Sunday afternoon has few enough customers that Zeke takes the opportunity to set up the library for our latest venture. I’m still not sure about teaching; if I don’t know how I do what I do, how on earth can I explain it to anyone else? But I have to agree with my beloved about being a part of the greater community and if this is what it takes to honor that connection then I guess we’ll do it.
Daniel and Gerald time their arrival perfectly, walking up to the entrance just as I am turning the sign over to “Closed”. I step out of the doorway and let them in. They both—of course!—hug me as they enter and then wait for me to lock the door. I point them towards the library just as Zeke comes out.
“Hello!” He steps into the hugs they are handing out. Zeke knows which team he bats for and is neither threatened as so many men are by homosexuality itself nor by signs of affection from members of the same sex. I admire both his deep sense of self and his completely unthinking acceptance of others’ alternative lifestyles. He has no doubts and therefore does not have to wrestle with the concept or scope of tolerance.
We all file into the library and settle into our chairs. Daniel pulls out a piece of paper and hands it to Zeke.
“These are the books I have read. On the back are Gerald’s. We also brought the books we’re reading now.” He turns the stack so that we can look at the titles. I peer over Zeke’s shoulder to look at the lists with him. Pretty standard stuff, it seems that they’ve read a lot of the same books and most of them are frequently-referred starter books on Paganism and more specifically on Wicca.
“We even brought our Book of Shadows, such as they are. We hadn’t gotten very far in the initiation process with the coven. We don’t even have our Pagan names yet.” Gerald adds.
“Ummm guys, we don’t do the naming thing.” I hope this won’t deter them. I can understand why it’s done but having a “magickal” name has never been important to either of us.
They glance at each other and this time, Gerald is appointed to answer. “That’s ok. We know that things are going to be different, learning with you two. That’s a good thing. Changing your name doesn’t mean that you have a special connection to the Universe after all. Does it?”
“Well, it can be a visible sign of the changes you have made in your life. It can be a way of identifying yourself that reminds you of your choices and the path you are seeking. On the other hand, I don’t know anyone who has actually gone to City Hall and had their Pagan name put on their birth certificate or driver’s license.” I reply.
“But we really don’t need it, if everything else is…well, going right. I mean, I don’t think so…” Daniel trails off.
Zeke grabs that last verb and takes off with it. “Gerald, Daniel. Think is exactly what you’re going to be doing. And by thinking, thinking about things, thinking about your path of action and all the possible goals, you will learn to decide what you do need to walk your path and what is superfluous. What is nice to have and what is essential. Do either of you meditate?”
As they begin to talk about what he means, exactly, I can feel myself relaxing. We can do this. It’s not going to be as difficult as I thought. Just goes to show…and they seem to enjoy the lively discussion. Almost before we realize it, our scheduled time of two hours has flown by. Zeke nicely but firmly ends the session and sends them home with a couple of meditation techniques to try out during the week so that they can report the results back the next time.
Monday’s papers report both that our area got a grand total of two inches of snow from the “big storm” they had been forecasting and that John Junior has been charged with Mike’s death, being held at the local jail pending his hearing. This doesn’t surprise either of us and I have to wonder which of the group will show up at my shop first to accuse me of putting him there. I’m glad we’re closed today since that gives me at least 24 hours of relative peace and quiet before anything happens. Boy am I wrong.
The first indication of the emotional storm –as opposed to any meteorological one—that is about to break comes right after lunch. Zeke is in the computer room and I am in the kitchen, in the process of making bread dough which I plan to make into pizza for dinner when there is a loud, determined banging on the front door downstairs. Vader takes off in a shot, barking all the way down. Before I can even dust the flour off of my hands, Zeke is following him.
I am stepping off the bottom stair as he opens the door and lets Shelly Johnson in.
“Where is she? Where is she?” She practically screams at us, her head swiveling left and right as she scans the area. “Where is that little whore?”
“Shelly.” Quietly spoken but it stops the shrillness as if Zeke had slapped her. She turns to look straight at him and swallows her next shout to speak in a more normal tone.
“Where is Laurie?” It is still strident even if the volume is greatly decreased.
“Not here. Should she be?” He asks her. “We haven’t seen her since last Monday. Why?”
“I haven’t seen her since she left the house Friday night. I can’t find her. Nobody seems to know where she is. She was supposed to go to see Sara Schmidt and spend the night with her at the foster parents’ house. I don’t have the phone number for them. So I went over there Sunday afternoon and they said that she had left early Saturday morning.” She takes a breath. “We uhhh had had a fight right before she left so I thought she was just staying with Sara out of spite. You know, to make me worry.
“After talking to Sara and finding out she’d already left there, I thought maybe she’d gone to some other friend’s house. I got up this morning and waited to see if she’d show up. When she didn’t, I decided I wasn’t going to let her call the shots, that she was going to come home even if she does hate me.” She pauses.
“So why are you here?” prods Zeke, indicating she should continue her explanation.
“Well, I checked back with Sara and they hadn’t seen her. I called a couple of people that I thought she might be with, or might have called and no one had heard from her. Then I thought of you all. She’s come to you before, when she got in trouble the first time. But I’m the only family she has now and I’m responsible for her. She is coming home with me, whether she likes it or not.”
I ask. “Does she know that you think she should stay with you?”
“Errr, well, yeah. That’s what we fought about. She isn’t old enough to be out on her own, you know she’s still a minor and so I’m the nearest thing to a parent since I was married to her father. She told me that she was going to get her own apartment and take care of the baby by herself. She didn’t mention getting a job so you gotta wonder where she thinks the money’s going to come from.”
“Perhaps the baby’s father?”
Shelly gets a nasty smile on her face. “Oh yeah, like that murdering sonuvabitch is going to be able to take care of anything except trying to avoid the electric chair. Hell, he’s not even gonna get a chance to spend one penny of his daddy’s money, assuming that he didn’t kill him as well.”
“Perhaps his mother will take on the responsibility, since it’s her grandchild. And she will have the money.” Zeke mildly points out. I notice he doesn’t try to correct her about John Junior frying—since he’s only facing charges of accidental homicide. Not a capital offense. Rather than arguing the fine points of the law, he comes to the point of our discussion. “But instead of coming here, why haven’t you called the police?”
“Because I figured she’d come here. She seems to think you all are able to do stuff. You were the ones who were gonna take her to Planned Parenthood, so why wouldn’t she come here and stay with you?”
“Because we didn’t ask her to. Shelly, you really should let the professionals look for her. Does she have a car? Is there anyone else, someone out of state, an old friend or one of her mother’s relatives that she might have gone to?”
He’s apparently put a new idea in her head since she just stands there, staring at us. After a moment, she slowly replies. “I don’t think so. She’s never mentioned anyone. She’s talked about leaving but hasn’t ever said anything about going to someone else. And yeah, she’s got a car.”
“So are you going to call the police?” It’s not a subtle nudge but I am getting a bad feeling and I want Laurie found sooner rather than later. Everyone thought Mike had just gone off and look where he ended up.
Zeke channels my thought and puts it out in the daylight where it stabs to the core. “No one knew where Mike had gone and it took a police dog to find him. Let’s not wait for that to find Laurie.”
She blanches. He is relentless. “I don’t think she’s dead, but there have been two deaths already and I’d like to see her alive, even if you two are fighting.”
“I guess you’re right. I’ll call them from home.” She turns and walks out with a whole lot less energy than she came in with.
We watch her get into her car. I turn to Zeke, who is heading for the stairs. “I thought they only had one car. What is Laurie driving?”
“You’re right and that’s one more thing to tell Paul.” He takes the stairs two at time, walking straight for the phone. I close the door and lock it back up.
When I get upstairs, he’s reached the party to whom he is speaking. “No, not since Friday. She spent the night with Sara Schmidt but the foster parents say that she left there on Saturday morning. Uh-huh. She has a car, but I don’t know whose since Shelly showed up here in what we think is their sole means of transportation. Right. Uh-huh. I don’t know. Right, we will.”
He hangs up the handset and sighs. “Paul says that they will have to wait for Shelly to call since she is responsible for Laurie, at least for now. He admits that she may not legally be the custodial parent, but there isn’t anyone else. If Laurie doesn’t want to stay with her, the state would probably take custody of her, at least until her 18th birthday, whenever that is. But he does appreciate the heads-up since it gives him a chance to get a plan organized and once Shelly contacts them, they can go straight into action.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Why wouldn’t she? And for what it’s worth, I‘d bet he’ll go ahead on his own if he hasn’t heard from her soon. He said as much. Seems he agrees with us and is afraid something may have happened to her as well. It never occurred to me that we knew so many murderers…we need a better circle of friends.”
“Oh come on, most of this group is not our friends. We just happen to know their names and not a whole lot more. Well, at least not a lot more before this all began. Now I know more about them than I ever wanted to.”
“True, which is why it irks me all the more that we are caught up in the middle of this unholy mess.” He looks over at the counter where I was working. “Ummm, I think your yeast is rising.” He points to the smelly mass that is about to overflow the measuring cup.
“Oh good grief. I forgot.” I go over and pour it down the sink. “Start again, I guess. And I have to re-measure the flour since I have no idea how many cups are in the bowl. No more interruptions!”
He snorts. “Yeah, right. Not in this madhouse.”
I measure the flour again and I am actually getting the warm water to put in the yeast again when the phone rings. I set the cup of water down—no point in wasting another packet of yeast if this is going to interfere—as I head for the phone.
But Zeke gets there first. It’s closer to the computer room anyway.
“Hello?” He listens and this half of the call is certainly not enlightening. In fact, it’s downright choppy, with none of the normal conversational flow. “Today? We’re not….oh. Yeah. Yeah. Umm, Eric—(he stops speaking as it is clear that he has been interrupted) Yeah. Sure, come on over. We’ll be waiting.”
As he hangs up the receiver, he looks over at me. “You might want to plan on something else for dinner. I don’t think you’re going to get to make bread. That was Eric Adamson and while I think he really doesn’t want to do so, he insists that he has something to tell us.”
“Eric? What do you suppose he has to say? And why do you think he doesn’t want to?”
“Gods know. Because he hemmed and hawed, but finally managed to spit it out. He was, if I may coin a phrase, reluctantly adamant about telling it. I’d guess it’s something he feels is a duty and not a pleasant one.”
“I’ve got $20 that says we end up at the police station again.”
“I’m not taking that bet because I have to agree. Since when did we become Jiminy Cricket and everyone’s conscience? I think we should just put up a sign that directs everyone down to the police station and Paul so that he can hear it firsthand. I’m tired of being the voice of reason in this insanity.”
I walk into his arms and hug him. “You got that right. We’ll do that. Right after we hear what Eric has to say.”
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“Satisfaction brought it back. And we don’t have a cat.” I sidle away before he can swat my ass and clean up the dough-making things. I guess we’ll have something else for dinner and at the rate we’re going, maybe we’ll just eat out.
I’m barely finished putting things away before Eric is knocking on the door. We both go down and once again, Zeke opens it for yet another distraught person. Eric looks…nervous, maybe even upset. All of his body language indicates that he’s not real sure he wants to be here but apparently whatever he wants to say, it’s significant enough that he feels he must.
As we head back to the conservatory, the thought crosses my head that perhaps I should furnish the living room with sofas and chairs and use that room for all of these confessions and conversations. We wouldn’t have to worry about selling things since we could charge a fee for listening…and offer a package deal if we end up having to repeat it to the cops. We could change the name of the store to “The Freudian Slip”. Sigh.
The three of us find a seat and settle down. Two of us sit there, waiting. Eric looks like he’s going to start speaking, then takes a breath and sits back. After several false starts, he finally talks.
“Now you have to understand that Lilith told me this. So I don’t know this from my own, just what she said.” We nod at him and he continues. “She didn’t make me promise not to tell, but I don’t think she really wants me to let anyone know, especially…well, especially you. She’s still really pissed at Mattie.”
“I can understand that. I’m not surprised that she feels that way.” I hope this will assuage his uneasiness, but I am not the least bit repentant. I still think I did the right thing for her.
“Yeah, well. Anyhow, I still think someone else needs to hear this and if you guys think it’s important enough and you want to tell the cops, I can deal with that too. And I’ll take care of Lil. So no worries there.”
Great, now I’m nervous. I glance over at Zeke and I can tell that he’s also getting on edge.
Eric pauses long enough that Zeke prompts him. “So what is it that we need to hear?”
He sighs. “Well, Laurie spent Friday night at Lilith’s and they had a real heart-to-heart talk about all the stuff that’s been going on.”
We nod and I elaborate. “We knew that she had been there that night. Shelly stopped by here earlier today because she hasn’t been home yet. Were you aware of that?”
“No.” This information makes him look even more unsettled. “She didn’t go home Saturday morning? She left there about 11. I actually passed her in their driveway.”
“Apparently not. Shelly had the idea that she might have come here, but we haven’t seen her in a week.”
Eric’s face wrinkles up in puzzlement and concern. “Lilith didn’t say anything about her not going home. She did tell me that they had talked most of the night. A lot of it was about…well, about the baby. We all know that John Junior is the father but now that he’s in prison, Laurie is not sure what to do. She told Lil that she had some ‘alternate’ plans but wouldn’t tell her what they were.
“She can’t get an abortion now. She’s too far along and there is no one to sign the papers. According to what she told Lilith, she seems to plan on dropping out of school. She was talking about getting a place to live and being on her own with the baby.”
“Did she tell (I hesitate just a moment to decide which name I’m going to use)—Lilith where she was going to get the money to do that?” I interrupt him.
“No. Lil had absolutely no idea. She only admitted that she actually had money and that it was enough for a long time. When I asked her if she could think of what Laurie might have meant, Lilith thought maybe she is going to inherit money from Mike? Or his life insurance?”
Not bloody likely if the police end up charging her with his death. Zeke and I exchange a look but don’t tell Eric our ideas on that. He continues.
“Well, maybe she’s going to stay with Dorie. I mean, she’s the grandmother and besides, Laurie is driving John Junior’s car around these days. So maybe that’s where she is.” He looks at each of us.
“Maybe.” Zeke answers him. “So is this all you wanted to tell us?”
“Ummm, actually it’s sort of incidental to what I really wanted to say. The background, kind of. Like I said, they really talked things out. You know, like girls, well women, do. Discussing every angle of the situation and stuff like that.” He pauses. I decide not to hurt him for blatant sexist discrimination because even I would admit that there is a great deal of truth in it. Women do tend to talk things to death.
We both can tell that he’s still struggling with whether he’s really going to say this momentous thing or not. He apparently reaches the decision to do so because he speaks again. And I would classify it as momentous. And not something to keep secret.
“Laurie told Lilith that she knew who killed her father. When Lil asked her who it was, she said that it was better for her not to know, that knowing would be bad. She said that she knew the answer from doing a couple of different kinds of divinations. While she knew that it was absolutely right, she admitted that the police wouldn’t take a tarot reading as proof, so she was looking around for evidence that they would accept.”
Oh great. She probably thought she was Nancy Drew. If she managed to actually figure out the real killer, she might end up just as dead as her father and John Robert—and it wouldn’t be an accident.
“She didn’t give any indication, no clue as to who she thought it was?” Zeke leans towards Eric. “Nothing?”
“No, Lilith says that she really wishes that Laurie had, because she’s afraid that it really is her brother, as much as she would like to think that he didn’t kill his own father. She even asked if it was John Junior, but Laurie just smiled and told her that ignorance is bliss and she wanted Lil to be as happy as possible.” Eric sighed and I had to agree with that sigh. “Laurie can be very secretive when she wants to. I think she likes having secrets, knowing things that no one else does.”
For some reason the image of the white weasel, slyly hiding behind its rabbit skin pops into my head. Yes, I’d go along with that assessment. I can only hope that this trait won’t get her killed.
We sit there in silence for a few minutes, each of us absorbed in our own thoughts. Finally Eric stands up.
“Well, I just wanted to tell you about her saying that she knows who did it. And frankly, now that you tell me she’s not at home—and since Shelly doesn’t know where she is…I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” He looks worried and sad.
We both agree with him and walk him out to the door.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do. I’ll be at Lilith’s most of the time anyways, so maybe we can help.” He goes out the door and down the walk.
We stand there and watch him go. Zeke reaches out and pulls me into his embrace. “Guess I’ll go call Paul and see if Shelly has called him. And let him know what Eric said.”
“Maybe we should just go down there?” I tip my head back to look at him.
“You got a tingling in your spider sense?” He is teasing me, but I know that he is asking if I’m being precognitive again.
“I don’t know that it’s that strong. Just a general sense of dread and the hope that being with the police might mitigate it somewhat, I guess.” I clutch onto him and we hug tightly, trying to find a moment’s peace before what promises to be a major storm.
“Let me call Paul and see if he wants us to come down.” He gently but firmly removes himself from my grasp. I settle for holding Vader and rubbing him. We sit down on the bottom step and wait for the man of the house to come back.
Within moments, he’s back and with my coat. Guess we’re going out. My “spider sense” won’t tell me if there is any dinner for us somewhere in the near future.
When we get to the station, we head straight back to Paul’s office. He is on the phone so we sit and wait for him to be done.
When he finally hangs up, he turns to look at us and I am shocked at how very tired—and old—he looks.
“Let me guess. Eric actually killed John Robert in a fit of rage about not being promoted, so in an attempt to avoid the death penalty, he is holding Laurie for bargaining power and a lesser charge and he sent you two as his messengers to work out a deal with the DA.”
“Not quite. Did Shelly even call you?” Zeke queries.
“Oh yes, invoking your names like everyone else seems to be doing.” He grins, but it just flashes by. “She said that she figured she had better call since she just knew that you all would be down here to tell me anyways.”
“Her concern and love for Laurie is overwhelming.” Zeke does sarcasm very well. “Oh well, she called.”
“Yeah. So what did our golden boy tell you? Something juicy I hope, like Laurie told Sara that she could understand about having your father dead since she sort of accidentally killed her own.” Paul has a pretty good ability to be sarcastic as well.
“Nothing that blatant. No, he verified that she had left the foster parents’ house on Saturday morning. He said that they passed on the driveway. He also suggested that she might be with Grandma Dorie and that the car she is driving is John Junior’s.”
“And he trooped all the way over to your house to tell you this?” It’s apparent that Paul does not find this worthy information. Can’t blame him, we didn’t either. So Zeke gives him the good part.
“Oh no, his real piece of news according to him is this: Laurie told Sara that she knows who killed John Robert.”
Paul sits back with a thoughtful look on his face. “She does, does she? Now I really would like to see her. And did she say how she knows?”
“Uh-huh, and you’re going to love this. She says that she found out through divination. And that she’s looking for quote evidence that the police will accept unquote.” Now Zeke sits back. I can almost hear the thought processes.
Paul speaks first. “Great. I can’t stand amateurs who’ve watched one too many detective shows on TV and think that they can find the answers when the cops can’t. I wonder if she has any idea how incredible dangerous this is? Someone has killed, both in cold blood as well as with great planning. Does she think that they’ll let her find the trail up to their doorstep? Does she think at all??”
“Paul, she’s a teenager. They think they are immortal anyways. I’m guessing she’s trying to exonerate the father of her unborn child.” I say.
“Better and better, this is just like a Lifetime movie. Except that it’s not a movie. We’ve got to find her, and right now!” He flips through one of his little pads and once he’s found what he’s looking for, he picks up the phone. We listen to his end of the conversation. It doesn’t sound satisfying.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Schmidt. This is Detective Paul Dobson. Yes, ma’am. I need to ask you something. Yes ma’am, I do realize that this hard for you.” He pauses and I can actually hear the unhappiness of her voice. She is practically shouting…for her.
“Actually, Mrs. Schmidt, I’m not calling about your husband’s death. The reason I am calling is that I was wondering if you have had any recent contact with Laurie Bradford, or if perhaps she is with you.” Another pause and again, she is audible and apparently answering in the negative. She then asks her own question as his next words verify.
“She has not been in touch with her stepmother and Mrs. Johnson called us because she is worried about her. I see. If she does contact you, would you ask her to call either the police or her stepmother? Just so we can ascertain that she is all right. Thank you.”
He hangs up and looks at us. “Ok, now what? Where else could she have gone?”
“I’m assuming that she hasn’t shown up at the county jail?” I ask.
“Oh no. All visitors are logged and even if she just walked in, her appearance is noted. I’ve asked to be notified if she does show up there anyways and so far, no sign of her. I’ll check back on that and then I’ll put out a bulletin for the car. She’s probably not using a credit card, so we can’t track her that way. Any suggestions would be really welcome at this point.”
“I haven’t got a clue. Not even a paranormal one.” I look over at Zeke. He shakes his head, indicating that he too has nothing to offer.
Paul sighs from the bottom of his heart. “Damn. I’ll have cops checking all the possible places she might go. You know, hotels, motels, restaurants, places like that. We’ll visit each of the people she might go to, including the grieving widow who denies all knowledge of her and her loving stepmother. It’s going to take time and I’m not sure she really has any. I can only hope that we’re not too late already.”
“Are you predicting the future?” I ask, not altogether facetiously.
“Oh you don’t have to have any special abilities to know that there’s a really good chance she’s going to end up dead, if she didn’t do it herself. Although why she would kill John Robert…I mean, I can see how Mike died more or less at her hands, but there’s no real motive for killing Schmidt.”
I have to agree with him and I can tell that Zeke agrees as well. We promise to contact him the minute we hear anything and head back home. My last view of him is picking up the phone and looking grim.
We end up doing carry out for dinner and have Chinese food, which Vader shamelessly begs for. I suppose it reminds him of one of his prior lives…