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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter sixteen, part three

“Dodo!”  Mona shrieked, throwing her arms around me.  “What happened?  Mom said you were in some sort of trouble.”

“You can’t keep out of it, can you, Dodo?”  Hank asked affectionately, ruffling my hair.

“Dodo, what are we going to do with you?”  Owen asked, sighing and rolling his eyes.  Michele, who was with them, said nothing but just stared at me.  Taking a deep breath, I went through the litany again, stopping every time one of them had a comment, which was often.

“You scared the hell out of us,” Rafe said quietly, squeezing my hand.  He was subdued instead of being his usual effervescent self.

“You still haven’t told me why you’re here,” I said, squeezing back.  “I’m glad you are, but how did you know?”

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter sixteen, part two

I wondered why she was so mad at me as we had been getting along so famously before I made my move.  Most likely she was starting to think that we were bonding or some ridiculous shit like that and took my escape as a rejection.  Which was ridiculous, really, considering that she was going to kill me.  Talk about the ultimate rejection.  Then again, I didn’t think she was wrapped too tightly right now as evidenced by the high-speed chase.  I had a feeling that the only thing on her mind was removing me from this earth, and it didn’t matter whom else she hurt while attempting to do so.  I had a hunch she wouldn’t even care if she died as long as she took me with her.  I pressed on the gas and sped up to ninety miles an hour.  I was thankful that I was in my mother’s car and not mine because mine would never had withstood the pressure.

“Where are the fucking cops when you need them?”  I screamed in frustration.  I would take any cops right about now, not just Bradley and Sands.  Hell, I would kiss whatever cop came to my rescue, but the problem was that I couldn’t stop.  If I did, Antoinette would shoot me for sure.  So how would I get the message across to my would-be saviors?  I pushed the thought away and concentrated on driving.  “Please get the fuck out of my way,” I pleaded with the other drivers.  Most of them moved willingly as I careened by them, but a few refused to budge.  I didn’t know if it was stubbornness or ignorance, but I had to get by.  Sometimes I would weave through cars, nicking one here and there.  “Sorry!”  I yelled at the top of my lungs as I passed them.  I was sure they were cursing me as they should, but I had to get by.  I only prayed that some of them were whipping out their cell phones and indignantly calling the cops.

A thought struck me.  What was I supposed to do once I reached home?  I couldn’t lead Antoinette back to my parents’ house, and I couldn’t shake her.  I glanced at the gas tank and saw that I had half a tank.  To my great relief, I heard sirens behind me.  Antoinette must have heard them, too, but she didn’t care.  By this time, we were going well over ninety miles an hour, and she was still on my tail.  Now I had a dilemma.  What to do?  I had to exit.  694 was coming up, but I had to slow down to exit.  If I did that, Antoinette would catch me for sure.  Not to mention I had to move over two lanes as I was in the left lane again.  Shit.  I had to risk it.

“I’m exiting 694 west,” I shouted.  I still heard noises from my phone, so I assumed the operator was still there.  “There are cops behind us, but I don’t know how they can help since this bitch is trying to run me off the road.  If you hear a big boom, then I’ve crashed.”  More squawking which I ignored.  I had more important things on my mind, damn it!

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter sixteen, part one

“You found it.”  I looked up, startled by the sound of a voice.  To my chagrin, Antoinette was standing in front of me with a gun in her hand.  She was about six feet away from me, but I had a feeling she wouldn’t miss.  She had an angry look in her eyes which was so unlike her usual vapid stare.  She also looked as if she hadn’t slept in days.  It made me wonder how much self-control it had taken her to get through the days while worrying about this hidden evidence at night.  I remembered the pepper spray my dad had bought me which was sitting at the bottom of my purse as we spoke.  I should have taken it as it would have come in handy, but too late for that now.  “You couldn’t just let it go, could you?  Fucking bitch.”  Antoinette kept the gun trained on me, and there wasn’t a tremor to her hand.  “Where did that asshole hide the shit?”

“In the filing cabinet,” I said numbly, my mind starting to shut down.  I fought off the sense of terror, desperately trying to remain cognizant.  It would do me no good to freak the hell out even though that’s what I felt like doing.

“Do you know how fucking gross it was to sleep with him?”  Antoinette demanded, her eyes hard.  “That tub of lard rubbing all over my body.”  She shivered in remembered disgust, but didn’t move the gun.

“Why did you date him?”  I asked, risking a question.  I got the sense that she wanted to talk, and I wasn’t about to stop her.  Hell, I’d encourage her to tell me her life story if it would keep me alive a few minutes longer.

“He said he’d promote me if I slept with him,” Antoinette replied.  “I needed the extra money.  It costs tons to go to school these days, even the U.”

“How did you meet Phillip?”  I asked, throwing caution to the wind.  I had a hunch that she would rather talk about Phillip than Eddie, and boy was I right.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter fifteen, part two

I decided to break into the park right now before it got dark out.  I knew it would be better to go after dark, but I didn’t have the nerve.  Besides, the security at the park was nonexistent, so I didn’t worry too much about being caught.  I went upstairs to change into black jeans and a black t-shirt.  I grabbed the thinnest pair of gloves I had for later.  I’d be hot, but I would suffer for my art.  Uh, I mean, the job.  When I was appropriately attired, I grabbed my wallet, my picklocks, my gloves, my cell phone and left.  In the car, I stuffed the wallet into the glove compartment and tucked the cell and picklocks into the pocket of my shirt.  The gloves I placed on the seat besides me.

On the way to the park, I thought about the case some more.  Little pieces were starting to come together, but I wasn’t getting the big picture.  I was pretty certain that I wasn’t the main target, but was I only thinking that because it’s what I wanted to believe?  It would take a load off my mind to know that no one was gunning for me, although the perpetrator might not stop trying if s/he was determined to use me as a scapegoat or a red herring.  Still, I would breathe a little easier if it turned out that no one was really trying to kill me and that most of the noise and thunder was just for show.

The traffic was light, and I made it to the park in record time.  I slipped on the gloves and locked the car door, leaving my purse inside.  I hesitated before entering the green room, but I finally punched in the code.  Jackpot!  I was in the green room.  As for Eddie’s office, well, I’d just have to use the picklocks and see what I came up with.  I wiggled to the best of my abilities, trying to replicate what my friend had shown me.  After five minutes of wiggling, I was going to give up when the door gave with a click.  Yes!  I raised my fist in victory before slipping inside Eddie’s office.  I turned on the light and started rifling through the mounds of paper on the desk.  Nothing of interest.  Next, the drawers.  Way in the back of the front drawer was the fake journal.  I wondered who had moved it to the desk and why that person hadn’t secreted it somewhere outside the park.  I set it down and continued looking.  There was nothing else of interest in the drawers.

Next, I opened his file cabinet and started flipping through his files.  Most of it was boring park business, and I was starting to lose my enthusiasm for the detecting business.  I had a bunch of questions I wanted answered—such as Phillip’s wealth; Antoinette’s information that the park was in the red; both Antoinette and Phillip saying that Eddie had been a gambler and was heavily in debt; the various crim sex assaults floating around the park.  I was desperate to find answers to these questions as well as others, but Eddie’s office wasn’t cooperating.  In frustration, I pounded the file cabinet with my fist.  An manila envelope fell from the top of the filing cabinet—on the inside—looking oh-so-innocuous.  Yes, I thought to myself.  Finally.  I knew that I should just take it and get the hell out of there, but I had to see what was in it.  What if it had nothing to do with the murders, and I left the place with nada?  I sat down at Eddie’s desk and made myself comfortable.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter fifteen, part one

“How was your day?”  My mother asked when I walked into the house.  One look at my face, though, told her all she needed to know.

“How’s Dad?”  I asked instead of answering her.  I had thought about my father all day, and I wanted to make sure he was ok.

“I’m fine,” Dad said as he emerged from the living room into the hallway.  “You should see the fix-up job they did on our window.”

“I saw it from outside,” I replied, hanging up my coat.  “Shouldn’t you be resting?”

“That’s what I’ve been doing all day,” Dad grumbled, pushing fretfully at his sling.  I could sympathize after so recently being in one of my own.  I was about to say something when my cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Chen?  It’s Detective Bradley.  Ms. Drake still won’t talk.  We’ve been interrogating her on and off for most of the morning, but she hasn’t said a thing.”

“Her lawyer allowed you to do that?”  I asked in surprise.  From what I’ve seen on Law & Order, the lawyer wouldn’t allow the cops to ask much of anything.

“She didn’t lawyer up after all,” Detective Bradley said, sighing deeply.  “We started on her early in the morning, but she won’t say a word.  I just wanted to let you know.”  He hesitated before adding, “I shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m pretty sure she’s the one.  When they won’t talk, it’s because they have something to hide.  Most cons are eager to tell everyone how innocent they are and how they were set up.  Her not saying a word is pretty damning.”

“She did get caught red-handed,” I pointed out.  “There wasn’t much she could do about that.”

“Well, we’re pretty certain that we have our killer.  I’ll call you as soon as we get her to confess.”  I didn’t like the way he phrased that, but I couldn’t help but be grateful for his persistence.  Idly, I wondered what it was that changed his mind about me, but I didn’t much care as long as it worked to my advantage.

“What did they have to say?”  My dad said, his face looking drawn.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter fourteen, part two

I dismissed the thoughts as I pulled on my head.  I was ninety percent certain that Shannon was the culprit which meant I could relax.  No one would be trying to off me today.  I could walk freely among the children and not worry about anything more than getting food on my outfit.  The darlings tended to have their hands full when they wanted to hug me and would through their arms around me ad nauseam without thinking to pass along their booty to their beaming parents first.  Consequently, at the end of the day, I became a walking billboard for the park’s menu.  I usually ended up smelling like I’d been dipped in a vat of hot oil, and it wasn’t pleasant.  However, I was so ecstatic not to be the target of someone’s venom, I didn’t mind the thought of all those spoiled children ruining my day.  Much.

I got up and reluctantly left the sanctuary of the green room.  Hundreds of screaming brats greeted my ears.  Even though they were muffled by the giant head I was wearing, I could still hear more than I wanted.  I would like to wear earplugs as I worked, but I couldn’t risk missing a request from one of the kids while I was off in my own world.  I had tried it once when I first started working, and Eddie had caught me at it.  He reamed me out but good and threatened to fire me if I ever did it again.  At that time, I valued my job too much to do anything that smacked of insurrection.  Now, however, I couldn’t care less; I’d have to think about bringing my earplugs tomorrow.

“Mommy!  It’s Maisie.  She’s back!”  A towheaded boy with his front teeth missing raced towards me, cotton candy in one hand, a hot dog in the other.  He flung his arms around me, nearly knocking me backwards.  He was pretty strong for a small fry, and I had to dig in my heels so I wouldn’t fall over.  “I missed you, Maisie!  Do you remember me?  It’s Ryan Wheeler.  I came here five times last year.”  He let go of his death grip but kept his hands on me.

“Ryan Wheeler,” I said in my high, rodent-like voice.  “Of course I remember you.  How could I forget?”  The little tyke was smearing blue raspberry cotton candy down the front of my costume with one hand while patting me on the back with the other—most likely spreading mustard while he was at it.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter fourteen, part one

“Welcome back, Bea.  Long time, no see.”  Antoinette greeted me with a smirk on her face, her usual expression.  She fluttered her hand at me so I would notice the rock sitting on her finger.  It was a large garnet and looked like it’d be a bitch to wear.

“Nice ring,” I said offhandedly.

“Oh, this?”  Antoinette touched it, a pleased smile on her face.  “It was a little gift from me to me.  I’ve been so sad, you know, what with the deaths and all.  I thought it would cheer me up.  The garnet is my birthstone.  That’s January, you know.  Anyway….”  She flicked her hair back to show off the matching earrings.  Where the hell did she get that kind of money?  As far as I knew, she’s not a debutante or the inheritor of a trust fund.  I knew there was no way she could afford a ring like that on a salary like ours—unless Eddie was giving her one hell of a perk.

“Where’d you get the money?”  I asked, not able to think of a way to put it delicately.

“Ooooh, Phillip was nice enough to loan it to me.  Eddie left me a little something in his will, which should be probated in the upcoming weeks.  Isn’t Phillip just the sweetest man?”  She fluttered her fingers at me again, looking like the proverbial cat with the canary.  She hadn’t even asked how I was.  Bitch.  “By the way, Phillip would like to see you in his office ASAP.”  It figured that she would wait before giving me the message.  I sighed and got up to see Phillip.  Anything to prolong putting on that damned head.  I noticed that Maisie was back and ready for action, so I assumed that I would be returning to my old identity.

“Antoinette said you wanted to see me?”  I said, poking my head into the office.

“Bea!  Come in!  Sit down!”  Phillip jumped up from his chair and ushered me into the office.  As it was about the size of my bedroom, there wasn’t much room for ushering.  He gently deposited me into the chair across from his desk as if I were eight months pregnant before scurrying back to his side.  I didn’t know him very well, but it seemed to me that he was uneasy about something.  Before he sat down, I noticed that the zipper on his fly wasn’t quite zipped.  I wondered if I should point it out or just wait until he went to the bathroom and discovered it for himself.  I decided on the latter as I had a hunch that it would embarrass him terribly if I were to call attention to it.

“How are you?”  Phillip asked, his eyes blinking rapidly.  Even though he was as good-looking as ever, there was something vaguely ferret-like about him.  It diminished his appeal greatly.  “I mean, how are you really doing?  How’s the shoulder?”

“Fine,” I said briefly, not wanting to talk about my injury.  It was much better and didn’t hurt nearly as much, but I still had to take at least one pain pill a day to survive.

“Are you sure you didn’t catch sight of who did this to you?”  Phillip asked, leaning forward.  He tapped his pen on the desk, drawing attention to the journal sitting the top of the desk, half hidden.  He was unaware of what he was doing as he focused on my face.  I glanced at the papers and glimpsed something that puzzled me.  I didn’t read well upside down, but it looked somewhat familiar.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter thirteen, part four

“My mother tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists three months after we buried Rachel.  She waited until after I visited her so she could see me one last time.  Fortunately, she cut them the wrong way—many people do, you know—and a neighbor dropped in to see how she was doing.  The neighbor had a key and let herself in.  When she found Mom, she rushed her to the hospital.  They were able to save her, but just barely.  That’s it for Ferguson history 101.”  Rafe picked up his burger again and started eating.  I had no idea what to say after such a revelation, so I didn’t say anything.  On the one hand, I was sorry I had asked, but on the other, it was time.  If we were going to be serious, then I had to know more about him.  I was only sorry that his past was so unhappy.  I thought of a question to ask, but I wasn’t sure if I should push it.  Me being me, I did.

“How’s your mother now?”  Rafe kept eating, and for a minute, I was sure he wasn’t going to respond.

“She pulled herself together,” he said after a pause so long, I was afraid I’d have to repeat the question.  “After years of beating herself up and periodically trying to kill herself, she decided to live.  For me.”  He smiled a smile devoid of real warmth.  “She kicked my father way to the curve and refused to see him again.  She works as a waitress in New Jersey; she gets by.”

“What about you?”  I blurted out, my tongue running away with me.  It’s just that after six months of hearing nothing of his past, I wanted to know everything I could.  “Do you ever see your father?”

“No,” Rafe said, his eyes flashing.  “If that asshole ever tried to approach me, I’d fucking kill him myself.”  He forced himself to calm down before continuing.  “He wouldn’t try to contact me, anyway.  He never had much interest in being a father.”

I wisely shut up because I knew the laws of diminishing returns.  The more I hounded him, the less he would tell and the more he would resent me for asking.  I had learned more about his past in the last ten minutes than I had in the entire time we’d been dating.  I absentmindedly bit into my now almost inedible cheeseburger.  Something Rafe had said had struck a nerve.  Not personally, but in relation to the case.  I frowned and replayed the conversation, but I couldn’t remember what it was.  Rafe and I finished our food in silence before returning to the waiting room.  My mother was in the same position she’d been in when we left.  Mona and Michele were gone.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter fourteen, part three

“How is he?”  Mona asked my mother once we found her.  Mona had a lead foot and we beat the others by at least five minutes.

“I told you to stay home,” my mother said wearily, slumped over in her chair.  She suddenly looked older than her age as she stared at the floor.  Since it was the usual beige carpeting, I knew it wasn’t the fascinating design which held her attention.  “The boys are coming, too, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are,” Mona said, her tone aggressive.  “How’s Ba?”

“Still in surgery,” Mom said, her own tone wan.  “I haven’t talked to a doctor since I last called you.”

“How is he?”  Hank shouted as he ran down the hall.  The others were far behind him as he skidded to a halt.  Mom went through the explanation again, and we all sat down to wait.  Rafe sat besides my mother and was whispering something in her ear.  I was too proud to try to eavesdrop, but I was dying to know what he was saying.  I vowed I’d corner my mother later and ask her.  I had a hunch it had to do with something from Rafe’s past that he wouldn’t talk about, and it irked me that he’d tell my mother something he wouldn’t tell me.  Whatever it was, it seemed to make my mother feel marginally better, so I was thankful.

It seemed like hours since we arrive at the hospital, and it may have been so.  Time had slowed down to a crawl.  Every time I looked at the clock, it was only minutes after the last time I checked, and yet, half an hour chunk of time managed to get swallowed up before I could blink.  I watched as desolate people shuffled by.  Some had that dumb look of agony in their eyes which could only signify death.  Some were bleeding profusely as they waited to be served.  One man had a dazed look of joy which I took to mean that his wife had just delivered.  Mostly, though, there was every shade of pain known to humankind.  It’s ironic that while hospitals were necessary and even helpful, most people were deathly afraid of them.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t particularly care for them, either.

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Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter fourteen, part two

Amidst her ranting and raving, the sound of sirens were heard.  I couldn’t tell if they were coming from the phone or directly from outside, but it really didn’t matter.  The cops were here which meant they’d put a stop to the insanity.  Through my phone, I heard the voice of Detective Bradley shouting for Shannon to put down her weapon.  Shannon screamed, but did not indicate whether or not she was going to comply.  Her phone cut off, so hopefully the detectives had winged the bitch.  I poked my head around the corner into the living room and was relieved when no shots flew by—or at my head.  After ascertaining that she wasn’t shooting any longer, I glanced down and saw my father on the floor, slumped against the couch, holding his arm.  Blood was flowing freely, and his face was white.

“Shit,” I cursed, flying to his side, trying to stay low as I did.  I hung up my cell and called 911, ordering them to send an ambulance.  “Dad, hang on,” I said, after explaining the crisis to the operator.  I was still on the line, but I wanted to reassure my father that help was on the way.

“Someone shot me,” Dad said, his eyes dulled with shock.  “Trish, someone shot me.”  There was knocking at the door, but I ignored it.  Someone else would have to answer as I was not leaving my father.

“Oh my God!  Bob!”  My mother cried from the entryway of the living room.  Heedless of possible danger to herself, she ran to my father.  “You’re hurt.  I shouldn’t have left without you.  What was I thinking?”  She started crying as she stared at the blood running down Dad’s arm.  “I have to get you help.”  She jumped to her feet, but I stopped her.

“I called 911, Mom,” I said, indicating the phone.  “Did someone get the door?  I think it was the cops.”

“Ramona did,” Mom said distractedly, checking Dad over.  By now, the others were filtering back into the room, expressing their dismay at my father being shot.  The guys looked ashamed that they had run without ensuring his safety.  Beth and Sidney looked as if they didn’t quite know what hit them, while Michele was missing from the happy crowd.  She must be with Mona and the cops.  Speaking of which, they entered the living room.  Detective Bradley looked tired but triumphant.

“We got her,” he said, nodding at us.  “You’re lucky we were close by.  We’re going to need to take your statements.”

“Later,” my mother said firmly.  “My husband is hurt.”

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