When the Wind Blows
I don’t own any of this except for the story line and the characters that I created (Marcus, Brianna, Melody, Molly, Harrison, Artemis and all other incidental characters). The regular characters of MSW are owned by their creators. Tipper Henderson is property of Anne and used with permission. © March 29th 2011.
Hush-a-by baby On the tree top,
When the wind blows The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall,
Down tumbles baby, Cradle and all.
Rock-a-bye, baby, thy cradle is green;
Father's a nobleman, mother's a queen;
And Betty's a lady, and wears a gold ring;
And Johnny's a drummer, and drums for the king
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
Catch him, crow! Carry him, kite!
Take him away till the apples are ripe;
When they are ripe and ready to fall,
Here comes baby, apples and all.
James Edger ran his finger over the computer keys and sighed. ‘When did life need to become so complicated?’ he thought to himself. For over a decade he had been the family lawyer for Bess Daniels and her parents, taking over for their previous lawyer Wally Banks after his retirement. It was a peach of a job. Go in three times a week, pay the bills, and file briefs when his clients wished to change something. Usually it was the condition of the trust fund for their daughter.
Convinced that if left to her own devices she would squander the money, her parents kept moving the date for her to receive the payment back so many times the judge now just shook his head and signed it. Bess Daniels was considered plainer than a mud fence, though James put up with the parents, and was there as a friend to Bess when she needed a shoulder. In the grand plan, James had the notion to wait until Bess had the money, then bump off the parents in a secret way before whisking her off of her feet during her hour of grief to marry her, then take the money and run.
Bess had beaten him to the punch though and married at 23, two years before her 25 birthday when she would be receiving the trust fund. Now the trust fund had been assigned to their daughter, to be received when she turned 6 months of age. He smiled as the computer copied the documents that belonged to Frederica Daniels, her mother. It was a wonder how something so small and common as a storage device could hold so much information. Bess never had reason to think her mother had been having her followed all those years - or gathering information that would be used as a bombshell when the child turned 6 months. He bit his lip. He was sure that he could get the judge to see reason when the truth came out. So much was in the papers already he would have to play this close to the vest. Wolfishly, he grinned. They trusted him. It would work.
‘Six months,’ James mused. Almost a life time in waiting. The computer beeped twice before he could shut off the speakers and turn the monitor off as it shut down. He heard Bess’s footsteps coming down the hallway hesitate. Springing from where he was he crossed the room and picked up one of the decorated onesies that looked like little overalls and shoved the disk into the pocket for safe keeping. It had been his convenient hiding place for over a week now. Bess had gone on a shopping spree and for some reason had all sorts of outfits newly laundered but not put away. It had been sitting folded on the shelf for a while. Maybe, he thought, that was where she had decided to keep it. He couldn’t risk it being discovered in his briefcase by accident when he went over the contracts with his boss. Due to sensitive nature of documents, there were some places in his firm that didn’t allow people to have any storage devices on their person. He would have time to retrieve it later.
“James? What are you doing in here?” Bess asked, looking about the room.
He shrugged with a goofy smile on his face as he held up the onesie. “They never looked like this when we were kids!” he said, carefully folding it so that the chip would remain hidden.
Bess gave him a blank look. “Oh, I suppose everything changes,” she said, taking his hand. “Come on, it’s lunch time.”
A call from his law firm distracted him after lunch while he stood outside on the balcony of the estate. Hours later, he would remember the sd card and knew that he would be needing to get back there to find a better hiding spot. He couldn’t risk Bess getting too curious, or the child growing into that size and finding it with gooey fingers. There were some things that just had to be done now and some things that could wait.
Stanley Shelby slammed the door of the family station wagon and brought himself up to his full height of 6 foot 3. His curly black hair dangled just above his dark brown eyes giving him the roguish pirate look so many women found adorable. A simple half hour trip inland to the coast had taken six hours through rush hour traffic because his wife insisted on stopping every ten minutes at every fast food place they saw to use the ladies’ room. She would linger for a good twenty minutes and he would find her standing in line looking at the menu to get just one item. They would spend another fifteen minutes eating it, then work their way onto the highway, before she would repeat the whole act. He watched through the car window as his petite wife Bess clipped the car seat holding their daughter Melody sat into the base of the stroller and swung the diaper bag over her shoulder.
Their daughter favored her mother in her petite size, but she didn’t have the straight black hair his wife had - somewhere she got little wispy red hair that just curled on the top of the head like peach fuzz. Stanley closed his eyes. The trip up to Cabot Cove had been suggested by their marriage counselor and was to have been without their two month old daughter. Bess had informed the counselor that caring for the child without a break had placed a strain on their marriage, and the counselor had agreed. This trip was a last ditch effort to “save the marriage.” Stanley shook his head. It was more than that. There was no marriage to save. He had wooed her, and swept her off of her feet knowing full well that the marriage was just another step needed to get at the trust fund her parents had set up for her.
They had met several years before at a community day fair. Stanley had been well aware of who Bess was and had been looking for a way to introduce himself to her. At 27 he considered himself a ladies’ man, but he always kept his personal life as private as he could, taking his adventures with the ladies to out-of-the-way towns. His ambition was to marry into wealth and then retire instead of working 70 hour weeks as a manager of the town’s hardware store. To do so, he knew he had to uphold a clean, wholesome image that would pass the most sterling investigation.
He had learned that Bess would be running the bake sale, watched which cookies she brought, and then made it a point to purchase all of them before sampling her cooking right there on the spot. They were just like his grandmother had made when he was a kid, he told her, before his eyes became misty. She had died before passing on the recipe to his mother, and he never thought he would taste cookies like that ever again. He thanked her, and then walked away.
She had followed, offering him the recipe on the back of her personal note paper, followed by her telephone number and shy conversation.
Her parents had changed the conditions of the trust after she married and Bess was fine with it. Before the trust would have been paid out when Bess turned 25, but then they wanted her to marry, and when she was going to fulfill that they changed it to the birth of their first grandchild. Stanley got wind while Bess was pregnant that her parents were in the process of changing the trust yet again, requiring Bess to have a son when they knew full well that she was carrying a daughter. Stanley had met the news with his typical broad grin and hugged Bess, telling her that wouldn’t be much of a problem at all and the money was just the kids’ college funds anyway. He told her he planned to give her a dozen kids and love every one of them.
It had been a difficult pregnancy, one that kept Bess sleeping in a separate room from him so she could be comfortable. Stanley regarded his wife while she was moving about the house. It was if she was hiding something from him about the pregnancy, but not looking at a fat woman who dashed off to throw up every moment was fine with him.
Stanley knew that her parents had sized him up and were taking steps to make sure he never saw a penny of their daughter’s money. Her mother had said as much to his face at the baby shower she had held for Bess. Stanley had played the game long enough to just smile and shrug and say, “Eh, keep your money, she’s happier with what we have than all of this.”
He left Bess’s mother standing at the top of the steps seething in fury. Stanley knew he would have to take action that day, and he did. It was quite simple while the ladies were milling about the garden discussing baby toys to slip down into the basement of the house and have a serious look at how the furnace was hooked up into the household. Borrowing a pair of gardening gloves he was careful not to disturb even a single cobweb as he shifted the collar of the damper slightly, creating a small crack in the exhaust pipe.
It would only be a matter of time before the carbon monoxide would fill the house on a cold night when they ran the furnace. He knew they had just had it inspected, and had been told about the possibility of the pipes shifting like this, but had told the inspector that it was fine for now, and signed the waver. No one really missed him and when he came up, he spent time in the powder room making sure his hands were clean. The glove disposal was another matter all together. Not taking any chances, he washed them with soap on the inside and out, and then placed them on the railing with some other gloves near the garden shed. They would be dry soon enough and no one would be the wiser.
It had taken a month before the call came of her parents’ deaths. Bess was inconsolable. The inspector had been called to testify in regards to his inspection and he showed them the waver citing that he couldn’t make them get it fixed and it would have only been a matter of time before this happened. Stanley waited for the wills to be read - he knew in cases like this, it could be months before the courts would decide what to do. To his surprise, Bess’s parents hadn’t changed the trust fund conditions, except that their child would have to be born and reach six months of age before the trust would pay out. The other bonus was that it allowed them to move from their tiny home to her parents’ estate, giving him a tantalizing taste of what the good life would be like. Still he fretted about making ends meet and living within their means, and the education that their child deserved. Bess seemed distant for awhile. Then things began to become interesting.
The waiting was horrible. People who knew Bess saw the stress of the pregnancy and the deaths of her parents turned Bess from a sweet person into a howling monster who took swings at whomever was in her way, even total strangers. Stanley was patient with her. Gentle, supportive, loving, the whole time she ranted and raved and it was only with sheer will and determination that he didn’t bump her off. The birth of their daughter didn’t make things any better. She was supposed to go in for a c-section to deliver the baby, but chose to go into labor when he was out of town on a business trip. He allowed himself to show the proper amount of guilt for not being there for her, expecting her to let it hang over his head, but she was complacent about it and didn’t seem to mind about that, just about all the other one hundred little things that happened in her life.
Stanley held his temper as best he could and would go for long walks to prevent himself from doing or saying anything that would give her cause to be any more upset. It didn’t work, though. Quite by accident he found that Bess had planned to place the money that she was going to get into trust for her daughter - not their daughter, but her daughter - and it would be payable to their daughter on her 25th birthday.
James Edger had taken him aside after the supermarket melt down and for the longest moment just looked at him before informing him of his wife’s decision to change the trust fund. Stanley had blinked a few times, registering it, and shrugged. “I’ve always told the family that the money was earmarked for their grandchildren’s education,” he said, grinning. “This way, they will have it ready for them.”
James nodded thoughtfully and then watched Stanley as he dropped the bombshell. “Bess was discussing conditions of a divorce today…” he began.
Stanley allowed honest shock to come over his face, and great sadness. “Whoa, wait, you shouldn’t be telling me this, isn’t there a confidentiality agreement?” he said, still shaking his head and not believing what he was hearing. He put his hand over his heart and slowly sat down. “My sweet Bess,” he said, emotions choking his voice. “I thought that I did my best to make her happy. I love her with all my heart…” his shoulders deflated. “Why would she want a divorce?” he asked looking up, honest tears filling his eyes. “I’ve been true to her, and kind, and loving, and I’ve given her everything that she wants that I can!” Stanley fell silent for a moment while James regarded him.
“Then you would be contesting this decision for the divorce?” he asked, tilting his head as he watched Stanley cover his face with his hands.
Stanley shook his head. “I want Bess to be happy. I don’t want a divorce, I want to work things out between us, but I’m not going to quibble over splitting the silverware up. Whatever she wants - she can have it all. I want to be able to watch my daughter grow up, though. Wouldn’t be fair to Melody if I wasn’t in her life.”
Stanley began to think on his feet. He went to a marriage counselor on his own and poured out his heart saying that he had loved her from the moment he had seen her and he was trying his best to make her happy and that his marriage was in ruins and he didn’t know why. The marriage counselor had suggested bringing her to the next session to hear her side of it. The session went surprisingly well. Bess had exploded at the counselor several times with off-the-wall comments that left Stanley and the counselor dumbstruck.
It was enough for the counselor to question her mental competence and make a record of it in the system. Stanley allowed himself to play the loving husband and doting father as he watched his wife’s melt downs become increasingly ... entertaining. James Edger received a call regarding her belting a second clerk at one of the stores over a bag of grapes. Enough was enough, Stanley said to James. He was concerned for their child, and his wife’s mental condition.
She was placed into a sanitarium for a week for evaluation. The toxicology screen came back negative, which Stanley knew it would. She didn’t get any better at the sanitarium, but now she was medicated to keep her wild mood swings under control. He was very careful to prevent her from overdosing on the pills. It would never due to have her die too soon.
Since her parents’ deaths and her complicated pregnancy they had been sleeping in separate bedrooms. It was perhaps the easiest thing he had ever come up with. He knew the doctors had informed him that Bess needed a good nine hours’ sleep each night. Interrupting her sleep took just a single day’s work adjusting the air conditioning baffle that lead to her room.
He had reversed the plate and the gears inside so that it would close only part way with the room controls, and any movement of air past it created a subharmonic sound that he knew she wouldn’t be able to hear, but she could feel. Some nights he would move it into the proper place until she was deeply asleep. Other nights he kept it open so that there wasn’t any pattern that she could pin point. The timer unit was installed the next day that she had gone out. No one was there to see him install it. He had, of course, taken precautions to prevent any evidence that would link him to it. Unless someone looked into the duct work, they wouldn’t find that the screws were reverse threaded. It was a common mistake that anyone could have made.
Stanley wanted to leave his daughter at home simply because the child would have been one more thing to deal with. Not yet two months old, Melody was a sweet enough child, yet still as demanding as her mother. Arrangements had been made for James Edger and his wife to care for Melody but at the last moment, Bess had said no, and packed Melody along with them. He didn’t argue. Four months more and the trust fund would be his. Ruefully, he wished that they could have delayed the vacation until the trust fund was in hand, but Stanley knew he was running out of time. The only thing that had delayed the final signing of the papers was her mental condition, and that James was dragging his feet on it as well. Stanley had found that surprising, but he did what he could to stay positive during the whole issue.
Stanley was sharp enough to undo the timer before they left for the trip. He wasn’t able to get up into the attic to reverse the baffle, but he had made sure that it was in the open position and that it couldn’t be activated by the regular furnace. He knew that she suspected something. Bess would have her lawyer crawling all over the house looking for the shadows that kept her up at night, and Stanley was confident enough to make sure there was nothing that would tie him to her madness. Even a week away, or two, wouldn’t change the damage done to her state of nerves from the subharmonics. The pills just made her susceptible to suggestions when she was sleeping. Going into her room and whispering things to her gave her chilling nightmares that would result in the doctor dosing her up even more.
He had taken a long hard look at the conditions of the will and the trust fund. If she divorced him, he wouldn’t get anything. Now that the trust was to be signed over to their daughter, if something happened to her mother, the value of the trust would go to her remaining parent. If the parent was incompetent or perished in an accident, then the trust would revert to the child at that time for its care.
“Let’s go north and look at the leaves,” he had suggested. “You always said you wanted to see the New England leaves.” The counselor had agreed. There was something restful about seeing the countryside. “It will be cold, though, a bit too cold for the little one,” the counselor had said. Bess had agreed. A warm spell had changed her mind about leaving their daughter home, and besides, in all honesty she believed the shadows that had kept her up would harm her child if she was left behind. Too many stories of babies being snatched and held ransom for their parents’ wealth had her clinging to the child like a rag doll.
Bess looked around as she adjusted the front seat back as far as it could go - it would make getting in the car easier later. Part of her had agreed with the counselor. The wind was brisk as it came off the ocean. Her daughter was bundled up in the stroller and looked around at the noises she heard as her mother pushed the stroller down the street. She didn’t know exactly what was wrong with Stanley. Only that he was… cold. Despite all of the warmth in his voice and his actions there was a side to him that no one had seen. She was sure that looking into his eyes was like looking into the eyes of a cobra. She had fallen for him so quickly, ignoring her mother’s warning about “that type of man.” Bess wasn’t sure if it was because Stanley was working class, blue collar – or if it was something else. Everyone liked him, though. Everyone told her how lucky she was, and everyone watched them settle down into the roll of suburbanites.
Stanley worked hard for the money he brought home, and provided for both of them. Her mother kept telling her what a mistake Bess had made in marrying him, and she would show Bess one way or the other what Stanley was made of. Bess had been two years away from her 25th birthday when her mother had informed her of the change in the trust fund. She wanted Bess to marry a son of a friend of hers. In all honesty Bess knew that her mother was manipulating her, and the young man was someone she couldn’t stand. She had watched him go from girl to girl, and knew marriage wouldn’t stop him.
Bess pushed the stroller down the street with Melody covered up in blankets and a plastic cover to keep the elements off of the child. Stanley was reassured that there were air holes at least and when they entered into the shops, Bess removed the plastic so her child wouldn’t overheat.
There were some places that were too tight for the stroller, and other places that Stanley noticed had women with the same stroller everywhere. He counted at least seven of them that were identical to the one his wife pushed in one particular shop before he realized the shop was the same chain outlet where she had purchased theirs.
Sighing, he sat down on the benches marked “BIBBIE’S DADDY’S TIME OUT BENCH” next to a display of the same strollers that his daughter was in. Glancing in them he could see they held life-like baby dolls wrapped in the pinks, blues and purples that were trademarks of the store. A sales clerk was tying mylar balloons on the handles of the strollers and stopped in front of Stanley, who was holding his daughter as she slept.
“Bibbie Balloon?” she asked with a chirpy voice. Stanley nodded. “Girl or boy?” she asked Stanley as she peeked down into the pile of purple blankets that swaddled Melody. “Girl,” he said, smiling. She tugged to detangle the pink and blue ribbons from each other and tied one on the stroller for him.
Stanley turned his head briefly to see what his wife was into and was shocked to see her sitting on the floor holding her head. His heart in his throat, he hurriedly placed Melody into the nearby stroller and moved the few steps from the stroller to her side. “Bess honey, are you all right?” he asked, concerned.
Sales people saw what was happening and milled around moving things so that they could see what was going on and to open a path between Bess and the way out. It was an unwritten rule: if there was an incident, make the customer happy, and get them out of the store before they think to file paperwork.
Bess shook her head. “I just got dizzy, that’s all,” she said. Around them the sales people breathed a quiet sigh of relief and began to move back to their posts. Carefully he helped her up on to the bench. The sales people were quick to gather the fallen items that Bess wanted and placed them on the counter to be rung up. Stanley handed the girl enough money to cover the purchases as he took care of his wife.
“It’s been a long trip up here honey. We have as long as we want and we can come back later to look around for more,” he said gently. Sighing he stood up and grasped the handle of a stroller decked out with two pink balloons that bore the name of the shop. Bess nodded, tired, and after looking at the fuzzy head peaking from under the blanket over their child, she covered the hood of the stroller with the plastic and, leaning on her husband, walked with him back to the car. He guided her to the front seat and keeping an eye on his wife deftly placed the car seat in the clamps and was relieved that Melody hadn’t fussed during the entire time. The balloons bumped gently in the back seat as Stanley took a breath waiting for Bess’s next melt down.
Writing had always been a catharsis for Jessica during the lonely months after Frank’s death. She had taught people to write, to create characters and to express themselves. Some of her students had gone on to continue writing. Character creation had always been something Jessica was rather proud of doing herself. There were many authors who with just a single character and an idea could write volumes. Her writing had always been prolific, her characters true to life.
Today, though, as the wind made the fall leaves swirl around the lamp post and dash against the windows, character creation eluded her. She knew where she wanted the novel to go. She knew how the murder was done, and who did it and the motivation. She had her leading man who would solve the case, and the leading lady who would win his heart. It wasn’t that her writing had taken a turn for the romance, however she had found the warmth between the characters growing, taking on a life of their own, and she knew the logical step would perhaps be a happy ever after, unless she could create an antagonist that would be the catalyst for the next novel, giving them a reason not to end it all with fluffy romance.
It was too formulaic, though, and Jessica needed several characters who would be used to create the red herrings. Many times her red herring characters were just simple people who were in the wrong spot at the wrong time. She had decided that this particular red herring character would be an elderly lady who saw too much, But developing the character had been something harder than Jessica had expected. The classification of being elderly struck a nerve that she hadn’t expected. She closed her eyes against the throbbing of her temples. Perhaps a cup of tea would help.
Rising from her chair, Jessica strode to the kitchen and placed the kettle on to boil. She was reaching for the sugar when she saw movement at Taylor’s old place. It was Artemis Poynte, shuffling around, picking up odd twigs from her yard and placing them in plastic bags, or sometimes jars. The local kids had taken to calling Artemis a witch. Jessica reflected on the events a few weeks ago when Mort had been answering a call of a fire, and found Artemis making apple butter from the local trees. Artemis had been dressed in dark clothing and stirring a cauldron, and from a distance she did look like a witch, her face pinched and pale from the effort of moving the large paddle.
Andy Broom had stayed with her while she finished the cooking, and helped her can it. She was a bit odd, mumbling as she moved through her yard in what Jessica recognized as Latin names for the plants that were there. After the events a few months ago Artemis had never really recovered properly. She was able to take care of herself, and function with her day to day needs, but there was something else going on that Seth had simply said was a nervous breakdown. It was more than that, though. Artemis brilliant mind had closed itself off to everything except the plants around her. Yet there were times when Jessica would observe Artemis in her yard, just watching people as they walked their dogs or strolled by. She never said anything to them, never waved to them. There was a sadness in her eyes that Jessica understood. The man that Artemis had loved had betrayed her deeply with her best friend before his death. Something as difficult as that would be a long time to heal. It would take even longer to trust anyone again.
It had been a bitter disappointment that Artemis had hidden well when she was informed that the child of her husband that Brianna carried didn’t survive. The courts had agreed to withhold the execution order for Brianna until after the birth. Artemis was still recovering when the birth had occurred, and it was Mort who had gone to her bedside to give her the news. She had sat silently in the sunshine, looking out before asking Mort, “If it was your wife, and another man, would you have accepted the child openly?”
Mort had shrugged. “If I knew that I could change what was in the child’s future, yes.”
That had been a little over two months ago. Artemis never spoke of it, even when Marcus came to visit her a week later. He had lost a daughter, and a grandchild, and it had broken him.
“I can’t say what’s in my heart Jessica,” he confided to her. “I would do anything for Artemis, and for my daughter while she was alive, and I don’t know if the decisions that I’ve made for them are correct or damnable. I guess some of those decisions would be best if they were taken to my grave. At any rate, death can’t come soon enough for me,” he said with bitterness in his voice.
“You can’t mean that, Marcus!” Jessica had exclaimed.
Sadly Marcus regarded Jessica before hanging his head. “I’ve been in love with Artemis for ages, Jess. I would do anything for her. Brianna knew this, though I never let it show, or spoke of it - she just knew. I tried to keep the relationship we had professional, and there were no truths to the rumors that Brianna spread, except for what was in my heart. Though later I made the decision after I saw what type of man her husband was to do what I could for Artemis’s happiness. When Artemis first married, I was happy for her, Jess. I wished her every joy. Artemis and her husband tried for a year to have a child. After that, I gave Artemis the money to see a fertility specialist, even went with her when her husband was teaching so she would have a support there. There are a lot of unanswered questions that I have with my regrets, Jess - and they will stay unanswered now… Perhaps it’s for the best.” He had bid her good evening, and returned to the bungalow the college had given him to retire in. He spent his days afterwards puttering around in the garden shed muttering to himself or taking long walks through the woods where students would often find him sitting on outcroppings of rocks watching the sun set, tears in his eyes.
Jessica now watched as Artemis placed the twigs in plastic bags then took them inside. It was something that Artemis did daily until she ran out of bags. A trip down to the Mini Mart with an oversized carpet bag to carry things would give her more bags to continue her work. Harrison never asked why Artemis didn’t recycle the bags. He tried to keep a good supply of them on hand, but sometimes she would go through several hundred a day and run through a case within a week. Jessica watched Artemis wrap her coat around her and walk down the hill to the Mini Mart.
“Perhaps,” Jessica thought, regarding her own advancement in years, “my character is coming a bit too close to home.” Sighing, she took her cup of tea and walked back to her computer. Sitting down, she watched the screen saver draw colorful pipes over the monitor screen. “If only creating was that easy,” she mused. She was about to start typing when the sound of a car driving past with people arguing in it caught her attention briefly.
“Come on, Jess old girl, focus!” she told herself. She decided to go with the physical characteristics first. “The character was elderly, so height would be about 5 foot or so,” Jessica mused out loud. It wasn’t that there weren’t older people who were tall… Shaking her head Jessica regarded the near-blank page in front of her. Hair color: while gray would have been a given, Jessica concluded that this was an exceptional person, so they probably had auburn or red hair that may have come out of the bottle. They would need a cane, hand-carved or an old wooden one to lean against and to thump sense into people with… Jessica took a longer sip of the now cooling tea. In a way, she would have done better walking down to the market with Artemis, and for a fleeting moment wondered how tiny Artemis and her carpet bag would fare against the growing wind.
Artemis had no idea she was the subject of Jessica’s speculations at that moment. She was standing on the street waiting to cross it to go to the mini mart when some little thing caught her attention and drew her in the opposite direction. It was the sight of balloons waving in the wind. Pink, blue, lavender, green and yellow bobbed along the rail of a store front.
Wandering down the street she regarded the newly opened Bibbies Babies. A small moan escaped her lips. She would have given up everything for a child with her husband. She had been told quite kindly she should consider fostering, as at her age adoption was almost out of the question. She watched people come out with balloons and wiggly kids and she swallowed, closing her eyes for a moment. She knew the children called her a witch. She didn’t know why, or could fathom how they thought, they just did and it made it all the more difficult. She wandered in and was overwhelmed with everything. So many colors, and lights, and laughing, happy parents. She sat on the Daddy’s Time Out bench and sighed.
One of the sales people came over to her. “Hello, may we help you today?” she asked in a chirpy voice.
“It’s a remarkable place you have here…” began Artemis. “Is everything for sale here?” she asked.
The chirpy sales associate nodded. “Oh yes!” she said before being drawn off by another customer.
“Imagine that,” mused Artemis. She sighed and placed her hand on one of the strollers to guide herself up. A small noise in the stroller made her blink. For the longest moment Artemis stood, gazing down at the bluest eyes she had ever seen beyond her own. No one was around the child, and the people who were in the store all had their own. Taking a breath she asked casually, “How much are the baby dolls and blankets?” Not even really caring what the answer was, Artemis pulled the money out of her pocket and paid the sales associate.
“Do you want me to wrap it for you?” the chirpy girl asked.
Artemis shook her head. “Oh, no, I’ve a bag of my own. Have to save the trees,” she said. The chirpy girl nodded, smiling as Artemis casually lifted the bundle from the stroller, taking care to wrap it up and cover the head with the blanket before laying it flat in the carpet bag.
Artemis was as calm as she could be walking out of the store. Inside she was shaking like a leaf and before she got down the steps from the store she realized she would have to go to the mini mart for formula for the baby. She would need diapers too.
Artemis stood for a moment before she went in. Logic told her that a parent that had the child wouldn’t just leave the baby there in the store. Not a good parent at least. What type of parent would? She also knew there wasn’t any justification in what she was doing. In time the parents would figure out that their child had been left behind - and they would have a great deal of explaining to do before she would surrender the child. Until then, she would keep the child safe and secure. Nodding to herself she took a breath to steady herself and went in.
Harrison was in the back when she came in. Molly was at the front counter, and waved hello to Artemis. Molly knew the other kids had labeled her a witch lady because of her strangeness, but Molly only saw a lonely old lady who was a bit quirky. Dr. Henderson had said that Artemis was a brilliant scientist who was recovering from a pretty difficult time. As she watched Artemis choose the items she saw something in Artemis’s eyes: a wonder over all the different types of things she was seeing as if for the first time. Molly got up and went to where Artemis was in the aisle.
“Cloth is better for the environment. My dad says so,” she said, pointing to the dozen pack. She pulled a set of the safety pins off of the shelf. “You will need those, too,” she said, checking the date on the bottom of the formula. “This one is still good for another six months, so keep it in the fridge after you open it. Baby formula has a really short shelf life.”
The trip home for Artemis was a bit more than she could take. She was half afraid of what she had done, and more afraid that it was just a dream. She knew she would have to tell someone, but for now she walked in silence with tears in her eyes. The blissful warmth of her home embraced them as she was able to close the door against the chill in the air. What on earth was she thinking? She took a steadying breath. She could hear noises coming from the inside of her bag. Opening it she gazed down at the bluest eyes she had ever seen again. She wondered what would have happened to Brianna’s child if things had been different. She couldn’t think of it as her husband’s child - it was as if there was a stranger that had done everything and that made the grief she felt somewhat easier to bear.
Taking the carpet bag upstairs carefully she unpacked everything on the bed. Her nose informed her that the baby needed to be changed right away. Realizing that the diapers would need to be washed she pulled open the pack of pins and went to the linen closet to grab a few dishtowels. These would have to do. A t-shirt replaced the soiled clothing – a onesie that looked like bib overalls - and one of her lap robes helped bundle her up after giving her a quick bath in the sink. She boiled water and then let it cool before mixing the formula, bringing it to the proper temp. There was something that told her what to do. Not instinct, not reason, not knowledge, but perhaps it was all the years longing for her own child, or reading all that she could about children. Artemis sat in her rocking chair holding the sleeping child. At least she had this moment.
Jessica shook herself as her laptop computer gave a beep. The screen changed from being light to having a shadow cast over it. She hadn’t typed anything for the last twenty minutes and was trying to focus on motivation when the beep had happened. She searched the monitor for the answer and saw that the laptop was running on battery, and the battery was low. Frank Jr. had informed her that sometimes the batteries lost the ability to hold their charge. It seemed that her laptop computer was agreeing with him.
The screen gave a last chirp before going completely dark. Jessica let out a groan. She hadn’t thought to save the work she’d done and while some of it was memorable, other parts of it had been a bit scattered. Sighing, she stood up and unplugged the laptop from the wall. There was stillness in the air. Her refrigerator fan had stopped running.
Outside the mournful siren for the fire company echoed across the cove. Jessica closed her eyes for a moment. People knew not to burn leaves, and it was unlikely that there was a house fire this early in the season, which meant with the power going out it was most likely an auto accident.
Mort swore. He had been almost all the way home when dispatch informed him that there was a problem at the sub station where the voltages were adjusted to suit the needs of the community. The billowing smoke told him it was more than just the usual porcupine that often made their nests under the support struts.
“What happened, Gus?” he asked the crew chief.
Gus Gandon had done a fair bit of cursing himself when he had arrived. Like Mort he knew that the damage done would probably leave the community without power for a long time until they received replacement parts. As it was an older sub station, the company would have to decide whether to update the equipment or make do with older parts, waiting for them to be found in salvage or somewhere in storage. In all honesty, Gus’s boss had confided in him that the little bit of money they made from small communities wasn’t enough to make the power company jump fast to make repairs.
Shaking his head Gus said, “You know how we asked people not to do those balloon launches and that the town council made the businesses promise not to use the mylar balloons?”
Mort nodded, feeling sick. A balloon wouldn’t seem like much of a problem, but they were just the proper width to complete a connection between two wires and blow out every transformer between Portland and Augusta. He followed Gus’s point to the far corner. There wasn’t much left of the balloon, just a pink and blue scrap of it that was still dangling with the pink ribbon wrapped along one of the transformers. Mort knew where that balloon had come from.
“Yeah, I know the place,” he said, shaking his head. New business was good, but not if they didn’t follow the community standards. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said to Gus as he slid his hat onto the back of his head. As he turned he saw something that made him take a step forward.
“Did you notice that guard rail missing before?” Mort asked Gus, stepping forward. Gus shook his head then took a sharp breath in as he started to jog down the road. It took Mort a moment to see what had caught Gus’s eye – fresh tire tracks in the dirt that Gus had known his men hadn’t made with their trucks. Mort was four steps behind him until Gus came to a halt at the edge of the road’s shoulder. An awful feeling came over Mort as he saw a car at the bottom of the ravine smacked into one of the trees. In the back window was a small yellow sign hanging upside down that said “BABY ON BOARD.”
There was no sign of movement or sound from the car as the rescue workers rappelled down the side of the hill and used the jaws of life to get all four doors open. Mort hated rappelling. He was too old for it, but the crew chief said he needed to come down and see something. Mort didn’t expect to see that the driver had a gunshot wound to his side, although he and the woman were both still alive. Somehow she had managed to hold on to the gun during the accident - the bullet holes through the top of the car were proof enough she had still been firing it when they had crashed. Mort felt sick as he looked into the back seat of the car where the car seat should have been. Only the base was there.
The diaper bag and its contents were strewn around the hill as were parts of the stroller. Watching the two stretchers being taken up the hill Mort looked at the sun’s slant. They had about half an hour before dusk. With the canopy of leaves, and more leaves falling, it might be late fall before they would find anything - assuming the animals left the remains. He sighed. The driver had been identified - he really hated making calls to the next of kin if they didn’t have something positive to report.
Something wasn’t right, though. There were a lot of questions that he needed answered and while he realized everyone was doing their part, he still had this nagging feeling inside.
“Sheriff! Over here!” yelled Andy. Mort turned and saw Andy climbing down the hill with ropes to prevent him from falling further down the hill. He hurried over, tying himself off on a tree, and went down to where Andy was carefully working his way under the carrier to be sure that if anything fell when he moved it, he could get it. Mort was right beside him as he carefully turned the carrier over and saw the pink baby snuggie still strapped in place. There had been stories of babies whose carriers had been thrown from cars over 40 feet and the yet babies had been unharmed. Mort fervently hoped this was the case.
But then Andy caught his hand. “Mort - there’s a bullet hole through it,” he said in a choked voice.
Taking a breath, Mort unzipped the snuggie and, dumfounded, both he and Andy looked in to find a baby doll wrapped in a purple blanket inside.
“Where is the baby?” Andy asked Mort.
Mort shook his head. The bullet had gone clear through the chest of the baby doll but was lodged in the carrier - it hadn’t gone through it. Mort sighed. Dinner was going to be very late that night.
Seth sighed. They had made sure the hospital had auxiliary power for surgery and for life support, but the rest of the hospital was in the dark with the patients being told to stay calm while things got sorted out. Perhaps it had been because it was so windy and cold that people had decided to stay off the roads - that when the accident victims were brought in, the surgeons were able to take them in right away.
In the meantime Mort made his way from the accident site to town where he saw the shop keepers were closing their doors. For a perverse moment Mort thought about using peer pressure, blame the new guy for the problem, but he realized he had a more pressing matter at hand.
He walked up the steps to Bibbies Babies with copies of the victims’ photos and a bag and knocked on the glass door.
One of the sales associates saw him and opened the door. “Oh, we seem to be closed because of the power outage, can you come back when its on?” Mort shook his head and asked to come in. The girl hesitated, then realized it was the sheriff and that he wasn’t likely to rob the place.
“I need to know if you saw these people in your store today?” Mort asked.
Briefly the sales girl regarded the photos from the drivers license. “We get so many people… why would you think that they were here?”
Mort let out a slow breath trying to stay calm. “Because one of your balloons escaped from their car and caused this power outage, despite the fact that your company agreed not to use mylar balloons in your advertising for this same reason. They were in an accident, and, well, something is peculiar…” he said, not trying to give away too much.
The young girl looked at him blankly. “They told us not to sell them, and we don’t. We give them away.”
Mort took a breath. “Do you remember seeing them?” he asked.
The girl looked at the pictures from the drivers licenses again. “Maybe someone else will remember them.” She led Mort back to where the girls were working with flashlights while they folded stacks of blankets. As a group the girls looked at the pictures, all shaking their heads until one squinted. “Oh, that’s the lady who sat on the floor,” she blurted, then clamped her mouth shut. One never admitted that a customer fell in the store, not to the authorities.
“You recognize her?” Mort asked.
Sandi, the store manager, nodded before sending the other girls back to work.
“Yeah, she got all weird, sat on the floor and was holding her head. Her husband was better looking in person… he was so kind to her, and they had the cutest little baby all wrapped up in blankets.”
“What did they buy?” Mort asked.
Sandi shrugged. “Just the usual overpriced baby doo-dads.”
“And they took the baby with them?”
Sandi gave Mort a strange look. “Yeah, like, why wouldn’t they?”
Mort pulled the baby doll out of the bag he had placed it in. “And did they buy one of these?” he asked. “You do sell them?”
She nodded. “We sell thousands of them chain wide, they are all numbered, and you can register them online. We coordinate them, and have everything laid out in a floor plan so all we have to do is scan the bar code on the register and type in the slot number where the doll is. It really helps when a kid doesn’t want to give it up.”
“Can you see when this one was purchased?”
Sandi regarded him. “Hello, power failure…” she began. Then she sighed. “We aren’t supposed to access the company files from our cell phones, but we can if it’s important. So, is this important?”
Mort nodded. “We found this strapped into the carrier they had instead of the baby.”
“Maybe they dropped it off at a friends house?” she said helpfully.
Mort shook his head. “I don’t know. But could you please look?”
She nodded. In a moment after coaxing her cell to keep the signal going, she looked up at Mort. “I can tell you that yes, the doll was purchased, here sometime this afternoon. They paid with their charge card, and - well, this is weird.”
“What?” Mort tried to peek over her shoulder at the page on her screen.
“It was purchased a good fifteen min after they left… Bunnie made the sale.” Calling Bunnie over Sandi held up the doll.
“Do you remember who purchased this?” she asked. “It would have been next to the time out bench.”
“I sold about twenty of them today… what time did you say?”
“Right after the lady went down.”
Bunnie became thoughtful.
“There were three this afternoon,” she said, thinking. “Millie Stanford’s daughter got one, a couple from Connecticut, and a really intense lady who didn’t want me to bag it, she said she had her own bag… One of those things a grandma would carry. I’ve seen her walking to the market a lot.”
“Do you have any information about the couple from Connecticut?” Mort asked.
She nodded. “They mentioned they were staying at the Hill House.”
Thanking them, Mort strode out of the shop to his car and held onto his hat as the wind picked up. The Hill House couple could wait. He had a fair idea what type of bag the girl was talking about.
Four steps took him to the back door of Artemis’s house. When she didn’t answer his knock, he pulled out the key Willie had given him from his wallet, reasoning that she had been in the hospital, and he was concerned for her welfare.
Upon entering the house he heard a strange noise coming from the basement and an odd flickery glow. Following the sound he held onto the rail as he went down.
Artemis was seated at a strange contraption that she worked with her feet while reading from her notes by several hurricane lamps. He recognized it as a really really old washing machine. On top of it was a laundry basket that different flannel shirts in it. Hanging up on fishing lines that laced the basement were thousands of small sandwich bags that had information written on them.
She looked up and nodded. “Hello Sheriff,” she said.
“I stopped by to see how you were doing… what’s all this?” He asked indicating the hanging bags.
“Research into the spread of the boring ash weevil. There is just enough air for them to hatch, and mature a day, before dying. Once they are that old, I can then do a DNA determination to see how many generations they are removed from each other and why the pesticides aren’t working on them.”
Mort nodded. “They have pretty much destroyed any of the cord wood production we had here. The ash and elm tree populations are going to be decimated with in three years.”
Artemis looked up from her reading. “You didn’t come here to discuss my twigs, though… is there a problem at the university greenhouse build?” she asked curiously.
Shaking his head Mort stepped closer to her and glanced in the basket. He blinked. There, under the flannel shirts, was a small head. He craned his neck to see better in the dark.
“I got that at the new baby shop this afternoon,” she said, returning to her notes. “ Life like, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t think you would be the baby doll type,” he said, studying it. It was nearly identical to the baby that he had in the bag, though it wore a t-shirt.
He heard a catch in her breath. Tearing his eyes from what was in the basket he looked at her. She had closed her eyes.
“ I thought it would help,” she said at last, her eyes still closed.
“Help?” He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. “Help how?” he asked.
She looked at him. “They told me that Brianna’s baby died… the one my husband and she conceived… the one the courts granted me custody of. And I thought, maybe purchasing a doll that looked and felt like a real baby - one that I could hold while I cried - would help me deal with the loss. To be a reminder… I can’t even visit her grave, Mort. All those years of wanting a child, and trying and having nothing to show for it, nothing to have or dress up…” She closed her eyes again. “Maybe you think I am too old to pretend, or to play with baby dolls…”
“Some things just aren’t meant to be,” he said kindly.
Artemis nodded. “That’s what the doctor said, after the procedures. I kept trying and trying… he said I wasn’t strong enough…that it was for the best… but, how could it be the best?”
Mort sighed. “I don’t know,” he said gently.
Standing up he thanked her for her time and went past the basket again. For a moment he looked down into the basket. They had said each of the babies were unique.
Artemis had composed herself. “What did you need to see me about Sheriff?” she asked a bit blankly.
“When you purchased the doll, did they scan it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “She just rang the numbers up after I picked it up from the display. Is something wrong?”
“It’s okay. It can wait,” he said, giving her a nod good-bye. As he crossed her kitchen he saw her bag sitting on the chair. It was open and there was a receipt at the bottom. Curious, he picked it up and glanced down. The registry number was the same as the doll he had. Mort sighed. There could be a thousand reasons why the numbers were the same. Someone swapped the dolls and it had been purchased before came to mind. The bubblegum popping sales associate who didn’t realize that giving away balloons was the same as selling them came to mind as well.
It was also possible that the child had been held in the mother’s arms at the time of impact, though it still didn’t make sense why they would put the doll in the carrier. Taking a breath he went through the gate and past the roses in Jessica’s garden before knocking on her back door. Jessica opened the door and saw his worried expression.
“Do you have a moment, Mrs. F?” he asked.
“Of course,” she said, letting him in. “I’m afraid the tea’s gone a bit cold,” she said, leading him to the kitchen table. “You look like you could use something, though.”
“The power outage was caused by a balloon. We found a car over the embankment, a man and woman, and we have a missing child… an infant. The thing is, Mrs. F, I think the accident was caused because the woman shot the man, and then put a bullet through what she thought was her own child. What kind of parents would do that? And if we do find the baby, what do we do with it? I couldn’t justify giving it back to them…”
Jessica watched him fidget. “There’s something else troubling you, Mort, isn’t there?”
He deflated. “I was following up on a lead, and it brought me to Dr. Poynte’s home. She’d purchased a baby doll from the same place, probably twenty minutes after the accident victims had left the store… she’s a grown woman, why would she need a baby doll? I mean, the thing looks like a real baby, and she’s even dressing it up, keeping it in a laundry basket like it’s a bed or something. Only with flannel shirts over it, not a regular blanket.”
Mort saw Jessica close her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, there were tears in her eyes. “I was pretty sure it would come to something like that,” she said softly. “I had Frank, of course, for support, and when Grady came into our lives, it was as if we had been given a chance to become parents. I well understand what she is feeling. When there is a loss, some people do what she is doing. I doubt if she would take to carrying it in town, though, and even if she did, she’s not a danger to anyone, or herself….”
Mort’s phone rang in his pocket. Pulling it out he recognized the name and sighed as he answered it. “Yes, Doc?”
“I wanted to let you know that both of the people you brought in have pulled through surgery, though they are in intensive care. The husband should be awake soon if you wanted to question him.”
“What about the wife?” Mort asked.
“She’s a different matter all together. We were able to get a hold of someone at their home and they will be arriving in about an hour.”
Mort thanked him and as he shut the phone he regarded Jessica. “I know you said you had work to do, but would you come to the hospital with me?” As he stood he looked through Jessica’s window to see Artemis in her back room, walking back and forth holding something wrapped in a flannel shirt. “Then again, I don’t know if I need you to stay here with her…” he said, inclining his head.
“I’m sure Artemis will be fine… though I can check on her when I get home,” Jessica said, going for her coat.
James Edger snarled in frustration as he dug through all of the drawers of baby clothes searching for the computer chip that he had hidden in the onesie. It wasn’t in the laundry, it wasn’t with the other clothing, and it wasn’t going to be easy to explain how his records were stored on that chip along with everything else. It had been so easy to change the codicil of the will allowing Bess and her husband to move into her parents’ estate after their deaths. It was an unexpected windfall for them - Bess had thought she had been written out of the will, which she had been, after the marriage. But there were so many revisions, and so many changes, and James just allowed the changes that were made to be slipped in on terminology that the courts would understand and that Bess’s parents missed as they blindly signed the papers. It was simple. He hadn’t stapled the pages at all, only used a paper clip and a simple overlay that he was able to peel off removed the initial for change box from the form. They never saw it, never really looked - it was just highlighted, he’d told them, so that they would know where to check.
He had to keep someone in the estate. He had to keep up appearances that someone was here and managing things so that others saw the public face. It wouldn’t take long for him to groom Bess properly into the social butterfly who held dinner parties for constitutes and senators. That was where the real power was. Being in a position to lobby for what was needed, getting monies promised that would go for funds that needed management. True, he kept clean books, but there were still ways to filter money through them, and then once the interest was garnered, it would be filtered to an account that only he knew the numbers for.
Belatedly he cursed himself again. All the files, all the numbers and passwords, were on that chip, as well as the medical records he’d managed to get from Bess’s mother. He was very careful only to use the computers at the estate, and not the one at his office. With that same care he had placed the account first in Bess’s grandmother’s name, and then when she died, Bess herself, and when Bess changed her name, he waited… and with delicious ease, changed the name to that of the child to be born. All of them could be manipulated to sign things, or to show up when needed. All of them had *the name* that he would hide behind if things were discovered. Of course Bess was embezzling money, he could say - “Look at how unstable she is!”
The jangle of the phone made James jump. Instincts made him hesitate to answer it, until he heard the voice say on the answering machine that it was the hospital in Maine near where Bess and her husband were going to stay.
The chip had to be with them. Thinking fast, he agreed to come and see what could be done.
Jessica and Mort strode into the hospital emergency room glancing around at the milling doctors. Seth came out from his office and beckoned them inside.
“Any change, Doc?” Mort asked Seth.
“He’s awake, but only just. As I said, she is a different story. Yes, we did tests on her hands, and she did fire the gun. The only residue that we found on him was the splatter when he was shot close range. He has damage to his liver and lung, but not the spine. She has contusions, and a broken wrist, the one that held the gun.” Seth placed a photo on the table that showed bruises. “If I didn’t know better, I would almost say that something was holding her hand directing where she should be shooting…”
“Why do you say that, Seth? asked Jessica.
“Because of the wound I found on the side of her head. It had been there perhaps a good half hour before the accident as indicated by the level of bruising. It was like her head had been smacked, then the bullets fired, then they went over the hill, but in all honesty, I don’t know how anyone could have hoped to be found over the hill like that… Of course it’s just speculation, all in all. Sadly, the contusion on her head along with her brain chemistry has diminished her chances of a complete recovery greatly.”
“But you said…” Jessica began, then she stopped.
“What am I missing? What aren’t you saying, Doc?”
Seth sat looking at his hands. Jessica spoke up. “Without normal movement, without normal breathing, a person’s condition deteriorates, ten it’s just a matter of time before the kidneys give out, or the lungs fill up with fluid. On life support, theoretically, one can stay alive for a very long time. The damage to the brain tissue was significant.”
Mort stood up. “I guess it’s time I spoke to the husband.”
Stanley Shelby blinked a few times as the people came into his room. He recognized the doctor who had been there, and he could see that one of the people was a cop. He didn’t know who the blonde was.
“Mr. Shelby, I’m Sheriff Metzger and I have some questions for you…”
“Bess… Where is Bess? Melody?...Are they alright?” he managed to murmur.
“Your wife is in another room. The doctors are doing everything they can for her. Can you tell me what happened? Do you remember?”
Stanley gave a shudder. His eyes closed for a moment, but he was able to speak softly. “It was right after we got into town, we were shopping and she went down on the floor of the baby shop. I got them back to the car, and was taking them to the hotel when Bess said she was feeling better and wanted to see the leaves. It’s why we came...” He fell silent again but he opened eyes that held tears.
“Bess started acting – weird, saying things that didn’t make sense. That her mother’s money was being used for something that she wouldn’t approve of and that she would see that I would end up in jail for her parents’ deaths. She started to hit at me and I used my hand and pushed her away. And then she said I didn’t deserve to be a father…” Stanley stopped, balling up his hands and closing his eyes tightly. “She pulled a gun out of her purse. A gun! Where would she ever get such a thing? She was waving it about and she shot the roof of the car and I tried to get the car to the side of the road… and then this white hot pain went through me and I felt us flying…” He broke down into sobs for a moment then looked at Mort. “Melody… is she alright?” he asked, half afraid.
“We… don’t know yet,” Mort said, unwilling to tell him that their child was lost.
Seth regarded the man, sighing, and led Mort and Jessica out of the room.
Jessica was about to ask Seth a question when James strode up and started into the room.
“Whoa, hold on, young man, who are you?” asked Seth.
“James Edger. I was informed that there was an accident and Stanley and Bess were hurt. Are they okay? What happened?”
“Are you family?” Seth asked.
James straightened up. “I have been their family lawyer for a long time. Long enough to be like family. Bess’s parents died several months ago and I have been helping them handle the estate affairs. Is Melody all right? You didn’t mention her in the phone call…”
Seth regarded the young man and took him by his arm. “Perhaps we should talk in my office,” he said.
James followed them and in the following hour he was able to tell them about Bess and her episodes and how her mind was becoming unhinged. Her time in the sanitarium, the attacks on people, Stanley’s unwavering devotion to her. He was horrified to learn that Melody was missing. “You have to do something to find her!” he said “She’s just two months old.”
The search dogs hadn’t found anything except a long dead raccoon that had been gnawing on the insulation of the relays. There was no scent trail for them to follow as it grew darker. The men in the search and rescue team became despondent. Some of them wept with frustration, knowing if the child was alive somewhere in the valley, that it wouldn’t be for much longer. Finally Mort had called the search off.
“As far as the father knew, the baby was safe in the carrier, and he doesn’t know where the baby doll came from.”
The family from Connecticut did have a child with them, but she was older than the missing child was. The receipt from the store that they had was time stamped five minutes before Artemis had been there, and it also had the same doll registration number on the receipt.
Mort stood by his car watching the wind blow the fallen leaves around the lamp posts. It would have to be the home office that sorted that out. He didn’t have any more answers than what he had before.
Once home, Mort went to the private stock he had and poured himself a glass of warm whiskey. It tore down the back of his throat, and he felt its pain as tears came to his eyes.
His wife came to him. “There has to be other answers,” she said softly.
Mort shook his head. “The only other possibility is that they left the baby at the store by accident and someone picked her up and took her without anyone knowing. It would explain the baby doll, but not the missing child. Hell, I don’t know what would be better for the child anyway. It would have died had it been in the car with them. If we do find her, I’m going to make sure that she doesn’t go back there.”
“You can’t keep a baby away from its parents -“
Mort shook his head. “I don’t want the baby’s death over my head. She put a bullet through where she thought her own child was,” he said, covering his face with his hands. Adele sat beside him and hugged him. For the longest time he held onto his wife.
The next morning brought the return of electricity to most of Cabot Cove. Jessica was relieved that her computer had saved all but the last line she had typed of her characterizations. An early knock at her door brought her down the steps with her dust mop still on over her curlers and the sleep still in her eyes. It was Molly - odd enough that she would be up at that hour, but Jessica really hadn’t seen her since Frank moved to Boothbay.
“Come in Molly, you must be freezing… what brings you here?”
Molly fidgeted as she came in and stood in the living room. Jessica indicated that she should sit, but Molly shook her head. She paced a bit and Jessica could see she was more than a bit nervous.
“Well, Dad’s been a bit distracted since he started dating again, and Aunt Gretchen isn’t much of a help when it comes to practical matters… and… I .. I have a question that maybe you would know the answer to. I know someone who figured out something, and it’s like, not that it’s a secret or anything, it’s just putting the clues together, and this person is really nice, though a bit strange sometimes, and they have been hurt a lot ‘cause you can tell by their face. And it’s not like a crime has been committed - well, I don’t know if it’s a crime or not, but for their own reasons this person doesn’t want everyone to know they did something. But you don’t want to get into trouble, and you don’t want them to get into trouble, and you’ve been told to go to an adult that you can trust… and I would have gone to Tipper but she’s away and I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, asking for help is a good first step. Now, is anyone going to be hurt because of the information you’ve figured out?”
Molly became thoughtful. “They may not like me for telling.”
Jessica shook her head. “If they are a friend, they would understand and not blame you if what you know made you uncomfortable.”
Molly sat for a moment. “I heard my dad and my aunt discussing the missing baby this morning and when it happened, and while I didn’t see the baby, I know where she is, and that the baby is in a good place, and the person will take really good care of her. I helped them with getting the right baby formula and diapers and everything.”
“If you know who has the baby…” She watched Molly press her lips together.
“It’s a feeling I had when I saw this person, when I put it together, that if the baby goes back to the people who had her before that she would be in terrible danger. Maybe I’m hanging out with Frank a bit much, but I got that Mortal Peril feeling when I was listening to my aunt and dad. If I don’t tell you who has the baby, am I in trouble for, like, withholding evidence?”
“Molly, are you sure the baby is in good hands?”
Molly nodded and smiled. “The absolute best, Mrs. Fletcher.”
Jessica took a breath. “Then don’t tell me the name of the person. If I don’t know, then I can’t tell and the baby will stay safe until we can figure this out. I will have to let Mort know, but I won’t tell him who told me.”
“But won’t you get into trouble?”
Jessica shook her head. “I know Mort will be relieved that the baby is all right.”
She watched Molly walk down the hill back to her home and sat back on the chair. Knowing that Mort’s house was only a short jog around the block she went upstairs and changed into her sweats. Fifteen minutes later she found herself at Mort’s door and facing Adele as she was leaving for work.
“He’s up, but it was a rough night for him.”
“For all of us, Adele,” she said.
Mort was sitting on the sofa, unshaven in a pair of jeans and an old t-shirt. He stood when Jessica entered the room, and offered her a seat.
She waited a moment then took a deep breath. “I don’t have all of the answers, Mort, but I had one show up at my door today, and that answer informed me that the baby is safe, and in the care of a person who will take good care of her.:
“Why didn’t they come forward yesterday?” he asked, leaning forward.
“The person only found out this morning about the accident and the search. They also asked that the person be allowed to continue to care for the child for now, in secret, because they feel that the baby’s life would be in danger if returned to the family.”
“Somehow I find my self agreeing with you on that, Mrs. F. I did some digging into this Stanley Shelby and his family. His wife Bess is an heiress, her parents died a few months ago in a freak carbon monoxide poisoning accident, and the baby, Melody, has a trust fund when she turns 6 months old of over 190 million dollars. Interestingly enough, the conditions of the trust fund state the money goes to the named child. If something should happen to the child before she gets the trust fund, the money reverts to the estate holder. I haven’t got more details than that, but your nephew Grady is helping to go through the paperwork regarding the accounts. Seems the firm that James Edger is a part of is being audited for money laundering. Grady informed me that the books for certain estates are missing, and our James Edger is part of the team that handled them.”
“And of course he could be blameless and it’s his partner who’s involved.”
“Only if it was from the grave, Mrs. F,” Mort said to her before reaching over to get the ringing phone.
“Yes?” he said. Jessica recognized the voice on the other end of the phone as Seth’s.
…..“You don’t say, Doc? Okay. Yes, I can get a judge to sign the warrant for it for both of them. Do you think the hospital where the baby was born still has the samples of blood on file?” There was a pause then Mort nodded. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll fill Mrs. F. in.”
Mort returned the phone to the cradle. “Doc said one of the nurse who was taking care of Bess Shelby made an observation of how fit she was… and that it looked like she never had had a baby. The charge nurse told Doc, and they pulled her medical records from her hospital. There were no records of her ever giving birth until she showed up with the infant at the pediatrician’s two months ago. It did list her ob-gyn, who happens to be Dr. Weller…”
“Dr. Weller? Wasn’t he the doctor who has been indicted as the black market baby doctor? Stealing embryos and selling them to the highest bidder?”
Mort nodded. “I have to get a warrant for DNA samples for both of them. I mean, she could have used a surrogate but didn’t tell anyone.”
“Not even her husband? He would surely know!” said Jessica, a bit shocked.
Mort took a breath. “Maybe your husband would know, and maybe I would know with Adele, but there are some couples who don’t communicate, and from my time on the force, the richer people are, the less they say to each other.”
The hospital hallways were crammed with nurses and doctors and equipment when Jessica and Mort arrived to speak with Seth. The judge had agreed to order a DNA for parental classification, and it was only a short time later that Seth had some answers for them. He was very careful to close the door and lead them over to his desk.
“You know how I hate cloak and dagger stuff, but there are very sound reasons for caution this time, what with a lawyer hanging on to every word you say. I’m not sure if you’re psychic or just lucky with guesses Mort, but the tests have come in and Melody isn’t Bess’s or Stanley’s child. There was even a notation on Melody’s file that she didn’t carry the same blood type as her mother, though the doctors let that slide because they didn’t know Stanley’s blood type. The only time that becomes an issue is when there is a need for a transplant.
“I can have Grady check back to see if there were any payments made to Dr. Weller that would indicate the baby was sold to Bess, as well as the other DNA records from Dr. Weller’s place. Maybe we can determine who Melody’s real parents are.”
“That might be a bit difficult, Mort,” began Seth.
“Maybe, but if I remember the case, Dr. Weller got away with so much of it because he did do all of the proper testing, and then some. It was only because someone in the insurance company saw a pattern on the type of tests that they did that had no relevance with having a baby - including DNA testing for all the people involved. Chances are, their DNA is in the system.”
Stanley laid in bed with his eyes closed. He had seen James Edger in the hallway and wanted to avoid answering his questions at all cost. Playing weak, he would ask the nurses about Bess, and the baby, telling them he wanted to take care of his wife for as long as it took to get her better.
Inside he hoped that she never recovered for the stunt she had pulled after leaving the shop. “I would rather have total strangers have our child than let you get her in a custody fight!” she had screamed.
“What are you talking about?” he had asked, distracted as blue balloons bobbed in the back of the car with their pink cords. He slammed his foot on the brake and brought the car to a halt on the side of the road. “What have you done?” he demanded.
She only looked smug. “What I should have done a long time ago!” She swung her purse at him, and he shoved it back at her as hard as he could. He heard her give a grunt as her head hit the door’s window. He turned off the car and took the keys with him as he went around to where the baby carrier was. Wrenching open the door, he looked at the baby in the carrier - she had clipped the carrier in, and covered the baby, but what he should have seen was wrong to begin with was that she had clipped the carrier the wrong way - forwards, not backwards. Pulling the blanket away, he saw that all it covered was a doll. He realized then that Bess had taken the wrong stroller – leaving the baby behind.
“You stupid bitch,” he had said to her, then as he looked at her through the window he saw the bloodstain, and the cracked glass.
He took a breath and checked to see if she was alive. Finding she was, he swallowed and then took a second breath. He would have to make it look like an accident, for both of them, but at the same time, they needed to be found right away. Driving down the road a ways he saw the substation, and his mind clicked. Stopping on the road he got out, untied one of the balloons, poked a few holes in it, and guided it right under the wires. He would have two chances at this. Using a long stick to guide the balloon just under the wires helped and it gave him a few seconds to run back as the balloon caused the most magnificent arcing. He had to work fast after that.
Under his seat rested a gun that he had purchased through his hardware store. No one had seen him purchase it, and he had made sure that the invoices for it were buried with other paperwork if there was any question. It was simple to make a copy of her license and forge the forms. He had fully intended to make her death look like a suicide. Who wouldn’t believe it after everything that she had been doing? Sighing, he pulled out the gun and wiped his fingerprints off of it.
Grabbing one of the onesies from the diaper bag he used it to cover his hand and arm and guided her hand around the pistol, aiming it first at the carrier, then the roof of the car, being very careful to angle it like she had been the one firing. A sudden thought came to him to go to the back seat and unhook the carrier before carrying it down the street aways and flinging it and the contents of the open diaper bag along the hillside. He made sure that the blanket he had used to shoot himself was in among the items that went over the edge. Scuffing his tracks, he went back to the car and buckled himself in. He had made sure to have her seat belt unbuckled. He knew where Melody was, and that it would be very simple at this point to declare her an unfit mother and get sole custody of the child. It would have worked except, somehow, she regained enough consciousness to pull the trigger of the gun still in her hand when he was aiming for the tree. White hot pain shot through his body as the car swerved and pushed through the guard rails.
When he woke the first time he recounted the version of the story that he had gone over in his mind. Wisely, he let the other people do the talking. When they didn’t mention Melody being found his heart began to pound. Surly someone at the store should have seen her?
He heard a footstep beside his bed. “You can stop faking,” he heard James Edger’s voice say.
Stanley allowed a full half minute before stirring. “Melody? Is Melody all right? They won’t tell me anything…” he said hoarsely with tears welling up in his eyes.
James leaned over the bed. “I know everything,” he said. He saw Stanley blink in confusion. James had decided during his long wait to see Stanley to cut him out of the picture all together. Blaming the accident on him, the disappearance of the child, he had already composed a guardianship request to take care of Bess and the child should they find her. It would just need to be filed. Of course, with no hope of recovery for Bess, measures would be taken and he would leave the care of the child to his loving wife while he disappeared to the small island he’d purchased some time ago.
“You can drop the act - I know Melody isn’t your daughter and that you only bought her from a baby broker to get your hands on the money,” James hissed into Stanley’s ear.
“What?” he asked, truly amazed. “Melody is my daughter, Bess gave birth to her…” he began. Stanley’s hand closed over the nurses bell and he pushed the button carefully enough that James didn’t hear the beep, or see the light come on beside the bed. He needed backup who was sympathetic to him just then.
James regarded him. “You are maintaining Melody is your birth child?” he said with a smirk. “Then how can you explain the payments to her doctor in excess of half a million dollars?”
“We went to a fertility specialist. They are really expensive,” Stanley said with a shrug. He honestly didn’t have any idea what James was talking about. “I paid those bills myself,” he said, then curiously he regarded James. “No one except Bess and I knew about her doctors. Or where we had gone. Who told you that? I know my Bess, she wouldn’t have told you…”
James’s smile froze on his face. It was true. Bess hadn’t told him, though in her current condition, she wouldn’t be able to say otherwise.
Jessica was by the nurse’s station when the bell went off in Stanley’s room. Turning she saw the lawyer guy bending over Stanley and the look of dismay on Stanley’s face. Curious, she went to the door and stood there long enough to hear James say, “I know that you and your wife were trying to defraud the conditions of the trust fund to get your hands on it…”
Stanley shook his head - it hurt, and he grimaced. I have always said the trust fund was earmarked for the kid’s education.”
James laughed. “And you never wondered why Bess and her parents never told you…”
Shaking his head carefully, Stanley asked, “Tell me what?”
James stopped laughing. “There never was a trust fund. Not much of one, anyway. It’s been going on in the family for generations, each one of them being hoodwinked to do what the parents or an aunt or uncle wanted. The trust fund started out post-Civil War, a bunch of stocks that were held until maturity. Gave the name prestige and power, but there was no substance. Only the lie. Each generation who was to get it would earmark it to the next one, pushing back when they were to get it each time, dangling it out of their reach. Bess was the only one who ever tried to really get it, though. It made her parents a bit more frantic about hiding the secret.”
Jessica saw Stanley shrug and say weakly, “Whatever you’re talking about isn’t relevant. My little Melody and Bess are all that matters…”
She saw James reach up and touch the IV line. “Did you know that Bess named me guardian of Melody?” he said with a grin that sent a chill down Jessica’s spine. She had seen enough.
“Excuse me, Mr. Edger is it? I think the sheriff has some questions for you…” Jessica said pointedly.
She saw James Edger pull back as if shocked that he had been seen. “Oh, of course,” he said, blinking a few times. “Where is he?”
“He’s with Dr. Hazlett right now, down the hall in Mrs. Shelby’s room.”
James nodded and exited the room. Jessica stepped forward to Stanley’s bed. “If you want, I can let the nurse know that you don’t want to have him as company…” she offered gently.
“He scares me,” blurted Stanley. Closing his mouth, he looked down, then said, “I know that sounds silly, but something about him scares the daylights out of me. Like, he’s capable of anything… Have the searchers found Melody?” he asked hopefully.
Jessica took a breath. “No, the searchers haven’t,” she said truthfully. She watched him squeeze his eyes closed, tears coming from them. Patting his arm, she sighed and went out to the nurse’s station where she informed the nurse not to let James Edger back in, and to keep a close eye on Stanley.
It didn’t surprise her when she went to Bess’s room to find James hadn’t come to see Mort. It would buy her a bit of time, she thought.
“Mort, if you have them, I need to see the photo’s from the crash site and look over the report,” she said, then dropped her voice, adding “I was just in with Mr. Shelby, who was asking if the searchers had found Melody. I don’t remember you telling him that there were people searching for her…or that she didn’t come with them to the hospital ... do you?”
Mort regarded Jessica as Seth said, “No, we didn’t tell him - unless James did, but he was informed not to upset Stanley…”
“Well, he was in there earlier speaking with Stanley, and when I informed him that Mort needed to speak with him and he ducked off of the floor,” said Jessica. “I daresay he will lie low for a while.”
“I have the photos and the report in the car, Mrs. F. I can get them for you, and see if James Edger is still hanging around at the same time.” Jessica nodded.
Mort took a quick look down the hall, and caught from the corner of his eye James trying to press himself into one of the door frames, quite unsuccessfully.
“Oh, there you are, I’ve been looking for you…” said Mort evenly. He watched as James Edger froze.
Molly made the decision to bring groceries to Artemis’s home, including more baby formula and some other staples knowing that she wouldn’t be able to get out and purchase some without bringing the baby out. She had left the stuff in the bag by the front door of Artemis’s home while speaking with Jessica, then went around the back to deliver it.
Artemis saw who it was, and opened the door for her to come in. Dressed in a different t-shirt, the baby was looking around with interest as she lay on a thick blanket on the floor.
“I hope you won’t be mad at me, I told Mrs. Fletcher that the baby was in good hands, but I didn’t tell her that you had her. It’s all over the news that the baby is missing…but, well, it’s complicated. Anyway, I just got this really bad feeling that if the baby goes back to her parents something bad will happen to her. Mrs. Fletcher says she is going to tell the sheriff that the baby is okay, but that she doesn’t know who has her, only that she will be taken care of.”
Molly watched as Artemis looked down at the baby and sat down beside her. “I don’t often watch the television. Where are her parents?”
“In the hospital. There was an accident, but it was freaky because the father was shot, and they say that the mother did it. Oh, and the baby’s name is Melody.”
Artemis regarded the baby, then looked at Molly. “Have you ever heard of the wisdom of Solomon?” she asked softly. She saw Molly become thoughtful.
“Sort of,” she said, waiting for Artemis to continue.
“It came to past that there were two women expecting their child to be born, and when they were, one child was born dead, the other alive… the woman who had borne the child that died changed the children in the night, leaving the dead baby in the other woman’s arms. The case was brought before Solomon, who had been given great wisdom. He could not bring back the dead woman’s child, nor could he give the same child to two mothers. So, he asked for his sword, and was going to divide the child in half. It was alright to do, said the woman whose child had been lost. He looked to the other mother, who said for him to give the first woman the child, because she would want to see it alive, not dead. Solomon gave the second woman the baby, saying she was the mother because she would give up her happiness for the life of the child.”
For the longest moment, Artemis fell silent. Molly took a breath.
“This is different,” she said, placing her arm around Artemis. “One, Something fishy is going on, and two, well, something really fishy is going on. And three, you’re a much better mom for her than someone who would use a gun on another person.”
Molly stayed awhile helping Artemis fold the diapers that were now dry, and the baby onesie that had been soiled upon Melody’s arrival.
“What’s this?” Molly asked, feeling a hard spot in the front of the onesie. She dug out a small SD card and regarded Artemis. “I’ve heard of little kids getting into technology at a young age, but this is pushing it!” Artemis only shrugged.
Molly took a breath. “It’s something that the sheriff should see,” she said firmly. Artemis made a small noise in her throat.
Molly looked at her with a mixture of concern, and alarm. “It’s okay. I know how to get it to him without him knowing, okay? Please don’t worry. Sheriff Metzger is probably the best person to have on your side when you’re in trouble with the law. Not saying you’re in trouble, but…”
Artemis didn’t say anything for a moment. She only looked at the baby for the longest time before speaking softly. “If you would have told me two days ago that I could have fallen so deeply for anyone in less than 24 hours, I would have thought one of us was quite mad… But I look into her eyes, and see a memory of someone that I loved so many years ago, and I can’t imagine my life without her in it.”
Jessica stood by the wrecked car in the impound yard. Bags of items from the diaper bag were in the trunk. The doors of the car were duck taped closed. Mort pulled the tape off and let Jessica peek in.
“See? No exit hole for the bullet,” he said.
Jessica frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense, Mort. Children under two are placed facing backwards in the back seat. In order for the bullet to have gone through the baby doll and lodge in the back of the carrier, she would have had to have been out of her seat and directly over the baby, but there isn’t enough room for her to have done that, or the seat would have been facing forward to begin with. And the other thing…”
She paused, looking at Mort who had a grin on his face. “What?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing,” he said, still smirking. “Go on.” In a mischievous way, Mort just loved how Jessica dug in and solved things. He couldn’t help grinning when she ‘strutted her stuff’ as Seth had once called it to him privately.
Taking a breath she opened the door and pointed to the locking mechanism. “You said that you had to use the jaws of life to get the doors open?” Mort nodded. “It is odd because the doors were all locked when the accident happened. How could everything have been tossed over the hillside? As well as the baby carrier, which doesn’t show any sign of damage to it where the clamps are - the strap that held the carrier was undone manually, not sprung during the accident.”
“There are a lot of things that don’t make sense with this, Mrs. F,” Mort agreed. “Including the fact that your nephew can’t seem to find the trust fund that everyone is interested in since the baby disappeared. Or for that matter, that the lawyer friend isn’t keen on offering a reward for the child’s return.”
Mort pushed back his hat and squared his shoulders. “I can’t say that all of them are in on it, but there is something mighty suspicious going on with the three of them. We have her on pulling the trigger, but Doc said she probably was knocked out before the accident. So where does that leave us?”
Jessica indicated to the trunk. “Perhaps some clues are in there,” she said, eyeing the purple blanket that had dark spots over it. “Perhaps running some tests on that would be a good start.”
Mort regarded her with curiosity. “A baby blanket?”
Jessica nodded. “It’s large enough that it could be wrapped around something, like a hand, yet thin enough for it not to be too bulky.”
“Like what?” Mort asked as he drew the bag out of the trunk.
“Like someone else’s hand. If what Mr. Shelby said was true, that he tried to stop his wife, there would have been gunpowder residue on his hands as well as hers. He said she fired at the roof, then at the baby, and then at him. I would also check for fingerprints on the seat belt button on Mrs. Shelby’s side. And why is her seat back further than his? The impact wouldn’t have sent it backwards, it would have gone forward. Mrs. Shelby is a very petite woman. She wouldn’t have needed that much leg room if the diaper bag was in the back seat with the baby.”
Floyd popped his head into the gated impound yard. “Sheriff, this was just dropped off for you,” he said, holding a small envelope in a plastic bag.
“From whom?” Mort asked, curious.
Floyd shrugged. “It just came through the mail slot a few minutes ago, addressed to you.”
“In the bag itself?” asked Jessica.
Floyd shook his head. “When I saw what was on it, I picked it up with gloves and dropped it in an evidence bag.”
“Smart thinking, Floyd,” said Mort, regarding the envelope. Printed on the outside were the words “Sheriff Metzger.” There were no fingerprints on the envelope, or the SD card. Mort regarded it, then with a sigh plugged it into the computer on his desk.
To his surprise, the chip wasn’t password protected. The numbers from the accounts ran past his eyes. He looked up at Jessica. “I’m not sure what this all means, Mrs. F, but I think your nephew can unravel it. The thing is, without a confession, the judge would throw out all of this as evidence.”
Jessica pointed to one of the files as she slid on her glasses. “This one might give us some answers.”
Floyd came into the office with a frown. “It’s like you suspected Mrs. Fletcher, there was gun powder residue on the baby blanket found at the accident site.”
Mort looked up at Jessica. “Then we can go in and make the arrest…”
Jessica shook her head. “That’s going to have to wait a few hours, Mort. What we do need is someone to keep watch over the Shelbys because unless I miss my guess, their lives are in danger. We need to take a little field trip with a search warrant.”
Mort nodded, and after a brief review of the file Jessica had indicated he placed two calls.
It was early evening when Seth rang Mort letting him know Mrs. Shelby had awakened and was able to answer some questions. Floyd had the sense to prevent James Edger from entering into Stanley’s room, and when James Edger took one look at Floyd and bolted, Floyd caught him and locked him up on suspicious behavior.
Jessica had Mort drive her to the hospital, and after a brief word with Seth, and a call to Floyd, an assembly of interested parties was gathered in Bess’s room.
Stanley mutely sat in a wheel chair, an IV still in his hand, regarding Bess. She had a murderous look in her eye that spoke volumes. James Edger was brought in and sat in the chair, his arm handcuffed to one of the arm rests to prevent him from bolting. Seth stood on the other side of Bess, watching her vitals. Jessica, Mort and Grady entered the room with several envelopes.
“I see we are almost all here, but for now, this will do,” said Jessica. “The other involved parties will be seen later.” Taking a breath she regarded James Edger before looking at Stanley.
“It saddens me when some people take on the roles of husband and wife on a pretext for monetary gains. Despite your best efforts, you left clues behind of your actions. It wasn’t hard to find the newspaper clipping of your whirlwind romance, and the story of how you two met. Less hard to find was the fact both sets of grandparents had died before you were born, so, there were no memories of cookies, and the neighborhood you grew up in was not one people would share such things.
“A lie that starts a relationship is still a lie. We took a trip to your estate, with a warrant, and found the damage done to the pipes. Not just the two places where the vent pipe had been damaged, and then later repaired after the unfortunate death of Bess’s parents, but some peculiar work done to the vents in Bess’s room which would surly have had an effect on how Bess slept. It wasn’t hard not to find it, or suspect what was going on after seeing Bess’s medical record, and her hysterical breakdowns in public.”
She saw Bess glare at him. Holding up a finger she turned to Bess.
“Which brings us to you. The same medical records show that you never gave birth to the child you refer to as Melody. They did give reference to the fertility specialist, and its known that this doctor is under investigation for selling unborn embryos and arranging illegal adoptions. Melody isn’t your daughter, and the courts will reunite her with her real parents.”
“She’s dead,” said Bess. “There wasn’t nothing wrong with what I did to get Melody, her mother died right after she was born.” Bess watched as Jessica shook her head.
“Oh, I am afraid that’s not the case. The woman who gave birth to Melody did die, but Melody wasn’t her child to give away. The attending doctor falsified the death certificate so that he could re-write one for you. It wasn’t by chance that your husband was called away for the business deal; you made a call to a friend to get him away from the house so you could go to the hospital and collect the baby.
“We found the records for your pregnancy suit as well, one that would allow you to fake being pregnant to fool everyone, except your mother. She knew you weren’t pregnant, and had you followed to the doctor’s where she managed to get your records. She was going to use it to change the conditions once again of the trust fund, but Mr. Edger saw he was going to lose his chance of getting that money once and for all, and he made changes to the will that your parents signed with out reading.”
Turning to Grady she nodded. Grady pushed his glasses on his face back a bit and took a breath as he slid out the report.
“The trade commission has had your firm under investigation for a while, with missing funds - and with the discovery of evidence today, I was able to gain access to the accounts that you had the money tucked away into. Its been transferred back to the proper accounts, including the interest. The court has also reviewed the conditions of the will, and the trust fund, and amended it to the original. There really wasn’t any reason not to pay the trust to Mrs. Shelby back then, and yes, there was 19 million in the trust. While the stocks that were originally listed as an asset were without value, as a collectable item, a reputable auction house has appraised them for the value of the trust fund.
“The court would also rule that there were unreasonable expectations placed on the trust fund, and would have granted it if they were petitioned. Mrs. Shelby, since you commit a felony, you cannot profit from a will, or the conditions of the trust fund. The same applies to you Mr. Edger - the court has also revoked your guardianship of Melody.” He turned back to Jessica.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Bess firmly.
Jessica sighed. “Oh, I think you did Bess. Always trying to please your parents, waiting for your 16th, then 18th then 21st, then your 25th birthday, learning you would have to be married before, and have a child, then learning that the child you had planned on to get the money needed to be a boy and there would be more waiting ... you turned to the one person who you knew would help you, the person you could manipulate who was a trusted friend of the family.
“You turned to James Edger to work out a way to kill your parents and get the house and their money with out causing suspicion. You told him about the pipes in the basement that the inspector said could become faulty. What you didn’t know was that your husband had already shifted the pipes and created damage that in time would have filled the house up with carbon monoxide. Left on it’s own, it would have been a while before it would have worked, but you were frantic when they were going to change the conditions once again to when the child was 25. All it would have taken was your mother to insist on a DNA test of your daughter and everything would come undone.”
Turning to Stanley she said, “The air flow to Bess’s room was diminished and it didn’t take much looking to find where you had installed your baffle that would create the sub harmonic sounds that were keeping your wife up at night and interrupting her sleep. We found the timer as well, all of which was driving Bess over the edge, causing her meltdowns, and her erratic behavior.
“Going to the marriage councilor was a stroke of good fortune: you had an impartial witness to this that would testify on your behalf to have Bess declared unfit as a mother. Your mistake was in the purchase of the gun and forging her name on the gun permit and papers. While it was close to how she signed it, it was still evident that it was a tracing of her name. We also found traces of the gun oil under your seat, not in her purse, and gun powder residue on the baby blanket that you used to wrap around your hand and arm to shield it from the back blast.”
“She shot me!!” Stanley said, pointing to her.
“You needed killing!” Bess blurted out.
Mort stepped between them. “Whoa. Hold on and let Mrs. Fletcher finish.”
Jessica nodded to Mort. “Thank you,” she said as the two of them fell silent. “You had to have been frantic when you realized that Melody wasn’t in the car with you and perhaps you only intended to show how unstable Bess was at the time. Your mistake was in the direction of the baby carrier when you shot at it - it was facing the front, not the back. You had to push her seat back in order to get both of you in the passenger side, and there wasn’t enough time to slide her seat forward after scattering the baby items around. If you had just left the items in the car, very little would have been thought of the unfortunate incident.
“It gave Bess time to come to, realize what she held in her hand just as you were aiming for the tree to hit. The tire tracks show you veered off to the side, going through the guard rails where you were found. Your mistake was not to empty the entire round: we found your fingerprints on the remaining bullets. You didn’t know she was going to shoot you and you thought that the power company would be able to get to you in time for you to go back to where your wife had left Melody, declare her incompetent, and wait the four months as her sole parent to collect the trust fund.”
Stanley only glared at Bess before saying, “It would have worked too if she hadn’t shot me.”
Mort stepped forward. “I’m only saying this once. You have the right to remain silent…”
Grady lead Jessica out of the room and closed the door over the din of yelling that was going back and forth as Mort read the charges against them. “So, where is the million dollar baby?”
Jessica looked at her nephew. “With the three of them out of the picture, what happens to the estate, and the trust fund?”
She watched her nephew take a deep breath. “Well, they won’t be getting any part of it – only the money that he earned from his job would be available for their defense. The rest of it, including the estate, would probably go to their named heir, which James Edger put in the wills, including the grandparents will as Melody Shelby. I just don’t know who would not be happy with all of that, Aunt Jessica. I mean, they were well off to begin with, why want more?”
He watched as his aunt shook her head. “I need to make one call, and then you can take me back home. Mort should be done by then, and will join us.”
Artemis heard the door bell ring twice before getting up from the floor in the living room where she had been sitting, feeding Melody. Carefully she covered her with the soft blanket corner and stood up, walking slowly to her back door. Taking a sharp breath she looked through the glass door at the blue eyes of Marcus and slid the door a few inches open.
“Marcus, it’s late… what are you doing here?” she asked with concern. She heard other voices beyond murmuring things.
“Darnedest thing, I was ready to turn in for the night when Tipper came and said I needed to come here for an important meeting with Jessica. Would you care to join me?”
Artemis shook her head. “It’s late, I really can’t,” she said, beginning to close the door. Marcus looked down at her and sighed.
“She thought you might say as much, so we are having the meeting here,” he said, getting the door more open that he could come in. He watched as she shook her head again pushing back the wisps of her auburn hair from her eyes.
“Please no…” she said in an almost sob.
Marcus stopped the others from entering then closed the door for a moment. “It wasn’t difficult for Mort and Jessica to figure out things, where the missing baby is, dear. They know. Please, just listen to what they have to say, alright?”
“I don’t want to give her up, Marcus,” she said, tears coming down freely.
“I know,” he said softly, giving her a hug. “But, there are things you do need to know about her. You do trust me?” Artemis nodded.
He followed her into the living room where he saw Melody looking up, chewing her fist. Artemis bent down and picked her up, gathering the blanket at the same time. Turning, Marcus waved the others in, and then stood beside Artemis with his arm around her waist.
Mort walked up to them and gazed at the blue eyes that regarded him with curiosity.
“It’s okay,” he said gently. He smiled at Melody and reaching out, touched her downy reddish hair before holding out his arms for Artemis to surrender the child.
Marcus looked sadly at Jessica, then held Artemis as she tried very hard to be brave.
Melody’s tiny fingers wrapped around Mort’s as he sat down in the rocking chair with her. “Adele and I had thought about having kids. We just figured that it would be not a world that was safe enough for them while I worked in New York. Now, I don’t know if the world is any safer. But, I think, with the proper people who really love a child enough to keep it from harm, good things will happen.”
Stepping forward Jessica regarded Marcus. “You told me how hard it had been, watching what Artemis was going through trying to conceive a child, and how unwilling her husband had been to become a father. Perhaps that was what was so surprising to you when Brianna was found to be with child. But, it wasn’t her child, was it?” she asked Marcus.
For the longest time he hung his head. “I should have said something, earlier. I had no idea what she did until later, and by then, it was too late.” Sighing, he turned to Artemis. “Your husband had no intention of ever having children, with you, or any one else. I couldn’t bear to see you heart broken, so I went and made - arrangements. Brianna knew about your trying to have children, and she went to the same facilities and paid them to say your treatments had failed.
“When the indictments came down, Dr. Webber was frantic to get as much money as he could for his defense, and Mrs. Shelby was just as frantic to have a child to collect the trust fund. He told Brianna that as the child’s mother she could petition the courts for a stay of execution as the sole parent of the child, but you had thwarted that by having the court grant you custody. She wasn’t about to give you her daughter, so, she sold it to the Shelby’s. She never knew…” he said, falling silent for a moment. “She never knew that the baby she carried to term was yours, and my child.”
Artemis pulled away from Marcus and sat down.
“The DNA tests that were run by the doctor’s office confirm what is in Melody’s medical file,” Jessica said gently.
Mort wrinkled his nose as Melody had a strained expression on her face.
“Uh, I believe this one is for you…” he said standing up, handing the baby to Marcus and stepping back. He looked at Artemis. “Grady will be by in the morning to discuss financial matters regarding Melody, you will have to appear before the judge to finalize the paperwork for the name change to what ever you want…”
Artemis regarded Marcus who placed the baby on the sofa and was working the diaper pins with deft fingers.
“Melody was your mother’s name,” she said softly. Marcus nodded. She took a second breath. “Wouldn’t be fair to her to grow up without a father…” she began. Tilting her head she raised an eyebrow at him. Marcus looked at Artemis for a moment until a slight kick from Mort brought him to his senses.
“No… it wouldn’t be,” he agreed.
Jessica snagged Mort’s arm and pulled him from the room. “I think this one will have it’s own happy ending, Mort,” she said, grinning as she closed the patio door behind them.
“Well, it’s huge,” said Mort as he walked through the estate with Marcus.
Marcus nodded. “I had the very best inspectors come through and check everything out to make sure that it was safe. Much too much room just for three people though. Artemis was thrilled to convert the east wing to a research center for the plants. Odd thing about those documents that they were using to start the trust fund… wasn’t just stocks in the box but other things as well. Artemis says she wants to go over the paper DNA before releasing them. She thinks she can locate the parent DNA from it to determine where the plants grew when it was first made.” He led Mort to the balcony that over looked the garden where the ladies gathered. Balloons were tied to chairs and wild giggles of children could be heard echoing through the flower beds.
Mort regarded Marcus. “Everything ok?” he asked the older man.
Marcus sighed. “If I had asked her before, to marry me, none of this would have happened. Brianna would still be alive – Bess’s parents...” he hung his head. Marcus shrugged. “Perhaps, but it’s just a feeling, that this isn’t the end of things.”
Shaking his head Mort said gently, “Brianna would have still snapped. If she didn’t take it out on Artemis’s husband, she could have taken it out on Artemis. As for Bess’s parents, I have a feeling that they would have ended up dead with as determined as Bess and James to get their hands on the money.”
Mort grinned. “It never is.” He said clapping Marcus on the back. “Come on, Artemis is almost done unwrapping the baby shower gifts and Mrs. F brought a brandied rhubarb and cherry pie for one of the desserts. Can’t miss that,” he said with a cheeky grin.
The End (for now!!)