Pacifying Jeanne meant promising that the rescue party was forming as they spoke. Daniel called Chloe, who in turn called the detective to the Old Mansion. Phillip had insisted that they wait until everyone was present before storming the MacKenzie’s house; persuaded by the thought of sheer numbers overpowering Alex, Jeanne had no choice but to concede. She began relaying her story to Phillip and Mirielle while Daniel coordinated arrivals and plans, with Gene chiming in as well. When it came out that Gene had missed lunch, Phillip started making dinner as well.
By four-thirty, Detective Sabretti had arrived with a patrol car; he knocked on the front door, and was greeted by Jeanne. “Hello,” she said. Her hand was on the screen door handle, a fact Frank took note of.
“Hello yourself,” he replied genially. “I’m Detective Frank Sabretti, and this is Officer Lieberman.” He indicated his uniformed partner. “Is your dad here?”
Chloe emerged from the corner leading to the den, smiling. “Detective,” she said. “I’m glad you made it safely. Please come in.” Jeanne opened the door, smiling, and Frank and his partner stepped inside. “Thank you, Jeanne,” Chloe said. The girl beamed, then closed the screen door and latched it.
“Just a little paranoid, isn’t she?” Lieberman asked.
“She’s had a rough day,” Chloe said. “I think we all have.”
“I can imagine. Look, is Mrs. MacKenzie here, or…?” Frank asked, trailing off as he entered the den.
Mirielle was smiling and laughing as Gene told her jokes; she didn’t get all of them, but the effort was enough to cheer her up. Phillip was to her left on the green couch. Daniel was seated in the rear of the large rec room at the table, scribbling notes and mumbling to himself; if he took any notice of Frank’s arrival, he made no outward sign. Jeanne flopped down on one of the large beanbag chairs in the center of the room, and stared carefully at the police. Chloe indicated the easy chairs just inside the den; Sabretti sat down, while Lieberman remained standing.
“You seem to be doing well,” Frank said, looking at Mirielle. “I’m Frank Sabretti. Your husband’s report was assigned to me.”
“Thank you,” Mirielle said. “I’m sorry to put you through so much trouble, but things are bad between Alex and me right now.”
“I can understand,” Frank said. “I’m sure you and he will reconcile soon, going by what he said.”
“Excuse me, Detective,” Daniel said, “but what exactly did Alexander say to indicate that?”
“Have we met?” Frank asked.
“Ah, pardon me,” Daniel said. “I am Daniel Duffy, Vice President of the Accounting and Legal Affairs Department of the Indigo Foundation. I am only recently returning to work after a… brief sabbatical.”
“I see,” Frank said, easing. “Of course. Lawyers.”
“Daniel is an accountant by trade,” Chloe said. “Though I suspect he knows enough about law that we could treat him as legal counsel for the time being.”
“If you wish, Miss Reed,” Daniel said. “I still would like to hear what wonderful news Alexander imparted upon the police.”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “Apparently, he amended the Missing Persons report late this morning. Said that his wife wasn’t part of it anymore, and that Rob was still gone.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Mirielle said. “I’m here and he has Rob!”
“Well, let’s think about this,” Frank said. “We don’t know that he has Rob, and since you’re not on the report now, you’re technically no longer being looked for. So we can just talk.”
“I have doubts that all you desire is to just talk,” Daniel said.
“Very clever,” Frank said, smirking. “Given what Alex has said, you’re a suspect in Rob’s disappearance, Mrs. MacKenzie.”
“That’s preposterous,” Phillip said.
“I’d like to talk about it, but…” Frank eyed the children carefully. “I don’t think it’s wise.”
“The kids stay,” Chloe said. “They have provided us with information we believe you will need. And besides, this is their friend in danger. I think they deserve to know that something is being done.”
“The details get a little gross,” Frank said. “Are you sure you want your kids to see this, Ms. Reed?”
“They’re my kids,” Phillip said. “And I agree with Chloe. I don’t want my children to feel like nothing is being done.”
Frank shrugged. “Fair enough. I can’t stop you. Anyway, the big thing is that Alex called in and said you were located. He said that Rob ran due to you beating him.”
“That’s a lie!” Mirielle shouted. “I never hurt Rob!”
“I’m willing to believe that,” Frank said, “but he was very specific about the injuries that Rob sustained. Mostly bruises and a few lacerations.”
“I see,” Daniel said. “And you are willing to take Alex at his word?”
“That’s the thing,” Frank said. “Up until today, he’d been connected with Willy Flay. I don’t know what to believe out of him now, but he’s not under any suspicion himself.”
“Flay,” Phillip said. “The councilman?”
“One and the same,” Chloe said. “It was all over the news while I was driving over. I thought you would have– oh,” she added. “Sorry. He was arrested for corruption.”
“And he had a racket going with his kid, too,” Frank added. “His son was allegedly a monster. As soon as Willy was in cuffs, his teachers couldn’t call us fast enough.”
“Fair enough,” Phillip said. “Deacon’s been a terror for a while, but that’s not important now.”
“As it turns out, it might be,” Daniel said. “Recall that Gene has discovered what Deacon saw.”
“Let’s get to that, then,” Mirielle said. “Detective, you were curious as to how we knew that Alex had taken Rob. Deacon Flay saw Rob get into my husband’s car this morning.”
“And where was this?” Frank asked.
“At the gate of the school,” Gene said. “Rob got out of Daniel’s car and was waiting for us, I think,” he added. “Then his dad came up and Deacon came up, and I bet he got scared.”
“Did you see this?” Frank asked.
“We were too late,” Jeanne said, “but Deacon told us. Told Gene.” Her brother nodded. “There was also some stuff with a school election, but that’s really not important.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “The problem is, the Flays have lawyered up beyond all reach. We can’t get near Deacon to check this out.”
“Damn,” Phillip said. “Deacon would have no reason to lie about that.”
“He’d lie the other way,” Gene said. “Deacon hates Rob.”
“The problem is,” Frank said, “anything Deacon says about Rob is colored because he hates Rob. We can’t take him at face value anyway.”
“But we know he’s telling the truth!” Jeanne said.
“But you can’t prove it, sweetie,” Chloe said. “That’s where things get hazy.”
“Who cares if we can’t prove it?” Jeanne snapped. “We’ll prove it when we go get him!”
“Jeanne, was it?” Frank said. “There’s a rule called ‘probable cause’. We can’t just barge into Rob’s dad’s house on a hunch. We have to have some clear, objective proof that Alex took Rob.”
“Suppose, Detective,” Daniel said, “we take a look at this from another angle. Let us presume that Jeanne is correct in her belief, and that Rob is indeed being held captive by Alexander. There are certain conditions which could lead to his current behavior.”
“I wish we had Katherine here,” Phillip muttered. “She’d be able to tell what Alex is thinking.”
“You are correct, Mister Brookfield,” Daniel said. “The state of mind that Alexander is in is of key importance right now. Now, let us suppose that misinforming the police of the whereabouts of Rob is the best move for Alexander to make to further his plans. This allows us to infer something about his plan.”
“That he needs to keep the police busy looking for Rob,” Chloe said, “while he searches for Mirielle?”
“That certainly is a possibility,” Daniel said, “but then again, consider what was added to the report when Alex amended it.”
“The abuse,” Frank said. “He said you beat the hell out of Rob.”
“Now, if we are to take Mirielle at her word,” Daniel said, “the specific nature of the wounds inflicted means that Mirielle could not have inflicted them. Which, naturally, leaves only two people who could: either Rob himself, or his father.”
“Rob wouldn’t hurt himself,” Jeanne said.
“Of course not,” Daniel replied. “We have psychological profiles which indicate as much. Let us then assume that Rob has sustained injuries that his father inflicted. Mirielle, you said in the interview this morning that Alexander had not used any edged weapons against Rob, is this correct?”
“If you mean cutting him, then no, he didn’t,” Mirielle said. “There was some bleeding after the bookcase fell, but no cuts.”
“And Detective,” Daniel said, “you said that Rob had sustained cuts, according to Alexander?”
“That’s right,” Frank said. “I fail to see–”
“Then the answer is clear,” Daniel said. “The wounds that Alexander described to you were ones he inflicted on Rob, in an attempt to frame Mirielle for child abuse.”
“That’s a heavy charge to lay,” Frank said. “And it also is some bad detective work, going on some hunches. I don’t think that’s the only explanation possible.”
“I welcome you to suggest an alternate interpretation,” Daniel said.
“I don’t have one yet,” Frank replied. “You guys have the advantage of a bunch of interviews and recordings. Right now it’s all her word against his.”
“The problem is with the Missing Persons report,” Phillip said. “Alex has lied to you about who is missing, for an unknown reason.”
“I don’t think he lied,” Frank said.
“Then we can solve this with a simple phone call,” Daniel said. “Please call Alexander and ask him where his wife is.”
“He won’t tell us,” Frank replied.
“He already did,” Gene said. “Now you’re just checking his answer.”
“Precisely,” Daniel said. “All you need to do is ask to speak to Mirielle, to try to determine where she last saw Rob. I believe I know what answer Alex will give, but I do not wish to taint your perceptions.”
“It’s a simple question,” Chloe said, “and one he has no reason to deny or suspect– unless he’s lying.”
Frank mulled this over for a moment, eyeing each other person in the room carefully. Finally, he turned to his partner. “Lee,” he said, “why don’t you go ahead and give Alex a call. Couldn’t hurt, right?” The uniformed officer nodded and stepped outside.
“And all shall become clear momentarily,” Daniel said, standing. “I am thirsty. Would anyone else care for some iced tea?”
When Daniel returned to the den, carrying a small tray with filled glasses, Officer Lieberman was also entering from the other end of the room. He leaned in and whispered to Frank for a moment, who nodded. Then the police officers both departed the room.
“That’s a good sign, right?” Gene asked.
Chloe beckoned to him, and he clambered up onto the couch next to her, careful not to spill his tea. “Of course it is,” she said. “The fact that they’re here is a good sign. It can only improve from here.”
“From your lips to the ears of the Divine,” Daniel said. “I should believe that we shall discover soon enough what will happen next.”
Frank returned to the den, and seated himself again, waving Daniel off. “No, thanks,” he said. “Well, I have to admit, I’m impressed.”
“What about?” Phillip responded.
“Alex says his wife is taking a nap,” Frank said. “The stress of the impending separation has made her weary. His words, according to Lee.”
“See?” Jeanne said. “We told you so!”
“Be nice, Jeanne,” Chloe said. “I hope this doesn’t surprise you too much, Detective.”
“I never said it surprised me,” Frank said. “Just impressed me. All right. Lee’s going to go call the DA, to try to get a warrant for entry to the MacKenzie’s house. Shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
“Mrs. Mackenzie, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need,” Phillip said.
“Actually,” Frank said, “we’re going to have to take her downtown first and get a formal statement and deposition. I’m sorry, but it’s the first step to putting Alex away.”
“I’ll cooperate with the police fully,” Mirielle said.
“Hey,” Jeanne asked, “is it normal to call people after ending a Missing Persons case?”
“Sometimes,” Lee said, “but it really all depends. I don’t think…”
“Wait,” Daniel said. “Where are you going with this, Jeanne?”
“I was just thinking,” Jeanne said, “’cause of how we figured out a lot by what Mr. MacKenzie was doing and saying. We figured out stuff through the things he did that were out of the ordinary, so…”
“So it’s not unreasonable for him to get twitchy, now that we’ve poked him,” Phillip said. “You’re right. Detective, do we really have an hour to wait for the DA?”
“If you want to let him walk based on bad procedure,” Frank said, his expression souring, “then by all means, let’s go ahead and do that. I want this done by the book.”
“I do not think anyone is suggesting violating the rights to which Alexander is entitled,” Daniel said, “but time is of the essence. With regards to the statement you need from Mirielle, would video of the two interviews be sufficient until Alexander is in police custody?”
“I suppose,” Frank said. “Do you have those videos?”
Phillip stood up. “I’ve got the disc Ben burned from Saturday,” he said.
“And Ben gave me this before I left,” Chloe said. She handed Frank a DVD case. “This has today’s interview.”
“No malfunctions?” Phillip asked.
“What malfunction?” Frank shot back, pausing.
Daniel sighed, apparently from some great, unseen weight that had just been placed on him. “On Saturday we had a minor power failure, which caused our monitoring equipment to cease recording a few minutes before the end of the interview. It was a minor defect which was easily corrected, and nothing pertinent was lost.”
“Our video technician, Ben, told me that today everything worked perfectly,” Chloe said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“All right,” Frank said. “We’ll see what we can get off of these.”
“Watch today’s disc first,” Phillip said. “It’s more relevant. The Saturday tape is more circumstantial.”
Frank handed the two discs to Lee, who nodded. “I think maybe we–”
The telephone began ringing. Everyone froze; Phillip merely glanced at Frank. “You think we should answer that?” he asked.
“Put it on speaker,” the detective said, nodding. “Everyone, quiet, please.”
Phillip retrieved the handset from the wall in the back of the den. When he pressed the blue button, an audible click silenced the ringing. “Hello?” Phillip asked.
It took a moment for the small voice on the other end to respond. “M-mister Brookfield?” came the response.
“Hello, Rob,” Phillip said. Jeanne clasped her hands over her mouth, and Gene was holding his breath; Mirielle had placed her fist over her mouth to prevent any sound coming out. “What can I do for you?”
“Hard… to hear you,” Rob stammered. “You okay?”
I should be asking you that, Phillip thought. “I’m fine, just have you on speaker while I make dinner. Is everything all right?”
“Y-yeah,” Rob replied. “I just n… just wanted to talk to… G-J-G-Jeanne,” he said. “Yeah. Jeanne.”
“Okay,” Phillip said. He nodded to Jeanne, who slowly uncovered her mouth; she glanced at Frank, who nodded once.
“Hi Rob,” Jeanne said, trying to sound casual. I know you can tell I’m not relaxed, she thought. Please, please pick up on it. “What’s up?”
“I was… was sick from school today,” Rob said. “But I don’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Walsh tomorrow. Do you have the past couple days’ homework?”
“I do,” she said. “But I think Mr. Walsh will be okay, if you have a note…”
“I can’t!” Rob said, shrieking. There was a moment of silence before he continued. “I mean, I really need to study. You know history’s not my best subject.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jeanne said. “You didn’t miss anything important.”
“Could you bring it over anyway, just in case?” Rob asked. “It’s really important.”
She glanced to her father for guidance, but Phillip shook his head; this was not something he was willing to play along with. “I don’t think so; not right now, anyway,” Jeanne said. “We’re just getting ready to have dinner.”
“It won’t take that long,” Rob said. “Please?”
“Tell you what, Rob,” Phillip said. “We’ll have dinner, and then Gene and Jeanne can both go over and help you with your–”
“No, no!” Rob cried out. “No, I mean… just Jeanne. I don’t want Gene to… get… sick.”
Sabretti nodded, and then Phillip did as well. Jeanne glanced at each in turn. “Can it wait until after dinner?”
Rob paused before answering. “Sure,” he said, “but don’t be too long. I, uh, need to get to bed early. Grounded, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jeanne said. “All right. See you in a bit.”
“Yeah,” Rob said, and the line went dead.
Cries of “it’s a trap!” and “we don’t have a choice!” rose in the den almost instantaneously. Phillip clapped his hands three times loudly, which silenced the children, but the adults continued arguing. Another three claps accomplished nothing more.
Gene and Jeanne nodded in unison, and counted off three beats before screaming at the top of their lungs. The adults ceased their clamor and stared at the kids, who stopped, smiled, and pointed to Phillip. “Dad has something to say,” they said.
“Thank you,” Phillip said, chuckling. “Now, obviously we’re in agreement that Rob was being coerced. You could clearly hear where Alex was feeding him lines. Not even you could mistake that, Detective.”
“I’ll admit something’s up, and it gives me a bit more probable cause,” Frank said. “We still need a proper warrant, but now we can go in at any time.”
“I do not think a full-scale assault would be a wise course of action,” Daniel said. “As soon as Alexander sees a police car approaching with its lights on, he will move to further damage Rob.”
“I’m sick of these shadow games,” Chloe said. “We need to go in and go in now.”
“Alex is crazy,” Mirielle said. “I’m with Chloe that we need to get Rob away, but I also see what Daniel is saying.”
“You really think he’d hurt his own son?” Frank asked.
Mirielle did not hesitate in the slightest before responding. “Absolutely,” she said. “He would probably even kill him.”
“Is that enough probably ’cause?” Gene asked. “Can we go rescue him now?”
Frank frowned. “Maybe,” he said. “I still think we need to play along just this last time.”
“I’m not going in there alone,” Jeanne said. “Forget it. Someone is coming with me.”
“Jeannie,” Phillip said, “we can’t. If we send someone in with you…”
“I know, I know,” she said, “Rob could get hurt. But I don’t care. I’m not going in alone.”
“I agree with Jeanne,” Daniel said. “You should not be expected to enter the domain of a psychopath with no means to defend yourself. Fortunately, I have a solution.”
“What?” Frank asked. “If you want me to hand her my piece, you’re as crazy as he is.”
“Please, Detective,” Daniel scoffed, “firearms are such crude and unsophisticated tools. I was thinking something more in line with our particular idiom at the Indigo Foundation. Mirielle, may I have the emergency pen, please?”
Mirielle rummaged in her purse and produced the small penlight. “This?” she said.
“Thank you,” Daniel said. He removed the cellular transponder from the assembly and began flipping the switches. “I believe… yes, this is it.” A green light turned on inside the core, and he returned it to the assembly in reverse.
“Don’t tell me, a lightsaber,” Frank scowled.
“I get it,” Phillip said. That’s the panic button. But what…?”
“The transponder has an additional function,” Daniel replied. “Configured properly, it is a cellular-transmitting listening device.”
“A wire,” Frank said. “And this is transmitting to…?”
A melancholy tune began playing, muffled by something; Daniel reached into his suit pocket and produced his cell phone. “This,” he said, answering it. Feedback howled through the tiny speaker. “I am afraid it is a bit sensitive,” he said, blushing deeply.
“Jeanne, go into the foyer for a bit,” Phillip said. “Get your coat and shoes on.”
“Nobody’s coming with me?” she asked.
“We are all going to be with you,” Chloe said. “That pen lets us hear what you hear.”
“I see,” Frank said. “All right. I think we can do this. Jeanne, I promise you won’t be in any danger. The minute we hear something bad, we’ll bust in there. Okay?”
Jeanne considered this for a moment, staring at each of the others in the room. Finally, her eyes settled on her brother. Gene grinned. “I know you can do this,” he said.
She grinned back. “Right,” she said. “This is simple. Go in, get him back.”
Jeanne walked slowly only until she realized that she was deliberately walking slowly; in response, she started running for a few moments. Each time she ran, however, she returned to a walk shortly thereafter, thinking that the dash would attract too much attention. It was dark already, far darker than the time would have suggested. She pulled the hood of her raincoat up and glanced at the sky; there wasn’t even the barest hint of stars in the sky, to say nothing of the dying sunlight. A storm was coming, she thought; she steeled herself against the low rumble of thunder far off in the distance.
The walk to Rob’s house wasn’t long, but she was not relishing it. The penlight that Daniel had given her was tucked into one of the zipper pockets of her cargo jeans; feeling it bounce near her knee reassured her just enough to keep walking. Phillip had said that the rest of them would follow in a car once she got to the house. It wasn’t safe, he had said, to approach in such a large group. While she understood this, she still felt that they could have left a bit sooner.
The MacKenzie house was a small two-story brick building nearer to the corner of the block than the center, with no fence or hedges demarcating the edge of the property. The grass was tall but not unkempt; Jeanne wondered if the small lawn had been mowed since the end of September. A window was lit on the second floor of the house, while another one was dimly lit and flickering where she imagined the living room would be. The other houses on the block were lit brightly; a few of them had their blinds open enough for her to see the televisions, clearly showing the news.
“I’m in front of the house,” she said, her voice a low murmur. It was just loud enough, she figured, for Phillip and the rest of them to hear. She didn’t have an earpiece to hear their responses, nor did the bugged light have an output speaker. Every time she made an announcement like this, she felt self-conscious and more acutely aware of how alone she was, even though she also knew that the penlight was meant to reassure her. “You guys can come on by any time now,” she added.
As she walked up the short concrete walkway, the front light turned on. She gasped and froze for a moment, blinded temporarily. “Just the light,” she mumbled.
The front door opened up, and inside the screen door she saw a tall figure. “Jeanne?” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “Is Rob awake?”
“He will be soon enough,” the man said. He opened the screen door and stepped out under the porch light; it was Rob’s father. “Sorry to make you go through all this.”
I’ll bet you aren’t, she thought. “It’s no trouble at all.”
“Well, you’d better come inside,” Alex said. “Don’t want you getting caught in the rain.”
She entered the house cautiously. “Thank you,” she said.
“Sorry for the mess,” Alex said. “As soon as… Rob’s better,” he said, “we’ll be cleaning everything up.”
“I see,” Jeanne said. The living room was indeed a disaster area; she saw a toppled bookshelf, with heavy tomes scattered across the floor. The big-screen television was on, showing some action movie or another, but the sound was muted. “I hope that’s soon.”
“It will be,” Alex said. “Just between you and me, I think he’s faking.”
“That’s possible,” Jeanne said. “He’s upstairs, you said?”
“In a minute,” Alex said. “Would you like something to drink? Some soda, maybe?”
“No, no thank you,” Jeanne said. Detective Frank had given her strict instructions not to eat or drink anything Alex might offer her. “I just ate. I’m fine, thank you.”
“Well, if you’re going to study,” Alex said, “I’d insist. Stay there, I’ll get you a Coke.” He stepped into the kitchen for a moment.
“I really can’t stay,” Jeanne said. “I just need to drop off the homework and go home before the rain starts. My dad’s worried about me.”
Alex came back into the living room; she saw an expression on his face that she couldn’t precisely identify beyond ‘terrifying’. “Well, all right, then,” he said, not meaning it for a second. “Let’s go upstairs. Quiet now, so we don’t wake him.” He gestured to the staircase.
Jeanne thought she smelled something foul as she walked up the narrow staircase. She didn’t comment on it, but her steps slowed as she realized what it was.
“He’s probably too weak to get to the bathroom,” Alex said. “Sorry. Promise you won’t tell anyone?” She lied an agreement as they approached the upper landing; the hallway was dark, with only the light filtering out from under one of the doors illuminating its entirety. “He’s right in there.”
Jeanne dashed ahead and tugged on the door. “It’s locked,” she said, not turning around to see the expression of rage cross his eyes.
“Yeah,” he said, as calmly as he had before. “I had to, you know, in case he fell down the stairs trying to get to the bathroom.” He made a weak gesture to the open bathroom door, on the other side of the small landing from the stairwell entirely. Jeanne figured that there was no way that Rob, even if he were feverish and disoriented, would get confused going to the bathroom in his own house. He’s just scrambling to cover up, she thought. He reached past her to unlock the door with his right hand.
“Jeanne?” a voice came from the other side of the door, scared and frantic. “Jeanne! Run!”
The door opened as Alex twisted the knob, but Jeanne didn’t have time to react as he quickly shoved her through it. She lost her footing and tumbled forward onto the hardwood floor. “Shut up!” he snarled. “Shut up and stay here.” He yanked the door closed, but it caught on Jeanne’s ankles, which lay across the threshold.
She howled in agony as the door swung twice more into her legs; they refused to move at first, the pain was so great. Alex kicked her feet further into the room before slamming it shut. The click of the lock was inaudible over her screams and Rob’s shouts of protest.
Jeanne curled her legs under her, moaning in pain. “I’m all right,” she said, her voice wavering. “It’s just… dull. Hurts, but it’s less now.”
“I didn’t think you’d actually come,” Rob said, his voice still raised. “Didn’t you know it wasn’t right?”
“I did,” she said. Slowly, she unclenched her body; her ankles still hurt, but she could at least crawl over to him. “I’m… it’s a long story. We know what’s going on.”
“We?” he asked.
She pulled the penlight out of her pocket. “Phillip and Daniel and Gene and everyone can hear us,” she said, lowering her voice. “I’m supposed to get a look at you.”
Rob was sitting on the edge of his bed, wearing only his underpants. His legs were covered in blood from cuts all over them; he had bruises and scrapes all over his chest. Instinctively, he covered his groin area with his hands and arms, which were wounded similarly to his legs. “I had to take off my clothes,” he said, “’cause they were itching the cuts.”
“And all those bruises?” she asked.
“Dad,” he spat. “Just when the others were almost gone, too.”
“That’s terrible,” she gasped. “And he cut you, too…”
“Yeah,” Rob said. “He’s gone nuts. I haven’t even done anything, I did everything he asked. He said if I was better at school, I’d know what I did. What did I do wrong, Jeanne?” She stared at him, not comprehending. “Every other time he gets mad like this, he tells me anyone could see what I did to make him mad, and that if I was too stupid figure it out, I don’t deserve to be told… But Mom always says I didn’t do anything, and nobody ever tells me, and I’ve been afraid to ask. Can you tell me? What did I do this time, Jeanne?”
She froze. What did he do wrong? Nothing. It was obvious that his father wasn’t looking for him to do anything right. Just for Rob to do anything. Anything could be used against Rob, even things he was supposed to do. She knew Rob was smarter than he did at school– she had been incensed that he’d been the only one to get a perfect score on the first test they ever took together– but it was like he made an effort to be wrong. That had always puzzled her, but now it made sense: doing good had provoked rage, and all that was left was doing bad. But now even that was wrong.
“Your dad never made it easy for you,” she said. “He kept changing what he wanted. Never told you what he wanted, right? Then got mad at you when he’d changed his mind.” He nodded. “Well, don’t worry. We’re going to get you out of this.”
“How? We’re stuck here!” Rob said.
“The window,” Jeanne said. “We can get out through there.”
“It doesn’t open anymore,” he sighed. “Hasn’t for years. Besides, we’re on the second floor, and it’s raining.” Sure enough, the patter of the coming storm had started to sound. The rolling thunder was louder now.
“All right, then the door,” she replied. “We can bust it down together.”
“Can you even stand up?” he asked. “Dad got you pretty bad.”
Jeanne started to rise, but her ankles gave out beneath her, and she dropped to the floor with a heavy thud. “Okay,” she said. “We are going to get you out, I promise.”
“Thanks, Jeanne,” he said, “but I think we’re going to have to just deal with this for now until Dad calms down.”
“He’s not going to calm down,” Jeanne said. “Don’t you get it? He’s started hurting you!”
“He’s always like this!” Rob shouted. “Always. It comes and it goes. I just have to sit here and not bug him until Mom comes and lets me out. That’s how it always works.”
“It’s not supposed to work like that,” Jeanne said.
“How do you know?” Rob shot back. “How do you know how it is supposed to work? You live with Phillip, not even your own dad. I bet your real dad woulda done this too.”
Jeanne’s face twisted with fury. “He would not!” she shrieked. “This is not how a family works. I don’t care if he is your real dad or not, he is not acting like a dad’s supposed to.”
“Then what is?” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking down. “I mean… I don’t know what my real dad woulda done with me. But I do know he wouldn’t do this. Phillip… he’s not my birth-dad. I know that, but… some days, I think back about my real dad, and he has Phillip’s face.”
“That’s good,” Rob said.
“It is not!” Jeanne said. “I mean… My dad died. I know that,” she said. “I don’t want to forget him. He was nice.”
“Then you got lucky,” Rob scoffed.
“You did too,” Jeanne shot back. “I mean, you have your mom.”
Rob didn’t answer immediately. “She’s… I don’t know,” he said. “I wish she’d stop him sometimes. It’s like she doesn’t want to.”
“She does,” Jeanne said. “She sent me to come get you.”
“But she didn’t come herself,” Rob sighed.
“She couldn’t.” Jeanne frowned. “She’s as scared of him as you are. That’s what the policemen said, anyway.”
“The policeman?” Rob asked. “What policeman?”
A few heavy raps on the front door sounded before Jeanne could answer. She grinned. “Those policemen.”
Phillip walked a step behind Frank as they slowly approached the MacKenzie’s front door. “You think he’s going to get suspicious?” Phillip asked. “He and I aren’t exactly on the best of terms.”
“I’ve dealt with sickos like him before,” Frank said quietly. “Just let me do the talking. As long as he thinks I’m on his side he won’t do anything overt against you.”
“I hope you’re right,” Phillip replied. “Here goes.” Unlike Jeanne, Phillip was not wired; he and Frank were going into the MacKenzie’s alone. Daniel remained at the mansion with Mirielle and Gene, while Chloe was in the squad car with Lee a block away. The separation allowed them to remain in contact through cell phones, but Phillip still felt exposed; for a storming of the bad guy’s stronghold, it was pretty weak, Gene had said.
Frank knocked on the door heavily, as another low peal of thunder crackled to the west. “Rain’s gonna get worse,” he remarked.
“I hope not,” Phillip muttered.
The door opened, and Alex MacKenzie appeared from behind it; Phillip immediately wished there was something more substantial than a screen door separating them. “Detective Sabretti,” Alex said. “I thought I told your deputy my wife was asleep.”
“Good evening, Mister MacKenzie,” Frank said. “I know, but I just wanted to talk to you in person for a minute. May we come in?”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Alex said, eyeing Phillip briefly. “The place is still a mess.”
“This won’t take long,” Frank said, “and Mister Brookfield here has some information regarding your son.”
“Oh, he does,” Alex replied, before catching himself. “I mean, that’s great and all, but I was just about to call you. Rob came home about an hour ago.”
“We know,” Phillip said. “He’d called Jeanne over to help with homework a couple hours ago, and since it was getting late I figured I’d come get her.”
“Mister Brookfield and I just happened to meet up by chance,” Frank said. “Are you sure we can’t come inside? We won’t wake Mrs. MacKenzie, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Actually,” Alex said, “Mirielle left a little while ago, too…”
“Why’s that?” Phillip asked.
“That’s actually none of your business,” Alex spat. “Detective, is it possible that we could have this discussion in private?”
“I’d be glad to leave, just as soon as Jeanne is ready,” Phillip smiled. “She’s upstairs, right? Won’t be but a moment.” He put his hand on the screen door.
“Get your filthy hand off that door,” Alex growled. “And get the hell off of my property. Both of you.”
“I don’t think we’ll do that, Mister MacKenzie,” Frank said. “Let’s do this quietly, now, shall we?”
“Do you have a warrant?”
“It’s on its way,” Frank said. “But since you’re holding Mister Brookfield’s daughter, here, we simply don’t need one. Open this door.”
“Go to hell,” Alex said. He reached behind the front door.
“Unwise,” Frank said, drawing his gun. “Get your hands where I can see them. Now.”
Alex froze; Phillip could almost hear the ideas banging into each other in his brain. For that moment, he saw every possible way the situation could end. He saw the baseball bat coming from a mile away, the screen door taking the brunt of the force, with Frank blowing Alex away in the next instant. He heard the slam of the front door and the pounding of enraged footfalls up the staircase, Alex ready to put a messy end to the hostages. He saw Alex produce the shotgun from behind the door, cocked and ready, and felt the impact as the buckshot shredded his torso.
Alex slowly pulled his empty hand from behind the door and stepped back. Frank threw the screen door open. “Son of a bitch,” Alex growled.
Frank nodded to Phillip. “I got this,” he said. “Upstairs. The kids.”
Phillip needed no second urging. He slid around Frank and started up the stairs; as an afterthought, he glanced at the space behind the door, where Alex had been reaching. An old, wooden coat rack stood in the corner, with only a faded gray windbreaker on it. He had to admit, chuckling, that he had not seen that coming.
“What the hell were you gonna do with that, huh?” Frank asked. Alex merely shrugged, his hands up in a defensive gesture.
Phillip reached the top of the stairs; the stench of stale urine was coming from a door to his left. “Jeanne?” he called out.
“Phillip!” came the response. “We’re in here!”
“Hold on,” he said, gripping the doorknob; it refused to budge. “Damn! How do you open this?”
“There should be a key,” Jeanne said. “He must have taken it.”
“Mister Brookfield?” Rob called out.
“Rob’s in bad shape,” Jeanne said.
“Get away from there,” someone shouted from behind Phillip. Alex was at the top of the landing; his nose was bloodied. Phillip followed the smeared blood along his arm to Alex’s right hand, where he held Frank’s gun. “Slowly.”
Phillip raised his hands and stepped back, towards the center of the room. “Alex, put the gun down,” he shouted.
“Shut up!” Alex said. “Just shut up. You’ve ruined everything.”
In Rob’s room, Jeanne gasped. “Gun,” she whispered. “Not good.”
“He wouldn’t,” Rob said, his voice wavering. “He can’t!”
Jeanne still couldn’t stand up; her ankles were starting to swell painfully. There has to be something I can do, she thought, her mind racing. I can’t stop what’s going on out there. So what can I do in here?
A flash of lightning illuminated the room, and she shrieked. Rob began crying. “No,” she whispered. “No!”
“No,” Rob wailed. “No, not a storm, not…”
Wait, she thought. Panicking isn’t going to solve anything. What’s in here? Rob is, she thought. Rob… and the rain…
“Rob,” she said. “Rob, listen to me. You have to listen to me,” she said. “Just listen to me, and only me. Okay?” He stared at her, tears still in his eyes; his screams were low moans now. “Just listen only to me,” she repeated. “Only me and the rain. Listen to the rain, you got it?”
“The rain?” he asked, hiccuping.
“Yes,” Jeanne said, crawling closer to him. “Look only at me, and listen only to the rain. Only to the rain. Listen for the song in the rain,” she said. “Just listen. It’s a lullabye…”
The first wave of it hit Phillip like a truck; he staggered to the side, his legs giving out beneath him unevenly. Alex dropped to his knees, the gun tottering out of his hand and to the floor. The hallway had been dark already, but Phillip found all light to be completely insufficient; he tried to draw a mental bead on Alex, but found the man wavering in and out of focus. His eyelids felt heavy, weighed down with warm, comforting anchors; his muscles relaxed, all tension and stability bleeding away. A flash of lightning illuminated the room. Alex was curling up into the fetal position in the strobed light. The rain continued to buffet the outside of the house, and Phillip heard the cadence of each drop.
His eyes snapped open, alertness returning in an instant. How could I fall for it, he thought. Wait, how did it even happen? Who did this?
“Phillip!” Jeanne screamed. “Hurry!”
“Get away from the door, Jeannie!” he said, glancing at the floor. Alex did not stir. Phillip kicked the gun into the open bathroom, and readied himself. The warmth was gone from his legs now, and adrenaline turned them to steel.
With a single kick, the door swung open; Jeanne was leaning against the simple wooden bed. A boy, badly cut up, was sprawled sideways across the bed. His head, the only part of his body that didn’t have the appearance of being one giant wound, was cradled in her arms and hands. She cried into it, and Phillip froze. “Jeanne? Is that…?”
She nodded, not looking at him. “Please help him,” she sobbed.
A hand fell gently on Phillip’s shoulder; he whirled around to find Frank behind him, bearing an eye that was rapidly swelling shut. “My god,” the detective whispered.
“We’re here now, Jeanne,” Phillip said, kneeling beside her. She threw her arms around him, no longer bothering to put up even the pretense of a brave front, and screamed in sorrow. He kissed her forehead and held her close. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. It’s over now.”