“So what happens now?” Della resignedly asked. She sat on the side of the bed and watched as Steve carefully folded the shoulders of his coat inwards and draped it across the overstuffed chair in the corner.
“The charge was dismissed without prejudice, so maybe we’ll be able to refile the case or maybe we’ll end up filing against someone else, but basically, it’s back to square one. The judge ruled to not bind the case over for trial because she felt that the evidence was insufficient to meet the probable cause standard.”
“So that’s it? He just gets off?”
“Well, no…not necessarily. Everything needs to be gone over with a fine tooth comb. We’ve got to go back to the beginning, reevaluate the evidence, reinterview the witnesses.”
“Are you going to maybe look at the mom? Talk to her co-workers? Recreate the drive from her work to her house and time it? I still think she could have had time to leave work, go home, kill Bea and get back to work. I could help you recreate everyone’s post mortem activities.”
“You watch too much TV. And I think you mean ante mortem. Post mortem is after the death.”
“I knew that,” Della laughed, tucked her head into her shoulders like a turtle and looked up at Steve with a twinkle in her eye.
“Whatever. You’re a dork. But yeah, you’re going to get your way. We’ll check out mom and neighbors and family members; anybody that might have had access to Bea and try to develop a new and improved theory. Maybe we’ll even time the drive from her work to home.”
Della wanted to be reassuring. “Don’t be discouraged. What does that judge know anyway? She’s probably corrupt or…”
“Can we talk about something else?”
“Okay.Who’s going to do the footwork?”
“Moira’s pulled one of our investigators from the violent felony team to help Franks and Ashram."
“Seriously? That’s an awful lot of redundant work.”
“Ya think? That’s what happens when you give in to pressure and file a case prematurely. It serves us right. The crappy part is that it reflects on me and makes me look like an ass. Moira doesn’t get any of the recoil from the mistake…I get to be her human shield against the media…and she’s the one that forced me to make the call, despite my protests. But no one will ever know but us. I’ll take all the flack from the media and the public and professional humiliation.”
“It’s Moira, now, huh? Is there something you need to tell me about? Are you cheating on me with our boss?” Della was teasing but Steve was straight-faced. She wanted him to be happy; to relax for the weekend. “Seriously…it sucks to be you. But I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks.”
“Hmpf. I’m just happy to be of service to the citizens of this fine county.” He saluted and dropped his hand sharply to his side.
Della giggled and the two smiled gently at each other. He took her hand and led her to the living room, where they settled in on the couch; Della grabbed Mary’s journal from the end table and Steve picked the newspaper off the floor to search for the section that contained the day’s crossword puzzle. They sat silently and Della opened the pages of the journal but was too preoccupied to read. She was nearing the end of the entries and it had been extremely difficult for her to refrain from going straight to the end.
If she had been in possession of the journal just five years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation. It used to be that every time she read a book and reached the meat of the story, or the part with all the action, she jumped ahead and read the ending. The stress of wondering if the good guy made it through alive or if the young lovers reunited was just too much for her. She knew what they say about old habits but she eventually retrained herself from spoiling it…to relish the story and enjoy the suspense until the sweet sensation when the book is closed for the last time.
Della awoke and found Steve asleep with his head laid back on the couch, the folded newspaper still in his hand. She shook him by the shoulder. “Hey, let’s go to bed.”
Steve grumbled, rolled his eyes open and ran a hand through his hair. “K.”
Della passed the filing cabinet on the way into the bedroom and momentarily thought of its contents. She walked into the room and trailed her hand across Steve’s suit coat on the back of the chair.
“God, I’m glad it’s Friday. I’m so tired I could sleep for a week.”
“Hmmm,” Della absentmindedly responded as she changed into her nightgown.
Steve removed his pants and uncharacteristically dropped them on the floor where he stood and left them there. He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his face with both hands. “CJ’s been awful quiet tonight. What’s up with that?”
“He’s at Max’s for the night, remember?”
“Hmmm.” It was Steve’s turn to be absentminded. “Maybe we can all go to breakfast in the morning.”
Della laughed out loud, “He’s at Max’s, silly.” The words fell on deaf ears as Steve collapsed and fell asleep as soon his head hit the downy softness below.
Della stood in the doorway between the two rooms and strained in the dappled darkness to make sense of the muffled conversation she could have sworn she heard coming from CJ’s room. She braced her hand against the exposed core of the two walls and found herself being annoyed for not getting the doorway covered with drywall yet. She looked back to see that Steve was still sound asleep. The red lines of the digital clock on the nightstand read 1:11 AM.
She walked back through her bedroom and into the kitchen. The glass panes of the back door were cool against her cheek as she placed her ear over the sliver of space between the door and the frame to see if she could hear talking from next door. All was silent. She journeyed through the living room, the laundry room and the bathroom. Nothing unusual was going on outside. No crazy kids running amok. No traffic. No backyard party conversation traveling over the breeze. The doors were all locked. Windows secured.
Having convinced herself that she must have just imagined it, Della padded back to bed, crawled in and settled in a fetal position. She let her mind wander from Steve to CJ to drywall to Baby Bea and back to Steve. Delicious waves of slumber began to dull her mind and she gently dozed off, still thinking of Steve.
“Oh, my God!” Della gasped and propped herself up on her arm. The murmuring of voices had again risen from the darkness. The speech was muffled, but the intonations were distinctly feminine and they were coming from CJ’s room.
Steve was softly snoring. The dogs were still. Surely they would have heard the voices, too. They tended to rouse if a stray cat came anywhere within 20 feet of the house. How could she hear it and no one else, she wondered?
Della sat up and hesitantly walked to the doorway of her son’s room. She rubbed her eyes and realized that her vision was not blurred…the room was misty. The muted light from the moon fell not on CJ’s bed, but a crib. The figure of a woman in a long skirt was bent over the railing and Della surmised, from the movement of the woman’s arms, that she was tending to a baby…Ivy.
Della’s mind raced. Oh, sweet Lord! This woman…Mary…wasn’t tending to Ivy, she was getting ready to kill her. Della was puzzled…had she traveled back in time? Was this an echo of the past? Had two realms of existence intersected? Would she be able to intervene and change the outcome? Could she save Ivy and change the course of events?
As she stepped into the room, a wave of coolness like the spray from a waterfall entered her body from behind and she heard what was now the non-existent door close behind her. As the sensation spread through her, she experienced the same wave of knowing that she had felt when Bruce and the paranormal team had been there. For the moment of passing, just for that brief instant, she was Mary again. She knew Mary’s mind, she sensed her feeling of confusion. She felt Mary exit her body and saw her step toward the figure over the crib. Della was terribly confused. How could there be two Marys? Both standing in front of her at the same time? Had three different dimensions collided?
“What are you doing? What’s going on here?” The passing Mary asked the Mary standing at the crib.
The Mary at the crib withdrew her hands and spun to face her counterpart.
“Mother Anders!” Mary cried.
Della could see Ivy wriggling in the crib behind Cy’s mother’s skirt.
“Stay away, girl!” She spread her arms out to the side.
“But I don’t understand. What are you doing here?”
“Keep your voice down. I don’t want Cy to wake up.”
“That is not an explanation. What are you doing?”
“I’m taking care of what should have been taken care of a long time ago. Cy must never know.”
“Know what?” Mary stretched to look past Mother Anders into the crib. “Oh, my God! She’s struggling…she can’t breath. What have you done?” Mary was frantic.
“You have ruined my family…my son. He thinks he’s leaving for Denver, because of you and this child, mind you, but I’ll not let that happen. It was bad enough when he married you. I knew he wasn’t happy, but at least your marriage kept him here close to me. When this child came along, I thought he might have a chance at happiness…I thought that it would anchor him to Midvalley, not drive him away. I tried to make you become a better mother; to mold you both into a family that would make him want to come home instead of go away.”
Mary tried to reach past her mother-in-law to grab the crib but the woman took a step to the right and blocked her path. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of it yourself. I’ve seen the disdain in your eyes when you look at her. I’ve seen the way you neglect the child. It’s no wonder she cries all the time. Don’t try now to pretend like you are a doting mother! You don’t even bother to feed her. You’re just a selfish girl who wants all of Cy’s attention. Ivy will be gone and you’ll go to jail. I’m killing two birds with one stone. When his burden is lifted, Cy will stay. He’s my son. I love him. I need him.”
Ivy’s curled left hand lifted from the mattress one last time and came to rest.
“No, child, you’re the one who’s crazy. Everyone will think that you’ve done this. Do you think that others haven’t noticed how you ignore the child? Everyone in town talks about how you isolate yourself and don’t care for your family. Ivy’s the skinniest and most underfed baby they’ve ever seen. You don’t go to the junction anymore when your husband comes home. You’re the topic of gossip on everybody’s lips. You will go to jail and I will have my son back. No one will believe you if you try to say that I did it. I’ve been here my whole life. This town knows me and respects me. They’ll blame the crazy, lazy mother.”
“This can’t be happening.” Mary wiped away a tear.
Mother Anders slapped Mary across the face. Hard. With the back of her hand. Mary fell to the floor and scrambled to right herself and crawl to her knees.
“Please don’t do this.” Mary pleaded as she sat back on her feet and dropped her head into her cupped hands. Mother Anders turned sharply and left the house; her skirts rustling with each solid step.
Della stood, transfixed, as she watched Mary sob quietly. A dark and angry breeze brushed Della’s cheek and she gasped. Mother Anders’ plan had backfired. The town had blamed Cy, not Mary. It was all clear to her now. His mother had been blind to the flaws that others saw in him. She thought he was perfect. She never even dreamed that they would point the finger at anyone other than Mary.
The young Mary took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her eyes and sat staring ahead for what seemed much longer than it actually was. She eventually stood and paused, open-mouthed, and stepped up to the crib and the breathless body inside. She leaned over, reached in with two fingers and loosened a remnant of fabric from the child’s mouth.
The dark and angry breeze brushed Della’s cheek again and grew and stretched as it swirled throughout the room, filling every corner, every nook and crack. Mary crumbled again to the floor as the rushing heat passed by her and she turned back and looked up to meet Della’s eyes.
A figure appeared in front of Mary. She turned back and looked up.
Oh, my God, Della whispered. Cy. He reached his hand down to Mary and pulled her to her feet. Their gaze remained steadfast as the heat in the room intensified and they melted into the swirling darkness.
“Della! Della! What are you doing? Get out of there…NOW!!!”
Della blinked her eyes and realized that the room was filled with heavy smoke and she could hear the crackling pops of fire, hidden, but nearby, somewhere in the house.
Steve threw his suit coat over Della’s head and pushed her to the floor. “Crawl! Fast! As fast as you can! I’ll be right behind you!”
Della lifted the coat above her eyes and could see that the dogs had made their way to the front door in an effort to escape. They were clawing at the door. She had to get to them quickly. Her lungs were burning…theirs must be ready to explode. She reached up and turned the door handle. Nothing. She stretched to her knees to flip the deadbolt. This time the door opened and Spike and Maxine ran out…straight into the arms of neighbors who had begun to assemble.
She stumbled and felt hands grabbing her from every direction; pulling Steve’s coat off of her, wrapping a blanket around her, trying to comfort her.
“Oh, my God! Steve!” she screamed and turned back towards the house just as the fire truck and EMT’s arrived. The sirens were deafening. The people were screaming.
Steve stood in the doorway and shouted to her. She couldn’t make out what he was saying and the hands of her neighbors held her back as she tried to make a run towards him. “Steve! Get out of there! What the hell are you doing? Get out here! NOW!!!” She struggled desperately to break free.
“I’m going back in for CJ!” I’ll be right back!” He turned and disappeared into the blackness.
“No! No! No! He’s not here! He’s not here! Come back! He’s at Max’s! I told you he was there! Come back!”
To Be Continued