“It’s good to be home!” It’s the Friday after the attack, and I’m back home. The doctors wanted to keep me a few more days, but I insisted. By some miracle, nothing is broken but my pride. My face is a cornucopia of bruises and welts; I can’t see out of my left eye because it’s so swollen; my stomach has a fist-sized bruise; I ache all over. Other than that, I’m fit as a fiddle.
“You sit down,” my mom says, bustling to the kitchen. She hasn’t left my side since the attack, and neither has Paris or Lyle. When we are all comfortably ensconced in the living room with tea and brownies, the three of them look at me expectantly. The inspector had visited me in the hospital today and filled me in on the details she gleaned from Carol. Seems Carol is proud of her crimes and couldn’t wait to spill the beans.
“I figured it out too late, of course,” I begin, biting into a dense brownie. I close my eyes to savor the nutty goodness. My teeth hurt, but it’s a price I’ll willingly pay for something this good. “When she had a gun pr—” I stop myself in time. I haven’t given too many details about the actually attack because there is no reason for them to have nightmares, too. “When we were locked in her office together.” I give them a brief rundown of what I had deduced.
“What about Ashley?” My mother asks soberly. “Why kill her?”
“There’s a few reasons,” I say slowly, feeling a twinge of guilt. How easy it had been to forget about Ashley and her death, especially after Carol tried to turn the attention to Rosie’s death. “One, Ashley found out about Carol’s affair with her father.”
“What?” The three of them chorus, clearly surprised.
“Carol had a brief fling with Mr. Stevenson. Ashley found out. Mr. Stevenson was having affairs with many women, and Rosie found out about the one he got pregnant. Two different women.” My thoughts are scattered, but I try to order them.
“How did they meet?” Lyle ask curiously.
“At a bar,” I shrug. “That in and of itself isn’t a big deal. Embarrassing, but certainly not illegal. However, Carol had her little fling with Mr. Stevenson while Mrs. Stevenson was dying. That’s what pissed Ashley off. She liked Carol. She trusted Carol. Carol betrayed her.”
“That’s why Carol killed that girl?” Mom asks incredulously. “Because of a little adultery?”
“No, not nearly,” I sigh. “Carol has a diploma from Boston College on her wall. Rosie did a little research and found out Carol never graduated from Boston College. She never graduated from any of the programs. She faked the papers.”
“That’s awfully risky,” Paris objects. “Anyone could have unearthed the deception.”
“It’s quite low-risk,” I say. “Who looks closely at diplomas, especially when they’re high up on the wall? Anyway, Ashley was getting suspicious about Carol. For what reason, I don’t know, but Ashley did a little internet research and found out the same thing Rosie knew—that Carol isn’t an actual therapist. Ashley, remember, is still mad about the adultery and in no need of money.”
“I can’t believe you went into Carol’s office with her,” Paris interrupts, his brow wrinkling. “What were you thinking?”
“Her initials weren’t in the book,” I retort. “I thought I was safe. Besides, the cops were right outside.” Except they weren’t. They thought the group started at seven-thirty and had arrived late.
“Why did Rosie use Carol’s nonprofessional name?” Mom asks, stirring her tea carefully. She reaches over and squeezes my arm, something she’s been doing compulsively the last few days.
“Carol begged her to, for protection in case the notebook was found. I don’t see how that would protect her, but Rosie didn’t see any reason not to oblige.” Rosie’s small kindness almost cost me my life. “She was bilking Carol for two thou a month. She could afford to be generous.”
“Back to Ashley?” Lyle suggests, shooting looks at Paris. “We shouldn’t tire her out.”
“Ashley confronted Carol, told her she was going to tell the board about Carol. Carol talked to her, tried to get her to change her mind. She wouldn’t, so she had to go.” I recall the look of distaste on Inspector Robinson’s face as she relayed what Carol had said concerning the death of Ashley. I can well imagine what Carol probably said about it and in what tone.
“What I really want to know,” my mother butts in; “is about that poor child, Mariah.” Until now, the tone has been light, almost jocular. Now, it turns serious.
“Are you sure you want to know?” I ask softly. When Inspector Robinson told me about this part of the story, I almost threw up.
“Yes,” Mom replies, albeit warily. “Child fixation because she didn’t have any?”
“Mariah knew something,” Paris guesses.
“Carol thought Mariah knew something,” Lyle contributes. I don’t want to tell them the real reason, but I also can’t keep it to myself.
“It was a diversion,” I say, my tone almost inaudible. Of all the things that Carol did, this is the one I have the hardest time forgiving.
“Diversion?” My mother sounds puzzled, as well she should.
“She wanted it to appear that Rosie was the primary victim and that the therapy group had nothing to do with the murders, so she killed Mariah. It worked.” The reaction is instant. They are as appalled as I was to hear the ‘reason’ for killing a child.
“The bitch,” Paris growls, his face contorted in rage. I can only surmise that he’s thinking about his dead sister. “Dying is too good for her.”
“She killed that child for no reason?” My mother asks, her voice rising. “What kind of evil woman?” Mom has tears in her eyes which she doesn’t bother to hide.
“What about Astarte?” Lyle asks, wanting loose ends tied up.
“Turns out it was some of her drugs that her husband used to kill himself. Illegal drugs. She was afraid if people knew, they would shun her. She had nothing to do with the killings.” I blush to remember how I had frightened her at the meeting. I vow to make it up to her.
I tell them about the safety deposit box which Inspector Robinson was able to track down once I clued her in about it. Amazing how quickly the cops can find out about those sort of things once they have solid evidence to trace. Rosie had kept the things she stole from her employers in the box since she had no place to stow them after breaking up with Derek. Jewelry, mostly, with scraps of papers that she deemed noteworthy. There are going to be many unhappy people at the conclusion of this case as most of the people Rosie blackmailed had been involved in some kind of criminal activity, but that isn’t my concern.
I don’t tell my audience what Inspector Robinson said when I was forced to reveal how much I had kept from her. It didn’t do any good to point out that Leticia wouldn’t have told them, anyway, because as the inspector so rightly rebutted, it was my duty to have come to the police with the information. I do tell that Leticia is the sole inheritor of Rosie’s ill-gotten gains and that she’s decided to donate all the money to charity. She can’t stomach the idea of accepting money that her sister had acquired through nefarious means. Oh, there was a $50,000 bequest to Derek, who happily accepted it without a qualm. The good news is that his girlfriend left him, which he so richly deserves. I will be avoiding him at work as much as possible, a decision my friends and family agree is a good one.
“What’s going to happen to Carol?” Lyle asks curiously.
“Who knows?” I say cynically. I don’t have much faith in the system. “She’ll probably get a book deal out of this, though,” I add. “Speaking of books, the reason she was on television so much during the murders was in part to hype up her book.” Exhausted, I lie down on the couch and close my eyes.
“You should go to bed, love,” Mom says, gently shaking me. She withdraws her hand as if afraid of breaking me. I restrain a sigh. It’s happening again. Treating me as if I’m made of china. I struggle to my feet and make a detour to the bathroom to take a shower. I strip off my clothes and take a good look in the mirror. My left eye is black and purple and closed shut. My right jaw is puffy with a Technicolor bruise of its own. Various bruises and welts dot my body. I turn away and hop in the shower, letting the hot water soothe my muscles and my mind. Images of Carol pop to the forefront, but I shove them to the background. After a leisurely shower, I step out and wrap a towel around myself. There’s a knock on the door.
“Rayne? Phone. It’s Vashti.” I can tell by Paris’s voice that he’s still mad at her, but I remember what happened during the time I was held hostage. I open the door and accept the phone. It’s time to move on, to choose life over death.
“Hi, Vashti, it’s good to hear your voice,” I say with a smile, closing the door firmly behind me.