PART TWENTY---- SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 2000
Michael Lacey, always an early riser, was in the kitchen preparing coffee, when there was an insistent ringing of the front door bell. Darned Jehovah's Witnesses, he thought irritably. Didn't the idiots now this was the Sheriff's house, and that she was resting after several days of extremely trying events?
Apparently not, since the ringing sounded a couple more times. The young man hurried to the door, an angry phrase on the tip of his tongue, which died there, when he saw--- Willie Loomis!
Even so, Michael WAS irked. "Mr. Loomis--- Willie, I know you're family, and I know you've helped us a lot in the last 2 weeks, but what in damnation could be SO important that you have to interrupt my family's rest on a SATURDAY!"
"It's just that--- I need to tell Mary Beth something. I was gonna wait until she went to the hospital to see Harvey and Alice, but it seems I have a lot of packing to do, for several people. I--- we--- well, me, Maggie, Vicki, and Jeremy, are flying to Las Vegas tomorrow afternoon."
"TOMORROW! My God, man, Vicki and Jeremy were just in the hospital--- Vicki was still THERE, as of last night. She has a bullet wound, remember? And Jeremy was questioned by my Mom."
"Well, Vicki's getting out at 10 A.M. tomorrow--- Doc Lang's and Doc Bertrand's medicine seems to have healing powers for any kind of puncture wounds. Her shoulder already had nice solid scabs on it, and was less sore, when I left her last night And any charges against Jeremy were dropped, you can confirm this with your Mom. But we're not going to Las Vegas for a vacation. It was just a cheaper flight and better motels to stay in, instead of South Carolina."
"NOW I'm lost. Why should ANYONE have to make a choice between Las Vegas and South Carolina?"
"To get MARRIED. Jeremy and Vicki. Not me and Maggie, we're just going along as witnesses and to take care of the kids if they have relapses. But if the Sheriff needs us, we'll be back in a couple of days."
Michael sputtered, "Well, this is kind of sudden, though I'd heard those two were engaged. But I thought they broke up, because of whatever happened in that tunnel."
"Things change in a flash around here. But it's a change for the better. Like, for instance, Jeremy was so down because he resigned from being a doctor. But Vicki said it was okay, if he got a new job and had to move, she could be a teacher anywhere, so she didn't mind going with him. Then, Dr. Lang came into the room to check on Vicki. When he saw Jeremy, he said in that booming voice of his, 'It's a wretched shame that a fine young doctor should lose his entire career that he'd spent years learning, due to one early mistake.' Jeremy said he thought there were still medical-type jobs he could get, and Lang said, 'Of course there are, young man. I've been getting into some interesting research with Dr. Bertrand, and I'll need an assistant. I think, and I believe Allarice will concur, you'd be splendid for the position.' SPLENDID, he said! Jeremy has a new job, just like that, and he won't have to leave Collinsport after all, except to get married."
"That's really great, but why the hurry to get married now?"
"We're family, I guess I can tell you and your folks. It turns out Vicki is expecting. Jeremy and she decided to get married right away, so it won't screw her up too much with HER job as a teacher. She feels she should set an example. They're going to live in their own little gingerbread-type house in town, close to the school and the Evans Gallery, and Doc Lang. Barnabas insisted on putting up the money for it as a wedding present, even though Vicki inherited plenty from Timothy Adam Samwell."
Willie thought proudly of his daughter's strained but willing effort to forgive Barnabas as well as Jeremy. A chip off the old block, SHE was. Vicki had declared forthrightly, "I was drugged, Mr. Collins, but I pretty much saw everything you did to Alice and I also know what you did to Jeremy and myself. But, like my mother, I will keep quiet. I know you weren't your typical self, the way I remember over the years when Jeremy and I were both children. I remember what Jason said--- much of this was HIS fault. But I will never mention this again, mainly for Jeremy's sake. You know, I could go on, somehow, if Jeremy disappeared from my life, though I still love him and I'm carrying his child. My mother and I got along for years after my stepfather died, though my real father offered to marry her countless times. But it wouldn't have been right for them.
"But if Jeremy lost ME, and lost YOU as well, THAT would be wrong for HIM. So, even though I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable dealing with you from now on, I WILL do whatever is in Jeremy's best interests. Because HIS interests have ALWAYS been mine. I will forgive you, but with a caveat. I do NOT wish to live under your roof. I have a lot of money now, I can certainly afford a house in town. This doesn't mean we won't see each other, or that you will be cut off from your grandchild. Just that I want to be the primary influence on my husband, and I want HIS influence on ME to be untainted by evil from the past. Not that I think YOU are the source of the evil, but you DO seem to be a good channel for it, and that house---!. So long as you remain good, I wouldn't dream of limiting my husband's access to you, but he MUST live in neutral territory, just in case...."
Barnabas had said, meekly, "Julia would have agreed with you, my dear. But I insist on putting something towards your first home. My parents--- well, specifically my mother, who really owned the place--- gave me the Old House when I first married. It's fitting that I should do no less for MY son."
Barnabas had a look of exaltation in his eyes
and true humility, when he'd begged Jeremy's
forgiveness--- "I have been the Prodigal Father, my son. I am not worthy to darken the doorstep of
your new home."
Jeremy had said, shakily, "You-- you just took fatherly pride and family tradition too far. I just hope MOTHER forgives you when you finally meet her again. What you did closed a big door for me, but another one just opened. If I do well, perhaps, someday, I will be able to say that it was all part of some vast Eternal Plan, and that what you did to me, helped put me on the right path. Rather like that crippled police officer in New York who pretends to be grateful to the criminals who made him a quadriplegic, because NOW he knows what's important in life!" He wept bitterly. "Papa, I loved you, I trusted you. I don't know if I can ever do that again!"
"You don't have to, Jeremy," Barnabas sighed. "But I still love and trust YOU. And your very wise fiancee. You both were partly raised by the most trustworthy man I ever dealt with, who did NOT start out that way, nor did he have to STAY that way, once he was free to make his own choices. But he DID, because of his love for the two of you, and his faith in my character. I can do no less than to spend the balance of MY life working to regain all of your confidences. But most, of all, YOU, my beloved child."
Jeremy couldn't bring himself to embrace his
father, but he'd taken Barnabas's hand, and both wept.
"I will make the effort, for Mother's sake," the younger man said. "She forgave you for doing horrible things, yet she loved you and gave me to you, without any guarantees that the good days would last."
"Got to take it day by day, then," Willie had concluded. "Sounds like one of those old cliches, but words don't get to be cliches unless they have some kind of truth that applies to every situation." Now, he thought, if only Miss Cagney and the Laceys could make some kind of peace with Barnabas.
Willie snapped out of his reverie, and said to Michael Lacey, "The marriage, the new house, and, most of all, that baby, WILL help Barnabas's family get along better. That damned Jason did a lot of damage to that family as well as yours."
"I'm sure that's the very best thing, then, Willie. Congratulations, Grandpa. I hope Iris and myself will be making OUR folks as happy in the near future. Well, let me get Mom."
"And Miss Cagney too."
"What about me, Willie?" Christine, fully dressed in her sweater, jeans, and the new pair of Rockport loafers, and carrying one heavy-looking suitcase and dragging a bigger one, a pullman on wheels, walked into the room.
"Oh, so you ARE going home, then," Willie said. "Well, I'm glad I caught you while you were still here. I have some good news for Mary Beth and Harvey, and some for you, too."
Michael ran to waken his mother, who protested sleepily, "Tell Willie to get back to me this afternoon when he comes home from--- Las Vegas, did you say?" Mary Beth jumped up, and pulled on her heavy robe. "Willie," she said breathlessly as she hurried into the living room, "what's this about Las Vegas?"
Willie explained. Then he said, "I
wanted to make sure this deal I have going was finalized before I stepped on a
plane, just in case, you know.... I caught Tony Peterson, just as he was
dragging his tail
in the door at 7 A.M., to help me sign all the papers."
"WHAT papers?" the group shouted in unison.
"The papers I got from Adam--- Mr. Samwell's estate. I was one of the heirs, along with Vicki, Elliot, and Pauline, but I couldn't keep the money for myself. I had to designate an heir! Since Vicki already had HER share, this was kind of a problem, until YOU guys moved into town, and I found out we were related. So, after putting a certain amount aside to help out Job, Kenny and Danny, and a wedding present for my daughter, and some dough for Candy Cane, the Lacey family, including your son Harvey Junior, and Harvey Senior's brother Carl Lacey, whom I haven't met yet, and YOU, Miss Cagney, will be sharing a load of investments and hard cash worth about 75 MILLION---"
Mary Beth was screaming, "You CAN'T do this, Willie! God, NO WONDER you didn't tell Harvey! This would make his new heart EXPLODE!"
Michael, dazed, said, "That's awfully nice of you, Willie, but really, maybe it's a HASTY decision? It's not that we don't APPRECIATE this.... And I'm sure any of us would do the same for YOU.... It's too much to take in right now."
Christine said, "It's touching that you want to include ME, Willie, but I came from a wealthy family on my mother's side, and I've had a trust fund since forever. Of course, it doesn't contain 75 million dollars, but it should keep me pretty comfortable into old age, once I retire."
Willie said, "I was just trying to be fair. You're part of the family. If you want less than what I worked out for you, you and the Laceys can decide that. But I want you to have SOMETHING."
"If you think it will make up to me for
being Jason's daughter, or the problems with Barnabas, well, it WON'T, Willie.
But I have a couple of nieces, and grand-nieces and nephews I'd like to spoil,
some favorite charities. I'm sure the money will come in handy for them. But, what about YOU?"
"I'm going to work for Quentin. He promised he'd take care of everything for me." Willie was leery of mentioning his plans with Amy.
Mary Beth said, "Well, you're pretty
closely related to his branch of the family, so that's only right.
I guess it will be hard for Barnabas, left on his own."
"We're going to find him someone else, a
younger, healthier butler or whatever. Maybe from England.
They have special schools for them out there, I've heard. I could put some money toward THAT, I suppose. Barnabas WAS good to me for over 30 years, but things change in a flash, like I said. I STILL wish, Miss Cagney---"
"So THAT'S what this little legacy for ME is all about, eh, Willie? So I'd have incentive to quit my job and move up here for Barnabas?"
Willie turned red. "Well, it DID cross my mind! But you still get the money, whether you do or not."
"I'll have to think THAT over, too. In the meantime, you can help Mary Beth talk Alice into applying to Yale or Harvard or Smith or even Barnard, and even put something aside for when she marries Elliot Collins someday. Now, she'll be in HIS league. And how about a boat for your fishing expeditions with Harvey? Sky's the limit. Now, I have to go." Christine hugged Mary Beth and Michael. She was a little reluctant with Willie, who seemed eager to embrace her. In the end, she shook his hand firmly. She said, "Oh, Mary Beth, be sure to give my regards to 'Johnny' Newman." Jonah was currently staying in a small motel on the edge of town, whimsically, but unoriginally, named "Bide-A-Wee."
"He'll still be here, next time you come up," Mary Beth said. "You know, some of this money might help him out, getting established again, after all these years. With so many men out due to the recent crisis, I offered, and he accepted, a position on my police force, but he'll need an apartment, more clothes, food, a wide-screen TV...." She laughed.
"Now THAT's a charity I would be willing to subscribe to," Christine said. "Well, Willie, I guess this legacy IS going to benefit someone else I care for, after all. I thank you on Officer Newman's behalf."
Both Michael and Willie approached Christine,
with offers to carry her luggage, but she shook her head, and shuffled out,
dragging the pullman, whose wheels caught at the door
sill on her way out. With a mild curse, she got it free, and made it to her car.
"She doesn't want us to see her cry," Mary Beth declared.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"75 MILLION?" Harvey sputtered. "Well, now, Mary Beth, I guess you CAN quit the job, after all. Accepting so much dough from a former suspect would be considered MORE than a little unethical, wouldn't it?"
"I guess so," Mary Beth sighed wistfully. "Too bad in a way, because I've been thinking over your arguments for keeping the job and our new home. It's a strange paradise, this Collinsport. What do you call those places where, say gravity doesn't appear to work right, or there are electrical disturbances that make all radios and things not work, or those black holes in outer space?"
"A vortex." Harvey had discovered that word when doing a crossword puzzle just prior to moving to Maine. "That's what this place is. Where things and people don't operate under the same rules as the rest of the world, but they survive and thrive, anyway. And now, you want to stay?"
"Well, we can use the money to pay off the house, put away Alice's entire future college tuition, help Mike and Iris if she's still sick, visit Harvey Junior and Krystal out in California---"
Harvey made a sour face. Of course, he longed to see his eldest son; the last time had been at Michael and Iris's wedding the previous summer; but he couldn't warm up to Krystal as he could with Iris. "Of course I want to see young Harvey," he said loyally, "maybe we can even send him the money to visit us here. We could even set him up in his own business if we wanted to. That might please Krystal and those parents of hers."
Mary Beth agreed about her daughter-in-law, but she'd been their son's choice, and while not a warm person to her in-laws, might be quite different in private with her husband. If Muriel had known what happened to ME before I met Harvey, Mary Beth thought, she might not have taken to me at all. As it was, THAT friendship had taken years to develop, so THIS new mother-in-law was quite willing to give Krystal the benefit of the doubt.
"We'll need guidance as to what we
should do with the money," she said, finally. "I was thinking of one
of those trusts that pays off only if the recipients
maintain a job and some kind of personal stability.
I don't mean, let's arrange a marriage for Alice with Elliot right now, or demand that our kids stay married if they're truly and unrelievedly miserable, or punish Mike if he wants to cut back on his job to do more work for Habitat. Reasonable stuff, like matching their salaries and giving them a little bonus if they're investing, or buying a house, or carrying them when they're too sick to work. This way, the money could be made to last, even GROW, so even our grand-kids and great-grandkids could benefit. Christine, or, more likely, her brother Brian, might know a good financial planner who could help set things up."
Harvey laughed. "In a generation or two, the Laceys could be in the Social Register with the Collinses! We could buy a part of their company, like that poor Samwell guy did. But it would be okay, since we're Collinses, too! Even my brother, Carl--- he and Margie have been longing for a nice condo down in Florida. Hell, they can live in Palm Springs and play golf with the Kennedys!"
Mary Beth kissed him on the lips for the first time since the week before that terrible night. Harvey wrapped his arms around her, and make a half-serious effort to pull her onto the bed. "It's that new heart, Mary Beth," he panted with a passion that was only partly humorous. "It's made a new man of me. I can't wait until we're back together in our own bed."
"D'you think you can really do that anymore, Harvey?" she asked seriously. "I can imagine if you were a younger, otherwise healthier guy to begin with, maybe you could handle the strain, but just because you have a younger man's heart doesn't mean you can do all the things that younger man would have done."
Harvey nuzzled his wife's fluffy salt-and-pepper hair--- in the last 2 weeks, the salt had overtaken the pepper. "I'm not afraid to ask Dr. Lang, Dr. Mehta, AND Dr. Heard, all at the same time! If at least 2 out of 3 agree with me, I'm not afraid to go for it. Don't worry, though, I won't try it until I've had a proper recuperation period. But in the meantime, we can have a little, NON-ATHLETIC-type fun!" He flashed a naughty grin.
"Oh, Harv," Mary Beth replied with a husky giggle, turning red.
Harvey looked deep into her eyes. "Why Mary Beth, you're blushing just like you did on our wedding-night."
"So are YOU! I guess we're not too old
after all, if we BOTH can still blush about THAT."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Carolyn Stoddard Peterson sat tensely in the
drawing-room of the Great House of Collinwood. She had
been making small talk with the chairman of the board of directors of the German branch of Collins Enterprises, who had come a couple of days early for David Collins's memorial service, which was set for Monday morning. "Amazing, Frau Peterson," he said, "The new seafood-cloning division now belongs to your nephew-- is THAT what he is?--- young Elliot, and that peculiar fellow, Willi, a former servant, you have said?"
"Well, my COUSIN Elliot may not WANT to pursue that as a career, but I suppose he WILL have to take up some studies in order to run the division when he is of age, unless he decides to sell to the other heirs at that time. As for Mr. Loomis, he is merely an executor of sorts. He has chosen the true heirs--- long-lost cousins of the Collinses, and a woman who happens to be related to me on my father's side. They have no experience in that field either, I'm afraid, but my--my husband will be going over some of the aspects with them. They have 2 sons, both reputedly very bright young fellows, but involved in the computer and architectural fields. They DO have a younger sister who is brilliant, and will no doubt attend an Ivy League college, but unfortunately for the company, she's a VEGETARIAN. I doubt she'll approve of cloning animals to be used as food or any other commodity."
"Perhaps we can start a division just for the cloning of pet goldfish, jah? THAT might please the young fraulein!" The executive squeezed Carolyn's hand.
"Johann, words canNOT express how MUCH I'm enjoying your sense of humor." What a tiresome man, Carolyn thought, making these stupid jokes in the advent of a FUNERAL! And who, furthermore, gazed upon her still-svelte frame, made even more elegant by the black sheath she wore, with sheepish lust.
Thank God, Pauline was still in the hospital, or she, too, might have come under Johann's leering scrutiny. Marisol, Heather, and even shy, serious Emily had taken pains to avoid him. Pauline had recovered from her brief bout of bleeding, but Dr. Heard thought she would be better off staying under hospital supervision for another day or so, lest she get into another situation that called for a super-heroine. If there was a casket to be carried, Pauline's mother thought, my daughter would have offered to be a pall-bearer. As it was, the girl wouldn't come home until Johann was on his plane back to Berlin.
The doorbell, which sounded like the chimes of Westminster, reverberated in the foyer. Carolyn gratefully rose to answer it. She was completely surprised to see--- "Miss Cagney! My goodness, is there anything else the Sheriff requires?"
"No, I just came to say good-bye," Christine replied. "I'm going back to New York."
"Oh, so I guess this means, you haven't reconciled with--- oh, sorry, that's none of my business. I DO understand, though, better than you know. Well, DO come in."
Christine could see the very tall Aryan type waiting impatiently for Carolyn on the loveseat in the Drawing room. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"No, actually, I'd like you to meet him. He's chairman of the board in the German branch of Collins enterprises, the very branch you and the Laceys now own."
Johann sauntered over. His lustful expression faded when he saw Christine, though not into disappointment. "Gruss Gott!" he breathed. "You--you are, what do you Americans call it, the SPIT of my sister!"
"EXCUSE Me?" Christine said. "Oh, you mean, spitting image. Well, isn't it a small world, but when you come to Collinsport, it seems EVERYONE discovers their--- how do YOU say it---DOPPELGANGER!"
Carolyn said, "Well, isn't this interesting! And a coincidence. Johann, Herr Holmstadt, that is, and I were just discussing you and the Laceys."
"HOLMSTADT, you say?" Christine's eyes were WIDE open now.
"Jah," Johann said. "You are familiar with the name?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, just a few days ago, I learned that my mother's family's name was originally Holmstadt."
"You mean the Olmsteads, which were MY father's mother's family as well," Carolyn explained. "I never thought about it, before, but I suppose the name WAS 'Americanized' when the first Holmstadt came over."
"That would have been the 1850's, I'd say," Christine said. "My grandfather would have been the grandson of that Holmstadt, Hansel."
"Hansel?" Holmstadt shouted. "This is too grand! There WAS a Hansel in my family, so long ago, who went to America, but the family lost track of him. No doubt, he wanted to be American in EVERY way. "
"He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, I'd say," Christine said. "HE was a poor farmer, but his grandson owned Olmstead Machine Corporation until it was bought out by DresCorp."
"DresCorp is MY father's company in Dresden," Johann said excitedly. "I wonder if Father ever noticed the sameness of the names. But, ach, he was too much the businessman to pay attention. If the company could turn a profit, that was all he cared for. Well, this is very very good--- now I have TWO lovely cousins. I will have to visit again and again!" At THAT declaration, Carolyn's face fell.
"Not ME," Christine said, with a wink to her Collins cousin. "I was just visiting friends up here. Today I'm going home to New York. But if you're in Manhattan and want to get together to discuss family history, I think I have a business card in here somewhere." She fished through her purse until she found one.
"Christine Cagney," Johann read. "My sister's name is Kristina! It IS a small world, indeed." He kissed her hand.
"Yes, and getting smaller by the minute. Carolyn, I wanted to see your Uncle Roger especially, and Elliot."
"Elliot's with Hannah and Alice at the hospital, but Uncle Roger is upstairs in Baby Roger's nursery. He just can't wait for that baby to come home, he's fussing over that room like a grandMOTHER. I'm glad for him, since it DOES take his mind off David for while. I do believe, he may will himself to live until that baby grows up! Excuse me, Johann." Carolyn briskly lead Christine up the stairs, muttering under her breath, "He's AWFUL! And now, he's part of the family TOO!"
"You can pick your friends, Carolyn, but you can't pick your relatives. Hey, it isn't all bad, is it? I mean, for one Johann Holmstadt, you still have a whole flock of Laceys, and myself, of course. And, I forgot to ask, is he single?"
"Divorced. I can certainly understand why! Good Lord, YOU'RE not interested in someone else, so soon after--- oh, I'm sorry again."
Christine's eyes filled again. "No," she said in a voice hoarse with a sadness she tried to repress. "Anyway," she continued, "I look like his SISTER, for goodness' sake. But he was sure zooming in on YOU. Wonder what Tony would say?" she teased.
Carolyn turned away. "I--I don't know. Probably, nothing. Tony knows I wouldn't cheat. And I'd have to be DESPERATE to want to cheat with--with that LECH! Even if he IS my 5th or 6th cousin a few times removed--- and reminds me of a man I was mad about, years ago!"
Burke Devlin, she suddenly realized. From some angles, the tall, rugged Johann, with his jutting chin and devil-may-care manner, bore SOME resemblance to the muy-macho millionaire ex-con who'd stolen her teenaged heart, as well as poor Vicki Winters's, and died in a plane crash in the Brazilian jungle over 30 years earlier. Still, Carolyn told herself, the resemblance really doesn't mean anything. Johann's still a chauvinist pig!
Christine put her hand on Carolyn's arm. "Well, Cousin, you seem a little out of sorts. I have to tell you, I KNOW Quentin had a hard time getting Tony to come back to see Amy the other night. Even though I know Willie saw him this morning, I won't ask where he is NOW. I won't talk about this at all, if you're uncomfortable, but if you ever need someone to spill to, trust me, kiddo, I've BEEN there. I KNOW how it feels. From BOTH sides. In SPADES. Okay?" She rummaged in her purse again. This time, she wrote her home phone number and address on the back of the card, and handed it to Carolyn.
Carolyn hugged her. "I'll come down to the city for a visit when--when things are settled. Just make sure JOHANN isn't visiting at the same time."
They arrived at the nursery. As Carolyn predicted, Roger was wheeling around, gazing at the fresh paint and the new toys that crowded the antique crib generations of Collins babies had slept in. "I ordered the special webbing around the bars," he announced brightly, as if seeking approval. "The old one was a bit tattered and dirty already from the twins."
"That's great, now the crib will be quite safe for little Roger," Carolyn said gently. She kissed her uncle's bald pate. "But I'm sorry to tell you, Christine is here to say good-bye. She's going home to New York."
"But I'll be back," Christine said. "I promise."
"I certainly hope I'll be around the next time you come, dear," Roger said. "It's hard to live without my son, but I WANT to be around for the little ones, especially my namesake. Whom YOU brought into the world."
"Me, AND Mary Beth," Christine reminded him. "But it's true, I AM fond of the baby. I hope to catch glimpses of him growing up, too."
"I'd like to think you'll be around for MORE than just glimpses, Christine," Roger replied. "For a while, I thought you'd be a permanent fixture up here, along with the Sheriff. I know Pauline and Hannah wish it were so."
"Well, Mary Beth won't be the Sheriff much longer now that Willie's given her family his share of Adam's money, but she WILL stick around. This isn't the end of Collinsport for me, either. But I originally came up here for a vacation. And now, I need a vacation FROM my vacation!" Christine laughed a little uneasily.
"Well, my dear, before you depart, there IS something I promised to give you. Follow me." Roger led the two women to his large, but plainly-furnished bedroom. He fingered an album on his bookshelf. In a moment, he had it opened in his lap, and was extracting a black-and-white snapshot. "See, just like I told you, Christine. This is your mother as I remember her. Beautiful, ethereal Katherine Olmstead, and my equally beautiful late sister, Elizabeth, both aged about 18. Snow White and Rose Red, I used to call them."
Christine and Carolyn gazed at the two girls, who were posed jauntily at the foot of the grand staircase in the foyer. The bannisters were decorated with pine wreaths and tinsel, and the girls themselves were scarcely less adorned, in sophisticated couture and jewelry that made them look like young Hollywood starlets. Exquisite Kaye, platinum blonde like Jean Harlow. Sultry Elizabeth, her dark hair like a cloud, looking a lot like an actress Charlie had once said he had a crush on as a boy--- "one of those Bennett sisters, Joan, I think it was." Christine barely remembered the face of the lady who'd come to dinner all those years ago; Elizabeth had been at least 10 years older than in this picture, and rather careworn, but she vaguely remembered her father DID make a minor fuss over the lovely dinner guest, until JASON showed up!
Christine exclaimed, "It's hard to
believe this was taken by a 10-year-old kid! I can't take this from
you--- after all, Carolyn's mother's in it, perhaps she'd want it?"
"I've found a couple more with Elizabeth in them, and I'll give them to her presently," Roger said. "This is yours. Your face--- can't you see? The same delicate lines, though I know you'll say you're too puffy and old and so forth. What nonsense. The beautiful you is still there, the same as your mother. I'd happily have HER alive, puffy and all, because I know what she once WAS, had always BEEN. Even as a young boy. She was a very special lady."
"I know what you mean," Christine said, "and I thank you from the bottom of my heart." She kissed Roger on the lips. He clung to her for a minute. "My brother, Brian," she added, "HE'LL be thrilled. He has a daughter who resembles this picture as well."
"Well, I'm sure Johann will be interested," Carolyn said. "We just found out, Uncle Roger, that Herr Holmstadt is a distant relative of mine and Christine's."
"Good," Roger said. "It's
always a challenge to do business with family. Keeps the blood pumping far better than with a competitor."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine drove to the hospital. She passed Mary Beth on the road; the latter evidently heading home after a visit with Harvey. Christine almost honked her horn and waved, but she had already said her good-byes to her former partner for the time being. If she signalled to Mary Beth, they'd just pull over to the side, hugging and crying for an hour, which would have spoiled the rather tight driving schedule Christine had laid out for herself. She hoped to be past Boston by rush hour, and checked into a motel in Fall River well before 10 P.M.
Once at Seamen's Memorial, Christine briskly made her planned stops inside. First, to Harvey's room. HE hugged her and got them both sniffling. "Chris, please don't feel guilty about what happened. It wasn't because of YOU--- not ANY of it," he insisted. "Mary Beth didn't have enough evidence to charge Barnabas up till now, otherwise, you KNOW she would have, no matter what kind of relationship you two had. Thank God, we found out in time it was JASON who did it all, even screwing up Amy Jennings's head. And it's NOT your fault whether he's your father or half-brother or cousin. Maybe this HAD to happen to put all that shit to rest finally. This is gonna be a whole new town from here on out."
Chrstine shook her head. "Three hundred years of 'vampires and witches and ghosts, oh my!' AREN'T going to come to a screeching halt forever thanks to the vanquishing of ONE ghoul."
"Maybe, from now on, all the so-called 'ghouls' will be HUMANS. We can handle THOSE."
"Maybe you're right, Harv," Christine smiled faintly. "I remember Mary Beth telling me that there was usually a 20 to 30-year hiatus in supernatural incidents around these parts, so we have it all sewed up until the NEXT generation is mature enough to take up the cudgels." Hopefully, she thought, Barnabas WILL be "really, truly, SINCERELY dead" by the time of the next incidents. Harsh to think of his death as a blessing in that context, and this still left the question of what would happen to Jeremy, Vicki, and their child by then--- the new family that would still have the taint of an old curse hanging over them like a sword of Damocles. I wonder if I'LL still be around by then, Christine thought. I wonder if I'll still even CARE. Or Mary Beth, with or without Harvey. They seemed destined to move closer in sync with the Colllinses, always an ominous thing, the new understanding with Carolyn, Roger, and Hallie notwithstanding.
But there's the KIDS, she thought--- Pauline, Elliot, Hannah, and the rest of their siblings, Alice and her brothers.... Each generation took them further away from that long-ago time when a jealous husband murdered his wife and his brother, when a desperate mother killed her own son to save her grand-daughter, and later, left her baby great-grand-daughter on an alien doorstep. Eventually, the soupcon of blood from that dysfunctional clan would be no more than a period at the end of a sentence. Still, a virus was much smaller than THAT, and could contaminate the entire body unless there were antibodies to contain it. The antibody had come from a Collins, perhaps from a marriage with some now untraceable ancestor, or a spontaneous mutation. Perhaps 300 years of drinking lead-tainted water had this unexpected benefit!
But evil, the bane of all who were born human? Inborn instincts, the artifacts of evolution, rendered obsolete and even dangerous by civilization, yet emerging over and over again from the "Id"? Or was evil an objective menace, which came from a Devil or some other animus pitted against struggling humanity, which merely took advantage of the mis-use of these ancient survival instincts, and had a constant source of renewal thanks to all that nearly-mindless reproduction? Original sin, they'd called it.
Christine wearily shook off these thoughts. She wished she had time to stop in an talk to that Father Rondini she'd heard about, but there WERE churches aplenty in New York City. If a Catholic priest couldn't help, there were ministers, rabbis, imams, SOMEONE who could give her an answer she could use! My agnostic days are over forever, she concluded ruefully.
Harvey, noticing her distracted manner, prompted, "Have you decided what you're going to do about the Barnabas situation?"
"I don't know! How can I forgive and forget what happened in that tunnel room?"
"I'm still not clear on what DID happen, but he DID choose to sacrifice himself to make up for what he had been made to do. How can Mary Beth forgive and forget what Amy had me and Willie doing? How did I put up with what SHE did before we were married? Chris, you never saw a more modest little girl than she was back then. Very prim and proper, so much that I should have known right there and then she had something to hide. But there was something about her that I knew I couldn't live without.
"Still, I did what she wanted, hands off the goodies and all that, just making out a little, till she said 'stop!' The day that I said, 'I think we're getting serious here', she kind of backed away from me and said 'there's something I have to tell you, maybe you won't want to marry me anymore but you have to know'...." Harvey choked back a great sob. "Maybe you always thought I was kind of a big noisy blow-hard, but I LISTENED to EVERY word. I WAS kind of mad, she wasn't exactly what she presented herself to be, but she hadn't done anything I didn't do with a couple of my old girlfriends, it was just on the female end, and SHE was unlucky enough to have gotten snagged. And she suffered so terribly."
Christine said, "I KNOW. I was THERE. I was the Samaritan who got her out of a jam, and kept it to MYSELF."
"Then, I thank you," Harvey replied. "If not for you, I wouldn't have had the best 32 years of my life. Because, as soon as she finished, I DEMANDED that we get married A.S.A.P. What a jerk I would have been to drop her over a mistake that she had obviously learned her lesson from, whatever the Hell lesson ANYONE could learn from such as that! And the first night.... well, I won't go into the X-rated details, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't much different than a virgin's wedding-night. It's just two people, alone for the first time, strangers, almost, even if they love each other, finding out what makes the other person pleased and content, and the HELL with everyone else." At that, he rested back on his pillows, and closed his eyes, to hide the tears forming.
Christine leaned over, and kissed Harvey's much-furrowed forehead. He squeezed her hand, speechless with emotion. "Thanks, Harvey," Christine whispered. "I just want you to know, I NEVER thought you were a noisy blow-hard. You are on the VERY short list of the wisest men I've ever known."
Harvey, Brian, Bert Samuels, Albert Grand, Roger Collins, perhaps Job Woodard, WILLIE .... It WAS a pretty short list at that, but Christine was on her way to say good-bye to the youngest member.
Elliot sat with his now-restored sister on his lap, and held hands with Alice, who looked quite rosy and lively, as they sat in those tacky Naugahyde chairs placed next to each other in Alice's room. He was telling them a story, apparently from his family history. "And then, there's the legend of the Collins who was sailing back to America on the Titanic, but who was presumed lost after he had helped rescue a number of passengers. He was using a different name, but there was at least one old acquaintance on board who thought he recognized the fellow, who had boarded at Cherbourg in France. This fellow was fortunate enough to have been drafted as a rower on a lifeboat, and thus, survived to tell the tale."
Hannah said, "Wow. Do you think it was like the movie where Jack fell in love with Rose and died to make sure she was saved, so her heart could go on and she could have a grand-daughter who was gonna date the guy who raided the Titanic 80 years later, even though Rose threw the 'spensive necklace in the water and died and turned young again and went back with Jack on the ship with the other dead people?"
"Thanks for spoiling the movie for me, young lady," Christine said with mock sternness as she walked in. "I happen to be one of the last ten people on the planet who DIDN'T see that film! But guess what? My grandmother was ON the Titanic and was miraculously saved. Only HER name was 'Meghan'. And she never knew the real name of the fellow who saved her, far as I know. No great romance whatsoever, but I AM here, thanks to him."
All Hannah could say was "Wow" again. She looked up at Chris with fresh admiration, much as a little girl named Sarah Collins had gazed at her whimsical governess, either Phyllis Wicke with her romantic fancies and exotic, forbidden Papistry, or Victoria Winters with her stories of flying machines, cars, televisions, and refrigerators. Imagine, Hannah thought, a lady who was both a policewoman AND the grand-daughter of a Titanic survivor! Well, I can always be a policewoman, anyway, the child mused. I wonder how Mommy and Mrs. Johnson would feel about THAT?
Christine asked, "By the way, Elliot, just what Collins was this mysterious hero supposed to have been?"
"The original Quentin Collins," the boy answered. "I once asked OUR Quentin about his grandfather, but obviously the man drowned long before he was born, so they never knew each other. And all the papers that Quentin may have been carrying went down with the ship. Since he was using another name, old passenger lists are almost useless, except to rule out those famous rich people whose names were publicized at the time. The first Quentin, as you must have heard, had left the U.S.A. under a cloud. But he left a daughter behind with a foster mother named Fillmore, who would have been 15 or 16 in 1912. Some say he was coming back to visit her."
Christine did some quick figuring and said, "I know just who you mean. That was Lenore Fillmore Woodring, Amy's grandmother, who was around the right age. We saw her grave in the Jennings family plot. Well, it's a shame old Quentin never made it back for her." Old Quentin, indeed, she suddenly thought. Old Quentin. She conjured up the memory of the portrait of a man who looked like the Crypt-Keeper that seemed to mean a lot to THIS Quentin, who had carefully locked it in a closet in that maze-like West Wing....
Christine had another idea. Her grandmother had left her a small valise full of old items she had salvaged from her steerage compartment before she left it forever, and had managed to cling to even though the other lifeboat passengers, who feared the sinking of THEIR tiny vessel, had tried to make her throw overboard. Meghan wouldn't hear of it; all that was left of the worldly goods she required to make her start in America were inside. Without them, she'd either have been sent back to Ireland, away from her beloved Frank, or she'd have had to go out on the streets like a beggar woman, or, worse, a prostitute, to make the money she needed to survive. Frank WOULD have rejected her if THAT had happened!
Suddenly, Christine couldn't wait to get home to Manhattan, and plow through the contents of Grandma Meg's dusty old valise. She rushed through her goodbyes, though she hugged Elliot, Alice, and Hannah, all of whom pleaded for her to return soon.
She dashed down the hall, passing Barnabas's
room, though she wouldn't have gone in there in any case.
However, his door was open, and he could see her trotting by, from his bed. "Christine," he whispered sadly. "Please, come back to me. I need you--- we need each other."
Christine knew that there was no railroad service from this part of Maine--- the old railroad had shut down in the mid-1960s, and was only now being re-established due to popular demand. Her best bet would be to get into Massachussetts, drop her rental car off, and take the train from there. Hopefully, if she could make the right connections, she could be home by midnight!
Then, she stopped suddenly--- there WAS someone else she'd wished to say good-bye to. She headed to the Ob-Gyn floor, and dropped into Pauline's room for a few minutes. "Just wanted to say au revoir for now," Christine said. "but I'll come back, the next time you and your cousin Hannah want to hear some crackling good stories of my most memorable busts, both with, and without Mary Beth!"
"Johnny Newman's been telling me some," Pauline said with a sly smile. "Funny how he knows so much about you two, though he must have become a cop, years AFTER you two left that 14th Precinct place."
"That's what we loved about
Johnny," Christine said as normally as she could. "He really had an
appreciation of 'ancient history'. Great memory, and what a
knack for spinning a yarn. You'd think he was really THERE! Well, I wish
you two the best for now."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Quentin now faced Barnabas. "I saw your lady friend scurry out of here like a mouse who's escaped from a trap."
"I don't think it's accurate to call her 'my' lady friend. The estrangement is permanent. She found the revelation of my true nature too extreme to inspire any future trust."
"Yet you could get your own son and his fiancee, his fiancee's mother, AND the Sheriff to accept your statements of hand-wringing remorse! You can even convince ME to let you off the hook for what you did to MY great-grand-daughter! Though, for once, my heart isn't exactly in it!"
Barnabas sighed. "I don't take ANYONE'S forbearance or forgiveness for granted, certainly not yours, Quentin. All my other victims are recovering fully from their vampiric injuries. Because Amy's victims suffered more serious earthly injuries, this is NOT true, and SHE is still in quite some trouble with the law. This is MY doing, though I must say I did NOT approve of the attacks on the police, or the manner in which she put Alice and Harvey into my way...."
Quentin replied irritably, "But she DID put PAULINE in your way! You wanted THAT! My God, Barnabas, I TRULY loved that girl, she was Amanda Harris all over again, literally! And our unborn son--- who knows if he would have been afflicted by the werewolf curse, or, if so, he couldn't have benefitted from modern medicine when the time came? Until then, he would have been just an innocent child. MY boy! I lost my OTHER children without really knowing them. YOU had your OWN son, and you denied me a chance to do right by MINE!"
"I'm sorry--- I tried to help Pauline in the end---"
Quentin snarled, "YES! When your other options dried up, and it suited YOU! Maybe THIS is why your magic failed with Our Miss Cagney, Barnabas. Somehow, it's STILL all about YOU!"
"I have offered to testify in Amy's behalf---"
"With every immunity the law can convey, not that you're going to tell the 'whole truth and nothing but', anyway!"
"What would you have me do, Quentin? Must I remind you of our former alliance of mutual protection, and its cost? Now, you are untouchable. YOUR last crime was over 100 years ago, and nobody would believe the circumstances if they were revealed now. Yet, if our situations were suddenly reversed, I would STILL protect you. Perhaps it's our Collins blood, perhaps it's the similarity of our plights--- cursed by two women, due to our wretched treatment of those women and all they held dear."
Quentin replied, more calmly, "Perhaps you ARE right, Barnabas. Amy may well be the culmination of both our curses. Perhaps what happened with her might have come to pass, in another form, but she definitely had that streak of madness within her. My wife Jenny was the same, trying to kill everyone she held responsible for my infidelities and neglect, mostly Collinses. Amy simply shifted HER obsession to the Sheriff's office."
Barnabas said quietly, "I never told you
this before, Quentin, but I was partly to blame for your late wife's last burst
of madness before.... her death. I found her, cowering in my house, trying to
escape the inhumane confinement your siblings subjected her to, even keeping
her from her own sister! I TRIED to treat her kindly, got her cleaned up and
dressed in some of Josette's clothes, though NOT
because of my usual reason. Jenny was a lovely, sweet woman under all that
insanity, and seemed to calm right down when someone treated her as such.
Unfortunately, the sun was coming up, and I had to confine her once more to a
locked room. Poor Magda and Sandor
discovered her thus, and would have taken care of her, but she escaped.... Made
her way to my coffin room in the basement.... Opened it.... I wasn't able to
respond but I was aware. She shrieked, and ran off, to a place where she probably
thought she'd be
"Beth's room!" Quentin picked up the thread. "Even though Beth and I had been lovers, she HAD taken excellent care of Jenny under the limits imposed by Judith and Edward, and felt great guilt during our times together. If Jenny had somehow recovered, I KNOW Beth would have given me up for her sake. Poor Jenny, seeing the truth about her husband and her only friend--- She tried to kill Beth, and I killed Jenny in a rage, with Beth frantically trying to stop me.... And THIS led, 80 years later, to what happened to Chris and Amy.... Not just Magda's curse, but---"
"How Chris Jennings came to be killed by Sheriff Patterson," Barnabas concluded. "It WAS Amy, wasn't it, Quentin? I remember how she accused all of us of 'selling her brother out'. Yet, that guilty knowledge of having told Patterson HERSELF, almost erased by Julia at your behest, was one of the first nuggets I prized from her subconscious when I bit her. And that irrational hatred towards law enforcement, akin to Jenny's hatred of your relatives, though Amy, herself, became quite a strict teacher, then principal, which is how we all got involved with the Laceys in the first place!"
"AND your Christine. Well, Barnabas, I'd say we were even AGAIN. Once more, we've both lost women we loved, and a descendant of mine is once more in jeopardy. Still, if your carefully-condensed testimony can help Amy in SOME way, I'd be grateful. That, and the fact that I have hired your former servant, my great-nephew Willie, from right under your nose, should make up for SOME of your trespasses. In return, I'll even do something for YOU. I COULD try to get your self-righteous former flame to come back. SHE owes ME for helping to get her out of a VERY sticky situation, namely, the quicksand behind Eagle Hill!" Quentin tried to laugh. "If you could have heard her cursing when that young Jonah and I finally fished her out, like a sailor at the Blue Whale---"
Barnabas protested, "Quentin, PLEASE--- do NOT refer to Christine---"
"I know, I know," his cousin replied. "Please do not refer to my girlfriend-slash-fiancee-slash-wife in such a disrespectful way." Quentin chuckled. "Oh, God, Barnabas, you know I like the woman--- not quite as much as YOU claim to, of course, but about as much as Willie and Jonah do. Something about her reminds me of Julia."
"How soon do you think you can talk to her?" Barnabas sat up with new eagerness.
"Well, Barnabas, don't you think we
should allow Christine to go home without my being in hot pursuit, to relax in
the comfort of her Manhattan abode, and to decide on her own, whether she wants
to return to this garden of unearthly delights? I'd say, wait a week or so.
After all, there's David's memorial service on Monday, and Amy's legal matters
to tie up."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Carolyn had been relieved when, thanks to a generous offer from an excecutive from the main office at Collins Enterprises, Johann Holmstadt was taken to Ellsworth for dinner at a well-known lakeside restaurant. Now, she sat silently in a chair just down the hall from the foyer, awaiting her husband's return.
Tony quietly unlocked the great oaken doors and almost tip-toed in. He was going up the steps, when he felt a small hand on his shoulder--- he wheeled around to face his wife.
"Okay, Tony, where the HELL have you been all day?"
"Er, Carolyn, if you're going to give me a hard time, hadn't you better do it in the privacy of our rooms?"
"Why? THIS is my room, too. And what's the point of going off into our own little world, Tony? So you can weasel your way back into my good graces, and into my bed for one more night? To tide me over until the NEXT time you have to do the same thing? I want to have it out, right HERE, right NOW, where you won't be able to play those games. Less risk of catching some disease from your whores that way!"
"Carolyn, I don't understand---"
"Admit it, Tony! You've been seeing other women. I knew about ONE of them.... Maggie----"
Tony's face fell at THAT. "Okay, Carolyn, it's true.... But it's OVER."
"THAT must have been a recent development, I'll bet! My private investigator--- David hired him when HE suspected you, and now he reports to ME--- said the last time YOU TWO were shacked up was LAST WEEK! However, I think MRS. SHAW is probably shedding crocodile tears RIGHT NOW over your OTHER affair."
"Carolyn, there IS no other affair! I've been heavily involved in meetings regarding the corporation in the aftermath of David's passing."
"Oh, no doubt. Because Mr. Jason McGuire, Junior, has just revealed your involvement in an insider trading scheme you cooked up to sell off WAY too many shares of Collins Enterprises to Timothy Adam Samwell, pulling a big rug out from under my poor cousin! Only it WASN'T a direct sale to Adam, JASON was controlling those shares. When Adam found out about it, he felt compunction to return the shares in the only way he could, in the most honorable way possible. However, Jason tried to thwart Adam's plans to fire him and make amends, and KILLED him. So, while YOU didn't actually murder Adam, you ARE partly to blame. And your reward, beside the profits from those sales?"
"Nothing, I SWEAR!"
"Nothing, my ASS! Marisol, why don't YOU enlighten Mr. Peterson, since he seems to have forgotten where he WAS, just a half hour ago?"
Marisol appeared from the drawing room.
"Senor Peterson, I AM sorry, but the truth must be told. You
were with one Senorita Catherine Trask! I've overheard you talking with her in the past, when you were foolish enough to use the phone in the servants' area!"
"So WHAT? She's a senior financial analyst in the Samwell organization."
"Yes, Tony," Carolyn taunted. "A 29-year-old senior ANALYST. HARDLY a senior CITIZEN!
Beautiful--- I've seen pictures--- and, no doubt, intelligent, and GREEDY. like her relatives before
her--- the same damned family of Trasks who've plagued OUR family for over 200 years! Somehow she got mixed up with that Jason when he first went to work for Adam, and they both decided to get even with the Collinses. However, the SEC can't seem to pin anything on HER. But I CAN get rid of YOU, and try to help clean up the mess in our family business. Thank God, Adam chose his heirs well. They have the integrity YOU lack."
Tony was beyond denial, but he still had one lonely weapon. "I'm the father of your only child, who also happens to be ONE of those heirs! If you have me arrested, how do you think Pauline will feel?"
Carolyn WAS moved by this plea. "I--I can't protect you if the government decides to investigate you. But, aside from requesting a divorce, and denying any claim you might make against the Collins fortune, I won't set the hounds on you, for our daughter's sake. I loved you once, God help me. Not the greatest, most passionate love, but you were my rock for so many years. I remember the good times, Tony, but THIS is TOO much. And Pauline will not hear from ME, how you betrayed us. That's something YOU will have to tell her, and soon, whether you like it or not. It will be up to HER how she feels about you after that, but she's been a very forgiving soul lately. Quentin, Amy, Barnabas, everybody. Remember when she was born, and they thought that if she survived, she would be retarded? 'A SPECIAL child, Mrs. Peterson, that's what we call them now,' the doctors and social workers said. They were right, though not in the way THEY meant."
Tony said, resignedly, "I guess this means I'd better go up and pack."
Carolyn replied, "Take your time--- I'm getting enough satisfaction knowing you'll be out of here by tonight."
"I wonder what Elizabeth would have thought?"
"You should thank God that I'm NOT like my mother. When confronted with a similar problem involving MY father, HE got a whack with a poker, and was exiled from here for 20 years, WITHOUT his luggage. I should thank God I'M not like my mother, either. You think I'D do something that would cause ME to live the rest of MY life cloistered in this mausoleum? Or to damage my daughter as I was damaged?"
She thought, what wonderful luck that her daughter wouldn't even have to go through more trouble with the men in her life--- unlike Carolyn's early years, a good man wouldn't be supplanted by a bad man in Pauline's case; quite the opposite! Carolyn had, long ago, shed decent Joe Haskell for devious Burke Devlin, possibly shredding her judgment about future relationships in the process, including her marriage with Tony.
On the other hand, Pauline already appeared to
be getting over the disastrous affair with Quentin, and was being courted at
the hospital by that charming, kind Jewish police friend of Christine's and
Mary Beth's. Now, if only that girl would STICK with Jonah Newman! Carolyn
sighed, already dreaming of lavish Bar and Bat Mitzvahs for her future
grandchildren, though Pauline and Jonah hadn't even had a DATE yet.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Michael Lacey had just gotten off the phone. He went into his parents' bedroom, and sat at the foot of their bed. "Mom, I'm sorry to have to desert you and Dad and Alice like this so soon after Aunt Christine's leaving, but I'm going home tomorrow. I want to be on hand, bright and early on Monday, when Iris goes to the doctor. She says she feels worse, she's throwing up a lot."
Mary Beth was propped up on her pillows, once more snug in her heavy robe. "Now, Michael, maybe it's not as bad as you think. I seem to recall throwing up QUITE a bit just around the time I found out I was expecting every one of you kids." She winked at her son.
Michael winked back, and smiled. "I HOPE that's all it is--- it seems the pregnancy tests Iris's mother bought are still coming out 'negative.'. We weren't planning on starting a family this soon, but now that there's going to be a little financial assistance coming our way, maybe we can have our baby and eat it--- I mean, our CAKE and eat it, too. We can get a good babysitter so Iris can finish her degree, we can even take trips with the baby in a sidecar---"
Mary Beth frowned. "Oh, no, Boy, you are NOT going to take MY grandchild on a motorcycle! When he or she's an adult, that will be their choice, and maybe I won't be around to see it anyway. But in the meantime, Michael, I'm going to INSIST you and Iris get an SUV, top of the line, all the options, all the safety features, a real gas-guzzler! We can afford it now. We can get one for Harvey Junior, too, if he and Krystal ever get around to family matters."
Michael shrugged in feigned resignation.
"You're still the Sheriff around these here parts, Mom. Anyway, I will be
rising with the chickens for the long ride home, so this has to be good-bye for
now." He kissed his mother on the cheek. "Tell Dad and Alice we'll be
back up here soon--- Myself and Iris, at least."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART TWENTY-ONE--- SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2000
Christine had been so exhausted by the complexities of making several train connections, that she fell asleep just an hour after she arrived back in her apartment, not long after she'd dug her grandmother's valise out of the closet, and rifled the contents until she found what she sought. As it was, she woke up around 9:00 A.M., and she wouldn't even have done THAT, save that the phone was ringing. Something told her not to wait until the answering machine picked up the call.
She cradled the phone in a comfortable hollow that had formed between her ear and her pillow. "H'lo," she muttered. "This isn't Geoff, is it?" Geoffrey Coombs was the new D.A., the one Mary Beth had "ditched" Chris with to come to Collinsport, the one who insisted that she take vacations when nobody else in the U.S.A. would have. This is all YOUR fault, Geoff, Christine thought sleepily.
"WHAT'S my fault?" The voice wasn't Coombs's mellow bass with the slight Jamaican accent.
Christine suddenly sat up, clutching the phone, thanking her lucky stars it WASN'T Geoff, though the panicky note in Mary Beth's already-shrill voice was nothing to be thankful for, either. Trouble again, so soon! "Mary Beth! My God, what's the matter? Is it Harvey---"
"NO! Harvey doesn't even know about this yet. It's IRIS--- Mike's wife. He was just getting ready to leave us this morning, when Aida Ramirez called--- you know, Iris's mother? Iris was rushed to the hospital about 7 A.M.--- her GALL BLADDER ruptured! THAT'S why she was feeling sick, it was just building up. WE thought maybe she was pregnant. But now she's in surgery---"
"What about Mike?" Christine's favorite Lacey son--- poor boy---
"He was frantic--- he can't exactly BLINK himself down to Columbia Medical Center. I was so desperate, I called Carolyn and Hallie. They put a company plane at Mike's disposal, and Quentin Collins made himself available to go along, to look after Mike and to see that he got to Columbia, pronto. They should be there soon, barring disaster! I'd have gone myself, but they'll need me to break any news to Harvey and Alice, good or bad---" Mary Beth sobbed.
"Say no more, partner, I'm headed there RIGHT NOW. Which building is Iris in?" Christine stumbled about, pulling on her clothes, as Mary Beth explained which of the maze of medical center buildings and surgical pavilions housed her ill daughter-in-law. As she ran out the door, Christine glanced back at the mess surrounding the old suitcase. Please God, let Iris recover, she prayed, but what a strange coincidence that the catastrophe had brought Quentin down to Manhattan so soon, just HOURS after she'd made her discovery!
Christine found the correct area, and she recognized Aida Ramirez at once. She hugged the tiny, dark-haired, grief-wracked figure, though at first Aida didn't seem to recognize her through her tear-filled eyes, and pulled away. Then she wept, "Christina!" and held onto the larger, blonde woman.
"Senora Ramirez," Christine said kindly but firmly, "Has there been any news?"
"A doctor came to tell me that Iris also had a swollen appendix, and they were going to take that out, too. It has been over 2 hours! Do you know when Miguel will be here? He is so far away, and only had that little motorcycle!"
"His mom said their cousins were loaning him an airplane. Mary Beth couldn't come, she has her husband and daughter still in the hospital, but a Mr. Collins will be bringing Mike here any--- THERE THEY ARE!" Christine pointed to where Quentin, his arm draped reassuringly around the unhappy young husband's shoulders, was stepping with Mike from a nearby elevator. She and Aida ran to clutch the younger man in a fierce group hug.
Quentin stood back, a serious expression on his face for once. He had been overwhelmed by the way Mike had spoken about his wife during the plane ride, almost a eulogy, broken with sobs and sniffles. He had studied the pictures the younger man had in his wallet. If not for the desperate situation, Quentin would have found himself ENVYING the young couple's devotion. As it was, he thought, maybe I've been SPARED something? Then his mind would return to all that he had lost, or thrown aside, his wife, his lovers, and most of all, his children--- including the young, innocent Amy he had once known--- and decided that THESE people, even in the face of possible tragedy, even though their lives were destined to be much shorter than his, WERE more fortunate than he had ever been.
The group huddled in a set of plastic-cushioned chairs and sofas similar to those at the Collinsport Hospital. Quentin, who had watched the clock every day of his long existence, wondering when it would ever end, now watched it, without any thought for himself, but for the sick girl he had never met. Her mother said it's been over 4 hours, he thought, as the hands touched the 12. That CAN'T be good, can it? How long does such an operation TAKE, anyway? He suddenly wished that Conrad Lang, with his brassy but always-justified confidence, was on hand to take charge of the surgery. Then, he heard Mike say much the same thing. If only there was something I could do for them all, Quentin mused, besides WAIT!
It was 1:30 when the head surgeon finally emerged. The group stood instantly at his approach, when he announced, without Lang's fanfare, "The surgery has been successful. The rupture caused a great deal of trouble, even sending fragments of gallstone into the liver, but we got everything cleaned out.... The appendix, for some reason, was also enflamed--- one doesn't usually see BOTH organs afflicted at the same time--- so it's gone too. Mrs. Lacey experienced some distress on the operating table, but she's quite strong, and survived it. She's in the recovery room, and as of now, the prognosis is good."
Michael was almost incoherent in his gratitude. "When can I see her, when can I see her?" he babbled. His mother-in-law clung to his arm, nodding eagerly. Told that it would be at least 2 hours, the family moved on to the cafeteria for a guarded celebration. Christine whipped out her cell phone, and called Mary Beth immediately. There was no answer at the Lacey home, so Christine tried Harvey's hospital room phone number. Foturnately, the call went through, and it was good to hear the jubilation of both the in-laws at the other end. Christine handed the phone to Michael and Aida, who chattered simultaneously to Mary Beth and Harvey.
Christine and Quentin sat quietly together,
watching the happy scene. Christine turned to her companion, and studied him.
Her face resumed the look of concern she had formerly worn for Iris.
She exclaimed, "My God, Quentin, you look as if you've aged 10 years!"
Quentin stroked his chin, and felt a few wrinkles he KNEW weren't there before. "Really? I'd think one might be saying that about the young lady's mother or even her husband. THEY know and love her best, they're most worried about her."
"You're right, I guess, but--- hey, for a while there, I think we were ALL making deals with God or whatever higher power, just like we did for Harvey and Alice. YOU look like God just collected on YOUR pledge." Then Christine said, "When Mike and Aida get to see Iris, and we know she's really on the mend, I'd lie you to stop by my place for a while, later--- we can order some dinner, whatever---"
"While I would be entirely flattered, Christine, I think we're both too freshly estranged from our previous lovers to venture so soon into anything of that nature." NOW, Quentin grinned mischievously.
Christine hesitantly smiled back. "You rascal! As if 'so soon' had any meaning for you--- but thanks for being flattered. Now I'M flattered as well! But this ISN'T a proposition. The truth is, I found something in my late grandmother's belongings that would really interest you."
"Do tell! Well, thanks for coming up
with a good excuse for our spending time together, because there's something I
really DO need to talk to YOU about."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Quentin extravagantly admired Christine's large apartment, her comfortable but expensive-looking furniture, her curious collections of antique artifacts and modern kitsch. "You're paid that well for what you do?" he asked frankly.
"Well, better than during my police days, though if I had loved the simple life, it would have been more than enough. I do quite well now as a bureaucrat, but I've always had the Olmstead trust fund to fall back on."
"And now, a piece of the Samwell legacy. Christine, you ARE the most fortunate police officer of EITHER gender that ever walked the face of the earth."
"I haven't always FELT lucky. I lost a lot of friends and all of my illusions over the years since I impetuously decided to follow in my father's footsteps. And, certainly the fact that my love life has been, well, TUMULTUOUS, isn't a good sign. Aside from my nieces, I won't have anyone of my very own to leave anything to. My niece Bridget, especially--- she's a show business attorney now, soccer-mom to 2 tow-headed Cagnettes as I call them, living in a brand-spanking-new house in Long Beach--- she'd think NOTHING of tossing ANY of this stuff into a dumpster."
"Even THIS?" Quentin pointed to a large, irregular cube of lumpy, twisted, yellow metal, with a headlight impossibly stuck into it, even MORE impossibly, blinking on and off. "What the Hell IS it?"
Christine laughed. "My old canary-yellow Corvette. It had a terminal disease, so I had it 'Kevorked'. Compacted. But I had them insert a battery to make the light work. It's a great conversation piece. The men I've brought home in the past LOVED it. It brought together their most cherished fantasies. Sex and cars, both blonde."
"I think it's fantastic, even though WE'RE not going to--- errr.... That's not why you brought me here, I KNOW." Quentin blushed, a strange sensation for him. "And I had a completely unselfish reason to see you as well."
"Yes, how strange that the two most over-sexed people we know, are in the same room together with NO intention of HAVING sex!" Christine darted into her room, and brought forth the old valise. "This will absolutely FASCINATE you, far more than my withering charms."
"Nice old suitcase, excellent leatherwork, though a bit dry and cracked in spots," Quentin observed. The suitcase was as old as his own. "Are you thinking of SELLING it?"
"No, no, no. It's what's inside that counts, though it was kind of you to compliment what my grandmother slaved and saved for MONTHS to buy. She didn't want just an old carpetbag for HER journey to America."
"Your grandmother sounds like she was quite a feisty girl. Probably a LOT like yourself, Christine."
"Maybe, Quentin. She HAD to be, to survive the Titanic sinking."
A shadow crossed Quentin's handsome, aging face. "Ah, I understand. She would have been a steerage girl, I take it--- one of those who had a hard time getting to the lifeboats because her name wasn't in the Social Register. What a distinction to make at such a time!"
"Maybe it was unintentional, but it happened, all right. My grandmother and her cabin-mates were actually STOPPED by a very stern ship's mate. To do him justice, he was probably terrified, and, no doubt, knew HE was a goner because of his sex AND his position. But the rule WAS supposed to be, 'women and children first'. One of the girls had a little boy whom she was bringing to join her husband in New York, and my grandmother, Meghan McCaffrey that was, was watching over them. They argued and wept and my grandmother even SLAPPED the crewman, but he remained obdurate. Misery loves company, especially misery that's about to drown for a very stupid reason!"
"Then, of course, someone stepped in and saved the day!"
"Obviously. Not only my grandmother, but the woman with her son, and 3 other helpless young Irish colleens. A tall, handsome stranger intervened, and literally shoved the man out of the passageway. He conveyed the ladies to a lifeboat that was already overcrowded--- THAT was strange, how some of the biggest boats were half-empty, while the smaller ones were so full they feared getting swamped. However, room was made for everyone, including Meghan with her fine new suitcase. Meghan didn't just have the suitcase, though. The man had given her something of his own to keep, only Meg's little grand-daughter didn't realize what it was until now."
Christine opened the valise, and pulled out a large, elaborately-embroidered wallet. Upon seeing it, Quentin began to shake involuntarily. "You see the workmanship that went into it," Christine said. "But it wasn't from a fine haberdashery, it had been made by the man's DAUGHTER. And it contained a picture of the daughter, though when she was little, Meg's grand-daughter thought it was an early picture of MEG." She proferred the wallet to Quentin, who took it without thinking.
He opened it, and saw the small rotogravure inside. The picture, faded to reddish-brown, was of a beautiful young girl of about 16, in a simple but stylish dress, and with rich, dark, sausage-curled hair tumbling over her shoulders. "Lenore," he whispered, then stared at Christine, in shock that he'd revealed that much of his secret.
"Lenore FILLMORE. Born Lenore COLLINS. Daughter of one QUENTIN COLLINS. She was born in 1896, which made her 3 years younger than my grandmother," Christine said. "Now, as I said, I used to think THIS was my grandmother, but the dress and hairstyle, as you can see, were very expensive-looking. As was the wallet itself. But Grandma explained before she died. The man, she said, had given it to her, in hopes that it would somehow find its way back to his daughter, who had made it for him, and whom he had been coming back to visit after many years' absence.
“But the name on the ticket and passport inside was 'Charles Quincy', supposedly from Cherbourg. When lists of Titanic's passengers were published, there WAS a Charles Quincy, but when Grandma and the White Star Line office wired back to France, they found a Mr. RAOUL Quincy, still in Cherbourg, and feeling VERY fortunate to have sold his ticket to a desperate stranger. The man must have altered the papers. So Meg could not track down his daughter. She kept the wallet, and also, the 650 dollars inside, which she divided among her other friends whom the handsome stranger had saved."
"653 dollars and 17 cents, to be exact," Quentin said. "I didn't care about the money, though it was quite a lot, back then--- I wanted those poor girls to have it, especially the bravest one, who so resembled my daughter. She, above all, deserved some 'lace curtains'! But I'd hoped that Lenore would get the wallet back in her lifetime. You see, I didn't expect to survive, at least not like the others. I KNEW that, as a gentleman, I would have to go down with the ship. But I also knew I WOULDN'T die, at least, not exactly like the other gentlemen.
“I was lucky in a way--- I TRIED to drown like a good gentleman, or at least, hoped to freeze to death in the water like so many others--- but I stayed quite warm, and couldn't sink, even without a life-jacket! When a second, smaller ship arrived on the scene, I swam toward it, rather than the Carpathia, which rescued most of the passengers, including your grandmother. I had realized the folly of returning to Collinwood and my Lenore--- I was supposed to be 42 years old, and DROWNED, not 27 and a survivor. Imagine the suspicions of treachery that would have swirled around my head, possibly injuring my child's chances for a decent life!"
"All because of THAT PORTRAIT!" Christine shouted.
"Yes, you know all about my secret now,” Quentin said with a chuckle. “But then, you know about BARNABAS, so this CAN'T have come as a MAJOR surprise! That portrait has kept me alive and reasonably well since it was first painted in 1897, when I was 27 years old. However, also thanks to that portrait, I have been an extremely lonely man, until I came back here 30 years ago. How could I explain to anyone why I stayed so young, while even my own DAUGHTER had grown old and died? So I assumed another false name, until I revealed that I was my own grandson, and eventually had plastic surgery to get OLD."
"How did the painting come to exist?"
"An extremely evil and perverse man, a Count Andreas Petofi, commissioned it from one of his many protegees, to whom he had given the power to paint anything, and it would become real. However, for once, he was moved somewhat by pity, though later, his true motives became crystal clear. You see, this Petofi was deathly afraid of Gypsies--- they had cut off his hand, which possessed a peculiar, isolated power, and kept it from him, until a series of blunders gave it back to him.
“Petofi was STILL in danger from them, and soon sought to exchange our bodies, as he'd discovered that I would be alive in 1969. Of course, with a painting like that around, it was bound to happen, since it also conferred near-immortality. But, after we had switched bodies, I regained mine. He, however, was finally destroyed--- at least, he SEEMED to be, by a spirit even MORE malevolent and vengeful than himself! While the young painter had lost the power to make magic portraits, the spell had never been lifted from MY picture, nor that of a young woman the painter had created, whom I loved dearly and lost."
Christine recalled something Quentin had told her once. "Let me guess--- THIS is the 'special medicine' that keeps YOU from suffering the same disease as the late Christopher Jennnings?"
"Exactly. In fact, Chris once sought out the old man who had painted MY picture, but, like I said, the magic was gone, and Chris ended up killing the poor old fool during one of his attacks. MY disease, as you call it, was actually a CURSE--- over 100 years ago, I strangled my hapless, insane wife when SHE tried to kill someone I cared for. HER sister, a Gypsy, cursed me and my male descendants. WHY she chose this curse, I'll never understand. It was foolish and cruel to make others suffer with me, including my own children by Jenny. Magda, that was my Gypsy sister-in-law, soon realized this, but couldn't get her own curse off me, like Angelique, who, initially, was unable to remove Barnabas's curse. The portrait had no effect on my descendants, either. A couple of female generations went by before the curse caused harm again. This is why Amy was so resentful, and also explains where her own insanity came from."
"She tried to hack up the picture, didn't she? With that squiggly knife!"
"She damn near succeeded, which was why I was shrieking like a banshee! If it wasn't for the spirit of my brother, Carl, whom I had conspired to murder in 1897---"
Christine said, "I know, now, whom you conspired WITH. Barnabas." At this, she turned from Quentin, and hid her face in her hands. "God, I could use a drink RIGHT NOW!"
"Well, then, why don't you have any liquor here? I could use a snifter-full of brandy myself, after everything that's happened, not just today, but the last fortnight!"
Christine replied, shame-facedly, "I can't have any alcohol--- now or ever. I've been a recovering alcoholic for over 15 years. I have lapses now and then. God knows, police work provided enough provocation, then my father's death--- he was one, also--- then my divorce, and this past 'fortnight', as you so elegantly put it. The last incident was over a week ago, actually, but even through the worst times, in the last couple of days, I held off .... Don't mind me, when I start whining for whiskey, it's just a reflex action."
Quentin said, with true admiration, "Then you are a FAR stronger person than myself, my dear. I almost WISH you were the kind of woman for me. Perhaps in our next lives, you WILL be."
Christine quipped, "With that portrait around, it may take CENTURIES."
"Well, that's the part I was getting to," Quentin said. "To save my unworthy life, Carl was able to fix the picture, and, what's more, put it in REVERSE. When that portrait once again looks like an extremely handsome young devil, if I DO say so myself, I will fall deep into deep dotage, and shuffle off this mortal coil like any of you ordinary folks. I think I paid in advance this afternoon. Perhaps you've heard of Mr. Best? Jonah must surely have told you."
"Yes, he's the life and death broker of the Ether, apparently. Are you saying that he collected some of YOUR borrowed time, and gave it to Iris?"
"Maybe. Though I certainly hope that she received more than a
few years! But that's my new
existence--- every time I have a decent thought, or do something that benefits another, I come closer and closer to normal. I shouldn't like to PUSH it, though--- I've had a long life, and much of it hasn't been SO bad, and now that I AM becoming what I HOPE is a better man, I'd like to have the time and the health to enjoy the effects. AND the people I help, as well! Jonah gave me a clue, when we got you out of the quicksand. He said that the LAST time I put myself at risk for others, I wasn't in real danger--- maybe he meant what I did on the Titanic. But he hinted that sinking in the mud WOULD have been permanent, if Best had decreed. He must play a part in this redemption business, though his personal attitude is inscrutable."
Christine asked, "I wonder what he must think of Barnabas, cheating death at every turn? And veering in and out of HIS curse?"
Quentin held her gently by her shoulders. "I wonder less about Best's opinion, and worry about YOURS. Christine, even though I admit to an attraction to you, we BOTH know where your heart REALLY lies. And Barnabas's. I won't even TRY to come on to you, because, over 100 years ago, Barnabas did a terrible thing that saved both of our lives, though not out of any great affection for ME, at least, not until much later. He had to go back to my time, to save me from being killed--- either by a jealous woman, or walled up in a room by my embarrassed siblings, or BOTH--- so that my GHOST wouldn't return to the 1960's, to drive everyone from Collinwood, but most of all, to kill DAVID, who, at the time, resembled my beloved nephew who had rejected me. Jamison, who was Roger and Elizabeth's father! It soon became clear that mine and Barnabas's existences would forever be linked to each other. So, in a manner of speaking, I owe HIM one, and he owes ME one, for the rest of our days. He loves YOU, so I can't take you from him, even if I knew I could!"
Christine cried, "He doesn't love anyone, he loves what someone may REPRESENT! He thought he loved Maggie, even kidnapped her and tried to brainwash her, because she represented Josette to him! Alice, no doubt, must ALSO have stood in for Josette, or some other unattainable woman he fancied during those 200 years! Maybe he loves ME because I represent JULIA to him! I'm NOT Julia! I CAN'T imagine MYSELF doing the grotesque things she did for him! And, trust me, I would NEVER have borne him a child if I was young enough--- I would have worried every single day about the consequences!
“I CAN'T forget what I saw in the tunnel, no matter what Harvey said, what YOU say, what Allarice said! I'm NOT stuck like Vicki Shaw, who pretty much HAS to marry Jeremy, who almost turned her into the same ABOMINATION, as Barnabas almost did to Alice! Vicki's going to have the vampire's grandchild! Mary Beth might be willing to put aside some of her reservations about Barnabas's renewed integrity--- she's really getting sucked into the Collinsport way of life! But I CAN'T!!!"
At this, she flung herself at Quentin, nearly pushing him over, and wrapped her arms around him. She kissed him desperately, and he responded--- for a minute. Then, he pushed her away. "Christine.... I have committed murder--- over 100 years ago, but they were still wrongful deaths of innocents, for which I never served any time in prison. How is THAT any different than what Barnabas has done? We were, both, NO more in control of our actions.... We behaved as animals mindlessly bent on survival, yet when we were free of our curses, we killed no-one, tried to live quiet lives.... We weren't PERFECT, obviously, but we wanted to be like everyone else. We wanted to love and be loved. Barnabas was the luckier one--- nobody objected when he married Julia, as there would have been protests if I had wed Pauline. Nobody would protest if you married Barnabas now---"
Christine countered, "Geoffrey Coombs, the D.A., my BOSS, certainly would! Barnabas isn't completely free and clear, not yet, maybe never.... I've put over 30 years of my life, the one and ONLY life I have ever known--- into this career. Not just because I've ever been one of those 'butchy wimmen's libbers' who wanted to prove I was 'good as a man'--- I BELIEVED in what I did, even when the lines between the law and the unlawful were blurred. In less than 3 years, I WILL be retiring--- maybe to Mary Beth's place in Maine for the summer, and to my brother's hacienda in California during the winter--- I don't really know.
“But until then, any relationship with a man who has a distinct cloud over his head is no longer acceptable. When I was younger, I could do that, and survive, even when the hammer fell. Now? You may think the easy life lived on trust funds and legacies should be enough for ANYONE, but I want to finish what I started. My conscience, and my father's memory--- hell, the memory of BOTH my parents--- have to be honored, at least until then."
Quentin became angry. "And what if Barnabas DIES, waiting for that 'great come-and-get-it-day'? He's just a MAN now, a man in his 70's, who has had a great health trauma, and is full of remorse, and longing for you! How will THAT stand on your conscience? How will THAT honor your parents?"
Christine replied with dignity, "I will grieve for him the rest of my life, as I grieve for my parents. He WAS my one true love. But it has nothing to do with the way I have to live my life in the real world."
"I live in the same world, Christine. I've lived in it for 130 years. It's a world with an infinite number of facets. Here we are, having a civilized conversation. Yet, right down the hall, a man may be beating his wife to death, or molesting his child.... or a drug deal may be going down.... or a suicide.... Or, maybe, something WONDERFUL is happening at this moment! A cancer victim getting a cure, an unemployed person winning the lottery, an atheist getting converted.... Or a man who has survived centuries of trouble and sorrow, who is nearing the end of his travails, and wants to share the best of his last days with one of the greatest women he has ever known. Only HE lives in the slightly distorted facet of this same big world, called Collinsport."
"Are you speaking for Barnabas, or for yourself, Quentin? Or, maybe, ROGER?"
" PLEASE don't be flip, Christine. I promised Barnabas I'd try to talk you into coming back, perhaps not now, but in the near future, and giving him another chance. He needs you. Okay, well, that argument probably won't fly with an independent sort like yourself. But if you can think of something you need from HIM, that you can't get from another man, anywhere else, not even from ME---"
"I need TIME! I need to know that MY world isn't going to rock, that certain truths I have always held as self-evident ARE true.... I PROMISE I'll give Barnabas an answer, but there are answers I need for myself. I can't talk about them right now. Can we call a truce for now? I'm awfully hungry, and in dire need of decent coffee. Let's get out of here--- we can argue about which restaurant we like best on the way out. Leave the wallet, I promise we'll come back for it. I wouldn't want you to lose it AGAIN, for ANOTHER 90 years!"
On the way back from dinner, Christine and Quentin were much friendlier. As she handed him the beautiful wallet with the beautiful picture inside, Christine said, "I forgot to mention, but maybe you've guessed by now. My grandmother was so grateful, that she vowed to name her firstborn son after you, in fact ALL her friends wanted to name a child after you. Since the name you left her with was 'Charles', that was it--- my grandfather Frank balked at 'Quincy', though, so my dad was 'Charles Francis Xavier Cagney.' Two of the others did it--- their firstborn boys were 'Charles.' The lady who already had a son couldn't change HIS name, of course, but waited through 5 more pregnancies for her chance--- they were all girls, so she gave up and named the 5th girl 'Charlotte.' As for the last survivor--- when she was 30, and hadn't married, she became a nun, but she took the name 'Sister Marie Charles'!"
Quentin laughed heartily. "Charles was
my father's name, but had my brother christened 'Carl' so he wouldn't be called
'Junior', which Papa loathed. Since my own son was named after me without my
knowledge, and soon died, and Pauline decided to name the child she miscarried
after HER father, I wish I could thank all those women for using the name I
would have chosen for MY boys!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine placed a long-distance call to her brother's home in California. Her nerves were on edge because of the request she was going to make, and her palms perspired while she held the receiver, waiting for an answer to her insistent rings. Funny, she thought, Brian's answering machine SHOULD have picked up the call on the fifth or sixth ring, as usual. Or that Anne, her sister-in-law, would have taken the call. As it was, the phone had rung so many times, she began to wonder if she'd punched in the correct number. Memory's going--- NOT Alzheimers, or whatever else ailed aging alcoholics, Christine prayed.
She hung up, and tried again, this time, reading the number directly from her trusty old Rolodex. Again, the perplexing plethora of signals--- but THIS time, there WAS an answer---"Just the man I wanted to talk to!" Christine shouted with relief. "What the Hell's going on out there? I rang and rang---"
"Damn new dog!" Brian Cagney shouted back at his younger sister. "Annie's been wanting a Shar Pei for a while, and last anniversary, I finally caved in and got one from the top breeder in the L.A. area. The little hairball IS cute as he WAS expensive, but with all the telephone cords and answering machine cords and light cords he's chewed up, he's ended up costing us his purchase price all over again! I heard those dogs were used to guard Temples in China. Good thing they didn't have wires and cords in those places back then!" As if in reproof to his exasperation, there was a cacaphony of sharp, cranky barks in the background. "Anyway, I was in the SHOWER--- Annie's gone out to visit Bridgie--- and the maid just left for the day. I ignored the first barrage, but when it started up again, I figured SOMETHING urgent must be up with YOU, kiddo. Now, what's SO important that I have to stand here, dripping away, with just a towel on?"
"Um, maybe this is something you should be DRESSED for, out of respect, Bri," Christine said quietly, though she was bursting from with-held nervous laughter at the mental picture of his plight.
"Respect? What--- Oh my God. Someone died, right? One of the Cagneys, or did Old Cousin Estelle
Olmstead finally go to that big debutante cotillion in the Sky? Or, God forbid--- One of your friends from the Old 14th? It isn't MARY BETH, is it, up in that backwater in Maine you told me about?"
Brian's tone made Christine think that HE felt she would be ORPHANED without the sensible Mary Beth to watch out for her! "No, no, NO! Brian, I just got back from visiting up there, and while there's been a huge crapload of trouble with the Lacey family, ALL of them have survived, and are accounted for. So is Cousin Estelle, as far as I know. Look, take your time, dress, settle down--- this will be as hard for me to explain as if I was breaking the news of a death.... I can call back---"
"No, little sister, just wait a minute till I get some trousers on. God forbid Graziella should suddenly return, to find me in this condition."
Christine refrained from making the comment she WOULD have, in better circumstances, about the maid's possible reaction. Brian had called her "little sister", which he NEVER did except when he was worried about her.
In a minute, Brian was back on the phone, and Christine haltingly explained as best she could, without too much supernatural mumbo-jumbo, OR revealing the depth of her misery, about her time in Maine ("The vacation from Hell, rather, IN Hell!"), the attacks on the girls ("Something we haven't had around THESE parts in a while, but Collinsport does things the old-fashioned way!") , a censored account about Barnabas and Amy ("Very superstitious, suggestible people up there, and I nearly MARRIED one!"), the family connections with the Collinses and Willie ("I had a nightmare about the 'Small World' exhibit at the old World's Fair, and all those horrid singing dolls looked like Collinses!") , the latest low-down on the now-recovering Lacey clan ("They're going to make the Guinness Book of Records as the family who suffered and survived the most devastating illnesses in the shortest amount of time!"), Samwell's fortune ("Like winning the Powerball Lottery at a funeral!"), and then ....
"WHO told you that BULLSHIT!" Brian, as Christine had feared, wasn't taking the news of his sister's doubtful paternity well.
"Jason McGuire's SON. He was old enough to remember what his father had told him! Willie, who'd been OLD Jason's friend before he went to Collinsport, confirmed it! But the fact IS, I remembered Jason MYSELF---- the dinner party Mom had for Elizabeth Collins, the meeting with our cousin Paul Stoddard, and how Stoddard brought Dad's good old Cousin Jason to see his FAVORITE cousin-in-law! I clearly remember how upset Mom and Dad were, how YOU tried to hide me from Jason's insinuating stare---"
There was a long sigh at the other end of the line. "Yes, Chris, it happened EXACTLY as you described. I was 10 years old, and already, I had a guilty little secret of almost 5 years' standing. The secret was that I came home from kindergarten, I'd say about 6 months before you were born, and caught Jason kissing our mother in the upper hallway. I remembered him from an earlier visit, a couple of months before. His clothes were on askew--- I noticed his buttons were uneven--- and Mother was wearing a satin robe--- I don't know if she had anything on underneath--- I just assumed that, like so many of the other mothers, after they packed THEIR kids off for the day, she hung around in her P.J.'s until just before the husband's return home.
"They had apparently forgotten that I was due home at that hour. It wasn't a friendly kiss, nor the kind I'd seen Dad give Mom. She seemed TRAPPED in that kiss, her arms limp at her sides. No hugging or tenderness. Then I came running up the steps, and they broke off immediately. Jason smirked at me, but instead of hurrying out, took his sweet time, like he was PROUD of kissing a married lady that way. Mom made me promise not to tell Dad, said that Jason had been bothering her, asking for money, and she was finally shed of 'that nuisance'! I remember THAT phrase, clear as a bell. Like a good boy, I agreed that Dad shouldn't be told anything that might make him upset, because when he got too upset, he would drink and get pushy--- Sorry, Chris, but that's how he was to me, and to YOU, too, once in a while. God knows how much MORE pushy he would have been to you, if I HADN'T keep quiet!"
Christine reported sadly, "He found out about it later. It DID color his attitude toward me somewhat."
Brian continued, "Well, at age five, I wasn't up on the birds and the bees, so when, a few months later, it became obvious Mom was going to have another baby, I just assumed it was Dad's, and so did he. Mom WAS more anxious at that time than she had ever been, and never left off being anxious until years after she and Dad broke up. Then you were born, and you'd have thought Dad discovered America--- look, I KNOW he loved me in his own way, and I was the son who was going to carry the family name and so forth, but I was also too 'Olmstead' for him. He doted on YOU from the minute he first saw you."
"I have news for you, brother, I'M more 'Olmstead' than YOU. I've lately discovered that I have two distant cousins on Mother's side whom I resemble FAR more than ANY of the Cagneys!"
Brian snapped, "Yes, but only after you discovered 'Miss Clairol Sunlit Blonde'! Until THEN, you were as Dark Irish as---"
"My FATHER. My REAL father. Jason McGuire."
"That remains to be seen, Chris. Anyway, by the time of the dinner party, I DID know more about the facts of life, and could do the mental arithmetic. It occurred to me that Jason might have been at our house numerous times between the first time I'd ever seen him, and the time I caught him. But believing isn't the same as knowing, and what would I have gotten out of voicing my childish suspicions?
“Dad would have whupped me for sure, Mom would have had a breakdown, and I DID love you, even while I was jealous of you--- I believed they'd stick you in some horrible orphanage, like the one in the city that Grandpa Olmstead left a bundle to, Hammond's, I think it was. I knew God would punish me if I broke up my family! When Jason came to the dinner with Miss Collins and Cousin Paul, and made BOTH our parents mad, and even gave YOU a dirty look, I stood between you and him. I KNEW he was evil, and I didn't want him to have ANYTHING to do with MY baby sister! After that, I told myself that all my suspicions had been the product of sibling rivalry, and made myself forget most of them--- until NOW!"
"I'm sorry, Brian. I was born to cause trouble, it seems. And now, I'm going to make MORE trouble. I want a clear answer--- I want DNA tests, blood tests, the works. One of the Samwell heiresses owns a company called 'GenScan'--- it's very famous. State of the art genetic testing for forensics and other legal and personal matters. I know the young lady can order them to put a rush on any matter involving a friend or family member. I-- we--- happen to be both."
"But that means we'd have to exhume Mom and Dad!"
"I know. And I can tell, by the tone of your voice, you're going to say 'NO'."
Again, silence. Then, Brian said, "This is bound to change our relationship, no matter what the results are, Christine. These kinds of doubts about paternity ALWAYS do. But I've had these doubts for over 50 years, and they'll eat you alive if YOU live another 50. I think our parents WOULD want this settled--- I say OUR parents, because the parents who RAISED you are your REAL parents, in my opinion, and Dad-- Charlie--- NEVER treated you as anything LESS than his real daughter. And Mom must have supported him, perhaps still had hopes that you WERE Dad's, because she never let on, even when you three were at total loggerheads before your trip to Paris."
"Yes," Christine said, "she certainly COULD have thrown that into mine and Charlie's faces. I've been doing a lot of re-thinking about her in the past few weeks, talking to a man--- NOT Jason Junior--- who knew her when she was young, even gave me a picture of her that I'd like you to see, and I find myself wishing she could come back, even for a few minutes, so we could make up. Instead, I'm asking that we disturb her eternal rest! I hope she doesn't hate me for THAT, wherever she is, and Charlie.... Well, I have reason to believe HE might be more tolerant, because I STILL love him and think of him as my Dad, and ALWAYS will, no matter what."
"As long as we're agreed on that policy, Christine, I will join with you in petitioning for an exhumation, as soon as you get things arranged with GenScan. There are also medical records for Mom and Dad that I ended up with as the executor of both their estates. I'll bring them when I come out for the exhumation. I wouldn't want you to face THAT alone. But that brings me to a question. Where will you get JASON'S contribution? Does anyone even know where he's buried, or if he's really dead? He COULD still be alive somewhere--- aged about 80 or so. If he is, and in NO condition to consent, that may throw water on our plans."
"Oh, HE'S alive all right.... Don't worry, he'll be more than willing to consent. Mary Beth will handle that end of it. She's become well-acquainted with BOTH editions of our long-lost Cousin Jason McGuire."
"If she can manage to convince them to take the needle, I'll be grateful. Oh, and that gets me thinking. That legacy that you share with Mary Beth. I don't want to sound patronizing, Christine, but neither of you are famous for making sound financial decisions. I want to set up an appointment for you two, and Harvey, of course, the instant he's able to travel, with MY guy in New York, one of the best investment counselors around...."
A relieved Christine let Brian rattle on
about his favorite subject. There was a time when his officiousness and sense
of superiority in the material realm would have made her resentful and driven
her to hang up on him in annoyance. However, over the years, she had discovered
that pitching a genuinely well-meant spiel about her financial impracticality
was just his way of regaining a normal footing after whatever unsettling
personal business they had just transacted. And she HAD meant to ask his
advice, for both her sake and Mary Beth's, sooner
or later. Better if it's sooner, she thought. That would be another piece of the puzzle to put into place, that would determine how soon she might have the final answer about Barnabas.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Mary Beth was truly alone at home for the first time she could remember in YEARS. The last time, as far as she could recall, was one golden summer, between the frightening time of her breast biopsy (mercifully negative!) and the joyous event of Alice's conception, when she and Harvey were able to afford to send their sons to sleep-away summer camp for a month. Then, instead of being allowed to relish their privacy, they were separated by unexpected demands from their jobs. First, Mary Beth and Christine had to cover the night shift during a sudden crime wave while several other detectives were on vacation. Then, Harvey was offered an opportunity to work on a luxurious senior citizen's housing complex in Islip, with lots of overtime and bonuses--- a job arranged by his brother, so that, from every angle, it was impossible to turn down. During that whole month, the couple managed to spend a grand total of two days in each other's company; all the rest, Mary Beth was coming home in the morning just as Harvey was rushing out. And even during those precious two days, they spent most of the time dozing off from exhaustion--- in their favorite living-room chairs!
Now, Mary Beth WAS alone, without having ANY pressure from the job to distract her from her solitude. She was relieved and happy that her whole family was going to recover from their life-threatening ordeals, was happy to have her future financial worries wiped away like chalk from a board, was even happy about how the entire Jason McGuire case was playing itself out. She WAS glum that Christine had left just as things were settling down, and how they could finally have enjoyed a REAL visit. She was even more glum that she was about to lose the formerly "boring" job which had stimulated and challenged her at every conceivable level of her legal and moral training.
To complete the cycle of glumness, she was once more disappointed that she and Harvey would have to wait a while for that elusive grandchild. Iris would recover, and would certainly be able to getpregnant--- Mary Beth had known several women who had gall-bladder removals and late-life appendectomies, and had later borne children without any trouble whatsoever. However, in view of the seriousness of the condition which had nearly killed her daughter-in-law, the doctors had advised Iris and Michael to wait at least a year before contemplating conception, to ensure complete internal healing.
Mary Beth eschewed the television, and rummaged through her collection for a book to read in bed, hopefully one that would put her to sleep. Ironically, the first one she found was "Fallen Angels Who Walk Among Us", by the late, great Professor Timothy Elliot Stokes. Have to remember to return THIS one to Elliot Collins, Mary Beth thought, and was going to put it back in the bookcase, when it occurred to her that she had never read it through. Maybe the good Professor had some insights on how to live with a retired, repented, and reformed vampire at liberty in the community--- it had been Barnabas back then, and it was Barnabas now.
Mary Beth skimmed through some of the more philosophical sections of the book, and got the idea that the Professor had his own doubts about the morality of leaving such a being, who WAS vulnerable to relapse, to his own devices. The best option Stokes could foresee at the time was to tap into Barnabas's undoubtedly substantial knowledge about the realm of the damned, in the event that a WORSE threat loomed over the community. And, indeed, according to the book, the un-named, recovering vampire DID serve such purposes.
Yet, in addition to his role as informant about the Infernal, Barnabas, who was surely unique among his kind, had become a benign, respected businessman; up until recently, trusted and revered by his family and fellow townspeople, a devoted husband and father, a REPUBLICAN (friend of the Bush family!) Was 30 years of proven good behavior enough to permit going forth from the near-tragedy in that tunnel room and trusting the man to live the last decade or two of his life without falling once more into the pit of vampire temptation, and, worse, once more dragging his youthful son into the quagmire?
Now, more than ever, Mary Beth wished she COULD continue as Sheriff. She knew ALL the secrets now, and yet, had been allowed to survive, not only by Barnabas and Angelique, but by whatever other forces had driven previous Sheriffs and preachers and virtually anyone else who discovered such dangerous arcane truths, to often horrible deaths! Collinsport, it became apparent, WAS a kind of gateway to both Heaven and Hell, and, perhaps, the Higher Powers had decided it was high time there was a responsible earthly Gatekeeper, who had wisdom gained from his or her own experience with questions of good and evil and all points between.
And who better than the Sheriff of Collinsport, who held considerable sway over the resources of law and order in such a small, but vital, town? This concept made Mary Beth think with even greater admiration of the late Sheriff George Patterson, who had chosen to return to the office, and stayed there until his death, after many years of superintending such crises. Perhaps he had an epiphany of sorts which revealed all truths to him, yet HE had died a quite ordinary death in his 70's--- and left his notes to HER, a more natural successor, perhaps, than Beardsley, who held the office during its longest period of total normalcy.
Maybe there was a certain element of fate attending HIS sudden promotion and departure from Collinsport--- the circle was turning towards another crisis, and it was time to bring in the one person who held ALL the pieces to the puzzle, including the spouse and child with the blood that would cure the curse, and the partner who could put to rest a long-dormant threat to the community AND the world.
Mary Beth even had the right help at the right time--- Job Woodard, who, though he presented himself as a simple man, had the knowledge to warn her and Christine; Bob Rooney, who, in spite of the indiscretion that had inadvertantly gotten David Collins killed, proved himself devoted and faithful to his Sheriff and her partner; Pauline Peterson with her crack-brained courage and surprising streak of common sense; Elliot and Hannah Collins, wise and spiritually aware beyond their years; Hallie Stokes Collins, who had supported and aided Mary Beth in spite of the tragic mistake which had killed her husband; Willie, the former thief and con man, who had half a lifetime of making difficult but often successful choices that protected not only Barnabas but his victims; Allarice, formerly Angelique, who had made herself into an ally of her former enemies in the face of a far greater evil; Lang, the doctor who could cure ALL ills, it seemed; Quentin Collins, sardonic and seductive, yet sincere in his desire to aid his troubled family and friends....
And that wasn't even mentioning the "good ghosts", and the resurrection of Jonah Newman, though, just maybe, the ghosts simply represented inner strengths that their living channelers couldn't believe resided inside of themselves. AS for Jonah, well.... The coming days would prove whether he WAS real, or just represented the power of wishful thinking. Still, such help could not have appeared anywhere else, unless there was ANOTHER vortex like Collinsport!
Mary Beth, now in an exalted frame of mind that barely permitted sleep, took the book to her bedroom, and started to read in earnest. However, the bedside phone soon rang, interrupting her attempt to rest. I AM still the Sheriff around here, until Monday, anyway, Mary Beth thought, as she picked up the receiver. However, instead of a report of a robbery or some other police matter, it was Christine, excitedly asking if, and how soon, Jason McGuire could be made available for DNA testing--- Brian had, as Mary Beth foresaw, agreed to take whatever steps necessary to settle the question of his sister's paternity. There WOULD be some doubts, even after testing; Charlie and Jason WERE closer than most first cousins, being the sons of identical twins, but perhaps one side would come up with a higher number of genetic markers than the other, and that would have to suffice, for better or worse.
After she assured her partner that she COULD gain Jason's co-operation, and Christine had hung up, a mere 10 minutes had elapsed, with Mary Beth once more immersed in Stokes's book, when the phone rang again. This time, she thought, God forbid, one of my sick people is worse!
"Hello, hello?" she panted fearfully.
"Mom? What's the matter?" A familiar voice, somewhat like Michael's, but deeper, more self-assured. "MOM--- it's ME---"
"OH--- Harvey Junior," Mary Beth said with relief. "I'm sorry I didn't get back to you after your Dad's operation. But Mike said he was keeping you informed."
"Indeed he has. And, now poor Iris.... It's been driving me crazy with worry all the way out here in Silicon Valley!"
"Well, then," Mary Beth said with a less-than-subtle hint of reproach, "why haven't you come to see us?"
"Mom.... Honest to God, I would have.
But the issue at the time was, did I have that special
type? Unfortunately, no. Even if I had, I probably would have had to send the donation by air-mail."
"Oh, come on, Harvey, you could have taken some time off from your job! Those days when computer geeks had to work 80 hours a week are over, or so I've heard."
"That's true, Mom, but even so, there was another reason why I couldn't just drop everything. I've been having some problems with Krystal here. I was going to tell you last week, but with all the stuff happening at your end, I thought it best to wait until there was a resolution."
Now, Mary Beth's voice took on a more sympathetic note as she said, quietly, "Oh, Lord. I'm sorry, Harvey. What, are you two separating, maybe getting a divorce?"
"Would that make you happy, Mom? I know you and Dad don't much like Krystal. And I know HER parents would be delighted. They certainly aren't crazy about ME, especially now that the slow-down in my industry threatens what they believe is Krystal's proper lifestyle. Krystal, for the record, doesn't agree with them, and was working full-time, until a couple of weeks ago. But now, she can't work, and it's all on me."
"So, send her back to her folks, and come to US," Mary Beth urged. "We're members of the Collins family now, THEY like us, maybe they can find a position for you in their company, or you can just take your sweet time deciding what you'd really LIKE to do. Because now, we've inherited some money--- enough to send you back to graduate school or start your own business, or whatever. Heck, be a playboy for a year or two, it won't hurt anything, and I know you missed out on a lot of fun when you were in the Marines and then working for that degree even during the summers, while working full-time, then getting tied up with Krystal--"
"I'm glad you have the money, Mom, and maybe I'll take you up on graduate school or starting a business, but I was just getting to why I can't leave Krystal. I love her a lot. I think if you DID have a chance to know her better, you'd understand why, and maybe with this money, we can do some serious visiting back and forth in the future. But Krystal can't travel these days. And she IS with her parents, though not because we're splitting up. She's pregnant, and because of some complications, she's on bed-rest for the next 6 months!"
"Oh, Harvey, baby, that's-- that's--- " Somehow, the word "wonderful" wasn't quite appropriate. "Well, I can IMAGINE how hard that must be on you two, and Krystal's parents, but when that baby comes, and everything is back to normal, it will be a TRULY blessed event , I'm sure. Oh, your Dad will be SO happy, as I am. Our first grandchild!"
"GrandCHILDREN. Krystal was taking a fertility drug. So far, the
ultrasound has detected TRIPLETS. So it's EXTRA important that Krystal gets as
far along in the pregnancy as possible. It's tough---
she even has to lie on one side most of the time, with only a few minutes an
hour to use the bathroom or wash up. It's a real project to get her to the
doctor when she needs a test that can't be
done at home."
Mary Beth declared, "Well, if your mother-in-law needs extra help, we can pitch in and hire nurses or home care aides. We can even pay for an ambulance to take Krystal to the doctor when she needs it. And as soon as your Dad and Alice are better, I'll head on out there and take care of you two also. It seems I won't be Sheriff much longer. But I have to tell you, we ARE staying in Collinsport. You have a lot of family out here that wants to meet you. I just helped deliver one of your cousins the other night. Hopefully, in a year or two, Mike and Iris will start their family, and pretty soon there will be plenty of babies around here to play with each other as they grow up!" She happily contemplated having one or two guest bedrooms added to the house.
"That's a nice thought, Mom, and I'll be sure to tell Krystal. And there's something else...."
"I'm sorry for not having been closer to you folks for a few years."
"Well, luckily, we are now able to buy some time to make up for it. And you were my FIRST baby, you know--- I would have forgiven you for a lot worse."
"Mom, I remember.... I wasn't really your FIRST baby."
Mary Beth had nearly forgotten that she had confessed her Puerto Rico misadventure to her eldest son years ago, yet had NOT told Michael, though it seemed possible she might have to do so with Alice. Maybe Harvey Junior COULD help her when she reached that pass. "Harvey, that isn't why you grew away from us so fast, is it? You seemed to take it so well when I told you. But I forgot, it's hard on a son to acknowledge that his MOTHER, especially, was less than perfect. And, in trying to prove a point, I left out some details as to how bad the incident really WAS. When we meet again, I WILL set the record straight, because I might need the practice to deal with Alice. But you WERE my first baby. NOBODY can take that away from you. The earlier pregnancy and how it ended was like a bad dream that made me appreciate how great it was when YOU were born, and your brother and sister, of course."
Harvey Junior protested, "I KNOW that,
Mom. But there were other things.... You weren't too pleased
when I joined the Service, or the way I tried to communicate with Grandpa Zebiski, or moved to California, or married Krystal. MIKE did what you wanted and made you happy. Alice made you happy simply because she was a girl. WE'VE been at odds since I was 13 years old!"
Mary Beth replied, "Maybe it's because
there was something in you that reminded me of myself or my family. You're even
starting to sound like your grandfather. He was about your age when he left my
mother. And now, you're just starting YOUR family. This comes at the tail end
of what was a very scary time for ME, and the rest of
us. Could be, I'm feeling a bit resentful because you weren't here helping us
out, like all the times I wish my father could have helped Mama and myself. I
needed my father when I was in trouble. I'm not sure what YOU could have done
for me at this point, but if you had just BEEN here.... Sometimes, that's all a
person wants. A presence, a word, a touch. Or an
explanation! I certainly would have understood if you'd told me about Krystal's
plight BEFORE. I understand NOW. Let's just try, from here on out, to be CLEAR
with each other! I'm living in a town that has suffered for 300 years because
of one family's secrets. Time to break the cycle."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
PART TWENTY-TWO: MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2000
The phone rang next to Mary Beth's bed at 6:00 A.M. When she picked it up, her sleep-fuddled mind told her that Jonah WAS still real.
"Hi, Mary Beth," he said, TOO brightly for six in the morning. "Any news about about your daughter-in-law? I vaguely remember your kids as KIDS, it's still hard for me to believe they're both grown up and married!" And one older than I was, when I died the FIRST time, was the unspoken implication.
Mary Beth muttered, "Hard for ME to believe sometimes. But s'far as I know, as of last night, Iris is on the mend. Look, Jonah, I appreciate your concern, but it's REALLY hard to believe you called me at this hour just to ask after Iris's condition."
"You're right. I'm at the police station, covering for Rooney, as you requested. He's already getting the fellows together to cover any fracas at David Collins's memorial service. I have an appointment to get measured for a deputy's uniform, but I'm running into some glitches in filling out my paperwork for Social Security and such. My OLD S.S. number must have passed to someone else by now. And I need a U.S.A. birth certificate, a picture I.D., and educational records, former employment--- If you REALLY want me on your police force, I'm going to need some documentation! HELP!"
"Yeah, yeah.... " Mary Beth muttered. "I'm thinking, Barnabas must have faced the same problems.... Either he, or, I'm thinking, Willie, must know how to get those kinds of papers.... Damn, to do the RIGHT thing, I have to do the WRONG thing, again...."
"That's just the facts of life around here," Jonah answered sensibly. "Well, I just tried to call Willie at that Old House. All I got, was an answering machine message."
Mary Beth sat bolt upright. "Oh, I forgot to tell you! He's in Las Vegas with Maggie Shaw, Vicki and Jeremy Collins. The young ones were supposed to get hitched; I suppose they must be, by now. The family won't be back for another day or so."
"Well, then, I know this will disturb you a lot, Mary Beth, but I'm going to have to ask Barnabas for a LITTLE help to tide me over till then. He must have SOME useful advice on tap. He's been at this sort of thing for QUITE a few years."
"I-- I DO understand, Jonah. You DID seem to have a rapport with him. And I'M no longer charging him with anything, though I expect a statement from him about Amy and other matters. Maybe you can take a recorder and a witness along, and get THAT chore out of the way."
"Mary Beth, I think I know why you're letting him go.... You see something of yourself in him. If he's free, then, in a weird way, YOU'RE free. But you're not really, you know. Nor is Christine. Your lives, past and present, are linked to his. So, if you HOPE to make peace with your life here, and you expect Christine to share it, and I KNOW you do, you'll BOTH have to reconcile with Barnabas."
"I don't think I CAN, Jonah. I'm willing to live and let live, like my predecessor. I'm willing to pick Barnabas's brains in case we ever face another such threat, or have YOU do it for me. But complete and utter forgiveness? When I hear that he scared my former self to death--- what the hell, in spite of what he told me, if old Aunt Abigail HADN'T died on the spot, I KNOW he WOULD have killed her! And, more to the point, how can I completely forgive what he did to ALICE and to AMY, who brought my family into the circle of his curse in the FIRST place? I think I can forgive him the way an abused wife might forgive her husband, or a rape victim her attacker--- from a safe distance away, in a women's shelter, with big armed guards! In short, totally CONDITIONAL, UNTRUSTING forgiveness--- he stays out of MY way, I'll stay out of HIS. NOT terribly Christian of me, is it?"
"I'm sure I wouldn't know about the Christian angle," Jonah replied with a hint of a chuckle. "But I know it WOULD hurt CHRISTINE, if she came back up here to join him." There was silence at his end of the line, before he continued, quite seriously this time. "There IS one litmus test that could determine how you and Barnabas will be able to tolerate each other. You must bring Alice to see him."
"NO!" Mary Beth was glad the house was empty, and that nobody else could hear her shout of dismay and fear. "Alice's memory of the whole night is fuzzy at best. You know, WE arrived too late to see EXACTLY what was done to her--- Vicki Shaw's mind was mush due to being drugged, Jeremy was under some hypnotic influence, Christine only saw Vicki's attack, and Barnabas is a master of--- well, not EVASION, exactly. He tells the truth, the AWFUL truth, but in such a way that you almost nod and say, 'I understand your side completely'. To top everything off, we now have Jason McGuire claiming total omnipotence over the crime--- HE stole Alice, and performed total mind-control over the rest of them!" Mary Beth shook her head in exasperation. "It certainly saves several people, including those near and dear to me, from prison, but it IS a distant cousin to what we know of the truth."
"The only things I know for certain," she continued, "are that Alice lost a lot of blood through puncture wounds on her neck and thigh, which were already injured, and might have started bleeding on their own. There's no way to tell WHAT made them--- all the fangs in the Collins family are gone for good, and, no doubt, the strange 'animal' we used to see, is gone forever as well! The DNA tests aren't back, but due to the X-factor blood and serum Alice received BEFORE the tests, there might not be ANY useful traces! The other thing is, as far as the doctor could determine, she wasn't sexually assaulted, is still a VIRGIN, in fact. Thank God for SMALL favors!
"The upshot is, of COURSE Alice WILL have to review the events, probably with the help of a psychiatrist. PREFERABLY with the pyschiatrist, to minimize the trauma. If she wants to press her own charges against Barnabas afterward, it will have to be HER decision, based on how much more exposure of the incident she can endure. I can't imagine a psychiatrist who would put her in contact with the man who might have done her damage, and who might influence her decision. I can't imagine a MOTHER who would do that, certainly not ME! I let Barnabas see HANNAH, but he never DID anything bad to HER. This is DIFFERENT."
Jonah answered quietly, "Maggie Shaw surely saw him at his worst, and definitely Willie, but they forgave him somehow."
Mary Beth countered, "Maggie was under
the care of the doctor who later fell in love with, and married Barnabas. Julia
Hoffman was allegedly one of the greatest hypnotists in her profession, based
on what Job Woodard was told long ago by his father. Even if Maggie suddenly
remembered EVERYTHING, there would be nothing ELSE in her history with Barnabas
over the last 30 years to blame him for. He's been helpful to her over the
years. Tainted motives, I guess, but she's had nothing to complain about till lately.
Plus, she supported the match between her daughter and Jeremy, maybe not a wise
choice, but whatever the boy did in the last 2 weeks WAS probably an
aberration. I WANT to believe that kid is basically decent at heart. Probably a
lot like his Dad before all HIS problems started!
"As for Willie," she said, "how many abused people have stayed with, and made allowances for their abusers, if they were reaping some benefit from their positions? Barnabas DID stop knocking him around, at least until recently, and made their last couple of decades very comfortable, far more so than if Willie tried to make it on his own. That would be enough motivation to keep quiet about ancient history. That, and the dangling carrot of being close to both Vicki AND Jeremy."
"Well," Jonah said, "you're probably right on the money about all of it. I was just suggesting.... I mean, it wouldn't have to be a long conversation. They wouldn't even HAVE to talk. We could just walk Alice past Barnabas's open doorway, that might be all that's necessary to get some reaction."
"You're just not going to let up on this, are you, Jonah? I hope you realize that you are jeopardizing your chance to share in part of Timothy Adam Samwell's legacy, if you're WRONG."
" 'I don't care too much for money, Money can't buy me love"," Jonah sang. "Seriously.... I COULD find some way to make an honest living, but I want to stick with you folks. You've made up your minds to accept me, weird as it's been. And you're ALL I have left, since my Mom and sisters would probably FREAK if they saw me. Heck, my younger sister, Debbie, would have to change my nephew's name--- and I got such a kick out of there being another little Jonah Newman out there, driving his parents crazy! I wouldn't be one of the beloved dead anymore. They'd think I was a--a GOLEM!"
Mary Beth didn't laugh, but the smile Jonah couldn't see through the phone line, was translated into a lighter voice he could HEAR. "Please, not THAT---- save it for another ghost chase. I understand, though. What's normal for Collinsport wouldn't work in Fort Lauderdale. Well, I could keep tabs on them for you, now that you can't watch them from afar. Remember Al Corrassa?"
Jonah's voice was absolutely plaintive when he asked about his best friend at the 14th from those long-ago days. "He didn't pass on, then, did he? I know that sounds like a dumb question, but we in the Ether don't get to meet EVERYONE we've ever known when 'their time' comes. It's a LOT like regular life--- maybe you'll run into them, maybe not, even less likely if many years have passed--- the motivation fades. Worse, sometimes you find your 'loved one', and it turns out you don't even LIKE him or her as much as you THINK you remember! I only saw my DAD a couple of years ago. Oh, don't get me wrong, we always got along just fine. Even so, he likes HIS part of the Afterlife better than mine, so we only get together for the High Holidays. Mr. Best kept me on as a go-fer in his headquarters, so I didn't get out to do a lot of checking around. The best thing I can say about the system is that you DO have an eternity to search. Now THAT'S hardly a Christian concept, IS it?"
Mary Beth replied, "Well, the FIRST thing I'll do is look for MY parents, even if they're living at both ends of the universe! Other than THAT, though--- just give me the people I've been closest to for the last 25 years. That brings me back to Corrassa. He's VERY much alive, pretty well, and retired from the NYPD these last 5 years. He became a Sergeant, but he wasn't too thrilled when Victor Isbiecki not only made Sergeant, but Lieutenant. HE took over the 14th, a few years after Bert Samuels retired."
Jonah snorted, "VICTOR! THAT skirt-chasing goofball! I mean, I LIKED the guy, thought there WAS a pretty decent cop hiding behind those leisure suits and neckchains, but a LIEUTENANT!"
"Well, Jonah, it's pretty clear that you
haven't been the guardian angel of the 14th, or you'd have
known--- Victor settled down with a VERY nice woman, a teacher. She's now a principal, and her example inspired Victor to advance in HIS career. He's been quite the family man--- Virginia, that's the wife, had two kids when they first met, and together, they've had another two. Hey, those hormones of his had to have SOME good use!" Both Mary Beth and Jonah had a hearty laugh over THAT sally. "As far as Al goes, well, I last talked to him about a week before I moved up here. Seems he's been corresponding with both your Mom and Bert. They've convinced him to move down to Florida. Fortunately, they live in nearby towns, and, no doubt, he'll be kept quite busy visiting back and forth between them. He WAS married for a couple of years, but he's now a widower, so this should fill a lot of his time. He'll let me know how your Mom is doing."
"Thanks, Mary Beth. Well, I'd better let YOU get ready for work."
"I have a sinking suspicion that today is my LAST day of work, Jonah. I've been considering who would be the best successor--- can't be Job Woodard, at least not for a few months. You'll like him--- he's down-to-earth, a real Rock of Gibraltar, knows everything about the town and people. Until then, though, I guess I'm going with Bob Rooney."
"I heard ALL about him from his cousin, the barkeep at the Blue Whale!" Jonah laughed. "THAT Rooney said THIS Rooney was indiscreet--- went into some detail about it! Kind of hypocritical, no? But I've been getting on splendidly with good old Bob. It's almost a shame I can't tell HIM the truth about myself."
Mary Beth sighed. "I STILL haven't figured out how we'd handle this if any of the other guys from the 14th ever pop up this way to join Harvey at the local trout stream. I DOUBT they'd think you were a golem, and I GUESS they wouldn't all have heart attacks, but it's pretty damned hard to explain.... I know BARNABAS fobbed off his folks, every other generation, by saying he was a 'cousin from England', but then, they only saw him once every fifty years and accepted that there would be no contact between times."
Jonah sighed, "I wish I had that luxury. I don't think I'd get away with saying I'm a 'cousin from the kibbutz'. I guess I'll hide out when they come. Maybe at Collinwood, visiting Pauline Peterson."
"Well, to fit in with the Collins crowd, you need a better bachelor pad than Cabin # 12 at the 'Bide-a-Wee.' We'll discuss that later." After switching off the phone, Mary Beth took a long shower, styled her hair extra carefully, and applied make-up most artfully, before buttoning herself into her cleaned-and-pressed uniform for the last time. I hope they let me keep this, she thought, I might want to be BURIED in it.
At one time, in her NYPD days, getting killed in the line of duty was, of course, the greatest fear, and never far from her mind, what with her family responsibilities. There was one time, a year before her first interlude of retirement, when she, Christine, and an FBI agent--- Mary Beth thought with ancient guilt, embarrassment and grief, that one I was so interested in, it MUST have been because the Change was on its way--- had been cornered, and, after the FBI man was killed, the women somehow survived a gunfight against criminals with machine guns! At one point, she and Christine chatted in snatches about their seemingly inevitable ends. The only consolation for Mary Beth was the fact that Harvey and the children would be able to draw on most of her salary and insurance. Christine, whose very identity was wrapped up in being a police officer on the way up (so much that the petty inequities of department politics HURT her far more than her partner), found comfort in visualizing herself being buried in her dress blues (even if she was shot to bits!), with a small army of fellow officers and the Mayor to bear her to rest--- The mark of honor for her service. Such were their priorities at the time.
Now, however, after having been IN CHARGE, there would be nothing finer, to Mary Beth's mind, than someday being planted in the wash'n'wear tan and taupe uniform that had been the symbol of her brief rise to command!
As it was, she couldn't shake off a funereal feeling. She drove the Sheriff's patrol car for the last time; for the last time, she parked it in her very own Sheriff's space, the nearest to the Handicapped spaces. For the last time, she entered the pretty old brick police station, and, after greeting Jonah, sat at her huge, old-fashioned desk, used by Collinsport Sheriffs for at least 100 years, looking out the barred picture window onto Main Street, observing trees just coming into leaf, and flowers into blossom--- all for the last time. Jonah saw her downcast expression, and left her to her sad ruminations--- for all of 5 minutes. Then, he said, "I'll be going down to the tailor, and then, the hospital, in a while."
"That's okay, 'Johnny'. My clericals will arrive at 8:30."
"Well, I have to tell you, you're due for a visit from a Selectman Ezra Braithewaite. The THIRD. His office called a few minutes before you came in."
Mary Beth said "Oh, yes, Mr. Braithewaite. He was the one who formally offered me this job on behalf of the Collinses and the town--- it hardly seems like 2 months.... And THIS visit, just another formality--- No doubt he'll have some papers of resignation for me to sign, some papers regarding my recommendation for temporary Sheriff, some papers to waive my claim on any city benefits. I'll hardly need them. Then, a hasty handshake, and I'm outta here."
Mary Beth sighed long and painfully. Jonah patted her back, then thought better of it, and hugged her like the mother he was barred from seeing. The Sheriff clung to him. "You know, Johnny, it was just about this time, 2 weeks ago, when another old friend from New York showed up out of the blue. Everything was just beginning for me here, and now, it's over!"
"Well, you'll have a pot of money to help you adjust," Jonah said consolingly. "Maybe you could write a book about your experiences.... All the names changed to protect the innocent--- and the UNdead."
"Yeah, look for me on the talk-show circuit," Mary Beth replied. "I'll be booked on that John Edwards 'Crossing Over' program before the month is out. Only HE won't have to channel ANYONE. I've talked to the 'dear departed' in PERSON!"
"Well, that's ONE way to let my Mom know I'm okay," Jonah chuckled. "She LOVES that show. She was probably HOPING someone from the 14th would appear and try to get in touch with me." He reached for Mary Beth's hand.
She clutched his. "YOUR touch is VERY warm for a spook. Wouldn't THAT rock Mr. Edwards's world? Well, Johnny, get along now, you have a uniform fitting and an interview to attend to."
"All in a dead man's day." Jonah was soon gone.
Mary Beth had to check on her star prisoner. She entered the 1970's section of the building which contained the holding cells. Jason McGuire was just finishing a rather large breakfast, which another officer (NOT Jonah, who was persona non grata with Jason these days, obviously) had brought him from the nearby Collinsport Inn restaurant. It had a small public diner, the same one Maggie Shaw, then Evans, had worked in, over 30 years ago. The diner was famous for its substantial breakfasts. Normally, Mary Beth wouldn't have agreed to such a luxury, but there was only one prisoner, and he would be transferred to the county jail this very afternoon, and the Sheriff was willing to indulge a suspect who had been so co-operative in incriminating himself despite numerous Miranda precautions.
"How are you today, Mr. McGuire?" Mary Beth made her tone obsequious.
"Well in body, but not in spirit, as ye can imagine, Dear Lady Sheriff," Jason groused. The instant he'd uttered the last sneering words, a peculiar spasm passed over his face. "But I AM grateful for the morning repast, which YOU authorized, Ma'am. 'Twas a righteous thing to do for such an unworthy sot as m'self."
Mary Beth, realizing that it was Trask's spirit, trapped in Jason's body, which prompted the prim and rather insincere reply, said with some sympathy, "Hey, we treat our prisoners the best we can around here. This isn't New York, after all. You're a name, not a number, when you're in Collinsport jail."
"I'll be a number soon enough, when I'm in prison. Ah, well, it had to come to this, some time. I DID have a good long run, though, did I not?" There was a gleam of the old Jason's vanity in his eyes.
"Aye, that ye did, sure enough," Mary Beth brogued back. "That brings me to an important request--- JUST a request, not a demand. You've been co-operative in so many matters, but there's just one more thing I WOULD ask. Mind you, there's really no way I, or the law, can FORCE you to do this one thing."
"And what would THAT be?"
"I--- or rather, Special Investigator Cagney--- or, rather, Miss Cagney and GenScan--- are requesting that you give blood samples. NOT for your criminal case, for personal use...." The Sheriff was taken aback by her prisoner's response.
"Ah-ha. I see. Dear little Christine still doesn't believe I am her true paternal unit. Well, what if I just say N-- Oooh...." That snake of a tremor across his handsome face.... "Very well, very well, stick me with all your blasted needles and pins! Even if I say 'no', and your court can't force me, something deep inside me says 'YES', damn it!"
"Thank you, sir." Though Mary Beth KNEW she was really thanking TRASK, her former ally against evil, both perceived and real, 205 years ago. "And just think, Jason, if it turns out that you're NOT Christine's father, which I sincerely PRAY is the case, you won't get hit up for 57 years' back child support!"
"Too bad, a couple of months ago, I might have been able to AFFORD it--- but all my stocks and bonds were weasled away from ME. Ye might try asking a certain Miss Catherine TRASK--- descendant of a certain SIMON Trask---" At THAT, Jason got quite sick, and had to rush to his toilet to vomit the fine breakfast he'd just consumed. Mary Beth reflected that if Jason would only control his arrogance, his life with the Reverend Trask on board would be a LOT easier. Even so, she was appalled at the minister's methods of controlling his host, and was compassionate enough to say, "I'll order you another breakfast, sir, when you feel better."
"Thanks, but nay.... Some dry biscuits might be more soothing."
"I'll have someone get whatever brand you prefer."
Mary Beth made a mental note--- Jason requested imported Irish soda crackers. The Eagle Superstore probably carried them. She'd have to send a secretary out for them, almost the minute she arrived. When the Sheriff returned to her office, though, Ezra Braithewaite ("the THIRD"!) was already waiting for her.
"Well, Mr. Braithewaite," Mary Beth said, extending her hand, "it hasn't been all that long since you offered me this job. And now, I'm afraid that events have made it imperative that I leave it."
"Ah, yes, Sheriff, that is what I don't understand."
"Excuse me?" Mary Beth was amazed. "I've recently discovered a number of facts about myself and my family that would disqualify me--- we're not-so-distantly related to the Collinses, for one. You couldn't possibly expect me to be objective about them in the future, though I would certainly TRY to be. And, secondly, but most importantly, we've received a hefty inheritance from the estate of the late Timothy Adam Samwell, formerly known as Adam, who terrorized this community, killed Sam Evans, and crippled one of the late Sheriff Patterson's deputies, Edward Riggs, over 30 years ago. Furthermore, this legacy was funneled to us by Willie Loomis, my husband's closest Collins cousin, long a suspect in Maggie Evans Shaw's abduction years ago, and, lately, a former suspect in the recent crime wave. He was, until recently, employed by yet ANOTHER former suspect, Barnabas Collins, ALSO one of my husband's relatives."
"Even so, Sheriff Lacey, as far as the board of Selectmen can see, you did your duty by the Collinses in spite of this relationship--- and rather a distant one, is it not? You did not hesitate to arrest, detain, or interrogate family members when the need arose. It IS terrible what happened to David Collins, but YOU did not create that situation. ANOTHER Collins cousin, our former high school principal, Miss Jennings, DID.
“As for your legacy,” Braithewaite continued, “we understand that the late Mr. Samwell's entire life, post-Collinsport, was an effort to make up for what he had done to everyone, including Mr. Riggs and his family. Word has come to me that shares of Collins stock had actually been STOLEN, more or less, but when Mr. Samwell discovered what had happened, he made sure all that, and FAR more, should be given back to those who deserved it. His will authorized Willie to name whatever heirs he saw fit, since Willie himself, due to personal differences with Mr. Samwell, would not be allowed to keep the money. As the closest living blood relatives of Mr. Loomis, save for his daughter who inherited her own share via her mother, your husband and his brother are fully entitled to a share of this money. Did Willie EVER offer you a share if you cleared him, and / or Barnabas Collins, of charges?"
"NO! NEVER! We didn't even know about it until the other day!"
Braithewaite smiled. "Your indignation sounds quite sincere and true to ME, Sheriff Lacey. There is no criminal taint associated with how Mr. Samwell made his money, and none in the channeling of it. It's going, after all, to benefit others, including Job Woodard, and your former partner, neither of whom, I believe, have resigned from THEIR positions. In fact, there's an indication that Willie chose your family at least a WEEK ago, just after your daughter was attacked and he'd given blood to save her."
"He said that he only got the papers signed Saturday morning."
"That would be the papers for the actual
transfer of the Samwell funds. I meant, he filed a will, leaving
whatever he possessed, half to his daughter, and half to his new-found cousin Harvey Lacey's family. He owned little enough at the time, but he already thought highly of your husband and yourself."
And THAT was after he'd been arrested for peeping, and after he KNEW I'd suspected him of the attacks, Mary Beth thought, yet he didn't tell us....Imagine, if I'd had to KILL Willie, Harvey and his brother Carl would have inherited half of Willie's paltry estate anyway. She spoke after a minute. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'll NEVER understand how they do things in Collinsport! But I STILL have to resign.... I can now afford to live without working, and I SHOULD let a qualified person, preferably a native Collinsporter, take up the cudgels, and earn the salary!"
"And which native son--- or daughter, I KNOW there are a couple of female officers here--- would you designate?"
"My FIRST choice is Job Woodard."
"But he's going to be laid up for a while, supported in part by Samwell money. I DO agree with that choice, by the way--- if YOU had not been recommended, Job would very probably have taken over. And done well enough, but considering the threat before the town, it seems we really NEEDED you, and the help of your partner from New York."
"Well, the big crisis is over, and Miss Cagney has returned home. I think Job, or Robert Rooney, or David Twomey, can handle things from here on."
"The Board's suggestion is that you stay on until Deputy Woodard has recovered thoroughly, if not LONGER, Sheriff Lacey. You have proven yourself one of the finest sheriffs we've ever had, and we would hate to lose you right now. You can renounce your salary and benefits, but we NEED your experience, at least until Job Woodard is fully able to take over."
"I-- I don't know! I really WISH I could, but all this money brings on new responsibilities."
"There ARE financial advisors for that kind of thing."
"You're right, of course. But the Sheriff's salary, now--- can it be re-distributed for the benefit of the other officers? You know, like a RAISE? They really worked their tails off during this past 2 weeks. They're great people, and deserve a bonus."
"If that is the condition of your staying on, I think I can convince the other Selectmen to agree. So, can we consider you re-instated, Sheriff Lacey?"
Mary Beth looked down at her tan uniform,
looked at her office, glanced at the beautiful spring day
outside the window.... It's NOT for the last time, she
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Alice Lacey had spent the morning sitting with her father. When Harvey decided to take a nap, she walked back to her room on her own (she was due to go home on the morrow), and was about to commence the rest of the day, filling her time with talk shows and soap operas. She had never much cared for these kinds of TV shows before, but they certainly took her mind off her problems. It was somehow comforting to fret over the latest entanglements on "All My Children" ("All my children who don't know who their real fathers are", she used to joke) and "The Guiding Light" ("Man, THEIR 'guiding light' must have broken years ago--- somebody get a lightbulb, P.D.Q.!") However, if ANY plot facet resembled her situation in the least, she'd switch to another station. P.D.Q.!
That was the trouble. Alice certainly knew that she had been kidnapped from her home, dumped in a mausoleum, and, somehow, hours later, had come out of a coma or a trance in a cavern. It was the in-betweens that worried her--- WHO had drugged her and taken her out of her house, when she'd come out from her room to see who was attacking her brother, Michael? She could clearly recall, later, nearly being raped by Jason McGuire, but he had said nothing to indicate that HE, alone, had brought her to the mausoleum. Then he ran away, and left her with---
She remembered seeing Barnabas and Jeremy Collins, but had passed out again. Maybe Jason had come back, and forced them to go to the cavern. Maybe Jason had a gang who helped him! Then, there was the pain she remembered.... Her leg, again, and her throat--- someone kissed it, the way Elliot did, and it had felt really GOOD after the first pain, but instead of being careful not to make a hickey, the someone had let her bleed. But she never saw a man or woman doing this--- it was that buzzard-like bat that had gotten her the first time!
Alice's parents were of little help. Her father, who had somehow ended up in the cavern, could only clutch her hand and mumble something about being sorry. Willie had visited Miss Jennings, and stopped in to tell Alice that SHE was sorry, too--- though about WHAT was not made clear. Even her MOTHER--- formerly the righteous bastion of the Truth, the WHOLE truth, and NOTHING BUT--- had a hard time talking about the incident. "I was SO afraid you were dead, Baby, and you nearly DID die.... And several other people, Vicki Shaw, Jeremy, your Dad, even Barnabas.... Look, we have the man who made it all happen.... You won't even have to testify...."
"Of COURSE I will, Mom. Jason would have raped me and maybe killed me on the spot."
"Well, Alice....I DON'T think this will
go to a public trial. Jason's turned down all legal help, and has asked to be
tried by judges. You might be called to testify, or you might just have to give
a deposition. Just stick to what you remember CLEARLY. In the meantime, someone
"But I'M not sick in the head! Just blank about those few hours...."
"Exactly. That's why you need a doctor. The forgetting doesn't mean you're SICK--- it was your brain's way of protecting you from something so terrible it would have destroyed your sanity. Rape's awful, no question, and the memory HAS made some victims insane. But in YOUR case, the act wasn't completed, and apparently something even WORSE happened after. You're the kind who NEEDS to remember--- in that way, you're like ME--- but a doctor can help you find the truth gently, and can help you make a sensible decision as to what to do about it." (NOT standing on a narrow railing, staring down onto wave-splashed boulders....)
"Why can't YOU, Mom?" When Alice saw Mary Beth's own guilt-stricken expression, she knew at least part of the truth--- people her mother had loved and trusted, had let her down somehow, and she was torn between protecting and prosecuting them, maybe HOPING that someone else would come along and snatch the burdensome responsibility from her. How simple questions of that nature were, in the world outside Collinsport--- and how distant and impersonal they could be. "Why can't Aunt Christine help?" And when Alice said THAT, she was suddenly hit by a flying piece of memory--- her mother's best friend aiming a gun, practically into a prostrate man's FACE--- No, it seemed that Aunt Christine wasn't equipped to be objective in this case, either.
But who WAS? Alice shut her mind, snapped on Jerry Springer, and was soon absorbed in the story of two heavy-set motorcycle mamas, former best friends, who both had unbelievably adorable babies by the same hulking, tattooed goon, who happened to be the brother-in-law of one of the women. The two women had squared off, and were about to smash their wimpy little chairs over each other's head, the head of the brother-in-law, the cuckolded husband who was HIS brother, and good old whiny Jerry himself. Alice wondered where the children were--- obviously not with their enraged grandmas, both tough-but-youthful-looking, surprisingly-slim little Amazons, who had appeared from out of nowhere to join their betrayed daughters in the melee.
The phone rang at a particularly suspenseful moment--- the grandmothers had grabbed Jerry, and held him under the menacing folded chair of one of the daughters, who was now working in concert with the putative father of her child. Alice absently picked up the phone, and babbled some incoherent greeting, as a half-dozen burly security guards poured onstage just in the nick of time, to break up the fight and to rescue poor, quaking-Jello Jerry. Alice had always wondered why nobody pressed charges against each other after these seemingly life-or-death grudge matches. MUST be staged fights, after all, she concluded. "Bogus, totally bogus," she muttered, almost forgetting that she was talking into the receiver.
"WHAT'S bogus, Alice?" The quizzical voice at the other end was that of her cousin and teacher, Vicki Shaw.
Alice rattled on, oblivious to the identity of the caller. "Bogus? Oh, it's this Jerry Springer thing. How can they almost totally KILL each other, then everyone settles down and kind of makes up by the closing credits? And how can they pull it off, EVERY DAY?" Then, the reality of whom she was talking to struck Alice. "Oh, MISS SHAW--- Vicki--- I'm sorry, I was just too into this stupid show, and--- wait a minute! You're not 'Miss Shaw' anymore, are you? I guess it'll be 'Mrs. Collins' at school when we both get back, huh?"
"As of 10:00 P.M., last night, Western Time," Vicki said, though not with the exuberance one would have expected of a happy newly-wed. Still, she tried to joke--- "We had to wait quite a long time in the 'Elvis Chapel of Burning Love', then we decided to just find a NORMAL J.P. That was even HARDER!"
Alice had caught the slight sadness, or regret, in her cousin's voice, and said, "IS it gonna be 'congratulations' for you two, then?"
"Yes, yes. Sorry. But it hasn't been a NORMAL couple of weeks for ANY of us, has it? Still, I'm NOT sorry I married Jeremy. He was as much a victim as I was, as we ALL were, even his father. It's a blessing to have parents who really UNDERSTAND what you're going through, you know? And I think it brought Jeremy and I even CLOSER. Now, EVERYTHING he does and says is for me and our baby. You DO know about that?"
"Well, no--- Mom's been in kind of a dither since the other day. She's worried about losing her job--- NOT because she needs one anymore, but because she really LIKED it, weird as THAT sounds. I knew about the wedding, but not--- anyway, congratulations again, then. When will you be back?"
"Wednesday. Dad and Mother decided to treat us to a little fun, because it's going to be such a short honeymoon. So, tonight, we're going to the FX show at the MGM Grand, and tomorrow night, to please Mother, we're going to see WAYNE NEWTON, of all people!" NOW, Vicki laughed. "Then I'll be back at the blackboard, bright and early--- barring a big attack of morning sickness--- on Thursday. So watch out!"
"I'm going back on Wednesday," Alice said. "I'm NOT looking forward to spending even one class with the sub, Mrs. Miner. Elliot said she's just not the right teacher for 'Turn of the Screw'. But then, maybe it's because we just lived through something like that? I mean, what's reality, and what's in our heads? Who's to blame, and who do we forgive, IF we forgive? How do we know if we've been hurt too much, and by whom, and who do we take it out on?"
"Sounds like the typical story of a Springer show to me," Vicki replied. "You asked me, at the beginning of this call, how can people do such awful things to each other, then forgive and go on.... I learned the hard way, once my mind was cleared and I could remember.... Time. Time's the only thing that does the healing. I just forgave.... someone who hurt me. Not just Jeremy. It's a truce, or detente, kind of forgiveness at this point. The ship has just hit the rocks, the bodies are still there.... In time, someone will take the bodies away, or they'll be washed out to sea, and the people who knew the dead will fill their lives with other people, thoughts and activities, and eventually pass away. The ship itself will be worn away by the waves, parts carried away with the bodies, and the rest covered by sand. The worst of it will be--- not forgotten, but pushed into the back of minds---"
"Until it happens AGAIN, years down the line, or someone wades along that shore, and cuts a foot on a piece of that old ship lurking under the sand!" Alice winced at the thought of such a wound, at the thought of reopening the wounds she was currently recovering from..
"Hopefully not--- but tragedies and betrayals happen all the time. How else can one live if one dwells on them?"
"It's self-defense, Vicki. At least YOU know who you have to watch out for. People around here won't tell me--- they're waiting for a shrink to help me figure it out. What if something happens again, while I'm waiting?"
"NOTHING will." There was a deadly
determination in the distant voice. "If it DOES--- it
WILL be stopped.On THAT, you can depend. The
INSTANT--- well, there will BE no 'instants'. By then, it would be too late.
But, paradoxical as it seems, besides myself and my parents and your mother and
her friend, and severalothers--- your BEST protection
WILL come from the person you fear most right
Alice gasped, "NOT Jason McGuire!"
"No, the one you fear whom you DON'T remember just yet. But when you DO, maybe you won't fear the person all that much anymore. Not everyone is like a Jason McGuire, doing harm without a shred of remorse or contrition."
"I guess that's true. Even Miss Jennings apologized--- by way of your Dad. They must have become good friends, even though Miss Jennings is still in a lot of hot water. I hope that doesn't bother your mother."
"Mother will get along--- it just wasn't meant to be her and 'Uncle Willie'. Maybe, 100 years from now, in another life, after that ship's been covered over...." Vicki sighed. "Anyway, we'll talk more, after I get back. Maybe in the summer, after we're done being teacher and pupil--- it wouldn't look good if it appeared that I favored my cousin and, perhaps, gave her a passing grade she didn't deserve...."
"Oh, I'll deserve it, have no fear!" Alice exclaimed eagerly. "I'll get right back to 'Turn of the Screw' as soon as I get home. Good thing I also read it last year!"
"WHAT!" Vicki sputtered in pretended severity.
"Oh, not in school, Mrs. Collins,"
Alice replied with faux contrition. "I don't have old crib notes lying
around. But I remember most of it. It's ELLIOT who's having a hard time with
it. Well, you can understand THAT. He hasn't had much time, or interest in
studying, either, with all the trouble. It's so sad.... I wish I could be with
him at his Dad's memorial service today...."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was just standing-room-only at First Congregational Church--- friends, business associates, and the hierarchy of Collins Enterprises, with the smallest group being the Collinses themselves. There were even MORE people milling around outdoors, watched by a small squadron of police.... Cannery employees (they all had a paid day off, due to the death of their employer)--- many of whom felt some compunction over their outrage at the late David Collins's alleged offenses, and guilt over their sons' treatment of the innocent Elliot.... And the ubiquitous reporters in all media, including, of course, Penelope Ferreira, who showed more signs of Pulitzer ambition every day.
"A sad day for Collinsport, indeed, for the entire business world," she solemnly intoned into her microphone, "as one of the best and brightest CEO's of his generation receives his post-mortem tribute...." Penelope didn't mention that David Collins had jeopardized much of his corporation by not paying strict attention to Tony Peterson's activities. However, she DID say that, "SEC investigations ARE ongoing into insider trading allegations and stock swindles which rocked a 300-year-old institution, which, true to its traditions, has recovered and whose current board of directors vow will last ANOTHER 300...."
Someone Penelope recognized from this story caught her eye in the crowd. She signalled to her videocameraman, rushed through the crowd, and tapped the shoulder of an attractive, well-dressed, dark-haired woman with sunglasses who seemed to be fleeing from all the reporters. "Ladies and gentlemen," Penelope said breathlessly, "one of the greatest business wizards of the past few years, a major player in the financial world, Catherine M. Trask---"
"Please, I have NO comment--- I came merely to pay my respects---" the beseiged Catherine protested.
Another reporter, from the Collinsport Star, joined the fray. "Ms. Trask, you related to that old family of brimstone and Hellfire preachers from around here? Pretty big change of family business, no?"
"Yes to your FIRST question, and NO to your last," Catherine said. "Not that it makes any difference--- I was raised by my mother's side of the family, who were involved with all kinds of business matters. Turns out I had more of a vocation to stocks and bonds than to the stocks and bonds of the Church. That side is where the 'M' came from--- 'Mansfield'---"
A head in the crowd turned at the sound of THAT name. Jonah Newman, fresh from the tailor, and caught in the foot traffic near the church, thought, "No, it CAN'T be the same--- plenty of Mansfields to go around without it being THAT one--- and even if it WAS, that didn't necessarily mean that Catherine had even MET the guy--- Uncle or cousin or whatever he was to her. Still, there's some background checking I COULD do, just to be on the safe side--- all these newfangled computer networks would make it easier. Surely, Chris Cagney would be MOST eager to help. And I think it WOULD be safer---"
There was something about the way this Catherine Mansfield Trask drew her sunglasses off, the sly look in her sloe eyes, though she WAS a knock-out, no question. Jonah was even MORE knocked out when she spotted him and gave him a come-hither look which made him realize that he WAS a fully-functioning male. Thinking that it would be best to reserve his functions for the likes of Pauline Peterson, he turned on his heel and ran to one of the town's three taxis, conveniently and mercifully parked down the street, to get a ride to the hospital.
The reporters turned their attentions from Catherine to the family group emerging on the granite steps of the church--- Hallie, in black but unveiled, pale but red-eyed, holding the hands of the little twins, Daniel and Nora, Emily carrying a weeping Joshua, sniffling and sobbing Elliot and Hannah supporting the stunned Bethany (Baby Roger was at home with Heather Melwin.) Marisol Cortez lifted Daniel when he became restless and started tripping down the stairs. Johann Holmstadt escorted Carolyn--- Tony was noticeably absent, though for no more sinister reason than to keep Pauline company while she still rested at the hospital. Then Quentin (who had flown back from New York early that morning), navigating Old Roger's wheelchair, emerged last from the Gothic doors of the church.
The family entered a trio of limousines which took them to Eagle Hill Cemetery, to lay wreaths and flower arrangements at David's newly-made bronze memorial plaque, which had been bolted to the exterior of his aunt Elizabeth Collins Stoddard's personal mausoleum. It joined not only Elizabeth's identifying plaque, but one to the memory of another family member by marriage, of whom too few remains were left to lie in any tomb--- Paul Stoddard, Elizabeth's long-lost husband, Carolyn's father and Christine Cagney's cousin, whose corpse was clumsily cremated by the Leviathan cultists who had murdered him in 1969. What little was left, and was collectible, filled a toddler's-sized casket, which lay inside the mausoleum with his wife's elaborate, full-sized one.
"I am the Resurrection, and the Life," the minister said. "He that believes in Me shall not die.... All things are made new again in the Lord...."
An ash-blonde woman with crystal-blue eyes watched from afar. Yes, that might become true sooner than later, Allarice Bertrand thought. Then, she looked down towards the other side of the hill, where a much more modest funeral was being held, though with a REAL casket, apparently quite heavy because of its occupant, if one could judge by the number of men needed to carry and maneuver it into the grave. Ah, poor Joe Haskell, she had just read of his passing. There was even a recent photograph--- Joe had still been quite handsome in his old rugged way, though his face was lined with all his old sorrows.
Strange how Maggie Evans Shaw wasn't on hand to witness the burial of her former fiance--- whom Allarice, in her former life as vampiress Angelique, had stolen from the poor silly girl. She had nearly drained Joe dry, as Barnabas almost had Maggie, and made him participate in setting up his own cousin Tom Jennings so that Angelique could interrupt his life and death by turning him into a vampire, also. Barnabas dealt with Tom to protect the latter's victim, JULIA, of all people, and after a confrontation involving Barnabas and Nicholas Blair, the warlock with the worst win-loss record of any servant of Satan, Tom DID finally find his rest--- not here, under his own tombstone, though--- his remains laid where he was exterminated.
And NOW, the former vampiress (and witch and maidservant) thought, how ironic that I should witness JOE'S burial.... She noticed that his simple casket was only going into a modest grave-liner rather than a vault, and that his grave was quite shallow. She chided herself--- he's already been dead several days, had to be flown here, had died of a virulent strain of influenza. But still--- ah, it was a silly idea. Idle fancies.... and she doubted she could find ANYONE in modern-day Collinsport ghoulish or foolish enough to rob a grave, no matter WHAT incentive-- or threat--- she, or Conrad Lang, might conceive. Ah, she thought, "Conceive, indeed! Better to make people the old-fashioned way!" But then the idea would invade her mind again....
To Allarice's surprise, after the brief "plaque-side" service for David, Carolyn broke from the group, and made her own way down the hill towards the other funeral, without catching sight of Allarice herself. In her time as Angelique, while posing as Roger's second wife, the dark-haired "Cassandra Blair", Allarice HAD some conflict with Carolyn, over her then-sputtering romance with Tony Peterson, whom "Cassandra" had seduced and enlisted in her plans against the Collinses. She had made Carolyn one of the links in a series of terrible dreams that were intended to lead to the death and resurgent curse on Barnabas, but which was--- Allarice now thanked the powers of Light--- interrupted by the existence of Adam.
A few years later, Angelique, back in her own persona and hair-color, seemingly happily married to a wealthy magazine publisher, had overcome her former ugly feelings for the Collins family, befriending both Carolyn AND her mother Elizabeth. At Barnabas's request, she had tried to shelter the girl from the Leviathans, until it turned out that her own husband belonged to the cult--- had, in fact, owed his success to their intervention, and was expected to repay them by betraying his wife's friends!
So, why was the other matron of Collinsport leaving her family--- including a MOST attractive fellow who seemed likely to become Tony Peterson's successor in his wife's affections--- to glimpse the burial of some fellow who had worked for the Collins fishing fleet? Why was she CRYING so bitterly, as she had not at her own cousin's service? Allarice couldn't stand not knowing, and so, after donning her brown contacts, quietly approached Carolyn, and tapped her softly on the shoulder.
Carolyn gave a start, though she recalled that Allarice, in the company of Conrad Lang, HAD been present in the church during the memorial service for David. "Where IS Dr. Lang, Allarice?"
"He had to return to the hospital. I noticed this funeral, then remembered I had read the obituary for the unfortunate gentleman. The name seemed familiar---"
"Oh, I had no idea you knew Joe Haskell as well. I thought you had never been to Collinsport, and, anyway, he left a long time ago, probably when you were still a little girl."
"Well, not exactly.... But it's clear that YOU knew him. And anything that concerns the Collinses, it seems, has become MY concern as well. I am sorry that you are so broken up over him, what with all the sorrows you already have."
Carolyn sniffled again. "Well, this is an OLD grief. Joe was my very first 'real' boyfriend. I met him when I was just 15.... He would come around with Bill Malloy, who was my mother's most trusted manager of the fishing fleet. Joe's Dad had died a few years earlier. Bill had worked with Mr. Haskell when both were just starting out with our company, and sort of unofficially 'adopted' Joe afterward. My mother respected their relationship. She also respected Joe--- thought he was just the steady sort a fatherless playgirl like myself needed! When she saw that Joe WAS interested in me, and that I liked him too, she tried to speed things along. Whenever she promoted Bill, she promoted Joe to take the position HE had just vacated. By the time Bill would have retired, Joe would have risen pretty high in the company, despite his lack of experience. He DIDN'T want to play it that way, wanted to start his own fishing company, but his would-be partner had to 'bail', so to speak, and if he wanted to marry ME, he knew he would need a good job. So he put up with it.
"Of course, all this went on without MY approval. I was just a teenager, and wanted a little more adventure in life, if not an education, before I settled down to be a fishwife and gave my mother a house-full of grandchildren! Oh, don't get me wrong, I DID love Joe in my own way--- he WAS pretty 'dreamy' as we used to say in those days. Tall and strong, but gentle, and a wonderful deep voice that could command--- he should have been the skipper of a schooner--- or just soothe. I always thought, even when I drove him crazy by flirting and dancing with other boys, that we'd end up together, just not RIGHT AWAY. Then, another man came to town, a REAL rival for Joe's affections, and, like the silly young thing I was, I fell for him. By the time this other man broke my heart and moved on, Joe, too, had found someone else--- a girl who had been patiently waiting for him. Maggie Evans. I was angry at all of them, angry at my mother for wanting to marry Jason McGuire Senior, so I took up with a motorcycle gangster--- Well, I won't go into that---" Carolyns' face turned red.
Allarice said, "That's around the time your cousin Barnabas came to town, wasn't it?"
"Yes.... How did YOU know that?"
Allarice temporized, "Oh, someone told me--- I forget who. Well, I take it that you didn't marry the biker."
Carolyn smiled wanly. "No, though later on, he went on to make a small fortune running a chain of motorcycle dealerships and outfitters. Good old Buzz, he's been married to his 'motorcycle mama' for over 25 years, he has a couple of sons who help him run the business..... Belongs to the Chamber of Commerce--- altogether a respectable fellow that even my Uncle Roger has come to approve! But as for Joe, well, it was soon after this that Maggie was kidnapped, then presumed dead.... I made my peace with him then, and we forgave each other. When Maggie turned up alive, I was relieved as anyone. But they broke up in the end, after someone attacked Joe the same way Maggie had been attacked, and then, something terrible his cousin Chris Jennings did, drove him crazy.... Joe spent fourteen years in the asylum before new medicine made it possible for him to have something like a normal life. Of course, he didn't come back--- Maggie was already married and had a child, and if it ever occurred to him to seek ME out, so was I.... Chris was killed soon after, and Amy didn't really need Joe, either...."
"I noticed that this Joe Haskell was not married, nor had any children by a former or deceased spouse," Allarice commented. "Carrying a torch for either of his former fiancees?"
Carolyn sobbed, "I wouldn't know. And now, I never shall. I didn't realize, until I knew he was dead, how much I would have liked to find out for certain.... It seems that all the really GOOD men I have ever known have passed away. I used to think my husband was enough--- but the good part of him is dead, as far as I am concerned. I honestly don't know if I'm mourning for JOE--- or MYSELF." She took a tissue from a small package in her purse, and dabbed at her eyes and nose. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this.... I don't know you all that well. I suppose I would have gotten around to telling Chris Cagney, but she had to return to New York and her work, and she has to stay put for a while to help Michael Lacey and his wife until Mary Beth can visit them."
"Well, maybe it was meant for you to share all that with me," Allarice said. "I AM an outsider, of sorts, but maybe that makes me more objective. And I HAVE had my share of 'man trouble'. There IS a man I once loved, but after many ups and downs, we've come to a parting of the ways.... Now, I think I will be seeing plenty of Conrad Lang. And YOU needn't fear ending up alone, like your mother---"
Carolyn stared at her. "Now, who told you THAT! Though it's true," she admitted.
"I'm sorry I was so blunt, but it's fairly common knowledge.... Anyway, you seem already to have attracted the attentions of that German fellow. He appears to be quite smitten, if I am any judge." Now, the sly smile, the dimples....
WHERE had Carolyn seen such a smile before? "You're not related to--- to this woman I used to know, are you?" she asked. "Angelique Rumson, I think her maiden name was Boucharde?"
Rather than deny outright, Allarice answered without hesitation. "Possibly, I suppose. Mother WAS of French descent, though after she and Father took up running the Cryonics Institute, this alienated some of her Catholic relatives. I could look such things up on the Internet." Now, Allarice's brows puckered, whether from serious thinking, or because she was irked by the question, Carolyn couldn't tell, though THAT look reminded her of someone else--- her Uncle Roger's long-departed ex-wife, Tony's former mistress, Cassandra Blair! It was a bit too much to ask if Allarice might not be related to HER, especially since that would mean she was ALSO related to Cassandra's malevolent "brother", Nicholas Blair.
Carolyn decided to let THAT line of inquiry die. Besides, this Dr. Bertrand had been SO helpful, even KIND, to all the Collinsport denizens she'd encountered, it was almost foolish to believe she could have had ANYTHING to do with the sinister "siblings" of so long ago. And Carolyn craved another female friend, someone who wasn't a family member, like Hallie or Christine Cagney, or an employee like Marisol, though the latter had proven more reliable than the lost governess / unacknowledged half-sister, Victoria Winters.
"Thanks for listening,
I see that Joe's funeral is over as well. I'd like to go down there. I see
another old friend there--- Frank Garner. He used to be our family lawyer, now
he's a Judge. He and Joe stayed in contact all these years. And those
Portuguese pallbearers--- all up from New Bedford, the place where Joe worked,
no doubt. I'd like to hear what THEY have to say about him. Then, you're
invited back to Collinwood with all those who attended David's service, you
know. Maybe we can get Frank to come--- he knew David, of course, but didn't
want Joe to be buried without a Collinsport friend in
attendance. I just want him to know that Joe was mourned by at least one other
person who knew him 'way back when'."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jonah Newman arrived at the hospital. He breezed right into Pauline's room, but stopped dead when he saw her father there. "Oh, I'm sorry," the younger man said. "I'll just wait outside."
Tony replied, "No, that's all right. Now that you've arrived, I'll head on to the Inn." This was his new, temporary residence. "I should have liked to stop in at Collinwood, but I am surely unwelcome there. You have my number, Pauline, if you should need me.... " He bent and kissed his daughter on the cheek. She shrank from him just a bit. Tony noticed, and looked at her a with sadder-than-usual expression. "I love you, honey. No matter what else---"
"I know, Daddy. I'll get used to it. I love you too, honest." Still, the girl turned her face away as her father walked out the door. When his footsteps down the hallway had faded, Pauline began to cry a little.
Jonah, not yet firmly established in any kind of relationship with her, and embarrassed by what he had seen and heard, reached for Pauline's hand, and squeezed it. "I'm sorry, Paulie," he said. "For some reason, that reminded me of another father and daughter I used to know, who had a hard time getting along until it was too late."
"That father probably did something like MY father did. Oh, God, ripping off my poor cousin David, making plans with that nasty Trask girl---"
"You got THAT right," Jonah nodded. "I just saw the lady in question, and I wouldn't trust her far as I could throw her. Not that any normal guy would WANT to throw her, mind you."
"Just don't get close enough to do ANYTHING--- oh, I'm so SORRY Johnny, I have no business ordering you around. Maybe she isn't that bad when you get to know her, but I just feel like I'm going to lose ANOTHER person I care about, and so soon after we met!"
"Not everybody's lost yet, not even your
Dad. There IS a way to separate your feelings about what he
IS to YOU and what he's DONE to OTHERS--- and as soon as I have the secret to accomplishing that, I'll be sure to let you know!" Jonah's eyes twinkled.
"Oh, Johnny.... I'm so grateful that you're here. It's like you were sent just in the nick of time to keep me from despair. That happens so seldom, you know. Most people have one misery after another without ANY relief--- or little bits and pieces of consolation to tide them over until the next blast."
"Maybe you have--- what do the Catholics call 'em--- a guardian angel, who works overtime to try to keep you happy in this life, and comforts you when you're not. I know I feel pretty lucky to be here. Right here." Jonah squeezed Pauline's hand again. It worked--- the disturbing but not-entirely-unpleasant image of Catherine Trask faded from his mind.
"Yes, it's all for the 'Best'," isn't it, Jonah Newman?" Pauline's eyes had narrowed, and her voice suddenly sounded more mature. "Mr. Best. YOU know."
Jonah was shocked--- was THIS a resurrected person, also? "I thought you were Tony's and Carolyn's daughter!"
"Oh, I AM. Natural born, the SECOND time, unlike the first.... But we can discuss THAT another day. My soul just happens to float to the surface a bit more often than other reincarnates. YOU are not--- you were brought back, I can see that now. Did Mr. Best ever mention an 'Amanda Harris' to you?"
"Well, no, but when I asked him, jokingly, if he was really Lord Hades of the Underworld, where was his Lady Persephone? Gone visiting her mother Demeter? He answered, quite seriously, that he once cared for a mortal woman, but of course it didn't work out, and that she was 'not there anymore', as he put it. His euphemism for 'rebirth', I guess. Must have been YOU, I take it."
"Must have been." Pauline / Amanda smiled girlishly. "Well, maybe Mr. Best wants to take care of me. Or maybe YOU were sent here by someone else who wanted to SPITE him. In any case, we should try to enjoy whatever time we have. It's comforting to have someone else who knows what you're going through, isn't it?"
"Yeah, guess so," Jonah said uncertainly. "But YOU were in a bit of a jam, weren't you? With Quentin? How do you still feel about HIM?"
Amanda replied wistfully, "I loved him so much, I spent over 70 years looking for him--- well, in those days, we didn't have airplanes or many cars, we certainly didn't have the Internet, we didn't have a lot of PHONES, either! It seemed that each time I came close to catching up with him, he'd move and leave no forwarding address, would change his name--- I remember one of my detectives telling me he believed Quentin was going to be on the TITANIC! I DID book a cabin, but my train was late to Cherbourg, so I'll never know if he made it onto the ship or not, or under what name. Obviously, however, he survived to this very day.
"I caught up with him, finally, in late 1969, but he'd been hit by a car and had amnesia--- but, the INSTANT he remembered everything, Mr. Best had come to collect on an old bargain we'd made when Quentin first left me. I once tried to kill myself, Best stopped me, and allowed me to retain my youth during the balance of my life, until such time as I caught up with Quentin, or reached the end of my natural life-span. After I 'died', Best STILL gave us one more chance to be together, but we failed, as he probably KNEW we would. HE snatched me back, but my soul WAS sent out, later, to Pauline. And again I fell hopelessly in love with Quentin.... Conceived a child, but lost it due to Amy's scheming, and lost the father, as well! But now, you're here."
Jonah added, "And Quentin LIKES me! I sensed very fatherly waves of approval when he saw the two of us together. Weird, eh?"
Amanda said quietly, "It's what must be, in THIS lifetime. But that's just FINE with ME. The part of Pauline that belongs to herself is NOT a shallow, spoiled little miss as everyone seems to think, just lacking a purpose in life. She truly loved Quentin, but she's strong in her own way--- she can go on with her life. We'd have found another man eventually, but it's as if YOU were made just for HER."
"Yeah I can see what you mean, Paulie--- or Amanda? Everyone back at the old 14th used to call me a 'hotdog' detective, partly because they saw me as kind of a sarcastic goof, but I racked up enough collars to start my own shirt factory!" Jonah chuckled and Amanda giggled. "Then I got promoted. I was going to marry my girlfriend, I bought an expensive new suit, we were all going to celebrate.... Then BLAM! as the comic books put it. A hole in one--- in my solar plexus! Then, 15 years of being Best's 'best boy'.... Then, brought back, teetering between Heaven and Hell, 100 feet above some very pointy rocks.... Then YOU came along and saved us! Hazardous as that may have been to your health, it WAS magnificent. Quite like Christine Cagney in her day."
"Still IS her day, if she managed to get up that fence in the first place," Amanda said. "It's the motivation. Selfless, at that moment, just doing what she could to save her friend, as her friend would have done for HER. Pauline has the same impulses. She has it in her to do the right thing at the right time. Could be another reason you were sent back--- to point her, ever so gently, in the right direction."
Jonah looked sad. "If you mean, encourage her to become a police officer.... I'm not sure that's a good idea. First of all, it isn't ALL excitement, and when it IS, you quickly wish it WASN'T. And one can't always act on impulse, there are rules and regulations, save in exceptional situations. And cop-cop marriages are often as rocky as they are rare. The only situation that is comparable is a marriage between two military reservists who both get called to war, and leave children to possibly become absolute ORPHANS. Yeah, I know, the chances of that happening in the civilian world are small, but it's something to think about. Then, there's the minor day-to-day stuff, squabbling over how they'd have handled the other's cases, scheduling conflicts, opposite-sex partners, so on and so forth. And agreeing on the best time to HAVE children--- whose career can be put on the backburner beyond, obviously, the woman's getting through the pregnancy?"
"You are right. Perhaps Pauline's good instincts should be channeled in another direction. One a bit freer and looser in its expectations, but with meaning." Amanda smiled, a knowing smile of yearning, quite unlike Pauline's ingenuous, beaming one. In a minute, the beaming took over. "That's funny, how you know so much about guardian angels, and you're Jewish, Johnny." Pauline was back in the place she left off.
"I learned a while back that they exist, in some form or other, and if you keep very still and don't look for them, they will manifest themselves, in some surprising ways." Jonah leaned over the bed, and kissed Pauline full on the lips. She wound her arms around him, and he embraced her. He lost his balance and nearly fell upon her. This made them both laugh.
"Take off your glasses, silly," Pauline said.
Jonah pretended to be exasperated. "But I can't see 6 inches from my nose without 'em!"
"So what? You're not kissing me from across the room! You're a LOT closer than six inches!"
After a while, a much happier Jonah left that room, and headed for Barnabas's. The older man was picking at his lunch, but greeted the younger man with as much cheer as he could muster.
"Don't like ham sandwiches, eh?" Jonah said. "I know where you're coming from."
Barnabas harrumphed, "I like FRESH ham, prepared with pineapple, NOT a slice from a brick of ham BY- PRODUCTS! I cannot IMAGINE why the hospital feeds this to its patients, if they expect them to get WELL."
"What doesn't kill you, ought to make you strong," Jonah wisecracked.
"I've had ENOUGH to nearly kill me in the last 2 weeks, young man. The LAST thing I need is hospital food to complete the task." Still, Barnabas forced himself to bite into the sandwich. "No doubt, that's all I'll get, so I'd better eat it. I DO wish Willie was here, though. He had a way about the kitchen, far more than my late wife. He taught my son to cook as well. So, why have you come to visit me, Officer Newman?"
"Our strange bond of mutual respect, forged in the Tunnel of Doom. Plus, I REALLY need to know who forged all your paperwork and ID's."
"I like a man who gets to the point, Jonah. But it's rather unnecessary. Can you not resume the life you departed for a while? You died 15 years ago, not 150!"
"Nope, all my records are dispersed. YOU pulled off a bigger con, Barnabas, convincing your relatives that you were a 'Cousin from England'. YOU got a driving license, you got a Social Security number, you got insurance, and CITIZENSHIP, even though we both know you were born HERE, albeit about 250 years ago. I figure Willie must have helped you there. Do you have the name of the expert who got it done?"
Barnabas replied, "Alas, but I think not. Willie went to someone all the way in Boston to obtain false records. The same fellow might be dead now. As for asking Willie yourself, he's away, and when he comes back, he won't be working for me anymore."
"Well, maybe I could ask Quentin. I'm sure he had to get new ID's along the way."
"I recall Quentin saying that he carried the same Social Security number since the day they were issued around 1940. Fortunately, nobody, not even the accountants, have noticed. How odd, you need faked papers to work as a POLICEMAN! Most people obtain them to practice deceit and commit CRIMES. Though I can't say that myself and Quentin fall into that category, at this point. Anyway, I'm sure he will be pleased to talk with you when he gets back from David's memorial service. How I wish I could go, and still felt welcome."
Jonah asked, "If you could get along with the Lacey family, that would help, wouldn't it?"
"Possibly. But I believe, for now, that YOU are one of only TWO persons who do not fear me. My SON even fears me, though he still loves me."
"Can't say as I blame him, Mr. Collins---"
" 'Barnabas', please...."
""--- Barnabas. Who's the other one who doesn't fear you?"
"Little Hannah Louise Collins, David and Hallie's daughter. The spirit of my beloved younger sister, Sarah, resides in her now."
Jonah had already heard something about this, but, confronted with Barnabas's wistfulness, became more sympathetic. Another man with a great gulf between himself and a long-lost sister! "Ah-hah," he said. "This Hannah. She's become friendly with Alice Lacey, hasn't she?"
"Yes, so I have heard. Something she said, led to Alice's rescue--- and that of so many others. Including myself."
The wheels turned in Jonah's brain. Bring Hannah back to the hospital, have her and Alice drop by Barnabas's room--- It was so simple and stupid, it HAD to work. Even if it WASN'T, it STILL had to work. And the sooner the better. He could kill two birds with one stone, if QUENTIN brought the child to the hospital. But he doubted it would be tonight, with all the dreary "entertaining" the family was probably doing at this very minute, at the post-funeral luncheon. The poor little thing would be exhausted and upset. Well, it could wait another day, he supposed. He decided it was high time he got back to the police station anyway, to help Mary Beth finish clearing out her personal effects. That Braithewaite must have, long since, departed from his meeting with the former Sheriff--- perhaps he had made it to the memorial service, perhaps he was up at Collinwood by now
Jonah did as the Sheriff had advised, taping a statement from Barnabas, after getting hold of one of Amy's guards (who'd been on his way to a lunch break) as a witness. The statement, as he expected, was heavy on blaming Jason McGuire, and trying to exculpate Amy on the basis of her having been coerced. Still, it wasn't completely divergent from the "truth" as it was generally accepted--- Barnabas did go so far as to blame himself for not being more resistant to the blandishments of "temptation"--- worded in such a way as to mean the temptations offered by JASON!
Jonah and Barnabas shook hands afterward, and soon, the younger man was trotting down the hall to the elevator, when he saw a little girl with long golden hair, dressed in a navy-colored wool skirt--- he recognized her from the scene at the church, and, before that, the night Christine and Mary Beth delivered Hallie's baby. This must be Hannah Louise Collins. What on earth was she doing HERE, NOW? "Hi, kid," he said casually. "I'm Officer Newman." He fished a Collinsport Police badge out of his pocket, just presented to him by Mary Beth the day before. "You must be Hannah. I just saw you and your Mom and all your brothers and sisters coming out of church before. Nobody's gotten SICK in your family again, have they?"
"Oh, no, Officer," the child replied without a hint of shyness--- or overt sadness, as might have been expected from a young girl who had just attended her father's memorial service. So much for her being exhausted and upset. "My brother, Elliot, was very depressed after this morning, and Mommy said he and I could come see Alice Lacey for a while. She's the Sheriff's daughter, you know."
"Yes, I know. And I've just been talking to your cousin Barnabas."
"How is he? It seemed so strange that he wasn't there at the church. He and my Daddy were pretty good friends from the time Daddy was about my age. And he just told me the other day, when I was sick, that he would help look after me. But he didn't get better in time to come, either...." Now, Hannah sniffled.
"Well, he's a LOT better today, just won't be able to leave the hospital right away. Maybe you could drop in on him, he's pretty lonesome without Jeremy and Willie around. Why aren't you with Alice Lacey now?"
"Oh, YOU know, you're a grown-up," she said, blushing. "Boyfriends and girlfriends always have to KISS a lot and they don't like to be watched, 'specially by a nosy kid sister!"
"TELL me about it! MY sister used to pester me and MY girlfriend, until I moved out. One long Sunday afternoon, when our folks were out, we kept giving her quarters and then half-dollars and then DOLLARS to, er, 'get lost', to buy ice cream and go to the movie, whatever. And then she'd come back for more. Debbie made about $20 that day!"
Hannah said, pertly, "That's not much, and I'm not saying that 'cause I'm rich."
"It WAS a lot of money for a 10-year-old kid back in '77---" Then, Jonah gasped at his mistake.
Hannah noticed. "Wow, you had a girlfriend AND $20 in 1977? You must've been about 5 years old! Maybe you dis-remembered--- Your sister prob'ly paid YOU to 'get lost'!" She giggled.
"I meant nineteen EIGHTY-seven. Don't get wise with an officer of the law, young lady," Jonah said with mock sternness. "Anyway, it was hardly the proper thing for me to admit to doing. I'm sure I'm setting a bad example---"
"Oh, don't worry, Officer Newman, I wouldn't ask my brother for MONEY. He said I could see Alice at 1:30, and it's going on that already. Elliot's ALWAYS on time. Look, there he is, now," she said, pointing down the hall.
Sure enough, the tall, blond Collins heir loped out of a room far down the hall. Alice must not have been wearing any lipstick, Jonah thought, since there were no traces of it on the boy's face, neck, or silver-grey shirt. But his tie was on crooked, and he wore a semi-dopey look of satisfaction that the older man knew so well--- Jonah knew HE must have looked like that when he'd just emerged from Pauline's room. There was no cure for grief like a little loving. Or, better yet, a LOT of loving.
"Hi, Officer Newman," Elliot said in a vague but blissful voice. "It's good to see you--- think you'll be coming up to Collinwood later? Mother has no hard feelings against the police--- most of the ones who were watching the crowd are up there now. She even called the Sheriff---"
"FORMER Sheriff, you mean---"
"No, sir, it seems the Board of Selectmen--- prodded by Mother, I'll admit--- asked that Mrs. Lacey stay on until Deputy Woodard is able to take over. She accepted. And she accepted the invitation. She's surely there by now."
Jonah beamed. "Well, that's WONDERFUL news, Elliot. I know Alice's Mom loves her work, even if she doesn't need to make a living by it any more. I take it, also, that Alice is much better?"
"Oh, yes. She fretted her brother's wife's condition. She loves that Iris. Did you know Iris and Mike were introduced by the former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter? They were working on a Habitat for Humanity project. They even got to meet the Ex-President, Jimmy--- got their picture in the paper---"
Jonah recalled a bit about Habitat, and
vaguely recalled that the Carters had gotten involved with it around the time
of his first "passing", but there was so much he still had to catch
up with. "Well, no---
I guess I missed all that."
"Well, President Carter was way before MY time, and Alice's, so it's all new to me, too," Elliot said, reassuringly. "But, anyway, Alice will be going home tomorrow morning. So, Hannah, why don't you go in and say your hellos--- I'll wait right out here. I'd like to get back to Mother A.S.A.P. It was extra sweet of her to let us come here today, but now I feel better, and I SHOULD take my place at her and Grandfather's sides."
Jonah said quickly, "Oh, poor Hannah's been so patient, it would be a shame to hurry her. Why don't you go on home now, and I'll run her up to Collinwood in a cab as soon as she's finished with Alice?"
Hannah begged, "Oh, please, please, Elliot?"
Elliot replied, "Well, I guess it would be okay. Officer Newman DID help save Alice and the rest of us, he'll surely take good care of you. Just don't be too long, Munchkin." He patted his sister's golden curls, and vanished into an elevator.
Jonah walked Hannah to the room down the hall. Alice, looking very pretty and rather red in the face, was sitting in her chair. She greeted them cheerfully. Hannah ran to her, and was rewarded with a big hug. Jonah stood back, sheepishly. This was his big chance. "How's it going, Alice?" he said casually.
"Great!" Alice practically sang. "I'm going home tomorrow, and my Mom is still Sheriff. I hate to leave my Dad all alone here, though. But HE'S getting better so fast, it's driving the doctors nuts--- they may let HIM out before the end of the month!"
Hannah said, "Did YOU have to see any more doctors?"
"Well, yes---" Alice's face fell. "One other. A Dr. Zandman. He's a--a shrink."
"What does he shrink?" Hannah asked.
"Heads. Mine needs shrinking, it seems," Alice said.
"It's a nickname for a psychiatrist, Hannah," Jonah explained. "I take it, Alice, they think you need a little help to remember what happened, and to recover from it?"
"Yeah, I guess. But I think it's probably my folks, and Aunt Christine, and even Elliot, who need it more than me. They couldn't bear to tell me, yet THEY say I need to remember!"
"I wonder about THAT. There's a reason the brain sometimes blocks out a memory. Something that might hurt you--- and others--- needlessly. Especially if everyone's sorry and it never happens again."
"THAT'S funny, coming from a COP! As I told my Mom, AND Dr. Zandman."
Jonah said, "Well, there's just some issues not covered by the law on the books."
Hannah asked, "What DO you remember?"
"Oh, I wouldn't talk about it with a little girl like YOU. You'd get scared," Alice replied.
"No, I wouldn't," Hannah said, solemnly. "I know a LOT, you'd be surprised."
"It's a jumble of memories, anyway. Dr. Zandman tried to hypnotize me, but I was too jumpy, unable
relax--- resisting all the way. Like I had been hypnotized before, and never wanted it to happen again!
So he's going to keep talking, talking, talking with me, hoping it will come out on its own. We may have to go to family therapy, since my parents WERE involved in some of it. Mainly on the saving end." She stood up and stretched. "Hey, Hannah, how soon do you have to go home? I'd like to take a little walk down to that lounge at the other end of the hall, with all the windows. You can see the ocean in the distance, and Elliot said the Volunteer Association brings fresh cookies there every morning. It's mainly for the nurses on break, but there may still be some left. I want to sneak a few back and have them after dinner."
Jonah couldn't believe his luck. He asked, "Are you sure you're up to the walk?"
"Actually, it's a shorter walk than to and from my father's room, and I made that okay. I'm having a burst of energy right about now." Alice blushed. "Besides. I have to build myself up. I'll be back at school by next Monday, and you can't imagine how big THAT place is."
Jonah and Hannah stood by while Alice heaved herself easily out of her chair. She didn't really need any assistance, as she had said, but she took Jonah's arm anyway, and held Hannah's hand. When they passed fairly close to Barnabas's room, Jonah thought quickly. "Tell you what, I left something in Mr. Collins's room, and since I'll be leaving with Hannah as soon as we've had this walk, I'd like to go in and grab it now. Hannah's been wanting to see Barnabas also. It won't take a minute."
Alice suddenly looked very uncertain, a little agitated. "You sure, Johnny? You can drop me off in the lounge while you do your errand. I promise I won't swipe ALL the cookies." She laughed, a hollow sound.
Jonah suddenly thought better of his intentions, but Hannah insisted, "Oh, don't worry, Alice. I'm just gonna say 'Hi, how are you'. Barnabas prob'bly wonders how you are, too. You were all sick with the same thing. And he helped me when I was sick. It'll be okay, I promise." Jonah was amazed--- it was as if Hannah--- or Sarah, rather--- had sensed what he was trying to do, endorsed it, and was going to try to make it easier for everyone.
"I--I guess it won't hurt." Alice let herself be led to the doorway of Barnabas's room. It was halfway open, and she could see him sitting up and reading the Boston Herald. He looked benign as the grandfather she had always imagined having, never having known her father's father, nor having seen her mother's father more than a few times when she was 7 years old. THAT grandfather had been sick, in a hospital bed, also, she recalled, and had died soon after. He never really knew her, but her mother said he'd enjoyed the little get-well card she had made him.
Mr. Collins still had a sickly look, for all he appeared to be reading with great attention. Why, then, did Alice feel a numbness in her knees, her stomach turning to water? She knew he'd done something to her, but it was all that Jason's idea. Wasn't it? Maybe Mr. Collins was drugged, maybe they all were. They were all recovering now. Whatever had happened, they should forgive, like Vicki had said, and forget. Shouldn't they? Or should there be remembrance so they wouldn't get caught again? But why should they get caught again, without Jason to bother them? Or Miss Jennings, either? Miss Jennings.... Hadn't she done something to her father's cousin Willie? And her fath---
Suddenly Barnabas looked up. Jonah apologized profusely, reiterating his claim to have left something in the room. Suddenly, Alice realized that had been a big fib, to get her here, since it was clear there was nothing here that could have belonged to the young man. Hannah seemed to be playing along, too, though it was clear she really liked Barnabas--- she went up to his bed and kissed him on the cheek. How could she DO that to someone who could hurt anyone, whether he was on drugs or not?
"Thank you Hannah, how is your poor
mother holding up? And your grandfather--- losing his only
son. I have an idea how that feels, now." Barnabas sounded sad as
though Jeremy WAS dead. Well, hadn't he been--- for a while, in that cavern
room? There were caskets all around, Alice now remembered. Pain in her
throat.... And then her Aunt had burst in with Willie, and Barnabas was on the
floor, getting OLD, and Aunt Chris was going to SHOOT him, put him out of all
their misery, till Mom showed up, then somehow Daddy was there, there was a
fight--- Barnabas got up and tried to help them--- he tried
"Well, having the new baby helps, Cousin Barnabas," Hannah said crisply. "He's a very special baby. Smiles a lot, an' I KNOW it isn't gas. You know what Mommy's going to call him besides Roger? His middle name's gonna be 'Carl'. Cousin Quentin suggested it. He said that he heard from his own father that Willie's and Cousin Harvey's Great-Gran'pa was always laughing and making jokes, and this baby seemed like he was the same sort. He said it's about time the Collinses had another fun-loving relative and maybe it was right, because little Roger was born after such a sad time. 'Jolly Roger' Carl Collins, he calls him. It drives our Gran'pa wild, but he loves the baby. HE said that the Sheriff an' Miss Cagney should be the Godmothers, and Mommy agreed. Quentin said, wait a while, because Miss Cagney had a lot of work to do before she came back. I sure miss her already."
"So do I, dear heart," Barnabas said. Then, he looked right into Alice's eyes. At first, she froze, but all he said was, "Ah, Alice, you should be sitting, poor child. I don't know why these two are trotting you around, you should be resting. There's a comfortable seat in the corner, a recliner, I believe."
"Thank--thank you, Mr. Collins." Alice suddenly felt strangely calm. He sounded as if he really CARED that she was weary. Still, she pressed herself into the corner. Jonah stood by her and rubbed her shoulder reassuringly. "You seem to be recovering pretty fast," she continued. "That medicine is a wonder, isn't it?"
"Considering how close we all were to death, we are fortunate to have been living in a time when this medicine was made possible. It even heals wounds--- my new daughter-in-law recovered from the result of a stray bullet---"
Aunt Christine! She HAD fired that gun--- once. Alice had a vision of Vicki stumbling, clutching her shoulder.... "Oh, yes, she called me this morning, Mr. Collins. She sounded very happy. Mrs. Shaw and Willie are showing her and Dr. Collins a good time out in Las Vegas." Vicki had said, the one Alice feared most would be her greatest protection. Hard to believe, with so many people who were supposed to be helpful, all at sixes and sevens, hurting each other. The younger girl wondered how her teacher now felt about Aunt Christine. But Aunt Christine had tried to save Vicki, she just missed the person who was holding her. Barnabas! But in the end, when it would have cost him his life, he had the right intentions--- was that enough? Was he really sorry? How could Alice ever tell?
Barnabas sighed. "Yes, Las Vegas. I have never been there. I doubt I'll ever go there now. Nor even to that travesty they've set up in Atlantic City. That was a fine place once, years ago. It just got a bit seedy. There could have been another way to fix it. Now, they say, only the part near the casinos is pleasant--- the instant one gets a block or two away, it is still seedy, and worse. Proving that any lasting change has to come from within, starting at the bottom and working up. The good was still there, they just wanted a quick fix."
"Well," Jonah offered, "they built Las Vegas out of the desert. They've never stopped improving on it."
"But they act as though have no past, young man. They don't preserve even the BEST of their past--- they rip it down and make things larger and more unwieldy, and more wasteful. There is little there that existed even 50 years ago, judging by what one sees on the television. Most of the people who visit don't care--- if one is stuck to a slot machine or dicing table or poker tables, like iron shards to a powerful magnet."
Alice chimed in, "It isn't like they're tearing down old Williamsburg, or burying Plymouth Rock. Or even wrecking downtown Collinsport." Why were they talking about this trivia, she wondered. It was like a code, a secret message--- the "Hidden pictures" in her old Highlights magazines.
"I suppose you're right, my dear. I suppose I wish to continue with what has made me comfortable for so many years. When one gets old, even when YOU get old, Alice--- and I fervently hope you have many years ahead of you, with no further distress of that nature--- one wishes that some things would never change, even if they are not beautiful or unique. Like my home, or Collinwood, or even the Blue Whale!" Barnabas smiled, and it was a wistful smile, not the sinister one Alice thought she remembered.
She said, "I guess .... My folks lived in the same apartment for over 15 years, until they bought their first house. I don't remember it, I was just a baby, but my brothers grew up in it.... Even though it got shabbier over the years, and Dad had to keep fixing it up, and the neighborhood was getting lousy, they ALL still like to talk about the 'good old days' in their old home. Ironically, just a few months after they moved into their new house, it was broken into, and some irreplaceable stuff stolen. Just goes to show, newer isn't always better OR safer." WHO had taken her out of HER new house? She had a quick glimpse.... Willie, she had thought, but later heard HE had been locked in his room all that night.... And then, HE tried to save her life later, gave her some more blood, until Elliot's did the trick.
Barnabas replied firmly, "The source of the disturbance is GONE. We know where the cracks are and we CAN patch them up. In time, we may come to feel safer. For all that Collinsport is so small, it has had a tumultuous history for over 300 years. Much of it centers around Collinwood. There has been a roster of unpleasant doings that would rival older places in Europe. Yet, nobody has seen fit to desert either the town or the estate! There must be something worthwhile here---"
Hannah said, "People who act nice take
over from those who don't, sooner or later. Mrs. Johnson
says--- USED to say--- acting like we SHOULD just makes life easier."
"In Collinsport, that's almost a religious tenet," Barnabas said. "She was right about so many things."
"I wish I had been able to meet her," Alice said. "Maybe she would have some advice for me, too."
"I wish my late wife could have met you--- Julia was quite like yourself, Alice. Very intelligent. Started learning about the world the hard way. Her family, sensing a change in the wind, came from Germany just as Hitler was establishing his power, so they missed the whole Holocaust business, but both parents struggled to make enough money to send Julia to school. Then she had to work and fight to put herself through the rest of it. She saw the worst of what both ordinary society offered, and the peculiarities of life here. She chose HERE, and she chose ME, because we both soon learned that there were two lines I WOULDN'T cross.... One was, that, I ultimately never betrayed or deserted her, nor she, myself, even under the worst or most advantageous circumstances. And the other was that I chose not to return to exactly the same mistakes I had made in the past. Do you understand, Alice? DO you?" His dark hazel-brown eyes bored into hers.
Alice was lost in a timeless moment. ALL the memories came flooding back, not in a controlled way like Dr. Zandman would have approved, but they all swirled together like dirty dishwater, and got sucked down a drain. Barnabas would not make the same mistake again. He would not bother her again, or Vicki.... There had been that girl Candy Cane, and he had let her be, and Willie, and before that, Vicki's mother, and probably others--- there came a point when he truly did not wish to harm them, nor threatened them with an existence similar to the one they had almost shared.... Even Miss Jennings had recovered. Barnabas wouldn't hurt any of them anymore.
But Alice owed him something in return, for this favor. She would be discreet. She would forgive. She would.... be safe. From HIM, anyway. Because there was something about her that reminded him of a woman he'd respected as well as loved. The same must have been true about Vicki. And her Aunt Christine.... "I understand. And I know what else you wish me to do."
Jonah said to Barnabas, "You'd better not make Alice agree to something else that would be wrong. I have resources, you know." Actually, he wasn't sure WHAT resources he had, but maybe Mr. Best was still interested in his case, and would provide some.
Hannah insisted, "He WON'T. I have more resources than YOU. He just wants her to talk to Miss Cagney."
"Yes, I will," Alice said. "Because I know the truth now. ALL of it." She suddenly shook her head. "Well, I guess we'd better get going, don't you think? Johnny here was going to take Hannah home, and I wanted to take a little hike to look out the solarium window, at the ocean."
"AND grab a few cookies," Jonah teased.
"Did YOU get what you came here for?"
"Oh, yeah. You bet."
Barnabas reached out his hand to Alice. She held it for a moment--- dry and warm it was, now, not cold and clammy as she--- she put it out of her mind. If I could make peace with HIM, she thought.... The OTHER would be a snap. "Take care, Mr. Collins. Hope they spring you soon."
"I feel much better already, Alice, thank you. You must remember to call me 'Barnabas' from now on. I hope to see you afterward. Under better circumstances."
After Jonah and Hannah had left for Collinwood, Alice wrapped her cache of cookies in a napkin, and carried them to her father's room.
Harvey was sitting up, staring at the TV. "Oh, hi, honey," he said quietly. "I was wondering when you'd come back. Been trying to concentrate on these soap operas. I tried calling your Mom, but the secretary said she was up at the Big House--- I mean the Great House. You're still the Sheriff's daughter, it seems, so mind your P's and Q's." He gazed at her face, and his own took on that sad, guilty look again.
Alice handed him the package of cookies. "Look what I got--- all from Collinsport's finest Italian bakery, at least that's what the box in the lounge said. Of course, there's probably only ONE Italian bakery...."
"Probably," Harvey said, dispiritedly. "Put 'em on the side table, and we'll split 'em after dinner." He still looked sad, and turned from her.
"Daddy, look at me," Alice said. "Please." When Harvey didn't budge, she gently cupped his chin and turned his head. She gazed right into his eyes, as Barnabas had done to hers. "Daddy, I know everything now. I remember what happened."
"No, no, you don't. You shouldn't. Maybe calling in that psychiatrist was a bad idea." Tears welled in Harvey's eyes.
"This has nothing to do with the doctor.
But you KNEW I had to learn the truth, or remember it on my own, and I have.
It's going to be okay, Daddy. It wasn't your fault. Miss Jennings made you do
You didn't mean to hurt me."
"I don't want to believe I did--- when I
started to remember what I did, I wanted to go get you back from
the mausoleum, but I had that damn heart attack and then the transplant and I couldn't remember where
you were--- "
"It doesn't matter--- by that time, I was long gone from there. I was lost, but now I'm found, like the hymn says. Mom understood, and she forgave you. I certainly can do no less. Daddy, Daddy, please don't cry anymore. I know it will never happen again. I love you, Daddy." Alice held her father's head on her shoulder, as he embraced her and sobbed. "I'll even forgive Miss Jennings, since it's hardly her fault she acted like that. She didn't like me, or any of us, but she wasn't INSANE about it, until.... Jason, Jason, Jason. How I'd like to spit in his face. Or kick him in the whatzis. I couldn't get a clear shot at him when he attacked me, though."
"Well, you won't get one now. The law
gives him RIGHTS...." Harvey sounded bitter. "Just testify against
him, and help ensure that he gets about 3 or 4 consecutive life sentences.
Maybe that will be enough. My baby girl, a chip off the old
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hallie Collins herself greeted the hesitant Sheriff as the latter was ushered through the great oak doors by Carolyn. "Please, Mary Beth, I'd like you, your family, and Christine, when she returns, to feel more welcome here. There are no longer ANY hard feelings over David's.... passing. Even my father-in-law has come to appreciate, both, yourself, and, especially Christine. We both wish she was here today, though Quentin has informed us that she is staying close to your son and his wife at this time."
"Yes, she's holding down the fort there until I tidy up things here and can have Bob Rooney take over for a weekend. I want to thank you again, Hallie, for helping US out, sending Mike back on the company plane, and--- I know it's due to YOU that I still have this job for the time being. It wasn't until I almost lost it, that I realized how much I LOVED it--- loved--- God, how strange, to LOVE this kind of job! All the years I was a regular cop, I loved it in a way, even though it was rough and dirty, and sometimes the SYSTEM put up obstacles to bringing real justice. Still, even so, after putting in my 20 years, I was MORE than ready to give it up!
“Then Harvey had his first heart attack, and when Christine finagled a way for me to go back, I was happy enough, but AGAIN, when I came close to full retirement age, that would have been just fine with me. Now, even though I WAS in charge and feel like I nearly BLEW it, and came close to losing EVERYONE I ever cared for, leaving the Sheriff's office at this time would be a total gut-wrencher. Because, for the FIRST time, I really was in MY element. Not just making LEGAL choices, but MORAL ones.... You understand? It was something I carved out, like that Borglum guy carved Mt. Rushmore---"
"And you could put YOUR name on it. Yes, I DO understand, Mary Beth." Hallie sighed. "And now that I have to carry all the burdens I would have shared with David, I hope to find some similarly fulfilling occupation that can be fit around caring for the younger children. I still have a vote in what the company does, but Collins Enterprises has never been my bailiwick. CAROLYN inherited some of her mother's business acumen, and now that nobody's around to give bad advice, she'll be exercising it more and more, and helping ME with decisions."
"Well, what IS your interest, Hallie?"
"I was working on a Master's Degree in History when I married David, but dropped out when I got pregnant so quickly. I had a rough ride with Emily, and never went back to it, then more and more babies came...."
"Well, that's an easy choice, Ma'am. You can certainly AFFORD to go back. Maybe you could become a Professor like your late Uncle. If Marisol and your older kids need an extra hand in babysitting the younger ones while you're at Orono, then I volunteer--- MY DAUGHTER!"
Hallie smiled. "Oh, Mary Beth, I'm sure we'd manage somehow, and it's up to Alice if she wants that kind of work. Though I know she and Hannah get on famously. And she and Elliot--- well, they get on MORE famously! I don't want to sound pushy about it, but Alice WOULD make a nice daughter-in-law someday, I'm sure. Do you get along with your daughters-in-law, Mary Beth?"
"Well.... I'm still adjusting. Iris is a nice girl, pretty warm-hearted, and Krystal is--- is like her name. Brilliant, sparkly.... But now the poor girl has a tough pregnancy ahead, has to stay in bed."
"I've been there, done that. With Emily. How I managed to have the others without the same treatment is a miracle, but I had a couple of years to get over the first one."
"It's gonna take MORE than a couple of years for Krystal to get over THIS--- she's having TRIPLETS!"
"THREE at once!" Hallie clapped her hands. "Well, I can certainly help out THERE. I've got a TON of barely-used Oshkosh B'gosh for both sexes stowed away. Daniel and Norah have long since outgrown them, and baby Roger hardly needs THAT many outfits!"
"Well, thanks again, Hallie, that would be great."
"It's little enough that I can do for one of my son's Godmothers. I really mean it, Mary Beth. You must tell Christine we'll be requiring her services, a month from now.... It's the best way, if not to bring closure, then, to start a new chapter in the Collins family history."
A tall, thin man with a handsome, but solemn, face broke away from a group of Portuguese men who had surrounded Carolyn Peterson (watched jealously by Johann), and walked directly to where Hallie stood with Mary Beth. "At last, we meet face to face," he said to the latter, with a grave smile. "I'm the man you've been calling to get all those search warrants lately."
Mary Beth got flustered. "Oh--oh, YOU'RE Judge Garner! Pleased to meet you at last, sir!" She pumped the hand he offered.
" 'Frank', please, and may I call you by YOUR first name--- Mary Beth?"
"Yes, Frank, it's good to meet you before we have to head into court--- the Jennings matter. I'm sorry about that, sir, I know Amy's the cousin of your late friend Haskell."
"Whom we buried today," Frank Garner sighed. "So many friends from my youth, gone or--- disgraced. Still, I am hopeful that Amy may someday be useful to society once more. This was such a brief aberration, though one, I admit, that was years in the making. Perhaps she can teach classes in the prison and eventually earn an early release, in view of the fact that everyone, even the most severely injured, are now recovering. I can't be objective, so I'm stepping aside, and another judge will be hearing this case. I have found Amy another attorney, a protégée I've been mentoring. Victor Bradford. He reminds me so much of someone I used to know, that I once thought he was her son, but I've since met his parents. Just a coincidence."
There was deep disappointment in Garner's attitude, Mary Beth noticed. She wondered just who the mysterious lady was, that might have been the mother of this Victor Bradford. Perhaps an old girlfriend of Garner's? She noticed that he appeared to have come alone. Didn't he have a wife, kids, grandkids by now? Did he suspect that this Victor was really his son by the old girlfriend? Though, she also mused, if he was still single, or divorced, or maybe widowed himself, he was the right age and social level, if HALLIE ever wanted to find another man. ANY number of children was a lot for a single parent to handle, but EIGHT---! But this Judge Garner seemed like the kind of serious guy who might put up with such a situation, IF he could get interested in the still-pretty widow. Well, tune in tomorrow, Mary Beth concluded, I know I'LL still be around.
A while later, Elliot returned from the hospital, where he had been visiting Alice with his younger sister. Hannah, he said, would soon arrive with Jonah Newman. This did not set off an alarm bell in Mary Beth's head, though when the two arrived an hour later, they seemed to be full of mysterious satisfaction. Then she overheard Hannah telling her mother that she had stopped in to see Barnabas before leaving the hospital. Mary Beth stalked around until she found Jonah, who was in an intense, whispered conversation with Quentin. She gave a curt apology to the latter as she pulled her newest officer away.
"I hated to do that," she hissed at Jonah, "since Quentin was so helpful to my son. But I have to know--- did you and Hannah take it upon yourselves to bring MY daughter to see Barnabas without MY permission or MY presence? The truth, young man---"
"Well," Jonah said sheepishly, "We DID pass by his room, we said hello---" Then, he shook her hand off. "Listen, Mary Beth, I did what had to be done. Alice was able to tolerate being in Barnabas's company pretty well. They'll never be FRIENDS, even I wouldn't be too thrilled with THAT, but I don't think you EVER have to worry about his harming her again. He might even HELP her, out of guilt, if some such similar problem arises in the future. That's his pattern, just ask Maggie Shaw! YOU made the call to drop the charges against him, and Alice isn't going to bring any on her own. Whether that was a wise choice, remains to be seen. But I--- and more than myself, Hannah--- helped to cement his pledge of future good behavior."
"With any luck, the cement will hold." Mary Beth sighed. "Well, after I have a bite to eat here, I'll be headed back to the hospital anyway. Having any luck chasing down some personal paperwork?"
"I was talking to Quentin about that. It seems that HE knows something about the subject."
"Why doesn't THAT surprise me? All these
Collinses have secret lives full of mystery and
intrigue and bogus I.D.'s. Except for us Laceys.
Well, carry on, Johnny...."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Mary Beth inspected the clothing Alice had
insisted on for her big return home the following morning---
a bright red dress, quite similar to the one ruined the night she was first bitten by the "animal"--- whether Barnabas or a trained beast, would never be known for sure. Elliot had brought it to her when he'd visited earlier that day--- had it specially made, in fact, based on his memory of the previous frock.
"My God, Alice, isn't this rather low-cut?" Mary Beth asked in honest puzzlement--- SHE certainly didn't recall the late garment as having this degree of--- how did they say it in French? Decolletage!
"It looks modest enough to ME, Mom.
Anyway, the other dress was chucked out, so how was Elliot
supposed to know for sure?"
"Actually, Baby, if you had BOTHERED to ask, the old dress wasn't tossed at all--- It's in a box in a police station locker, about the only safe place available there to save EVIDENCE!" Mary Beth smiled. "But that's okay, we won't go back there and check the neckline tonight--- or ever. If you don't WANT to," she said meaningly. "Alice--- I heard what Johnny Newman and little Hannah did with you this afternoon. Visiting with Mr. Collins. I wasn't exactly PLEASED about it. Are you okay? Did you think you would need to talk to Dr. Zandman again about it? Do you think you might want to bring charges--- "
"No, Mom," Alice said quietly. She sat down on her bed suddenly, as though extremely weary. "It's going to take everything I have to depose against Jason. And anyway, if I brought up what Barn-- Mr. Collins did, then I'd have to implicate Daddy. Even if he acted under Miss Jennings's orders, well, it could be implied---inferred--- I don't know the correct term--- that Daddy got rid of me because he resented me, or had disgusting desires for me, or was so hot to do the wild thing with Miss Jennings, he'd have fed me to Mr. Collins personally! Better to let Mr. Collins say whatever he wants, and Miss Jennings, because they'll downplay Daddy's--- and Cousin Willie's--- parts in this mess, while burying Jason McGuire up to his guilty ears!"
"He's got something going on behind his guilty ears already," Mary Beth said cryptically, while thinking of Reverend Trask's unique living plan with McGuire. "I hope this is the right thing to do. Everything in this crazy town goes against what I was trained for and believe in, but I'm getting into the groove, somehow. I'm not even especially P.O.'ed at Amy Jennings anymore. The law will have to take its course with her, since there IS concrete evidence of things she actually DID, but I don't think she'll be away from the local scene for all that long. If, and when, she DOES come back, though, I--- or Job or Rooney--- WILL keep an eye on both our former principal, AND Mr. Collins!"
"Maybe Aunt Christine could do the latter," Alice said, "watching out for Mr. Collins, I mean."
"I don't think so, honey. Maybe she'll come back and visit US--- I know Hallie wants the both of us to be Godmothers for little Roger--- and Carolyn and Pauline are HER closest relatives up here, but Barnabas? You have to understand, Alice, sometimes true love doesn't heal all wounds, nor should it. There's a lot of dirty water under that particular bridge. If Christine feels she's better off without him, then she SHOULD stay away.... Just before we moved up here, I'd heard her old flame, that lawyer, David Keeler--- you remember him? He used to think you were the cutest thing, AFTER Christine--- He's separated from his wife. I don't normally hope for people to get divorces---"
"You did when Harvey Junior married Krystal!"
"Well, THAT'S all done. Your oldest brother called me last night, and explained everything. It seems that YOU are finally going to be an Aunt yourself, but Krystal's having some health problems, which is why Harvey hasn't been available to help us. I promised we're all going to see a lot more of each other, once the babies--- you heard what I said, it will be at least THREE--- are born, and Iris recovers, also. Anyway, as I was saying about that David, there ARE times when people break up for a good reason, In THIS case, maybe because they were never meant to be together forever in the first place. I always HOPED David and Christine would get back together. It helps that he didn't have any kids with that wife, though I know he wanted them with Christine. Okay, it's way too late for THAT, but---"
Alice interrupted her mother's relentless discourse--- or rattling on like a loose caboose, as she herself privately called it. "Mom, PLEASE! Aunt Christine hasn't mentioned Mr. Keeler in a few years. I don't know why YOU'RE so hung up on him. Maybe I'll tattle on you to Daddy." Her eyes now sparkled. "Seriously.... The reason Aunt Christine broke up with DAVID is because THEY weren't meant to be together, either. There's a reason she didn't stay with ANY of those guys. NONE of them were THE ONE. It's like that Elton John song, you know? She
'....Took a walk along the beach,
and saw her future in the water,
a long-lost heart within her reach'.
In HER case, that's what happened. LITERALLY!"
Mary Beth shook her head. "A song isn't advice about life, Alice. Mr. Elton John has been known to be a pretty messed-up fellow himself. And anyway, I thought you only really liked Nine-Inch Nails."
"OH, Mom, that was LAST year. And anyway, have you so soon forgotten, I like CHOPIN, too. Though Elton is more Liberace than Chopin. Yeah, I know who HE was, too. ALL creative people are screwed up in the romantic department. Makes up for the fact that either, they don't have kids, or as many as the general public, and don't do often do well by them, anyway. Aunt Christine is creative in her own way--- she created a life nobody else could have done."
"By having a 'man's job'? I did that TOO, young lady, and was happily married and brought up 3 kids into the bargain. It was dangerous, but a good job with great benefits."
"But that's the difference, Mom! Aunt Christine didn't NEED the great benefits--- she didn't NEED a job at all--- but she went ahead and did it, anyway, when SHE could have been a lawyer, or a doctor, or an artist in Paris--- or just the pretty, rich wife of any of the above! The BOTH of you could have gotten your heads blown off. In YOUR case, it would have been a terrible tragedy, leaving a husband to bring up 2, then 3 kids alone, but thank heaven you had those benefits! But in HER case--- maybe it would have been a fitting end of her personal 'novel'."
"That's just plain--- plain---" Mary Beth wanted to say "stupid", but maybe Alice was on to something. She had always thought of Christine as a great cop with an otherwise empty, or at least, SEARCHING kind of life, but maybe that was her destiny. The careless heiress with money to burn, but whose ability and willingness to do so had helped a frightened stranger out of a terrible, life-threatening mess; the brash and brave policewoman; the partner and friend, loyal beyond sense sometimes, but willing to stand in the path of an oncoming truck, to take a bullet, to clamber to a railing above a merciless cliff, and to almost KILL the man she LOVED, to save others; a woman of unbridled ambition and passion for everything she did--- and yet, even without spouse and children , Christine DID have encumbrances which she never shed .... Her father, her brother and his daughters, Mary Beth and her family, the fellows at the old 14th precinct, and, lately, the Collinses....
Everything Christine did WAS larger than ordinary life, but she had anchors which held her down, yet also enriched her, gave substance to this "novel" Alice spoke of. And now, they were in this dream-like place, where fiction became fact, quirks became gifts, and a life's novel could come to an amazing conclusion, rather than the usual dreary rundown of weakening powers, chronic illness.... welcome death. Sure, death WOULD come, but maybe, if one was immersed in some adventure, it would take one unaware, perhaps just a continuation of the game, played out in another plane of existence. In Collinsport, more than other places, one certainly had the impression that death WASN'T the end....
Still, it never did to admit that a teenaged child MIGHT have a point. Mary Beth fell back on conventionality. "What are you saying, Alice? If Christine had been killed, it WOULD have been a tragedy. Her father and brother would have missed her, and her nieces. I sure would have missed her, and all our brothers and sisters in the Force."
Alice asserted, "But her life would have
been COMPLETE, in a weird way. Still, I'm glad she DIDN'T die, because I
believe it's meant for her to come back here. That's what I'M meant to do, to
convince her. She helped to save me twice; once before I was born, and again,
in that cave. You WON'T agree with me, but THIS might be the saving of Aunt
Christine. If she DOESN'T come, it's her choice, but I think I can talk her
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Alice was gratified to hear Christine pick up the phone after just 2 rings. Her mother's friend must still have been keyed-up, anticipating yet another emergency. Alice dispensed with the usual "Hello, how are you?"
"Aunt Christine, don't panic! It's just Alice--- everything's cool here. HONEST!"
"That's a relief," the older woman sighed. ""Things have just gotten interesting HERE. The D.A. dropped a juicy murder case, practically in my LAP, the instant I reported for work this A.M. I will probably be tied up for at least a month." But she would still have time to disinterr her parents and have all those blood tests....
"Well, that's too bad.... I guess you must have heard by now, Elliot's Mom wants you and my Mom as godmothers for the baby."
"Yeah, but when I mentioned my current availability, Hallie agreed to wait out the month, until I can steal a weekend. If little Roger gets sick, God forbid, in the meantime, of course she'll have him christened ASAP, with Carolyn or maybe the eldest daughter--- Emily, right?--- to stand in. However, after all that baby's already been through, he might be able to survive ANYTHING. I sometimes think human babies are the strongest things on Earth, even if they're the most helpless--- I've pulled them out of dumpsters in winter, breathless and blue, and they were revived, somehow, and they lived to grow up, healthy if not always happy."
"Little Roger Carl will wait for you. That's the middle name Mrs. Collins chose so she wouldn't get both Rogers confused."
"THAT'S fitting.... in light of the fact
that both Rogers are, to be blunt, lacking in the hair department. Anyway, I
know Mary Beth is still the Sheriff, made it to luncheon after David Collins's
saw Elliot, though, I heard?"
"Yes, and Hannah, and Johnny Newman. After Elliot left, Johnny and Hannah and I spent some time together." Alice maintained a light tone as she said, "We went to visit Mr. Collins."
"Oh...." Christine sounded strange--- sad and uneasy. "Does your mother know about that?"
"Yes, Johnny told her. She was pretty
upset, but he and I both tried to reassure her about it. Mr. Collins
was-- was very kind to me, the way he was when we first met. We came to an understanding. He wanted me to know, and to let YOU know, 'IT' won't EVER happen again."
"I don't think you can really be sure about that, Alice. Lightning DOES strike twice in the same place sometimes, and people DO attack other people repeatedly--- if not necessarily right away. Especially when it's a MAN attacking a WOMAN. YOU must know THAT, from listening to your Mom and myself during umpteen rape and domestic abuse investigations!"
"There WAS no rape--- except almost from Jason McGuire. Barnabas wanted to 'marry' me in some weird ceremony--- I don't think SEX was the point of it, though maybe we wanted to. AT THAT TIME. Even though I don't think vampires really CAN--- if you know what I mean. It's more like, they WANT to, and the victims want to, but there's really nothing they can do, but the blood-sucking thing. That's what Elliot told me, anyway--- his uncle knew all about it. Even so, Mr. Collins GOT OVER the curse when we were still in the cave, didn't he?"
"Yes," the older woman choked.
"Then, what did he do?"
"He turned to ME, who had just tried to SHOOT him for YOUR sake! He wanted to HELP! And for once, I don't think he had ANY ulterior motive beyond trying to save his soul--- he thought he was going to DIE shortly, and wanted to salve his conscience." Christine wept. "I don't know if he's really 'saved' or not."
"Maybe he is. Aunt Christine, he gave me a message for you. Not in so many words, but he wanted you to know. He will never cross the line again."
"He's done it before---"
"NOT with the same people. And he never did that to his late wife--- for some reason, if someone starts to remind him of the late Mrs. Collins, it stops him. Or his little sister."
"I'm NOT Julia, you're NOT Sarah--- I can't count on a promise based on such a flimsy premise. Even if it's true he never returned to the exact same victims."
"The curse is GONE, Aunt Christine. Someone would probably have to come from the pit of Hell to make a new curse on Barnabas, or Jeremy, for that matter. Why BOTHER, when there is so much 'normal' evil to accomplish in the outside world?"
"Because some people, or DEMONS, never get enough kicks, Alice. Serial killers, it is said, continue with fresh and more grotesque butcheries because they're always looking to top themselves. The Collinses are a perfect target, always standing in one place, it seems. Look at Jeremy--- he and Vicki SHOULD move away, but they won't. ELLIOT should probably think about moving after he's done with college, if the evil stays away from him until then. But HE won't, and I worry about YOU if you eventually choose to marry him. They can't LET themselves get away from that damned hill of horror!"
"It hasn't ALWAYS been horrible, Aunt Christine. It just needs a few good men, or women, to make a stand. Isn't that what you and Mom did, all those years you were cops? You KNEW there would ALWAYS be crimes, and that punishment from human justice was never guaranteed. But you kept it up, because of the good that DID exist, even in the dirty, smelly, sinful old city."
"I sometimes question the value of what we did, even NOW, honey. I question the value of investigating THIS crime! But you're right--- there IS something that still drives me, still drives your mother.... A slim shaft of hope that things WOULD settle down.... People could heal....We could learn something that would prevent future trouble...."
"HERE, you HAVE hope, Aunt Christine," Alice insisted. "We went through something awful, and now it's OVER. We're healing. We LEARNED. How often DID that ever happen in the city?"
"Not a whole lot, I admit--- but this is MY world. Your mother was looking for a different world all along. She has real power now, and feels important and needed. I've HAD that, and DON'T want to give it up until I HAVE to! If I came to Collinsport, it would be like when Julia gave up her high position at that mental hospital years ago. And I couldn't even wait until retirement--- Barnabas, if he stays normal, will be pushing 80 by that time. Alice, it's all a royal mess, and it was unfair for him to make you his message girl."
"He didn't MAKE me do anything," the girl protested vehemently. "It just seemed like the right thing to do. Please don't say you WON'T consider it, Aunt Christine."
"Ironically, Alice, until you called, I WAS, but talking it out makes me realize how foolish it would be. Maybe THAT was what you were supposed to do."
"Well," a defeated and deflated Alice said, "You WILL be up for the christening, at least?"
"I will TRY. I'm sorry about the rest,
but WE'LL stay close as we can. I DO love you and your family.
I didn't realize HOW MUCH until recently--- ANOTHER good thing to come out of this crisis."
After Alice had hung up, Christine's phone rang again. This time, she was REALLY surprised at the identity of the caller. "ROGER!" she barked. "Good Lord, your ears weren't ringing, were they? I was just talking about you earlier---" And not very respectfully, she reflected with some contrition.
"Now, dear Christine, whatever you said--- and I TRUST you were only saying the nicest things---"
"Well, I've had a buzz in my ears ever since I got this hearing aid, so you couldn't POSSIBLY be responsible. We missed you today. Somehow, it will never seem like a complete family gathering without the Laceys and yourself, from now on. Though we had Mary Beth, at least."
Christine replied, "I WAS thinking of you and Hallie and the kids all day. Words can't express how much I sympathize with your loss, or regret my part in it. But you know that already. I couldn't help it in any case--- the D.A. needs me right now. And Michael and Iris. I can't possibly get back up there for another month."
Roger said wistfully, "We'll wait for you, my dear. There will always be a place for Katherine's daughter here, as long as I have anything to say about it. Maybe something will make you want to stay on permanently."
"I've heard all the pro-Collinsport arguments already. I can't imagine what ELSE
might change my mind!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
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