Southern storm, p.20

Southern Storm, page 20

 

Southern Storm
 



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  Morgan had already asked that question. “She seems to be targeting single moms. Maybe it’s because there’s no dad in the room to stop them.”

  Karen couldn’t drink her tea. She looked weak and bent over, her face gaunt and unhealthy. She hadn’t eaten at all since the baby disappeared. Morgan had spent the night at the hospital with her last night, but neither of them had slept.

  “Honey, why don’t you go up and lie down? Jonathan took your suitcase up.”

  Karen nodded weakly. “I just want to be alone for a while. You’ll call me if anything happens?”

  “Of course.”

  She watched her go up the stairs, then turned back to Gus and Felicia, Mrs. Hern and Sadie.

  “What can we do, Miss Morgan?” Felicia asked her.

  “Pray,” Morgan said. “She’s a wreck, and who could blame her?” She sank into a chair, and dropped her face into her hands. “Who ever would have thought we’d have two people close to us missing like this? It’s just unbelievable.”

  And as Morgan started to cry, the tenants who were used to receiving Morgan’s comfort did their best to comfort her.

  CHAPTER 43

  Cade shivered with fever when Ann Clark came back to him. He’d heard voices from the vent for the last several hours—a man and a woman embroiled in an argument, and a baby’s incessant crying. Part of the time he thought he might be dreaming, but now as the sound of the scraping bookshelves pulled him from his sleep, he came fully awake and knew it was real.

  The door opened and Ann came in. She had food again—a burger and fries this time—and a Walgreen’s bag.

  She took one look at him. “You’re getting sick. I don’t want you to die of those wounds. I have other plans for your death.”

  He swallowed and sat up. His leg had swollen and was still bloody and black with bruises, and bone stuck through the skin.

  She pulled some bandage material and a bottle of alcohol out of the bag.

  “Do you have antibiotics?” he asked.

  “No,” she said. “This’ll have to do.”

  She pulled back the cloth that Cade had already ripped on his pants leg and cringed at the sight of his wound.

  She opened the rubbing alcohol and poured it over his leg, letting it run down onto the bloody sheets.

  He arched his back with the pain but lay as still as he could, knowing he needed it. She began to clean the dried, congealed blood, then wrapped a bandage around his leg. It was a haphazard job, but it was better than nothing.

  He heard the baby crying through the vent again. So did she, and she stopped wrapping and looked up. He saw surprise on her face, as if she hadn’t realized sound would carry down here.

  “How old is your baby?” he asked.

  She looked stunned. “What baby?”

  “The baby I keep hearing. I know it must be very painful to lose your husband when your baby is so young.”

  “That’s the television,” she said. “I don’t have any children.”

  She kept working, finished wrapping his calf, then moved to the wound on his side and peeled back the cloth.

  He could shove her back, try to escape again, but he knew for certain that the mystery person was still in the house, that he would shoot him again from the top of the stairs, that this time he would kill him without a thought. Besides, he couldn’t step on his leg, much less run.

  The alcohol stung, but he prayed that it would help the wound. He lay still as she taped the bandage to his bloody side.

  “I have to change your sheets,” she said. “Get up.”

  He moved with great effort, but managed to pull up and stand on his good leg. She pulled the sheets off his bed, then backed out of the room, her eyes on him, and grabbed a set of clean sheets she had left in the outer part of the basement.

  He felt dizzy, nauseated, as he leaned against the wall.

  The room smelled less rank now. He was grateful for that.

  When she was finished, she stepped back to the door.

  “Thank you,” he said.

  She didn’t meet his eyes. “Eat your dinner.”

  She left him alone then, locked in his vault, and he heard those bookshelves being pushed back in front of the door.

  He sat down, propped his leg back up on the mattress, and ate the first meal he’d had in days.

  CHAPTER 44

  The parlor at Hanover House had quickly been transformed into command central, from which FBI agents working on the kidnapping case had come and gone since yesterday. They prepared to record any ransom calls that might come in, and each time the phone rang, recording equipment launched and tracing began.

  It seemed to Morgan that the whole focus of their lives had shifted to the missing baby. She tried to go about her daily duties without getting in the agents’ way, but it was difficult to keep the house running smoothly.

  Caleb was on edge, fussy and nervous from the extra traffic in the house, so she tried to keep him upstairs with her as much as she could. She had finally rocked him to sleep and put him down for a nap, when she heard Karen sobbing from her room just down the hall.

  Her heart swelled and her throat tightened. She remembered that grief well.

  She thought of knocking on Karen’s door and trying to comfort her, but the woman had rebuffed her efforts earlier. Inconsolable, she’d told her she just needed to be alone.

  The sound of that unquenchable grief was too much to bear, so she went to the closed door of her parents’ room, and stepped inside.

  The room remained as they’d left it a few months ago, except that her parents’ smells had faded. But the quilt folded at the foot of their bed still spoke of love and warmth. She went to her father’s side of the bed and ran her hand across the comforter where the mattress dipped.

  What would her parents say about all this tragedy?

  Their own murder, Cade’s disappearance, and now this baby being snatched out of its mother’s arms.

  It was too much. She curled up on the bed and pulled the quilt up to cover her.

  Fresh tears began to seize her, and she let her grief climb to its peak inside her, then spill over onto her parents’ comforter.

  So many tears had been shed in this very place in the last few months.

  She wondered what her parents would say or do about this missing baby and the grieving woman in her room.

  She needed to talk to Blair. She needed to tell her about the baby. She needed to cry on her sister’s shoulder.

  Her parents’ phone still sat on the bed table. Still crying, she picked it up and dialed Blair’s number. It rang four times, then her voice mail kicked in. “Blair, call me. I have some more bad news. Karen’s baby was kidnapped. Please call!”

  Where was she? Hadn’t she heard about the missing baby on the news yet? Why hadn’t she called?

  Fear and worry welled up inside her as she hung up. Had she gone back to Savannah to watch Ann Clark’s house again? The danger in that, if Ann indeed had something to do with Cade, struck her.

  What if something happened to Blair next? What if the phone rang and it was more police with more bad news. . . .

  The idea of that sent her over the edge, and she wilted and sobbed into the quilt clutched in her hands.

  A light knock sounded on the door, and it opened. Jonathan stepped inside. “Honey, are you all right?”

  She nodded and pressed the quilt against her mouth. “She’s not home. I tried to call her. . . .”

  He came to her side. “Who’s not?”

  “Blair. Where is she?”

  “She’s okay. You don’t have to worry about her.”

  “I need to talk to her!” Her voice broke off at its highest pitch. He sat down and pulled her against him.

  She clutched his shoulder with one hand and his shirt with the other, and wept like an abandoned child against his chest. He held her quietly as she cried.

  “That little baby. That poor little baby. I watched him coming, Jonathan, his little wet h
ead and his scrunched up little shoulders. And he was all purple, and he let out this yell. And I got to hold him. . . .”

  “He’ll be okay. You’ll see.”

  “But what if he’s not? And what if Cade’s not? What if they both wind up like Mama and Pop? And where is Blair?”

  “Blair is fine. She’s a big girl. And we just have to trust that God knows where that baby is, and he knows where Cade is. They’re in his hands. We can’t do anything for them except pray, and that’s plenty. And we can support Karen and be there for her through this.”

  “She’s already had such a hard life. Why her? Why this baby?”

  “We’ll never know that.” He stroked her hair and lay down next to her.

  “It’s just one more reproach against Hanover House,” she said. “People will say that nothing good ever happens to the people here.”

  He stroked her arm. “I thought maybe I could deter that. I thought I might go to the city council meeting tonight. I was going to skip it this once because of the kidnapping, but I realized that I need to be there more than ever. They’ll talk about Cade for sure, and probably something will come up about the baby and Hanover House. I just want to be there. Would you be okay if I went?”

  “Sure, go ahead.” She pulled a tissue out of the box on her mother’s bed table. It was almost empty. She didn’t want it to run out.

  Dabbing at her nose, she said, “I’ll be okay in a minute. I just needed to have a little nervous breakdown. Nothing serious.” Getting up, she blew her nose. Jonathan stood and pulled her back into his arms.

  “We’ll get through all this too, Morgan,” he whispered. “We’re strong.”

  She knew it was true, though her fears seemed to have banished whatever strength she had left.

  CHAPTER 45

  Blair didn’t check her messages when she got home that morning. She’d been at Washington Square all night, sitting in her car and watching the lights in Ann Clark’s house. She had walked around the block to get closer to the house without trespassing, and had lingered on a park bench across the street.

  But she had seen nothing. It was as if the woman never came out. She hated to leave this morning, for fear that the woman did go out during the day. But she’d feared falling asleep in her car and calling attention to herself.

  She saw the message light blinking on her voice mail, but didn’t feel like listening to people calling to ask why the library wasn’t open. Instead, she clicked through her caller ID for the police department’s number.

  But Joe hadn’t called her, so he must not have any information about Cade.

  She went to her bedroom and shed her clothes, put on a big T-shirt, and climbed into her bed. Her body sank into the mattress, but her mind would not relax.

  How could she sleep when Cade was in trouble?

  She lay there with her eyes open, and saw her father’s Bible lying on her bed table.

  She had planned to do more research about the cities of refuge, but she had almost forgotten it as her search for Cade had occupied her mind.

  But it was her last link to him. That morning he’d disappeared, he had read of those cities. He’d been consumed with guilt over the man he had killed, and it was clear that he’d longed for a place where his guilt could be justified.

  Wearily, she gave up the idea of sleep and sat up. Grabbing the Bible, she turned back to Numbers 35. Her eyes scanned the passage again, and she paid careful attention to the distinctions God had made between murder and unintentional killing.

  Beside that passage, her father had written, “Matthew 5:21–22.”

  She turned to Matthew, and found those verses in red. Jesus had spoken them.

  You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.

  She sat back, staring at those words. This was why she couldn’t buy into her parents’ theology. How could Jesus assign equal punishment to murderers and those who called someone a fool?

  That didn’t even make sense. Was Jesus saying that if we were angry with someone, we were like killers? That we were all manslayers?

  If her anger and hatred toward those who got in her way made her a killer, then Blair would be on death row.

  Beside that verse, her father had written, “1 Peter 5:8.”

  She turned there, and found the verse.

  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

  She frowned and set the Bible down. Why had her father gone from the cities of refuge, to Jesus’s words about murder being a heart thing, to the devil waiting to devour?

  Her father had left the clues. It was her job to put them together.

  She thought of her own anger and hatred and bitterness, feelings that heaped blood-guilt upon her. It was a heavy burden. Who could honestly not hate? Who could not get angry?

  By Christ’s standards, everyone carried around a heavy load of bloodguilt. Satan was roaming around, trying to catch one of them outside the city walls, hoping to devour them.

  But if hatred and anger were the equivalent of killing, and if Satan was like the Avenger, then what was the City of Refuge?

  None of it really made much sense. Yet it had been important enough to her father to have it marked up in his Bible. And it had been vital to Cade, who’d been studying it that morning.

  Had Ann Clark become Cade’s Avenger? And if so, where could Cade run for refuge? Was there any hope for him?

  Frustrated, she closed the Bible and got back under her covers. She wouldn’t think of those mythical cities again. There weren’t answers there. Only more questions, and as hard as she tried to make all the dots connect, they were not going to lead her to Cade.

  CHAPTER 46

  The weekly City Council meeting was not usually well attended, unless there was a controversy of some sort brewing. Jonathan tried to make every meeting just to ensure that the Council didn’t pull anything underhanded. Just months ago they had tried to shut down Hanover House, until evidence surfaced that the mayor had ulterior motives.

  Though the members were duly elected by the people of Cape Refuge, Jonathan often wondered if any thought had gone into their placement or if voters simply marked the name of their cousin or neighbor or anyone whose name they recognized, just so they could say they’d voted. Character didn’t seem to play a role.

  The small city hall stood on Ocean Boulevard across from the beach. Jonathan pulled his car onto the gravel parking lot. The meeting was already in session, so Jonathan went in and slipped into one of the middle rows. The members droned on about whether to put a stop sign at River Road and Third Street.

  Jonathan tapped his foot nervously, wishing they’d move ahead.

  “Next on the agenda,” Art Russell said, “is the matter of the beach cams that Chief Cade has asked to have put up all over the beach.” He fanned himself with a paper fan with the face of one of the mayoral candidates on it, and looked around the room. “I see that Cade isn’t back from his honeymoon yet, so he isn’t here to argue his case.”

  Jonathan almost leaped out of his shoes. Had they heard about the letter? Did they really believe it?

  Doug Shepherd propped his chin like he might fall off to sleep. “If he don’t care enough to come to the meeting and tell us why he thinks we need these, Art, then I say we go ahead and vote on it.”

  Sarah Williford weighed in. “We can put it off till next time. Wouldn’t hurt anything.”

  “But the plain simple truth is that we don’t have the money in the budget for no security cameras on the beach,” Art said. “And I don’t see why we need them, anyway.”

  Jonathan could see where this was going. They would vote against it tonight, end
ing any discussion, and when Cade got back he’d find his proposal dead in the water.

  “Does anybody have any discussion on this?” Art asked.

  Jonathan got up. “I do, Art.”

  “Step to the microphone, please, Jonathan.”

  Jonathan knew the mike wasn’t necessary when there were no more than a dozen or so people in the room, the Council included. But he stepped up to it, nonetheless.

  “First, I’d like to say that I don’t know how you people found out about the letter that allegedly came from Cade, but I can tell you that not even the police are taking it seriously. Cade is not on his honeymoon.”

  “You’re entitled to your opinion,” Art said. “Now, if that’s all—”

  “No, it’s not all,” Jonathan cut in. “Most of you probably know about our tenant whose baby was kidnapped Sunday.”

  Sarah perked up. “Yes, Jonathan. Have they come any closer to finding it?”

  “No,” he said. “But one of the strongest pieces of evidence they have is the video of the woman leaving with the baby. There were cameras in the hall, the elevators, and at each door. If they find her, that video will help convict her.”

  Sarah looked fascinated, as though she’d just been given insider information on the juiciest piece of gossip in town. “Can they see her face in the video?”

  Jonathan didn’t see any point in feeding her morbid curiosity. “I can’t really talk about the case beyond that, Sarah. My point in bringing it up is that cameras on the beaches would be a big deterrent to crime and would help get convictions. They’d help police to enforce the laws already on the books.”

  “What laws?” Art asked.

  Jonathan cleared his throat. “Laws, for instance, about parties on the beaches at night.”

  “But it’s communism, Jonathan,” Morris Ambrose, the lone conservative, said. “We don’t need to put Big Brother cameras all over this island, infringing on people’s privacy.”

 
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