My mouth was dry. I had to wake up to get a drink, but I could’t seem to pull myself out of the deep hole I had fallen into. My mind grasped at the edges of consciousness, trying to pull the weight of my thoughts out of the hole.
Then the fumes invaded my senses. Ammonia. I gasped and woke up like a gun shot went off in the room. The broken stick of smelling salts was still being held under my nose, and I pulled away from it.
Looking around, I realized I was on the floor of the interrogation room. Dominic held me propped against him while Brecky stood to the side. A paramedic was kneeling next to me, the offensive smelling salts in his hand. He began to check my vitals and ask questions about how I was feeling. Once he was satisfied, he offered a paper cup filled with water.
After downing the water I turned to Brecky. “Allison,” I said, the panic rising again. “My daughter will be getting off the bus at four.”
She stooped down to my level. “We sent a car to her school. She will be kept there until you can pick her up. But, Ella, you won’t be able to stay in your home until the investigation is completed. A few days at least. We need to get you and your daughter the things you’ll need for a week’s stay in a hotel. Can you give me a list of items and the locations?”
Still dazed from the news and fainting, I gave her a weak nod. She and Dominic helped me to my feet so I could sit at the table and write a list. The problem was that I knew I had to leave, so I wasn’t sure how much to pack. I looked at Dominic for help.
“Three t-shirts and a sweatshirt, each,” he began. He took the pen and paper from me because my hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t write.
“I’ll leave you alone for this. Just open the door when you’re ready for me.” With that, Brecky stood and left the room.
Dominic relaxed a little. “Okay. T-shirts, sweatshirts, one pair of shorts and pants for each of you. Underwear is small, so you can take five each if you want. Three pairs of socks each.” He looked at what I was wearing. “You’ll need sneakers. Do you know what Allison is wearing?”
“She should be wearing sneakers. She wears them every day, and I think she has gym today.”
“All right. You’ll need your bathroom stuff like hair and tooth brushes. We’ll get travel toothpaste and use hotel shampoo. Are there any meds you need?”
I shook my head. “No, but Allison needs her Poochie. She can’t sleep with out her.”
He wrote Poochie on the pad. “Now, where is all this stuff inside your house?”
I gave him the location of every item, giving specifics for Allison’s clothing so she would at least be in clothes she liked while we were hiding out. Or running. We added things like cell phone chargers and Allison’s Nintendo DS, although the cell phones would probably get tossed along the way if we had to run. I told him where to find duffel bags for each of us as well.
“I’ll take you to get Allison. The cops’ll probably have you pick up your stuff here, but it may take a while. In the meantime, you and Allison should stay with me. I know my house is secure. I’ll feel better if you’re with me where I can protect you.”
Again, I nodded. I wasn’t sure about staying at his house, but I was too overwhelmed to argue with anything.
We opened the door and Officer Brecky came back in. Dominic gave her the legal pad with the supply list.
“Thanks,” she said to him. “Ella, we’ll get this stuff together as soon as possible. I’ll take care of it, myself. If I can’t find anything, I’ll call you on your cell.”
She turned back to Dominic. “I assume she’ll be with you?” she stated more than asked.
He nodded. “Yeah. I’ll take her to the school, then to my house.”
Concern crossed the woman’s face. “Do you think your house is safe? If this is Ritter, and he’s after you a hotel may be better. We can have a car stay outside your house if you want.”
“That would probably be a good idea. I do think my house is safe, though. I have a very good security system that includes surveillance, so I would feel safer with Ella and Allison there.”
Brecky conceded, although she didn’t seem too keen on the idea. She escorted us to the door of the station promising to call soon.
After a silent trip to Allison’s school, I climbed out of the Mustang and trudged up to the door. I rang the bell, gave my name, and was buzzed in. My heels clicked on the tiled floor, the sound echoing in the emptiness. Echoing through my soul.
Allison was sitting at a desk in the office reading a book. She stood when I entered, “Mom!” But I held up a hand for her to wait. She didn’t know about her father, but I had to inform the school that she would be out for the next week. At least the next week.
I leaned close to the secretary. “Can I talk to you in private, please?”
“Sure.” She walked around the desk and led me down a short hall to a conference room. I closed the door.
I could’t speak right away. It seemed that voicing the truth out loud solidified it and made it real. Until now, it was still just a horrific dream.
“Mrs. Boothe? Is something wrong? The police showed up here and asked us to hold Allison after school until you showed up. Do we need to know something?” I could never remember this woman’s name. Why? Her words were spoken gently, but they yanked on the tattered edges of my life.
I sat in a chair at the long table and cradled my head in my hands. My voice was quiet, but pained. “Allison’s father died.” There. Straight to the point. The quicker the needle went in, the less it hurt, right? Wrong.
I felt the woman plop in the chair next to me. Her hand fell like a feather on my back. “Oh, no. Mrs. Boothe, I’m so sorry. You take all the time you need. I’ll help Allison get her things.”
I sat up, startling her. I wouldn’t fall apart here. “No. I’ll help her. She’ll be out for at least the next week. If you can gather her school work, I can pick it up at some point. Right now, I just want to take her home.”
We stood at the same time and walked back to the main office. I thanked the secretary as I walked to Allison. “Hi, baby,” I said stooping down to hug her. “Let’s go home.”
My little girl had gone through enough tragedy in the past year or so to know when to ask questions. “Okay, mom,” she said, and kept quiet until we walked out the front door.
The sight of Dominic’s car broke her silence. “Wow, mom. Look at that car.”
Smiling down at her, I asked, “You like that car?”
“Yeah.” Her voice was awed.
“That’s our ride, baby. It’s a friend of mine’s car.” I opened the door and pushed the seat forward for Allison to climb in the back. As she buckled up, I slid in the front and turned around to look at her. “Allison, this is Mr. Dominic.” I gestured toward him before turning to him and saying, “Dominic, this is my daughter, Allison.”
He smiled his best smile. “Hello, Allison. It’s nice to meet you. Your mom tells me you’re very smart. Straight A’s. And first chair flute in the band, too.”
My modest little girl flushed at the praise. “Hi, Mr. Dominic. It’s nice to meet you, too. I like your car.”
“Thank you. Maybe I’ll teach you how to drive it when you’re old enough.” He smiled at her again, then turned to look at me. “You ready?”
Well that was a loaded question if I’d ever heard one, but I nodded. “We should pick up dinner,” I said.
Dominic shook his head. “I have food at home. I think it’s best if we just go there.”
“Okay.” I needed to ease the tension in the car, so I pulled my visor down and flipped open the mirror to reflect the back seat. “How was school, Allison?”
“Good. We started a new unit in science today. And I got my test back for the last unit,” she said with typical ten year-old boredom.
“What did you get on your test?” I asked, although I knew the answer.
“An A.” So matter-of-fact, because she knew I knew. She always got A’s.
“What was the percentage?”
“One-hundred and eight percent,” she said with a shrug.
“One-hundred and eight percent?” Dominic joined in with enthusiasm. “Is that all? What happened?”
Allison giggled. “Mr. Dominic, that’s a really good grade. Better than perfect. I got all the answers right, plus the extra-credit question.”
“Oh! Schew!” he replied, holding his hand to his chest in mock relief. “For a second there I thought it was like one was the best, ‘cause, you know, first place is number one. You had me scared there.”
Allison was all bubbles. “No, silly! That’s only for sports teams and things like that. One-hundred percent is the best grade you can get. Plus extra credit, of course.”
“Of course,” Dominic said seriously.
I could’t help but smile. The two of them hit it off right away with no awkwardness at all. That was good, considering we were going to be staying with Dominic for a while.