Authors: Cindy Charity
Table of Contents
'To the Moon and back'
The headache pulsed; making her head feel like it was receiving an S.O.S message. Groaning, Ali rolled over. Cracking open an eye, she hissed at the pain the streaming sunlight caused—she’d forgotten to draw the blinds. Letting out a shaky sigh, she rolled onto her back, and crossed an arm over her eyes, seeking relief from the light. Of all the mornings for this to happen, it had to be this one. Whimpering, she moved over onto her side. Her chest felt like there was a fifty pound weight on it.
A full blown migraine, the third one in as many weeks, worried her—big time. Today was the day she and her mother ‘communicated’. Translation: the day her mother badgered her about her poor choice of leaving Chicago for New York, of working for a living instead of becoming a trophy wife, and overall, being a bad daughter. It was the same song and dance, and Ali didn’t think she could take it today.
Taking several deep breaths and then holding a breath in, she sat up. Exhaling slowly, she slipped out of bed. The day was going to continue whether she was in the bed, or out of it. She padded to the bathroom, wincing with each step. Aspirin should take the edge off the pain. Once her obligatory phone call was over, she would take something stronger. Opening the medicine cabinet, she reached for the pill bottle. Pain shot through her head. Grabbing the aspirin, Ali slammed the cabinet door closed. She briefly entertained the idea of taking the stronger medicine, however, it would make her dopey—not the tone she wanted when speaking to her mother. Hissing against the pain, she quickly downed two aspirin, dropped her head, and rode it out.
Fifteen minutes later, she was settled into her chair. The headache was now just a hazy hum at the back of her head. Taking a number of deep breaths, Ali contained her emotions. Experience had taught her to do this when dealing with the people in her personal life—especially her mother. It had been a difficult proficiency to learn. Like her father, she loved life. The ups and downs, the laughing until you cried—everything. Dealing with doctors and tests, and close scrutiny since the age of twelve, Ali had to develop the necessary skill of indifference to help her survive. “Okay, let’s get this over with.” Picking up the phone, she hit the button that would connect her to her parent’s home.
As she waited for an answer, she rubbed the centre of her forehead with her fingers out of habit. It sucked that she still bent to her mother’s will. But Pamela Devereux-Hayes was a woman determined to keep her daughter on a short leash. Her relationship with her father wasn’t any better—though he was jovial, he chose to remain distant. When she finally heard her mother’s voice, Ali was transported back to her childhood.
“Good morning, mother,” she silently applauded herself for being calm. “How have you been?”
The soft sigh that came through the line, held a wealth of annoyance. “I would be wonderful if my only child would stop being difficult and come home where she belongs. I am running out of excuses to give.”
So, it was going to be one of
conversations. Ali tilted her head from side to side to ward of the creeping tension. She could imagine the sort of tales her mother had been spinning. “We’ve discussed this, mother. I’m happy here in New York.”
“Are you? So, you haven’t had any—episodes?”
Ali felt her eyes cross. How the hell did she do that? “A few headaches—which were work related, no big deal.” The hint of emotion that had crept into her voice, made her wince. Thankfully, her mother didn’t notice.
“Need I remind you what even the smallest of headaches can bring? This is why you need to return to Chicago. Dr. Ward will be more than willing to take you back as patient.”
She mentally counted to ten before answering. “Mother, I don’t need to see Dr. Ward. I still have the prescription he gave me, if the headaches get bad, I’ll take them.” As much as she wanted her mother to take the hint and drop the topic, Ali knew it wouldn’t happen. She might as well be that twelve year old girl again, instead of the twenty-six year old woman she was now. Her mother continued to dig in.
“You seem to have forgotten just how serious your condition is. Your episodes were vivid, Alina, not to mention extensive. You actually became immersed in the world you created, running about the yard, talking to some lady, finding things and hording them in your room. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Ward, you would be in an institution; leaving your father and me in a very awkward position.”
Ali felt her body grow cold at the emotionless way her mother spoke. The threat of being sent away had always ensured her parents that she would comply. However, she was no longer that scared little girl—the one so desperate for approval and love, that she would do anything asked of her. “I’m fine, mother.”
The silence coming over the line was heavy, and even though she couldn’t see her, Ali knew her mother’s face was pinched with anger. When she spoke, it was icy. “And the voices—what if they return? Has that thought never crossed your mind?”
Of course it had, many times. There were some nights that she lay awake, afraid to close her eyes in fear that she would hear them—hear
. It was why she stayed so busy with work. Squaring her shoulders, Ali answered flippantly. “If the voices come back, we’ll have a nice long conversation. They’ll ask questions, I’ll ask questions—it’ll be like a reunion.”
“There is no need to be sarcastic, Alina. Well, this conversation was a waste of my time. Call me when you’ve come to your senses.”
The line went dead. Her body liquefied as the tension oozed out. A master at manipulation, and the queen of the guilt trip, her mother was one scary lady. Replacing the phone on its charger, Ali dropped her head back. She felt little victory in having had her mother hang up first. It wasn’t the first time her mother had used her childhood eccentricities, but it was the first to have cut this deeply, the whole conversation had a final vibe to it. She wouldn’t hear from her mother—not until she gave in and called to apologise.
Her decision to leave Chicago, to end her sessions with Dr. Ward, had only added to her mother’s ire, driving in an unmovable wedge. Had she stayed, Ali knew she would have died inside. The good doctor had tried his best to provide her parents with answers, however, none had satisfied. Having a child that spoke to imaginary people; who seemed to be able to find lost items no matter the length of time they had been missing, just didn’t fit into their mold of perfection.
Feeling the tension creeping back in, Ali forced herself out of her gloomy thoughts. She was further jarred out of her mood by the ring of the phone. Her first thought was that by some stroke of a miracle, it was her mother calling back, but that would be ridiculous. Nevertheless, she answered cautiously. “Hello?”
“Is this Alina Hayes?”
Hearing her full name, Ali’s caution grew. The voice had an official tone to it. “Yes it is. Can I help you?”
The caller went into an explanation of why they were calling, but all she heard was police station, and Howard Enterprises. “Would you be able to come down to answer a few questions?”
Go down to the police station? Why—what questions could she possibly answer for the NYPD, and why was one of her clients mentioned?
Ali gave a mental shake. “Sorry, yes, of course I will come down.”
Ali stared at the paper cup, filled with lukewarm water—her only welcoming. Well, other than a gravelled hello from a front desk officer, before she was ushered in this room and asked to wait. There was a clock on the wall, and her head throbbed in sync with each tick-tock. The aspirin had worn off, and she had forgotten to take more before she had left her apartment. Whatever she was here for, she prayed that it wouldn’t take long; she wanted to close the book on this day.
The door opened and a man walked in. The folder in his hands, dropped onto the table startling her, but she quickly recovered. Pushing back the thick fall of her hair, she maintained her posture in the metal chair. Nerves began to flutter in her belly like butterflies, but she was not going to give in to them. Sitting across from her, in his out of date, ill fitted suit, the detective looked seasoned. Blue eyes held hers steadily; she could see the sharpness of them. She bet plenty of suspects cracked under that gaze. Yet, Ali could sense something simmering just below the surface. Before her brain could start deciphering theories, he was speaking.
“Thank you for coming in Miss Hayes,” he shifted his large frame in his chair. “Sorry for the less than stellar welcome when you first arrived, I’m detective Will Ballen.”
Ali shrugged, accepting the apology for what it was. “I’d like to say that it’s a pleasure. It’s not every day a girl gets asked to come down to a police precinct, and on a Friday to boot.” She was pleased that the nerves she was fighting hadn’t yet reached her voice. “However, I’m not entirely sure
I’m here. Over the phone, I was told there were some questions I could possibly answer, questions involving Howard Enterprises.”
Opening the file, the detective took out a sheet of paper and slid it towards her. Confused, Ali glanced down. There, she saw a picture of a man. She looked back up at the detective. “I’m sorry, am I supposed to know this man?”
Detective Ballen leaned back in his chair. “Are you saying you don’t know him?”
The tone of his voice had Ali’s defenses kick in. There was suspicion there—a healthy dose of it. The nature of his question suggested that she
know this man—and that she was lying about it. One thing that she never did was lie. Irritation overshadowed the nerves. “You seem to think I do.”
“The man in the photo, the one you say you don’t know, is under investigation for bilking insurance companies out of thousands of dollars—one of which is Howard Enterprises.”
Frowning, Ali looked at the picture again. The man looked like an everyday Joe, no distinguishing features to make for an unforgettable impression. “That’s not surprising, or new, detective. Insurance fraud has a high rate of offenders and is hard to prove.”
Detective Ballen took out another sheet of paper. “Vanishing Assets Investigation and Recovery—you’re the owner.”
Ali frowned. “Yes, I am.”
“And you don’t know that man in the picture?”
“No. I have never seen him before. What does this have to do with my company?”
Adjusting his tie, Ballen exhaled loudly through his nose. “Your company’s information was on this man’s computer.” Reaching out, he nudged the picture closer to her. “Now, are you absolutely sure you don’t know this man—because from what the tech guys say, he knew you—or knew of you. He had your website book marked, and had several notes, including a phone number.”
Bewilderment fed the flames of her growing nerves. Ali clamped down on the emotions that wanted to explode to the surface. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand why I’m here.” The detective evaded her statement.
“When this case hit my desk, I wanted to pass it on down the line. But then I figured, why not, it’s not unheard of for agencies to work together. When your name popped up, it piqued my interest, so I did a little digging. Alina Elizabeth Hayes; born September 19
1988 in Chicago.” His eyes flicked up to her. “You have quite the file, Alina.”
Her pulse spiked. She had to fight the wave of dread that wanted to wash over her. Why would he need such personal information? Only suspects and criminals had their personal files dug in to. She wasn’t a criminal, and she had no idea what he suspected her of. She watched as the detective shifted in his chair, like he was uncomfortable. He also fidgeted with his tie, his fingers shook—strange. Taking a breath, she ordered herself to keep it together. The back of her neck tingled, like someone was watching her, she blocked it out. Leaning back in her chair, she crossed her arms. “I go by Ali.”
Mimicking her posture, the detective inquired, “And why’s that?”
Ali quipped back. “Because Alina sounds too formal like I should be at a fundraiser or something. I’m sure it’s something you can relate to, William.”
The tingle on her neck, increased to a shiver. She saw a ghost of a smile play over his face. What the hell was going on? The whole vibe of the situation shifted. The detective continued.
He pulled out another sheet and slid it to her. “Your speciality is locating items claimed to be lost or stolen. You work contracts, and from what I’ve read, you’ve been a busy lady.”
Ali scanned the paper, locking her fingers to keep them from shaking. Every place she had worked was listed. It wasn’t hard information to gather, companies had to list everything, and everyone, that they dealt with. Naturally her name would be attached to them. Sliding the paper back to him, she acknowledged the information. “I’m a freelance insurance investigator. Taking on contracts allows me to move between jobs with ease.”
Detective Ballen recognized her answer with a humph. “You have a long trail of recoveries Miss Hayes. You must be pleased with your accomplishments—given the fact that you were under the care of a psychiatrist during your childhood,” He gave her a compassionate look. “You heard voices. Your parents sent you to see,” His eyes flicked back to the file. “A Dr. Ward.” His gaze went back to her, and he pushed harder. “Do you still hear voices Miss Hayes—do they tell you to do stuff?”