Suddenly it all changed for me. I watched as Anita moved, taking careful steps backward. She was watching him the way you would watch an unpredictable and dangerous animal. And it hit me that this man was responsible for hurting so many people dear to me. The rage came from nowhere and I scrambled to my feet and turned on him in fury, stepping between him and her. “You bastard! Did you do that to her face? How dare you hit her!”
“No Sam, don’t! It’s okay. It’s worth it, to be here. I understand, don’t I Frederic?”
I turned back to look at her, ice running in my veins. “Worth it? What are you talking about? What could be worth that?” I put my hand out reaching towards her swollen jaw.
She stepped back, shrugging off my hand. “Sam, don’t you see? This is the chance of a lifetime.” Her voice was low, urging me to understand, to back off, to accept. She looked over at the man I knew first as Walter, now as Frederick, carefully choosing her words. And it struck me that I could now see her quite clearly. Not as cowering victim but as someone in complete control, bruises and all. She was in a situation of her own choosing.
She continued to try to convince me. “Frederick is a very special man, Sam. I could wait my whole career to meet someone like him.” She turned to me her eyes alight with excitement. “Sam, do you realise that he’s come half way around the world searching for you. He’s spent most of his life trying to find you. That kind of …….” she searched for the right word, looking back again at Frederick, gauging his reaction, “dedication, that’s worth studying.”
“Studying? Anita, what are you saying? Don’t you even realise what he’s done?” But she wasn’t listening to me, she was watching Frederick and I realised that she didn’t know about the attack on Johnnie. She carried the bruises where he had hit her but she didn’t know how violent he could be.
Frederick moved forward, I jumped but Anita was watching him through narrowed eyes, anticipating what he was going to do next. “I do realise, don’t I Frederick? I know exactly how you feel about Sam. She’s your dearest friend, your soul mate, she’s your heart.”
Those cold blue eyes slid over to me and softened. I could see it in his face, not a smile, not a change in emotion, but a softening. “She knows that. I kept her dolls for her. Only I know what her babies meant to her.”
As much as I hated the idea of agreeing with him in any way, he was right. I nodded and looked back at my babies. My babies and my Mother had been my whole life. The gaping hole created by the loss of my dolls and my Mother were intertwined. And I finally added up what I knew. “You knew my mother. You must have been there. You were there, weren’t you?” I took a step towards him, “What happened Frederick?”
Anita reached out and put her arms around me, pulling me back against her, away from him. “See Sam, he kept them for you. All these years, he’s kept them for you. Been looking for you so you could have your babies again.” Dropping her voice, she breathed in my ear. “Sam, be careful,” she whispered. “You have to get out. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.” Suddenly, she was jerked away from me. He shoved her across the room. “Go! We don’t need you here now. You helped me get Claudia back. Now go away. We don’t need you here. We don’t need anyone here.”
“Claudia? Who’s Claudia?” Just when I thought I understood, had worked it out, something else changed. None of this made any sense. It was like a dream where you reached out for someone and they changed, became someone else. You reached out for someone you loved, and they turned into someone threatening you, wanting to hurt you. I couldn’t get a grip on what was real, what was really happening.
He shook his head, and for a moment stood perfectly still. “No, Unger, it was you.” He looked past me, out the window, into the past. “It doesn’t matter any more, we are together again. I am your family now and I will look after you. I looked after your dolls. Look at them, they are perfect and I kept them like that for you. I brought them all this way, for you. I knew it would make you happy. Make everything good again. Perfect, like it was before, before they took you away.”
“And she appreciates that, don’t you Sam?” Anita was like a conductor, trying to take control and direct us down her pathway. “But she needs to know what happened, Frederick. She can’t be with a new family until she knows all about the last one, can you Unger? What happened Frederick?”
He turned his head and looked at her. He just moved his head, but it was the most dangerous movement I had ever seen. “You know nothing. You, with your questions, pretending to be my friend. You think I’m stupid? Do you think I don’t know what you are doing? You are only alive because I allow it.”
“But I do, Frederick, I do want to know what happened.” I had to get his attention back. The way he looked at Anita made my blood run cold. I didn’t know what we were dealing with here. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say, how I was supposed to act. But Anita knew, and she thought I was in danger. But it seemed to me that it was Anita that was in the most danger. I tried again. “What happened, Frederick? Can you tell me?”
He looked at me blankly and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. What kind of person showed no body language, no sign of emotion?
“You don’t have to know. There’s no need.”
“There’s a need for Sam, isn’t there Sam.” Anita seemed to have no concern for her safety. In her shoes, I would be silently backing out the door.
For the first time, he raised his voice. “Stop calling her that! She’s not Sam, she is Unger.” He took a step towards her, his fists clenched at his side. “Her name is Unger. She is my Unger.”
“Tell me, Frederick, tell me what happened.” I desperately needed to get his attention back. Anita just seemed to increase the hostility in him.
“If you wish it.” He turned back to me. As if a switch had flicked off the threatening approach to Anita, he now talked normally. It was far the most scary thing I had ever seen.
“We were friends, her and I. We made gardens together, we laughed, she didn’t care what other people did or thought. You wore special clothes of bright colours, clothes she made for you. She made things for me too. A scarf, she knitted me a woollen cap to keep my ears warm in the winter. She loved flowers, she loved colour. She said she loved my blue eyes. Then one day, you and I were gardening together. And I looked up and saw her watching us from the window. She came out and called you in, and told me it was all over between us. And said that if ever I came back or spoke to you again, she would call the police. I went into the house after her to talk to her, to explain that she had got it wrong. You were my friend, my sister and they had taken you away before. I wouldn’t let them do it again.”
He walked over and faced Anita. “This is what you want to hear, isn’t it? Not so different, you and me. She yelled at me. She said that I had to go and I was never going to see Unger again. She said she would make sure I never saw her again. So I walked up to her,” he lifted his hands and put them around Anita’s neck. “And I stopped her yelling. I stopped her saying all those things. They weren’t true. They… were… not… true.”
I was frozen to the spot. I held Maria, my beautiful baby doll, tightly in my arms, watching Frederick with his hands around Anita’s neck.
“Is this what you want to know?” He moved his face close to hers. “Shall I tell you how her face went red? Do you want to know the details? Not so interested now?”
I could see her lips moving but couldn’t hear what she was saying. But I knew now without doubt, that I was looking at the man who had murdered my Mother. My beautiful Mutti who had been so full of life, he had taken her from me. As I watched, Anita’s lips stopped moving and her face became a darker shade of red. And still she didn’t lash out at him or fight back.
“No!” I raced across the floor and threw myself at his back. “Leave Mutti alone!” I screamed at him, launching myself at him, dragging at his arms, desperate to make him let go. He released her and turned to me as she dropped to the floor, gasping for air. “Leave her alone! If you touch her again, I’ll walk out that door and you will never see me again.” I watched him, saw as that sunk in.
“But I gave you your babies back. We are together now.” His voice was calm compared to my hysteria.
“We can’t be together if you hurt people. Don’t you understand?”
“I only know we can be together. And I will stop anyone who tries to take you away again. But you would walk out the door and go away?”
“Yes, if that’s what it takes to make you stop.”
He took a step towards me, “Then there is only one thing to do.” His hands reached out for me and I stepped back. I looked at the big, strong gardener’s hands reaching for me. I backed up against the wall and he took another step towards me, his face cold. And suddenly, the air around us seemed to shimmer, and I saw her. Mutti, she was there. He saw her at the same time I did.
“Wage dich nicht!”
Her demand he stop gave me time and I stumbled back allowing me to slide sideways and race towards the door. He recovered and reached over to catch me by the arm just as the door behind us crashed open and the room suddenly filled with noise and commotion. I saw black helmets and guns. “Don’t move, Police! Don’t move! Don’t move!” It was all noise, yelling and confusion. I saw figures in black facing across the room, guns aimed. I was pushed down and out of the way and all I could see were arms, reaching for Frederick. I rolled further away and got kicked by a pair of large black boots, which were storming across the room towards us. I crawled further away into the corner, and looked back to see what was happening. There were so many people, a jumble of arms and legs rolling on the ground, and I could see Frederick’s legs kicking under the pile of writhing bodies. Someone was yelling at the top of his voice, demanding Frederick keep still. Someone else was calling for help. I put my hands over my ears, I wanted to crawl under the kitchen table, but it wasn’t there. Past merged with present and I pressed myself into the corner of the room, and pulled my knees up against me. I put my head down so I couldn’t see her body on the ground. I turned into the corner and pulled my head down between my knees. I didn’t want to see her lying so still. My Mutti was never still like that.
But it was the noise I hated the most. There hadn’t been noise last time. It had been silent except for the sound of the chair clattering over onto the floor. It had been silent, deathly silent. And now I knew that I had been there, I had seen Frederick strangle my mother. And afterwards, he told me to take my babies to my room and put them to bed. And then I was to get into bed and have my afternoon nap. And I remember, quietly getting up, not looking back into the kitchen, and going to may room and doing what he told me to do. And that is what I have been doing all my life. Quietly getting up and doing exactly as I’m told, being reliable, predictable and obedient. The only time I wasn’t, when I screamed and threw a tantrum, I lost my beloved babies. And since then, I had never stood up to anyone again, never in my whole life. I felt I was waking from a deep sleep. I went to sit up and a sharp pain shot through my side. I wanted to look but was terrified of what I might see. I hadn’t done that last time. I had not looked, just as I was told to do. Now, I looked.
There was a tremendous struggle going on. There looked to be five or six men rolling on the ground trying to pin Frederick down but he seemed to have more strength than the rest of them combined. And suddenly Anita was on them as well. I could hear her high-pitched screaming and she clawed at them, trying to get them off Frederick. I started to move towards her but I was shoved roughly away. Anita was pulled off the pile of bodies and held down. But she continued to yell for Frederick and scream at the men trying to control him. I couldn’t breath and the noise seemed to move far away, as if I was in a bubble.
Finally, things seemed to still and while one person was putting on handcuffs, another was cuffing Frederick’s legs together and everyone waited. I heard Frederick groan and saw a man lean forward and say something to him. Frederick twisted and started to yell, and immediately all leaned forward and he seemed to be smothered in bodies. Another person came in and leant over him, I couldn’t see what they were doing, but things went quiet again. I couldn’t see what had happened to Anita, but her yelling had stopped.
From a distance, I heard, “Sam! Sam, can you hear me?” There was a hand on my shoulder and I felt a gentle shake. “ Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
I looked up and a wonderful familiar face was looking down at me.
“DS Martin, I’m Unger. My name is Unger and he strangled my mother. And I think I was there. I saw.” It was too much, everything was too much and the tears burst out of me. I started shivering and he dropped down, sat beside me and wrapped his arms around me. I sobbed onto his shoulder and he just sat there quietly rocking me, muttering reassurances from time to time, while I cried it out. “Oh my god, he murdered my Mother.”
“I know. I suspected he was somehow connected. It was just too big a coincidence, but I wasn’t sure. It’s okay. We’ve got him under control now. It’s over, Sam. It’s over.” And he soothed my hair. And after a while, as if to distract me, “And I’ve got some good news too. Well, I suppose its good news for you, Johnnie’s regained consciousness. Looks like he’s going to be okay.” He sat back and took a long look at me, as if gauging my reaction.
I nodded. But I couldn’t get my head around anything except the reality of this room. “I think I hid under the kitchen table. It was weird, “ I hiccupped, “like it was all happening over again. It was so confusing. I saw my Mother! She was here. She got between Frederick and me! She told him to stop!”
He squeezed my shoulder. “Really? I knew you were one of us. You know, you did very well. Didn’t listen to me about the For Sale sign, but you sure as hell flushed him out.” He grinned at me. “Just as well we were watching and saw you go with them.”
“You were watching? I looked down the road but I didn’t see anyone. I thought you wouldn’t know where I’d gone, but I had to find out what was going on. And I thought I was okay with Anita there. Where were you?”
“In Johnnie’s house. It was the best place to see if we could eyeball him. The only trouble was, the footy was on today and my partner refused to come, he wasn’t going to miss the footy for anything. That’s why we took a while to get here, I had to get backup. Couldn’t risk coming straight in on my own. I saw you go, I saw what driveway you turned into, but couldn’t follow until the backup got here. But we weren’t taking any chances. We suspected he was delusional and obsessed but we didn’t know how unbalanced he was.”
“Until we tried to stop him, that was.” Another man crouched down and looked past DS Martin. “Are you alright Ma’am? Are you hurt? Do you think you can stand up for me?”
“I think I got kicked. I got in the road. My side hurts.”
“You were very brave and you did just the right thing, got out of the road and into the corner. If we had been able to tell you what to do, that’s exactly what we would have advised. Out of the road DS, now let’s get you where we can check you out? Trev, we need a stretcher over here.”
I looked past him, they were carrying Frederick out, he was quiet, his body looked limp. “Is he dead? Did they kill him?”
“It’s okay, we’ve had to sedate him. He went berserk when he thought he was going to lose you again.” We waited for them to pass out the door.
“ Anita, where’s Anita? Is she okay?”
“She’s also been sedated and has been taken by ambulance to be checked out. Then she’ll be interviewed. She was just as bad as him in her own way. There’ll be charges pending against her, too.”
I couldn’t get my head around it and as they carried in the stretcher for me, I turned to DS Martin again. “So tell me, who’s Claudia?”
He smiled. “Good question. She was Frederick’s sister. But there’ll be time to explain it all to you later. All you’ve got to remember is that you’re safe now. You just have to get yourself better.”
“My side hurts.” I truly was confused. I wondered how badly I had been hurt.
“They want to check you out, just to make sure you’re okay. We know you got at least one kick, we want to make sure that nothing’s broken. That was a pretty traumatic situation for you.”
I nodded. “I think he was going to kill me in the end. You should have seen his face when I said I was going to walk away.” I looked at him about to describe what I had seen, when I had a thought. “Can I call you by your first name? I can’t keep calling you DS Martin.”
That boyish grin again, “Chris. My name’s Chris and I’m going to stay with you until you are safely in a hospital bed. Have you got someone we can call who can be with you? You could probably use a good friend at the moment.”
There was no doubt about it, he was sweet. I chuckled, then clutched my side as a streak of pain burned its way through me. “Anita was probably the best friend I had.”
He became serious. “She was one obsessed lady. She figured out that it was Walter who was the problem. And she went out of her way to get to know him. She actually forced herself on him.”
“I’ve always known she was a bit… well, actually, I thought she was a workaholic. I didn’t think her attitude to her work was healthy, but didn’t really know how far it would go. Did you see her? She was stayed with him and yet she knew what he was. How could she do that? How could she want to be with him when she knew what he was doing to my head? And yet, she warned me. She whispered to me that I was in danger and I needed to get out. But she wanted to stay. What kind of a choice is that? She was an intelligent person, she should’ve known better. She could’ve got away.”
“I don’t think obsession has much to do with choice. I think that each of them in their own way was obsessed. Hers was hidden behind being immersed in her work and his was seated in the memory of losing his little sister, Claudia. He simply lost touch with reality and you became Claudia. They were separated when they were young and he obviously felt helpless and carried the trauma of losing his little sister. You became her in his eyes when he thought he was going to lose you.”
“He said that they were the same, Anita and him. And he killed my Mother. I saw him do it.” Another thought occurred to me. “Do you think my Father knew that? Is that why he took us out of the country?”
“Yes, I would think so. You were home when it happened. And you may have let the cat out of the bag. He just packed you all up and got you out of there, he was trying to keep you safe. What is it with you and these men who want to protect you?”
“But why has it taken him so long to find me? Why now out of the blue?”
“It’s funny how things happen. He hasn’t come after you sooner because he was in prison for another crime, which I suspect he didn’t commit. However, when he was finally released, his Uncle died and he received a respectable inheritance. So, suddenly he had the means to start looking for you. And, when he found you, he had the idea of using the inheritance to look after you. And heaven help anyone who might have got in his way of his plans.”
“Such as Johnnie.”
He nodded. “Such as Johnnie. In fact, even your cat was a threat. In his mind, there is only room for one person at a time. And he wanted your total affection and attention, there could be no other in your life. It was probably a good thing you left your husband when you did. I think he would definitely have become a target also.”
The rest of the day passed in a haze of the drive to the hospital and a battery of tests that just seemed to make things hurt more. Finally, they decided I was badly bruised but had no broken bones and I was able to have some quiet time curled up in the hospital bed. They kept me in over night to make sure there were no after-effects of the shock I had been through. I even had a policeman outside my door and so I simply slept. I don’t think I moved all night, even when they came in during the night to check on me, I simply turned over and went back to sleep. They offered me pills but there was no need. I slept a deep, undreaming sleep.
In the morning, I thought long and hard over breakfast about what I was going to do. I remembered the bumper sticker - If it’s to be, it’s up to me. It was my life and I had decisions to make. Firstly, I was determined to put the house on the market. I didn’t mind living there now that Frederick was gone, but I wanted to choose my own place. I wanted my own life, my own decisions and my own consequences from those decisions. Once I was discharged, I made my way carefully through the hospital to Johnnie’s ward. He was lying in bed, his head heavily bandaged, but he was conscious. But it wasn’t the bandaged head, which drew my attention. His skin looked tanned against the white sheets and I was acutely aware of the curve of the muscles of his arm, his broad shoulders and chest. I moved forward before my imagination could take me further and I quietly stood at the end of the bed. He opened his eyes and looked at me. For a moment, he just looked, then he grinned. “Hi Babe, I hear you’ve been having fun without me.”
“I’m sorry Johnnie, I….”
“No you don’t! It wasn’t you and it wasn’t your fault. So don’t you be doing any of that. I hear they kept you in overnight. How are you?”
“Just bruised. I think I’m lucky I didn’t get my ribs broken. In all the confusion, I got in the road and got kicked.”
“Plonkers! Still, that’s better than the alternative. It could’ve been worse, much worse. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.” He lifted his hand and reached for me. I walked around the side of the bed and took his hand.
“So, what now? I suppose you’ll be selling up and moving away. The neighbourhood a bit too lively for you?”
I laughed, carefully, holding my side with my other arm. “ Well, I was thinking I would like a house of my choosing.”
“But, you’re forgetting how much Marmaduke likes all those trees. Tell you what, how about, I help you get stuck into that garden and we’ll make the garden you really like. You can paint and paper or what ever you want to do inside and then you can live there for a while and see how you like it once you’ve got it the way it suits you. What do you think?”
“Well, if I was going to sell it, I would want to get the most money for it, so that sounds like a logical thing to do.” I smiled and realised what it was to feel good again.
“Logical!” A cynical voice behind me made me jump. “Logical? You two? That’d be a first.” I twisted round to find DS Martin standing behind us.
“You two are the most illogical people I’ve ever met. And for what it’s worth, I believe that it’s just a matter of time before you both land right back in trouble again.”
“Trying to put her off, DS?” Johnnie didn’t sound very friendly.
“You react way to easy, my friend. But, I think she’s old enough to make up her mind about what is good for her and what isn’t. Isn’t that right, Sam?”
I looked from one to the other and felt myself redden as I realised what this conversation was about. I dropped Johnnie’s hand and sat back. “Will you two stop it! As if I would be interested in anyone after all this.” I looked at DS Martin and his smile that never was far away. I looked at Johnnie and he raised one eyebrow.
“Very assertive, babe. I think life just got a lot more interesting.”
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