Friday, August 19, 2011
UPDATE ON THE FAMILY AND SOME FREE BOOK PAGES
What readers don't know is that my oldest son is also in a wheelchair currently. Before the accident, my oldest had a major surgery a month ago to correct a bone deformity he was born with. He won't be walking for the next six months. So, yeah, it hasn't been a walk in the park lately.
In the meantime, I have decided to post the first fifty pages of MOMMY, MAY I? here. WARNING!!! It is not intended for anyone under 18. There are some disturbing scenes in this book, and if you are one of my readers who loves the lightheartedness of Nikki Sands and her crew. If that is your speed of book, then this book is not going to be your cup of tea. I doubt it anyway. Just a warning.
If you enjoy thrillers about evil serial killers, then give it a try and let me know what you think.
MOMMY, MAY I?
Before . . .
That last night was so cold that Richard could see his own breath. Even the Beatles, his favorite group, belting out “Yellow Submarine” from the other room couldn’t warm him or make him feel better. The next few hours would be miserable no matter which record his mother decided to play. Hail barreled down outside, sounding like pellets from his BB gun hitting the roof. The constant drip from a leak in the ceiling hit the bucket his mother had set in the corner of his room, certain to be filled long before morning. He pulled the cape of his Superman pajamas tighter around himself as he listened to his mother read to him.
His light flickered inside the cramped room of the two-bedroom house, illuminating worn wallpaper and the young boy’s pale face. His stomach twisted into a knot so tight he thought it might burst open and release the snakes he imagined lived inside him. Then they would slither into the next room and bite his mother’s visitor to death.
When her visitors stayed over, Richard would bury his head under his pillow, trying to drown out the noises that came from the other room. Sometimes, when he heard the front door close behind his mother as she’d leave for a date, he would lie awake waiting to hear the click of the lock opening again, and her heels on the linoleum. The stupid babysitter would always sneak her boyfriend into the house and tell Richard to keep his trap shut. Then she’d laugh and say, “As if it really matters to your mom that I have a guy here.”
“‘But he never knew that it really was his own bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be real,’” Elizabeth Shelton read to her son. She closed The Velveteen Rabbit and patted Richard on the head.
“I love that story, Mom.”
“I know you do, honey.”
Beer on his mother’s breath mixed with the jasmine incense she’d lit in the other room in attempt to rid the house of its mildew smell made him pull his covers up tighter around his face.
The eleven-year-old boy loved when she read to him, when he could pretend they were like every other family. It was their nightly ritual. On many nights, some man—young, old, fat, or skinny—waited for her in the family room, along with the stupid babysitter.
“Do you have to go out tonight?”
Elizabeth Shelton kissed her son on the cheek, her lips soft. “I’m sorry, baby, you know I do. I wish I didn’t have to, but you’re gonna need new clothes for school when it starts next week. You’ll be in the sixth grade, and we can’t have you looking scrappy.”
Richard also knew that Mom liked to buy him the best clothes, and she usually bought a few expensive things for herself when they went into Portland. She liked buying clothes, shoes, and cosmetics much better than she liked fixing leaky roofs. She claimed that the money she earned was one of the perks of her trade, which, she explained to Richard, was being like a friend or kind of a nurse to people who were lonely. Men. Richard knew the truth. Everyone knew the truth.
“But, Mom, I want you to stay home.”
“If I didn’t have such wonderful friends, then we wouldn’t have food on the table. They’re kind enough to give us money and gifts, so please try to understand.”
A tear rolled down Richard’s face. He didn’t understand. He wanted his mother to be like everyone else’s mother. The kids in school called her a whore. Even so, he loved her fiercely. He’d do anything for her, and had been suspended more than once for fighting with the older kids who taunted him about her.
“Oh baby, no, don’t cry.” She wiped away the tear. “Tell you what, I won’t go out tomorrow night. I’ll cancel the date, and we’ll go to town and see a movie.”
“You bet.” His mother hugged him. “How’s my lipstick look?”
Elizabeth Shelton had a thing about her scarlet lipstick, always drawing the line around her mouth and filling it in just so. It was worth the effort; she always had beautiful lips. Richard loved them.
“Thank you, precious. Now remember, tomorrow it’s just you and me.”
She hugged him again, her body warm. He watched her leave his room. Her laughter from the other room echoed in his ears as he tried to fall asleep. He hated that men could make her laugh like that.
Had his father made her laugh? His father? Richard’s mother said that his father had been Mills Florence, the great cosmetics guru of the fifties. But Mills never had the opportunity to know about Richard. As his mother explained to him, their affair was brief, but they were very much in love. She’d met him on a vacation in Hollywood where she’d gone to try out her acting abilities. She’d wound up pregnant instead. By the time she planned to tell Mills, he’d been killed in a car accident.
There was no proof that he was Mills Florence’s son, and therefore, he wasn’t heir to the fortune his father’s company had produced. His mother never achieved her dreams, but made an existence for them the only way she knew how—with her looks and personality.
Richard was the outcast amongst his peers—the bastard son of a whore. No one ever believed that Mills Florence was his father, and so Richard learned not to repeat it. He knew, however, that he was not a bastard.
The next day Richard didn’t disturb her. He’d figured out early on that she was always tired in the morning. She usually didn’t rise before noon.
They lived in a small town in Oregon, right outside of Eugene. When it wasn’t raining, Richard liked to explore. This morning he walked along a dirt road lacing its way against the Cascades, playing kick the can and whistling. Buzz saws rang out in the distance followed by the rumble of falling timber as it hit the ground. It had rained earlier that morning and the dampness hung in the air. Richard was happy that tonight he’d be alone with his mother.
A truck full of kids passed him, then stopped about a hundred yards up. Richard watched as they jumped out. He knew he was in trouble.
“Hey, look, it’s whore boy,” they yelled. “How’s that whore mama of yours?”
Anger rose inside Richard at the words, like the giant Grizzly known to stalk the woods. But there were too many of them to take on, and basic instinct urged him to run. He sprinted through the pines, their taunts filling his head.
“Bastard boy, where are you?”
Richard kept going, but they were impossible to outrun. The boys surrounded him. There were about eight of them, all at least fourteen. They closed in on him. He tried not to cry, tried to break through them as his heart pounded hard against his chest. Trapped, he could hear his own breathing and wanted to scream, Leave me alone! His legs grew weak, and the trees swirled into one big blur.
The gang closed in. “I’d like to fuck your mama, she’s pretty sweet.”
“Nah,” another one said. “I’d just make her suck me. Who knows what she’s got crawling inside her.”
Richard covered his ears. He hated what they were saying, hated them. His skin burned. His mother was beautiful and good. They were evil. If only he was bigger…
When the largest kid hit him first, Richard went down and curled into a ball. They kicked him hard all over while cursing and spitting on him. One blow to his head almost caused him to lose consciousness. As the beating, angry words, and sound of his own heart pounding against his chest blended into one, a loud gunshot rang out disturbing the attack, and the boys rapidly dispersed.
“Get on outta’ here!” someone yelled. Richard felt strong hands lift him up. “You’re a mess, boy.” A lumberjack, one of his mother’s friends, dusted him off. “You okay?”
Richard nodded. “I think so.” He was still dizzy.
“Well, you got a few cuts and bruises, and that gash on your head looks like it hurts pretty bad. Why don’t I give you a ride home?”
Richard replied, “That’s all right.” He was afraid the man might want to come inside and see his mom.
“Hmmm, well, okay then. But them kids might come back for you.”
“A ride halfway home might be okay,” Richard said.
The lumberjack respected that, and dropped him off down the road from his house. He washed up with a hose outside, not wanting his mother to see him this way. She should be up by now. He prayed she hadn’t been crying this morning. She did that a lot. He wished he could make things better for her.
He opened the front screen, then stopped for a moment and listened. The house was silent. Normally, she would be in the kitchen making her coffee and his lunch right about now.
She didn’t answer. He peered inside the kitchen. The coffee canister was still in the pantry—untouched. The shower wasn’t on. Richard went on back to her bedroom, where her door was shut.
He knocked. “Mom?” Still no reply. His stomach started hurting. His mouth went dry. He was afraid he’d find her in bed with a man, but he had to find out why she didn’t answer.
He opened the door a crack, then wider.
“Mom!” he screamed. His mother lay there on the bed, sheets stained with blood. She was not breathing, and when he pulled back the sheets he could see the gaping wound caused by a gunshot. He grabbed the phone on the nightstand, his hands shaking as he tried to dial the number to the police station. He was crying hysterically by the time a voice on the other end answered. He could barely get the words out as his voice quivered with emotion, “My mom, my mom’s been shot.”
In minutes the police arrived. Several had been friends of his mother’s. All the men liked Elizabeth.
The chief of police took off his hat as he walked into the bedroom, bowing his head. “What a shame,” he said. “She was such a pretty thing, too. A sweet lady, and she loved you very much.” He patted Richard on the head, but Richard had no reply as fresh tears filled his eyes.
It didn’t take but a matter of hours to make an arrest. In a fit of rage, Trudy Walker, the wife of one of Elizabeth’s customers, had decided enough was enough upon reading a love letter that she found tucked inside her husband’s jacket pocket. Trudy had known about Mr. Walker’s visits with Elizabeth for some time, but when she discovered that he had real feelings for her, she became enraged. She’d taken her husband’s revolver, gone to Elizabeth’s house that morning, broken in, and shot her. She’d actually even confessed when the police had gone to question Mr. Walker.
“Yeah, I killed that husband-stealing whore. She was nothing but a disease-spreading slut. And, I’m not sorry for it,” she said to the police as they arrested her.
Even though his mother’s killer was behind bars, nothing could pacify Richard. Hatred brewed deep in his heart. He spent the night at the police chief’s house, sobbing and waiting for morning, when the aunt and uncle he’d never met would arrive from Redding, California, to take him home to live with them.
Present day . . .
Helena Shea cradled the tiny infant in her arms, understanding now what she’d missed for years. She twirled a tendril of his silken hair between her fingers. Looking at him at that moment, it was hard to believe that his entry into the world had been less than desirable. “He looks wonderful, Rachel.”
The baby stretched, opening his mouth, blinking his eyes.
“It’s all because of you. If you hadn’t helped when I was using, who knows where Jeremy and I’d be. You know, I’m just sorry I didn’t quit sooner. Then maybe he wouldn’t have had to stay in the hospital for so long.” Tears rolled down Rachel’s face. She had celebrated her eighteenth birthday and the homecoming of her son three days earlier. He’d been hospitalized for two months with an addiction to crack cocaine, caused by his mother’s drug use while pregnant. The doctors and nurses who’d worked on him were dedicated to healing him, as was Helena Shea who continued to be an angel to both of them.
“No, Rachel, it was because of your own willpower and love for your son. Now, you have to learn to love yourself.”
“That’s easier said than done.”
Helena set the baby down in his bassinet. She put her arms around the petite girl. Rachel was now very pretty with coffee colored skin and a face resembling a young Lena Horne. The scabs that only a few months ago ran along her arms had faded into scars and her face had cleared from the acne caused from the drugs. She hadn’t gained more than fifteen pounds during her pregnancy, and Helena was constantly bringing her food in hopes of keeping her healthy.
“Remember, that’s your past, and right there lies your future,” Helena said gesturing to the baby who’d fallen back asleep.
“I know, but it’s still hard.”
“Yes it is. And, that’s why you’ve got me, the staff here, and the new friends that you’ve made.”
“You’re right.” Rachel smiled and tucked a piece of loose hair back into the braid Helena had plaited for her. “Speaking of new friends and the staff, how are things coming for Shea House? You know, Lindsay gave me thirty days notice to move, since I turned eighteen and I’ve been sober for six months,” Rachel said. Lindsay Covner ran the Sober Living House for teens.
“I actually spoke with her the other day about you and the move. I assured her that it’s not going to be a problem as far as Shea House being ready. The plumbers are supposed to finish up this week, and then, once we’ve passed the final inspection, you and your little guy can start moving in. We’ve been told by the city that it might be as early as next week, but I’m betting it’ll be more towards the end of the month. Anyway, no worries. It’ll be ready by the time you need to be out of here.”
“Good. I can’t wait. I love it here, you know. But I like the idea of a new place with more girls my age, and being able to focus on getting a job and such. I’m really excited, Helena. Girls like me don’t get much in the way of second chances.”
“You deserve it. Well look, I hate to go, but I’ve got a meeting to get to, and it appears that Mr. Jeremy here wants to rest. Maybe you should get some sleep, too.”
“I need to study for that diploma.”
“That’s true. But you also need to keep up your rest. Balance is key.”
“You’re our angel, Miss Helena. You are certainly our angel.”
“No, you two are mine,” Helena said, shutting the door to Rachel’s dorm room.
Smiling, Helena walked down the hall, confident that in a few weeks the adult residential center she’d funded and designed for addicted mothers would be ready. Many of the teens here would be fed into that center, to continue their recovery program and adapt to the responsibilities of parenthood. She finally felt like she’d done something right in her life, because it felt like the entire world knew nearly everything that she’d ever done wrong, thanks to her bad choices and a few unscrupulous people. This was her own second chance, and maybe her own child would be able to find it in her heart to forgive her if she did this right.
Despite the light sprinkle falling, Helena decided to walk to the community center where her AA meeting was held. It was less than a mile away, and she’d always liked the rain. It, too, reminded her of new beginnings and that things never stay the same.
On her way, she passed a newsstand. A familiar face on the front of Weekly Entrepreneur caught her eye. There he was—Patrick. Her stomach sank as it always did when she saw his face. At least his being on the front cover had nothing to do with her or anything that had happened between them. And, thank God, it was a business magazine, leading her to believe that they wouldn’t mention Frankie in the article. To ease her mind, she went ahead and bought it. Flipping through it quickly, she saw a small blurb about her daughter that read, “Frances Kiley appears to be doing well after moving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara last year with her father. According to Mr. Kiley, she sees Helena Shea often, and the two are forming a relationship after the bitter scandal that rocked the family.”
“Even a damn business magazine has to get a blurb in there. Unbelievable.” Helena took a deep breath, wondering if it would ever really be over. Reporters, gossip, “friends” looking for tidbits of information had taught Helena a thing or two, and she’d become a woman who’d learned to be cautious of the world around her. But after glancing through the magazine, her mind began filling with kaleidoscopes of taunting memories. She didn’t even see the headlights approaching until the van slammed to a stop only inches away.
Stumbling backwards, Helena jumped back, nearly tripping over herself, the magazine flying out of her hands. Blood rushed through her ears—she wanted to scream, but fear and the stench of burning rubber clogged her throat. The headlights of the van switched off, but there was no other movement. What the hell was this guy doing? A few seconds passed, and she couldn’t get her legs to move. They were like cement and Jello all at the same time. And damn if her heart wasn’t going to come right out through her chest. There was an unreal quality about the situation. Wasn’t this guy going to get out and apologize? The only visible sign of life from inside the van was the glow of a cigarette. Somewhere in the distance a horn honked. Then a powerful fear began to crawl over Helena’s skin like a rash.
She fought to compose herself and bring her stomach back up from her gut, as the driver continued the bizarre standoff. Her heart raced faster. The driver revved the engine, blasted the horn, and flashed the high beams on her. She protected her eyes from the blinding light.
Not so long ago, she would’ve flipped the finger at him, but not now. Fear coursed through her, and running at this point seemed a good option. The only option.
Helena bounded across the street and through the front door of a Denny’s. Several patrons turned to look. She ducked into the restroom not wanting to be recognized. The strong odor of ammonia made her dizzy.
She splashed her face with cool water. Her cell phone rang. The number came up as unknown. God, not now. Still trembling, she answered.
Goosebumps crawled across her flesh. The voice on the other end sounded muffled, mechanical, demonic. “Yes?”
“You really should be more careful when you cross the street.”
Helena slumped against the wall. “Who is this?”
“The important question is, who are you? I am the one you will never forget. I know how this began and how it will end. As they say, revenge is sweet, Ms. Shea.”
“Who the hell is this?”
“Your worst nightmare, come to life. By the time I’m finished with you, you’ll wish you were never born.” His voice rose an octave. “You’re such a stupid bi . . .”
Helena flipped shut the phone. It took a lot to shake her, but this scum had achieved it. She steadied herself against the sink, feeling nauseous. She was startled by her reflection in the mirror. The green eyes that helped make her famous were wide-eyed with fright. She wiped sweat from her face, smearing her make-up.
A woman walked in, smelling of body odor and beer. Helena glanced up. The lady asked, “Aren’t you . . .” She snapped her fingers, then pointed at her, “ . . . that model?”
“Sure you are. I’ve seen you on the cover of The Scene. You got a drinking problem and gave up your kid when you was what, seventeen? That ain’t right. You sure don’t look so pretty right now. Been on a bender? Why’d you dye your hair brown? You look better as a blonde, except them roots you had.”
Helena walked out. Instead of following old patterns and finding the nearest bar, she opted for the safety of her home. Shaken, she took a cab back to the Sober Living House where her Suburban was parked. Once behind the wheel, she broke all speed limits to get to her comforting sanctuary. Trying to urge more speed from the huge vehicle, she found it was no match for the Mercedes she’d recently traded in for the older, bigger car. She’d done so with the knowledge that she’d be transporting new moms and babies around before long.
Who had called her? Who’d tried to run her over? The paparazzi were crazy enough. Everyone knew that. Maybe there was nothing new about Britney or Angelina and Brad. Maybe they were back to dig up more dirt on her. Nothing like making her look crazy to sell a few magazines, which is exactly what would happen if she called the police. Word would get out, and before long every trashbloid around would have the story, and God knew that was the last thing she wanted.
Locking the doors of her Malibu beach cottage behind her, Helena breathed easier. Ella, her Siberian Husky, greeted her with several yaps.
“Well, Ms. Fitzgerald, did you miss me?” The overgrown puppy jumped up to lick her face, almost making her forget the evening’s frightening events. She was glad she’d bought the dog after announcing her sobriety to the world. Ella eased the loneliness at home that could come with a sober lifestyle. No more friendships with a bottle.
“Okay, give me a sec, and I’ll take you for a walk. Let me check the messages real quick.” Helena went into the kitchen and replayed the answering machine. There was a message from Tim. Maybe Frankie had called, but decided not to leave a message. Teenagers were like that.
“Call me when you get home from the meeting, lovey. I want to hear how it went. I’m so proud of you.” Tim sneezed before hanging up.
Tim was Helena’s friend and assistant. He had a cold, preventing him from attending the meeting. Should she tell him that she hadn’t made it either? She knew she had to; if she didn’t, someone else would. Besides, the backbone to the AA program was honesty.
While changing from her street clothes, the anonymous caller’s threat again echoed through her mind. Would a paparazzo go that far to get a story? Weren’t they tired of her yet? Whoever it was had really tried to scare the shit out of her. Was he caller and driver, one and the same? Why hadn’t she looked at the plates?
Comfortable and dry in a pair of sweats, she lay back against her pillow, softly scented with lavender, and dialed Tim’s number. He answered on the first ring.
“You sitting on top of that thing or what?” she asked.
“Funny. I haven’t been out of bed for three days now, and you hit me with a smart-ass remark. Hey, what time is it?”
“Aren’t you home a bit early? What’s the deal, Ms. Shea? Didn’t you go? Tell me you didn’t blow it off because you were over rocking babies again at the center. I can understand your need there, lovey, but you’ve also got to continue working your own program.”
Helena reached for her cigarettes on the nightstand and lit up before telling Tim about the evening. Then the story came out in one breath.
“Oh my God! Shouldn’t you call the police?”
“Come on, Tim, and have my face spread across all the rags for everyone to have another shot at me? I can see it now: Drunk model swears she’s being stalked! I can’t do it. I don’t need that kind of publicity now, or ever again. Shea House will be opening soon, and I’m sure there’ll be little quips here and there about my past, but I want to make this about the moms and their kids and showing them that there is a better life out there. I’ve already put my family and friends through enough, especially Frankie.”
“No, dear, Leeza put y’all through that. That little hussy didn’t need to show your dirty laundry to the world.”
“If she hadn’t, someone else would’ve.” Helena stubbed out the cigarette, reminding herself that she was trying to quit.
“Go to the cops.”
“Do you want me to come over?”
“You’ve got the flu.”
“Are you afraid of my big bad germies?”
“Really, I’m okay. And, yes you know I’m a big germaphobe. I don’t need a babysitter, and I certainly don’t need the flu. It’s probably just some weirdo with my picture posted in his room, or a wannabe paparazzo. You know those freaks. I’m going to put it out of my mind and not worry about it.”
“Good Lord, someone nearly runs you over and has your private cell phone number, and you’re not going to worry? Sounds a little worse than a lovesick puppy with a hard-on over your picture. You’re not being practical.”
“I’ll be all right.”
“Always the tough cookie. Always gotta play it like everything is a-okay. What about the liquid factor? Not thinking of falling off the wagon, are you?”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a shot of tequila right now. But I won’t.”
“Jeez, maybe I really should be with you.”
“No! I’m tired and achy. I want to lay low.”
“Obstinate child, that’s what you are! Promise you’ll call if you reach that shaky point where the demons are telling you “just one” is all right. I wish you’d call the police, or at the very least, let me come by. I’ve taken enough Sudafed to clear out the nasal passages of everyone in this godforsaken city. I’ll come over for some decaf, and we can watch the late show. Come on,” he pleaded.
“I’ve got Ella. You stay in bed. I’ll call if there’s a problem.”
“Oh yeah, Ella, the guard dog who’d show the guy where the good stuff is as long as he’d give her a doggy bone. If you had to have a dog, I wish you’d gotten a Doberman.”
“Don’t go knocking my puppy. She comes from great show lines.”
“Helluva lot of wonderful that’ll do you with some stalker dude around.”
“I doubt anyone’s stalking me. This stuff happens all the time to people in my line of work.” Helena knew she was trying to convince herself as much as Tim.
“Then why did you call me? I mean, if you’re not bothered?”
“I’m bothered, but maybe the best thing to do is just to be careful and start carrying some Mace. Besides, I took that self-defense class. And I called to hear your voice, not because I’m scared.” She picked up a throw pillow next to her and fiddled with the tassels.
“Tsk, tsk, you’re such a poor liar. You’re scared, but I’m getting nowhere with you, so please call me first thing in the morning. I worry about you. I’ll try to make it in tomorrow.”
Helena hung up the phone. Tim always made her feel better. His flamboyance and energy could lift her spirits. He understood the deal. He’d been in recovery for five years himself after losing his lover to AIDS. He was a loyal friend and her personal assistant at Shea Models, the agency she’d started barely after she turned twenty-five. That was when she’d discovered that fourteen-year-olds on the covers of magazines sold more Vogues than she did.
She may have felt better about not drinking, but the idea of a stalker still haunted her. Maybe she should go to the cops. But any more malicious gossip to hit the papers could prevent Shea House from receiving the continued funding that it needed. Plus, it might drive another wedge between her and Frankie. That business article had it right when it reported that Frankie and Helena had been visiting more often. They were making real progress. Her daughter was her number one priority.
Helena looked over at Ella and said, “Want that walk now, girl?” The dog bounced up and twirled in circles for her mistress. “Okay, okay.” Helena zipped up her jacket as she opened the door. She shivered as the cool night breezed through her anyway. She breathed in the salty ocean air, apprehensive about taking the walk, but knowing that her poor dog deserved their nightly ritual. It made her feel better to see lights on in several of the beach houses along the Pacific Coast Highway.
As she and Ella approached their turnaround point, the dog became rigid and alert, the ruff of her neck bristling. “What’s wrong, girl?” The dog whined, glancing back at her. Helena had never seen this behavior in Ella, and it flooded her already edgy nerves with adrenaline. Ella growled while lunging forward, pulling on her leash. Helena couldn’t see anything, but decided to turn around instead of walking the extra quarter mile to their usual turnaround point.
“Come on, puppy, let’s go.” Helena tugged on the leash. The dog reluctantly followed her.
Helena broke into a jog, and they made it home in minutes. As she took her shoes off, she laughed. “We’re paranoid,” she said to the dog, thinking about the caller and angered that he’d frightened her so badly. “You’re a silly dog, and I’ve got an overactive imagination.” Ella wagged her tail.
Once they were back inside the cottage, Helena double-checked all the doors and windows. She noticed that the curtain rod in her living room was askew, and half the drapes on the oceanfront window drooped. Part of the pull cord was missing. Ella must’ve gotten a hold of the drapes, as she had once before. Nothing else was missing or out of place, and everything had been locked.
Helena rechecked the house, this time carrying a carving knife as she opened closets and peered inside the bathroom. When she thought she saw movement behind the shower curtain, she raised the knife, tore open the curtain and saw that the washcloth had gotten soaked and fallen off the rack.
“Jesus, I feel like Norman Bates,” she said aloud. She laid the knife on the back of the toilet, her hands shaking. When she finally settled down enough, she finished checking the house. No signs that anyone had been inside. She decided she simply hadn’t noticed the damage to the drapes before.
Helena collapsed on her bed, and Ella curled up next to her. She patted the puppy’s head. “Normally, I’d say get your butt off, 'cuz you need a bath and you sure got some stinky breath. Besides, you were obviously naughty when I had my back turned. But tonight, either I’m going crazy, or the bogeyman is after me.” She laughed aloud hearing how stupid that sounded.
In the back issue of Vogue spread out on her bed, Frances Kiley, nicknamed Frankie, studied the photograph of her mother’s face. Bono singing about a beautiful day boomed through the stereo speakers. Frankie’s fingers traced the outline of the picture thinking about all the times she’d admired Helena, not knowing the famous model was her real mother.
The photo was taken three years ago, before Helena had retired from modeling and started her own agency. Their resemblance was huge—both had green eyes, raven hair, and skin as pale as a geisha girl’s.
She choked back her sobs. She had known that this woman was her mother for over a year, but Frankie still couldn’t figure out how she felt about such startling news. At first, she’d been furious that her parents had lied to her and that Helena had abandoned her. Then that rage turned to sadness mixed with love for a woman she was just getting to know. Shrinks, her father, Helena, even people whose business it wasn’t, told her, “Don’t worry. It will all sort itself out.” Yeah, right.
Life had thrown her some curves during the past year. At least her dad had enough sense to move them out of LA away from the jet set, who talked trash about others because their own lives were so mundane.
But the media maggots—Frankie’s name for the ever-present paparazzi—followed them no matter where they went. To her, the media were people paid to dig up good gossip, lay a few poisoned eggs, spread garbage around, and voila—deliver the kind of sensationalism craved by bored, overweight, undersexed, Hollywood-worshipping wannabes. Everywhere she’d gone in the last year, the media maggots were always in her face, popping flashbulbs and begging for any morsel of dirt they could use. Her family’s scandal had been headlined in detail, and in most instances, fabricated for every gullible moron to accept as gospel.
True, there were many things Frankie had finally come to understand. She remembered when she was much younger, having shown the woman she’d always thought was her mother a picture of Helena in a magazine. Frankie had wanted to get her hair cut like the woman in the photograph. Leeza had smacked her across the face, taken the magazine, and burned it. This made perfect sense now, but there had been several nights she’d cried herself to sleep, wondering why her mother didn’t love her.
When she was twelve, watching The Exorcist at a friend’s house, she wondered if she might be possessed. Why else wouldn’t a mother love her only child? She’d dreamed that her head would twist around and she’d vomit green slime, like Linda Blair did in the movie.
A knock at the door caused her to wipe the tears away. “Frankie?”
He cracked the door and peered in. “You want to turn that down?” She reached across her bed and flipped off her stereo. “How was your day?”
“Fine.” She closed the magazine and reached for Stuart, the stuffed puppy-doll he’d given her one Christmas long ago. He was soft as down, smelling like Spaghettios, Frankie’s favorite as a little girl. At least Stuart remained her faithful companion.
“Can I come in?”
She shrugged. “I guess.”
Patrick Kiley sat down at the edge of his daughter’s bed. “Did you talk to Helena today?”
“I called, but she must’ve been out.”
“Did you leave a message?” She shook her head. “Honey,” he said, scooting closer to where she sat, Indian-style, hunched over Stuart. “I thought we all agreed that you’d start making a real effort. I know she wants to see you this weekend.”
“I did call. But I hate answering machines.”
“Since when? I hear you leave messages for your friends all the time. Don’t you want to go see her?”
Frankie flipped her hair back behind her shoulders. “Actually, I do want to see her.”
“Good. I think that’s good.” Her dad was a bit too emphatic for Frankie not to notice.
“I called her Mom the other day.”
Her dad grimaced, which he quickly forced into a smile. “Really?” He touched the ends of her hair and sighed. “Terrific. Look, kiddo, I know all the secrecy and confusion has hurt you, and that was the last thing we wanted to do.”
Frankie tossed Stuart aside. “But it does hurt. You’ve lied to me since I was a baby. And you let Mom, Leeza—whatever she was—treat me like crap. You were too busy to notice how mean she was. I never understood why.” She pulled her knees up underneath her chin. “God, Dad, she’d spank me or scream at me if she didn’t like something I’d said or done. I never knew what would set her off.”
Her dad looked as if she’d slapped him. They’d had this same discussion several times before, and Frankie hated guilting him like this. She was aware that it had become a manipulation.
“I’m sorry, honey. She’ll never hurt you again. If I could change what happened, I would. I thought Leeza would get over my affair with your mother and love you because you were an innocent child. But she won’t ever hurt you again.”
“Are you kidding? She didn’t have to do what she did. You have no idea what it’s like to go to school and hear kids call me ‘the drama queen.’ It really sucked.”
“That’s why I moved us up here to the ranch,” he said. They’d moved to their new place in Santa Barbara soon after the story broke, hoping that getting out of Los Angeles would help heal the wounds.
Frankie studied her father for a moment. He was so old-guy handsome, like Robert Redford in “The Horse Whisperer”—one of her favorite movies of all time. Because she loved her dad so much, she’d never reveal how rotten Leeza had really been to her. Frankie wanted to be a part of a family and always had. The only stability she’d had growing up was from her dad and her nannies.
“Helena would call me if she wanted to.” Frankie hugged her knees tighter.
“Giving you up wasn’t her fault. I convinced her, and so did Leeza, that you would be better off with us. She didn’t want to give you up. It broke her heart. But she was very young, and I was married to Leeza. Helena’s modeling career was beginning to take off, and we persuaded her that it would be best for everyone. Now, I know that separating you and your mom was wrong. Leeza lied to me about loving you. She didn’t want a scandal, and she didn’t want another woman to have me, even if that meant pretending to accept you.”
“Scandal? She’s the one who’s told everyone!”
“She was paid a lot of money for those stories. I guess that years of anger and a chance to finally get even with me and your mom was what spurred her on.”
“Why is she still so mad after so many years? Is it because you still love Helena?” Frankie held her breath, waiting for the answer. As hurt, frustrated, and confused as she was, she hoped her dad did still love her mom. Frankie wouldn’t give up on being part of a family.
Her dad patted her knee and stood up. “You’re an incurable romantic, my girl. But I think it’s time we both got some sleep.”
Stepping outside her room, he paused and without turning to face her, said, “I’m glad you’ll be spending more time with your mom. It’s hard on me, because of everything I’ve put you through. I don’t want to see you hurt any more.” Frankie could’ve sworn he was crying. “You have a right to explore a relationship together. I pray she can be the mother to you that Leeza wasn’t.” He shut the door behind him.
Frankie cuddled Stuart and said, “Know what, Stu? I hope so, too. But how can you be someone’s mother after so many years?” She held the stuffed animal out in front of her. In her best Robert Stack voice, she said, “And that, my friend, is another unsolved mystery.”
Once again, FBI Agent Tyler Savoy found himself working around the clock, struggling against what he’d come to regard as evil. He’d seen more than his share of violent acts during his career, some that put slasher movies to shame. Even though he’d witnessed brutally slain corpses and dealt with the bizarre minds of those who’d raped, stolen, and plundered—being an agent with CASKU—The Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit of the FBI—was his life. Now that Susie was gone, his work was his only focus.
The face Nick Yamimoto had been reconstructing for Tyler was taking shape and was beginning to appear human. The transformation was remarkable, from the skull that detectives had found in a shallow grave out in the Mojave Desert, to what Tyler could now see had at one time been that of a young woman.
Nick’s office was filled with many other clay formations, as well as sketches of victims and of possible predators. The small, brightly lit office smelled of acrylics and clay, combined with the stink of formaldehyde from several jarred human organs.
Tyler stared at what was taking shape from the clay Nick had been expertly molding. The victim was young—twenty tops. Tyler thought this one might have died at the hands of someone she knew. Not unusual—a majority of murder victims met their deaths that way.
Tyler’s intuitive gift—or curse, depending on how one looked at it—was what had led him into this line of work, combined with his own sense of personal loss. It enabled him to tune in to some of the country’s sickest minds. Before Susan had been murdered, he’d never guessed he possessed this so-called gift.
But from the moment Susan was killed, he knew. Tyler suddenly discovered within himself an innate ability to tune into the evil lurking within the minds of the sick and twisted and almost feel the pain that they caused. He actually thought he sensed the final electrifying slice that had eviscerated his wife. However, he convinced himself that he was a profiler through study rather than gift of spirit. Even though the moment he had begun to have unexplainable hunches and detailed visions and feelings somehow coincided with the day his wife was murdered.
Susan had been at home, in her bath. She’d been four months pregnant on the day that the demon saw fit to disembowel her, slaughtering their baby and leaving his wife to bleed to death.
Tyler had had a bad feeling all day about leaving her, but he was needed in the city on an ongoing investigation involving a large drug ring that was also responsible for several murders.
At that time, he’d been a homicide detective. But after her murder, he knew his destiny was to track down the hunters of this world. He’d specifically chosen the serial killer unit. For him, it was more than avenging his wife’s death and that of their unborn child.
It took nine months and three days to find her killer. Tyler had tried to worm his way into the investigation, but it was difficult as he was a family member. But he’d bellowed enough to make the detectives pay attention and was finally allowed to review everything they’d done to find Susie’s killer.
It was a tip from an unknown source that had led the police to Samuel Paul Nelson. They’d staked out a woman’s house where they thought Nelson might be headed. Sure enough, he was there and very nearly succeeded in murdering his fifth victim, but they had arrived in time to save her and arrest Nelson. Forensics discovered a DNA match with Nelson’s blood found under Susan’s fingernails. Samuel Paul Nelson was now on death row in California, awaiting lethal injection.
Tyler realized why this current Jane Doe case had him so focused. This asshole reminded him of Nelson. They both had an overpowering need to dominate their victims. Nelson, however, had never been acquainted with the vics; he chose women who fit his profile, then convinced himself that they should belong to him. He followed them for days, until he finally decided to kill them.
Nelson believed that he had a harem waiting for him in the afterworld consisting of those he’d sent there, including Susan. But this new killer knew the young woman he’d strangled to death. Tyler was convinced of that, and that was where the killers differed.
“So what do you think?” Nick asked.
The scientist was tops in forensic reconstruction, a genius of a man. Tyler liked and respected Nick.
“I think he knew her, and she isn’t his first. Or his last.”
Nick listened, his eyes darkening. “What makes you say that?”
“A feeling. And that she was found in the desert. It fits a particular profile. One we have to consider.”
“But wouldn’t a desert burial suggest this perp was a transient? Or could your vic have been on the move, too? A hitchhiker turns down his sexual advances, pisses our perp off, and he loses it?”
“Maybe,” said Tyler, setting the clay back down on the laboratory table. “But, like I said, I’ve got a feeling he’s a pro with an agenda. How much longer until you can get me full features?”
“Four, five days, if I work my ass off.”
“Do it. I’ll make sure old Uncle Sam kicks in overtime.”
“Yeah, right! Then I’m taking a break. I need a smoke and some coffee.”
“Want to join me?”
“Thanks anyway, but I’ve got some other things to take care of. Call me when she’s ready.”
“Sure thing.” Nick stepped outside while Tyler sifted through sketches.
Looking down at possible identifications of the young woman, Tyler was forced back in time by a frightening feeling—the same sensation he’d had when Susan was murdered. Some woman out there, possibly on this very night, was about to meet her maker. Tyler’s nightmare was that he couldn’t pinpoint who or where. He wasn’t into this asshole’s head yet, but like a reel of film, the images had already begun.
Tyler divined through profiling, and his gut told him that the killer felt his motives justified his actions. He was Tyler’s latest nightmare—one that would consume him until he saw it to the end.
Before . . .
“‘Villain!’ I shrieked, ‘Dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! Here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!’” Uncle James emphasized each word as he read The Tell-Tale Heart to Richard for the second time that evening. Richard applauded, and his uncle bowed.
“I don’t know why you have to read that garbage to the boy,” Aunt Valerie shouted from the other room.
Uncle James winked at him. “He likes it, Mother.”
“Well, then he’s as nuts as you are. I can tell you this much, the Lord don’t like that filthy stuff. He’s condemning your souls to hell, right now.”
“So be it,” whispered Richard’s uncle.
“You should be reading Bible verses to him.” Uncle Richard winked at Richard in a conspiratorial kind of way.
Aunt Valerie rarely referred to Richard by his name, always “him” or “he,” but if she really wanted to anger Richard, she’d call him Ricky. He found that insulting. Richard also knew that later, when his uncle wasn’t around, his aunt would make him pay for sharing this time with his uncle. She believed that sparing the rod spoiled the child. But Richard didn’t care. It was worth it to spend time with Uncle James.
“Let’s take a walk, son.”
“Sure.” Richard knew that his uncle wanted to escape his aunt’s preaching, too.
“We’re going for a walk, dear.”
They grabbed their coats and walked into the late night. As much as Richard loved his uncle, he hated his aunt. Not only for the beatings and mean words, but also for the way she treated his uncle. Aunt Valerie ruled their home.
“I know she’s a horrible woman, Richard. And I know sometimes she’s awful hard on you. But we’ve been married for so long now.”
“So? Why don’t you leave her? You don’t need her.”
Uncle James put his arm around Richard as they walked next to the man-made pond Uncle James had built on his five-acre ranch. He sighed and said, “Sometimes people know things about one another, things that they don’t want others to know.”
The crickets and night bugs reminded Richard of a symphony his mother had taken him to long ago in Portland. The mountain air smelled of pine. “What could be so bad that you’d have to stay with her? What terrible thing could she possibly know about you? I can’t believe you’d ever do anything wrong.”
“Let’s just say it is, and leave it at that. We all make mistakes.” Uncle James rolled and lit a cigarette. He let Richard have a drag off it.
Richard couldn’t imagine his uncle having any secret so horrible that he was forced to remain married to the thing back at the house. Uncle James couldn’t hurt a fly. Heck, when he found spiders inside the house, he carefully removed them and set them out in the yard. He was also conscientious about his work: Making the bodies he worked on look peaceful and happy in death and soothing the families of the dead.
“I’d like to work with you this summer,” Richard said. It had been two summers since his mother died, and he felt ready to see another dead person again. In fact, the idea captivated him.
“You sure about that? Funeral homes can be sad, dark places at times.”
“I’m sure. I want to learn the business. You never seem sad or dark.”
“Of course I am. Why do you think we read from Edgar Allan Poe every night? I’m as macabre as the old horror master himself,” James replied, chuckling.
Richard wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but he laughed along anyway. Uncle James’s laughter was infectious, like his mother’s had been.
“Do you believe in God, Uncle James? I mean, Aunt Valerie’s always reading from the Bible and telling you that you’re going to hell. What’s that all about?”
“She’s pretty devout, that one. But I kinda got my own beliefs. You sort of have to when you’re in my business.”
“I think we all got a place inside that we think of as Heaven. We see it, feel it, and it’s nice. That’s what happens to us when we go. We finally get to that place and stay there.”
“Hmmm. That sounds good. But what about God?”
“Well, I don’t know too much about Him. But I’m sure He exists somewhere. I just like the peaceful Heaven idea, where we go where we want.”
“Me too. I’m not sure I believe in God.”
“He took my mom away from me.”
“That’s hard stuff.”
“I miss her.” He sighed. “How come you never visited us?”
“You know your aunt runs the show around here, and your mother really never wanted us to. Valerie was awfully jealous of your mom, and Elizabeth felt it was best if we all kept our distance. I wanted to visit you, though. I thought about you two a lot. When I didn’t have the wife looking over my shoulder, I’d send your mom some money from time to time.”
“I wish you could’ve visited,” Richard said, hating his aunt even more for keeping his mother’s only brother away. Richard understood that his aunt was jealous, because she had let him know exactly what she’d thought of his mother.
“Me too, son. Me, too.” Uncle James flicked the cigarette away. “Anyhow, you want to come to work for me, huh?”
“All right,” he said, stopping and putting his hands on his lower back stretching. “Expect to rise and shine with the sun in the morning and get to work.”
“Really? Oh wow! Thanks, Uncle James. Thank you so much. And I’ll do a good job for you, I promise.”
“I’m sure you will.”
They headed back toward the house, Richard filled with excitement about working at his uncle’s funeral home.
Richard enjoyed working with his uncle as much as he thought he would. He was learning a lot and not stuck at home with his aunt who, given the chance, would send him to the basement to think about the evil he’d done. It was like being set free from a dismal prison with her as the warden.
Two weeks had passed since coming to work with Uncle James, and Richard knew that he was a good apprentice. He strolled through the front room where all the caskets were on display, pretending he was the funeral director.
“Mahogany,” Richard sang out, “this one is pure mahogany. And notice the silk lining. It’s a hundred percent silk.” Richard ran his hand across the soft, fine material as a tingle shimmied down his back. He was practicing for the mourners. “And this one is a good buy. That’s solid pine.” He knocked on it with his knuckles.
“Richard?” Uncle James walked into the room. Richard jumped, startled and embarrassed. “I’m glad you’re learning all about the caskets.” Uncle James smiled. “It’s a huge part of our business. But today I’d like to teach you something new: We’ll be embalming an elderly woman brought in last night. Come on, son. Follow me.” Richard followed his uncle into the embalming station. “Put this on.” Uncle James handed him a facemask.
As Uncle James flipped on the lights, Richard’s nose stung in a wonderful way from the formaldehyde. Each nerve in his body came alive, enthusiastic over what his uncle was about to teach him. The room was only large enough to hold a table and the necessary tools for the embalming process.
“Now, this here is the pump we use to regulate the pressure and flow of mixed water and embalming fluid into the remains,” Uncle James said.
Richard looked at the pump, but his eyes kept wandering to the white sheet covering the body. He’d seen a few dead people in the past couple of weeks; today he’d actually touch one. Something about that made his stomach stir, but not like he was nauseated.
“Okay, now in case we’ve got a problem and the formaldehyde becomes a contaminant, you’ll need to get under that shower over there,” Uncle James said pointing to a nozzle against the far end of the wall. “That’ll only happen if I don’t measure my chemicals just so, but it could burn your skin something fierce. So it is always vital to be prepared and cautious.”
Richard glanced at the anatomy posters. He’d have to study them. Though he hated school, he learned fast. The stigma of being different had stuck to him like insects on a fly strip, and he hadn’t made friends any easier in this town than he had in Oregon.
Uncle James looked up at the clock on the wall. “Well, let’s get started. We’ve got a busy morning ahead, and I’d like to get the embalming finished before lunch, so we can come back this afternoon to dress her and apply the makeup.”
“Yes, sir.” The word makeup stirred something deep within Richard, remembering the way his mother always applied her lipstick so flawlessly. He hoped that Uncle James would let him do the lips.
Uncle James removed the sheet. “Hi, Ruth,” James said stroking back the gray hair from the woman’s pale face that was etched with the lines of time.
“Did you know her?”
“No. I know her name, and that her family loved her dearly. I like us to get acquainted a bit before I start invading her body. It’s only proper and polite.”
“Do you think she can see us?” Richard looked heavenward.
“I don’t know, but if she can, then she knows we’re gonna be as gentle as possible.” James then covered her head with what looked like a swimmer’s cap. He and Richard wore gloves and lab coats. “This is a fairly simple process, son. We use the body’s own circulatory system,” he said. “We use formaldehyde because blood is drained during the process, and the fluid contains dyes to give a pink color to the skin.”
Richard smelled an offensive odor coming from Ruth. Uncle James took a bottle of disinfectant off the shelf and wet a sponge. He poured some of it into another sponge, handing it to Richard.
Uncle James pulled the sheet back only to her waist. Her small, shriveled breasts were exposed. Richard shrunk back. His mother’s breasts certainly didn’t look like these.
“It’s all right. She won’t bite.” Uncle James sponged her down. Richard followed his lead, and soon the cleanser's strong fumes replaced Ruth's putrid stench. Touching her body was strange. She was so very cold.
“It is important that this procedure be done with care,” Uncle James began, sounding like a professor. “If one does this step carefully, the next can be done smoothly. If the body isn’t disinfected, then the embalming procedure will not work. It also prevents the spread of germs.”
When Uncle James pulled the sheet completely off, Richard tried hard not to look at the woman’s private parts, but couldn’t help it as he watched his uncle cleanse the area. Richard wondered what it was like to touch that private place without the sponge, and then tried to erase that thought from his mind.
Once they’d finished cleaning Ruth, Uncle James placed embalming fluid and water inside the pump. “It usually takes about four gallons to finish the job.” Uncle James carefully measured his liquids, and then hooked Ruth up to an IV.
Richard watched in awe as his uncle inserted the needle, fascinated by the whole procedure.
“We usually use the femoral or carotid artery for this. That way it goes into the heart and the circulatory system pushes it out, replacing the blood. I like to use the jugular. You okay? You’ve hardly said a word.”
“I’m fine. Listening, that’s all.”
“A good student, that’s what you are, Richard. A good student.”
“Okay, now, see those tools over there?”
“Hand the first two over.”
Richard handed him the scissors-like instruments. “What are these for?”
“We use these to remove any blood clots and to open the veins where the embalming fluid can’t get through.”
“Oh.” Richard’s tone had become hushed while watching his uncle work.
“Okay, now switch on the pump, please.” Richard did. “We have to be very careful during this part. Improper embalming will make the cosmetology process impossible. God knows when I started I had a few messes. Let me tell you, son, there were some families not too happy at what I’d done to their kin. But patience is as important with the dead as with the living. If you treat this old gal here on the table as kindly as we treated her husband who came to us, then we usually have success on all accounts.”
The sound of the pump along with the ebb and flow of fluids being drained and replaced was as rhythmical as rushing waters. Richard stared at the body while the fluids filled her, distorting her emaciated form into odd shapes, almost like a balloon being blown up. He liked the way it looked. He wanted to open her eyes to see if they were bugging out. God, his uncle was great.
“Never rush the work, because I can’t tell you how it easy it can be to swell the face, and if that happens it’s impossible to fix.” Uncle James applied the steady pressure. “The frequent drainage of the fluids is crucial.”
Richard watched, sweat forming on his brow. He wished he were the one injecting and draining the fluids!
After the process was finished, Uncle James took off his gloves and washed his hands in a corner sink, then pulled on a new set of gloves.
“We’re not done?”
“Oh, no. We still have to do the cavity embalming.”
Richard was pleased. He smiled as he stared at Ruth, whose body was now full of chemicals.
Uncle James went to the shelf again and took down a bag of powder, which he mixed with water. “Some out there swear by kitty litter, but something tells me that most of our departed friends here wouldn’t be too pleased with cat litter inside their thoracic cavity.”
“No.” Richard shook his head vehemently.
“This is necessary when the chest is sunken, and Ruth’s is a bit. So we’ll give her some help.” Uncle James stuck a tube down her mouth and filled it with the material, which he then pumped into her. Richard stared as her chest expanded.
“Next, we re-aspirate the lungs, cork the windpipe, and then the anal vent, which we open if we notice any bloating from the build up of gas.”
“Like a fart?”
“Yes, like a fart.” They both laughed. “Okay Ruth, we’ll let you rest, while we grab a bite. I’d ask you to come, but…" Uncle James wasn’t the least bit condescending or sarcastic; however, Richard couldn’t help giggling.
They washed up and headed to the deli across the street. Janie Keaton was there with some friends. Richard glanced over, but tried not to pay any attention. He thought that Janie Keaton was the prettiest girl in school. She smiled at him while he bit into his ham sandwich.
“I think she likes you,” Uncle James whispered.
“Nah, no one likes me,” Richard replied, while chewing his sandwich and shaking his head.
“I don’t believe that. You’re a good-looking boy, son. Remind me of your mother with your big brown eyes and blonde hair, and those dimples, well, those would woo a gal anytime.”
Richard shook his head and smiled sheepishly. Maybe his uncle was right. He was a really smart man, with a good sense about people. It would make his day, week—no, year—if Janie Keaton liked him. If she liked him, then everyone else would too.
As Janie and her friends left the deli, she passed by their booth. “Hi, Richard. How’s your summer going?”
Richard had no idea Janie Keaton even knew his name. He’d never imagined she knew he was alive. God, this was the best day of his life. “Good.”
“Yeah, what you up to?”
“I’m working with my uncle.”
Janie took a step back and looked at Uncle James. “At the funeral home?”
Richard hung his head. “Yes.”
“Ooh creepy, but sort of cool, like in a freaky way, you know.”
Richard looked up. “Yeah, it is.”
“Wow. Okay, well maybe I’ll see you around again. Have a good summer.”
Uncle James patted his hand and said, “Good going. She’s awfully pretty. I told you so. She’s got her eye on you. You handled that one just right.”
“Thanks.” Richard watched Janie Keaton walk away, her long hair, the color of sunshine on wheat in the late afternoon sun, swung from her ponytail, made him feel funny, but a good funny. He hoped that he would see Janie around again and be able to look in those blue-sky eyes.
After lunch, Uncle James taught Richard the art of applying makeup to the deceased. His favorite part was when they sewed Ruth’s lips together then applied a thin layer of wax across them before putting on her lipstick.
Richard’s thoughts kept wandering back to Janie Keaton. When Uncle James had to take a phone call, Richard escaped to the bathroom where his mind floated from Ruth’s exposed genitals to Janie. He touched himself thinking of what it would be like to do all the things to Janie that they’d done to Ruth today. He felt weird but wonderful, as his body grew warm and tingled all over.
As he pleasured himself, he wondered what color he’d paint Janie Keaton’s lips if she were lying on the table.
Frankie dove for the phone, hoping it was someone wanting to hang out. She doubted her luck could be that good. Her best pals were on cheer squad and at practice, and another was grounded for sneaking out with cutie pie Dean Ryan the other night. No, most likely it was probably Dad making sure she was doing her chemistry homework. College was less than two years away, something he repeatedly stressed. His major rule was homework before play, and though she resented it, she figured it had some merit.
“Leeza?” she whispered. Frankie hadn’t heard her voice in over a year. But it couldn’t be mistaken, with a little-girl pitch and the slight southern lilt Frankie knew she’d tried hard to get rid of.
“That’s right, it’s me. How are you, darling?”
“What do you want?”
“Well, honey, I wanted to say how sorry I am about everything. I’ve thought a lot about it lately, and I feel real bad. You were always a pretty good kid, and I suppose I didn’t treat you so well. I’m really sorry about that.”
“Next, you’ll tell me you’ve gone all Jerry Falwell on me and found Jesus. If I remember right, your interests run more along the lines of Jerry Springer.” Frankie picked at her fingernails. “Looking for forgiveness, are you? If that’s it, Leeza, you’re calling the wrong girl. I actually used to pray at night that you’d go away and I’d find out you weren’t really my mother. Thank God that prayer came true.”
“Oh dear, I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
Frankie stopped picking at her nails, a knot wrenched tight in her gut. “No, Ma’am, I haven’t. That’s how I got through all your abuse.”
“Now, Frances, there’s no need for so much spite. I called to tell you that I am sorry—truly. I hope someday you’ll accept that, and maybe realize that I really do love you.”
“Love isn’t in your vocabulary. I don’t know what you’re up to this time, but I don’t really care. You can’t hurt me anymore.” Frankie slammed down the phone, then snatched it up again and threw it against the wall. She put on her Fuel CD, and as the music blared from her speakers, she collapsed on her bed and began to cry.
Before long a fitful sleep took hold, and she dreamed she was walking along a cliff, her dad beside her. They talked about her not having a mother, how that must feel to Frankie, how sad it was. Up ahead, a figure emerged through the fog. As the being came closer, she saw that it was Helena. Frankie looked up at her dad who smiled. When Frankie didn’t understand who this woman was, her dad told her that it was her mother.
She ran toward Helena, but her mother slipped at the cliff’s edge. Frankie ran faster, her dad right behind her. They had to save her, to keep her from falling to the rocks below. Helena was too far away. They didn’t make it in time.
Horrified, Frankie watched as Helena fell. She’d only just found her, but she was lost again. Now she would never know how it felt to have a mother.
When she woke, the tears dried on her face, Frankie picked up the phone and called Helena. She didn’t want her real life to emulate the dream in any way. It was time to reach out and give her mother a chance.
“Hey, hot stuff, want a cup of latte?” Tim said, as he bounded into Helena’s office. Helena smiled at his enthusiasm, which he had plenty of for just about everything, from caffe lattes to his latest conquest—whose attributes he loved telling Helena down to the last detail. Although there were times when these details made her uncomfortable, she tried not to let on. Tim was a good friend, and she never wanted to hurt his feelings.
He set the coffee down on top of the glass table Helena used as her desk and planted himself in a cushy leather chair opposite her. He smelled of lemongrass soap and clove cigarettes. Tim’s attire was Banana Republic to a tee, from the khakis to the maroon, cable knit turtleneck. Pretty boy handsome, Tim looked as if he’d walked out of the pages of GQ.
His wide-eyed expression told her that he wasn’t going anywhere until she confided in him. “Okay sugar, what’s cooking in that wee head of yours?”
“It’s nothing,” she said.
“That’s it, lie, lie, lie. We addicts are all the same. You might lose the addiction, but never the lying.”
“You’re a pain in the ass. I liked you better when you were flat on your back.” She breathed in her coffee, the perfect wake up call, strong and sweet.
“Yeah, well now I’ve got a clean bill of health. So do tell. I’m always ready for some good dish. No more phone calls, I hope. Or anymore freaky incidents?”
Helena sighed, knowing she couldn’t escape his third degree. “No, that was the only one, and I think I know who might’ve been behind it.”
“I’ve thought long and hard and there’s really only one logical answer—Leeza.”
“No!” He waved his hands in an exaggerated gesture. “What makes you say that?” Tim leaned in, his elbows on her desk, his chin resting in his palms, squinting his dark eyes—the captivated audience.
“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It makes sense. Leeza would do anything to see me fail with my daughter just out of plain old spite. It’s obvious she never loved Frankie, so I don’t know why she doesn’t let it go. I can’t imagine being consumed with so much hatred she would waste her time on me. But she clearly is, and it all connected for me yesterday when she pulled another stunt.”
“God! That bitch. What did Miss Tell-All do this time?”
“Helena slammed her fists on the desk. She called Frankie yesterday!”
“No. Where does she get her gall? What the hell did she want?”
“Frankie called me yesterday afternoon all upset about Leeza calling her and telling her that she loves her and wants her forgiveness, blah, blah, blah. The poor kid was beside herself.” Tim rolled his eyes. “Can you believe her? Telling my daughter that she loves her. Are you ready for that? After all the crap she’s thrown at us, she has the audacity to tell Frankie that she loves her. That woman couldn’t love anyone.”
“No kidding. She hasn’t gotten over her first love affair.” Helena raised her eyebrows. “By which I mean herself, dear.”
“You’re right about that,” she laughed.
“So what did the kid say?”
“She told the woman to leave her alone, then hung up on her.” Helena nodded in satisfaction and smiled as she sipped her coffee.
“Like mother, like daughter. When do I get to meet this kid, anyway?”
“Hopefully on Saturday you’ll get your chance. She’s great. I’m trying to convince her to come to the meeting, since it’s my anniversary. I thought maybe we could grab a bite, too. I’d love to make a day of it with her and take her over to Shea House and the Sober Living House. I want her to meet some of the girls.”
“Oh.” Tim clapped. “That sounds delightful. Plan it! But about this thing with the ex-step mommy, why are you so worried about her phone call? It sounds like the kid handled the Wicked Witch just fine. And the fact that she called you and clued you in is also another positive in your court.” He leaned back in the chair, crossing his legs.
“Maybe so, but it still disturbs Frankie. Her therapy gets setback every time someone brings up this scandal. Frankie feels betrayed by everyone she’s loved. She truly doesn’t know who she can trust and who really loves her. Last week, she called me “Mom” for the first time. We’ve really been getting closer, and I don’t want anything to ruin that. But after Leeza’s meddling phone call, I don’t know what’ll happen. I also have to wonder what Leeza is up to. It’s not innocent, you know. Like I told you the other night, I don’t need any more ugly press.” Helena reached for her pack of cigarettes on the desk, then set them back without taking one out. “If Leeza starts mixing it up, Frankie might end up hating me all over again. She might change her mind about wanting a relationship with me. She’s still coping with the fact that I gave her to Patrick and Leeza when she was a baby. She thinks that I never wanted her, which isn’t true. She knows Leeza never wanted her. I wish Dad were still alive; he knew what she meant to me. He knew how much it hurt to give her up.”
Helena picked up the silver frame with her dad’s photograph inside. It was one of him fishing down at the lake they went to every summer when she was a kid. She was seven in that picture. Her mother had already passed on from an undetected case of ovarian cancer.
“You’re truly sounding ridiculous now. It’s nothing fifteen years of therapy won’t cure.” He laughed at his own joke.
Helena frowned. She knew Tim was joking, but the reality was that Frankie would need a lot of counseling. Frankie was strong, and Helena hoped, through her love along with Patrick’s, that her daughter would heal in time. However, she wasn’t going to kid herself. She knew how long it took to heal deep, emotional wounds.
“Helena, you’re wonderful, and anyone would be lucky to have you for a mother. Look how far you’ve come. Look at the way the girls at the center look up to you. My God, you’re like the Virgin Mother herself over there.”
“Hardly, and the fact is that Frankie really is my daughter, and she certainly doesn’t see me that way.” Helena choked back her tears, reaching for her coffee again.
“Don’t let this little incident set you back. Take charge.” Helena nodded. She knew exactly what he meant. “Now, what you ought to do is go see your daughter. Do some damage control. Don’t assume the worst. Take the train up today after work. I’ll go by and feed the pup while you’re away. I’m sure the kids at the center will understand if you can’t make it over for an afternoon. They’ve got plenty of support there. You know that.”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
“The best advice in town.”
“No shit! Stop paying that shrink so much and give me a raise instead. I do a much better job.”
“I’ll talk to personnel about that,” she said with a wink. They both knew that personnel consisted of Tim, a payroll manager, a handful of scouts, and herself.
“Ha! Funny. Well, I’d love to stay and chat all day about your dysfunctional life, but I have to call the studio to make sure the girls got there. And the cattle are already out there, waiting to be called in.”
“Oh, God! I dread the first Wednesday of every month.” It was the day they held their monthly open call for fresh faces. It also typically became the longest day of the month, with hundreds of young men and women waiting to be seen, hoping for their big break.
“I know, lovey. The go-sees you get to look over are tons of fun. But maybe you’ll find a good one today. There’s a nice-looking young man cooling his heels out there. He may not be your type, but I wouldn’t mind having coffee with him.”
“Yeah, well, remember who loved you first, baby. Listen. Will you weed them down to thirty? You know what I’m looking for. I’m checking out early, taking your advice about that damage control.”
“Now you’re using that noggin. I’ll pick the best prospects and send the rest packing. Do you want me to take care of Ella for the night?”
“I’ll go home first and feed her, and I’ve got to run by Shea House and meet with the plumber. Besides, I also need to ask Patrick if it’s convenient for me to go up there today. If it is, I’ll drive up, then come back after dinner.” She sat twirling her pen between her fingers.
“Sounds like a mighty late night. I don’t think you should be driving back in the wee hours.” He stuck his hands on his hips.
He reminded her of a mother hen. “Always the worrier. I’ll be fine. I don’t want to be intrusive, so I won’t stay late. Remember, Frankie is supposed to come down to LA this Friday anyway.”
“Be careful driving.”
“I will.” Helena watched Tim leave, shutting the door behind him. He’d been a godsend after her assistant Brianne had left so abruptly while Helena was at The Betty Ford Center. It bothered her for a long time that Brianne had never contacted her. But Helena had spiraled out of control during that time and been pretty horrible to everyone around her just before she’d checked herself into rehab. It was a miracle that she’d been able to pull her business back together. If not for Tim, she couldn’t have done it.
Focused on the business at hand, Helena finished quicker than she’d expected. However, before she went home she decided to make one stop first—one she wasn’t eager to make, but felt was necessary.
Helena pushed the buzzer six or seven times before she heard high heels clatter against marble.
“Guess it’s the maid’s day off,” she muttered as the front door opened. Leeza Kiley stood there in all her steely, redheaded glory, an ironic smile flickering across her face.
“Greetings, neighbor,” Leeza snorted. Once the divorce was final and she’d sold the house she’d shared with Patrick for so many years, she moved to this house, only a mile or so from Helena.
Leeza shook her head and tsk tsked while giving Helena the once-over. “So what’s your story? If you have a bone to pick, why didn’t you do that, oh, say, a year ago, when the celebrity story of the century broke?”
“Wasn’t worth my time.”
Leeza swung open the door. “Okay, what’s worth your time now then?” she asked, raising her perfectly waxed, eyebrows into a curious arch.
“Ah, I see. You two must be getting pretty tight. That’s great, but I really don’t have time for chitchat, much less a reunion with the woman who stole everything from me. How am I cramping your style this time?”
“It’s not about me, Leeza.”
“It never is. You can steal a woman’s husband before you’re even eighteen like a jail bait Lolita, have his baby, toss her aside, go on to become queen of the world, make a million bucks, fall flat on your alcoholic ass, and then become Joan of Arc by coming clean about your past and starting some center for crack whores with kids. No, Helena, it is certainly never about you.”
Helena considered walking away, knowing that the conversation was already out of hand. But this was about her child, the one she’d betrayed in so many ways. After all these years, she could finally protect her and owed her that much. “Wow, that was quick. You must have been practicing in front of the mirror! But I have to tell you, you’re paying way too much for those acting lessons. Might want to get a new coach. You haven’t changed a bit. Still playing the same aggrieved innocent.”
“Insults will get you nowhere.”
Helena closed her eyes, sighed, and collected herself before opening them again. “Fine, I didn’t come here to take a trip down your inaccurate perception of memory lane. I came here to talk about Frankie.”
“I never meant to hurt her.” Leeza picked up a large cat that smelled like baby powder who had nonchalantly been rubbing itself against Leeza’s fake-baked legs.
“Patrick and I can take the heat, but she’s only a kid.”
“Look, I love Frances as much as you do. Don’t forget I raised her.” She cradled the cat like a baby, kissing it on the nose.
“No, Mary Poppins did that.”
“Well, who do you think she called Mommy?” Leeza tickled the purring cat under his chin.
“Only to be scolded and told to call you by name, except when Patrick was around.”
“She said that?”
“Spare me the drama.” Helena’s face burned.
“At least I didn’t abandon her.” Leeza’s grin made her look very much like the Batman’s rival, Joker.
Helena stepped back as if punched in the stomach. If she didn’t control herself, she’d smack this woman hard, this manipulator who’d begged her sixteen years ago to give Frankie to her and Patrick, telling her it was the best thing for all of them. “I did not abandon my child. I gave her to you and Patrick believing that she would be loved and raised by a family that wanted her. But all you wanted was Patrick’s money. That was why he turned to someone else in the first place, to someone who could love him for who he really is.”
The cat struggled free from Leeza’s arms. Helena ached to choke the life out of Leeza. “I want you to leave Frankie alone. It’s that simple. Don’t call her. Don’t write her. And don’t even consider pulling another one of your bullshit stunts.” Leeza looked stunned. “Yeah, I’m not the dumb-ass you think I am. I know you had someone try to run me down, then the crank-call. That was pleasant. Very clever of you.”
“You’re a whack job, always were. I have no idea what you’re talking about. And if I want to call Frances up and have a chat, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
“I’m not playing here, lady. Stay the hell out of our lives, or you will regret it!” Helena stormed off and headed for the Suburban parked on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway.
Leeza yelled, “Is that a threat?!” No answer. “You’re nuts! You’ve done too many drugs and fried the rest of your already half-baked brain. And you know what? That did sound like a threat to me. I’ll bet there’s a reporter or two who’d love to hear about this. Think I’ll give Claire Travers a call, Miss High and Mighty. Remember her?!” she screamed. “She wrote nice stories about you, didn’t she? Leave your family alone? You should’ve left my fucking husband alone, you whore!”
Helena slammed the truck’s door and revved the engine. “Get over it, for God’s sakes. It was sixteen years ago, you bitter bitch,” she muttered.
As she squealed out onto the highway, Helena knew that she’d made a grave mistake. Leeza was probably on the phone this very minute, once again seeking some type of twisted revenge.
If you would like to read further, here is a purchase link for The Kindle for $2.99 http://tinyurl.com/3seqsn3
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