripping off some of the buttons. When he saw what the opening exposed, he pulled Alice closer to him.
Oh, she slapped him, kicked his shins, kneed his groin, ground at his well-shod foot with her unshod one, even bit his musty-tasting tongue when he thrust it into her mouth, but she was still weak, and the surprise had gotten the best of her; to make matters worse, he seemed impervious to injury. He didn't respond with anger, but coldly whispered, "Aye, this will make TWO of 'em in one day--- no spook ever had himself such a grand time! And THIS one is better--- the harder they fight, the sweeter the reward!" He held Alice with one arm while he yanked down her pajama bottoms with his free hand, then fumbled at his zipper. He pushed the girl to the cold floor. At that moment, there was a groaning noise, and the door slowly slid open. The rapist glanced up quickly, and vanished, leaving Alice supine and gasping. Then, she flopped onto her belly, and crawled to the two figures who stood in the doorway. At this point, she didn't much care WHO they were, maybe it was her mother and Christine, maybe it was the other kidnappers, but they HAD made the rapist leave her. She thrust up an arm.
Looking down at her were Barnabas Collins and young Dr. Collins. It was the latter who lifted Alice to her feet. As the girl rearranged her scanty clothing, Jeremy asked, "Alice, my God! How did you get in here?"
"Where is 'here'?" she demanded in return. "I don't know, I don't know, except that someone broke into our house and doped me up, and dropped me off. I guess he came back, and he was going to--to-- rape me. Thank God you both showed up. What, did he run past you, out the door?"
Barnabas looked at Alice, up and down, noting the way she clutched her pajama top together, her wild hair, the pulse throbbing in her throat. Turning away abruptly, he said quietly, "Oh, yes, we were so surprised, he nearly toppled both of us."
"Well, maybe my Mom and Aunt Christine will get him. Could you please take me home? I know everyone must be worried, with Miss Jennings and the animal still loose. Could you tell me what TIME it is?"
"It's about 5:00 A.M., Thursday morning," Jeremy said.
"What--- yes, I can see, the sun hasn't really come up yet. But I can see outside--- this IS a cemetery! Dr. Collins, Mr. Collins, why did you even come out here this early in the morning, when it's still dark?" Suddenly, Alice was afraid of her rescuers. On impulse, SHE tried to rush past them, but both caught her arms. Barnabas grabbed her, and put a hand over her mouth.
"Father! What are you doing!" Jeremy cried. "Please, I'll hypnotize her, give her a sedative, and we can drop her off near her home. She'll forget everything, and no-one will ever know...."
"NO! This is like a gift of manna, though not from HEAVEN--- the Lord of Darkness must have heard my pleas, and no matter who did this, she is MINE now! It is FATE, Son. Alice is to be my Bride, the source of my renewed life. You will have to determine, however, whether this so-called "rapist" deflowered her--- that might SPOIL the effects."
Jeremy made a face of disgust. "I will NOT! That is YOUR problem, Father."
"YOU would disobey ME, Boy?"
"In this matter, I WILL." Jeremy
shuddered. "However, I know I CAN'T disobey anything else." He looked
around the mausoleum. "Whoever put her here in the first place may come back,
or her mother MIGHT discover its location. Which means you both will have to
move back to the chamber under the Old House." He sighed. "I will get
a hypo from my medical kit, and put her to sleep for the rest of the day. It's
the only way we'll be able to transport her, and it's nearly dawn. In any case,
now that Amy's been caught, and Willie's out of commission, WE'RE both going
have to be EXTRA careful, until I make some kind of plan for leaving Collinport forever."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
PART SIXTEEN--- FRIDAY, APRIL 21 (A)
Two men, sailors by the looks of them, were having beers at the Blue Whale. At least, that was their stated intention. The older of the two men ordered Guinness Stout, a rare enough request in a bar that had gone through periods of plain Miller and Schaefer and Rheingold, which had given way to imported beers and "Lites" of every brand, micro-brewery selections, and had, lately, swung back to the good old American standards. However, Rheingold, alas, was gone forever--- the bartender, a cousin of Officer Rooney's, thought Coors a poor substitute. As it was, he had to go into the back room and search his stock until he came upon his last case of Guinness.
As Barkeep Rooney opened and poured the bottles into tall glasses, he apologized for the beer's lukewarmness. "Sorry, just didn't have time to put it in the icebox."
The older man, a sharp-looking fellow of about 50 with shoe-polish-black hair, said in a clearly Irish accent, "Young man, do ye not know, that room temperature is the PROPER way to enjoy a stout? You Americans have no appreciation of the flavors of a fine stout, or ANY beer, for that matter. Ye have to make your beers positively FRIGID, for sweet Mother's sake! This is STOUT, not SODA-POP, me lad!"
"Okay, okay! I didn't know! Thanks for the beer lesson, sir. Enjoy." Disgruntled, Rooney returned to behind his counter, and watched the newcomers carefully. A loud-mouth like THAT, he reflected with the accumulated experience of a seasoned bartender, will probably try to stiff me on his tab. Then he saw the younger man, a rather willowy, fair youth wearing thick glasses, sipping the stout, making a sour face, but pulling out a wad of bills for the tab. That's the way it goes, Rooney thought, poor kid's being taken for everything he's got. What IS it with those two, anyway? Then he was accosted by another customer, and turned his back on the two sailors.
"What, don't ye like stout, Johnny?" the older man asked. "Ye're not much of a one for any other kind of liquor, either."
"Never was," the younger man replied, "not even in my, uh, former life. I kind of liked wine, but only on holidays and Shab--- um, at Sunday dinner."
The older man studied him carefully. "Sunday dinner, eh? And what did ye have at 'Sunday dinner', Johnny? A wee bit of the Manischewitz, perhaps?"
"Perhaps. My parents tried all kinds of wines. Sangria, Asti, Brotherhood, AND Mogen David. And once, we had Ripple---"
"Indeed. Well, now you're with me, Johnny, and you're going to learn to enjoy a lot of new wines and women and song. 'Tis great to be free, I tell ye. When I was young, I itched to leave County Cork and the churchin' and the poverty and the grim-faced baby factories we called women. Then, when I started working, I itched to make a stake in the world that would free me of toil and bondage. For a few glorious years, I was granted me wish, and all because a friend of mine got conked on the head by his old lady. We faked his death, ye see, and the wife, who was a prize hypocrite and a real harpy anyway, paid up handsomely to hide her 'crime.' And better yet, when I threatened to expose my old friend and his intentions regarding their innocent baby girl, HE paid me HIS share and took off for good.
"Ah, that was the life, until the cash frittered away, and I came back for more. I almost had it all, Johnny, even the harpy wife with her millions. I could have bought anything, and anyONE I fancied. But it was ALL taken from me, for years on end, until I escaped from 'prison', so to speak. And now, I've returned, to settle some scores. And lucky I am to have such a bright young fellow along." The older man patted Johnny's arm fondly as a father, but gazed at the young man with an infatuated leer that turned into a sneer. "I had one such, years ago, the best I ever had--- till now--- but the bastard betrayed me!"
Johnny pulled his arm away, and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He took another sip of the bitter stout. "Well, what IS your next move?"
"Ah, lad, that would be tellin'. We haven't known each other long enough--- or WELL enough, that I should spill ALL the goods. Maybe when we get better acquainted, ye know---" Again, that queasy look of lust.
"I thought you were into wine and WOMEN," Johnny protested..
"Oh, I am, I AM, but in times when I would be otherwise alone, which happened often on my journeys, it was always a comfort to seek ANY companionship. And such a hustling sort of fellow was always a help, especially if he was big and brutal. Or, in the case of my former friend, small, sly, and slick as a weasel. I'll never understand why he turned--- I REALLY cared for him, ye know. When he was sick and all, the last time I was here. Instead, he left me for the man who made him sick."
"AIDS?" Johnny asked with polite sympathy.
The older man made an ugly face and snorted, "NO, boy, the only ones had that disease in MY day were monkeys in Africa and the native hunters who got splashed with their blood, then ran home to celebrate the killin' with all the miserable wenches they could find. What my so-called 'friend' had, though, was, indeed a disease of the blood, though not one ye'd have to 'do the deed' to catch. Not that there wasn't a penetration, as it were--- bloody hickeys on the neck or the wrist, but trust me, the victims loved every minute once they got going. Doctors had no answers. Then, one fine day, though this was after my time, a special man appeared who could take the sickness away--- don't ask me how, but my friend and HIS friend got better and got off scot-free from THEIR crimes. When I first escaped, I got even by destroying the man who had made them well. But of course I couldn't stop there. Everything is falling into place for my ultimate revenge. But don't worry, I'll let ye know when the time is right for your help." The older man drained his stout, and said, "'Tis time for me to get going--- my work is never done, alas. Pay the barkeeper, Johnny, and leave him a good tip. Maybe it will inspire him to be discreet as his uncle who worked here 30 years ago. Man never had more than 2 or 3 words to say to anyone."
Johnny went to the bar to pay. When he turned around, his companion had already left. "Now I have to get someone to help me track you down in this place that I don't know," he thought. "Dammit...."
Positioned, seemingly precariously, over the bar, was a television. Though usually set on the sports channel, recent events had convinced Rooney to keep turning it to the local news. The vapidly pretty face of the ubiquitous Penelope Fereira loomed over the bar patrons. As usual, she was rattling on about Amy Jennings's arrest and condition, the latest on the search for Alice Lacey, some news about Sheriff Lacey's sick husband, and then, a set of old-fashioned mug shots filled the screen. Penelope's voice-over announced, "A man greatly resembling these photographs has been seen in key locations related to these recent crimes. Though these pictures are over 30 years old, it is thought quite possible that he is a son or other close relative of the subject, Jason McGuire, a native of County Cork, Ireland, who was involved in international criminal activity back then, including a stint in Collinsport. Though not yet considered a suspect, whoever the man may be, he IS wanted for questioning. If you see him, DO NOT approach him, but contact the Sheriff's office IMMEDIATELY!"
Barkeep Rooney turned to the younger man. "Good Lord, that's your friend, isn't it?" His voice became hostile. "Do YOU know where he went, or what he's about?"
"God, No!" Johnny protested. "We just met tonight, and I thought he talked a lot of bull. Entertaining bull, but that's all it was. If you have to know, I think he was, how can I put this politely, AC-DC. Talked about girls, but tried to pick ME up!"
"Still, maybe he spilled something and you just didn't realize it. Stay put while I call my cousin at the Sheriff's office."
"Do that, of course, but I'm a cop, too." Johnny flashed a badge and ID card. "NYPD. Heard an old friend of mine was up here, and came for a surprise visit. I do believe I'll head to the station and offer my services. However, if that fellow shows up here again...."
Rooney replied, "Mum's the word. I understand. They used to call my uncle the Big Clam when he was the bartender here. People tell you lots of secrets and just plain bull when they're in the cups, and it behooves you to act like a sponge that dries without getting wrung out.. Don't ask, don't tell. Now his son, he never got the hang of shutting up and listening. How they let him become a cop, I'll never know."
"Takes all kinds, you wouldn't believe. By the way, if you could tell me where a place called 'Eagle Hill' is?"
"You take a left off this street, drive to the edge of town around 5 miles, take a right onto Old Chartville Road. You can see the hill from the street. Big old cemetery there, but there's some housing developments springing up around. Your friend from New York lives there? I guess you wouldn't mean the Sheriff? She doesn't live out that way."
"No, not exactly. Anyway, here's a big tip for being so helpful and discreet.
Have to run!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mary Beth Lacey, careening madly through Collinsport's streets, without even the blinking lights on, her mind racing. The pain, the pain--- if she drove FASTER, she might out-run it. HAD to out-run it--- if she DIDN'T, Alice would be murdered. She couldn't permit into her mind, the thought that her daughter might already be dead. It would be the ultimate failure--- and she had failed so many times! The triumphs and smaller successes would be as nothing if she screwed up this one last time!
Eagle Hill or Widow's Hill? That was the question. The fact that Eagle Hill was closer was the only thing that decided Mary Beth's course at this point. She parked the sheriff's car close to the main entrance of the cemetery--- earlier, it had been hidden on a small sidestreet with the other police vehicles. From the vantage point of the ruined, rusty gate, she could clearly see, though it was at a distance, the entrance of the Collins tomb built into the base of the actual Eagle Hill.
David's words about the the place came back to her. He had said it was unique for some other reason than the fact of its location. And Harvey's garbled gibberish--- about seeing Carl Collins and--- what had he said? "A mouse"--- no, that wasn't how the word came out, she was just too upset at the time to listen carefully. "Maws"--- the Mausoleum! Well, it was a place to start, since the Stockbridge tomb, now full of debris from the collapsed cottage, was obviously out of the question. There might be other mausoleums in the cemetery worth investigating, but since the one alongside the hill WAS full of Barnabas's family, simple logic indicated that would be the one Willie had taken Harvey to see.
Mary Beth, flashlight in hand, carefully trod the pathway of crushed weeds and overgrown grass. Absurdly, she was grateful it was too early for ticks, for, both, her own and Alice's sake. Her daughter had been snatched without her coat, robe, shoes or slippers, so Michael had told her. Mary Beth chided herself for having such a trivial concern, but it kept that deadly fear from distracting her even more.
As Harvey before her (though she did not know this), Mary Beth was amazed at how well-maintained the mausoleum was in comparison to its downtrodden, decayed surroundings. The wrought-iron gate swung open noiselessly. The Sheriff DID notice tracked-in dirt and stems that matched some of the weeds on the path. Clearly, someone HAD been here recently.
She stepped into the actual tomb area, noting the late Dr. Julia Hoffman Collins's sarcophagus, bright burnished white marble in comparison to the others, formerly as opulent, but grayish and subtly worn by rain, snow, and dusty dirt that had blown in through the entrance. On the wall behind, overlooking the 4 tombs (which resembled a row of white shoeboxes), there were marble wall panels bearing plaques carved with the names of each occupant, and odd decorations--- bronze lion's heads, each with a large ring sticking out of its mouth.
What were THOSE for? Mary Beth wondered. There didn't seem to be much to this tomb, in spite of the illusion created due to part of it being under the hill. This was, likely, all there was to see, and since it was obvious Alice wasn't here at all, she might as well check the rest of the cemetery before pushing on to Widows' Hill.. Still, she felt an urge to touch the lion's heads. The chased rings in their jaws resembled those she vaguely remembered hanging from the elaborate old door-knocker in the tenement apartment building she and her mother had lived in for years after her father left. A leftover piece of grandeur from when the tenement had been a proud Victorian brownstone....
Impulsively, Mary Beth tugged on the ring beneath Naomi Collins's plaque, which, it appeared, had formerly been the middle tomb. She was surprised to see that the ring MOVED a couple of inches--- it was hooked to a chain, which retracted back into the lion's jaws when she let it go. She tested the others, but they were simply soldered into the other lions' mouths. Mary Beth then tapped the walls with the butt end of her flashlight. The walls surrounding Naomi's tomb resounded with dull thuds, but the Collins matriarch's own wall gave back a hollow sound. There WAS some kind of empty space behind there, built deep into Eagle Hill!
Suddenly filled with hope, Mary Beth wildly pounded the wall all over, and shouted Alice's name. If ANYONE was in there, and there was enough air to breathe, the person would HAVE to hear the echoes, and pound and shout back! But if there WASN'T any air--- Mary Beth faltered a moment at that sobering thought--- well, there WAS a way to get in and find out. She yanked on Naomi's lion's ring. Again, only a little chain emerged. Mary Beth decided she needed some leverage. She fished in her pocket, and was relieved to feel the familiar handcuffs she always carried. They were supposedly guaranteed to restrain a 300-pound male; they should be enough to give her extra pull in opening a door that probably weighed about that much.
Mary Beth opened one of the cuffs, and thus was able to slide it through the ring. She snapped it shut, then held onto both cuff ends, and applied her whole considerable weight, practically hanging from the lion's head like she was on a trapeze. At last, the entire chain emerged from the lion's mouth--- mercifully, it didn't break. There was a grinding metallic screech, then heavy scraping, like someone dragging a piece of furniture across the floor. The large door slowly opened.
Mary Beth peered in, and saw at once there was one small candle still lit on an old candelabrum--- so there WAS air coming in from somewhere, though it smelled pretty bad. "Alice?" she said quietly, as she descended the the short flight of stairs into the dim chamber. There was a large old casket, open and empty, mounted on a solid stone catafalque. The Sheriff looked behind it. "Alice, it's Mom. Come out, Baby, everything's going to be--- ALICE!"
The room was empty, but there were signs of a struggle that centered over a part of the stone floor where tiles had been pulled up, and a skeleton, partly wrapped in an old rug, exposed. Mary Beth knelt to examine it. Male, she saw that right away. Some dark hair still attached to the dessicated skull, which had never been troubled by the elements or, apparently, worms or insects. Shreds of a once-fine rain coat--- the "London Fog" label, picturing Big Ben, was visible--- anchors embossed into metal buttons still attached to the scraps. The vertebrae and clavicle of the neck showed signs of having been wrenched apart--- unless whoever dug up the skeleton (Mary Beth didn't believe it had ever been in the coffin above) had disarranged the bones, it seemed likely that this poor fool had been hanged, or strangled--- by a maniac with muscles of steel!
There was MORE, however, and it was this evidence that had made Mary Beth cry out. There were OTHER buttons--- big blue ones--- that she recognized as coming from Alice's pajama top, mingled in the dirt with the remains. Strands of long dark hair. And, in a corner near the steps, one of the dainty cotton socks her daughter always wore to bed.
Alice HAD been here--- and Mary Beth had MISSED her! The anguished mother wondered by how much time. She picked up as many buttons as she could find, and the sock.... She knelt on the hard tiled floor, and keened over them. The bastard who received Alice from Harvey, probably raped and murdered the girl, and dragged her out somewhere to bury her. Maybe Harvey killed and buried Alice HIMSELF, under orders from AMY! How convenient that this was a cemetery! Mary Beth laughed insanely. Then she had a somewhat rational thought--- The murderer may well have tried to bury Alice in this tomb, and, after digging, discovered that another had used it for the same purpose--- maybe years ago, but it meant SOMEONE, somewhere, knew of it, and MIGHT return someday. Using the empty casket (perhaps robbed a century ago) would hardly have been a safe alternative. And, knowing that the tomb itself, with the recent addition outside, must still be visited on a frequent basis, any murderer worth his salt would have removed Alice's body and disposed of it in some other location. Clumsy to leave so much evidence, though!
Now, where else had Amy thought Alice might be? First, Eagle Hill, then.... WIDOWS' HILL! This made perfect poetic sense to the grief-stricken mother. Kill the girl in one symbolic place, then drop her body at another. A young Collins woman, coming to a typical Collins end, if the history of the estate was to be believed. Mary Beth rushed back to the Sheriff's car. In her haste, she forgot to shut the door to the underground room.
The Sheriff was dismayed to find that a heavy, chilly fog had settled over the cemetery. When she and Christine had first planned Amy's capture, Officer Rooney had told them there was a large swamp behind the cemetery, complete with quicksand, which had claimed several unlucky hunters and hikers over the years. So, they had scrupulously avoided it, but now the murky miasma of ripe decay obscured visibility as it offended the olfactory. No doubt, reflections of various forms of light--- moonlight, torchlight, headlights--- upon swamp gas might be held to explain so-called ghost sightings over the past 3 centuries!
Still, the path led directly back to the Sheriff's car, and Mary Beth was on the road instantly. Because the fog on this night reached beyond the cemetery, and, in fact, all the way up towards Collinwood, Mary Beth DID run the blinding, blinking lights atop the vehicle. On this night, the Weeping Meadow Road lived up to its name. Mary Beth crawled around a few corners rendered extra dim on the unlit, hilly private street. No other cars were on the road. She passed the ominous-looking reptilian silhouette of the great mansion set back on a hill, its contours smeared in the mist, but recognizable, especially since there were some lights on in the windows--- tiny, fuzzy beacons in the distance. She had to pass close to the unused part of the mansion where they'd found Amy and Quentin the other day, the part called the East Wing, but, as it was shuttered and dark, she didn't much fear detection from that angle. She could barely see the driveway winding around, but it came to a stop at a small pathway framed by two hydrangea bushes. Their thick, long, light-colored twigs, still naked, were the easiest things to see in the gloom.
Mary Beth, her legs unsteady, her heart pounding, her eyes sore from all her tears and her body aching from nearly 2 days of no sleep, had trouble forcing herself from the car. Please, she prayed, just a little while more, and when I find Alice, then I'll rest. Dead or alive--- if she's dead, then I-- I don't think I want to ever wake up. She HAS to be here....
She flashed her light at the bare bushes. The long, straight canes seemed to reach for her like skeletal hands. That's stupid, she thought dazedly, how could that skeleton's hands be HERE? She beat on them, and they scratched HER hands. "Oooww," she mourned, sucking at the cuts. "LEAVE ME ALONE! GIVE ME BACK MY CHILD!" Her voice echoed against the flagstones that formed the path, fairly easy to navigate even in the fog. She stumbled up, fighting a growing cluster headache. She'd had them for years. The worst part was when she seemed to see bright lights where there were none. However, she hadn't had such a headache in the last few years when she was working regular hours in the D.A.'s office, with much less stress than her old days at the 14th Precinct. Since she had come to "peaceful" Collinsport, she expected never to have them again. What a sick joke!
Finally, she reached the summit Christine had told her about, after Pauline's near-plunge and miracle rescue. Christine, where IS she? Mary Beth groused irritably. Damn that woman, she was one of the best cops on the Force, but she had this tendency to arrive too late to prevent trouble, though in the nick of time to save the day. "I'll bet she does that on PURPOSE!" Mary Beth said to the cliff and the bench and the tall wall that shielded silly young girls and widows from jumping out of despair. Then, as if she had suddenly remembered the purpose of being here, The Sheriff tore and clawed at the other ornamental bushes on the scenic overlook. "ALICE! ALICE!" she called, but her weakened voice fell on the sickening quiet. Finally, the truth took her over, and made her fall to the ground. Amy had lied, Harvey had lied.... She had been betrayed, and it was her own fault.
"Ah, we meet at last."
Mary Beth lifted her splitting head. There was a bright light above her, but for the first time it had a voice. The voice had a brogue! She crawled to the bench, and lifted herself to her knees. She cursed herself for leaving her gun at the hospital! Still, she knew to whom the voice belonged, though she had never heard it before. "McGuire!" she hissed. "Son, or nephew, or what---?"
"There is only ONE Jason McGuire, my dear, and that is ME!"
"But-- but you--- Jason, I mean--- would be---is 80 years old!"
"Lady Sheriff, and I use the term 'Lady' loosely, just whose old bones did ye think were wrapped in that rug in the mausoleum, and have lain there for the last 33 years?"
"No--NO! That can't be. God, I'm hallucinating!"
"Do hallucinations know what you've come for, Dear Lady Sheriff? Do they know how you search in vain for your pretty little Alice?"
"I don't know yet that it's in vain! Amy played a cruel trick on me, used my own husband against me and our children, but she was getting weaker before we even caught her. Whatever she wanted to do to Alice, I doubt she had a chance yet. Alice wasn't in the tomb, Alice isn't here. YOU know where she is, don't you?"
"Why, Sheriff, as a duly-appointed officer of the law, you know better than to demand that I incriminate myself! Why don't ye read me my RIGHTS?" McGuire laughed. Then he turned serious. "Go ahead, woman!"
"You have the right to remain silent.... And I suppose you will," Mary Beth said, defeated.
"Well, no, as a matter of fact.... Since there's that about ye that reminds me of the late, unlamented George Patterson, for the second time in my existence, well, one wouldn't call it a LIFE, exactly--- I will tell you just what happened to dear, departed Alice!"
"You're lying! I'm her mother, I would KNOW if she was really dead!"
"Yes, just like you know everything about that lummox--- SO like Willie, it only took a love bite to tame him!--- that you're married to. Ah, trust me, Sheriff Lacey, mothers and wives are sometimes the most clueless creatures of all when it comes to their loved ones. It's a willfull instinct, ye see, that keeps 'em from killing each other for years. LIES are what preserve the human race!"
"SHUT UP AND JUST TELL ME!" Then, Mary Beth became contrite. "Please, if you EVER had a warm feeling toward ANYONE...."
"I DID, TRULY I did, ONCE, and look where it got me. My body, 33 years rotting in someone else's tomb, and my SOUL--- 33 years in HELL until I found a way out. But that's neither here nor there, as far as you're concerned. You want to know about sweet, luscious Alice. A toothsome little piece, I must say. But gone to a place even I cannot follow her now," McGuire intoned unctuously as the smarmiest of television evangelists. "Dear Lady Sheriff, do you know the history of this cliff?"
"I think Christine told me--- Barnabas Collins told her---"
"Ah, that other teller of unvarnished truths! I take it, then, he told of the widows who leapt from here, as well as few hysterical maidens and drunken sailors. Well, that was in the white man's time. But the evil on this cliff went back much farther. Once upon a time, about 20 years before Isaac Collins arrived on these rocky shores, there was an Indian village nearby. The sachem of the tribe went on a long journey to trade with another. He was gone for months, alas. In the meantime, there were rumors about his wife and his brother, who had sworn to look after her in all ways except the most enjoyable, a vow that may have been broken. When the sachem returned, almost 10 months later, he arrived 10 days after the birth of his wife's daughter.
"Now, there was uncertainty--- maybe the child WAS his, conceived just prior to his departure, and she just carried it late, or she and the brother got an early start on an affair. Still, even the hint of such an insult was enought to drive the chief to have his wife and brother tossed from this cliff. He would have thrown the brat off too, but his mother was the grandmother in any case, and convinced him to let her raise it, some distance from the village. As you might have guessed, the little darling grew into a beauty like her mother, and, 15 years later, the father she seldom saw developed a lust for her. He told himself that she was, at best, his niece, perhaps not even that. Unions with nieces WERE acceptable in his tribe, so he decided to take her as his wife. However, the poor little wench had been raised to believe the sachem WAS her Dad, so she broke from the wedding feast, and hid in a cave said to be somewhere near this cliff.
"He searched and searched for her, as did the poor grandmother. Dirty Daddy caught the girl first, unfortunately. He decided to teach his bride a lesson, and consummated the marriage on the spot from which her mother had been shoved. So he beat her, stripped her, and took her right where you're kneeling now. The grandmother snuck up, hit her own wretched son with a rock, and rolled him over. She took the young girl far away to escape the tribe's vengeance. But in a month, both realized the girl was expecting. Lord, what a mess, eh, Sheriff? But still, the grandmother persisted in her perhaps mis-placed compassion. She helped the grand-daughter birth the mis-begotten little thing, alas, another trouble-making girl. The young mother nursed it for a few weeks, then disappeared with the brat.
"The desperate grandmother had a notion where the two had gone, and, though it was a risk to her own life, followed them back here. Early in the morning, she arrived to find the baby lying there, unhurt but hungry as hell. A quick look at the rocks below, however, told what became of her miserable grand-daughter. Now, the grandmother was pretty old by now, and didn't think she could raise the child. She couldn't bring herself to do the sensible thing, which would have been to jump with it to join the mother. She couldn't go back to the tribe. So, she took it to were she knew there was a brand-new settlement of white people. I don't know what she thought THEY would do with the child, they were known for taking Indian slaves, but I guess she was at the end of her rope. She dropped it on a doorstep, and took off, never to be seen again.
"As luck would have it, the step belonged to Isaac Collins and his missus. Kind Puritans that they were, they gave the redskin baby to their Negro slaves, and the Indian princess grew up to fetch and carry. But she also caught the eye of a Collins son, who wed her against his family's wishes. Their kids married their cousins and so forth, so this taint runs through the Collins blood. Incest, madness, and murder! When Isaac built his first mansion, it's said that his despised daughter-in-law suggested this location. For the incredible view! For once, he agreed with her. So, all the hatred and bloodshed came to be centered here, where it all began."
Mary Beth was nearly numb with exhaustion. "That's awful.... awful, but I guess it figures. The Collinses screw everyone AND themselves. But what's it got to to with Alice?"
McGuire sounded almost compassionate. "You haven't listened to the relevant parts, poor tired dear. Your HUSBAND brought Alice up here, after trying and failing to have his way with her at the tomb. That Amy, she is SO perverse in her demands, but once a Collins, always a Collins. The same as your husband and your daughter. Your beloved Harvey brought Alice here, climbed to the top of this fence, and THREW HER OVER!"
"NO! He DIDN'T! His heart was too weak to do so much. He told me as much as he could. I believe he DID take her and hid her in that mausoleum, but that's ALL! Someone else got her after that--- YOU-- you COULDN'T be McGuire, that's all there is to it! My baby's still ALIVE!"
"Mary Beth, Mary Beth. All you have to do is look over the railing. Just like the Indian grandmother did, over 300 years ago. Come on up. You know you WANT to," MacGuire wheedled.
"I--I CAN'T! I'm an acrophobiac! I'll call--- call for back-up. Yes, that's what I'll do." Mary Beth babbled in a confused, senile manner. "Christine will come, I know she will. Better late than never."
"Alice's body will wash out to sea, and you may NEVER find her! Don't wait for that old drunk!"
"Who CARES if she drinks? Christine's better as a drunk cop than many are, sober. She'll come when I call. She always wanted to meetchah. But I didn't bring a radio or a phone, dammit. Gotta get back to the car." Mary Beth got up and tried to find the path, but the light was in her eyes, the fog waxed and waned, and her body only craved to do one thing--- that which McGuire wanted. Hey, it wasn't going to be like when she was forced to stand on a girder a few-dozen storeys up in a building under construction by that crooked developer. Harvey had to shimmy along the same girder and smacked her upside the head to make her let go of her support, even though he had that inner-ear problem, and good old Christine caught them both.
But it was Christine's dumb idea that got them into that jam in the first place, wasn't it? They didn't even have a search warrant, and because any evidence of the shoddy construction and the resultant murders to preserve the secret were, thus, inadmissable, the developer only ended up spending 5 years in prison for threatening a police officer--- Christine, who had arrived, as usual, almost too late! Mary Beth, on the other hand, was called on the carpet by Lieutenant Samuels for trying such a stupid trick (thought, to do the situation justice, he DID yell at Christine, too, for dreaming up the scheme); she and poor Harv almost got arrested for trespassing! (There was only one good thing that came out of the mess; construction WAS halted until the building's weak spots were reinforced.)
And, boy, Mary Beth thought, that time I was
in labor with Alice, and that ninny Christine took me in her crappy car which
stalled out, and didn't even have a radio to call for help. Just her old
traffic whistle and her badge, which she used to stop a big whumping
truck coming at her, dead on! Christine could have gone SPLAT! into a million bite-size chunks, and she, Mary Beth, would
have probably died in that crappy car because Alice was coming out a little
sideways and needed to be manipulated into the right position. What if the cord
had wrapped around Alice's neck? What if I had needed a Caesarean!
I was so grateful then, I gave the baby that middle name, but the more I think of it....
And McGuire was sure right about the drinking! And all those men, the way Christine trashed the good ones and stuck with the bad ones till the bitter end. Doper Dory McKenna, versus Decent David Keeler. That doctor boyfriend who got himself murdered, and whom, they discovered, had a closer relationship with a cheap hooker than with either Christine or his own former wife! The reporter who'd spilled some of Christine's confidences.... The "ideal" date who RAPED her (ironically, the only relationship disaster that WASN'T Christine's fault!) The married men, including one who nearly made Christine pregnant, and a murder suspect, the latter too recent an incident to be blamed on "youthful indiscretion"! And the oddball fascination with Albert Grand! All things considered, maybe MANSFIELD might have, under different circumstances, made a dream date for his most determined adversary! That was Christine, the "D" girl: if a man was dangerous, desperate, despicable, doped-up, or just plain dumb, she was all over him like a rash.
Barnabas--- was he one of the bad ones, or good ones? BAD, Mary Beth decided. Screwing Christine during an investigation. Locking up poor dumb Willie. Screwing Christine. Lying like a rug to Mary Beth and Job, and to Amy, with hideous results. Screwing Christine. Everything came down to screwing.... Even her own life. Screwed. By David Collins. By Amy Jennings. By Harvey. By her Dad. By Jerry McCarthy, so long ago. She never saw her first baby dead, because for years she convinced herself that whatever had been so painfully extracted from her body wasn't a baby. Maybe they flushed it down a toilet, back there in Puerto Rico. Maybe it had floated up here, after all these years. It was down there now, on the rocks, with Alice, and she had to see. She just HAD to.
She stared up at the barrier. She knew that Pauline Peterson had managed to get up there, but that girl was only 23, couldn't have been taller than 5-foot-2, weighed maybe 100 pounds, and had a reputation for emulating the physically-fit heroines of comic books. Mary Beth cried, "How the HELL will I get up there!!!"
McGuire's voice became soothing. "Ah, Mary Beth, as if I'd leave ye alone in your hour of need. Here, darlin', let me give ye a hand up!"
"But you're--- you're dead. You're a GHOST. You're not SOLID. Your BONES are miles away!"
"Only when I don't need 'em. Come, Mary Beth, take my hand. Feel how strong, how WARM they are, warmer than that undead creature your drunken friend loves to tumble with."
What does he mean by
THAT, Mary Beth wondered, but she didn't care very much anymore. She reached
for McGuire's hand, with its very long fingers. He was right,
somehow he WAS solid enough to help lift her. He never pushed or otherwise
forced her up the wall--- if she hesitated, he waited
until she decided to go on. Because he KNEW she would! At the last boost, Mary
Beth put her foot into Jason's hand, and was about to hoist herself onto the
railing. Already, she could see the waves crashing and swirling around the
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine and Willie stood before the open door to the secret room in the Mausoleum. The former shook her head in exasperation. "Well, it appears I could have left you back at the hospital after all, Willie. I guess that door wasn't as hard to open as all that, if Mary Beth was the one who did this."
Willie examined the entire door. "Not THAT easy." He pointed to the handcuffs, still dangling from the ring in the lion's mouth. "She needed a little extra hand-hold." He peered into the mouth of the inner tomb, now quite dark. "Sheriff Lacey!" he muttered. "It's Willie and Miss Cagney!"
"Mary Beth! Are you IN there? Alice?" Christine snapped crisply. Heavens, this was a TOMB, and obviously empty at that. Why did Willie feel a need to whisper?
She aimed her flashlight into the darkness. The air, while evil-smelling, seemed to come in chilly drafts from some point overhead. "What kind of tomb is this? Why was it built in here, when the family is buried outside?"
"Barnabas told me that Joshua Collins built it to store arms for the American Revolution. And, probably, the troops who used 'em."
The Irish rebel in Christine was intrigued. She asked, a little sarcastically, "For or against the mother country?"
Willie was indignant. "That's a dumb question. For America, or course!"
"Just wondering. I mean, a lot of Joshua's trade would have been with England. The stake had to be VERY worth the game, or else there wouldn't be anything--- the English would have boycotted him, and the Americans would have either hanged him or banished him to Canada. Maybe he was a guy who could play both ends against the middle, like Jason McGuire."
"No! Barnabas said Joshua was HONEST and a PATRIOT." Willie was as indignant as though defending his own parents. In a way, he WAS defending his family, even if it was a great-uncle 10 times removed.
"Amazing how much Barnabas seems to know about his ancestors' motives, isn't it, Willie? MY mom's family goes back as far, and there were a lot of old letters and such, but we didn't pretend to understand them, and we didn't get all bent out of shape if someone made a joke. Unless it was my DAD who made it." Christine sighed sharply at the memory. She flashed the light on the empty casket. "Good Lord, what IS this? The American King Tut's tomb? Secret automatic doors, empty burial chambers--- what?" She noticed the skeleton, wrapped in an old rug and half-buried in the floor. "What, did the Collinses kill SLAVES to serve their dead in the after-life as well?"
"Miss Cagney, please...." Willie faltered. "Miss Cagney, when you look at those bones, I know you're gonna guess. It's-- it's Jason."
Christine studied the remains. Her mood became somber, almost reverent, as though she had found the Holy Grail or the Lost Ark. "Oh, dear God, if only my Dad--- Charlie--- was here to see. He looked for Jason the last 20 years of his life." She picked at the dirt and unearthed a finger bone, which she put in her pocket. "This, I will bury in my father's grave," she whispered. Then, as if coming out of a trance, she reeled on Willie. "I take it, then, YOU were responsible for this?"
Willie stammered, "Only to BURY him, Ma'am! I DIDN'T kill him. I had the killing peeled off me by then, anyway, but I would NEVER have killed JASON! We were FRIENDS, even if we didn't always get along. I tried to save him...."
"Barnabas," Christine said, surprised that she felt NO surprise at this conclusion. "Barnabas killed him. And had you bury him here. The way he almost did with Harvey. But why, Willie? What could EITHER of them have done to him?"
"They got too close to secrets Barnabas wanted kept. That's all I can, or WILL, ever tell you, even if you SHOOT me!" Willie cringed in anticipation of this fate.
"Get UP, you IDIOT! I'm NOT going to
shoot you, not over the 30-year-old murder of an international crook who
probably DESERVED it, nor over what happened to Harvey--- Barnabas DIDN'T kill
him, and it's clear Amy was running the Alice
kidnapping. Anyway, I STILL need you to help me find
Mary Beth, and Alice--- if she's still to be found." Christine suddenly
wished she had some Rosary beads to whisper a prayer over, with a Crucifix to
kiss, the way her Irish grandmother did when her son, Christine's father Charlie,
was in danger while on duty. "After, when we finally find Barnabas---
I HOPE he tells me the truth, but I'm not holding my breath."
You'll hold it till you die, Willie thought. Poor Miss Cagney, like poor Julia before her. Willie was sometimes convinced that the pressure of keeping all Barnabas's secrets had shortened the life of the late Mrs. Collins, as much as the cancer in her lungs. Sure, they'd been happy together, in a quiet way, and Jeremy was their miracle, but there had been too much dirty water under the bridge for Barnabas and Julia to settle down like other couples, secure in the knowledge that they were reaping the reward of untarnished lives.
"In any case," Christine concluded briskly, "we'd better get to Widow's Hill. That was the other place Amy mentioned. I don't know yet what I'm going to do about McGuire's bones--- there should be some closure to his file--- but until I figure out a way to do that without getting YOU in trouble, he's been here over 30 years, he's not going anywhere--- WHAT?" She glanced back at the makeshift grave. The old rug was lying, limp and forlorn, in the dirt, as well as the remnants of a raincoat. The bones had DISAPPEARED! "I'm seeing things--- maybe they weren't there to begin with--" Christine muttered, then felt in her pocket. The long finger bone, delicate but sharp, was still there."What's going on, Willie?" she demanded.
"I--I don't know. I think something like this has happened before, but I can't explain it. All I know is, this means the Sheriff and maybe Alice are in real danger now!"
"Well, let's get cracking! You close up the tomb, Willie, I'll wait for you in the car. In fact, I'll let you drive, since I doubt I could find my way from the cemetery in that pea soup outside!" Christine ran past the shoebox-like tombs, and the ornate gate. The fog had rolled straight up to the entrance to the Mausoleum. Still, she saw part of the path back to the car, and knew she could follow it if she walked slowly.
She was, she judged, about halfway to the car, when she heard a thin, sighing noise. At first, she figured it was the distant sound of that heavy door to the secret room being closed, but the noise soon took on a distinctly human character and clarity. It was a woman! Alice? Mary Beth? Some other unfortunate victim of the stalker? Christine felt she had no choice but to investigate. She had a small flashlight in her purse and her gun in the shoulder holster, both of which she extracted, before departing the path. She hesitated about calling Willie, knowing that, if the suspect was nearby, this would just alert whoever it was to ambush her and / or escape, and probably not before killing the woman whose moans and whimpers could still be heard. Maybe this was even a trap, but she had turned such surprises to her advantage in the past.
She had her weapon cocked and ready, and led herself around with the small, pinlike beam of the flashlight, until she was about to go around Eagle Hill itself. She knew she had to shut it off, so she wouldn't alert the perp to her approach. She circled the hill closely, slowly, so as to avoid the notorious swamp. She wished she had one of those new-fangled ultraviolet lights to guide her in case she had to stray from the hill's circumference, but it probably wouldn't be necessary to do so--- the sobs were getting louder. No doubt Christine would literally STUMBLE on the source of the voice!
She could see a small light, just about 20 feet from her position, at least, that was her best estimate. It was hard to tell, since the light was also fuzzy around the edges, and nothing else could be seen around it. But the voice was saying words now. "Please.... Don't touch me," the woman wept. "Oh, God, I wish I had never married you.... Thanks to your damn Church, I'll probably go to Hell for divorcing you, but I HAVE to get away from you already...."
There was a low voice murmurring in reply. "You won't go to Hell. We just can't marry again, in the Church, or out, unless there's an annulment first."
"I'm not bound by your Church's rules, just YOU! And that's why I'd go to Hell--- for depriving YOU of your right to remarry without a 10-year wait for an answer from Rome, which they probably won't give us ANYWAY because we have the kids and they'll be considered illegitimate or something.... " The sobbing started again.
"That ISN'T how it works, Kaye. The kids aren't going to turn into little bastards. But I can promise you, if you DO go for an annulment, church or civil, I'll do my best to get the kids away from you, and give them to my Mother. You may have money, and your Dad might hire the grandest lawyer in Westchester, but I have the ear of the Cardinal, who has the ear of the Mayor, who has the ear of the Judges.... "
The woman sounded fearful of this extravagant threat. "You can't--- can't take Brian. He HATES what you do. He's seen the blood, sweat, tears, anger--- smelt the liquor on you when you come home drunk after doing double shifts or another police funeral.... Bad enough you have to be away for your work, but, dammit, Charles, must you spend even MORE time away from your children, sucking down the liquor with your friends, coming home only to pass out for hours, then slapping them away when you have a hangover? And Chrissie.... She ADORES you and would probably go with you even if your home was a packing box under an overpass.... but she's just a little girl. I don't WANT her to have that kind of life. She has talent and brilliance and she's going to be a beauty once all that puppy fat melts, her freckles fade, her teeth are straight, and she gets something done with that funny-color hair she got from YOUR side of the family! She's going to be a debutante with a degree in art from Barnard, married to a doctor or lawyer, not one of those Mick princesses at that booze hall Gaelic Club of yours, destined to marry a mechanic or some sleazy Democrat, or another stupid, drunken COP---"
"Kaye, STOP IT! Let's just drop the whole idea of divorces and annulments. I don't want that, I just want YOU! Maybe I wouldn't be out drinking at all, if you'd let me touch you. What's gotten into you, the last few years? Kaye, PLEASE---"
"GET AWAY FROM ME!" There was the sound of a sharp slap, and a soft thud.
"DADDY! YOU HIT MOMMY! I HATE YOU!" Chrissie shouted, as she dropped her toys and ran toward the noise. She could feel, beneath her feet, the plush carpet in her parents' bedroom, as she ran through the gloom toward the bedside lamp, to save her mother, only to stop dead when she saw the truth.... Her father sprawled on the carpet, a welt forming on his face from one of his own leather belts, which her mother held in her hand.
"He was drunk, Chrissie, that's why he fell so easy," Kaye Olmstead Cagney explained in a faltering voice. Her blonde hair was in tangled tufts around her face, as though someone had tried to pull it out. "Chrissie, don't cry, baby. I didn't hurt Daddy that badly. He'll get up in a minute or two. But you have to understand, honey, he was trying to hurt ME, tried to pull me down with my hair and do NASTY NASTY things to me. Husbands are like that, sometimes, Chrissie. Maybe you'll be luckier. If you stay with ME, I'll make sure you marry a NICE man, not some hot-shot with a badge who made me think he was a big hero...."
Chrissie had sunk to her knees beside her unconscious father, and stroked his hair. She was only 7 years old, but her First Communion teacher had just told her that very afternoon about how 7 was the age of reason, and that she would be able to know what was right and what was wrong before God and Jesus on the Cross. Daddy lying on a carpet with his face whipped was WRONG. It was wrong if a crook did it, and it was wrong when her MOM did it, no matter WHAT the excuse. And Daddy wasn't like that--- sure, he would come home smelling stinky, and talk too loud, and push her or Brian away when he felt sick, but Chrissie KNEW he wouldn't really HURT them, NOR would he make her Mom do anything "nasty"!
Daddy loved Mommy, but he WAS mad sometimes because she was rich and they were living in a nice house that Grandpa Olmstead had bought for them next to HIS in Westchester, when Daddy REALLY wanted to live nearer to Gramma Cagney, who still lived in a cabbage-scented apartment in Brooklyn. He'd wanted to bring her to live in this house, but Mommy and Gramma didn't get along because Mommy was of English descent and Presbyterian. ("Lazy Sassenaugh slut! And a high-nosed Calvinist to boot!" Gramma often said when she thought nobody would hear. "Old Shanty Mick Biddy, Mrs.Corned Beef-and-that Damned-Cabbage of 1915!" Kaye Cagney often said when SHE thought nobody would hear.) Chrissie also knew how Daddy was made to feel bad because he was "just a cop", while Grandpa Olmstead owned a big company and kept trying to hire Daddy away from the exciting world of brave police catching robbers and other bad men.
Chrissie held her Daddy's head to her breast, and cried out to her mother. "Daddy IS a hero! The mayor gave him a MEDAL for catching a bad, bad man who hurt ladies and choked them after, even though he almost got SHOT! And he was on page one of the Wes'ches'ser Times for arresting a 'Talian man who killed other people for money! You just pulled your OWN hair, Mommy--- I caught you doing it a hun'red times! And listen, Mommy--- I guess you can make me go to dumb old Barnard if you want, but when I'm a grown-up, I wanna be just like Daddy, NOT you and dumb old Brian, and I won't ever, EVER see you again, unless Daddy asks me to! An' I hope he DOESN'T!"
Chrissie's mother was sobbing again, this time with real anguish that was clear even to a 7-year-old. Chrissie suddenly WANTED to get up and hug her and say she WAS sorry, but her Daddy was still lying on the carpet and his head was heavy, and it seemed like they would never be able to get off that soft, soft carpet. It was almost as though it was sucking them down, down, into the plush, brown--- BROWN? The carpet in Chrissie's parents' room was SILVER!
She saw her father's head disappear into the brown carpet. She tried to rise, but flailed helplessly. "MOMMY!" Christine screamed. "HELP ME!" Her mother's face shrunk to a tiny pinpoint and vanished. Her parents were DEAD, she remembered. "I'm stuck in QUICKSAND! That damn McGuire!" Christine hollered for Willie. She could barely see him coming, but he apparently knew every inch of the area, and was able to stop just short of the pool of quicksand.
"Miss Cagney, WHY are you out here?" Willie demanded, as though the answer would determine if he should save her or not!
"I heard VOICES! I thought, there was just a CHANCE it might be Alice. But it was---
was some kind of night bird, or maybe a coyote! Harvey was reading that they're
moving further and further
Northeast--- Anyway, I screwed up and got stuck. I'm sinking as I'm talking---"
"You wouldn't have been screaming 'Mommy help me' to a damn coyote," Willie muttered, as he searched for a long enough branch to hold out to Christine. "It's Jason, Jason, Jason. How the HELL did he learn so much about you and the Laceys?" He broke the limb off a tree, hoping it was the right length, and held it out it to her. "I mean, so your Dad was after him at one time. So were lots of cops. Why are YOU so special?" Both gasped in dismay as the end of the big branch was still a foot or more shy of Christine's grasp. Willie pulled it back, tied a sleeve of his jacket to it, and threw it back. The sacrifice was for naught; when Christine got hold of the other sleeve, the whole thing came loose!
Now, her resolve crumpled, and she was sobbing in terror. Willie took a step into the muck, but she waved him back. "I don't want YOU dead, too! Go to Widows' Hill, and help Mary Beth!" Christine pleaded. "Tell her I tried---"
"CHRISTINE! WILLIE!" A sharp, familiar voice pierced the darkness.
"QUENTIN, OVER HERE!!!" Willie called. "HURRY! I think she's just about gone under!"
"No, no, no," Christine wailed. The quicksand WAS up to her armpits, though.
"Christine--- calm down if you can," Quentin said with a touch of irony in his voice that was almost reassuring. "You have to keep your arms over the muck. Somehow, you have to get to the surface without struggling too much--- THAT'S what makes one sink! If you can manage that, you'll float long enough for one of us to catch you."
"Don't think I can," Christine said listlessly. She had been awake almost as long as Mary Beth, and the scene from her childhood that she'd been forced to re-live, had sapped almost the last of her energy--- and at age 57, one had little enough to spare even if one was in much better condition. The quicksand put tremendous pressure on her chest, and she prayed that she would stop breathing and pass out BEFORE she sank from sight.
There was nothing else left for Quentin to do, but try to get Christine himself. He didn't want Willie to take the risk any more than Christine had--- too many people, including his daughter, still depended on him, and he WAS the last link to Barnabas. "I've lost all MY family now," Quentin thought sadly, when he recalled Amy's dismal prospects as related by Tony Peterson. Getting her even somewhat off the hook would take rather more than Christine's pledges of help.
He wondered if his portrait still had ANY protective powers anymore, now that it was allowing him to age. Still, his injuries HAD healed the instant Carl fixed the hole Amy had made in the canvas. And Carl said he WOULD live long enough to make up for his misdeeds, perhaps until the portrait had assumed its original appearance, the likeness of the 27-year-old fool he had once been. It was the ONLY hope, though the prospect of existing, sunk under quicksand, until the portrait permitted him to die, was as gruesome as when he had been buried alive over 30 years before. Quentin removed his own jacket and entered the pool of quicksand to the sound of Willie's loud mourning, an expected accompaniment to any disaster.
Quentin was mired to the waist by the time he was close enough to Christine, who was half-heartedly trying to keep her head above the mud. He threw his jacket over, but she couldn't--couldn't lift her arms to catch it. Now BOTH were caught. Suddenly, there was a loud, plopping splash, and Willie was shouting, "What the HELL are YOU doing? You wanna die TOO?"
"Oh, don't worry," a young man's voice called breezily. Quentin didn't know who it was, but the quicksand tragedy was turning into a regular bog party. He had a vision of some future society excavating the pool a million years hence, and finding a crowd of such preserved corpses, like the dinosaurs once trapped in the La Brea Tar pits.
"Buddy, I wish I could say I was glad to see you, but my friend on the shore is right, you know," Quentin said irritably. Bad enough to die, but to die in the company of a clown---!
"I can help," the strange young man said. Even in the murky mist, Quentin could see that the lad was wearing glasses. How could he SEE with all that mud on them? "REALLY I can help," the young man insisted, "but there's one condition--- you can't let HER know I'm doing it. She doesn't like to know ANYONE'S helped her, let alone a MAN, let alone ME, and anyway, we can't meet at this time. YOU understand."
"Yes, believe it or not, I do," Quentin replied thoughtfully. So Christine, the lapsed Catholic, DID appear to have a Guardian angel of a sort. "Well, do what you can, I doubt she's in any condition to understand, anyway."
The young man dog-paddled to the unconscious Christine's side. He vanished. In a moment, Christine's arms, body, then legs, appeared from below, and Quentin helped the man turn her onto her back. This was difficult, as she was still quite mud-caked, but together, they brought her to where Willie was able to help pull her out, then Quentin. The young man sprang from the pool without assistance, as if lifeguarding around quicksand was something he'd done every day for an eternity.
He did more--- he gave Christine mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, pumped on her chest. In minutes, she was sitting up, sputtering and coughing, bemoaning her mucky state, and demanding to be taken to Widows' Hill.
Willie sat with her while Quentin talked quietly to the young man. "That was a neat save, young fellow. It isn't often we get help from above, as it were."
"Even I'm not sure if where I'm from is ABOVE, as you put it," the young man said. "All I know is, I have to get to where Jason is now, before WORSE happens. It's my JOB! Once a cop, always a cop, I guess! Until I got tapped for this case, I was happily watching over my Mom in Florida and my sisters with their families, something I had never been taught, nor believed was possible. The Jewish concept of afterlife is different from the Christian, but I'm not even sure where I've been is the REAL Promised Land of milk and honey, or even Christian! It was kind of like the lobby of a grand hotel, surrounded by an obstacle course!"
Quentin nodded in grim recognition. He had taken that obstacle course with Amanda, and lost her forever--- having her live on in Pauline amounted to the same thing. "Oh, and--- what's your name, my friend?"
"Jonah Newman, detective, NYPD," the young man replied. "Yes, I knew them both--- Cagney and Lacey--- they were with me when I was shot, and the others from the 14th Precinct. They hung in there till they caught the scum who did it! He really IS down below now--- murdered in Attica by his jealous girly-man, and stoking the Infernal furnace, or so Mr. Best told me before he sent me out. The Messiah, he's NOT, but he's not Satan, either. He's kind of--- how can I put it--- INDIFFERENT. Detached. Oblivious. Totally objective, just follows the rules the Ether, whatever they are."
"Mr. Best.... Hmmm.... " Quentin remembered, all too well, the inscrutable Gatekeeper of the Afterlife, whose own thwarted, Plutonic passion for Amanda Harris had led to a redux of the Orpheus-and-Eurydice physical challenge of escaping from death without personal contact between Quentin and Amanda. Of course, they had failed--- then, perhaps as an act of spite, Best had permitted her soul to be born into the girl destined to become Quentin's other hopeless amour, Pauline. "Well, always be careful when dealing with Best, Jonah," the older man advised. "He ALWAYS has the final word, and he can be as slippery as Jason."
"Well, Jason out-slippered HIM. Escaped with the secret to corporeality, he did! He can become real, just like I am now, but MINE is temporary," Jonah said with some regret. "That's why I have to get him soon. Mr. Best promised maybe it could be permanent for me, too, but what good is it if it would scare my Mom and sisters? And my old girlfriend, she married years ago, and has a nice life."
"I know what THAT'S all about, Jonah," Quentin sighed. You'll have to do what I've learned to--- fulfill your purpose, and let the future take care of itself, because WE know death isn't necessarily the end. Now, you'd better get up to that Widows' Hill. That's where we're headed now, and I can see Christine is recovering quickly. I trust you know where that is?"
"I know someone who does. And--- Quentin? You're getting full credit for this rescue. Because you WERE willing to put your ass on the line--- almost like you did a long time ago, but this time, it WOULD have cost you your life."
The "long ago" reference was unclear to Quentin--- one sometimes forgot great events, as well as random acts of kindness and cruelty, in the course of 130 years. But he knew who would have made the judgment about the "cost". "Best again," he muttered. "Get along, young fellow." When he turned his back on Jonah, Quentin knew he needn't look back--- the young police detective made a soundless exit.
He and Willie walked alongside Christine, guiding her to her car, though she otherwise disdained their support. Then she stopped suddenly. "Oh," she gasped, "My gun! My flashlight!"
Willie handed them to her. "Lucky you dropped these BEFORE you ran into the quicksand." Wouldn't have done to shoot Mommy, he thought. Or Daddy either, I'm guessing.
Christine put them into her muddy pocket. "Sorry about your jackets, guys," she said, "I will personally buy you a couple of the BEST from L.L. Bean, once this case is wrapped up--- God willing." She felt inside the other pocket. "I still have the bone. Maybe it was a good luck charm, even considering the source."
"WHOSE bone?" Quentin asked. Good Lord, he thought, that Newman boy didn't lose a digit, did he? There was something he was remembering about such cases--- such a manifestation shouldn't lose even ONE bone, because--- because---
"It was McGuire's. From where he's BURIED. In that Mausoleum," Christine explained. "Or WAS buried. We saw his skeleton, and then--- it all VANISHED! Except for a finger bone I picked up."
"Oh, God!" Quentin groaned. "We HAVE to hurry now. That
FINGER is now Jason's Achilles HEEL."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART SEVENTEEN--- FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2000 (B)
Hallie Collins sat with Carolyn Peterson in the Drawing room at Collinwood. Hallie had long since stopped weeping, since it brought on false contractions. Carolyn stared at the fire, wondering if Quentin had ever tracked down Tony. He WASN'T with Maggie--- Carolyn had played a childish prank to check, probably, she reflected, the same kind Maggie had pulled on her countless times, the old "Call but hang up without speaking if a certain person answers" routine. She had dialed the Shaw house, and Maggie answered, saying "Hello, hello?" In the background Carolyn could hear Willie's loud, distinctive voice, and Vicki Shaw's. Her voice was like her mother's, but had an edge to it like her father's. Ah, the little family, together at last, Carolyn thought with no great satisfaction as she hung up on her husband's puzzled lover. Now she had NO idea where Tony might be.
Marisol Cortez, who had arrived earlier, on Thursday evening, ahead of her charges (who would be driving in with their oldest sister Emily, and the other nanny, Heather, in the morning) came into the drawing room and knelt next to Hallie's commodious chair. "How are you, Senora?" she asked solicitously, clutching the older woman's hand. "The little one is coming, I can tell. Perhaps it would be wise to take you to the hospital tonight."
"Please, I've had enough of hospitals, at least for a couple of days, and I hope the little one will hold out until after--- after---" Hallie sniffled anew. "It's almost one A.M.---I need to rest. It helps a little to know that part of David will live on, in a way, now that Harvey Lacey survived the transplant." She rose with both Marisol's and Carolyn's aid--- the only way she could get up from anything these days. It was good to have another woman around. Pauline didn't count; she had just gotten home; though, due to David's death, she wasn't going to Bar Harbor and Tony's aunt after all, she WAS barred from strenuous activity for the next several weeks. Elliot often had to do the chore alone when Carolyn wasn't available to help, and Hannah Louise was too small, though she wanted to be helpful. Roger, of course, was wheelchair-bound.
Hallie hated to bother the other servants, who had their hands full preparing the rooms for the crush of funeral guests that were expected. The only thing that would be missing was David's body. His remains, she declared, would be cremated, because her husband's poor body was so mangled that there was no hope of making him presentable in a casket. Roger, already beyond all consolation, protested vehemently. "You won't burn my boy!" he shouted in anguish. "His MOTHER tried to do that once when he was little--- I WON'T have him touched by fire ever again! Nor will I have him put in the ground! I had a private talk with that bright young Dr. Bertrand, and we came to an understanding." Hallie ended up announcing that there would only be a memorial service and mounting of an engraved plaque bearing David's name and dates in his Aunt Elizabeth's private mausoleum.
The mourners would be arriving for the service from all over the world, especially from Germany, where Collins Enterprises had its largest overseas operations. There were a number of Collins cousins from New York, and Stokeses. "I only wish there was some way to let Vicki Winters know," Roger said. "She fell all over herself to win the boy over, and she saved him from his mother. Ah, perhaps she is dead now. Herself and my poor Elizabeth. And Burke Devlin. So many years they've been gone. Perhaps it's just as well they'll never know--- they all loved David dearly, in spite of his early difficult behavior." Then he said, "I wonder where the Hell Barnabas and Jeremy are. Are they on a trip? Surely they'll see the news on CNN, or read it in the papers. Amy must know by now." Roger became even more sad and angry. "How can she live with what she's done? Didn't she have ANY free will to resist destroying so many lives? Or WAS she just some kind of animal, like her late brothers? How could I have defended her to the poor Sheriff?" Hallie did her best to steer her father-in-law away from such unpleasant topics, and when she failed, Hannah Louise picked up the slack.
Well, the preparations were done, and Hallie had given the staff the night off , as they had to be on hand early in the morning when the first guests arrived. Most had gone to their own homes, some of which were scattered about the estate. Only Marisol and the cook, Mrs. Melwin, were in the Great House tonight, and the latter, exhausted and grieving, but doing her duty until the last casserole was stored in the refrigerator, had gone to bed hours ago.
"Have they found Senorita Alicia yet?" Marisol asked. She still felt bad about the failure of her charms to protect the Lacey girl and to keep Amy under control. The Chupacabra had Alice, she believed, but there was a darker evil force out there, she could sense it.
"No, dear. Elliot is worried sick, but I have him stuck here with me. Maybe it would relieve his mind to join the search, now that you're back."
"Si, that would be best. Chupa are repelled by the presence of true love."
Carolyn snorted. "I think the chupacabra would react like any other kidnapper, Marisol. If Elliot DOES find its lair, it will surely kill him--- AND Alice--- before either has a chance to demonstrate this repellant love!"
Marisol looked at the other mistress of the house with pity rather than anger or resentment. Senor Tony had not called in to report his location. Marisol had stumbled on the truth about the affair with Maggie, but held her tongue so long as it didn't take much time away from Senora Carolina and Pauline. Senora Shaw had the tact to be discreet. Plus, it didn't do to alienate Senorita Vicki when she came to the estate to visit Dr. Jeremy. But now, there WAS someone else, and this time, if Marisol knew WHO it was, she would have spilled it to Senora Carolina. There was only so much insult a good wife and mother like the Senora should be forced to endure, and, further, she had always treated the Puerto Rican nanny with respect and kindness, until lately.
Carolyn was taken aback by Marisol's compassionate expression. For a moment, she looked just like Vicki Winters, with her long, dark hair and large dark eyes, and her earnest demeanor. "Sorry, Marisol. Honest. Reality is biting all over, that's why it's hard for me to listen to this chupacabra chatter. Amy simply lost her mind and latched onto the scariest persona she could think of. No doubt, the kidnapper is into the same kinky stuff."
Hannah Louise came running into the drawing room, followed by her older brother. Both were in their pajamas. Hallie said, "You two should have been asleep hours ago!"
"I'm sorry, Mommy," Hannah replied, "but I couldn't sleep any more than YOU can, 'cause of Daddy.... Then I heard a car going up the back driveway, the one near the East Wing. I ran to look out my window, and, sure enough, I saw it going up the drive toward the Overlook, the same one the ambulance tried to get to when Pauline got hurt. It was a POLICE car! Then, I ran to get Elliot. HE couldn't sleep, either, and we decided to tell you."
"I don't understand," Hallie said. "They can't believe poor Alice is up there--- and don't you think they would have warned us they were headed this way? Carolyn, please get Quentin---"
"He hasn't come home yet. He's probably still with Amy, waiting around for Tony."
Elliot said, "Mother, I'll go out and see what's up."
"Nonsense, son, I can call one of the caretakers to check the situation. The police wouldn't want anyone to interfere--- it's still dangerous up there, as we've learned just a few days ago." Hallie gazed at Carolyn with sympathy. "But you can wait with me, Elliot. Marisol, please take Hannah Louise up to bed, and sit with her for a while. Carolyn and Elliot can help me get to the elevator." This device, installed years ago when David had a broken leg, had been maintained over the years, and had come in handy for Roger's use, as well as the latter periods of Hallie's pregnancies. It stood at the end of a short hallway leading from the foyer, near the library. Upstairs, it opened at the bend of a long, L-shaped corridor lined with the numerous family and servant bedrooms.
Marisol gently took Hannah's hand, and led her towards the grand staircase, when the child squirmed and broke away. "Mrs. Johnson!" Hannah said breathlessly. "Mrs. Johnson says I have to go help!" She dashed away, not to the heavy oaken doors, but through the passage to the dining room area, which opened to the patio--- and the path beyond to Widows' Hill.
"Senor Elliot! You have to help me catch Hanna Luisa!" Marisol shouted. The youth took quick leave of his mother and cousin, and followed the nanny.
"God, I hope she isn't really going to Widow's Hill," Hallie fretted, as Carolyn walked her to the elevator. "The police might shoot her by accident!" They stepped inside, and Carolyn pressed the button which shut the door, and started the lift. Hallie continued, "Now that I think of it, I should have called one of the caretakers to help them search for her, and keep them away from whatever the police are doing."
"I wouldn't worry about Hannah getting SHOT," Carolyn soothed. "I think Hannah has more sense, or maybe, Mrs. Johnson's GHOST does, but you're right about calling--- Fred Jenkins, I think. He's been here longer than most of the others, and can get around the place in the dark. The instant we get upstairs---"
The lift stopped, and Carolyn stood back from the door, anticipating that it would slide open. It did not. She pressed the emergency button, tried to pry the door open, but just succeeded in breaking a couple of her nails. She rang the alarm bell, which noise she and Hallie reinforced by shouting, but the cook and Pauline were sound asleep down the hall, as was Roger, who, in addition to his need for a wheelchair, had a hearing aid, which he switched off at night. Pauline's slumber was reinforced by having taken Percosets. "Oh, NUTS," Carolyn said, "I guess we're going to have to wait for Elliot to come back. He knows what to do when stuff like this happens."
"He'd better get back SOON, then," Hallie replied. Panic was in her voice. "My water just
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mary Beth put her foot into Jason's hand--- his right or left, she couldn't tell. The sound of the surf below seemed to croon to her.
"D'ye hear that, Mary Beth?" Jason said. "The widows call to the next person destined to leap from the cliff. The next widow, the next person so horribly betrayed that death was the only answer!"
I AM a widow, Mary Beth told herself. The husband and lover she'd known for over 30 years was dead and gone, and a crippled criminal with an alien heart had taken his place. He had killed his daughter for a stupid, evil woman who made people believe she was a vampire. Mary Beth was going to see both her lost first baby, and her lost last baby if she could just make it over that parapet. See them face to face! Maybe they would listen to her, and come home with her, so she wouldn't be alone--- alone with that disgusting low-life....
But I'M a low-life, too! Mary Beth thought. "I'm a piece of scum, just like so many of the perps I've arrested."
"Aye," Jason sighed regretfully. "And a failure. A lifetime of failure. It was YOUR fault your Daddy left, ye know--- oh, yes, they all tried to tell you different, your mother, your husband, your friend, even your Dad himself, when he came back and needed your care--- but you weren't GOOD enough. You were just a drain on him. Then, on your Mom. Remember St. Casimir's School?"
Mary Beth answered, "I went there until the first part of second grade. The nuns were mean, but they thought I did okay, maybe I could even go to nursing or business school someday. Then my Daddy left and Momma couldn't afford to send me any more. It was P.S. 37 and then Wagner High for me. What dumps!--- And then I met Jerry.... I thought that was the ONLY good thing about Wagner High. We were gonna get married. He was gonna go to college and I was gonna be a secretary and support him until he had a good job, and we were gonna move out of the city...."
"Then you discovered the back seat of his car. Another failure!"
"The TROJANS failed!" Mary Beth mourned. "Then I found out Jerry was two-timing me.... I told him about the baby, but he didn't want it.... Didn't want ME, he was BORED with me once he got what we BOTH wanted.... I didn't want to kill it, but I couldn't keep it, and I couldn't disgrace and drag Momma down by staying home, getting bigger, and going through all the pain and expense, just to give it away, and I couldn't leave her in the lurch while I went off to some maternity home for months on end. So I took the money I had been saving for school, and made up some story about visiting a girlfriend for a few days. I don't think Momma believed me, but there was nothing she could do. Flew down to Puerto Rico, where someone told me they had doctors who did legal abortions with real painkillers...."
And there, she recalled, she met a girl, plain, plump as a pigeon, and with a mouth full of metal, and apparently so fond of her tortoiseshell cat's-eye-framed shades that she never took them off, who was on vacation with her boyfriend. Mary Beth had started puking, and ended up telling her why. She told the strange girl what she was planning, though she gave a phony name. "Jennifer Jones", boy, how dumb, but people had often told Mary Beth that she resembled the actress who'd been her mother's favorite. Mary Beth thought the other girl give HER a phony name also--- "Lisa Lundy", like the name of one of Superman's girlfriends with all the "L's"--- since she confessed that HER folks didn't know about the boyfriend. She was Catholic, too, and though she couldn't talk Mary Beth out of the abortion, she said she'd PRAY for her.
Mary Beth went on with the story. "Then I went to this clinic, and I found out whoever told me about those places had LIED--- I was in awful pain, and got a fever, and lost almost all my money. Then I found some 50's stuck deep in my duffel bag. The girl I'd met must have put them there while I went to clean myself up--- a miracle...." That strange girl had done MORE than pray for her unhappy chance acquaintance. "I went to another doctor who cured my fever and said I could still have babies. I had done a terrible thing, but I knew I had been saved, for WHAT I wasn't sure, but I hoped I could make up for it---"
"Your BABY, whom you KILLED. Stop saying IT! And WHAT were you saved for, to kill OTHER women's babies?"
"I don't KNOW what that baby might have been! And I DIDN'T kill--- not like you're saying. Line of DUTY! The Gonsalvez boy--- it was a mistake, but at the time.... There were a couple others, I admit, but THEY would have shot ME first--- I've been shot---"
"David Collins didn't shoot you. And ye screwed up, with Amy and the wounded officers.... And ye screwed up with your children. Well, how could it have been any other way? Working all those hours, almost getting yourself killed."
"My kids turned out just fine, no better but no worse than any stay-at-home mom! At least they had Harvey to come home to--- I was a latchkey kid, but even with no Dad I grew up okay--- until Jerry, anyway."
"I just don't know how ye can STAND yourself, Mary Beth Zebiski Lacey. Your police career was a failure, too! Ye were putting your ass on the line, neglecting your family, and ye couldn't even pass the test that would have gotten you the promotion that would have made it all worth while. And couldn't do a decent job as a Sheriff.... Got David Collins killed.... Mary Beth, I confess I never liked the sly little brat years ago, but even I wouldn't have done to him what your incompetence did!"
"STOP! Look, help me get up to the top, and I'll make up for all of my mistakes.... my sins.... "
"With pleasure, my dear. And this time, there's no helpful friend to talk you out of what must be!" Jason cupped his hand around Mary Beth's foot. She put extra pressure on it, as she tried to push herself upwards. Suddenly, the middle finger gave way, then the whole hand. Mary Beth was left clinging to the top rail, as her feet flailed high over the ground.
"What happened!" she wailed. "I can't get up, I can't get down!"
"I don't know!" Jason barked back in true consternation. "It seems I'm missing a finger bone--- but I don't know how that could be. When ye pressed on the finger with no bone, it was like knocking over dominoes. But that doesn't mean I can't join ye!" In a flash, he was standing on the top rail, looking down on her terrified face. "I'm almost done with ye, lass. In the last few minutes we've come to the conclusion that you were NO Lady, and NO fit Sheriff, either. No fit daughter, either--- did ye know, little Mary Beth, that I met your Dad on my travels? Good old Marty Zebiski! Oh, he was a fine drinking companion, and blathered on about the family he'd dumped. But when I told some discreet tales of my past accomplishments, and invited him along for more adventures, the bastard heard about the price on my head, and ratted me out to the cops, who got Interpol after me. Then I ended up in New York, with that blasted Charlie Cagney, king of the drunken Mick bastards in blue, himself. Ah, if only HE knew a thing or two--- but I got away. It didn't help me in the end, but I'M here, and young and fit as the day I died. Where the hell are THEY? Burning in the Hell I left. I should know, I saw them there!"
"You lie--- they weren't bad men," Mary Beth said weakly. "They made mistakes, they made me and Christine suffer, but we all tried to make peace before the end, and they would NEVER have done what YOU did."
There were the sound of youthful voices below where Mary Beth dangled. A little girl, followed by a tall young boy, stood below, gaping up at her, still swathed in remnants of the ridiculous hospital whites.
Jason taunted, "Ah, Mary Beth, perhaps your paragon fathers wouldn't have done as I did, but I never did as YOU did. Just look down there!"
Mary Beth was barely able to turn her head. There was a little red-haired girl down there, who looked just like Jerry McCarthy. Clutching her shoulders was a thin, willowy Puerto Rican youth. "That can't be," Mary Beth whimpered. "I never knew what Jerry's baby was."
"For months after your little junket to the Carribbean, ye fantasized about yourself and Jerry getting back together, and somehow resurrecting the dead fetus, whom ye always imagined as the prettiest little red-haired colleen. Pathetic, really." Jason shook his head. "And ye know who that boy is. Renaldo Gonsalvez. They've come to see your sentence carried out."
"Alice IS down on the rocks. Look!"
Mary Beth finally yanked herself into a position where she could take a good look directly below the cliff. Sure enough, there was a slender female form in blue, floating around between the boulders. In a moment, she made it onto the railing, and straddled it.
"Just a little more, Sheriff, and you'll be down there with your daughter." Mary Beth swung both legs over.
"NO!" the little girl on the ground screamed. "Sheriff Lacey, don't listen to that bad man! He's LYIN' to you, Mrs. Johnson says so!"
Elliot followed his sister's gaze. He could see the Sheriff plainly, but only a faint outline where, he supposed, the other spirit stood. He made himself believe, and the outline became a human figure. If he could will himself to see that ghost, he wondered, could Mrs. Johnson be far behind?
Well, maybe not Mrs. Johnson, but Marisol appeared in the clearing, followed by Christine and Willie, with Quentin bringing up the rear. The latter three were coated with dried mud.
Christine saw at once that the railing was several feet higher than when she had been here last--- apparently David had time to have it raised, to prevent a a similar incident to Pauline's fall. However, the builders repeated the pattern that had made the top railing accessible in the first place. She looked up, and repressed a gasp. "The Chupa's real master has returned, it seems," she whispered.
"You can see?" Marisol said. "I KNOW he is up there, but only on faith."
"Yes, I can.... I'm not sure why."
Christine thought, perhaps, it had something to do with posessing
"I can see him," Hannah said.
"So can I, a little, with my third eye, I guess," Elliot said. "Uncle Elliot taught me."
"I can FEEL him," Willie said. "Maybe that's enough, after all me and Jason went through together. Maybe I can draw his attention, and he'll go after ME, and someone can get Mary Beth down."
"There's someone else after him," Quentin said. "Someone specially equipped, you might say, to handle the situation. There has to be a way to get the Sheriff down, and leave McGuire open to capture."
Christine said, "You were pretty good at getting me out of that quicksand, Quentin. How about you and Willie giving me a leg up? I have to be the one to talk to Mary Beth. McGuire already emptied the bag of tricks he was going to use on ME. It's like a vaccination!"
"I HOPE," Quentin said, as he signalled to Willie. Elliot jumped in and lent a hand. Soon, they hoisted Christine to a point a few feet below her friend. Christine inserted her feet and hands into openings in the rail, and the men were able to take a rest.
"Mary Beth!" Christine shouted in her best brisk, no-nonsense tone. "Mary Beth, DON'T listen to that dirty excuse for an Irishman! Please, look at ME!"
Mary Beth DID turn around, and gazed down at Christine as though she didn't know her. "Go away, I'm gonna see Alice now," she babbled. "You're always too little too late anyhow."
"Not always, Mary Beth. We stood together many a time, and faced the same end. Thelma and Louise, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Okay, they were outlaws, but we had to walk THAT line sometimes. And YOU arrived almost too late to save MY ass on more than one occasion. This isn't one of them, Mary Beth. Come back to us. To ME. There's still time, time to find Alice, time to fix things with Harvey."
"Alice is DEAD. I can SEE her. And Harvey should have died on the operating table. Or earlier, before he came home covered with puke and an attitude. He's dead to me now. Dead dead dead, like the Gonsalvez kid. Can't you SEE him down there?"
"The only boy I see is ELLIOT COLLINS."
Mary Beth's voice became querulous. "No, no, that's a very tall Puerto Rican youth, aged 12. He LOOKED like he was 16. He even had a little pencil mustache, did I ever tell you that, Christine? This kid, this BOY, was just starting to sprout a mustache, and I KILLED him. Like I killed my first baby. Did I tell you about THAT, Christine? I can't remember. I remember I DIDN'T tell you I was expecting Alice at first, either. I don't remember WHY. But she was a girl, like my FIRST baby. Now they're BOTH dead, thanks to me."
Christine roared, "WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN TELLING HER, McGUIRE?"
Jason answered smoothly, "Nothing that isn't the Dear Lord's truth under Heaven, dear Christine, ye drunken TRAMP. God love ye, dear, dear, Christine, THAT wasn't how sweet Kaye raised her little girl, was it?"
"Don't pull that SHIT on me AGAIN, McGuire. I had a taste of your brand of therapy, and I'm here to tell you, what didn't KILL me made me STRONGER. I KNOW I can do the same for my partner. My FRIEND. Whom I've known for over 35 years!"
"THIRTY-FIVE?" Mary Beth snapped out of her tortured reverie. "Why Christine, I met you the last year of Police Academy. That was almost 30 years ago, then we lost touch before we got assigned to the 14th.... How can that be? We didn't 'zackly move in the same circles till then. Weren't you in Paris or something?"
"I was in Puerto Rico a few years before I went to Paris, Mary Beth---"
"Aw, c'mon, now you're making things up to get me down from here." But Mary Beth's big shoulders were shaking. "I met a pimply, pudgy girl with bronzy hair and braces, and the biggest, ugliest sunglasses I'd ever seen on ANYONE! She did me a big favor, and I'm grateful, honest, but it couldn't have been YOU. How could I NOT have known it was YOU?"
"Maybe you didn't know ME, but I knew YOU from the beginning. 'Jennifer Jones', it really me, 'Lisa Lundy'! I just made up that name on the spot because it had 2 'L's' like yours had 2 'J's'. We WERE a couple of ninnies way back then, weren't we? And think, who ELSE would have had FIVE 50-dollar bills to throw away on a complete stranger's troubles?"
"WHY didn't you ever tell me? After YOU almost got knocked up, and I KNOW I must have told you about Puerto Rico--- but it's true, I NEVER mentioned what the made-up names were, or the exact number of bills---"
"After seeing what YOU went through, Mary Beth, I would NEVER have had an abortion. You know me, selfish and a little crazy and some have said, too ambitious for my own good, but you also know I'd have had the baby to prove it COULD be done. Did I ever tell YOU what I did, the instant I suspected? Gave up the booze and drank MILK! Uuuggh.... But it was because of YOU, and YOUR example. Because, even with all yours and Harvey's money problems, you were HAPPY with the children you DID have. You made THAT perfectly clear, when you gave me all those lectures! MY money didn't save your FIRST baby, but it saved YOU to enjoy the OTHERS, and I didn't want to spoil that by bringing up such a miserable memory. If that's a sin, then it was committed with the best intentions." Christine stuck her arm out, reaching a hand out to Mary Beth, who looked down at her again, and put her own hand out.
"Aahh, isn't that TOUCHING!" Jason snorted. "Ah, well, they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. How sweet to think that some of those red-hot bricks I trod upon were placed by YOU, Christine. AND your morally-upright friend here. Well, that still doesn't absolve her.... Nor YOU."
"I TOLD you, McGuire, you ALREADY dealt me your worst hand, and I won the pot! Had to take a little mud bath in it, but I'm still standing, and I AM going to get my partner down from here!" Christine pulled herself up to where she was just below Mary Beth, who now took her hand and held it tightly.
"Why, Christine, dear girl. Did ye REALLY think that overhearing your parents' last argument was the WORST thing that could have happened to ye? Why don't I show you a replay of your RAPE--- though 'tis hard for me to believe a gin-soaked, but tough-talking, tart such as yourself could EVER have been taken against your will!"
"Shut UP, McGuire!" Christine said, though tears, repressed for years, suddenly sprang to her eyes. "It WASN'T my fault, well, okay, maybe it was the result of bad judgment, but nothing EVER happened like THAT before--- or SINCE."
"Well, bully for YOU, my girl. Maybe I'll save that rousing vignette for another time. How would ye like to re-live your recent indiscretion with Barnabas Collins, hey? The one that got ye so flustered that poor Job Woodard paid the price the two of YOU dirty beasts should have? And perhaps dear Sheriff Lacey would enjoy watching as well? It will serve to remind her of the pleasures she'll never know again, thanks in part to YOU---"
Now Mary Beth spoke up. Her voice was still tremulous, but she was coherent once more. "I will NOT look, no matter WHAT kind of porno show you're putting on!" she declared.
Christine taunted, "Why don't you tell US about Timothy A. Samwell, McGuire? I remember you threw out those hints at the hospital.... I KNOW you must have had something to do with him!"
"Now, now, that's nowhere near YOUR league of devilry," Jason replied. "Why, I merely provided Adam--- THAT was the fool's 'birth' name--- with the information to take over Collins interests, and befriended him, poor lonely mis-begotten sot. I don't know WHY he was foolish enough to trust the likes of myself, but apparently he was easily dominated by smooth-talking men who gave him the time of day. Like the late Professor Stokes. Like Barnabas before he punished Adam for knocking Willie about, though the BASTARD deserved it! Feckin' stupid Idjit was JEALOUS of Adam and Barnabas, would ye believe it? Willie's own damn fault for not hooking back up with me, and standing by with a foolish, gaping mouth whilst my neck was being wrung!"
Christine asked, "Well, then, why didn't you just keep working with Adam against the Collinses? Why did he have that so-called 'accident'?"
"Because the freak LOVED them! God knows why. Well, not Barnabas nor Willie, but Carolyn, and David, and he felt SORRY for hurting OTHER people---" Jason spat into the ocean. Christine and Mary Beth could see the glowing glob as it hit the water, and sent up a mini-geyser similar to Old Faithful. "He caught on to MY intent soon enough--- and he plotted to oust me from several important positions I held in his organization. Well, I couldn't have THAT, and, anyway, I was impatient to strike a blow against Barnabas. A fellow I met down in Hell, name of Nicholas, told me that knocking off Adam would rev up an old sickness of Barnabas's, with nobody to save him, since his interfering doctor wife had died. So I went for a little spin with Adam to talk things over, but HE insisted on driving. All I had to do was knock his hands away, and give the steering wheel a twist while we were doing what you'd call 95 miles per hour in America--- How could I know the wretch was strong enough to survive long enough to thwart some of my plans! But what difference does it make? I'm getting just what I want, anyway!"
"How?" Christine demanded. "I'm with Mary Beth now. You can't break US apart. THAT'S what will save US, and the rest of the Collinses."
"Need I remind ye that you two ladies are still in a precarious position? How the HELL do ye expect to clamber down from here? It'll take a while for your friends to get so much as a ladder, and it's unlikely that whatever they have at Collinwood is tall enough! I doubt your acrophobiac friend can hold out that long. And there's one more thing I need to tell ye, Christine, and maybe THAT will convince ye that YOU, at least, are not going to be the savior here."
"Can't IMAGINE what THAT revelation could be," Christine said contemptuously. "If it's a slander against me, or my FATHER---"
"How about your dear MOTHER, little Chrissie? Would THAT move ye?"
"Nothing you can say about her could make me feel WORSE, if that's what you mean. I regret how we were estranged, and NOW, I wish to God I'd been with her when she died, but I've tried to live with the guilt the best I could. Knowing the likes of YOU survived death, gives me hope that I can make up with Mother, face-to-face, SOMEDAY!"
"What a lovely thing for a child to say to her father," Jason said in a hurt tone.
"What the HELL did you say? CHARLIE isn't here!"
"I said what I meant and I meant what I said. You're a big girl now, Chrissie, and it's long overdue that you learn the truth. I am your father. Your brother was dear COUSIN Charlie's, but that's just because he got to Kaye Olmstead ahead of me."
"You're her father's COUSIN?" Mary Beth sputtered. "Oh, God, Christine, don't believe a WORD of that trash. Charlie WAS your father, and this scum was no more his cousin than I am!"
"So YOU work at GenScan, and you have all the DNA evidence, eh, Sheriff? My, you ARE versatile as you are volatile. This, above all, IS the truth."
"The Cagneys came from County Kildare and YOU came from County Cork, McGuire," Christine said.
"So what? There's no Berlin Wall, or Great Wall, between the places," McGuire said. "Our mothers were twin sisters. Meghan and Moira McCaffrey, whom they called Meg and Molly. Meg came to America to wed her fiance, Francis Cagney, who was already here, and Molly married my father, Seamus McGuire, and went to Cork to live with HIS people. But she and Aunt Meg were always writing to each other, and by the late 30's, I was coming over to visit often--- when I wasn't busy with my other 'interests', that is." He laughed, a vicious sound. "Of course, nobody here suspected as yet. Charlie was barely even a cop then. HIS uncle, Uncle Frank's brother, helped to get him THAT job. They offered to set ME up as well, but I was pretty comfortable. Then, your father started squiring Miss Katherine Olmstead around. 'One of the Westchester Olmsteads', they used to say it in hushed tones, as though she came from a race of saints, instead of being 2 generations removed from a dirt-poor German farmer named Holmstadt, which they WERE."
"My Mother's ancestors were on the Mayflower!" Christine protested.
"On HER mother's side, maybe they were, but even YOU know the Olmsteads were 'new rich', dear daughter of MINE. Nobody remembers the name of the leaky old bucket Hansel Holmstadt came over on."
"Oh, YOU probably know," Mary Beth snapped. "Like you know everything else."
"Say, Chrissie, I'm beginning to LIKE this partner of yours. She DOES have some spunk left in her." Jason snickered. "But as to Charlie and the exalted Katherine.... The instant I saw her, of course I wanted her. Gleaming golden hair, bright little blue eyes, pearly smile, petite and slim, yet rounded in all the right places.... My, but wasn't THAT why you lost all that baby fat, and straightened your teeth, and bleached your hair, to look as much like your dear mother as possible? It's a good thing I always knew you were my child, because I would have tried to get at you, not NOW, but a few years back, when you were in your prime---"
"STOP IT!" Christine cried. "Look, just get this OVER with!"
"Very well. I lusted after Kaye, and made a few passes at her, but she tattled on me to Charlie, and he told me to feck off. I was soon out of money, and it was time for me to be off on another caper, so I went away for a few years. I came back for another visit when Brian was about 5. Little snot, looked just like his dad. But by this time, Charlie figured I must be over Kaye, and the fool had me over to dinner, complete with my Aunt Meg, who didn't get on with poor Kaye. Poor Kaye didn't seem to be getting on with Charlie, for that matter. After the lad was packed off to bed, and Aunt Meg to Brooklyn, Kaye and Charlie had a hell of a fight. So stupid, though, I can't recall what it was about. Anyway, Charlie huffed away to sleep in the den, and Kaye saw me to the door. In spite of our past dealings, I kissed her then, and she didn't seem too mad about THAT. So, the next day, when Charlie was off to work and Brian at school, I stopped by. Kaye really WASN'T all that glad about it, but I made her see things MY way."
Christine remembered her mother's tormented rejection of her father's advances. She said, angrily, "YOU RAPED MY MOTHER! YOU GOD-DAMNED SON OF A BITCH!" She lunged at McGuire, and almost went over the edge. Mary Beth caught and held her.
"Oh, I wouldn't call it RAPE, Christine. Though it took a wee bit of convincing.... Well, to be blunt, I threatened to tell Charlie that we were screwing around, whether we actually did or NOT, and that it was KAYE'S idea. After a while, I really think she started to LIKE it. Then, she got all panicky because she believed herself pregnant, so I took off again. I suppose she really made sure Charlie would never suspect that the new little one wasn't his. Though, as you probably surmised from your vision, her interest in THAT came to an end soon after your birth."
Christine held still, considering, then said, "NO--- I think it came LATER. Because I remember now, you DID come back one more time! I was 4 years old. Mother was having a dinner party for an old school friend of hers. Grandpa Olmstead had a new hot-shot young executive, his nephew by one of his sisters, whom he wanted Mother to introduce to the lady, who was single. Little as I was, I thought it was exciting and romantic, and the lady just doted on me and said she hoped she would have a daughter someday just like me! It was funny because Mother always thought I was so plain, and wasn't shy about saying so. Now I know WHY she had mixed feelings about me---!
"Then, the man arrived, and who should be with him, but YOU! He said you two met in a bar, and wasn't it a coincidence that you were both going to visit his cousin! Mother turned absolutely WHITE, and Charlie was angry, because by then, he knew about some of the bad things you did, though not about whatever you did to Mother. But they couldn't make you leave--- maybe they thought it would cause an ugly scene.... . so they let you stay until dinner was over. I remember how you STARED at me, until Brian, whom, I think, remembered you also, put me in my chair and sort of shielded me. Anyway, the other man hit it off with the lady, and I guess they got married, but after a while, Mother didn't hear from her friend, and when she found out that you had something to do with her friend's problems, maybe that's when she told Charlie the truth, I don't know. But I'm SURE he must have known, by the time you came his way again in the 1960's!"
Jason retorted, "Well, sweet little Chrissie, if he DID, he never let on. That's the difference between a slick Mick and a dumb Mick. I had the best of Cousin Charlie, and DEFINITELY the best of Kaye. What a body! Made me forget all the other women, and most of the men---" Jason sighed lasciviously.
This time, Christine forced herself onto the narrow railing, and went for Jason's ghostly jugular. He slipped from her grasp, of course, and cackled with delight as his "daughter" nearly went over once more.
"Christine, don't bother with the
bastard," Mary Beth pleaded. "He's just saying these things to hurt
you--- well, maybe he and your mother had a fling, but it has NOTHING to do with the person you became, the person you ARE, RIGHT NOW! Even if, by some tiny chance, he WAS your father, HE didn't raise you, CHARLIE did! You're a reflection of HIS values. You always said you felt closest to him from the time you were a baby. And HE felt the same about YOU, ALL his life, whether or not he had doubts about his paternity. And your poor MOM--- maybe this was the straw that broke their marriage, but you always SAID they had OTHER problems. And in spite of everything, she still brought you up to regard Charlie as your true father, whether she agreed with him, or not, because she DID want what was best for YOU. THAT'S what a mother DOES!"
"Maybe, but she passed away before she could explain, and Charlie never tattled on her, either. I used to think a part of him was still in love with whatever she was like before--- before I came along," Christine's voice broke. "Jason's baby or not, I STILL ruined my parents' marriage somehow."
"Well, it's too late to worry about THAT. According to the Expert here, MY birth ruined my parents' lives, too. Well, you know what? TOUGH SHIT!" Mary Beth rose, balanced herself on the railing. "A child isn't to blame for its existence. Maybe, not even the parents are to blame, either--- if you believe in a Higher Power, a Divine Plan---" She slowly crept towards Jason. Christine also managed to stand, and was soon beside her partner, hands clasped, moving sideways like two goddesses in an Egyptian tomb painting.
"Ladies! Please! What's the point of all this? Alice is STILL lost, perhaps I have the answer," Jason teased, edging away.
"I DOUBT it," Mary Beth said. "And even if you DID, Hell would freeze over before you EVER told us. We'll find her ourselves, somehow. In the meantime, there's a job in Hell's Sewers that's waiting for you!"
"Where you two paragons will be joining me the instant ye fall from this railing," Jason said.
"I don't THINK so," Christine said. "I can see Elliot and Quentin now--- and a caretaker--- they DID find a ladder after all!"
"Well, I can STILL summon up a strong wind---" Jason waved his arms--- which were caught, and pinned behind him. "Who the HELL---" he glanced backward. "Johnny, damn you! I thought ye were my FRIEND!"
"Sorry, Jason, but I'm one of the so-called 'good guys'," Jonah shrugged. "always HAVE been. Isn't that right, Cagney?"
"Oh, oh, my God...." Christine felt her chest tighten, and her heart skipped a beat.
Mary Beth looked dazed. "Oh, Lord, maybe this IS just a hallucination from not sleeping for 2 days!"
"I'm no more a hallucination than that caked mud on Cagney. By the way, Chris, you DON'T have to thank me for helping Mr. Collins get you out of the quicksand. Your expression of utter shock is more than enough reward." Jonah chuckled.
"Jonah Newman, if you weren't already dead, I'd smack you!" Christine barked. "But I DO thank you. I don't know how you could have done it. It's been almost 15 years, after all."
"I got here the same way as our mutual friend here. Bones and all."
"Well, m'lad, I'm MISSING a bone, and THAT is going to mess up your neat little collar!" Jason squirmed out of Jonah's reach, and stood, suspended, in the air over the ocean.
"Oh no it's NOT!" The angry voice of an older man. Jason was trapped once more--- THIS entity was made of the same ephermeral ectoplasm, it seemed, and could hold a fellow spirit. "How are you after all these years, Cousin Jason?"
"CHARLIE!" Jason was really scared now, especially once Charlie Cagney, like Jonah Newman, VERY late of the NYPD, slapped handcuffs over his wrists--- the ethereal kind he COULDN'T break!
"DADDY!" Christine trilled joyously.
"Chrissie, you haven't called me that for YEARS!" Charlie boomed back. "I admit, I encouraged you to call me by the first name, especially whenever I got to thinking about Jason and Kaye--- Still , I'm sorry you had to hear it from HIM. I'd hoped that knowledge would die with me.... AND the fact that the long-lost blackguard I was so obsessed with was a rotten branch on OUR family tree! Maybe it was just as well your mother and her side had you most of the time you were growing up--- they didn't discuss the disgraceful cousin that Kaye's 'alky' cop Ex had brought into their lives!. Anyway, Chrissie, you WERE my daughter. You MORE than proved it, both on the Force and off, no matter where a few genes came from. It was HIS blood, but it was also MY blood. NEVER forget that."
"Dad," Christine said quietly, "I have to know.... If I had come to your place a little earlier, the day you--- you died, would it really have made a difference?"
"I was gone long before I died, Chrissie. Living on borrowed time, you might call it. I know it drove you nuts and drove you to drink, knowing we didn't settle everything, nor did we say a REAL good-bye, almost like what happened with your Mom."
"Do you ever see Mom.... out there? Did you ever make up with her?"
"Of course he doesn't!" Jason snarled. "She committed adultery, for God's sake! And YOU, Charlie, are on another level of purging for the way ye treated your son--- and MY daughter. Quite the irony there!"
"Shut UP, Jason. Well, Chrissie, I hate to say it, but I haven't.... yet. But I've been told that if we can keep Jason down for good this time, we'll be allowed to meet. Maybe, by the next time you and Brian see us, though, I hope, not TOO soon for YOUR sakes, we'll all be together."
Jason snorted, "Long as they keep your hell-hound of a mother and your sneaky father-in-law out of it, Charlie! Did I not warn ye about them, before ye wed Kaye?"
Charlie sighed. "Yes, I also have to admit, you did. Of course, I must have missed your good intentions when Kaye told me you kept pawing and grabbing at her when I wasn't looking. I should have watched you like a hawk."
"Ah, but Charlie, ye know I can get away again in a flash. I have the secret to being solid."
Christine yelled, "Maybe if ALL your bones could be rounded up again, Jason, but I hate to break it to you---" She whipped the finger bone from her pocket--- "You're broken FOREVER!" She snapped the bone in half, and tossed both halves into the ocean. "Sorry, Charlie--- Daddy--- I meant to put that in your grave."
"You made the right choice, Baby. I couldn't abide being with Jason when we were alive. I wouldn't want my bones to rest near even ONE of his now that we're dead." Charlie tugged at his prisoner. "Come on, Jason, time to face the Celestial Music, such as it is. Mr. Best always hires the worst lounge bands! Though tonight, I think we're going to have the band from the Titanic! Ma will like THAT."
"Shut up yerself, Charlie, ye know they never let the steerage people upstairs to hear the good stuff." Jason looked down at Christine. "As for you and the Lady Sheriff, dear daughter of mine, YOUR trials are not over yet! Neither are WILLIE'S, by God! Ye've ALL lost your one chance to escape them! Ye've accused me of holding back information, and ye're both RIGHT. It'll be worth feeling the flames licking at me, to know how ye're all going to suffer---"
"One last chance to TELL them, Jason," Charlie warned. "Maybe Best will go easier on you---"
"Faugh! No plea bargains, Charlie. I've told 'em ALL they need to know. If they're as smart as they fancy they are, let 'em figure it out. I was not spared, why should THEY get off the easy way?"
"I could tell you, but you never listened while you were alive, and not once you were dead," Charlie shrugged. He turned one last time, to face Christine. "I'm sorry, kiddo." He and Jason began to fade from view, but Charlie's eyes never wavered as he gazed down at his daughter.
"Love you," he whispered.
"Love you back," Christine said.
"Love you MORE," Charlie replied, then was gone.
Christine and Mary Beth were still standing on the railing, hand-in-hand, waiting for the men below to set up the ladder. They appeared to be having trouble getting it to stretch far enough upwards. Jonah stood by, next to Mary Beth, whom he didn't dare touch, for fear of upsetting the delicate balancing act. For now, his own confidence seemed shaky!
"What's the matter, Jonah?" Mary Beth asked. "You can go 'home' now, right? All your work IS done here, isn't it?"
"As far as I know, it is. But I didn't want to leave you two alone up here, until you were rescued, and now, for some reason, I CAN'T!" There was a queer note of panic in the "ghost's" voice.
"Oh, my God," Christine breathed. "He's REAL."
"You mean, he's not a spirit any more? How can that be? I mean, I KNOW that Jason probably did it because of a deal with the Devil, or something, but now he's gone. Jonah was GOOD, shouldn't he be going back to Heaven or whatever? Until the Resurrection on the Last Day, of course." Mary Beth shuddered. "This ISN'T the Last Day, IS it?"
"Not that I know of," Jonah replied. "But it seems MY 'commanding officer' has seen fit to reward me at a most INCONVENIENT time! Quentin was right about HIM!"
"What does QUENTIN have to do with all this?" Christine demanded.
"NOT what you're thinking--- he never
knew Jason except by reputation. But he's met Mr. Best. Mr. Best giveth and he taketh away. Like NOW. I'm ALIVE--- but we could ALL die in another
minute. AND, unlike the LAST time I expired, THIS time I WILL know what hit me!
Please, please, God,
no...." Tears slid down Jonah's resurrected, boyish face, as he regarded the jagged boulders below, the waves, like arms, ready to smash the hapless trio up and down on the rocks until they were gristle....
Mary Beth reached out, and grabbed Jonah's hand. "NO! We are NOT going to die today! Do you HEAR me out there?" she thundered to the swirling wind. "WE WON'T DIE !!!"
Quentin called from below, "PEOPLE! Listen up--- the ladder is up as far as it can go, but you're STILL going to have to climb down a couple of feet, so you won't end up like Pauline! Pauline---" he whirled around, to see his young cousin, clad in her robe and slippers, at his side, tugging his arm--- "What the HELL are you doing out here !"
"I had no choice, Quentin! Something terrible is happening at home! Hallie is having her baby!"
"What's so terrible about THAT!" he snapped. "Get the ambulance!"
"I TRIED, but for come reason the PHONES are dead. And I can't find anyone's cell phone--- She and Mother are stuck---" She gaped up at the railing. "My GOD--- Miss Cagney!" she called. "It's ME. Pauline, remember? You can get down if you say, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself'!"
"Oh, GREAT--- she isn't throwing that line back up in my face, is she?" Christine said. "I told her that when SHE was stuck up here. She barely made it--- but her baby didn't!"
"Still, you TRIED, like you did with me, and there SHE is, NOW. Maybe she really WANTS to help," Mary Beth said soothingly. " PAULINE! You're right--- the only thing we ALL have to fear is fear itself! Any other advice?"
"Yes, Ma'am, but let ME show you how--- so you don't make the same dumb mistake I did---" Pauline broke from the group below, shed her slippers, and clambered up the ladder. When it came to an end, she fitted her feet neatly into the openings between the slats. Within a minute, she was right under Christine, who was at the nearest end of the queue on the railing. "Just bend EASY, with your KNEES first. You all have to do it in turn, like---like accordions. Then I can help Miss Cagney first, and she can help you, then YOU can help that nice policeman who's standing there. Funny, I don't recognize HIM, and I know most of the young cops around here."
"I'll BET you do," Christine muttered, as she did what Pauline said. Boy, she thought, this girl isn't the brightest bulb in the lamp, but when it came to thinking on her feet, she seemed to have good instincts. "Too bad she's a rich family's daughter--- hey, wait a minute--- so was I---" Christine settled on her haunches, and reached down to Pauline, who guided her feet into the right openings, the same ones the older woman had used earlier, but almost forgotten in all the excitement. Then, once Pauline was on her way down the ladder, Christine reached up and helped Mary Beth the same way. The ladder swayed a bit, and both held their breaths, but Pauline was safely back on the ground and, it appeared, was DIRECTING the others! The ladder was righted. Christine soon joined her, and Mary Beth coaxed the white-faced Jonah down.
"Thank you, thank you," he panted, once back on terra firma..
"Don't worry, I was once scared of heights too," Mary Beth crooned, hugging him.
"I wasn't scared of quicksand earlier," Jonah said, "but I guess I'll have to be, from now on."
"You were brave when it COUNTED," Christine assured him. "And every step of the way, we learn something else that might help." She turned to Pauline, who was putting on her slippers. "Again, I'm AMAZED at you, young lady. But mad as Hell, too. You're still in bad shape, you know!"
"I know, I know, but Poor Hallie--- and Mom---" the girl choked.
Elliot looked stricken. "What about Mother?" Hannah Louise clutched his hand tightly.
"THAT'S what I came to tell you!
Somehow, my mother and yours got stuck in the elevator. They rang the bell and
hollered away, and Hallie started having the baby
right there. I was out like a light because of the painkillers. But someone
shook me awake. At first I thought it was Mrs. Melwin,
our cook, or Great-Uncle Roger, but--- gee, now I'm going to sound like
HANNAH--- It was Mrs Johnson!
I was scared spitless, because I remember her holding me on the railing up there, and maybe this time, she was coming to take me--- away to wherever dead people go. Anyway, she yanked me up, and said I was the only one left to help. I could see what she meant. Mother was trying to deliver the baby. I tried to force the doors open, but Mother said forget THAT, call the EMT's! That's when I found out the phone lines were DEAD! How did THAT happen!"
"I can just imagine," Christine said. She hoped Jason was roasting on a spit over an open fire by now.
"So to keep them company, I got Mrs. Melwin and Great-Uncle Roger.... That might have been a mistake, since he started to cry, and said he used to know how to open the doors, but he's stuck in the wheelchair and all. But Hallie seemed relieved to see him, said her pains were slowing a bit. Now we have to hurry!"
The entire group headed down the hill, still slowed by the fog, but Quentin and the sure-footed Jenkins led the way. Mary Beth tried the radio in her car, but the continuously-blinking lights had drained the battery. Her cell phone was back at the hospital. Quentin offered his own, and the Sheriff was able to communicate with the ambulance crew and her other officers--- Rooney sounded like he was worried sick, and started jabbering about how HIS cousin had just seen McGuire a couple of hours earlier.
Mary Beth's explanation was brief. "He was apprehended by authorities from New York." She turned to the others, and said, "Well, in a way, that's the truth." To Rooney she said, "I don't know yet about trials or extraditions, or whatever. I'll have to talk to Judge Garner. Now I have to hurry---"
At the Great House, they found matters as Pauline described. Roger sat with his face pressed to the bars of the old-fashioned elevator, sighing helplessly at his daughter-in-law and niece within. Hallie squatted on her heels, in what she believed was an easier position for delivery, with Carolyn, who looked nauseated, in front of her, reaching under her long robe. The floor of the elevator was slippery-looking, with water and blood mixed. Hallie looked both strained and drained.
Immediately, Elliot dashed downstairs to the fuse box. There WAS a burned-out fuse, which he hastily replaced, but the elevator still didn't open. He decided the problem was mechanical, and sent Jenkins to the shed for a crowbar. They and Quentin struggled with it for a minute--- it almost flew from their hands, into the lift, where it could have hit Carolyn or Hallie. Soon, though, the door gave way, and they were leading Hallie into the hallway. She gave a strangled scream, and sank to the floor, writhing in earnest this time. Mary Beth and Christine fell to their knees beside her.
"We have plenty of vehicles here, Mary Beth," Christine said fearfully. "I DON'T know what's taking the ambulance so long--- maybe the fog--- but Willie or Quentin here can do the driving, and just as fast."
Mary Beth made a quick examination. "No way, Christine. She's crowning. God forbid we take her in a regular vehicle, and end up getting stuck, or hitting something in the fog, or JASON comes back--- at least here, we have clean water, instruments, towels, to tide us over until the EMT's get here."
"Mary Beth! You've been awake for TWO DAYS!"
"Well, Dr. Lang was up for almost as long, and he did a HEART TRANSPLANT! This isn't NEARLY as complicated! And we're not alone here, you know. It's not like one afternoon, 16 years ago, on that bridge!" Mary Beth smiled at Christine. "Don't be a sissy--- you MUST know how to do this, you took the same classes I did."
"Well, to be honest, I kind of missed one or two, throwing up in the ladies room," Christine admitted sheepishly.
Pauline repeated, "The only thing you have to fear---"
"I know, I know!" Christine gave orders. "Okay, the children should go to their rooms. Roger too. He's got enough to bear. Mrs. Melwin, go boil some water---"
"Yes, we'll need sterile scissors or a sharp knife," Mary Beth said briskly. "And some twine."
Hannah said, "PLEASE let us stay with Mommy. We'll help, Elliot and me, we'll get towels and pillows, and hold her hand when she has pain."
Hallie looked up at her daughter. "Hannah, I'm really grateful, but once you get the towels, you should do as Miss Cagney says. This is too scary for children. I'm scared," she confessed. "Mrs. Johnson would want you to do it my way."
"Mommy, are you going to die like Daddy? And the baby, too?"
"NOBODY'S going to die if I can help it,"
the Sheriff declared. "Get along now, Hannah. You can check the phones. If
they work, Elliot can call to check on the ambulance, and learn if they
her voice faltered--- "Alice."
Quentin led the youngsters away, followed by the other men. Mary Beth threw off her now-filthy and ragged "sterile" smock, and Christine her muddy jacket, and both hurried to wash their hands. Marisol took Hallie's hand, as the exhausted Carolyn slumped into a corner, tended by her own daughter. "Is this what having babies is like?" Pauline asked in a whisper.
"Sometimes, I guess. I wouldn't know personally, since you and your poor brother were C-section babies. My mother was in labor for 2 days with ME, which she always said was odd. When I got pregnant, I would argue, 'How can you say that, Mother, the first is always the hardest.' She choked up at that point, and then she finally told me about the easy birth of MY older sister. Vicki Winters, who had to be brought up in an orphanage because she was illegitimate, and finally brought here, as a governess for David, so Mother could judge whether she was more like HER, or more like the man who--who--- you know what I mean, Baby."
"And Grandma didn't say anything when this Vicki was HERE? I don't understand!"
Carolyn smiled reminiscently. "The way you say that reminds me of Vicki herself. It took YEARS for her to understand us, and just when she was close to the truth, she--she went away. Over 30 years ago, now. I don't know why Mother couldn't tell her, but there was something about the father.... Anyway, now you know. A real family secret mystery, passed down to YOU."
"Maybe I'll find this Aunt Vicki for you someday. I'm just sorry Grandma won't know."
"If Vicki's passed on already, maybe your grandmother is with her now. And David, of course."
"That's a nice thought, I guess. But I hope Hallie and the new baby don't have to join them today." They watched the Sheriff and Christine, as they worked over Hallie, who cried weakly with every pain. Hannah had brought the towels, and some pillows for her mother. The latter was now as comfortable as she could be on the oaken floor, but asked to do the squat again.
"Ma'am", Mary Beth said, trying to
sound calm, "I'd let you, but it seems this little joker here is pulling
the same trick as my Alice when SHE was born. He or she's a little sideways. I
have to try to move him or her, just a little, or it'll take a lot
longer." And the baby will die from lack of oxygen, she thought with a
chill, or the cord will get twisted, or some other complication that would take
forceps or surgery to fix. She muttered from between clenched teeth, "Damn
those EMT's, WHEN will they get here? Christine, my hands are kind of scratched
I don't want to give Hallie an infection. YOU have to help a little!"
Christine reluctantly did as Mary Beth directed, repressing a wave of nausea as violent as the ocean under Widow's Hill. So THIS is "the miracle of birth" , she thought, and remembered that Harvey had witnessed the arrivals of all of his and Mary Beth's children. She wondered how he could STAND to have relations with his wife afterward, knowing how disgusting the birth process was, and how painful for Mary Beth! Ah, sweet mystery of life, I'm glad I MISSED you after all, her heart sang. Still, Mary Beth was praising her performance warmly, at the same time urging Hallie to push, push, push.
Mrs. Melwin arrived with a large pair of sterilized scissors and a ball of string. She watched in gape-faced amazement as Hallie had her final contraction, and the last Collins heir popped into the shaking hands of Christine Cagney. Mary Beth quickly and expertly cut and tied off the cord, and wrapped the afterbirth in the discarded hospital smock. Mrs. Melwin flicked that bundle away, and went downstairs to the great fireplace in the drawing room.
However, the baby didn't start to cry right away. Hallie croaked, "Where is it? Is my baby dead?" She was crying, herself.
Christine had seen a hundred movies where the baby was slapped into action, but that always seemed too harsh. So she gave what she thought was a firm, but discreet, pinch. No response. Mary Beth reached for the infant, and pressed her lips over its tiny face, to give it resuscitation. The baby coughed, and a wad of mucus came up, which Mary Beth neatly missed aspirating. NOW the baby was shrieking, as it breathed its first of the air of its ancestral home.
Hallie, haggard and looking every one of her 47 years, her braids soaked and shredded-looking, reached for the child. "What is it? What is it?" she panted, as the others gathered near, including her children, who were now pushing Roger's wheelchair back in her direction.
"What---? Good Lord, I was so overwhelmed, I didn't even notice!" Christine laughed with relief. She gazed at the red-faced baby, now wrapped in one of the fine Collins towels, secure in the crook of her partner's arm. She tugged at the towel. "It's a ROGER!" she announced.
"Yes, but is it a girl Roger or boy Roger?" The child's namesake asked, his eyes clear and bright for the first time since before his late son's arrest.
"Oh, Roger, it's a boy, of course," Hallie said, as the bundle was handed to her. "Now I have a balanced deck. Four boys, four girls. It's more than enough for any woman, but still...." She sighed and wept a little onto the baby's fuzzy head.
"Well, at least you won't be destitute, daughter-in-law," Roger assured her in his forthright way.
"Yes, a lot of single mothers have a hard time of it," Carolyn said meaningly. "Little Roger Collins. Hmmm. You know, Hallie, we'll have to think up some way to keep from getting these two rascals confused, like you did when you had Hannah Louise."
"Agreed," the exhausted mother said. "I'll think up some middle names later." She began to doze off, as the ambulance's siren could be heard at the doorstep of the mansion.
Christine said, "Mary Beth, I think YOU could use a little rest, too, you know---"
"Yeah yeah yeah." Her partner's speech was slurred. Obviously, Mary Beth's last burst of energy had gone into making sure Hallie wasn't deprived of HER last child. "But only an hour or two, Chris'ine.... We still gotta find Alice. An' YOU need a nap, y'know?"
"I guess Rooney and Twomey can keep an eye on things for a short while." Christine went downstairs with Mary Beth to admit the EMT's, who apologized profusely for being slowed down by the worst fog they could remember.
Pauline was still sitting in the corner. Her pain had come back, and Carolyn went down after the Sheriff and her partner, to ask the EMT's to take her daughter along with Hallie and the baby. Jonah, who had waited with the wryly-sympathetic Quentin ("I TOLD you Mr. Best was imp of the perverse!"), asked if the younger woman wanted help to get up.
"No, I might be bleeding. But thank you. And thank you for helping the Sheriff and Miss Cagney. That's a bad place to be."
"It sure is! But YOU were the hero of the hour, I think. What's your name again?"
"Pauline. As in 'The Perils of .' That's a joke our late housekeeper Mrs. Johnson used to say every time I got into some scrape. I was the WORST tomboy."
"Or the BEST, if tonight was any indication. Pauline What?"
"Pauline Elizabeth Peterson. My mother, over there, is Carolyn Collins Stoddard Peterson. So I'm one of the Collinses, a couple of pegs down the line. Who are YOU?"
"Oh, call me Johnny. Johnny Newman. I was a cop--- quite a while back."
"Can't be THAT long. You don't look much older than me!" Pauline smiled, and blushed.
"I guess I wasn't, really." Jonah was flustered. Things are complicated enough, he thought, and now I'm flirting with the first available female I've met in the hour since--- This is crazy, I can't DO this, Mr. Best HAS to take me back, before I screw up everyone's lives! And there was still the issue of his mother and sisters to consider!
"You ARE talking kind of funny," Pauline observed. "Maybe you should go to the hospital and have a nice rest too, and then, when we're BOTH better, we can see each other again."
"That would be--- that would be very nice." Jonah took her hand, as Quentin watched from a distance.
And so life goes on, the latter thought,
well, if you THINK about it, I'M not supposed to be here, either, but here I
am. That kid will find his way through the muddle of
his new life somehow. And Amanda--- er,
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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