Authors: D.J. Palmer
There was something odd in the air at dinner, something strained. Meals had been quieter in general with Simon at the table, but usually Nina couldn't hear the clink of a fork on a plate or a gulp of water going down. Tonight it was different, but when pressed, nobody owned up to anything being amiss. Connor took his usual mini-mountain helpings of pasta; Maggie ate her food solemnly with Daisy splayed out under the table at her feet; Simon served Nina the asparagus drizzled with olive oil, all with little more said than “Pass the bread, please.”
Nina wondered if the tension had to do with the disagreement she and Simon recently had about Thanksgiving. Simon did not want to go to Nebraska, saying that his continued difficulties with Maggie would make the trip too uncomfortable and would ruin the holiday for everyone. To assuage Nina's guilt at leaving him behind, Simon assured her that there were plenty of teachers with whom he could celebrate the day.
Hugh Dolan's words flashed like a neon sign illuminating lingering doubts:
Has he isolated you from your friends and family?
Nina dismissed the notion. Simon was happy she was going home for the holidays; he said so himself.
was the one staying behind, for
reasons. Even so, none of this felt right to Nina. Family meant everything to her. The thought of this divide between her daughter and Simon and its impact on other parts of her life was incredibly upsetting.
“Maggie, honey, you look tired, are you feeling all right?”
Nina was concerned about the dark circles ringing her daughter's eyes, her wan complexion, and worried she might be coming down with something.
God, please don't be the flu.
“You do look a bitÂ â¦ stressed, Maggie,” Simon said, delivering an odd pause. “That must have been a difficult homework assignment you and Ben were working on.”
To Nina's ears, Simon's tone sounded a bit off, almost mocking, as if he were suggesting Maggie and Ben had been engaged in some other kind of activity, maybe the sort a boy and girl with raging hormones might test out. But Nina knew better. Ben was Maggie's friend, nothing more.
She knew that Maggie had gone to Ben's that afternoon to study for something, but hadn't pressed for details, because once again, her mind had been on her caseload. Guilt about the holiday, worry about Maggie, it all ate away at her appetite, but Nina took a bite of pasta to be supportive of Simon's efforts in the kitchen.
She was about to ask Maggie if the lab report grade had been adjusted as Simon had promised, when the doorbell rang. Daisy barked wildly. Nina looked puzzledâpopover visits from Susanna had ended when she'd moved in with Simon.
“I'll get it,” Connor said, up from the table in a flash, with Daisy close on his heels. Nina heard him open the door, heard Daisy's excited barking, and then heard a familiar voice from her past. The man assured Daisy he wasn't a threat, and soon enough the barking stopped. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been bringing Daisy home to her. A moment later, Connor came back into the kitchen with Detective Eric Wheeler following.
Wheeler still wore a military-short haircut, but looked like he'd put on some weight. He was here alone, and Nina didn't know if his previous partner, Detective Murphy, had been reassigned or had moved on.
“Sorry to interrupt dinner,” Wheeler said to Nina, “but I was wondering if I could get a moment of your time. In private.”
Nina was up from her seat the instant she laid eyes on him. She knew he had come with news about Glen. There could be no other reason for the unannounced visit.
“Of course,” Nina said, her gaze shifting over to Simon, who looked as tense as she felt. “Simon should join us. We can go to my office. Kids, stay here a moment.”
Nina's voice quavered slightly. Maggie and Connor exchanged worried looks, while Nina, Simon, and Detective Wheeler departed the kitchen for the office, where the framed pictures were still on the floor.
“What's going on?” Nina asked nervously.
“No easy way to say this, so I'm just going to come out and say it,” Wheeler began.
Nina took hold of Simon's hand.
They finally found his bones.
“The DNA analysis of hair fibers from the assault of Dr. Sydney Wilcox came back from forensics this afternoon.”
Why is he telling this to me?
. Why is any of this my business? I
just a client. Why not tell Dr. Wilcox's family?
Wheeler said, “The samples came back a hundred percent match for Glen Garrity.”
They gathered in the living room like it was another family meeting. There'd been too much going on to make those meetings a weekly occurrence as Nina had intended, but now there was more, much more, to add to the agenda. Simon and Nina sat on the love seat. Maggie and Connor were on the sofa. Detective Wheeler sat on a chair Connor had brought in from the kitchen.
Connor was red-eyed from crying. Only fifteen minutes earlier, he had learned the bone-jarring news about his dad, but nobody could believe it was true. But it was true, Nina told herself. Hair and fiber samples taken from the crime scene matched Glen's DNA with 100 percent certainty. Even bits of his skin had been scraped from underneath the victim's fingernails, left there as she'd fought for her life. It was a fact: Glen had broken into Dr. Wilcox's home and assaulted her viciously, mercilessly.
But why? What could possibly be his motive for the attack?
In their private meeting, Detective Wheeler had learned of the connection between Nina and Dr. Wilcox, but he was no closer to an answer regarding motive than she was. Nina turned her attention to her daughter, whom she thought looked oddly placid. She assumed Maggie was in shock, and maybe that's why she did not look as bewildered as the rest of the family.
“I know my dad,” Maggie said flatly. “He wouldn't have hurt that woman.”
Nina didn't share a fraction of her daughter's conviction. Glenâhis life, his choicesâmade it impossible to discount the improbable.
“What makes you say that, Maggie?” Detective Wheeler asked.
Nina caught something in her daughter's expressionâthe eyes mostly. A weight was there. She could see it clearly,
seen it clearly for days now, even at dinner tonight before the big bomb dropped. Maggie was holding something back. Glen was alive. Glen was around, nearby. Maggie was acting oddly. Nina put it all together and came to an extremely unsettling conclusion.
“Sweetheart,” Nina said to Maggie, her voice low, thinking she might have figured something out. “Have you been in touch with your father?”
Guilt radiated off Maggie like a miniature sun. Her eyes filled and then the tears streaked down her face like a pipe had burst. Her body shook as she gulped for air between anguished sobs. Nina crossed the room with hurried steps, taking her daughter in her arms. Connor looked utterly shaken, as if he'd absorbed a brutal hit on the football field and couldn't catch his breath. Only Detective Wheeler didn't look completely stunned, or even slightly surprised. No doubt he was accustomed to people keeping all sorts of secrets.
For the next fifteen minutes, Maggie confessed to everything: the Talkie friend request from Tracy Nuts; her promise in subsequent messages to keep the secret; their phone conversation from a number she had traced to Vermont.
“What did you do to make him run away?” Maggie asked her mother with tears in her eyes. “Dad told me you did something and that's one of the reasons he had to disappear. What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Nina said. “I did nothing.”
“What exactly did he say? You can tell us; it's safe to tell us now.”
Wheeler's relaxed approach seemed to have the intended effect of getting Maggie to open up.
“He told me to get along with Simon better because he wouldn't
have to worry about money and stuff, and then he saidÂ â¦ he said he was hiding for a reason, that he had hurt people, but he said Mom did bad things, too, and that she was partly responsible for his situation and he couldn't let it go unpunished.” Maggie's speech was rushed as the words came tumbling out. “I didn't understand any of it.”
Nina stifled a gasp. What had Glen become? She had barely known him to get angry. What could have filled him with such rage? What role could she have possibly played in that transformation? And why viciously attack a perfectly innocent soul to punish her? Was that the punishment he'd told Maggie about? How would he even know she was seeing Dr. Wilcox? None of it made any sense. For whatever reason, Glen had laid the blame squarely on her shoulders. How dare he accuse her of anything? She had been nothing but a loyal and loving wife to him. How could Glen possibly point at her when
had been fired at work,
was stealing from his family,
had hooked up with the waitress and perhaps others?
Nina didn't have many answers, but after piecing together events from the past few days, she understood at least one thing.
“You were talking to your father on the phone when I came to your room the other night, weren't you?”
Nina sounded incredulous, but not upset. Thinking of her own father, she believed she would have done the same had roles been reversed. She hugged Maggie even tighter, letting her cry, knowing every tear her daughter shed was a little less weight to carry.
“It's okay, sweetie,” Nina said, rocking Maggie in her arms the way she had when she was younger.
“He told me I couldn't tell anybody. That I had to keep it a secret, that it would be very bad for him if I told you or Connor, like he might be killed or something if anybody found out.”
“It's very good of you to be honest with us, Maggie,” Detective Wheeler said. “For the time being, I suggest everyone stay extremely vigilant. Maggie, we'll need your computer, your phone, to run forensics, see if that can help us pinpoint a location.”
Nina wanted to see those secret messages Glen had exchanged with Maggie, but she'd speak with Detective Wheeler about it in private. She didn't want her daughter having anything else to worry about.
“Is Glen a threat?” Simon asked the detective. “Could he show up here?”
“Anything is possible now,” he said.
Simon cupped his face in his hands. Nina pulled Maggie into her body, keeping an arm draped around her shoulders, her protective motherly instincts taking hold.
“You need to talk to the bank where Glen worked,” Nina told the detective. “He was fired from his job years before he disappeared, and I think something there set this whole train in motion.”
Wheeler made a note.
“Speaking of jobsâNina, your job,” Simon said, looking first to Nina and then to Wheeler. “Is it safe for my wife to keep working?”
Nina eyed Simon strangely, and even Maggie had the wherewithal to key in on his miscue. Nina was still Glen's wife, not Simon's. Wheeler, none the wiser, answered with authority.
“Well, that's going to be for you to decide. Obviously, I think whatever steps you can take to minimize your risks, it's advisable to take them until we get this situation under control.”
Nina knew Simon would interpret Wheeler's assessment to mean that, at a minimum, she should take a leave of absence. Maybe she would, but not until the Cooper case was officially resolved. Besides, they weren't going to barricade themselves inside their home. Yes, Glen was out there, somewhere, but she had a life to live. Her bravado, while admirable, was also cold comfort. Glen must have been following her. How long had he been spying from the shadows? The question chilled her to the core.
Another thought came to Nina, this one more frightening. Perhaps Glen would come for the children, take them from her. Who knew what he was capable of? But there were steps she could take until his capture. She'd drive the kids to school and drive them home, or Si
mon could. She'd cut back on her hours, no problem there, but she wouldn't quit. Better to be at work, Nina reasoned, than home alone where she'd be more vulnerable to attack. She and Simon could work out the logistics later. Right now, the more pressing task was getting her family situated into this new normal.
“How will you catch him?” Nina asked.
“We're working on it,” Wheeler answered. “Look, it's obvious that Glen's in the area, and it's obvious that he's violent, and he's probably been following you, Nina, for a while now. Maybe the attack on Dr. Wilcox was his way of punishing you for whatever it is he blames you for. We just don't know his motives, but we do know that you're going to need protection, and we'll do all we can to provide that.
“We're going to have a police detail parked outside your house. They're on their way now. They'll be here all night, maybe for the next couple days. Hopefully we'll arrest him soon.”
Nina thanked the detective for his efforts, but she didn't feel any safer. Compounding her anxiety, what Wheeler had said struck her hard. Was he right about Glen's motives? Was there some twisted symbolism in his target? Perhaps. What better way to exact revenge on someone he blamed, erroneously or not, than harming the person committed to helping her? Nina believedâhopedâthat Glen wouldn't attack her, or Simon for that matter. They were providing for the children, and according to Maggie he wanted no harm to come to her or to Connor. But he could go after one source of comfort in Nina's life. Would he threaten othersâpossibly Susanna or Ginny?
Grateful as she was for police protection, these past two years had taught Nina that anything was possible.
Lunch again, eating with Ben like usual, only this time everything was different. It had been four excruciatingly long days since I found out my father was out there, somewhere, and the police considered him armed and dangerous. He wasn't a missing person anymore or presumed dead. He was a
man. He had attacked a woman, nearly
her. And now everyoneâand I do mean everyoneâknew my father was suspect number one in the crime. Once again, Maggie Garrity was the center of attention. Shoot me now.
Ben had been right about one thing: Dad was never in Vermont. He was nearby all this time. I still couldn't wrap my head around it. My father was sick and needed help; at least that's what Mom said.
I took a bite of my sandwich and then a bite of Mom's homemade brownie, all while watching Justin, Laura, and my former friends chatting it up three tables away.
“So what now?” Ben asked.
I gave him a brownie, that's what, and gobbled down another. “My dad's not answering any of my messages.”
“You're still trying to reach him? Isn't he, like, dangerous?”
“He's still my dad. And he's not dangerous to me, so yeah, I'm still trying. I'm using Connor's phone now because the police have mine.”
“For sure. You know what else is crazy? Simon, that's what.”
“Yeah, I guess this didn't change any of that,” said Ben. “What about the camera?”
The camera was still operational, and Luke's dad wasn't missing it, so we didn't have to return it anytime soon. The battery life was impressiveâweeks, if not months, running on a bunch of AA batteries. We could look at the pictures transmitted via Wi-Fi to an app on Connor's phone, but it wasn't producing much useful information except that Simon was the only person who ever went to his house. We knew it wasn't being rentedâat least currentlyâbut that's all we knew.
“He's really pissed that my mom won't quit her job,” I said. “Like
pissed. He keeps telling her it's not safe to keep working until the police get my dad.”
Ben cringed, which I interpreted to mean he partly agreed.
“She won't listen,” I said, in a way that made it clear I was proud of my mom's bravery. “She's at work right now, in fact.”
“Well, your dadÂ â¦ he seems to have someÂ â¦ some issues to deal with,” said Ben, approaching the subject cautiously.
I was about to defend my father, say that I didn't believe the evidence, when I felt the first sign of trouble. The tightness started in my throat, like the feeling of a hand around my neck, making it hard to get down a breath. My skin prickled and tingled as panic turned my body rigid.
I heard Ben call my name in a worried voice. “Maggie, you all right? Maggie?”
I saw people get up from their seats in a flash, some breaking into a sprint, gathering around me, circling, closing in on me, closingÂ â¦
“What's wrong?” That voice belonged to Justin D'Abbraccio, crying out as he ran toward me. But I knew what was happening. Panic clamped around my heart. I could feel my lips, my eyes swelling as I fought for air.
“I think she's having an allergic reaction!” Ben screamed.
“What did she eat?” someone asked.
“Nothing. Just her lunch. She had brownies, maybe those?” Ben sounded on the verge of tears.
“My pen,” I wheezed.
Ben was already fumbling with my backpack. This wasn't my first allergy crisis, so I knew I had to stay calm or I would make the situation worse.
My vision was blurring, but I could see Ben unzip the backpack. He felt around the big compartment for the special carrying case containing two EpiPens. I had two pens with me at all times in the unlikely event a pen malfunctioned or more than one injection was required. His search became increasingly frantic as he looked through various pouches and compartments for the case. He came up empty.
Sharp pains made me clutch my stomach, groaning. Scarlet bands started to streak across my hands and I felt them burn into my face. My breathing became increasingly shallow as the panic inside me deepened.
“The pens! It's not hereÂ â¦ it's not here, Maggie.” I heard Ben's terror, and watched as he dumped the contents of my backpack on the ground, searching with increasing desperation. He rifled through various pockets and pouches, again coming up empty.
“Where is it? Where is the case?” he cried with fright.
I stumbled off my chair, wheezing as my eyes lost focus.
“The nurse! Someone get the nurse!” It was Justin's voice I heard.
If I could have talked, I would have told them any EpiPen would do. Somebody in the lunchroom had to have one. The scarlet bands on my hands spread to my arms. The rise and fall of my chest quickened as I fought to get air down my swollen throat.
Is this what dying feels like?
I looked at Ben through gauzy vision.
My pens are in my backpack,
I wanted to say, but I couldn't get out the words. Light slowly faded from my eyes. I knew the pens were in there, but I hadn't bothered to check because I
take them out.
I started to make an alarming sucking noise as I heard someone say my lips were turning blue.
“Where's the nurse?” Ben shouted. “Hang on, Maggie.”
His voice was the only thing keeping me from succumbing to total panic.
Someone knelt down behind me. Though my eyesight was hazy, I could see it was Laura Abel. She gently stroked my hair, and then took hold of my trembling hand, grimacing at my cold and clammy skin.
“Maggie,” Laura said, touching my rash-covered face. “You stay strong, okay? Help is coming.” Laura's voice broke as tears spilled down her cheeks.
Each of my labored breaths sounded to me like a final gasp. The rapid pace of my skittering heart thundered in my chest.
“LauraâLaura.” I squeaked out her name through my swollen lips.
“We're here. We're all here,” Laura said, and I could tell she was struggling to stay calm. “It's going to be all right.”
Time slowed to an excruciating crawl. I shut my eyes tightly and saw my father's face flash before me, but I knew he wasn't going to get here in time to save me.
As people gathered around, closing the circle tighter, I could feel my throat continue to swell.
“The rash is all over her neck, face, and arms,” Laura said, now cradling my head in her lap. Ben looked on, helpless as could be, my backpack splayed open on the floor beside him.
“I'm scared,” I said, barely managing to get out the words.
Ben took hold of my hand and I squeezed back weakly. I'd never felt so helpless in all my life.
For a second I thought it was Connor calling my name, but when I looked, I saw Simon running toward me, holding something in his hand. The school nurse was right behind him.
“Pens! I have pens!”
Simon, suit blazer flapping behind him like a cape, charged through the cafeteria at a full sprint. Working quickly, he pulled a pen from the carrying case, then removed the blue safety cap as if he'd practiced it
before. Swinging the pen in an arc, he jabbed the orange needle cover into my thigh at a ninety-degree angle. I heard the click. Simon held the pen in place for a full ten seconds. Even with my vision blurred, I could see the indicator change color. The medicine had been dispensed correctly. I massaged the injection spot, feeling the epinephrine swim through my veins.
My eyes closed and the world around me grew darker, then darker still. In that moment, I left my body, feeling nothing but an unbelievable kind of lightness, like I could float away, far, far away, free from gravity. As I drifted off and the blackness became more pronounced, a single thought flickered through my mind before all thoughts ended.
Did Simon get the injection into me in time?