Jack Ribsky sat for a minute, thinking, "Suspicious activity, huh?" as he noticed a car in the driveway.
"Airport rental," he said. He noticed, further in, more hidden, a black Chevy. "So, what's going on here, Connie?" he asked aloud. The neighbors who had called to tell him there was something strange going on at the house were also concerned that they thought they may have seen Connie Bensonhurst, his sister-in-law, going inside. And, he remembered, the neighbor also mentioned hearing screams coming from the house. This made his stomach sour.
He looked from the car window onto the property. Everything seemed all right. It looked like a regular day in a suburban, quiet community. There were few lights on, and dusk was releasing its dim purple haze over the town. He checked again, as part force of habit, that his gun was in place, and the safety was off. Just in case.
He opened the door and started to disembark when another car, airport rental, drove up and parked behind him. Catching it in the rearview, he noticed two men, one younger, the other about his age, peering into The Manning property, just as he had done moments before. He got out and went toward their car.
John turned to Timothy. "Who the Hell is that?" he asked the air.
Timothy said, "I don't know, Lad, but we're about to find out."
The man was approaching their car.
The man came to the window, flashing identification. John flashed his badge in response. The man said, "Police, eh? Ribsky. I'm a private investigator, ex-serviceman. Someone called about suspicious happenings at this house. My sister-in-law owns it. Was left to her by one Peter Manning."
"I'm Lieutenant John McBain, this is Timothy Broderick. I'm off the clock, but some friends of mine may be in trouble in there."
As he spoke the words, a shot rang out from inside the house. John said, "Let's go, there's a child in there," and threw open his door, almost butting into Ribsky. But the man didn't balk. Instead, he moved, faster than John would have guessed, toward the front door.
Timothy and John went to the side entrance, and within a few moments, all three were inside the house. Timothy, breathing heavily, and John, standing over Connie Bensonhurst, as Jack Ribsky came around the corner and saw her.
"No, oh God," Ribsky said, crouching beside her. He looked up, "Cold. Looks like . . . she was beaten to death."
John didn't respond, but both he and Timothy knew who had done the honors. Guns drawn, all three men looked around and searched the upper level. That was when they heard the second shot, and could tell it was below them. Timothy, suddenly remembering, said, "The chamber! In the cellar!"
John's face was contorted a little with hearing the words, and Ribsky was stuck, momentarily, on them as well. What chamber? What the Hell . . . Instead of trying to garner an answer, he followed their lead and headed for the cellar stairs.
"Sam, what is the matter?" the nun asked from the doorway to his old room, which now was empty since his family had moved to Unforgettable.
He was lying on the bed, his head turned toward the wall. She saw him sigh and draw in a ragged breath. He was crying. She approached, sitting on the bed next to him. He kept his back to her. She said, "Little one, ya shouldn't hide y'ar tears."
"I'm supposed to be a big boy," he said, through sobs, "but I only want my Mom and Dad."
She patted his back. "So? That's all right. I want mine as well, and I'm an old lady."
He turned to her, "You do?"
"Of course. I think about them all the time. They're no longer on this earth, but I miss them and want them. But y'ar parents are alive and well, and probably on the way back to ya."
"My Dad almost died, before."
"I know that, Little One."
"He almost died in Ireland. Mom said he got brought back to life."
"Yes, that's true. He's a tough one, that father of y'ars."
"I don't understand stuff," he said.
She could hear the pain and sadness in his little voice, and her heart broke. She said, "Like what stuff, may I ask?"
"I don't understand a lot of stuff. I'm too little, that's what everyone says."
"Well, sometimes they can be wrong. Sometimes even little people can know things. Why don't ya tell me what's confusing ya?"
He turned to her. His face was red and tear-stained. He said, "My Dad."
"All right, what is it about him that confuses ya?"
He thought for a very long time, his facial expressions demonstrating concentration and emotion. "He had a bad life."
The nun, petted his head. "Yes, he had a bad life. Until he had ya, and y'ar brothers and sisters, and of course, because of y'ar mother."
"I don't like those stories about his Dad."
"No one does, Sam."
"I want him to come home. And Mom."
"They will, they'll be home sooner than ya think."
The nun thought of the tiny boy, with the likes of Peter Manning, and shuddered. She said, "Any time now."
"Okay," he said. He looked up at the nun with his eyes, large, and tears resting in the corners. "But can we pray so God will help them?"
"Yes, of course. We can pray. I'll show ya how."
"I know how. Mom told me." He got off the bed and knelt at the side of it. He closed his eyes, and his lips moved without sound. She found herself in awe of his innocence; as he closed his eyes, and a tear spilled over onto his cheek.
In the continually dimming light of the cellar, Blair tried to strain her eyes to see who had shot Peter dead through the head. On the inside staircase behind her was a figure, she could not make out at first in the dark, the gun still smoking, raised and pointed still where Peter had stood.
In her amazement, Blair forgot to shield Ray's face as they both turned to see the shooter. Her son said, in a clear and sweet voice, "Gamma Bitty!"
Blair instinctively shushed her son, and looked back to the scene. Todd was lying, splayed on the cellar floor, crumpled and unmoving. She was overcome with fear.
No. Not this, please. Not now, not in front of my baby, not ever. . .
Her mind went back to all of the times he'd told her that he'd die for his children: Leona in the nursery, Mitch in La Boulaei, the bear. She felt a surge of pain and sorrow rise through her, starting in the pit of her stomach, and ending in her throat. She heard herself whimper like a child. He just got back to us. He fought his way BACK TO US. No, not this. Please. Don't make it that his son just watched him die.
She wanted to go to him, but she was so afraid. She wanted him to get up and come toward her, and take his baby son and hold him. He didn't move. Ray, who was pressed against her chest again, said, "Down, Mommy. Want to see Daddy."
"No, Ray, not now." She held her son to her, and closed her eyes. For a moment, she was hoping to open them and see him, standing before her, in all his stubborn, beautiful turmoil. She kept them closed, hoping to shut out what might be the truth. That he might not ever come back to her this time.
I love him so much.
Then, she heard his voice, laboring. "Blair, get the baby out of here," he said. He sounded far away. As she ran to his side, after putting Ray down at his grandmother's feet, she called to him.
"Todd, please," she practically stumbled to the ground beside him. First, noticing he was breathing, and starting to move, she could see he was in pain, and spied blood spattered on his clothes. "My Love, we're fine, the baby's fine," she said, crouching beside him. Don't let him die. Don't let him leave us. "Don't leave us, Todd," she heard herself say quietly.
He reached for her hand. "I feel like we've done this a lot before. Me hurt, me bleeding. Me in peril. Such beautiful memories, huh?"
She broke through her panic and tears and laughed lightly. "Oh, Todd, just say you're all right?"
"He just got me in the shoulder, that's all. He's a shit shot. I'm okay, but it hurts like a bitch. What about Ray?"
"He's fine. He's over there, just worried about his Daddy."
Todd pushed himself to sitting the best he could. "Come here, Ray. Come on."
Ray hesitated a moment. Todd said, "It was Momma? She shot Peter?"
Blair shook her head in agreement.
The little boy ran to his father, and Todd was able to embrace him with one arm, and pull him close to his heart. Ray said, "Daddy," very softly, and cried.
Bitsy dropped the gun, mechanically, onto the staircase, and then walked past them to Peter's body. She stood over him, robotic. She looked to Todd a moment, and he said, "I'm okay, Momma."
The older woman sighed, and looked down at Peter. Then, to their amazement, she opened her mouth, and said: "I should have done this the first time you touched my son, you bastard," and she kicked his still body.
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