Main Lost Innocents
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LOST INNOCENTS An unputdownable psychological thriller with a breathtaking twist PATRICIA MACDONALD Revised edition 2022 Joffe Books, London www.joffebooks.com First published by Warner Books in the United States in 1998 © Patricia Bourgeau 1998, 2022 This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is American English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this. The right of Patricia Bourgeau to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Click here to join our lovely mailing list to get our best deals! We love to hear from our readers! Please email any feedback you have to: email@example.com Cover art by Nick Castle ISBN: 978-1-80405-281-5 CONTENTS AUTHOR’S NOTE Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-one Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three Chapter Twenty-four Chapter Twenty-five Chapter Twenty-six Chapter Twenty-seven Chapter Twenty-eight Chapter Twenty-nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-one Chapter Thirty-two Chapter Thirty-three Chapter Thirty-four Chapter Thirty-five Chapter Thirty-six Chapter Thirty-seven Chapter Thirty-eight Chapter Thirty-nine Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-one Chapter Forty-two Chapter Forty-three Chapter Forty-four Chapter Forty-five Chapter Forty-six Chapter Forty-seven ALSO BY PATRICIA MACDONALD AUTHOR’S NOTE Please note this book is set in the 1990s, a ti; me before mobile phones and when social attitudes were very different. Prologue Thank you for choosing this book. Please join our mailing list for free Kindle books, new releases and our best deals. CLICK HERE TO GET MORE LOVELY BOOK DEALS Tuesday Afternoon, Late October Rebecca Starnes tossed her hair back and sat up straight against the park bench, surreptitiously tucking her knit shirt into her jeans so that it would lie more smoothly over the curves of her chest. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched the guy in the parking lot jumping off the wall on his skateboard and landing back on the pavement. It was a daring trick, and she tried not to gasp each time he missed. He was wearing wraparound sunglasses, so it was impossible to tell if he was glancing her way. She definitely did not want him to think she was staring. Rebecca was pretty sure she had seen him before, probably at basketball games. But she didn’t know which school he went to. There were a lot of Catholic high schools in the area, and it was a big league. He could be from any one of them. For sure he didn’t go to Perpetual Sorrows, because she would never have missed seeing him around her own school. She draped an arm over the back of the park bench and tossed her hair again. A woman pushing a baby carriage along the winding sidewalk stopped in front of Rebecca and smiled. “He’s cute,” she said. “How old is he?” “Six months,” Rebecca said impatiently. Justin Wallace, seated in his stroller beside Rebecca, was busy examining his round, thick plastic teething ring covered with pictures of Donald Duck and the nephews. Rebecca craned her neck to try to look around the woman, who was blocking her view of the skateboarder. The woman, absorbed in smiling and waving one finger at Justin, did not seem to realize she was in the way. Rebecca sighed and tried to be polite. “How old’s yours?” she asked, indicating the carriage the woman was rocking gently. “Just an infant,” said the woman, giving the netting over the carriage a proprietary pat. “He’s sleeping.” “Not Justin,” Rebecca said, glancing at the baby beside her, wishing the woman would move on. “I’m just babysitting for him,” she explained. As if realizing that no mother-to-mother camaraderie was to be had here, the woman said goodbye, gave Justin another little wave, and resumed pushing her carriage. Rebecca glanced up from under lowered lids and saw that the skateboarder was still there. She arranged herself again on the bench, hoping to look attractive but not provocative. Meanwhile Justin shook his teething ring impatiently, gnawed on it a moment, then regarded it with the curiosity of a research scientist formulating an experiment. Silently Justin considered the boomerang effect. He studied the possibilities, then let the teething ring fly. He had no sooner released it from his tiny hand than he realized that he had miscalculated. The teething ring dropped with a tiny thud only a foot away from him, in the dirt under the puffs of crisp brown petals on a dying hydrangea bush. Justin’s lively gray eyes, recently alight with anticipation, now clouded over. His face crumpled as he let out a loud, pitiful wail. Distracted again from her fantasies about the skateboarder, Rebecca turned and frowned irritably at her charge. The temptation to bark at him faded away as she gazed at him. He looked adorable in the little red sweater with the Dalmatian on it that his grandmother had knitted for him. Rebecca loved all kids, but she loved Justin especially. His parents were young and they had to work hard to make ends meet. Usually Donna’s mother helped them out, but occasionally they asked Rebecca to fill in. Rebecca enjoyed taking care of Justin. She would have done it for free, just to help them out. But Johnny and Donna always insisted on paying her. Rebecca thought it was kind of romantic, the way they were starting out together, having a family. Of course, whenever she mentioned this around her mother, Sandi Starnes would have a fit. “Don’t think you’re gonna go off and get pregnant and have your mother for a ready-made babysitter,” she would cry. “No way.” Over and over she would warn Rebecca that she had no idea how hard it was to be a mother as young as Donna Wallace. And her mother ought to know. Rebecca’s father had left when she was only five. He had another family now, up in Massachusetts. Rebecca saw him three times a year. He wasn’t bad as fathers went, but Rebecca knew her mother had to work hard to make ends meet. She’d taken on extra shifts at the restaurant so that Rebecca could go to Catholic school. Rebecca gazed at the baby in the stroller. It seemed as if having a baby to care for would be wonderful, but a lot of mothers, like Donna Wallace and her own mom, ended up having to work all day. A lot of families seemed to just break apart. Still, it didn’t have to be that way. Some marriages worked out, she thought defensively. Some people stayed together. She looked ruefully at Justin. “What’s the matter, Justin?” she asked sympathetically. Justin looked up at her, helpless to explain. Tears brimmed in his eyes and coursed down his round cheeks. Rebecca reached into his stroller for the miniature crocheted afghan, also his grandmother’s handiwork, which lay in a wad around his knees, and pulled it up over his denim pants and red sweater. “Are you cold?” she asked kindly. It was getting a little chilly. Autumn had been warm up till now, but it was almost November, and the days had taken a sharply cooler turn. Justin reacted furiously, feeling the bitter frustration of the supremely misunderstood. He wailed louder and shook the bar in front of him with his dimpled fists. “Justin,” Rebecca muttered, wondering if the cute guy on the skateboard was judging her incompetent. “Cut it out. What’s the matter? Stop crying. You want your bottle? I’ll get it for you. Just stop crying.” These were the moments when Rebecca knew her mother didn’t have anything to worry about. Rebecca wasn‐?t about to get herself tied down with a baby. She wanted to go to junior college and maybe train to be a lab technician. She liked science. It was her favorite subject at Perpetual Sorrows. She wanted a condo and her own car, and she wanted to be able to help out her mother with money now and then. Rebecca smiled ruefully to herself as she thought about her mom, worrying over nothing. Rebecca didn’t even have a boyfriend yet, much less plans to have a baby. She went around the stroller, crouched down, and rummaged around in the pocket for the bottle of apple juice. She felt her cheeks flaming as the baby yowled, and she didn’t dare look up to see what the skateboarder’s reaction might be. “I think this is what she’s looking for,” said a male voice. Rebecca froze, startled but hopeful. She hadn’t heard anyone coming up behind her. Maybe this was him—the skateboarder. Maybe he was taking the opportunity to make a move to talk to her. She took a deep breath and raised an expectant face. Instead of the daredevil skateboarder, a grown-up man stood in front of her. Wearing dull chinos and a windbreaker, he held out the teething ring in one hand. She glanced over at the parking lot. The skateboarder was gone. Rebecca sighed. “Thanks,” she said, reaching for the teething ring. Justin sat up in his stroller and watched the exchange, wide-eyed. “It’s a he.” “Really?” the man asked, surprised. “I thought with those curls . . .” Rebecca ran a fond hand over Justin’s head of soft ringlets. “A lot of people think that,” she said. She reached out for the teething ring. “It’s kind of dirty,” said the man, looking at it. “He threw it under that bush over there. Let me wash it off in the water fountain.” “Okay, thanks,” she said. She scrambled up from behind the stroller and resumed her seat on the bench. The man walked over to the water fountain and rinsed off the teething ring. Then he brought it back and handed it to her. He sat down on the same bench, not too close, but Rebecca had a fleeting feeling of unease. She told herself that this was not some weirdo. He was completely normal looking. “You must be very proud of him,” he said pleasantly, in a way that suggested Justin belonged to Rebecca. “Oh, he’s not mine,” said Rebecca, marveling to herself at how adults could be so dense. First the other mother, now this guy. Rebecca didn’t like to think she might look old enough and boring enough to be a mother. “I’m just babysitting for him.” Justin had resumed chomping happily on his teething ring. “I’m only fifteen.” “Oh,” said the man, nodding. He took a packet of cheese crackers out of the pocket of his windbreaker and opened it. He took a bite out of one of the crackers. “Don’t you have school?” he asked. Rebecca shook her head. “I go to Catholic school,” she explained. “It’s a Holy Day of Obligation.” “Ah,” he said, nodding. He munched on his cracker thoughtfully. Then he seemed to remember something and held out the packet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to eat in front of you. You want one?” Rebecca shrugged. She was a little bit hungry. She hesitated for a moment, though. Like all kids, she’d heard about taking candy from strangers. Parents were forever panicking about things like that. This was not exactly some drooling pervert in a deserted place. A woman with glasses was seated on a bench just down the winding path, reading a book. Rebecca could see her glancing up occasionally from where she sat. Some Chinese guy was doing those Buddhist exercises in a clearing across the pond. A police car had rolled slowly by not ten minutes ago. All these things flashed through her mind as she gazed at the cheese crackers in the cellophane. You had to think of these things. After all, all those stories in the papers gave you the creeps. Not necessarily here in Taylorsville, but you never could tell . . . The man gave her a wry smile. “They’re not laced with anything,” he said. “I just bought them over there at the 7-Eleven.” Rebecca blushed, humiliated that the man had read her thoughts, that he knew she was suspicious of him. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he said, reading her mind again. “These days, you can’t be too careful. Children are the most precious thing in the world, and they have to be warned to be on their guard. I’m sure your folks have drummed that into your head. I mean, every parent worries about that kind of thing.” Rebecca assumed this meant that he had children and immediately felt a little more at her ease. She smiled, although in truth his words made her feel wistful. She wished she had a dad who would call his child the most precious thing in the world. She couldn’t quite picture Bud Starnes saying that about her. “I’m not a child,” she said. “What’s this little guy’s name?” he asked, gesturing toward the stroller with the half-empty packet. Rebecca glanced down at the stroller, glad for the change of subject. “Justin,” she said. “Justin Mark Wallace. He’s my buddy.” At the sound of his name, Justin looked up and gave Rebecca a wide, toothless grin. Rebecca smiled back. Then she reached for a cracker. The man grinned, nonchalantly edging closer to her. He leaned his arm across the back of the bench so that his fingers could ever so slightly graze her flesh. Chapter One As the car pulled over to the edge of the cobbled, circular driveway, Maddy Blake gazed up at the sprawling, Tudor-style house in the fading twilight. Amber-colored leaves drifted silently down from the stately trees, carpeting the emerald lawn. Thorny branches climbed up the sides of the imposing home, making it look rooted, as if it had stood there forever. “Wow,” Maddy said. “This is quite a place. No wonder he charges so much.” “Worth every penny,” said Doug defensively. “Oh, I agree,” she said hastily, avoiding her husband’s glance. “Absolutely.” Maddy and her husband, Doug, were invited here, to the home of Charles Henson, Doug’s attorney, to celebrate. Last week Charles had successfully argued on Doug’s behalf against a charge of sexual misconduct with a female student at the high school where Doug was a history teacher. The administrative law judge who heard the case had dismissed all charges, and after five weeks out of work, Doug had his job restored. Nevertheless his reputation was not as easily regained. “I’ve heard the wife comes from money,” said Doug. “That makes a big difference.” It was Maddy’s turn to cast a sidelong glance at her husband, who gazed steadily through the windshield. Was that a barb? she wondered. This ordeal had been exhausting and expensive. All their savings had gone into paying Charles Henson for Doug’s defense and to paying the bills while Doug was out of work. Maddy was a stained-glass artist who worked for herself, so her income was sporadic. She certainly did not come from money, but she had worked steadily, trying to keep the money coming in while Doug’s job was in limbo. Doug did not give her time to think about it. He leaned over the seat and smiled his dimpled smile at their three-year-old daughter. “We’re here, Amy,” he said. “Time to get out of the car.” Amy, who was fair like her father, gave her dad a dazzling grin. “I’m bringing George,” she said, waving the stuffed monkey who was her constant companion. As he leaned over the seat, Maddy studied her husband’s soft, sandy blond hair and gentle eyes, and thought how handsome he looked in his tweedy sports jacket and tie. She had not been surprised to find that a student had a crush on her husband. A few years ago Maddy herself had fallen for him at first sight. But the way the student had described it—that Doug had blackmailed her, demanding sex for a good grade . . . Fortunately, by the time it got to the courtroom, Doug’s accuser twice failed to appear, and finally, when she did testify, Charles Henson’s skillful questioning revealed that she was telling three stories at once. “Can’t you leave the monkey here?” Doug said with a frown. Amy’s face crumpled. “I need George,” she pleaded. “Oh, let her bring him,” said Maddy in a low voice. “They’re the ones who insisted we bring her. Little kids come with stuffed animals.” “Okay, why not?” said Doug. Maddy turned to her daughter. “You can bring George. It’s okay.” Maddy and Doug got out of the car, and Doug opened the back door, reached in, and undid his daughter’s car seat restraints. Maddy smoothed down the knit dress she was wearing. She hadn’t known what to wear for this occasion. “Do I look all right?” she asked. “You look great,” said Doug, holding Amy’s hand and coming around the car to where she waited. “I still don’t really understand why they wanted us to come here,” Maddy whispered. “And to bring Amy.” They had invited Charles and his wife out to dinner to express their gratitude, but Charles Henson had made a counteroffer. Doug shook his head. “I don’t know. He said his wife doesn’t like going out. I think she’s a little odd. Somebody told me that she had some kind of breakdown and spent a year in a mental hospital.” “Really?” Maddy asked. “I don’t know that for sure,” said Doug. “These days I’m a little leery of gossip. And of course it wasn’t the kind of thing I would ever have mentioned to Charles.” “No, of course not,” Maddy said thoughtfully. “Anyway, I’m sure the dinner will be fine. I think he said that they have a cook.” “Don’t get me wrong. It’s all right with me,” said Maddy. “I’m happy to have dinner wherever he wants. He saved us from disaster.” Doug smoothed down his hair. “Well, it wasn’t as if I’d actually done anything wrong,” he said. “I know. I know,” Maddy said hurriedly. “I’m just saying that it could have turned out . . . Innocence doesn’t seem to be a guarantee of anything these days.” “I’m underwhelmed by your support,” he said dryly. Maddy took his arm, immediately feeling guilty. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean for it to sound that way. Of course I believe in you. It’s just that . . . I’m tired, too, honey. Tired out from . . . this whole experience.” He nodded and patted her hand, which was tucked in his arm. Maddy did not look at him. It had been surprisingly easy to stand by him when Heather Cameron made her accusations and the school board suspended him. After the initial shock, she had immediately surged to his defense. They were embattled as a couple, as a family, and resistance had been the natural thing. Now that it was over, now that she had time to think, she was ashamed to admit that she found herself wondering. Doug led the way across the driveway and started up the flagstone walk. The front door of the huge house opened. Charles Henson appeared in the doorway, dressed casually in a polo shirt and a cardigan. His thick, silvery hair was perfectly combed; even in sports clothes he exuded an air of formality. A fragile-looking woman peeped around from behind him. “Come in, come in,” Charles called as they walked up to the front door. Doug extended his hand and the two men shook hands. Doug clasped Charles’s hand with both of his, and Maddy pressed her lips together as she watched them. Doug’s gratitude seemed slightly obsequious. Don’t be so critical, she chided herself. Of course he’s grateful. “Thank you for—for inviting us,” Doug stammered. “Welcome, Maddy. And Amy,” said Charles. He knew them all from the courtroom and from strategy sessions at their house. “I want you to meet my wife, Ellen.” Maddy smiled warmly at the lovely, timid-looking woman behind him dressed in jeans and a chambray shirt. She was as slim as a girl, though Maddy judged her to be nearly fifty. She was still beautiful, with masses of gray, dusty-looking curls pinned up in a topknot. Ellen greeted Maddy, but her gaze was fixed on Amy. She crouched down and admired George, speaking gently to Amy. Maddy felt an immediate liking for anyone who paid such careful attention to a child. “Come in and have a drink,” said Charles. “I don’t think Paulina has dinner ready quite yet.” As if in answer to his remark, a round woman in an apron appeared in the hallway. “Half an hour to dinner,” she said in a middle-European accent. “Does the child want a frankfurter and mashed potatoes?” “Oh yes, that would be fine,” Maddy said gratefully. “She loves hot dogs.” They followed Charles into the huge living room filled with expensive leather furniture, thick rugs, and ornately framed artwork. Maddy’s eyes were immediately drawn to the painting that hung over the fireplace mantel. It was a portrait in oils of a much younger Ellen with her arm protectively encircling a small boy of perhaps four or five. He must be grown by now, Maddy thought. They probably have grandchildren. Charles poured flutes of champagne and handed them around. “Let’s drink to justice being done,” he said. Doug stared into the tiny golden bubbles in his glass. “Charles, I don’t know how I can ever thank you. We had some bad moments in these last few months.” “Don’t worry. You’ll feel less grateful when the bill arrives.” Everyone laughed nervously. Maddy sighed. “I’m just so relieved to have this nightmare behind us,” she said. “I mean, this girl made these accusations, and suddenly our whole world was in chaos.” Charles Henson frowned and nodded. “It’s terrifying. And the fact that she is the daughter of the chief of police didn’t make matters any easier. It’s the new McCarthyism. That’s what I believe. Kids today have a frightening power. They’re sophisticated enough to know just what to say so that their accusations sound believable, but they’re young enough so that they have no concept of how their malicious whims can destroy a person’s life.” “But Charles,” his wife interrupted gently, “you know there is a lot of ugliness in this world. Some of them are just innocent children . . .” Ellen Henson’s words struck Maddy in the pit of her stomach. Does she think that Doug is guilty? Maddy wondered. Is that what she’s trying to say? Charles was unfazed by his wife’s objection. “Darling,” he went on smoothly, “I am the first one to admit that a lot of children are victimized by adults, and we need to pay more attention to it, but it’s mushroomed out of control. It’s become a witch-hunt.” “Well, I think Heather Cameron is a very troubled young girl,” said Maddy. “But that’s not my husband’s fault.” Charles tipped his champagne flute in her direction. “The way you supported your husband was admirable, and helped us immensely in court.” Maddy blushed and looked uncomfortable. “I think it was obvious to the judge that Heather was lying,” she said. Ellen set her crystal flute on a mahogany end table and spoke softly. “I have something I want to show Amy before dinner. Amy, do you want to come outside with me?” Amy looked up eagerly, always ready for a new distraction. Ellen extended a hand to her. Maddy put her flute on the table. She found the transition a little abrupt, but she was glad to change the tone of the evening. “I’ll come along,” she said. “Good. Mommy’s coming with us.” The two women and the child walked toward the door as Charles indicated a seat to Doug and he sank gratefully into it. Once outside, Amy began to run, and the two women walked along behind her, their hands in their coat pockets, their shoes crunching on dry leaves. They walked in awkward silence for a few minutes, and then Maddy said, “We really are very grateful to your husband.” “Charles is very good at what he does,” Ellen said evenly. Maddy nodded, but she had a distinct impression of disapproval from the older woman that made her feel uneasy. Maddy recognized, with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, that she was going to meet with lots more of this kind of reaction. This victory in court did not mean she could let down her guard. People loved to believe the worst . . . Maddy cast about for something else to say. “This is a beautiful place you have here.” “Isn’t it,” Ellen agreed. “This was my childhood home. I love it here. I do hate to see the winter coming. I’m a great gardener. It’s my passion.” “I’ve got a purple thumb,” Maddy admitted. “I hope you don’t mind dining at our home. I don’t enjoy going out in public much. I’m a hermit.” “Oh, not at all. It was kind of you to have us,” said Maddy, but she could not help thinking of what Doug had said about the rumors of Ellen’s breakdown. She cast a sidelong glance at the woman’s seemingly untroubled countenance. “Amy,” Ellen called out, “it’s back here, in the garage.” Maddy wondered which garage she might be talking about. The house obviously dated back to the days of the horse and carriage. The walkways were lined with gas streetlamps, which had illuminated as darkness fell. A series of connected outbuildings bordering the extension of the cobbled drive matched the main house in style. One of the doors was open and light spilled out from within. Ellen pointed in that direction. Amy saw where she was going and barreled toward the open door. Maddy could hear Amy’s squeals of delight before she caught up with her. She came around the corner into the empty garage, and it took a moment to locate the source of Amy’s excitement. Inside the doorway, in one corner, was a large cardboard box lined with flannel. Inside the box was a mother cat and a bunch of kittens. They were not newborns, for they were actively exploring the straw-strewn floor of the garage, but they were small and fuzzy, and Amy was clapping her hands at the sight of them. She crouched down to try to pick up the nearest one. “Don’t squeeze it, honey,” Maddy said with dismay. She grimaced, knowing it would be difficult to tear Amy away from these adorable creatures. “Let her play with them,” said Ellen. “She won’t hurt them.” She led the way out of the garage as Maddy looked worriedly at her daughter. “I guess it’s all right,” said Maddy. She followed Ellen up a gentle incline to a wrought-iron bench in a coppice of evergreens. They sat together on the bench. A gas lamp beside the bench threw a mantle of yellow light on their shoulders. The air was damp with the threat of rain. In the distance, surrounded by overgrown bushes, was a small, clapboard-sided house, which looked like a tiny one-room cottage with a carriage light on beside the front door. Despite the lantern’s glow, it was impossible to tell what color the building was painted. “Isn’t that darling,” Maddy exclaimed. “What is it?” “It was my son’s playhouse,” said Ellen. “It’s an actual historical building. I think it was once a tinsmith’s shop. We had it moved here and restored, years ago.” “It’s just adorable. Wait till Amy sees it.” “I don’t allow anyone to play in it,” Ellen said. Then she added apologetically, “I’m funny about it.” As soon as she said it, Maddy looked closer and saw that the door was padlocked, the windows blocked with drawn curtains. Instantly she felt uneasy again, as if there were something ominous about the cheerful-looking little building. “Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Maddy said hurriedly, knowing immediately that she had made some sort of faux pas. “I doubt we’ll be able to tear her away from the kittens anyway.” Ellen continued as if Maddy had not spoken. Her voice was a dull monotone. “My son’s name was Ken. He died when he was five years old. Meningitis. This is his birthday. He would have been twenty-one years old today.” The tragic confidence struck Maddy like a blow. Somehow she felt as if she had known it, before the words were even out of Ellen’s mouth. She had sensed something terrible. She had not even wanted to ask about the boy. But still, it was the worst of all nightmares, and her heart ached for the frail woman seated beside her on the bench. “How awful,” she breathed. “He came home from kindergarten complaining of a stiff neck. In three days he was dead.” “Oh, I’m so very sorry. This must be a very hard day for you. We shouldn’t have come today.” Ellen shook her head. “No harder than any other day,” she said. “I can imagine,” Maddy said grimly, although she couldn’t. Not really. She looked back at the garage, where Amy’s blond head was visible. Ellen nodded calmly, and they sat in silence, each one thinking of her own child. Finally Ellen spoke. “So, life goes back to normal for you now.” Maddy sighed, feeling the irony of her observation. “I hope so.” “Charles tells me you’re an artist?” “I do stained glass. I have a studio behind my house.” “Really?” said Ellen. “It started out as a hobby, but I got some orders, and I wasn’t really enjoying my job, so . . .” “So you made it your profession.” “Well, I put some of my work in a local craft shop. But it wasn’t a living. Then I got a commission to do a window at the new meditation chapel at the Catholic church. And that led to several others.” Ellen squinted into the darkness, in the direction of the playhouse. “This is fortuitous that I’ve met you. I’ve been thinking I wanted to do something with the playhouse. Maybe you could help me.” Maddy felt uncomfortably jolted by the return to the subject of the padlocked playhouse. She tried to keep her expression impassive. “I was thinking about Peter Rabbit.” “Peter Rabbit?” Maddy asked cautiously. “You know, that little blue coat he wore,” Ellen said. “And Benjamin Bunny. They would make such beautiful windows. I could just imagine it with the light coming through it, making a pattern on the floor. That particular shade of blue in Peter’s jacket. Could those drawings be transferred to windows?” Maddy hesitated. It seemed strange, but then again, that playhouse was probably a shrine to her son’s memory. Maddy’s work on the chapel windows were all memorials to one person or another, commissioned by loved ones. “It might be possible. Those old windows are very small. And you wouldn’t want to replace the original glass,” she said carefully. “Maybe something we could hang from a chain. A set of them . . .” Charles Henson appeared at the back door of the house. “Paulina’s ready for us,” he called out. “We’re coming,” Ellen called back, getting up abruptly from the bench and brushing off her jeans. “You’ll work on it for me, then?” Maddy stood up, feeling a little disoriented by the conversation. “I’d really need to measure them.” “I’ll measure them,” Ellen said firmly. “And I’ll call you.” Maddy didn’t want to say that she needed to do the measuring herself. She wasn’t sure anything was going to come of this. There was time to see. “I want Amy to have one of the kittens,” Ellen said. Maddy wanted to protest, but she had a feeling it would be futile. Despite Ellen’s frailty, she was determined. It would not do to argue with her. She and Doug were here to show their gratitude. Still, she felt distinctly uneasy as they headed back to the house. She told herself it was the acquisition of a pet they hadn’t planned for. That was all. She picked up Amy and held her tightly as they walked back toward the house. Chapter Two Mary Beth Cameron hefted the huge portfolio of available properties from her file drawer to her desktop, opening it to a prospectus on a handsome brick Colonial that was uncomfortably out of the stated price range of the nervous, neatly dressed couple seated in front of her. She swiveled the book around so that they could examine the photo, lazily caressing the out-of-reach image with one manicured, pale pink fingernail. The two stared down at the grand house like Hansel and Gretel gazing at the candy-covered gingerbread house. “This is a nice one,” Mary Beth said, pretending not to notice their anxiety. Mary Beth knew her clientele. Taylorsville had lots of couples like this—not affluent enough to afford the suburbs close to Manhattan, but willing to tie themselves to an inhuman commute in order to have the impressive house. So they came farther north to Taylorsville, figuring to get a bargain. Mary Beth was ready for them. “A little bigger than what you had in mind,” Mary Beth admitted, “but with all the amenities a young up-and-coming family could want.” “It’s a bit more than we planned to spend,” he said. Mary Beth looked up in mild surprise. “Oh,” she said, turning the page with the same pink fingernail. “Well, we have some darling properties in your price range. Let’s take a look.” She could feel him shriveling at her words, as the wife looked wistfully, perhaps a shade irritably, at the dream house that had disappeared from view. “We can always come back to it,” said Mary Beth. As the pair frowned at the next picture, Mary Beth glanced at her watch. As usual, she was running late. Darkness was falling, and she did have another obligation. As she was always telling her husband, Frank, real estate was not a nine-to-five kind of job. You had to work when you had the clients at hand. This was one of those times. The bell on the front door of Kessler Realty rang, and the door opened. Mary Beth looked up and saw her daughter, Heather, walk through the front door. She hated that Sue, the receptionist, left promptly at five. A lot of times they were busiest after five, and Mary Beth did not like wearing two hats. She was trying to make some money here. She smiled broadly at Heather, although her eyes remained cold. “Hello, Heather,” she said. “Hello, Mother,” the girl said sullenly. Mary Beth looked critically at the teenager in front of her. Heather, she thought, took after Frank’s side of the family. She had a face as round and white as a plate, with small, pale gray eyes and lank, drab hair that fell to her shoulders. Her figure was good, but not because she did anything to maintain it. If any effort were required, she’d be fat as a house, Mary Beth thought. Heather’s clothes did little to enhance her figure; she was wearing baggy overalls with one shoulder unbuttoned over a Henley-style shirt that looked like long underwear. Her unlaced high-top sneakers completed her resemblance to someone who lived in a homeless shelter. No matter how often Mary Beth offered to take her shopping or tried to show her how to use makeup, Heather stubbornly insisted on choosing the most unbecoming outfits. Although she had tried to appear supportive, Mary Beth had not been surprised when the judge dismissed the charges against that teacher. With all the pretty high school girls, why would any man hit on a plain, surly creature like Heather? “I’ll be with you in a minute,” Mary Beth said, trying to maintain a semblance of professionalism. “Why don’t you take a seat over there?” Heather regarded her with narrowed eyes. For a fleeting moment, Mary Beth felt a little guilty. She had promised Heather she would be done, but then this couple had come in. Heather just didn’t understand that you had to seize the opportunity when it presented itself. “We have some new magazines,” Mary Beth suggested, and felt irritated at having to sound like a receptionist. That’s how she’d started out in this office, and she had zero interest in going back to it. Heather shuffled over to the reception area, dropped into one of the tapestry-covered armchairs, and began flipping through a magazine. “This one looks nice,” the young man said hopefully to his disgruntled wife. Mary Beth turned her head to look at the picture of a newly painted Cape Cod. “Oh yes, that one is adorable. And there’s really a lot you could do with it.” “Maybe we should look at it,” he said. His wife made a face. Mary Beth’s phone rang. “Take a look at some more while I get this,” she said. As she picked up the phone she saw Heather rise from her seat and begin to pace the reception area, glancing up at the clock. “Mary Beth Cameron,” she sang into the phone. “How can I help you?” “We have to go, Mother,” Heather announced. Mary Beth gestured helplessly for Heather to sit back down, but Heather ignored her. “You told me yourself we have to be there by six,” Heather continued in her impassive, foghorn voice. “I’m sick of waiting. We have to go right now.” Mary Beth cupped her hand over the phone’s mouthpiece. “I said I’ll be right with you,” she whispered angrily. She glanced at her clients. Fortunately the young couple was absorbed in the ring binder of properties. They had turned back to the brick Colonial, and the wife was looking much more cheerful. On the phone, Mary Beth’s caller rattled on about rentals. Mary Beth nodded and turned away from her daughter’s cold gray gaze. Heather returned to the reception area and fell back into the chair with a thud. She glared straight ahead as Mary Beth got down to business. * * * Frank Cameron, chief of the Taylorsville Police Department, shifted in his chair, looked at his watch, and shook his head in disgust. “I have work to do. I am a busy man. She knows I have a million things to do. She keeps me waiting on purpose.” “Heather?” “No, her mother,” Frank said scornfully. Dr Larry Foreman poured himself his tenth cup of coffee for the day and offered one to the chief. He had late office hours two nights a week, and sometimes he ended up skipping dinner altogether. Coffee was his substitute for food. “Nah, I don’t touch it after the morning jolt,” said Frank. “One cup a day. That’s it for me. That stuff is terrible for your stomach lining. You know that, don’t you?” Dr Foreman nodded and added sugar. “Now if you had a beer, I’d take you up on it,” said Frank. Dr Foreman walked back around behind his desk, pausing to look admiringly at his reflection in the glass doors on the bookcase behind his desk. He looked good—the jogging had taken away that layer of fat. He looked especially good compared with the chief, whose white shirt and tie only drew attention to a stomach that protruded over his belt. Larry resumed his seat in his tufted leather swivel chair. After taking a sip, he placed the coffee carefully on a napkin. “Why do you think your wife would do that?” “Why does she do anything she does,” Frank snorted. “To piss me off.” He shook his head. “Are you married, Doc?” Dr Foreman nodded, and Frank picked up a framed photograph of the doctor and his wife and daughters that was sitting on the psychologist’s leather blotter. Frank gazed at it for a moment and then looked up at the doctor. “You gonna keep on trying for a son? Or did you give up?” “We were never trying for a son,” Larry Foreman said coldly. “Hmph,” Frank muttered. “I have a son. Frank junior. He’s married, got a good job, a baby on the way. He never gave me a minute’s trouble. Not once. They say boys are more trouble than girls, but that Frankie . . . he was in Little League, honor society, the works. I’ve always been proud of him . . .” “As opposed to Heather,” Dr Foreman said. “Don’t shrink me, Doc. Please, spare me. I have to deal with your kind in court every day.” Frank grimaced. “You think you’re fooling somebody. Slipping in little remarks. I’m wise to you. So give me a break. I wouldn’t be here at all if the judge hadn’t insisted we bring her to someone. I guess my wife picked your name out of a hat,” Frank mused, trying to be as insulting as possible. Dr Foreman avoided the bait. “You were saying you’re proud of your son . . .” “And I’m proud of Heather. I’m proud of both my kids. They’re good kids. But Heather just . . . she’s just in those teenage years. A lot of kids run into trouble in those years. I ought to know. I see ’em every day down at the station. Yours aren’t there yet, am I right?” Dr Foreman shook his head cautiously and glanced at the picture on his blotter. “Just wait. You’ll see,” Frank warned him. “Even girls. More of ’em all the time. So you better treat me right so I’ll go easy on ’em when they show up down there.” Dr Foreman ignored the remark about his children. “But this is more than just a little trouble Heather’s gotten into, Frank. She could have ruined this teacher’s life, his career. That’s a serious thing.” Frank Cameron peered at the doctor with a sour expression. “You can call me ‘Chief,’” he said. “You’re not the chief in here,” Larry said mildly. This time Frank chuckled. Then he glowered and consulted his watch. “She’ll be late to her own funeral,” he muttered. “Jesus Christ.” Frank Cameron found the ensuing silence oppressive. He got up from his chair and began to prowl around the office, like a panther in a cage. “Yeah, this is a fancy little office you got here,” he said, glancing out the window. “The best neighborhood, plenty of parking. Smells like big bucks around here. No wonder my wife picked you,” he snorted. “My Mary Beth’s developed a taste for the finer things in life.” Rain had begun to spatter against the pane. Frank peered out the window at the boutique-lined street. “When I was a boy growing up in Taylorsville, this was a nice town. People knew each other. In those days you had your rich people and your working people. Now we got a whole new class of well-heeled social climbers. People like my wife see that and they want it so bad they can taste it.” Frank shook his head in disgust and emitted a deep sigh. “In those days, if you had a problem, you told it to the priest or you had a drink and drowned it. Seemed to work out all right. Seemed like we had less crazy people in those days than we do today.” He turned away from the window and stared at the doctor. “I think you people make your patients crazy. I never saw one of you who didn’t have some kind of mental problem yourselves.” Larry Foreman forced a smile and refused to bristle. He was not about to be cowed by this bully of a cop. Handling people was his business. He was good at it, which was why he was so well paid. “Everybody’s got problems, Frank,” he replied smoothly. “And you are not alone in your opinion. But we’re not here to talk about my profession or my colleagues. We need to talk about Heather and why she is so troubled. Is there a lot of tension at home between you and your wife?” “Leave my marriage out of this. Heather’s the problem. That’s what you have to concern yourself with. You just concentrate on Heather. I’ll take care of my wife.” “It’s possible that problems at home are part of what’s troubling Heather.” Frank shook his head sadly, his bluster momentarily deflated. “I don’t know what’s troubling Heather,” he admitted. “Do you think she was telling the truth about the teacher?” Dr Foreman asked. Frank Cameron glowered at the very thought of Douglas Blake. He balled his hands unconsciously into fists and banged one of them on the back of the chair. “I think he’s a pervert, and a first-class asshole. He and his fancy lawyer tried to cover up for him by making a monkey out of me. And the judge fell for it. Do you know what that judge said about me? He called the police investigation ‘tainted by personal bias.’ Tainted! That burns me,” said Frank. “I guess that means you do believe Heather . . .” Frank shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s mixed up. She’s just a kid. She gets no kind of help from her mother. Well, you’ll see when they get here. If they get here, goddammit,” Frank bellowed. At that moment there was a knock on the office door. Before Dr Foreman could respond Frank strode over to the door and threw it open. “Where the hell have you two been?” he demanded. “I’ve got a city to police and I don’t have time to wait around—” Mary Beth edged in past her husband, apologizing to Dr Foreman, and sat down. Heather walked in behind her mother, flinching at her father’s kiss that brushed her forehead, and refused a seat. “Why are they here?” Heather demanded. “I thought this was for me. I’m not talking in front of them.” “I wanted a chance to meet with your family first,” said the doctor. “Dr Foreman,” Mary Beth began in a confidential tone, “I know you wanted to meet with the family. The reason my son is not here is that I didn’t see any reason to involve him in this. He has an important, highly paid position, and a wife who’s pregnant with their first child, and they live a good fifty miles from here—” “Frank junior is perfect,” said Heather. “He never got in trouble. He’s their hero.” “Heather, keep quiet,” said Frank. “No, it’s all right,” said Larry. “We’re here to talk. To say whatever is on your mind . . .” A beeper went off, and everyone looked at Frank, who fumbled with the receiver in the pocket of his leather coat. “May I use your phone, Doctor?” “There’s one outside,” Larry said evenly. Frank rose from the chair and left the room. Mary Beth rolled her eyes. “This is typical,” she said. “You’d think he was a brain surgeon.” “Well, Taylorsville may be peaceful, but it’s a big town.” “And he likes to be important,” said Mary Beth. “He has to be the big boss all the time.” Heather walked over to the window and stared out. Rain covered the windowpanes by now. In a moment Frank came back into the office. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “Frank, you promised me,” said Mary Beth in a shrill voice. “I’ve got a teenage babysitter and the baby she was watching who didn’t come home tonight,” Frank said, a warning in his voice. “Oh,” said Mary Beth, sinking back into her chair, chastened by this news. “Sorry, Doc. If she’d been here on time . . . But this is an emergency. Heather, honey,” he said to his daughter, “it’s going to have to be another day.” Heather stiffened but did not respond. Larry looked at the girl’s face, pale and frozen as an angry moon, and her father, dressed head to toe in the uniform of unquestioned authority, forbidding her to defy him. Larry glanced at the clock. “Heather,” he said gently, so as not to startle her, “why don’t you sit down and we’ll try to sort some things out.” Heather responded to his quiet voice and turned away from her father. Obediently she took her seat. Chapter Three Frank Cameron strode into the chaos of the Taylorsville Police Station, his wary gaze sweeping the room as six people approached him, all clamoring for his attention. Frank’s height, his barrel chest, and his iron gray hair gave him an imposing presence. His entrance seemed to calm the room, to give people the impression, however brief, that everything would soon be all right. Directly in front of him, seated by herself like a quiet island, a fortyish woman in a waitress uniform clutched a school picture of a teenager. She did not look up and appeared to be almost in a trance. “Who’s that one?” Frank demanded in a low voice of Len Wickes, one of his officers. “Mrs Starnes, mother of the missing girl,” Len whispered. Frank nodded and glanced at the young couple leaning over the desk of Chief of Detectives Pete Millard. They had whirled around as he entered and were looking at him plaintively—the baby’s parents. Pete looked up from his desk. “Chief,” Pete said, “these are the missing baby’s parents, Donna and Johnny Wallace.” Frank shook their hands gravely. Donna’s face was red from weeping. Johnny, who was hardly more than a boy himself, was doing his best to comfort his wife. Despite his efforts, he was struggling to maintain his composure. Johnny was dressed in the jeans and flannel shirt he wore on the job as a construction worker for DeBartolo Brothers. Donna was dressed in an ill-fitting flowered dress and pumps, which she had worn to work at the bank and then to the bridal shower for one of her former high school classmates afterward. “They were just telling me what happened,” said Pete. “He’s the third one we’ve told,” Donna protested. Frank nodded. “Tell me,” he said. “Well,” Donna said, exhaling a gust of misery, “usually he stays with my mother, but she had two doctors’ appointments today, and since Rebecca was off from school . . .” Donna began to wail and wring her hands. “Why did I ever let her take him . . . ?” Sandi Starnes, the mother of the missing babysitter, flinched at the implied accusation. She wanted to shout that Rebecca was a good girl, and they knew it, and that whatever had happened to the baby had happened to Rebecca, too . . . She forced herself to stop thinking. She just turned off her thoughts. She had decided that the only way to survive this was to sit in stillness and try to let her mind float free from her body. She had seen a show on meditation on the Lifetime Channel, about how you could use it to deal with stress, and now she was trying it. Something like it. “All right,” Frank thundered, pointing to Pete Millard, the middle-aged detective in a gray suit who was taking the Wallaces’ statement. “Get to the bottom line, Pete. Sum it up for me.” Pete gave Frank a quick rundown of the situation, or what they knew of it. Rebecca Starnes had kept the baby at her mother’s house all morning. At lunchtime, after Sandi went off to work, Rebecca had planned to take the baby out for a walk. They never came back. Donna Wallace, husband in tow, came up close behind the detective and tried to interject details into his account in a voice shrill with fear. Frank, who was not a patient man, nonetheless appreciated the distraught mother’s situation and only told her once, in a mild voice, that he was having trouble understanding his officer. When Pete Millard finished, Frank glanced at the photograph of Justin Wallace that his parents were waving at him. There were so few really innocent things, he thought, looking at the gentle, formless face. In this job he had seen every kind of cruelty visited on the innocents of the world—often by those who claimed to love them most. It was enough to make you sick. He hated the helpless way he felt, looking at the picture. In the pit of his stomach there was a knot of fear that he intended to ignore. He pushed the photo away. “All right, Mr and Mrs Wallace. Here’s the situation. Normally, with missing persons, we don’t begin a search until forty-eight hours have—” “Forty-eight hours!” Donna shrieked. “You’ve gotta be . . .” Frank raised a hand to silence her. “But,” he said loudly, “in the case of children—and both of them technically come under that heading—we will begin to search immediately.” He turned to Pete Millard. “I want a tips hot line set up right away on this one. We need to get the word out to the public. Get the press liaison working on this. We can use the cooperation of the local stations.” “I’ve already got it in motion,” Pete assured him. “Good,” said Frank in a low voice. “It may be premature, but you can’t be too careful with missing kids.” He turned around and his piercing gaze fell on Sandi, who remained seated. She had ketchup on her white blouse, and she looked dazed, as if she had just awakened. Frank walked over to her and sat in the chair beside her. “Now,” he said. “Rebecca is your daughter.” Sandi stared at the police chief with a bewildered expression on her face. “Something terrible has happened,” she whispered. Frank nodded. “Well, yes, but we just don’t know exactly what, right now. Do we? That’s what we have to figure out. Could this possibly all be some big misunderstanding? I mean, we’ve got everybody here screaming about kidnapping and so on—is there any chance Rebecca just decided to take the baby and go visit someone? Can you think of anyone she might have gone to see? Maybe a friend, or a relative?” “I already asked her that,” said Detective Millard. “Now I’m asking her,” Frank barked. Then he turned and spoke quietly to Sandi again. “How about it, Mrs Starnes?” Sandi knew what he wanted her to say. He wanted her to give him a list. A list of people an absentminded teenager might have run into, or called up and decided to while away the time with. Someone who might have absorbed her scatterbrained adolescent attention so completely that she would forget to bring the baby back on time, or even to call. Someone like that. Sandi shook her head. “There is no one,” she whispered. “Are you saying you have no friends or relations? What about her father? Where is he?” “He’s remarried. He lives in Massachusetts.” Frank Cameron shrugged. “Maybe he was in the area . . . Maybe he came by the house after you left.” Sandi tried to think about this. Bud Starnes was not the worst father in the world. But he was not given to surprise visits. He dutifully fulfilled his responsibilities toward Rebecca. That was all. “I see you hesitating,” the chief said. He twisted around to look at Pete Millard. “Have we got the father’s address?” “I called there already,” said Pete. “Nobody home.” “Call again,” said Frank. “Now, Mrs Starnes, did Rebecca mention where she might be taking the baby? Was there anywhere special she liked to take him?” This was something Sandi could answer. “She liked to take him to the river to see the fishermen,” she said. “Or the mall sometimes. To shop. Or the park. She liked to walk in Binney Park. She didn’t say.” “I want every man we’ve got scouring those places,” Frank instructed his officers, who were gathered around to listen. “I want anyone who might have seen them questioned. You got me? Anyone. Anyone with a business, or any business, in any of those places. They didn’t just disappear. Somebody saw them. We need to establish a time frame—find out where they were last spotted. This is critical. “Also, I want you to find out who was working at the train station and the bus stop. I want to know if Rebecca bought any tickets this afternoon. If so, I want to know where she was headed, and with whom. We need all hands on deck. I don’t want anybody standing around here.” “Done,” said Pete. “We’re on it.” He spoke in a low, urgent voice to the other officers, who scattered out the door to their various phones. Frank turned back to Sandi. “Do you know these people well?” he said, indicating the Wallaces. Donna was collapsed against her husband’s shoulder, her tears a dark stain on Johnny’s plaid shirt. Sandi looked vaguely at the Wallaces. She would have said yes, this morning. They were neighbors. They lived two doors down and had always been friendly. Johnny shoveled her walk when it snowed because she had no husband to do it for her. She and Donna sometimes had sat on Donna’s cement patio together when she was home for maternity leave. Sandi loved seeing the baby. She loved babies anyway, and Donna loved showing him off, as any mother would. She would have said they were friends. That they knew each other well. Now she knew that wasn’t true. Because she heard them, with her own ears, accusing Rebecca. Saying that Rebecca took their baby. No one would ever say that who really knew Rebecca. “We know each other,” Sandi said flatly. “We live on the same street.” “And Rebecca has taken care of Justin before,” said the chief. “Quite a few times,” said Sandi, nodding, her gaze beginning to drift again. “Mrs Starnes, does your daughter have any history of mental illness?” Sandi looked at him again. She stared at this strange man, asking her these questions about Rebecca as if she were some kind of nut . . . some kind of criminal. Sandi tore her gaze from the chief’s face and stared down at the picture she was clutching in her damp fingers. She licked her lips, which were incredibly dry, and she tried her best to form her thoughts into a sentence that would make him understand. She pressed her cracked lips together and peered at him as intensely as she could. She lifted the picture of the beautiful, smiling teenager with a gold heart locket at her throat and held it until he was forced to look at it. “This . . . is . . . Rebecca,” she explained. She could see from the look in his eyes that he did not understand. Chapter Four Charles Henson opened the front door and frowned at the rain. Maddy peered past him out at the cobbled drive, now shiny under the gaslit lamps that lined the long driveway, and shivered. “That wind makes it sound like someone is moaning out there,” she said. “Doesn’t it?” “It’s turned nasty,” Charles said. “Do you need some umbrellas? We have extras.” Doug looked out over his wife’s shoulder. “No, we don’t have far to go,” he said. “Just to the car.” Wind lashed the chilly rain against their backs as they said their hasty good-nights on the Hensons’ doorstep. “Wait,” Ellen cried as they prepared to make a dash for the car. She ran to the hall closet and pulled out a slicker. “What is it, dear?” Charles Henson asked in an apprehensive tone as his wife darted past him into the terrible night. “Where’s she going?” “I don’t know,” said Maddy. “Honey, will you carry Amy?” “Sure,” said Doug, crouching down and scooping up his daughter and her stuffed monkey. Amy laid her head against his shoulder with a little whimper. “She’s tired,” Maddy said with a smile. She was killing time, knowing they were all waiting for Ellen to return. “Well, it was a lovely evening,” she said, not for the first time. “We’re glad you could come,” Charles said politely, peering into the darkness. “Here I am,” Ellen cried, materializing like a yellow vinyl apparition out of the darkness. She was carrying a covered wicker basket. She lifted the lid with a shy smile and held it in front of Amy, who was high enough on her father’s shoulder to look down into the basket. The child let out a cry of delight. “Kitty,” she exclaimed. Maddy frowned and looked into the basket. A small black cat was inside, resting on a folded-up newspaper. “Oh,” she said, a little dismayed. “You did want one, didn’t you?” asked Ellen. Doug gave his wife a warning glance. “Of course we do. We’ve been thinking about getting a cat.” “He’s adorable,” said Maddy. “It’s just that we’re not actually prepared . . .” “Ah, but I thought of that,” said Ellen. “Before I came in for dinner, I filled you up a bag of litter, and put that and two cans of cat food in your car. That’ll hold you till tomorrow.” “My kitty,” Amy exclaimed. “We can’t thank you enough,” said Doug. “That was very kind of you.” Chastened by Doug’s graciousness, Maddy put on a smile. “Yes, thank you very much for everything.” “We’d better make a run for it,” said Doug. They scurried for the car doors, Maddy carrying the basket with the kitten in it. She opened the back door and put it on the seat while Doug belted Amy into her car seat. Then they each got into the front seat and slammed the doors. “Phew,” said Maddy, shaking the rain off her hair. She turned and waved at Charles and Ellen. Their blurry silhouettes wavered against the golden light in the doorway. “I’ll put the heat on,” said Doug as he pulled away from the edge of the drive. “Please do.” In the backseat, Amy was crooning to her new pet. “You’ll have to think of a name for him, honey,” Maddy said. “His name’s Blacky,” Amy announced. “Blacky’s a good name,” said Maddy. She turned back and stared out through the swishing wipers. “What a miserable night,” she said. “I didn’t think it was that bad,” Doug said defensively. “Oh no, not that,” said Maddy. “I meant the weather.” She was thoughtful for a minute. “I did think giving us that cat was a little strange, though.” “She probably just thought Amy would like it.” “Mmmm,” said Maddy. “Oh, I know she meant well. There’s just something odd about it . . .” “The rich are supposed to be eccentric,” Doug said. “God, I wonder what it would be like to live like that.” “It seems kind of lonely.” “I wouldn’t mind trying it,” said Doug. “Servants, grounds, beautiful cars, expensive things.” “All the happiness money can buy,” said Maddy. “Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” said Doug. “Although at this rate, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. We’ll be living like this forever.” “What does that mean?” said Maddy. “What’s wrong with the way we live?” “Nothing, nothing,” he said. “It was just . . . pleasant being there. Spending a little time in those surroundings. In all that luxury.” “I think we do all right,” she said. She stopped herself from reminding him that any savings they had accrued toward a more comfortable life were now going to be in Charles Henson’s pockets. After all, Doug wasn’t to blame for that. He’d had to be defended against Heather Cameron’s wild accusations no matter what the cost. “Yeah, we do fine,” said Doug. He was hunched forward over the steering wheel, peering out. “God, it’s teeming out there. We should have taken those umbrellas they offered us.” “I wanna see Blacky,” Amy crooned from the backseat. “Not now, honey,” Maddy said automatically, craning her neck to see the road ahead as the car crawled along. “Daddy’s trying to concentrate. You just stay quiet. You’ll see Blacky when we get home.” They drove in silence for a few minutes until the rain let up, then Doug sat back against the seat and resumed a normal speed. Maddy relaxed a little bit and started thinking again about Doug’s reaction to the Hensons’ wealth. She knew that Doug always felt he had been cheated out of his chance for money and fame. When she met him, an injury to his knee had just ended his baseball career after only one season on a major league team. He had been an angry young man when they met, and she liked to think that her love had helped him get past that disappointment. But sometimes it seemed as if he would never overcome his bitterness. “You know money isn’t everything, Doug.” “Not if you’ve got a lot of it,” he agreed wryly. “Their only child died,” Maddy said. “Did you know that?” “No, really?” Doug asked. Maddy nodded. “When he was five years old. Meningitis. Today was his birthday.” “Jesus,” Doug exclaimed. “That’s horrible. Charles never said anything, but, you know . . . We never discussed anything personal when I saw him. Well, you know, personal about him . . .” “I know,” said Maddy. “Well, I’m just saying, they have had their share of heartache.” “I guess so,” said Doug. “Compared to that—the idea of losing a child—we don’t have a care in the world,” she said. “No, you’re right,” he said absently. “Blacky’s a good kitty,” piped a little voice from the backseat, as if to remind them of their blessings. Maddy smiled. Their daughter gave her so much pleasure. The first year had been a little tough on them both. They hadn’t planned on having a baby so soon after their marriage. Doug was just starting out as a schoolteacher, still smarting from the loss of his sports career. She had encouraged him to go into teaching, in part because she had such respect for her own, late father, who had been a teacher. That she should be married to a teacher seemed so right. Many times in that first year she wondered if Doug would ever adjust. He seemed overwhelmed by the new job and the responsibilities of fatherhood. Then again, sometimes she hadn’t exactly felt equal to being a mother. But they had adjusted. Nothing could fill your life with joy like a small child. She thought, fleetingly, of Ellen and Charles. Those poor people. How they must have suffered. She shook her head and gazed at her own dark reflection in the side window, covered with raindrops. I wouldn’t be in their shoes for any amount of money, she thought. “Goddammit!” Doug cried. Maddy jerked around; a dark blur obscured her husband’s face. “Blacky,” Amy cried. For a moment Maddy could not tell what was going on. Then, twisting around in her seat, she saw the open basket, empty now, the child’s arms stretching out toward her father in the front seat, the scratches on his face, the blood black and shiny in the darkness of the car. The cat was squalling. With a sensation of time slowing down, Maddy heard the brakes squeal. Blacky scrambled off of Doug’s neck and onto the dashboard. For an instant the cat’s chartreuse eyes stared into hers, his pupils tiny slits. Oncoming headlights illuminated the kitten, his black fur standing on end, bad luck incarnate. Then she was blinded by the oncoming headlights. She heard Doug shouting, “Hold on,” as he grabbed desperately for the wheel. “Amy!” Maddy screamed as the car swerved and spun out of control on the slippery roadway. Chapter Five The hospital lobby was dimly lit but still humming, even late at night. Hospital staff came and went, their rubber soles squeaking on the highly polished floor. A well-modulated voice paged doctors on the PA system. Carrying Amy, Maddy rubbed her daughter’s back and walked along beside Ruth Crandall, the mother of one of Amy’s playmates, Ginny. “Ruth, I can’t thank you enough for coming out like this,” said Maddy. “Oh, heavens. I’m glad to do it.” “You’re gonna go with Miss Ruth, honey,” Maddy said softly. “She’s gonna take you and George to her house.” “That’s right,” Ruth said cheerfully. “Ginny is all excited about you coming over. You’re gonna sleep in her room with her.” Maddy squeezed her child tightly, her mind filled once again with the sights and sounds of the accident, that moment of utter terror, the noises that seemed to burst in her ear, and then the sick fear when they spun to a halt and she did not know if her daughter was all right. It was only a moment, but she would remember it forever. “I love you more than anything,” she said to Amy. “Come on, little one,” Ruth crooned, and the tired child gave up her protest and fell into Ruth’s familiar arms, the stuffed monkey still dangling from her pudgy hand. “I’ll come get her in the morning,” Maddy promised. “Sleep tight, my angel.” She kissed the soft, streaky cheek again, then reluctantly let her go. She stood behind the sliding doors of the entrance and waved as they went out into the night. With a sinking heart, she turned to head back to the emergency room. “Maddy,” a familiar voice cried. Maddy turned around wearily and then brightened at the sight of the man approaching her, his eyes filled with concern. “Father . . . Nick,” she said. “Just Nick,” he said. “How many times must I tell you?” “It’s the collar,” she said. “It’s automatic.” Nick Rylander sighed and tugged at the collar as if it were tight. “I was doing my weekly visit at the prison today. I always wear the dog collar up there. I don’t want anybody mistaking me for an inmate and slamming me into some cell by mistake.” Maddy smiled briefly. “I don’t blame you. I’m sure it’s tough. Going up there.” “I don’t mind it,” he said. “Today I was happy to be there. A guy I’ve counseled for several years got let out. He was kind of a chronic troublemaker, but he’d been doing time for murder and all along he maintained his innocence. Recently, they arrested a guy for a similar crime and he confessed to this murder, too. So, my guy was sprung. It was kind of a joyful day. Never mind about that,” he said impatiently. “What in the world are you doing here at this hour?” “We were in a car accident tonight.” “No,” he said, and his vehemence surprised her. “What happened?” Maddy explained about their visit to the Hensons’, the kitten’s escape from his basket, and the ensuing accident. “Doug’s down in Emergency. I’m on my way back down there.” “Is he badly hurt?” “I’ve been trying to find out. I’ve been bugging them at the nurses’ station, but I can’t seem to get an answer.” She fiddled anxiously with a delicate silver ID bracelet she wore. Her wrists looked narrow and fragile as matchsticks to him. “And Amy? How is Amy? Where is she?” “Oh, my neighbor just came to take Amy home. She’s okay. Thank God. In all the commotion, the kitten bolted into the woods. We couldn’t find him afterward. Amy was more upset about the cat than anything else.” “He’ll be okay,” said Nick. “You know how cats land on their feet.” “I hope so.” “People, too,” he said. “Don’t worry.” Maddy shook her head. “I hope you’re right.” “I’ll walk with you,” he said. “Oh, it’s late, Father . . . Nick,” she corrected herself. “You go on.” “Not a chance,” he said, putting a hand lightly on her elbow. “I forgot,” she said wryly. “This is your job.” Nicholas Rylander did not correct her. He steered her through the corridor, his hand cupping her fragile elbow as they walked, and he stole a glance at her tired, strained face. He knew about the accusations against Doug by that young teenager, even though Maddy had never mentioned it to him. Everyone in town knew. Maddy had held her head high throughout, a faithful, steadfast wife. Yet with her shoulder-length dark hair, bangs, and freckles, she looked hardly more than a teenager herself. “You’ve been through a lot lately,” he said. Maddy nodded fretfully. “I just keep thinking how stupid I was. This all could have been avoided. I feel terrible about the people in the other car. They left in an ambulance. I don’t know how they’re doing, either. And it was our fault . . . Nick.” “Oh, come on,” he said. “Really. I mean it was an accident, but if I hadn’t put the kitten in the backseat with Amy . . .” “It was an accident,” he said firmly. “That’s what an accident is.” “I guess you’re right.” She sighed. “Here we are.” Maddy hurried up to the nurse’s station and inquired after Doug. “I have no information,” said the nurse on duty in exasperation. “But I need to know something,” Maddy pleaded. “Nurse McCarthy,” Nick said gently, leaning over the desk, “we’re going to be in the lounge. I would really appreciate it if you could find out about Mr Blake for me.” The nurse looked up at him in surprise and then blushed. “Certainly, Father Nick,” she said piously, welcoming the opportunity to come to the aid of her parish priest. “Come on,” said Nick. “Let’s sit down in there.” Reluctantly Maddy let him lead her to a lounge that was more brightly lit than the corridors, with orange and turquoise chairs, a box of toys, and an assortment of magazines scattered on end tables. A television suspended from the ceiling played quietly above them. Maddy sat on a chair, her back to the TV. Nick walked over to the coffee station and dislodged a couple of Styrofoam cups. The lounge contained only a few people. A heavyset, gray-haired man in a buffalo plaid shirt sat with his head leaning back against the wall, eyes closed, his clenched jaw belying his apparent repose. In a corner by the window two women sat knitting, talking in low voices, each possessed of a canvas tote bag that seemed to be brimming with necessities for a long stay in this room. A middle-aged couple sat nervously by the doorway, looking out constantly, obviously waiting for the doctor to appear. Nick brought the coffee back and handed her a cup. Maddy looked ruefully at the steaming liquid. “I guess I might as well. I won’t be sleeping tonight anyway.” Nick nodded and took a sip. “Me neither.” “What’s your excuse?” she said. “Oh, packing, you know. Tying up loose ends.” “That’s right, you’re leaving,” she exclaimed, noticing that his thoughtful, handsome face was haggard. “When is it? I’ve been so wrapped up in my own problems . . .” Your husband’s problems, he thought, and in spite of himself, he felt a little bitterness. He knew that Doug had been exonerated in court. That should have been the end of it. After all, hadn’t he just witnessed today that an innocent man could be unjustly imprisoned? Yet he wondered about Doug Blake. He had an easygoing manner, but there was something cold in his eyes, Nick thought. Maybe, if he was honest, it was just the thought of leaving Maddy to him that made Nick dislike Doug Blake so much. Yet so often, where there was smoke . . . “Nick?” “Oh, actually I’m leaving day after tomorrow,” he said. “Or I hope to.” “So soon?” she said sadly. “I was just getting to know you.” She had met him when she’d started the stained-glass window commissions for the new chapel at his church. She had found him perceptive and easy to talk to. “Is it a smaller church that you’re going to, up in . . . where is it? Nova Scotia.” Nick nodded. “Actually, no, I’m not going to a church . . .” “You’re not?” He shifted in his seat as if uncomfortable with the discussion. “I’m going to be supervising some art restoration at an old monastery up there.” Maddy wanted to ask him why, but she could see he didn’t really want to talk about it. “I’ll miss you,” she said. Nick frowned and then looked around the room. His gaze landed on the television screen. “Did you hear about this?” he asked grimly. Maddy swiveled around in her chair to see what he was looking at. On the screen was a disheveled woman in a flowered dress, her eyes red with weeping, a stoic young man with a stubbly beard beside her. The woman was explaining how her missing baby was dressed. When she began to describe the red sweater with the Dalmatian on it that his grandmother had knitted, she broke down crying. The number of a tips hot line ran like a ticker tape across the bottom of the screen. Maddy felt her own eyes well up. She shook her head. “What happened?” “Babysitter disappeared with their child today. Right here in town,” Nick said. “Oh, my God, how awful. They look like a couple of children themselves.” At that moment Doug appeared in the doorway of the lounge, trailed by Nurse McCarthy, who beamed at Father Nick. Maddy’s face lit up. She jumped up from her chair and rushed to her husband. “Honey,” she said, “are you okay? What did the doctor say?” Nick also rose and extended a hand to Doug, who declined to shake it, pointing to his shoulder. “I’m a bit stiff,” he explained. “How are you doing?” Nick asked, wondering if it was a snub. Doug shrugged. “I’m doing fine,” he said. “He thinks I just wrenched my shoulder. But they won’t let me leave yet. They’re waiting for X-rays.” “But nothing’s torn or broken?” Maddy asked urgently. Doug shook his head. “No, it doesn’t look that way.” “That’s great,” said Maddy, weak with relief. “Well, I’m going to get going,” said Nick. “I’ll say goodnight to both of you.” “Thanks for everything, Nick,” said Maddy. “And if I don’t see you . . .” Nick waved without looking back. Doug sat down heavily in the seat that Nick had just vacated. “Can I get you something?” Maddy asked. “Some coffee or a soda?” “What did he want?” Doug asked. In spite of herself, Maddy felt defensive. “He was keeping me company. I met him in the lobby when Ruth came to take Amy home.” “What a coincidence,” Doug said, staring after the departing clergyman. Maddy set her jaw. “He’s a priest,” she said. “He visits the sick.” Doug put a hand over his eyes. “I know,” he said wearily. “Never mind. I’m just in a bad mood. I can’t believe this happened. On top of everything else. It seems like it’s one thing after another.” Maddy nodded. “It does seem that way.” “All because of that damned cat. Blacky,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re bad luck. I tried to warn you,” she teased him, rubbing his arm consolingly. “But Doug, we really were lucky. I mean, nothing’s seriously wrong with you. That’s great. Amy’s okay. And we’ll have the car back tomorrow. The man from the garage said it was just a blowout.” He glanced at her, and for a moment there was a venomous look in his eyes. She recoiled from him as if she had been struck. The nurse reappeared in the doorway and beckoned. “I’ve got to go,” he said, getting up out of his seat. “Why don’t you head home? I don’t know how much longer this is going to take.” “I’ll wait,” she said in a small voice, avoiding his gaze. Doug patted her on the shoulder and followed the nurse out of the lounge. Maddy watched him go, feeling a little shaky. He’s just tired, she told herself. She knew that sometimes her optimism got on his nerves. That was all. She picked up an ancient issue of People and tried to read. A thin woman with fuzzy brown hair and glasses came in and sat across the aisle of seats, absentmindedly rocking her baby, who was asleep against her chest, a yellow pacifier dangling from his mouth, his little upper body swathed in a pale blue hooded sweatshirt. Even in slumber, the child looked utterly exhausted. She set a battered brown pocketbook and a gaily printed diaper bag against the leg of her chair. Maddy smiled briefly at her and went back to her magazine, trying to read the article she was looking at. Just then a doctor came into the room, and the middle-aged couple by the door stood up. “Mr and Mrs Sobranski?” the doctor asked. They clutched hands and nodded, looking petrified. “What is it?” asked the man. “How’s Cliff doing?” “He’s fine. He’s comfortable. I’ve got him in a cast. He’s got two torn ligaments in the ankle.” “That doesn’t sound too serious,” the woman said hopefully. “Not serious,” bellowed her husband. Everyone in the lounge looked up at them. Maddy watched curiously as the man buried his face in his hands and shook his head. “He’s ruined,” the man cried. “Let’s step outside,” said the doctor. Mrs Sobranski, looking very confused, urged her husband along, following the doctor into the hall. Maddy peered out at them for a moment, then, with a shrug, returned to her article. “Bonnie Lewis?” Maddy looked up at a uniformed police officer who had entered the room and stood beside her chair, holding a pen and pad poised in his hand. He had shiny black hair and a smooth complexion and looked barely old enough to be a recruit. “No,” Maddy said. “I’m Mrs Lewis,” said the woman with the baby. The young officer walked over to the other woman. “Mrs Lewis, I’m Officer Termini. I’m here to find out about the accident. They tell me your husband is still in surgery. Can you tell me what happened?” The woman grimaced nervously. “Well, I can’t tell you exactly where it happened because we’re not from around here.” “You have Maine plates on your car? Is that right?” The woman nodded. “We just got to town. My husband has a new job lined up. We were on the River Road. It was bad out, you know. Rainy, and the roads were slick.” She paused to consider her words, pushing her glasses back up on her nose with the hand that wasn’t holding her baby. “All of a sudden . . . out of nowhere, this car that was coming toward us just swerved right into our path . . .” “You were driving . . .” “Yessir. I was taking a turn ’cause my husband was tired. I tried to avoid ’em as best I could, but my van landed off the road in a ditch. My husband was hurt . . .” Maddy listened to the woman’s account with growing distress. She had not actually seen the other people involved. They’d ended up on the other side of the road, and before Maddy and Doug had had a chance to collect themselves, a driver in a Land Rover with a cell phone had stopped and phoned for help. With the rain, the emergency vehicles, and all the confusion . . . But it had to be their accident. “Excuse me,” said Maddy, standing up. The officer and the woman with the baby looked at her. She walked over to the woman and sat in the chair beside her. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear. I’m Maddy Blake,” she said. She bit her lip as Mrs Lewis looked at her suspiciously. “We were in an accident on the River Road tonight.” The police officer consulted his pad. “Were you driving a gray Ford Taurus station wagon?” Maddy nodded and looked sadly at the woman beside her. “I’m so sorry,” she said to her. “It was our fault. Officer, it was our fault.” For a moment she hesitated, wondering if she shouldn’t have said that. The way people were with lawsuits these days. You could say it was the slippery road, the leaves . . . If only she hadn’t left that basket on the seat, where Amy could open it . . . But she had, and it had caused an accident, and now this poor woman had a husband in surgery because of it. This was no time to be trying to shift the blame. She loathed that in other people. She wasn’t going to do it herself. “We had a kitten in the car, and he got loose and startled my husband,” Maddy said. The other woman blinked at her from behind her glasses and shielded her baby’s ears, as if Maddy were saying something obscene. “Mrs Blake, I was about to try to hunt you down next,” said the officer. “You’ve saved me the trouble.” “Are you done with me?” Mrs Lewis asked abruptly. “I think I want to go to the ladies’ room. And maybe . . . is there a cafeteria?” “There’s an all-night coffee shop, ma’am. Next to the lobby.‐? Maddy bent and gathered up the woman’s belongings, then handed them to her. “I hope your husband will be all right,” she said fervently. Bonnie Lewis nodded, but her eyes were wary. Clutching her bags and her sleeping son, she hurried for the door. Chapter Six Are you sure you’re all right?” Maddy said to Doug. “Do you need to sit? What did the doctor say?” “I’m fine,” he said. “Really. He gave me a prescription for painkillers, and basically told me to take it easy. I’m going to have this filled at the hospital pharmacy.” “Okay,” said Maddy. “If you’re sure, I think I’ll give Ruth a quick call. She’ll be wondering.” “I’m fine. Go ahead,” he said. “I’ll take care of this and get us a cab.” Maddy walked out to the lobby and looked around until she spotted a phone. She called Ruth, who reassured her that Amy was fast asleep. As she was talking, Maddy could see through the glass walls into the coffee shop. It was nearly deserted at this time of night. Over by the window she spotted Bonnie Lewis and her son seated at a little round table in the corner. The baby was awake and belted into a modular highchair. He was inserting food in and around his mouth with a tiny fist, while Bonnie sat tensely, her face a study in anxiety, nodding as a slim doctor dressed in green surgical scrubs talked to her. When the doctor stood up and turned around, Maddy saw that it was a woman. She looked tired, but otherwise her attractive features wore the impenetrable mask of the physician. As the surgeon left the cafeteria, Maddy hung up the phone and hesitantly went in. “Mrs Lewis?” she asked tentatively. “I don’t mean to bother you. But are you okay?” Bonnie looked at Maddy with a bleary, stunned expression. She was so thin, she looked birdlike. “Yes,” she said in a dull voice. “Was that your husband’s doctor?” Maddy asked. Bonnie nodded. “The surgeon. She said Terry is out of surgery.” “Is he going to be all right?” Maddy asked anxiously. “I guess so. He had a ruptured spleen. He got jerked forward when we hit the ditch. Anyway, they had to take it out. The doctor said it sounds worse than it is. She said he can live without it okay.” “Thank God for that,” said Maddy. “He’ll be in recovery most of the night.” Bonnie looked up at the cafeteria clock. “I’ve lost track of time,” she said apologetically. “It’s easy to do in this place,” said Maddy, sitting beside her and placing a hand briefly on Bonnie’s pale forearm. “Can I get you a fresh cup of tea or something?” Bonnie gazed at her untouched tray as if she didn’t recognize it. “No, I’m fine,” she said. Her lower lip started to tremble, but she struggled to regain control. “I’ll be able to see him in the morning.” She lifted the squat beige cup from the saucer and took a sip. Then she put down the cup, sighed, and looked out the windows of the cafeteria. Maddy could see that she was trying to blink back tears. The baby, who had wrung all the amusement he could out of a peanut-butter sandwich, suddenly began to wail and squirm in the highchair. “Don’t cry, Sean,” Bonnie said. “Daddy’s gonna be all right.” “It’s just so hard to sit around here and wait, isn’t it,” said Maddy. Bonnie reached into her diaper bag and pulled out a rattle in the shape of an elephant. Sean stopped wailing and studied it. “It’s going to be a long night,” Bonnie said grimly. Maddy frowned at her. “Where are you two going to stay?” Bonnie did not look at her. She shook the rattle again. “I guess that lounge will work all right for us. It’s got a couple of couches . . .” “But that would be miserable for you,” Maddy exclaimed. “Especially with this little one.” “Well, I haven’t got much choice,” Bonnie said matter-of-factly. “I can’t exactly afford a motel for us. Terry’s been out of work for a while, and now, I don’t know. This job may not wait for him . . .” Maddy hesitated for a moment and was ashamed of her own hesitation. She glanced out into the lobby and saw that Doug had emerged from the pharmacy and was looking around for her. She was exhausted; she wanted to just go home with her husband, crawl into bed, and hide from everything else. She also knew, weary as she was, there was only one right thing to do. “Now listen,” she said. “You’ll do no such thing. You’ll come home with us. We have plenty of room in our house, and I have a little girl who’s three who will be thrilled to see a baby there in the morning.” “Oh, we couldn’t do that,” Bonnie said hurriedly. “You absolutely have to,” said Maddy. “Because I won’t hear of anything else. I wouldn’t sleep a wink tonight, thinking of you and Sean being here. No, this is what we have to do. My husband’s just calling for a cab now. I’ll drive you back here in the morning, to see your husband. You’ll stay with us as long as you need to.” “I guess you have your own problems,” Bonnie demurred. “Your car was wrecked, too, wasn’t it?” “Ours wasn’t too bad,” Maddy said apologetically. “Just a flat. We’ll have it back in the morning. Besides, we have another car.” Bonnie looked almost embarrassed, as if she hadn’t realized a family could have two cars. This made Maddy feel even more guilty. “We’d be imposing,” Bonnie said weakly. “Nonsense,” said Maddy. “You’d be doing me a favor. It would ease my conscience.” “Well, you have no reason to feel that way, but . . . all right. I guess . . . all right. Thank you . . .” Despite her insistence, Maddy felt a little niggling sense of anxiety that her offer had been accepted. She wondered how Doug would react, remembering that flash of malice in his eyes earlier. But she was determined not to show her ambivalence. “All right, then,” she said. “That’s settled.” “Do I have time to run up and look in on Terry for a minute before we go?” “Of course,” said Maddy, wondering if Doug would mind the wait. He must be exhausted himself. “You go ahead. Why don’t you let me take Sean while you run up there? I don’t think they’ll let him into the recovery room.” Bonnie hesitated, and Maddy could see the wariness in her eyes, mixed with a reluctance to seem rude or ungrateful. Maddy instantly remembered the woman on TV, pleading for the return of her baby, and identified with Bonnie’s reluctance. “He might be scared being left with a stranger,” Bonnie said. “You’re right,” said Maddy. “Never mind.” Bonnie leaned over and lifted the child from the chair. He was fussing, but his sticky hands clutched the neck of her dress and the ends of her frizzy hair. “I won’t be long. We’ll just peek in at him.” “You go ahead. We’ll be right here in the lobby,” Maddy assured her. “There’s my husband. We’ll meet you back here as soon as you’re done,” she added as she saw Bonnie hesitate. Bonnie picked up her bags. “Do you want me to keep those?” Maddy asked. Bonnie shook her head. “Well, give me the diaper bag, at least.” Bonnie looked anxiously at the bag, as if she thought Maddy might just take her bag and walk off with it. “No, I’ll keep it,” she said. “I might need it.” Maddy felt a little insulted, though she tried not to show it. After all, it was one thing not to trust a stranger with your child. But a diaper bag? She stifled the urge to protest. “Okay, well, go on,” said Maddy. “And good luck.” As Bonnie rushed out of the coffee shop, her burdens bobbing in her thin arms, Maddy walked out to the lobby. Doug turned at her approach and smiled briefly, then glanced at his watch. “Are you ready?” he said. Maddy sighed. “Prepare yourself,” she said. “We’re having houseguests.” “Houseguests? Who?” Maddy glanced over her shoulder, as if to be sure no one was listening. “You know the people in the van?” Doug frowned at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. “In the accident,” she persisted. “Oh, honey, the man just got out of surgery, their car is in the garage, and they have nowhere to go. They’re from Maine somewhere. They don’t know a soul here. She’s up checking on him right now.” “Why can’t they go to a hotel?” “They haven’t got any money,” Maddy whispered. “He was headed here to see about a job. He’s been out of work. Something we can sympathize with.” Doug frowned. “Well, we can give them enough money for a hotel.” “And how will they get around? They can’t afford cabs. This woman has a tiny baby.” Doug sighed. “It’s our fault they’re in this mess, Doug,” Maddy pleaded. “I can’t just leave them here.” “Don’t say that, Maddy,” he snapped. “Don’t go claiming responsibility. You didn’t say that to her, did you?” he demanded. Maddy shook her head, which was a lie, and she knew it. “It was an accident,” he said. “That’s all anybody needs to know.” “All right, it was an accident. But can’t we do the decent thing?” “Maddy—” Doug’s response was interrupted when he was nearly toppled by an extremely tall young man on crutches far too short for him. He was hobbling across the lobby, his countenance a terrible combination of fury, pain, and sorrow. Doug looked at him curiously. “That’s Cliff Sobranski,” he whispered to Maddy. “Who’s he?” Maddy asked. Suddenly she saw the couple from the lounge hurrying to catch up with the young man. The woman called out to him, her voice full of motherly concern, but the father’s face was like a thundercloud. “He’s the top basketball prospect at the university. The NBA has been scouting him in his junior year,” Doug said. “I heard the doctor telling his parents he had two torn ligaments in his ankle,” Maddy whispered. “Oh no,” said Doug. He looked stricken as he watched the distressed family trail out into the night. “That poor kid. He had the whole world at his feet. He could have had it all. Unbelievable.” Maddy watched Doug, and she could see he was thinking of his own injury, his own truncated career. Part of her felt sorry for him, but part of her wanted to say, “So what? There are a lot worse things in life than that.” She held her tongue. There was no use trying to discuss it because he always told her that she simply didn’t understand. At that moment Bonnie appeared, looking frantically around the lobby, jiggling her fussing baby to try to quiet him. Her expression relaxed when she saw Maddy and Doug. She hurried over to them. “I thought you’d be gone,” she said. Maddy wondered why she would think that. “I said we’d wait.” Bonnie shrugged as if to express her lack of faith in such promises. “Bonnie,” said Maddy, “this is my husband, Doug Blake. Doug, this is Bonnie Lewis. The one I told you about.” She turned to Bonnie. “How’s your husband doing? Did you see him?” “He’s out cold. He didn’t know I was there.” Bonnie turned to Doug. “Your wife invited us to stay,” she said anxiously, “but if you don’t want us there . . .” Doug forced a brief smile. “No, no,” he said. “It’s no problem. Let me just go see if the cab is here.” Maddy gave the other woman an encouraging smile as Doug went over to the door. “Everything will be all right,” she said. Bonnie nodded grimly and patted the back of her baby, whose little sobs echoed off the walls of the quiet lobby. * * * Maddy led the way up the stairs to the bedrooms. She opened the door to the guest room. There were twin beds and a bureau. In the corner was the crib, which Amy had outgrown. Maddy had put it there so that they would be prepared for visits from friends or family who also had young children. Bonnie looked around the room, and for the first time she brightened. “This’ll be great,” she said. Maddy nodded, feeling pleased at the sight of the pale-yellow room with its hooked rug and wildflower quilts. She remembered the day last spring when she and Doug had painted this room. Doug had started out griping that he wished they had the money to hire someone to do it, but in the end it had been fun. They had painted while Amy danced happily around with her doll. “Maybe we can get a house,” said Bonnie. “If the job works out. Before this we’ve lived in apartments. But now that we have Sean . . .” “How long have you been married?” Maddy asked. Bonnie frowned. “Oh, not too long. A few years. It took me a while to get pregnant. Then when I did, it was easy as pie. I worked up until the week I had him.” She placed the baby into the crib and took off the knitted booties on his feet. Maddy leaned against the door frame. “Where did you work?” she asked. “What?” Bonnie asked, turning around. “Oh, at the library. As an assistant.” “Well, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a job around here. Seems like they’re always short staffed at the library.” “I’m not going to go back to work,” she said. “Not now. Terry wants to support us. Once I get this little one off to school, I’ll be able to go back,” she said dreamily. “Terry and I have discussed it and we both feel that it’s important for the mother to be home with her child.” Maddy smiled and gave her an assessing glance. She wasn’t young, probably mid-thirties, and she was not especially attractive. But she had found herself a husband and she had her first child. Having this baby must have been a dream come true to her. No wonder she wanted to stay home. And it would probably work out fine for them, except for this little nightmare glitch of the breadwinner being in the hospital, minus his spleen. Bonnie walked over to the bed and began to rummage in the diaper bag. She pulled out a pair of pajamas and set them gently on the bed. “Good thing these weren’t in the suitcase,” she said. She removed a bottle of baby oil, powder, and a plastic soap container. “I’ll drive you around to the garage tomorrow and we’ll get your bags,” said Maddy. Bonnie returned to the side of the crib and unsnapped the baby’s little corduroy pants. He began to make fretful noises. “Maybe you should let him sleep in his clothes,” Maddy suggested, “so you don’t wake him up.” Bonnie looked up at her indignantly. “And let him go to bed all dirty and sticky like this? I wouldn’t think of it.” Mind your own business, Maddy reminded herself. Every mother has her own way of doing things. “Well, I’m going to leave you two. I’ll see you at breakfast in the morning.” “No fruit,” said Bonnie. “What?” Maddy asked. “No fruit for breakfast. Sean is allergic to most fruits.” Maddy smiled. “Well, my Amy won’t touch them anyway. Good night.” Bonnie resumed undressing the baby as Maddy pulled the door shut quietly. She went down the hall to her bedroom, tiptoeing so as not to wake Doug. As she approached the door, she thought she heard the murmur of his voice. She opened the door and saw him sitting on the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped, a pained expression on his face. “Doug, what’s the matter?” she asked. “Are you feeling all right?” “I’m all right,” he said. “Maybe you better take one of those painkillers.” Doug shook his head. “That’s why the doctor gave you a prescription.” “I don’t need it,” he said. Maddy sighed. “Okay. Whatever you think. I guess I got our guests settled in.” From down the hall the baby’s fussy cry threaded its way to them. Maddy went to the closet and got out her nightgown. “What a night,” she said. “Maddy . . .” Maddy turned and looked at her husband. “What?” “There’s another little problem . . .” Maddy’s heart started to race with apprehension. She held her nightgown up in front of her, as if for protection. “What problem?” Then she frowned. “Who were you talking to on the phone just now?” “You heard me?” he asked. “I heard your voice as I was coming in. I didn’t hear what you were saying.” “Stanley Plank,” he said. “Who in the world is Stanley Plank?” Doug sighed. “Our insurance man.” “Oh, right,” said Maddy. “You told him about the accident.” She shook her head in confusion. “So, what’s the problem?” “Maddy, look,” said Doug. “You know the last few months have been so crazy. I mean with this court business. And being out of work . . .” “Yes,” she said, conscious that she was holding her breath. “Last month, I was paying the bills and there just wasn’t enough money to go around.” “Enough money for what?” she said. “I had to let a few things slide. I had no choice.” He was avoiding her gaze, explaining himself to the carpet by the bed. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “Not the car insurance.” “It probably won’t matter,” he said. “It’s a no-fault state.” Maddy turned away from him, her jaw clenched. “The car insurance, Doug?” “It was a judgment call,” he said irritably. “Anyway, maybe it’ll all go away . . .” Maddy shook her head. She felt numb. “I can’t believe this,” she said. “What could you have been thinking? What if they decide to sue us or something?” Doug sprang up from the edge of the bed and turned on her, his eyes blazing. “Well, if they do sue us, it’s because you have acted as if we were to blame. Inviting them here . . . you might as well have admitted it was our fault.” Maddy’s face reddened, for she knew she had said exactly that to the police. All of a sudden, they heard a noise in the hallway. Doug looked toward the door. “Who’s there?” he demanded. Maddy jerked around and saw a shadow on the half-open door of their bedroom. Amy was not home. It could be only one person. She felt her face flush with shame at the thought that their argument might have been overheard. Doug strode to the door and pulled it open. Bonnie was standing there, holding an empty baby bottle. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “Pardon me,” Bonnie said indignantly. “I only wanted to know if I could get Sean some milk. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” “Of course,” Maddy said humbly. “Downstairs. In the fridge.” Bonnie raised her chin and turned away. As she turned, Maddy saw something chilling in her eyes—an unmistakable little glint of satisfaction. Chapter Seven Frank Cameron poured a cup of coffee, yawned, and wiped a large hand over his wide, sagging face. He’d spent most of the night at the police station, and out on the search with his officers, and his complexion was nearly as gray as his hair. He had come home, managed two hours of sleep on the sofa in the den, and now was getting ready to go back to the station. Mary Beth sat at the kitchen table, her laptop open beside her plate of dry toast, studying the screen and picking away at the keys with one polished fingernail. She was groomed and coiffed for the office, her makeup flawless, her fitted red suit at once tailored and seductive. Frank remembered when she’d first returned to work. Heather had just started third grade, and Mary Beth had complained that there wasn’t enough for her to do at home. Back then her entire professional wardrobe consisted of two skirts, one gray and one navy blue, and a couple of cardigan twin sets. Although her transformation had been gradual, he felt as if he had completely missed it—as if one day, the wife he knew had disappeared and been replaced by this sharp-eyed real-estate mini-mogul. “What time did you get in?” Mary Beth asked, her gaze not wavering from the little screen. “Oh, Jesus, I don’t know. Five. Six.” “Did you find them?” “Not yet, Mary Beth,” he said caustically. She did not seem to notice. Heather shuffled into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. “Hello, Heather,” Frank said. “Hi, Dad.” She gave him a brief smile and went back to examining the contents of the refrigerator. Frank thought how strange it was for them to all be in the same room at the same time. Usually he left the house before they got up, and when he got home, Heather was in her room with the door shut and his dinner was in the microwave. Meanwhile Mary Beth would be busy making appointments on her cell phone or logging on to the Internet, to share her grievances with some other frustrated female. He thought back to the time when Frank junior and Heather were children, and they always seemed to eat together. A lot of nights he had kept them waiting, but still, those had been better days. He gazed at his daughter, who was sitting down with a juice box and a Pop-Tarts on a paper plate. He felt a sudden, overwhelming affection for her, probably because he had spent the night worrying about Rebecca Starnes, who was about the same age as Heather. She looked vulnerable and kind of sweet to him in those baggy overalls she liked to wear. Impulsively he walked over to her and stroked her soft hair. Mary Beth pushed her chair back from the table and examined her daughter critically. “Heather,” she said, “what in the world inspired you to wear those two items of clothing together?” Heather looked down at her dull green shirt and her lavender overalls and gazed wearily at her mother. “They look okay,” she said. Mary Beth shook her head. “They look completely ridiculous, Heather. You wonder why you have no friends.” Frank sipped his coffee and closed his eyes. He had a sudden image of Sandi Starnes in that ketchup-stained blouse, clutching a photo of her daughter. Promising God any extravagant thing, if only she could just set eyes on Rebecca again. “She looks fine,” he said through clenched teeth. Mary Beth stood up and walked over to the coffeepot, high heels clicking against the linoleum. “What do you know about it, Frank?” she said. A knock on the back door precluded his reply. Mary Beth opened the door, prepared to excoriate the person who dared intrude on her family breakfast. But her stiffness vanished at the sight of the two young people in the doorway. “Karla,” she exclaimed with a broad smile. “What a nice surprise. Come on in.” Heather blanched when she saw the visitors. Karla Needham lived two streets over and was one of the most popular girls at school. She was a cheerleader, had perfect looks, perfect clothes, and a boyfriend. A boyfriend who made Heather swoon every time she thought of him. A boyfriend who was standing in her doorway. “Who’s your friend?” Mary Beth asked. “This is Richie Talbot. Hi, Heather.” Heather gulped down the corner of a Pop-Tart. As she mumbled, “Hi,” some crumbs escaped and sprayed out on the table. Heather had known Karla Needham all her life. As little girls, they had played together. But once they hit fifth grade, Karla had moved on to other things. Not that she wasn’t nice. She always said hi and asked how Heather’s parents were. But that was all. Until now. This morning. This moment. Heather suddenly felt sick to her stomach. “We were passing by and we thought you might want to walk to school with us,” Karla said pleasantly. “Why?” asked Heather.