In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 30

Dawn brought rain, and as Katherine woke from her dreamy state, she could hear it beating against the windowpane.

John was gone, making coffee, she guessed. As the thought of the once delicious aroma permeated her memory, she ran to the bathroom for her daily ritual of praying to the porcelain god. She had always loved her coffee, thrived on it when she was in college, but ever since the morning sickness started, she couldn’t stand the mere thought of it, and the smell made her sick every time.

She was pouring apple juice into a glass, wondering what unearthly hour John had risen, as he was nowhere in sight, when the door flew open, and he entered. His hair was a sight, his jacket slung over his shoulder in a haphazard way, and his face screamed bright red with anger.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Someone slashed my tires and scratched a death threat into the side of my car.”

“What! Who would do that?”

John shook his head. “I have no idea, but I’m calling the police.”

He went into the den and Katherine heard him talking, although she could not make out the words.

He came back. “They’re coming to take a report.” Although the color had returned to his face, his body still strained with tautness.

“Shall I make some coffee?” she offered. No sooner had she said the words than she was in the bathroom vomiting.

John came to offer support. “How long will that last?”

“A few months I’m told.”

“Sorry.”

She stood and smiled. “It’s worth it. But you’d better make your coffee yourself.”

She followed him to the kitchen, careful to stay a safe distance from the aroma of the brewing coffee. “What was the death threat?”

John’s hand stilled midway between the coffee and the filter, but he didn’t look at Katherine. All he wanted to do was protect her, not fill her morning with ugliness.

“John?”

He resumed scooping coffee. “It said die bastard.”

Katherine took in a breath. “Oh, no. Do you think Chad had something to do with it?”

The thought had crossed his mind, but he had not wanted to bring the words to the surface. “What beef does Chad have with me?”

She stood leaning against the kitchen counter, but now she walked to him and looked up into his eyes, unable to believe he could not see it. John’s arms automatically enclosed her. “Us,” she said.

He rested his chin on the top of her head. “He doesn’t know about ‘us.’”

For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then Katherine said, “I think he’s having me followed.”

John pulled away to look at her. “Why?”

She walked to the dining table and pulled out a chair from beneath it. John followed her example, and they sat facing each other. “For some reason the guy’s been pursuing me.” She knit her brows together. “I get mixed feelings from him, though. He acts as if he’s trying to woo me, but then he ends up getting angry for no reason. The guy’s a ticking time bomb.” The coffee beeped, indicating it was ready. She groaned. “I’m going to take a shower before that smell drifts this way.”

When she returned fully dressed, a young police officer was sitting at the table with John, drinking coffee and munching on some pastry rolls. Her stomach rebelled slightly at the site of it but calmed before any damage or sudden fleeing from the room was necessary. He rose, extending his hand in greeting. “Good morning. I’m Officer Martin.”

She shook his hand and took a seat next to John. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”

“Your husband was just telling me he has a suspect in mind.”

She smiled at the word husband but did not correct him. “It’s a possibility.”

“We were just about to take a look at the car, but I would like to ask you a couple of questions before we do.” She nodded. “Has this guy given you any problems in the past?”

“Him directly? No. I think he might be having me followed, though.”

“What makes you think that?”

“There’s this young man hanging around who makes my skin crawl. He’s a student at the University. The kids all call him Greasy Charlie. I’ve seen him here in the apartment building, at my ballet studio, downtown, on the campus—and I’ve heard he frequently visits with Chad.”

“Has anything else besides this car incident happened that you find odd?”

“No,” John said, shaking his head. “Well, except for the beach thing.”

“What about the beach?”

Katherine filled him in on Timmy’s disappearance at the beach. “It’s hard to prove he did anything maliciously,” Katherine said.

“Anything else?”

John shook his head. “Yes,” Katherine said.

John’s eyebrows rose. “You haven’t told me about anything.”

“I thought it was just me, and maybe it is, but things are missing around here.”

“What things?” the officer asked.

“Lipstick, a bracelet, some other odds and ends that I gave little thought to, and…” She hesitated for a moment, choking on emotion. “My mother’s garnet cross.”

“The one your father gave you on your sixteenth birthday?” John asked. She nodded. “I’m sorry. I know how much you love that cross.”

“I assumed I’d lost it…but now, I wonder.”

“We’ll get someone out here to dust for prints—if that’s all right?”

“It’s fine.” She rose. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. I have a client in an hour.” She turned and gave John a kiss. “You’ll be okay here?”

He nodded. “I’ve already called in. Sheila’s going to reschedule all my appointments.”

***

When she arrived at the office, Beth was singing.

“You’re in a happy mood.”

Beth smiled. “Timmy meets Jack today. Don’t forget, you said I could leave early.”

Katherine nodded. Her cell phone rang. She took it from her pocket, checked caller ID. “Lynette Jenkins,” she said. “Let’s hope she has good news.”

She wandered into her office as Beth called after her, “Clyde will be here in fifteen minutes.”

She entered the conference room fifteen minutes later wearing a smile on her face. “Hello, Clyde,”

“Wass up?” he said.

Katherine raised her eyebrows, looking past Clyde to his foster mother, who clearly desired to be anywhere but here, as judged by the eye roll and crossing of the arms over the chest. Regardless, she reached out a hand for a handshake. “Thank you for bringing him in,” she said. The woman looked at Katherine’s outstretched hand and then finally took it. Her hand was smooth as silk and neatly manicured. Katherine noted her immaculate appearance, albeit it was a little outlandish for a foster mother. The woman looked as if she belonged on a runway. Katherine placed Clyde’s file before her and opened it. She flipped immediately to the section where it asked how many children lived in the home. No biological children listed, but there were twelve foster children, none below the age of twelve. Katherine’s hackles went up. No wonder the woman could afford the clothes she wore. She flipped to the front page and read aloud, “Breaking and entering, defacing public property, underage drinking in a public park…”

“Framed, framed, and framed,” he replied, smirking.

“Stealing candy from a baby…” Katherine continued reading.

He laughed. “Now that deed I done.”

Katherine shut the file and leaned across the desk so that she was mere inches from his face. She turned her focus toward his foster mother. “Is he always this charming?”

“How the hell should I know?” she said. “He ain’t never home or nuthin.”

“These all seem fairly harmless practical jokes—well—except for stealing candy from the baby—that’s just plain mean.”

To her hopeful delight, he laughed. “You’s funny.”

Katherine sat back and regarded him. “How old are you, Clyde?” She knew the answer. It was right there in front of her in his file. She just wanted to see if he would answer her. She was testing him.

“Sixteen,” he said.

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

His foster mother stirred in her seat. He looked at her, hate in his eyes. “The bitch won’t let me,” he spat.

Charlotte opened her mouth to object, but Katherine silenced her with a wave of her hand. She looked around. “I don’t see any dogs in this room,” Katherine said.

“Huh?” Clyde asked with a puzzled look on his face.

“The definition of a bitch is a female dog. I don’t see any dogs in the room.”

He laughed again, nearly rolling over and grabbing his side. Even Charlotte grinned.

“You’s funny,” he said.

“Are,” Katherine corrected.

“Are what?” Clyde asked.

“The proper way to say that sentence is—you are funny.”

“Whatever.”

She regarded him. “What do you like to do for fun, Clyde?”

He shrugged. “Hang, I guess.”

“Hang what?”

“Huh?” he said again.

“You said you like to hang. What do you like to hang?”

He laughed again, nearly falling off his chair this time.

“Do you like to fish?” Katherine asked.

“Never been.”

“How about horseback riding?” She saw a gleam in his eye, but still he shook his head. “Archery?” He gave her another headshake. “How do you feel about God?”

“He don’t like me.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because…” he started to answer, then stopped.

“Because why?” Katherine asked.

Charlotte started to fidget in her seat. “I think we’re done here,” she said.

Katherine turned her glance toward her. “We’re not,” she said. She turned back to Clyde. “Why do you think God doesn’t like you?”

He grew angry. Katherine could see it in his hard eyes and flaring nostrils. He began to hyperventilate, moving to the edge of his chair, his fist pumped and ready for some action. Charlotte stood. “This is why I said we’re done.”

Clyde stood abruptly, sending his chair crashing to the floor. “You never let me talk,” he spewed at Charlotte. “It’s all about what you say, and never about how I feel.” He thumped his chest with his fist, inching toward her, backing her into a corner.

Katherine put out a hand to stop him. “How would you like to have your driver’s license within a year?”

He stopped, turning toward her, narrowing his eyes and tipping his head sideways. “How?”

“I know a couple. They are foster parents—”

“Hey!” Charlotte screamed. “You can’t take him away from me. I got rights to him, an agreement and all.”

Katherine ignored her. “They don’t have any children of their own, so they foster. They live on a ranch, so they will expect you to do your fair share of the work, but you’ll learn to contribute. You’ll go to school, do homework—just like all the other kids.”

“How many?”

Katherine shrugged. “I think they have six or seven now. It’s a big place. You’ll have your own room, no sharing with five other foster kids. But I’ll warn you,” this is where his attitude kicked in…the rolled eyes…the ‘I knew there was a catch’ stare, “they don’t take guff from anyone. He’s an ex-cop who got shot in the line of duty and now is on disability from the San Francisco Police Department.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “She’s a psychologist, so she’ll know when you’re bullshitting her.” She made one final point. “They do this because they want to and because they care. They’re not just in it for the paycheck.”

Katherine saw his eyes dart toward his foster mother, then back to her. She waited—giving him time to ponder the question while Charlotte fidgeted beside him. He had passed her test. She knew from his answers (body language, and distaste toward the lack of care his foster mother gave him) that he wanted to try. “What do you say, Clyde? Do you want to meet my friends?”

“Hell, no,” Charlotte spat as she came flying toward Katherine, manicured nails out like a cat’s claws.

The door opened just in time and Beth walked in with Juanita Rodriguez, Clyde’s social worker. She looked at Charlotte, then at Katherine, then at Clyde, who had his foster mother by the arm.

“See! Now do you see what he does to me?” Charlotte’s face contorted in rage. Her eyes bulged, nearly leaving their sockets.

Katherine turned and smiled. “Hello, Juanita.”

Juanita nodded at Katherine. “Sorry, I’m late, Katherine. It looks as if I’ve missed all the fun.”

“Clyde here was just protecting me.” Clyde’s mouth dropped open, and Katherine wondered—hadn’t anyone ever stood up for him before?

Clyde released Charlotte’s arm, sat down in the chair and, to all of their surprises, wept. All three women stared in wonder as the large shoulders shook in distress.

“Did he agree?” Juanita asked.

“He hasn’t given me an answer yet,” Katherine said. He looked up. “Well?” Katherine asked. “What’s it going to be, Clyde? Are you going to become one of the foster home statistics? Or are you going to take advantage of this spectacular, but limited time offer that Ms. Rodriguez and I spent so many hours putting together?”

Clyde shook his head, not believing what was happening. No one ever was on his side. He had been shifted from foster home to foster home since he was five-years-old. None of the foster parents had ever cared what he did. As long as he slept in his bed every night and passed school, they left him alone. The only exception had been the Thompsons, and that had ended when Mr. Thompson had a heart attack and died, and Mrs. Thompson moved to Florida, to live with her son and his family. “Nobody ever cares,” he said, and pain pierced through Katherine’s heart.

“We care,” Katherine said and laid a hand on his shoulder.

He timidly touched her hand, laid his head against her leg, and wept again. Katherine and Juanita exchanged pitiful glances. “I’ll take his answer as yes,” Juanita said.

“Oh, for crying-out-loud!” Charlotte shrieked and stormed out of the conference room.

Juanita smirked. “If you think she’s angry now, wait until she finds out we pulled her foster home license.”

“I don’t understand how people like her get licensed in the first place,” Katherine said.

“Foster homes aren’t exactly in abundant supply, and people like her know how to answer all the questions correctly. Quite frankly, it’s supply and demand—they have the supply, and we have the demand.” Juanita smiled at Clyde. “Well, Clyde, it looks as if today’s your lucky day. Let’s go.”

“Where?” he asked.

“I’ve set up a temporary spot in another foster home. Don’t worry,” she added at the panicked look on his face. “These are nice people. You’re throwing them over capacity by one, but we can overlook it for a day or two while I finish up the paperwork for your transfer.”

They walked to the door. Clyde turned to address Katherine. “I dunno know what to say.”

“Say thank you,” Juanita said.

“Thanks, man.” He nodded his head. “You’s okay for a lawyer.”

“Are,” Katherine again corrected.

Clyde grinned. “You are okay for a lawyer.”

Katherine waved as they walked out the door. She shouted to Clyde as they walked down the corridor, “Don’t let me see you in that courtroom again.”

He waved but said nothing.

Katherine leaned back against the desk, wishing with all her might they could all turn out that well. She knew better than that. She certainly was no fool, and she knew well enough she could not save them all.

Beth entered just as Katherine was closing Clyde’s file. “All went well?”

“For once. I wonder how kids get so messed up like that.” Katherine said.

Beth gave her a sarcastic stare, pointing a finger at her chest. “Look who you’re asking.” Katherine grinned apologetically.

“Anyway,” Beth continued, “I’m getting ready to go, but I wanted to see if you need anything before I leave.”

“Only to share the news with you.”

“Good news, I hope. I don’t need any more bad news.”

“Well, it’s a two-parter.” She held up her left hand, beaming.

Beth’s mouth fell open. She squealed with delight. “Oh, my God! When is the wedding? Oh—I can’t believe I didn’t notice this right away. It’s gorgeous.” Beth eyed it, turning Katherine’s hand sideways, admiring the gigantic stone. “That has to be a good three karats.”

Katherine giggled and snatched back her hand. “Slow down, Beth. We haven’t set a date yet.” She grinned. “But it will be before the baby arrives.”

Beth’s mouth dropped open again. “A baby, too! Boy, when you decide to do something, you go all out,” she teased. “How long have you known?”

“Since yesterday.”

Beth shook her head. “Not food poisoning then?”

Katherine grinned. “Which explains why I got sick and John didn’t.”

Beth held out her arms, leaning forward. Katherine stepped forward, leaning into the hug. “Congratulations, Katherine. I’m so happy for you. And how is John about this?”

“Very happy. I was nervous about telling him. I thought he didn’t want to be a father, but I can’t describe how happy he was.”

“You’re going to be a great mother.”

“I hope so. I’m so nervous about it. I don’t know a thing about being pregnant or taking care of an infant. What if I screw up?”

“You will. We all do at some point, but we learn from the mistakes.”

Katherine lowered her head. Despair enveloped her body like a stream of water. “I wish my mother were here.”

“It’s coming up again, isn’t it?”

Katherine nodded. “Two months. You’ll be at the reception?”

“You ask me the same question every year. I will be there for you—and in honor of your mother.”

“Dad’s getting the rose garden ready. I just hope the weather cooperates.”

Beth nodded. “It will. Remember the year it poured?”

“Yes.” They both laughed. “I told Daddy to get tents for the reception, but he insisted God wouldn’t let it rain on our day, and it did.”

“And you wanted to move the party inside, but your father insisted we remain in the garden—her favorite spot.”

“Well, this year, if rain is predicted, I will stand firm. I will not let the rain put a damper on Mother’s memorial again.” Katherine said.

Beth looked at her watch. “I have to go,” she said. “Congratulations, again.”

Beth hugged her again. When they stepped apart, Katherine raised her hand, showing her ring finger. “Will you be my maid of honor?”

Beth grinned. “Of course I will. You’d better set a date.”

“We will. It will be soon, before the memorial.”

“Just don’t make me wear something ugly, like a baby-shit-puke green.” Katherine laughed as Beth walked out the door.

Katherine finished gathering her things and headed out the conference room door, feeling as if nothing could bring her down, not knowing just how much anger burned inside Chad Simon.

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