I shivered, my feet wet, light rain embracing me. “God, I live a cliché. I should have brought an umbrella or worn a raincoat.”
I itched, burned, to palm my weapon, to feel its inert power vibrate against the pulse of blood in my hand.
I put that Johnson’s phone to my ear.
Moments dripped by like ice cream down the side of a cone.
“Lindsey. Are you OK?”
“For now. You?”
“Did you know Sally dumped me?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“For that cop. That friend of yours.”
“Sorry for the inconvenience. The reality portion of life has been accidentally deleted.”
“Dad. I need you to call Kelley right away. Tell her where I am.”
“You have nothing to worry about. Johnson’s not going to hurt you.”
“That Johnson is the kidnapper. He’s the murderer. He’s the one who did all this to me –”
“Classic case of mistaken identity.”
“If you were insane, would you know it?”
“You and Mom are happily married. Then, one day you wake up and move in with Sally. You take up with that Johnson, smoking, drinking, having sex with men.”
Another pause into eternity.
“Well? Are those the acts of a sane man?”
“You tortured Sally. You tortured Sally!”
Dark: “She got what –” More dead air. “She-had-coming-to-her.”
“Is she dead? Did you kill her?”
“That Johnson would have. He tried to – thought he’d killed me. Is that what you want? Me, dead?”
“You’re confused. Everyone’s confused.”
“I repeat: if you were insane, would you know it?”
“You hit Mom. You put her in the hospital.”
“I remember. She had sex with –”
“You had sex with Sally and men you don’t even know.”
“If you were insane, would you know it?”
“That Johnson kidnapped Sally. How do you think she got in the basement, bound naked, behind the barred wall? You watched Johnson rape her. You listened to her scream as you raped her.” I swallowed hard. “Dad. Just what were you thinking, how were you feeling when you shoved the baseball bat in her?”
“It’s a rhetorical question. If you were insane, would you know it?”
“How’d we get here?”
“I don’t know.” Tears melded with the rain on my face. “Where are you?”
“I’m supposed to tell you we’re free.”
“Are you – free?”
“Have your car?”
“Hang up, call 911, get a bus and get you and Sally to the hospital.”
“You wanted me to call someone?”
“That’s OK. It’s too late.”
I remembered him taller.
I stood, my face to the rain, head back, as straight as my pain allowed, my cane in both hands.
He’d expect me to draw the blade. My plan was simple.
With little thrashing, he broke through the six-foot boxwoods, shook himself out, smiled from thirty feet away and approached like a school boy at his first boy-girl dance, his right hand behind his back. Twenty feet: “It’s good to see you.” Blood stained his shirt – Sally’s blood.
Fifteen feet, I broke the cane.
“You don’t need that. I’ll take it away from you as easily as I did before.” He produced a white carnation. “For you.”
I tossed the cane high, trapped in his grasp over his head. Ten feet, his eyes came back to me, my right hand tight on gray steel, my left hand cupped under my right, my left eye closed, my right eye watching his right eye, broken by the gun’s sights.
Unlike Tommy, I’d not planned a long discourse. My brain worked the trigger, my finger refused the command.
He stepped once, back, hands up, dropping the flower, palm and cane toward me. “Don’t shoot!”
If he only knew.
The rush of fire came over me, drunk with power. I had what I wanted. He feared me, cowering, panic painting his face.
Tommy didn’t want to kill anyone.
Snow didn’t want to rape me.
He dropped his hands, smirking. I must have dipped a shoulder. “You can’t pull the trigger.”
“Go ahead. Roll the fucking dice.”
“Me thinks the lady protest too much.”
The knuckles of my right hand went white. My trigger finger refused commands. Tears of rage pushed from my eyes.
One step, two. He revealed the blade from the cane, a stub, still lethal, his hand reaching toward the gray blanket above, obtaining the zenith, returning to earth, me in its path.
I couldn’t cower, wouldn’t cower. I prepared for death, his or mine.
His shoulder blew up, peppering me with blood, flesh and muscle as he spun, the blade somersaulting, impaled in the earth. He reeled into me, taking me to the wet grass, falling in a seizuring heap, his eyes watching mine, blood bubbling from his mouth.
A boot appeared on his neck. A whisper: “Stop. Police.”
Rebecca asked twice before I could answer.
“Yeah. Dandy. How’d you –”
“Child’s bones?” Sarcasm bit the air worthy of my mouth. “You’re right, though. I’d have never approved of you being bait.”
That Johnson sobbed protests.
“Please exercise your right to remain silent.” Her phone went to her ear. “Perp’s down. Need a bus at Edgewood Park. No hurry. I don’t think he’ll bleed out.” A pause. “That’s what I said. We got him.”
Rebecca looked down on me, tapped the phone off. “John’ll be OK.”
“Not that I really care.”
“Thought as much.”
“Dad and Sally?”
The phone returned to her ear. “Nothing.”
A smiled curled in Johnson’s blood.
Rebecca expertly applied handcuffs before removing her boot, allowing Johnson to get a complete breath, coughing blood. She emptied his pockets and patted his legs, arms and torso.
Sitting up, I retrieved his cell from the wet grass and flipped through the menu. “H? Is that what you call him? That’s so butch.”
“Why don’t you go wait in the car, out of the rain?”
I shrugged. “Can’t get much wetter.” I pushed the button, nodding to Rebecca. “Hey, Dad.” I unfolded Johnson’s wallet, causally working through the contents.
“Is everything OK?”
“Depends. You’re not coming in?”
“Johnson’ll explain it all.”
“Is that Sally crying? What’s going on? Where are you?”
“Put Johnson on.”
“When did it start?”
“You and him. The fun and games?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you take up with your new playmate before or after he fucked me up?”
“I don’t like you talking like that.”
“Too fucking bad. Where you involved in my kidnapping?”
“Of course not!”
“When did you know your new BFF fucked me up?”
I rolled my eyes. “Best friend.”
“Honestly, when you told me. I still don’t believe it. Not you, you know.”
“What are you doing?”
“I can’t expect you to understand.”
Rebecca closed her phone, shaking her head. I was hoping for a trace.
“Dad, let me come see you.”
“Put Johnson on.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I capped his ass,” I lied.
“I shot him. Ambulance is on the way. It was an accident. He wanted to stab me. I didn’t want to get stabbed.”
“Where’d you get a gun?”
“All my friends are cops, remember?”
“Let me come see you. Where are you?”
Two paramedics joined us.
“I don’t know. I’ll ask.”
A paramedic informed Rebecca that Johnson’s injury was severe, that she had to remove the handcuff so her vic could be stabilized.
She nodded down to the kneeling man. “That’s too bad.”
“Well! You’ll be responsible if –”
She sneered her badge number, slowly.
“County General.” John was uptown. “You going to meet me there?”
“What’s going on, Dad? What’s happened?”
“I can’t expect you to understand.”
“Let’s meet up. We can talk about it.”
“I’m on to you.”
“You can’t trick me.”
The paramedics gurneyed Johnson to the ambulance.
“We have to go.” Rebecca offered a hand.
I tapped the phone off in the middle of Dad’s sentence. “I’m OK. I’ll call a cab. Need to get out of these wet clothes. I need your laptop.”
“Come with me. Backup’s coming. As soon as anyone arrives to sit on him, I’ll take you home.”
Rebecca led the way through traffic, lights and siren, but under the speed limit.
“Where’d you get the gun?”
“Fair enough. I can’t let you keep it.”
“No problem. I don’t need it anymore.”
“Not that it did you any good.”
“I thought I could, you know, look him in the eye and pull the trigger.”
“Not as easy as people seem to think.”
“Yeah. And, you know what?”
“I’m glad I’m not that person.”
“The person who can look a human being in the eye and shoot him.”
She smiled. “What’d you find?”
I worked her laptop on my knees. “You really want him to bleed out?”
“Can’t stop fate.”
“You could have shot him through the center of his chest instead of high on his shoulder.”
“You were in the line of fire.”
I blushed. “Thanks.”
“Gotta always be careful of what’s beyond what you’re shooting at.”
“Collateral damage. Never thought of that.”
Her head bobbed. “What’d you find?”
“I’ve been puzzling about his employment record, you know, starting the day he joined the happy family at the supermarket.”
“Just because we didn’t find –”
“He’s lived his life under the radar. We’re not going to find the house. Not searching Leroy Johnson, anyway.” I flipped a worn piece of cardboard between my fingers. “Library card. Different name.”
Rebecca put her phone to her ear. “Yeah, positive ID from the kid. 100%. He’s our guy. I didn’t bother reading his rights, with all the forensics.”
Kelley and Mort came beside us in an unmarked.
“We’re off to Lindsey’s. I’ll catch up.”
We pulled away, Kelley’s car falling in our position, two squad cars dropping inline behind the ambulance.
“We’re covering the crime scene, I mean at the cemetery. You’ll need to give a statement. Kelley’s going to want to leave the gun out, but don’t. It’s better to tell the truth and deal with that, than lie and have to deal with the crime and the lie.”
“Understood. Think I’ll get any hard time?”
I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and poked the buttons on Johnson’s cell phone. “Hey.”
“Hey, Lind, news?”
“Yeah, Jay, but I wanted to hear your voice.”
Jay choked, tears obvious. “It’s over.”
“Dad’s still MIA.”
“You think a victim?”
“Oh, God, Lind. That would explain a lot.”
“We planned two weeks, go from there. I’m going to press Dad hard to the hoop.”
“If my vote counts, I want you home – now. I gotta walk into Hell one more time –”
“For your Dad, yeah.”
“The woman your Dad was hitting?”
“Yeah. He’s got her.”
If Sigmund Freud were alive, he might discard the Oedipus Tale and replace it with the Lindsey Tale.
I gave Rebecca one of Mom’s robes, putting her clothes in the dryer.
I didn’t hurry through the shower. The universe would roll over me on its own schedule and what I did, didn’t matter, wouldn’t change anything. I pulled on loose-fitting jeans, socks and sneakers, a simple tank top, tying my hair back in a long ponytail.
“How’d you get so smart?” Rebecca asked.
“Lucky guesses. Find it?”
“Property in Atlantic County. Seems he owns a cemetery.”
“Raining, old house on a hill in a cemetery? I live a cliché.”
Rebecca dressed. “War room, going to suit up. Coming?”
I came up on Kelley. “Old money.”
“So it would seem. Doodles.”
Rebecca slung her assault rife across her chest, hardly looking like a Doodles. “Kelley.”
I shared the logistics I knew. Kelley was concerned with the time between hitting the front door and getting to the basement.
“Kelley. Again. Put Rebecca at my back. Let me go in. He’s my father. I can talk him down.”
Kelley narrowed her eyes against the steady rain and dark clouds. “I will not put you in harm’s way.”
“He’s my father. Rebecca’s got my back. He panics, he could kill Sally.”
“He could kill you, then Sally.”
“I trust Rebecca, have faith. She’s non-threatening.”
“I mean you don’t appear the lethal threat you are. Let’s see if we can get to the end of the day with no one dead.”
Gnashing her teeth, not turning to us, Kelley nodded. “Doodles, if you’re willing to volunteer, drop your body armor.”
Mort bent, installing an earwig. “So I can whisper sweet nothings. We’ll be able to bring our formidable power to bear in seconds.”
“Won’t be needed. I’ll give you the all clear once Rebecca’s boot’s on his neck.”
“You, Lindsey, are a true hero.”
“Nah. Just getting in fate’s way.”
“All it takes to be a hero is run toward the gunfire instead of away from it. And, you’ve done that already.” Kelley gave me a sharp nod.
“When I get done here, I’m retiring the cape and tights.”
The house loomed on a hill, floating in the sky. The winding road, almost a dirt path, but too wide not to be called a road, was unkempt like the house, my shoes slipping, cane grabbing the mud. Rebecca, an eye on me, the other ahead, trudged slowly in front.
I pulled on my cane, realizing Rebecca positioned herself to take a bullet from the house. “Dad’s never fired a gun. He couldn’t hit us in good weather.”
“You’re walking away from this, else I’ll be dead.”
He’s just my father, not a monster.
Rebecca did appear unthreatening in civvies, black dress pants, white shirt, the lace of her white bra teasing under the wet cotton. She’d taken her tie off at the house.
Shifting my weight, swinging my right leg, I pulled on the cane, running the gauntlet of police, all nodding, all willing to step in front of a bullet – for me. The house was surrounded and secured. Two ambulances sat down the hill beyond Kelley, a reminder of the worst-case scenario.
Nearing the house, I dropped my slicker to the ground, allowing the rain to pelt my face. I stepped onto the porch, setting my cane next to the door. “I’ll take the lead, now.”
Rebecca opened her mouth, changed her mind, turning the knob, pushing the door open. “I was hoping I didn’t have to use my shoulder.”
“I was thinking of knocking.”
The sick-sweat odor of rancid bean curd lo Mein assaulted me, twisting my stomach. I swallowed hard, hesitating.
“Yeah, dandy. Memories.”
“I’ll take him, if you want.”
“I know you will. You may not get this, but this is mine to do.”
A sharp nod.
The old plank door stood sentinel across the living room. I knew the door, having spent unimaginable hours staring up the stairs at the other side.
On the other side, where my life had been taken from me.
Mort, in body armor, appeared beside me. I nodded to the door. Three strides later, he opened it.
The odor of mold, musk from the darkness, kidnapped me.
“Dad? It’s me.”
Sally sobbed, unable to scream anymore.
“Dad. I’m coming down.”
I touched the switch, the switch I’d watch that Johnson touch so many times, sinking me in darkness.
“Dad. I know you’re confused. I know you’re scared –”
“I’m not scared!”
“OK. We need to talk. Now. I’m coming down. We’ll talk, then I’ll go.”
I hobbled, twisting down the steps, clinging to the railing.
“God, Lind, I hate to see you like this.”
You hate to see me.
We reached the bottom, Dad ten feet away, Sally through the bars, beyond, bound, naked, sobbing. Dad’s hands, soaked red.
“Rebecca, my nurse. I lost my cane, need help walking.”
Rebecca whispered, my earwig buzzing with her report to Kelley.
“Sally’s hurt. Let Rebecca have a look, take her out of here.”
“No! Don’t you see! Don’t you see!”
“She made me do bad things! Not her, but –” He deflated. “She’s so beautiful, you know.”
Yeah, let’s blame the vic.
I tilted my head, just a little. “You had to take her beauty away?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Mistaken belief in reclaiming your power.
“Wanna watch! Johnson said you’d like it! Watch!”
Dad retrieved a baseball bat from the floor, turning to the gate into the cage, entering, kneeling before Sally.
I bit my lip and then answered Rebecca. “Try not to hit Sally.”
Rebecca produced her .44 semi-automatic, which comically dwarfed her hands, rushing Dad, moving in the close quarters. “Stop! Police! Drop the bat!”
More of surprise than apprehension, more of luck than scheme, more of happenstance than providence, Dad stood, spinning, leading with the bat, grazing Rebecca’s shoulder and connecting with the side of her head. Rebecca stumbled hard into the stacked stone wall, her gun firing impotently three times like Tommy’s gun going off when I stabbed him.
As Rebecca hit the wall, I hit Dad with an ineffective body block, the bat coming back around, pushing me into the bars. Dad wound up like Babe Ruth aiming for right field. I reached deep into my soul and with all the power of my bent, broken and frail body, kicked Dad in the crouch.
Dad laughed, taking his stance again like at a family softball game.
Rebecca lost her gun and half her vision. She managed to gain her knees and rabbit punch Dad in the kidneys. He swung at her again, me hanging on his arm like pants on a clothesline.
An arm wrapped around my waist, taking me off the floor, holding me like a sack of groceries. Another hand came flat to Dad’s chest, pushing him back eight feet, slamming him into the wall. Dad protested, the bat and his free hand working at the air.
The hand moved from Dad’s chest to Dad’s throat, lifting him on his toes. “Lind. You OK?”
“Yeah, Mort. You can put me down, now.”
Mort snarled. “You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney –”
I stumbled to Rebecca, sitting up against the wall. She put a hand to my face, her right eye crimson.
“Should have fired a warning shot in his knee or something.”
She groaned. “Is my mascara running?” She rolled her eyes. “I should have seen that coming. I know better.”
“Too much focus on collateral damage.”
Kelley pulled me to my feet and away, making room for paramedics. “Should have stormed the room.”
I looked out over the gravestones, like a crowd watching up at me, silent in the rain, waiting for me to speak.
Kelley poked her phone. “Sally’s pretty fucked up. Doctor says much longer, she’d be dead.”
“Doctors with their fucking hyperbolic fortune telling. Pisses me off. They don’t know the future any better than you or I. Been a really wet spring.”
“Good for the flowers.”
I closed my eyes to the clouds, life and the rain. “So, Rebecca?”
“She’ll be OK.”
“But. There’s but in your voice.”
“They don’t know for sure –”
“Yes, they do.”
“They do. She lost sight in her right eye.”
“Fuck. Which means she’ll lose her job. Her life.”
“Not really –”
“Yeah, she can shuffle papers in the property room, maybe they’ll let her change the rolls in the toilet.”
I gnashed my teeth, squinting, holding back tears. “Fuck.”
“Lindsey.” Kelley allowed air to escape from between her teeth.
“I’m going to have to call Family Services.”
“Great. Now I get to uproot my life like pulling a rotten tooth and go live with strangers who won’t make eye contact and still claim to understand.”
“If there’s a relative –”
“Not that I know of. We can ask Mom in one of her rare moments of lucidity. I’ll stay with Jay when she gets back.”
“Until then –”
“I’ll call Mr. Steinberg. I’m sure he’ll let me stay on his sofa or something.”
A search of the house turned up a detailed diary. “They’re buried out there.”
“Seems it’s hereditary.”
“Grandfather.” Kelley closed the book. “This’ll close a dozen cold cases, at least.”
“I guess if you have to dispose of a body –”
“Good place, among bodies.”
“Why dumpsters, then, do you think?”
“Show off his work? The desire to get caught?”
“Offer the families closure.” I nodded. “I’m not sure he even knows for sure. He’s driven by currents so deep, it’s going to be difficult to tell truth from fiction.”
Hours dripped from my life like water from a faucet with a worn washer, rainwater streaming from the downspout. I felt trapped, bound to the porch, unable to move forward, unable to walk away.
Kelley came and went. “We’re wrapping up. I can’t take you back to your house.”
“Understood. I’ll call a cab.”
“You can ride with me to the hospital.”
“That’ll work. I need a few moments.”
“I mean: down there.”
“OK. I’ll –”
The memories didn’t need flood back. The memories haunted me like the pain cascading down my back, searing my leg muscles. I sat in the chair, the chair Sally had been secured, the chair he beat me in, raped me in, tormented my body and soul in.
Sally’s blood still sticky over my dried blood and the dried blood of countless vics.
I closed my eyes, imaging a child at the elbow of an older man, the older man violating women, children. I thought, maybe, that Johnson was angry, hurt, disappointed with the death of his schoolmate crush, Helena. He was angry he didn’t get to violate and kill her.
An act he repeated many times.
An act reserved only for God, crippling human beings and then killing them like age does.
I glanced up the stairs to the wooden door. “Wasn’t it godlike enough to have created me, Dad?”
Bending, I retrieved Dad’s lighter from the floor. He’d bought the lighter to light the cigars that Johnson was so fond of.
Sally might have been physically the most beautiful human being I’d ever seen. They took that away from her. Flicking the lighter lit, then snapping it shut, I agreed with myself to visit Sally, to hold her hand, to let her know I, like no other, understand what she’d been robbed of.
In that moment, the wall fell down. I saw Sally as myself, a fully fleshed out human being and in the moment, I loved Sally as much as any human being could love another.
All the crimes I felt Sally committed against me, man or society washed away like silt from the rain gutter.
Forgiveness set me free. Forgiveness gave me power.
I turned the wheel, the lighter’s wick coming to life, dancing, inviting. With a wiggle, I pulled the lighter apart, digging out the foam sloppy with lighter fluid, putting it to the flame.
The flame touched me, dropped to the floor, an insatiable beast racing to consume everything.
The fire: an insatiable beast, racing to consume everything.
The sun blistered from above, painting my face, grass slope rolling down to the corn field, eight hats of various styles and colors bobbing among the three-foot stalks.
“Hoeing is very important to the Farm Hands education,” I said, Janet coming beside me.
She followed my stare. “It is. Maybe we should get them out of the sun.”
I shrugged. “They’re well-oiled, covered.”
“I’d not planned to be here long.”
Janet removed her floppy hat, placing it on my head, squirreling a notebook from her jean back pocket. “Dr. Bosch confirmed.”
“The night before.”
I let out a slow breath. “After five years, you’d think this would be in the rearview.”
“It’ll always be part of you – us.”
“I mean specifically the disposition of my father’s case. Ronnie is not only a close friend, but a confidant. This shit with my father gets in the way. He could get out on an insanity plea?” I watched the dancing hats below in the corn. “The man I saw in the jail cell, the man I saw in the basement scares the fuck out of me.”
“But not your mother?”
I rolled my eyes. “Both of them. The people I knew and loved don’t exist any longer.”
“When we hang onto a youth that no longer exists –”
“We get trapped, blah, blah and exactly. Like you said to me. I can let them go and look at who they are today. Dad slipped his mooring, crazy as fuck, a danger to himself and others. I have the feeling, but Ronnie has the paper. Mom is going to sit staring out that window not sure who she is or where she is until she dies.
“After what she did, I’m not forgiving enough to wipe her butt for life. There’s professionals for that.”
“I’m not saying I disagree.”
“I know, Jay. I’m shouting to the wind.”
Janet flipped paged. “Oh, Sally confirmed, too.”
“Good. I’ll find some private time to sit, just her and me.”
“You did say you needed someone who’d been through the fire.”
“Wanted, I think I said.”
“Kelley gave me a verbal on the crew, said she’s going to rent a small bus or large limo, all ride up together.”
“The whole crew? Did she run down the list?”
“I have it here, everyone. Jack’s not called me back.”
“Sorry. Jack, his wife, two kids, tweens. We had a long talk this morning. He jumped to the conclusion I wanted him to give me away.”
Janet snickered. “Mabel is the only choice for that.”
“It’ll be good to see everyone all in one place again. Total.”
“One-fifty, give or take.”
“Mabel was really excited, thinking of all the cooking. I told her I wouldn’t have it. I want her to enjoy the day.”
“That is a lot of people to cook for.”
“The caterer Mr. Steinberg sent over is just amazing. I’d never thought of any of that.”
“The suggested ice sculpture was a bit much, not us at all.”
“I think we hacked off half of what she wanted to do.”
“So much for the small, intimate affair.”
“People love us, want to be involved in our celebration.”
“Well, let’s not deprive them.”
I nodded to the hats bobbing in the corn. “Let’s get them out of the sun, back to the barracks, get the iced tea flowing. I think I’ll tell a story.”
“Maybe I’ll tell some of it this time.”
“I look back on everything I had to endure to get to this moment. I can’t curse the fire if I love the metal it forged.”
“I happen to love who you are, too.”