When we pulled in Dominic’s driveway, I felt Allison’s hand on my shoulder. “Mommy? Where are we? Why aren’t we home?”
I unbuckled my seat belt and turned to look at her. “This is Mr. Dominic’s house, sweetie. We’re going to eat dinner here, and afterward you and I will sit down and talk. Okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed, still confused.
We ate a modest dinner of pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and green beans, although I mostly pushed the food around with my fork. When we were finished, Dominic stayed in the kitchen to clean up while I took Allison into the living room. I wasn’t at all sure how to approach this. In fact, I was terrified, and I hoped Allison could’t read it on my face as we sat next to each other on the sofa.
“What’s going on, Mom?”
Taking a deep breath to stoke my courage, I took her hands in mine and looked into her eyes. “It’s Daddy, baby. Something’s happened to him.” Tears welled in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.
Her innocent blue eyes, so like her father’s, took in the emotion on my face, and I watched the realization dawn deep within and give birth to a rising despair that bordered on panic. “What happened to Daddy? Is he okay?”
I squeezed her hands in mine and shook my head. “No, baby. He’s not okay. Daddy passed away today.” I couldn’t say died. That word was too harsh. Too raw. And I didn’t want to tell her he had been killed. That was far to profound for her precious little heart to handle.
She sat there staring at me for what seemed like hours. Her mouth opened and closed as the information clicked into place and her brain allowed her to accept what I had said. “Daddy’s dead?” Her voice broke on the question, and I folded her in my arms.
“Oh, baby. I’m so sorry.” We sat there on Dominic’s sofa wrapped in each other’s arms, and cried. We cried for a long time.
My phone rang, and I pulled an arm out to answer. “Hello?” My voice was rough from the tears.
“Mrs. Boothe, it’s Officer Brecky. I have your belongings. Can I bring them by?”
“Oh. Yes. You should talk to Dominic for directions. Hold on.” I helped Allison stand up, and we walked out to the kitchen together. I could see the sorrow in his eyes as he took in our disheveled appearance. “She needs directions,” I said, handing him the phone.
I turned around and guided Allison back to the other room. “Do you want to watch TV?” I asked as we sat back down.
“I guess so.” Her voice was soft as she snuggled against me.
We watched cartoons for a while, then switched to a Disney movie. I avoided the news channels for fear of seeing the image of our house, police lights flooding the peaceful street, plastered on the screen.
I heard the knock on the door and Dominic answering. He carried the duffel bags Officer Brecky brought into the room. She followed him.
“I’ll take these upstairs to the guest rooms.”
I lifted my head. “Put them in the same room, please. Allison and I can share a bed.” I squeezed her as I said it.
“All right,” he said with a slight nod before turning to walk up the steps.
Brecky sat in a chair by the sofa. She was good at reading people, so she could tell that Allison knew something of what was going on. “How are you doing?” she asked me.
“Hanging on,” I said, turning my attention to her. “This is my daughter, Allison.” I gave her another squeeze. “Allison, this is Officer Brecky. She’s working on Aunt Cassie’s case.” I said the last with a pointed look at Brecky. Allison doesn’t know, my eyes said, I don’t want her to know.
Her voice was soft when she spoke to Allison. “Hello, Allison. I know you must be having a really hard time right now. I’m very sorry for everything you’re going through. But, you have your mom, and she has you. That’s what’s important now.
“I want you to know that you can always call me if anything’s wrong.” She pulled out a card and handing it to Allison. “Keep this in your pocket. If you or your mom are in trouble, you call me. Okay?”
Allison took the card and looked at it. She tucked it in her pocket and snuggled closer to me. “Okay,” she said in a mousy voice.
“I found everything on your list, Ella. I hope you’re okay with the shirts I picked.”
“Anything is fine for now. Thank you so much. For everything.”
Dominic came back down the stairs and joined us, sitting in a chair opposite Brecky.
I kissed Allison on the top of her head and asked, “Are you okay staying with Mr. Dominic while I talk to Officer Brecky?”
She mm-hmm’d faintly. “I’m just going to go in the kitchen,” I told her.
I stood with reluctance at leaving her, but I had to know what the police had found. If they found anything.
In the kitchen, Brecky and I sat at the table. “Your house was pretty clean. We’re focusing on two scenarios right now. The first is that Cassie was forced, either physically or emotionally, to shoot Lynnette and Michael, and then shoot herself. The second is that a third party shot Lynnette and Michael, then forced Cassie to shoot herself.”
“How do you know Cassie was forced to shoot herself?” I asked.
“The gunpowder residue on her hands indicates that someone else was holding the gun hand when it was fired.”
I hung my head, shaking it back and forth very slowly while I digested this pit of information. “Cassie wouldn’t have shot Michael. We’re like family to her.”
“You’d be surprised at what people will do when pushed beyond their limits,” Brecky said.
I looked into her eyes. “If Cassie shot Michael, she would’ve shot herself without having to be forced. That’s just who she is. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself.”
Those emerald eyes flicked back and forth between mine, studying. “Okay,” she said finally. “That would mean someone else did it, then forced her to hold the gun while. . .” She trailed off, perhaps realizing that going into detail with me wasn’t a good idea. Nor was it necessary. I understood perfectly what it all meant. Cassie’s kidnapper took her to my house, killed my husband and his nurse, then forced Cassie to hold the gun while they pointed it at her head and pulled the trigger. Whoever was behind all this, or their hired muscle, was one sick bastard.
Brecky and I sat looking at each other in silence for a long moment. Then she heaved her shoulders in a deep sigh laid her hand on mine. “Call me if you think of anything that could help us. And call me if you need anything else. You’re comfortable here with Dominic?”
“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve known him a long time.”
“I know, but time has a way of changing people. You haven’t seen him for what, fifteen years or so? You don’t really know him anymore. He could be a totally different person now.”
“I know. And I’m counting on that. I’m a different person than the girl he knew way back when, and I hope he’s made similar changes to his life. But I trust him. Mostly. Right now I trust him to keep me and Allison safe. That’s all that matters.”
We pulled away from each other at the same time, sitting back in our chairs and looking at different things around the room.
Brecky stood first. “Well, you know how to reach me if you need to.”
I stood with her. “I do. Thank you for everything. You’ve been a huge help.”
We walked back to the living room to find Allison curled up on Dominic’s lap, sound asleep. Officer Brecky shook both our hands, and I walked her to the door.
“Good night, Officer Brecky. And thanks again,” I said as she stepped out the door.
“Good night, Mrs. Boothe.” She gave a slight bob of her head to acknowledge my thanks. Then she turned and walked to her cruiser.