"Daddy, help me. I’m so scared. I’m so cold. I don’t know what I’m going to do."
"Honey, I know you’re frightened. I hate seeing you this way. I wish I could reach out and save you, but you’re going to have to save yourself and my little grandson to be."
"But Daddy this man is crazy. He’s going to kill me and I feel so weak," Evangeline sobbed.
Cole Williamson wrapped his arms around his first-born and Evangeline was flooded with his warmth. "My girls are strong. We Williamsons didn’t come this far for my jewel to die at the hands of this monster. I’m here with you, Cookie and so is Grace and Gramma and Grampa and a host of your strong and brave and beautiful ancestors. You are walking on our shoulders. We are with you every moment. Don’t you ever forget that we love you and we are on your side."
Dreaming on her pallet of moldy rags, Evangeline stopped shivering and the tears dried on her cheeks.
* * * * *
Dennis Lloyd stared at the CODIS report and the DNA results from the soiled gown. According to the preliminary findings from the state forensic office in Harrisburg, there was a relative match between the samples from the dress and an inmate at a maximum security prison in Kentucky. He was trying to keep his cool – he had to: he could see John McBain was ready to pop a gasket.
"Lieutenant, I think it might be better if you let me handle this interview. You’re kind of wound-up right now," Dennis said in a low, even voice. "I can appreciate how personal this is for you."
Hands on his hips, John stared at the lead detective who was carefully avoiding his eyes.
"Personal!" John shouted. "Personal! You have the balls to accuse me of taking this personally? Do you really think I’m going to leave you alone to question your former partner?"
"Yes, you are," Bo said from the doorway. "John, none of us are comfortable with the way this looks, but we need to follow the evidence. If Randall knows anything about this guy, we’ll find out. If he’s involved in any way, we’ll find out. But if we’re going to bring Evangeline back safely, we can’t afford to wreck any lead."
John turned wild, bloodshot eyes on Bo and Dennis. He could feel the anger rising like heat through his body. Then an image of Evangeline came to mind: her cool hand on his arm, her warm eyes on his, her voice saying, "Listen, John. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. Let someone help you."
How many times had she asked him to let her share the weight? How many times had he pushed her away, so sure he could manage everything by himself? Where had that gotten them?
"All right. All right. But I want to hear everything he says."
Dennis glanced up and saw Randall heading towards John’s office. "Commissioner, is it okay if we talk in your office?"
"Sure," Bo said. He headed out to greet Randall Muxworthy and steer him into his office. Dennis glanced back at John before following them. "We’ll do our best for Ms. Williamson," he said.
* * * * *
Natalie Vega watched Dennis, Bo and Randall head into Bo’s office and shut the door. She saw John alone in his office, but for once, she was afraid to approach him. She’d been shocked when she’d seen the state of Evangeline’s dress but the rumor that her rival was pregnant with John’s child hit her even harder. She didn’t want Evangeline to die, she just wanted her to go away. But if Evangeline was having John’s baby, she knew she’d never be able to come between them. John had barely looked at her since Evangeline disappeared. If she told him about the necklace, it might help the case. But he might be angry with her for withholding the information. Or he could be grateful. Angry or not, at least she’d get his attention.
She fixed a big cup of coffee with lots of milk and sugar – this time of night, he liked it like that – and headed into John’s office.
"John," she said softly, giving him a wary look. "You look like you need this." She held out the cup of coffee.
John stared at the cup in her hand, as if trying to decide whether to take it or not. After a few beats, he accepted it and drank deeply. "Thanks."
"No problem," Natalie said with a shy smile. "Anything I can do to help. I know how worried you must be about Evangeline and the baby."
John slammed the coffee cup down on his desk. "What did you say?"
Natalie jumped. "I said I know you must be worried about Evangeline."
"What was that about a baby?"
A little genie of hope leapt inside of Natalie. "Oh, so it’s not true that Evangeline is pregnant?"
"Natalie, whether she is or isn’t is none of your business. I don’t have time for your games. The life of someone I love is at stake. My life is at stake."
Natalie could feel the heat coming off of John in waves. She felt her own temperature rising. "The life of someone I love"? She stared at him in disbelief. Didn’t he know she was his soulmate?
"Natalie, get away from me. I’m sick of you!" John shouted.
"I was just trying to help, you sorry son of a bitch," she screamed, stomping out of the office and carrying the secret of the necklace with her.
* * * * *
Randall Muxworthy couldn’t believe what he was going through. Dennis Lloyd, the man who’d taught him more about being good police than anything he’d learned at the academy, was interrogating him about Evangeline Williamson’s disappearance. Although the word "suspect" hadn’t come up yet, he knew what Bo and Dennis were thinking. Damn, in their place, he’d be thinking the same thing.
"Yes, I know…knew Gary Muxworthy," Randall said in a defeated voice. "He was my brother." Saying Gary’s name brought back that hellish day he’d spent half his life trying to bury. The last time he ever looked into Maydonna’s eyes. Mama falling to her knees in the parking lot, all of the light draining out of her like it was chasing Maydonna’s soul. Gary crying and cursing because the wrong person opened that car door.
"Son, what do you mean you ‘knew’ Gary Muxworthy?" Bo said.
Randall tried to swallow the lump of tears in his throat. Gripping the arms of his chair to steady himself, he looked from Bo to Dennis and said, "Gary was my older brother. He was killed in a prison fight last year. I haven’t seen him since I was fourteen. He rigged my stepfather’s car with a bomb. It killed our little sister Maydonna."
Bo and Dennis exchanged a startled glance. CODIS hadn’t been updated and the warden of the prison hadn’t returned their call before Randall came in for questioning. How could Randall, a colleague they both knew and trusted with their lives, be the brother of a convicted murderer?
It was Dennis’s turn to swallow hard. If Gary Muxworthy was Randall’s dead brother, the DNA evidence made Randall next on their suspect list.
"Randall, I’m going to need to ask you where you were on the following dates," Dennis said handing him a list of the dates the Killing Club Killer struck.
Randall took the sheet of paper and snorted at the absurdity of it all. He felt as if he’d landed in his own Hitchcock movie. "You can check the work roster, but as I recall, I was with you on at least two of these dates; in fact, we were first on the scene in the Hudson murder. You were driving, remember? And I was down in Maryland at my sister’s high school graduation when Miss Williamson disappeared." He noticed Bo and Dennis’s hands going for their weapons as he reached for his wallet. "Here," he said, pulling out an Amtrak stub and a credit card receipt from the Baltimore harbor restaurant where he’d taken Mama and Chetty and Sharmila to celebrate her graduation from middle school.
"My digital camera is my locker. There’s a date stamp on the pictures we took at Sharmila’s graduation."
Dennis felt baffled and not a little ashamed. But he had to keep pushing for the sake of the case. "All right, Randall, we’ll have to check that out. But tell me, are there any other brothers or cousins we should be looking at?"
* * * * * *
Evangeline jumped when Hallam threw on the overhead light. She’d been lost in a dream of comfort and security. Jolted back to reality, her heart racing like it was about to jump out of her chest.
Hallam clomped down the stairs, a butcher’s knife with a blackened blade in his hand. As he bounded towards her, Evangeline realized she’d never felt him lay his hands upon her. Of course, he must have when he carried her here, but since she awakened from her drugged stupor, she’d never felt his touch. She tried to run, but he quickly caught her by the hair and yanked her head back.
"You crafty nigger!" he hissed into her face, his breath putrid like a dead thing was rotting inside of him. "You didn’t tell me you were carrying a mongrel. You think I’m going to let you bring a mongrel into this world?"
Evangeline’s eyes were wide and she was shaking so hard she felt her knees would give way. "Please Mr. Muxworthy, please don’t hurt my baby."
Hallam’s laugh was ugly. "I thought you was supposed to be a smart bitch. How you think I’m going to kill you and save your baby? I know! You know how I know? I know cause I’m the smart one here. I can cut that mongrel right out of you, keep it fresh in a Tupperware." He trailed the tip of the knife from under her chin to the hollow between her collarbones.
"No! No! Daddy please, no!" Evangeline wept.
"Girl, who you calling ‘Daddy’? Is that what you call that white man that fucks you? You call that piece of Irish trash ‘Daddy’? Let’s see. Let’s see how you call your loverman."
Hallam pulled Evangeline’s cell phone out of his pocket. "You are going to do what I say and no more. You fuck this up and I’ll split you like a ripe tomato before sunup. Do you hear me?"
"Y..y..yes, Mr. Muxworthy."
"I hear you’re quite the songbird. You’re going to sing a little song to McBain. One false note and I will end you right here. You understand?"
* * * * *
John felt trapped. On one side of him Bo and Dennis were trying to shake a lead out of an officer they’d all trusted and he couldn’t get anywhere near the man. On the other side, Natalie Vega sat at her desk, livid and angry as a boil.
His cell phone rang. He nearly leapt out of his skin when he saw "Evangeline" flash on the screen.
The voice on the other end was wobbly as if the speaker was drowning in tears, but it was unmistakably Evangeline. "Rock-a-bye…rock-a-bye baby…on the tree top. When the wind blows…"
"Evangeline! Where are you? Just tell me where you are?"
"John!" his name dissolved in a sob, then a wince. "The cradle will rock. When the bough breaks…sob…the cradle will fall…and down will come…."
"Honey, who is holding you? Just tell me!"
"Baby cradle and all."
The line went dead.