Excerpt from CHAPTER 21
(a little on Hank and Christina, on Emma and her aunt, Franka and on solving this mystery).
Hank opened his eyes and tried to focus on where he’d spent the night. Memory trickled through a fog of shadows in his mind—a haze at least as thick as the one filling the room where he lay. Flowered curtains drawn, windows closed to keep the cool air in, the only sound of what took place outside came carried by light rain tapping against the window pane.
He rubbed his eyes and felt a long slim arm drawn against his torso. Christina, he thought, a twinge of excitement coursing through him.
He stretched his right arm to grab the clock on the night stand, but connected to the wall the timepiece didn’t go quite far—far enough to show him he would be late if he didn’t get up and leave.
With care he slipped Christina’s arm by her side and gently slid out of bed. Thank God he’d taken a shower only a couple of hours ago, so dressing in the dark and tiptoeing out the door would be easy. He watched her sleep, pangs of guilt assailing him. He grabbed the blanket and the small coverlet she used as a comforter and drew them over her bare back.
She slept on her stomach with face deep in the pillow. She likely wouldn’t discover his departure until much later.
Unable to get enough of each other, their passion had taken over their senses and now, he depended on three hours of sleep to get him through the day. They’d talked for hours and pooled a lot of their dreams and thoughts, more so than during all the years they had lived together. Now he was sorry he hadn’t told her how much he loved her. She had, more than once. His stupid pride had choked the words out of him, still unable to live down the years she’d forced him to struggle without her.
He slipped his pants on, found his shirt and jacket and slipped on his shoes shoving his socks in his pocket. He’d put them on later.
On his way to the door, he doubled back to take one last peek at the woman he loved. The real reason he hadn’t spoken up dealt more with other issues, like the shame of betraying his former avowal of love to her. A bloody miracle she was even back in his arms. She’d certainly held nothing back.
Emma stood in her aunt’s living room looking down at the street below. To get a better view she’d pushed back the satin white sheers she now rolled between her fingers the sensation tickling her pleasantly. She wondered if the rain was an omen of a gray day ahead of her.
“Coming, Aunt Franka.”
Her mother and father had left early to go to work. And after a bout of morning sickness, Franka had resolutely wanted to make her breakfast despite her protests that she was old enough to make her own.
She let go of the curtains to finger the amulet still hanging around her neck, tucked under her t-shirt and swishing smoothly against her skin like a protecting hand. She figured she wouldn’t always wear the Eye of Horus. But she’d slept beautifully, staying put the whole night. Or did her environment have something to do with the peace of a dreamless night? She often wondered if Granny Dottie’s influence might still be connected to her through the house’s familiar surroundings, lending her the possibility to perform the unusual things she did. Then again, she’d conjured the shiny new penny for the officer’s benefit while on her way home from the clinic.
“Better get some food inside you, sweetie. Hank Apple will be here soon.”
After breakfast, Hank would arrive. He’d bring loaded questions and she’d work to remember all she’d seen in her dreams while trying not to juggle with the emotional baggage strapped to the memories. She would do as her mom had asked her to do. Dispatch the facts, let Hank connect the dots and forget about the rest.
She pulled the wooden chair away from the table the scraping sound on the tiles echoing throughout the open concept breakfast nook, and she wondered why her aunt needed such a large apartment living by herself.
Settling in, she bit into a mouthful of pancake dripping with maple syrup. “This is delicious, Aunt Franka. Jimmy’s a lucky guy.” Emma teased.
“What are you trying to say, munchkin?” Franka grabbed her glass of juice and sat down facing her.
“Just that you’re a good cook.”
“These pancakes came from a mix. Nothing to them,” she added.
Emma thought she seemed self-conscious about the compliment. “You’re going to make a good mother too,” she smiled nodding for emphasis.
Franka pinched her lips as though tears were close at hand. She stared at the pancakes in her plate seemingly mesmerized with her fork pushing the pieces around to soak up syrup.
“You’re not having second thoughts are you … about the baby?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.” Franka put down her fork and wiped her mouth with her napkin. “I guess I better tell you, you’ll learn about it soon enough.” She toyed with Emma’s fingers. “You have pretty shaped nails. They’d look spectacular with a little pink polish.”
“What are trying to tell me?”
“Jimmy asked me to marry him.” She stuck out her finger and Emma gazed at a small pear shaped diamond. Then she stared into her aunt’s eyes. “You’re not sure, are you?”
“I’m not. Can’t say why. I love him and all … he’s just not the type of man I saw myself ending up with, make sense?” She shook her head and Emma realized her silence wasn’t making it easier for Franka.
“We all dream of prince charming,” Emma said. “Of some white knight. We’re all guilty of doing that.”
“Or of some intellectual equal …”
“He’s smart though, about the day to day things, right?”
Franka was quick to nod which only gave Emma the impression her aunt was covering especially when she added, “I mean this business about the car. He should have realized an abandoned vehicle is not good news. Should have brought the car straight to police … or to the pound, gotten rid of it somehow.”
“They might have traced the car back to him anyway. He did a good thing for his mother …”
“Not out of kindness, only because she nagged him.”
“Maybe you’re being a little hard on him. Think of my father. Who would have thought he would ever come through for me? And he certainly was not kind to his mother while growing up, but I recently learned they fought because they were both scared. She feared him hanging with the wrong crowd, and he rebelled because of all the threats she made. Men like Dad and Jimmy … they’re moved by strong emotions. They don’t always say nor do the smartest thing. But they’ll lay their life down for the people they love.
Franka squeezed Emma’s chin. “How did you get to be so smart?”
Emma raised a couple of nonchalant shoulders.
“Ahhh,” Franka breathed out in despair her eyes closed. She smiled at her niece. “I’m just not sure this is enough. You’ll understand all this someday.”
The door intercom had them jump. Emma figured this wasn’t the time to ask her aunt why she wore the ring if she hesitated about marrying Jimmy.
Once Franka hung up, she said. “Speaking of men who are slaves to their emotions. Got a big one on his way up.”
Emma giggled at her aunt’s attempt at crossing her eyes as she went to unlock the two bolts to her door. She was right. Hank would be another one of those primates who’d go to war, pound his fists against his chest in a show of triumph only to wrap his arms around the girl adrenalin feeding his frenzy.
Hank came in flanked with Val. “Howdy, folks. Franka, this is Val.”
The two women shook hands. “Pleased to meet you, Val,” Franka said. “Please come in. You can use the small parlor to your right. I’ll close the French doors to give you privacy.”
“Very thoughtful. Thank you.” Hank took off his shoes to protect the floors.
“Don’t, Hank. My floors need a good scrubbing and I have excellent help.”
“Nah. My big tumblers have been everywhere. They’d only muck up the carpet in your sitting room.”
Emma glanced at Hank and wondered what was different about him this morning. He seemed tired, yet not as edgy as usual almost happy if this word could be used to describe the rugged detective.
“I’ll bring in a pot of coffee,” Franka said. “Anyone want anything else?”
Val smiled and tugged at her backpack’s zipper. “I stopped …” She tossed the flap to her big shoulder bag and carefully extracted a bulging box. “I got donuts for everyone,” she said as she opened the lid to let them gawk at the treasure she carried. “I got one of every kind. Hope it will do.”
“Do?” Franka opened wide eyes. “It’s wonderful. Sweets are about the only thing I can keep down these days.” She took the box from Val. “Okay, then. So there’ll be donuts with your coffee.”
Hank laughed, and Emma pondered she’d never heard him laugh. The boisterous tone suited him.
When they finally sat down in front of coffee and donuts, and a tall glass of ice tea for Emma, silence fell like a shroud and Emma found herself wishing for Christina Tyler’s presence.
“He drives a blue Ford station wagon.” Emma didn’t know why she’d blurted the words out. Perhaps a sense of duty since she’d promised her mother or because her secret being out in the open with her father, she needed to unburden what she carried. Whatever the reason, she stared at the shock on Hank’s expression hoping he didn’t judge her confession too outrageous.
Hank glanced at Val to make sure she was ready to take notes. “Do you mind if I tape, Emma?” Val asked.
“What if someone were to get hold of the tape?”
“No one will, I promise. You have the information in your head, I don’t. I’ll never remember everything you tell me.”
She pinched her lips and lowered her eyes. She did not want Val taping her conversation. She glanced at Hank.
“Never mind the taping, Val. Emma’s right. We’ll both take notes and this will suffice.”
Hank asked. “How do you know he drives a blue Ford? What kind of blue?”
She gazed at Val whose own eyes had narrowed on her as she waited pen poised in hand.
“I’d rather not say how I know the things I do. I don’t want to go to that place if I don’t have to. I’m just going to give you the facts. That’s what important, right?”
“Of course. The why and the how are just to help Val.”
“Don’t mind me. I’ll make time to weave a credible story. After all, turns out I’m going to be right a lot. They’ll have to take my word.”
“Car was dark blue, but not new. He parked across from my parent’s house two nights in a row, in the driveway of the abandoned Henderson Home.”
“He was stalking your place?”
“I saw him.”
“How could you see him at that distance?”
“I can tell when he’s around. I can sense him.”
Hank released his breath shaking his head.
“He has a place on North Walnut Street in East Orange.”
Hank’s arms fell to his side and Emma could tell he tried not to appear shaken.
“How … Can you describe the place?”
“There’s a torn building beside it. A church or synagogue nearby. His building is old and rambling and there’s a big sign on it that says: We buy gold. There are five windows on the second floor. I believe his is the third one in the row, two away from the demolished construction site—at least this is the window that lit up that night.”
She sneaked a peek at Val. The woman had stopped writing and her hand shook as she took a sip of her coffee.
Hank got up and began pacing. “We’ve got him. Can’t believe we’ve got him,” he muttered.
“No, you don’t. This is not where he lives.”
Hank stared at her long and hard. “Do you know where he lives?”
She shook her head from side to side.
“What is this place then?”
“It’s where he brings …” Emma hesitated. Taking a deep breath, she added, “His victims.”
Val bent toward her, and for the first time, Emma spotted compassion in her brown eyes. “Emma,” Val said. “You’ve been there?”
“Only in my nightmares. “He brought Ashley there, Ashley Miller.” She pinched her lips not to cry and wiped the tear pearling in the corner of her eye.
Emma didn’t answer.
Hank grabbed his leather schoolbag and rummaged inside for his files. “We have no victim by that name,” he muttered as he poured three folders on the coffee table in front of him. He stared at Emma.
She raised her shoulders in a show of ignorance.
“Last little girl was Anne, Anne Ripley.
“No. Ashley her name is Ashley Miller.”
“Geez Louise.” Hank bounded up again unable to contain his energy.
“Maybe she was supposed to be number four.” Emma stared at her donut having lost her appetite.
“Emma, could this be a snapshot of the future,” Val breathed. “Did it seem grainy? Did you realize at the time you might be looking ahead?”
No. I didn’t realize anything. I just dreaded being back there again. But this time I actually made it all the way inside the room past the dirty walls and the lone light bulb. I tried to turn back, but I couldn’t. Like there was a magnet drawing me in against my will. He behaved like a vicious dog, and I yelled to make him stop. That’s when he turned and stared right at me. Called me a witch.”
Val got up and walked toward the settee Emma occupied alone. She sat down beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Poor chica. No one should live through this,” she cooed. “To think I envied your talent. Not anymore I don’t.”
“All this time I thought he’d killed her and I hadn’t been able to stop him.
“Emma you said Ashley was the fourth …” Hank said. “What did you mean by that?”
“She’s not anymore. Picture has changed. We altered it or rather I did because now he’s after me.”
“Emma stuck her face to the window to watch the rain. Lightening in the background drew a fiery specter in the sky while her eyes traced the water droplets running down the pane like tears.”
Emma Willis is ten years old and has a secret. She not only inherited her grandmother's power of sight, she can accomplish much more. Like most children without siblings growing up amongst adults, she is precocious yet at times lonely.
When a murderer is loose in Newark, a maniac with a thirst for killing little girls, she begins to understand why her Granny Dottie called her sight a curse. She will need all her powers to catch a killer and help the people in her life: Detective Hank Apple, her teacher Christina Tyler, and her little family of three. Only … the madman knows who she is!
About the Author:
Joss has worked as a consultant for more than twenty years, writing copy for marketing firms and assisting start-up companies launch their business. She recently made the switch from composing copy and promos, to writing fiction and prose. She is developing her style through courses and the support of other writers. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and is presently working on honing three other novels for publication.
Book: Mirror Deep http://tinyurl.com/cdv37n6
Book: I Can See You http://goo.gl/wiD4Bi1
Amazon Author Page: http://goo.gl/3YgCQh