Finally finished with Chapter 6, and with the help of James, that has been edited as well…
At some point in the next week, there will be a new choice at the top of the page marked Storm Clouds which will contain the first six chapters, and eventually as I finish six chapters at a time and add it there…
Storm Clouds XXIV
“How did she die?”
The question hung in the air over the people surrounding the cold steel table upon which a body rested, covered in a white blanket. The medical examiner pushed his thick glasses up his nose with a latex-gloved finger before replying in a disinterested voice, “Looks like a mugging. Stabbed in the back eight times, then whatever she had on her was taken. She was found beside a car in the Summer Hill Mall parking lot.”
The man who had asked the question rubbed the day’s worth of stubble on his chin, “Eight times? Sounds like something more than a mugging Doc. No mugger than I know of would spend the time to stab his or her victim that many times. Too easy to be seen or get caught.”
Doc looked back at him before shrugging, “You want facts Tom. That’s all we have here. Nothing else to say about her. Eight wounds with a knife or similar object. No sign of other harm to her. Before you ask, no signs that she was raped either.” He turned away from the table and stripped off his gloves, “Just the usual senseless crime in the big city.”
After Doc left the room, Tom stared at the body for a while. It didn’t make sense. Why her? She was nobody. Nothing special. She probably had a family, and he would have to see them next.
That was the part he hated most of all; having to walk up the lawn or path or whatever, knocking on the door, the person opening it for a moment with hope in their eyes that their loved one would be there waiting. But instead they would see a middle-aged brown-haired, brown-eyed man in a rumpled suit flash a badge, ask to come in and then, a little while later, leave the home with wrecked lives in his wake.
He sighed and grabbed the clipboard that held her ID… and came to an abrupt halt in his thoughts.
There was nothing there: no name, no address, no other ID. Nothing.
He was mulling over the procedures for filing a Jane Doe report when a woman’s voice broke into the room from behind him: “We’ll look after her from here, thank you.”
Turning to look over his shoulder from his right he answered, “She’s a Jane Doe. My file. You have…”
He found himself looking at a woman about his height. She had short blonde hair in a bob cut, blue eyes, slim build. Cute in her own way, he supposed. She was holding a folded piece of paper in her hand: “…paperwork. I’m here to claim my Sister.” She handed him the paper as two burly men in dark suits entered the room behind her.
Tom didn’t bother to open the paper. There really was no point. They would not have managed to get into the room without having the paperwork to do so, nor would they be able to leave with the body if they didn’t. He watched her go over to the table, lift the top of the sheet from the body, then with a nod say to the men, “It’s her.”
They wasted little time after that. Within moments they had moved around both himself and the blonde before taking hold of the table and rolling it out the door.
As she turned to follow the men pushing the table from the room, Tom called after her, “I’m… sorry for your family’s loss.”
She hesitated in mid-step before replying without looking at him, “Are you really? Or are you just parroting the words that your regulations say you should say, officer?”
Tom found himself unable to bring himself to say that it wasn’t just words, that he hated his job, that he hated not being able to find the ones who did these things and bring them to justice. Instead, he replied, “Not all words are lies, Ma’am.”
Her answer gave him pause, “No. No they are not. But neither are they all truths, either.”
He watched her open the small blue purse she held. For a moment, she seemed to be considering her next actions carefully, as if she was about to reveal something that she was not sure she had the right to. A small white card appeared in her hand a moment later. She looked at it before placing it on the countertop to her right, “If you want to attend her services, they’ll be at that address. Tomorrow. Nine in the morning.”
With that she pushed through the door, leaving Tom in the room alone with his thoughts, the buzz of the lights, and the card on the table…
And the question in his mind of whether or not he would or wouldn’t…
Tom picked up the card and stuffed it into his inside pocket of his jacket without looking at it. That decision could wait for the moment. Pushing through the door that led out of the room, he turned down the hallway and entered Doc’s office.
Doc’s office was not what you would expect from a medical practitioner. Every other doctor you would ever meet had their diplomas on one of the walls, books neatly placed on bookcases, files waiting on the desk, all of the stereotypical things you would expect. Doc was not the norm. Doc’s office consisted of a wall of filing cabinets on one side, his mass-purchased steel desk opposite to that, and, on the wall to the right, a single photograph in a frame.
That photo was of a young Doc with his arm around a cute redhead with blue eyes. They looked happy together. Tom always wondered about that picture and what happened to make Doc the old crusty pain in the ass that he was today.
Doc was sitting behind the desk, a bottle of some cheap dime store beer to his right, his concentration on a file in front of him as he wrote something there in the chicken scratch that was common to doctors around the world.
Tom took the chair on the other side of the desk and said, “It’s early for having a beer Doc.”
As he put his pen down and reached for the bottle, the answer was, “Nightshift rules, Tom. Whatever helps you make it through the shift.”
Tom frowned but didn’t push Doc on this. Doc was one of the few people who still tolerated him. Not quite a friend, mind you, but at least Doc would listen. He said in return, “Our Jane Doe was claimed. She was rolled out of here a few minutes ago.”
Doc just about choked on his beer, “Claimed? I wasn’t told? Who released her?”
Tom blinked, “Err… I did. She had paperwork and…”
With a slam of the bottle on his desk Doc growled, “Gimme the paperwork, Tom.”
It took a moment for him to draw it from his suit before handing it over, still folded up. Doc opened the paper and then shot him a look, “Did you look at this Tom?”
A shake of his head was the answer…
Doc tossed the paper at him as he reached for the phone on the desk, “Nice paper. No work.”
Tom blanched as he looked to see that the paper was… empty. Blank. Nothing.
Just like Jane Doe herself.
It took a short time, but it became clear that whoever had claimed the body had gotten out of the building unopposed and unseen. Even more frustrating was that parts of the surveillance cameras in the building would randomly turn off and then back on again leaving gaps in their coverage.
Doc pointed a finger at Tom, “You have any ideas?”
Tom didn’t hesitate, “Nothing. Didn’t give me a name or anything. I figured that a woman and her muscle wouldn’t get down here without clearance, so I didn’t think to challenge her.”
With a grunt, Doc turned back to the phone, dismissing Tom… which was fine with him.
He stood up and walked from the office heading towards the elevators. After pressing the button for the main floor, Tom fished out the card the blonde had left on the counter. He almost expected it to be as blank as the sheet of paper she had given him. Why didn’t he look at it? He should have. At the least he should have asked for her name or Jane Doe’s name. Something.
Finally the card was in his fingers and he considered the address printed there in a cold formal font…
S. Realm Enterprises, 69 69th Street. We make dreams.
The bell sounded as the elevator doors opened.
Tom had an appointment to keep in a few short hours, and some answers to get from that woman over this…
Tom didn’t go directly to the address on the card. No, that wouldn’t be proper if there was a funeral there–especially not at four in the morning. First he went back to the small unremarkable apartment that he called home. He had lived in the place for just over 12 years now.
Exiting the subway he crossed into the first rays of the sun pushing their way into the concrete jungle that was his city. A sort walk with the warmth of the sun on his back brought him to his small apartment. It was a simple basement apartment that he could slip in and out of at all hours and not bother the people that he knew were his neighbors but whom he had, in all truth, failed to get to know.
Moving down the twelve steps from the street to his door he fished out his keys and then rammed one of them into the lock. For a moment he dwelled on the past and why the place meant as much to him as it did.
That could be summed up with one word.
With a grunt to push the memories away, Tom opened the door to discover a small calico cat, the last living thing in his life to connect him with her. She purred questioningly at him and he replied out of habit, “Yeah. I know. Look like crap and smell like it too, right?”
His answer came in a flick of the cat’s tail, and then it walked away, no longer interested in him for the moment. Much like he was with the world today; for some reason that didn’t matter right then.
The floor creaked as he tossed off the clothes he’d worn that morning. A quick shower and shave to look semi-respectable, and then he fished around in his hall closet, he found his funeral suit, shoes and tie and changed into that.
It didn’t take long. Before leaving again, he tore open a tin of cat food, filled the old porcelain dish that was the cat’s and left some drinking water before leaving again, catching a cab and heading off to… Somewhere else again…
The cab came to a rough stop as Tom heard the cabbie grunt, “69 69th Street bub. Nine-fifteen for the fare, plus the tip.”
Tom looked out of the window with some surprise. 69 69th Street was… odd.
This was one of the more fashionable, modern parts of town, with gleaming steel and glass buildings, corporate logos plastered all across them. The typical chain stores with their signs screaming at people to buy something within their doors…
But not 69 69th Street… no this place was, well, calm… quiet…. unassuming. Among all of the rushing around, this building was a throwback to earlier times in the city, a brownstone four story building set back from the curb a short way. The windows gleaming in the sunlight made whatever was within invisible for the moment.
Tom paid the cabby and then started towards the wrought iron fence that marked the edge of the property. As he walked along the cobblestone path towards the front doors, an odd thought came to him: this was like following the yellow brick road. Amused, he wondered whether or not that woman that he met in the morgue was named Dorothy. He also noticed that, to either side of the path he walked, there were a series of park benches and trees for shade in the small space that had been carved out…
He then registered the fact that there were no people sitting on them or milling around. If there was a funeral to be held here or at least a remembrance of someone shouldn’t there be people here waiting to enter or at least trying to comfort each other? Or did he mishear the time of the gathering, being either too late or too early for it?
Either way he was here, and time was ticking away.
Taking the four steps to the front door, he noticed the bronze nameplate of the company by the door and the little buzzer and speaker to call for assistance.
Which he pushed.
The speaker crackled and a somewhat distorted female voice asked, “Yes? Can we help you?”
Tom was going to start with the usual lines that all police gave, but then remembered the conversation he had with that woman and said, “I would… if it is possible, like to pay my respects to a sister that passed away…”
There was a short pause and then the voice replied, “One moment please and someone will let you in…”
It was a short wait — perhaps five minutes — before the thick wood door was opened and, to his surprise, the blonde who gave him that blank note in the morgue stood there. She didn’t seem at all surprised to see him, although, for a moment, she brushed her hands to smooth out the black silk dress she wore before greeting him with, “Good morning. Please do come inside.”
Tom shot her a look, but accepted the invitation and stepped over the landing…
…and just about lost his breakfast as he did. For a moment, he thought that he was going to leave a wet chunky spot on the carpet, but then the feeling passed and he found himself looking at the blonde as she shut the door and locked it again.
He coughed and then was about to read her the riot act, arrest her, and take her downtown when he realized that they weren’t alone… and there was a funeral or wake or something going on.
The immediate area around him was filled with couples milling around, talking in hushed tones. Several of them were looking towards him and the blonde with looks that ranged from disinterest to bemusement to… desire?
The blonde gave a little cough to get his attention and added with a nod of her head, “Will you join me in the sitting room, please?”
Tom was torn for a moment between hauling her away and getting more out of her, but finally decided that it all looked legit in his eyes. Making a scene at a funeral would not go over well, and he wasn’t sure but he thought that a few of the people in attendance were city officials… high up ones.
Very calmly, Tom replied in a low voice, “Lady. You have no idea just how much trouble you have created. Where’s your sister? I’m going to have to take her back to the morgue. She was attacked and there is an investigation going on. You can’t…”
The blonde shook her head and then with a nod, offered, “Please, just come over here into the waiting room with me? We can discuss this there and I’ll try to answer your questions.”
Tom finally gave a grunt of agreement and followed her away from the crowd deeper into the building.
She led Tom towards a white trimmed doorway in the wall that opened into a good-sized room. It was not your typical business waiting room with year old magazines and hard, cold, plastic chairs. No, this place was classy. Cherry wood furniture, bookcases filled with what looked to be expensive writings, a large ornate rug in the middle of the room, and a small fireplace in the wall that was unlit for the moment.
Taking a seat in what looked to be a Victorian high-backed chair, she waited a moment before asking, “Would you like a seat?”
Tom shook his head, “No, thanks. Lady, you are in all sorts of trouble.”
Turning to him she said, “I’m sorry for misleading you, but there was little time and I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” She smiled a bit, “My name is Camilla Addison. I’m sorry that I didn’t introduce myself when we first met, but I wasn’t prepared for you to be there. Might I know your name as well?”
Tom offered in return, “Thomas Selleck.”
Camilla placed a hand over her lips and attempted to not giggle as she managed to get out, I’m sorry. It’s just that…”
Tom nodded and allowed a small grin, “Yeah, I know. My mother was in love with the television show, but my dad wouldn’t let her name me Magnum… It’s an ice breaker at parties, however, when I have a fake moustache on…”
She placed her elbow on the arm of the chair and then put her head against her hand, “I’m sure it would be Thomas.”
He turned serious again, “Miss Addison, you understand that you have broken several laws with what you have done and I will have to arrest you for them.”
She just smiled, “I don’t think there will be a problem.”
Tom was getting frustrated and it began to show, “A missing body, a theft, and you think there won’t be a problem? Why would that be, Ma’am?”
Camilla explained, “I am sure that whatever is needed to make that issue disappear is being looked after as we speak, Thomas. My… group is not without it’s resources and connections within city government and the powers that be in your city.”
He paused to consider that and then said, “Group? Are you suggesting that you are part of the Mafia or something illegal?”
The oddest smile came with the words, “Not the Mafia, and nothing that your rules would see as illegal as such, Thomas.”
He had the feeling he was being played with, much like when his cat would tease a mouse before killing it. The frustration grew as he answered, “We should continue this discussion downtown ma’am.” Tom was not happy with the situation and found himself falling back on his training to try to take control of the situation– if he had even been in control of it at any moment since he had met Camilla.
She shook her head and replied, “I think that will not be where we need to go next, Thomas.”
He gave her the obvious reply, “And just why would that be ma’am?”
A new voice came into the room behind him, “Just because.”
Tom spun around and just about fell over from shock…
Standing there, in a red dress, was Jane Doe… very much alive and, from the look in her eyes, not exactly happy with what was going on.
It was her. One hundred percent Jane Doe, complete with mid-length curly red hair and green eyes. He found himself thinking that she looked better in the red than under that white sheet in the morgue. Tom’s next coherent words were, “What the hell is going on?”
Jane replied coldly, “That’s a good question isn’t it?”
Camilla shot her a look, “That’s enough. Show some manners when we have a guest here.”
The reply was a snort of derision.
Camilla tapped her right hand on the arm of her chair before she sighed, “Have a seat, Thomas. She’s not who you think she is.”
He took the chair to her right still in shock. He was absolutely sure that this was Jane Doe. That he had seen her on the slab. Dead. But there she was, angry and looking for trouble. With a sigh Tom ran his fingers over his chin as he attempted to gather his thoughts. In doing so, he managed to reply, “Must be the end of the world. Dead people walking the streets.”
Camilla reached out a hand to touch his arm and explained, “Identical twins. We always had a problem telling the two of them apart. Finally got to the point where we made them get tattoos…” A short nod in Jane’s direction, “Mind you, her sister was not as frustrating to deal with.”
The glare in Jane’s eyes made it clear that she didn’t like Camilla. Nor, Tom thought, that she thought much about him, either.
Tom couldn’t believe that she was right. This was the Jane Doe in the morgue. The face, the hair; It was her, all right, he was sure. Identical twins? Weird things did happen, but this was just out of the ballpark. Still, he found himself asking her, “So what’s your name, then? Can’t be Jane, can it?”
For an instant, she seemed to be considering her answer very carefully. The look of barely contained anger didn’t change for the seemingly endless moment before she came to a decision. Uncrossing her arms, she put them behind her back and then shifted her hips a bit before answering, “You can call me that, if you like.”
Tom wasn’t sure at first if she was playing him or not. When someone was being evasive they looked guilty, nervous, unsettled. Jane looked as if she was ready to snap someone in half if they weren’t careful what they said or did.
But somehow calling her Jane felt right. Whether or not it was her real name was another question. He figured that he could get something out of Camilla or that, when he took the two of them downtown, there would be some real answers given. Still, he couldn’t do that right this minute, and so he glanced at Camilla, “Are you all this helpful when it comes to answers?”
Camilla chucked, “Ask a direct question and you’ll likely get a direct answer Thomas…”
He pondered that as he looked at Jane standing there, unconcerned with him, the police, or. it seemed, anything else.
Save the anger within her that was almost like a black cloud hovering over the room.
Seeing that she wasn’t leaving, he took that to mean that she would answer more questions from him. Tom decided that it was in his interest to get some basic information out of her, so he sorted out the questions he wanted answers to, picking out the ones that were quick and meaningful. Then he said, “Jane it is, then. What’s your sister’s name? The one who was lying in the morgue who Camilla and the goons took out last night?”
Jane didn’t flinch as she answered, “Patricia.” And not another useful word came from her after that to ant of his questions. But it was obvious that there was a great deal of hurt in her eyes, hurt that was feeding her anger. Tom found himself deciding that as odd as the story was so far, there didn’t seem to be a lie in it he could touch. It was also obvious that Jane was hiding something from him that he would need to figure out.
Rubbing his chin, Tom mumbled to himself, “Magnanimous women will be the death of me I’m sure.”
Jane smirked and offered, “You never know what the future brings. Patricia didn’t.”
Tom managed to bite back what he wanted to say, which was that she should get off her high horse and try to be less of a bitch and more of a human being. He found himself looking at Camilla and thinking, “I wonder how she’s related to her?”
Camilla saw him look at her and began to explain, “Jane… has been out of the country for a while. She came back early this morning after we sent word a few days ago that Patricia had gone missing. She arrived shortly before you did Thomas, and…”
Jane finished the sentence, “I was told she was dead. A wonderful way to return to family isn’t it?”
Tom couldn’t argue that point either.
Camilla told Jane firmly, “The detective is here to look into what happened.”
Jane actually rolled her eyes before giving him a dismissive wave with her right hand, “So you are here to investigate why she was killed then? Or are you here just to make waves in our lives?”
Tom gave her a hard look as he answered, “You want tidal waves lady? Just setting aside what happened to your sister, what you people did in the morgue is a no-no. She was taken from the morgue improperly. There is an investigation going on about that. It’s not my problem but I’m here because I am involved in it. Now, your sister is my case, and maybe I can figure out what happened and why and find the one that did this. That’s why I’m here. I have to start somewhere and…”
He looked at Camilla, “…You were good enough to leave me the clue to this place at least.”
Jane gave a little snort of derision, “Police. Useless beyond words.”
He managed not to growl out the words, “Lady, I don’t know where you were and I don’t give a damn either. This isn’t some two bit country in the middle of nowhere. Patricia is my case to solve, and I’m going to. I’m not going to let this just slide by into the unsolved case files, and you know why?”
Jane just watched him in silence until he answered with a smirk, “I have my reasons.”
Camilla chuckled at his words before saying as she clapped her hands softly, “Touché…”
Tom was about to start asking some pointed questions of them both when there was a soft cough from the hallway. Standing there patiently was a man of the cloth. He looked like the sort of man that you’d like to have as your uncle: a kind face; eyes that held the glimmer of mirth and joy he carried with him; the stature of years of listening, understanding, seeing and helping; a life filled with the joy of doing good work wherever he was needed to be.
He carried a small, old book that Tom took to be a Bible in his left hand — a hand well weathered with time and doing the work of his life. But it was also clear that his hands were the source of comfort as well as guidance where it was needed. He didn’t command the room with his size. No; that, it seemed, was not his way. It was more his easy smile and welcoming stance but, most of all it was just the calm understanding that surrounded him.
He smiled pleasantly to them all before saying, “We’re going to be starting the service in a few moments. Would you care to join us?”
To Tom’s surprise, both women replied in soft voices with deference to him, “Of course. We’ll be right along.”
He nodded at the reply and then said to Tom, “You are welcome to join us as well, mister…?”
Tom stood up and then offered his hand, “Selleck. Thomas Selleck.”
The twinkle in the pastor’s eyes became a little more mischievous as he accepted the hand and gave it a firm shake, “You need a mustache.”
Tom chuckled, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll get right on growing one in the morning.”
The minister laughed in return, “Excellent. We need something to smile over. Patricia would be mad as all get out if there wasn’t some joy here today.”
Then. with a pat of Tom’s shoulder and a wink, he disappeared down the hallway. Tom watched him leave before he commented to the two women in the room, “Seems like a good man.”
Camilla had stood up and offered, “The best. Come on. He’ll be disappointed if the whole family isn’t there.”
Jane turned away with a last scowl at Tom before vanishing into the hallway. He looked at Camilla and said, “Well, I suppose she’s on my not friends list.”
She slipped her arm around his and said, “Well, maybe I can be on your friends list instead?”
He replied to that with, “Tell me the truth after this. Explain to me what the hell is going on and you go to the top of the page Camilla.”
She seemed to be thinking about that for a long time as she stood beside him. Then, mysteriously, she said, “The truth just is Thomas. You just need to be able to see it for what it is.”
As they left the room, Tom found himself wondering what kind of service it would be…
They followed the crowd toward the rear of the building. As Camilla led the way, Tom attempted to fit what he had so far into some kind of explanation of what was going on.
That wasn’t turning out to be simple.
What he had so far was a dead body that was going to be out of his reach soon; a woman who took that body illegally and didn’t seem to be concerned about the problem with the law she now had; and a sister of the deceased who was an identical twin, one who he hoped wasn’t going to take the law into her own hands.
Tom sighed and mumbled under his breath, “A beautiful day in the neighborhood.”
They passed through a white marble archway and into what seemed to be a courtyard behind the building. The first thing Tom noticed was that there were trees, lots and lots of trees. Looking up, he found that, with the exception of a small open space in the middle that showed the blue sky above, there was no view up, out, or around the place. It was as if the buildings surrounding the brownstone had vanished and had been replaced by trees. He expected to hear the sounds of the city coming through the greenery, but, instead, all he caught was the occasional low conversation from people here and there as they milled around, and the sound of wind making tree branches rattle in the air.
Camilla replied with that odd smile she had, “It usually is.”
Looking around, Tom saw that there were rows of chairs placed from the back of the brownstone towards the middle of the space. Tom figured something like fifty or sixty people could fit in the space comfortably. Then he saw it: a casket made of cherry wood, with a fine, ruddy patina, past the rows of chairs ahead. Camilla maneuvered Tom along the side to the line of mourners giving their respects. As the two of them came closer to the casket, Tom was surprised by what was there.
A grey calico cat curled up beside the casket on a small chair. He looked at it for a moment, noting that some of the people would stop by the cat, offer a few quiet words, and then move off to find a place to sit. He was about to ask why the cat was there when it was their turn to pause.
Tom watched as Camilla twined her fingers together and bowed her head before beginning to whisper to the casket. He didn’t catch all of what she said. Just the occasional words… “Hope… someday…. remember… missing you already… be fine.”
Tom simply looked at the casket and closed his eyes after a moment. He didn’t speak the words but just thought to himself, “Rest well Patricia. Not giving up.” Then they moved away in the next moment. But Tom stopped to give the cat a gentle scratch behind its right ear and received in return a low purr. Tom recognized it as the same purr his cat made when it was content. It raised up its head and then looked at him with a pair of odd blue eyes before it’s tongue darted out and licked the palm of his hand once.
Camilla said with some surprise, “I’ve never seen her do that with anyone but Patricia… Usually she’s a lot meaner.”
Tom answered as he drew his hand away, “Just good with cats I guess.”
A young man serving as an usher came over and guided them towards the last row of the chairs and then indicated where they should sit. After getting settled, Tom asked Camilla, “How big is the family anyway?”
She replied again with that smile, “We’re all here.”
Then Tom saw Jane pausing at the casket for a moment. When Jane went over to the cat, there was a low hiss and Jane glared at the cat before walking away to take her seat. Tom leaned over and whispered to Camilla, “I see what you mean about the cat.”
Somewhere around them all, a chime sounded. Then another. And Another. To Tom’s ear it wasn’t quite wind chimes, but something very old and meaningful which seemed to catch everyone’s attention making the conversations come to an end and the attention of all turn to where the casket lay. As the chimes ended, the mourners rose, Camilla nudging Tom to his feet with her elbow.
Then the minister walked down the center aisle accompanied by a woman with long wild raven-colored hair that reached most of the way down her back. She was wearing a flattering black dress and a wide brimmed black hat that covered most of her face from Tom’s view. But he was able to pick out the woman’s red lips and slightly tanned skin. It was obvious that everyone but he knew who this was from the nods and whispered words of sympathy.
“Odder and odder,” Tom thought as he watched the scene. He wasn’t sure who this woman was, but there was no doubt that she was important. Patricia’s mother? She seemed too young. More questions and mysteries to pick at…
With some help from the minister, the woman found her place in the front row, and after a word with her and a nod, he left her there and took his place beside the casket and the cat.
Placing one hand upon the casket he began to speak, “It’s good to see all of you here today; some I haven’t seen in a while, some met for the first time today. And in being together, here and now, we fulfill something important: our longing to be with family. But we should remember that we should not be together only in times of need, but in times of joy as well.”
He looked about them all, his eyes stopping on a few as he continued, “If there is nothing else to be found again today, the finding of family, of understanding, of seeing what should have been seen… that is what you can all take from here today. But that is not the only thing that Patricia would have wanted from us today now, is it?”
His hand rubbed against the wood, “She would have wanted us to remember the good she had done., the joy she had brought into our lives, the memories and, yes, the promises made for the future, would she not? She would not wish us to think of revenge, of anger, of seeking out a measure of flesh in return for her. Let not the darker thoughts cloud the judgment each of us has. There are other, better ways.”
His gaze paused to look at the raven haired woman, “Rebirth will happen. Whether it is happening today, or will happen tomorrow, a century. or a millennium from now, it doesn’t matter. She will return someday. That much we do know. And, with that moment, the family will be together again once more.”
He turned his eyes to look at Jane, “As much as we miss Patricia, we should never forget that. Ever.”
Opening the book that he carried in his other hand he explained, “Patricia and I had a discussion once. It focused on this passage.”
Looking to the book he spoke clearly to them all, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Closing the book he then continued, “We should remember what matters. That in the end love does matter, does make a difference, does make the impossible… possible. Each of us, with the love that we share in our lives, makes that possible. Patricia knew that. Believed in that. Made it happen in her own way… and in doing so, she proved the words true to us all. If there is something that should be remembered as we leave here, to return to our own worlds within the world around us, it is that is above all.”
He then closed his eyes, “A moment of quiet for Patricia…”
Tom closed and bowed his head in respect to the minister’s request and waited for him to speak again…
But he didn’t.
Instead, Tom heard the sound of the wind chimes begin again off in the distance a short time later and then to his surprise, the people around him stood, gave a final look to the casket and the minister, then departed. Tom remained seated with Camilla as they did so, watching them all leave, including Jane.
But then he noticed that the raven haired woman was still at the front with the minister standing by the casket. He asked Camilla, “Why aren’t they going?”
She explained, “There is one more thing to do, but that is something she and he do alone when everyone is gone. It’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t believe in what our family does.”
Tom leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, “Your family is full of mysteries. I’d like one of them to be answered before I leave.”
The next voice he heard wasn’t Camilla’s.
“Would you care to join us Thomas?”
Opening his eyes, he found himself looking at the raven beauty he had only glimpsed earlier. She was, to be blunt, stunning: full lips, deep green eyes, but, within the beauty, the love of a mother, of a sister, of something intangible. Tom was taken aback by her, and then she favored him with a warm smile as she spoke to Camilla, “If you both want to join us, you know where to find us, my dear…”
Then she turned away to return to the minister, take his arm and walk away from them towards the trees…
Tom didn’t move as they walked away. Then he asked Camilla, “How does she…”
Camilla cut him off with a giggle, “She knows. She always knows. Just the way things are when you are around her.”
That seemed to make sense in a way. It appeared that everyone at the service knew her, deferred to her, so it would follow that she was well informed. And then Tom remembered the preacher he had met moments before. He might well have told her his name.
It all made sense finally.
With a grunt, he stood up and offered his hand, “Well she’s invited us. We’d better not turn her down then right?”
She nodded, “Uh-uh. Wouldn’t want to be on her bad side after all this time.” They walked past the casket and then turned onto the path that began just past the first tree there. Tom noted that it was of red cobblestone, but oddly smooth. Normally walking on them for a woman in heels would be a challenge, but there was nothing uneven about them: No gaps, nothing save a smooth path that wound in front of them around and between the trees there. Still Tom was ready to catch Camilla if she should trip or stumble.
Tom commented, “Long and winding road isn’t it?”
She answered with, “Life usually is when you think about it.”
The path ended at a small clearing and in the middle of that space was a silver and white gazebo. The supporting structure was of the silver, as were the steps. The white was the latticework between the silver and around the sides of it all. Tom asked, “What is this place exactly?”
She replied, “A place to remember those that have gone until they return once more Thomas.”
Standing outside was the minister, and standing at the top of one of the short set of stairs was that woman, working on something hanging from the roof. As they came closer, it was apparent what she was doing.
She was hanging a wind chime on a white ribbon suspended in mid-air there, among what looked to be hundreds of them. Every chime was silver in colour with some sort of white writing on the face of it. Tom noted that there was no single ribbon colour at work holding them all in place. Red, black, blue, yellow, it didn’t seem to have a rhyme or reason to it, just a mass of colours all ending at the same metallic silver and white.
She finished tying the ribbon and then moved away from it. As Tom watched, that chime began to swing a little bit and then touched the chime next to it. He assumed that there was a wind in the gazebo that was causing one chime after the other to start to sway and begin their sounds in the air.
The odd thing was, as the woman stepped down and away from the chimes, they tolled in a clockwise pattern around the gazebo, ending where they began at the chime she had just placed there. But when it was struck, Tom didn’t notice that it didn’t make a sound…
She took the minister’s arm, and the pair walked to Tom and Camilla, stopping just in front of them.
Tom assumed he would be able to ask a question of her first, but instead the woman began, “I have spoken with the Mayor, and as of this morning all of your other cases have been removed from your docket, Thomas. Save for Patricia; as of this morning she is your only case.”
Tom couldn’t help the stutter, “But… But… How?”
She didn’t quite smile so much as allow the corner of her mouth to arch a bit. “Just cause Thomas. Just cause…”
The shock in Tom’s voice was very apparent, “Who exactly are you? What gives you the right to be able to order things in this town?”
She replied in the same calm voice, “You have our card do you not? We make dreams Thomas. We have done a lot of good in this place for a lot of people. Those people owe us favours… I called in a few of them this morning.”
She continued in a matter of fact tone, “You are supposed to be the best at solving difficult cases. The other ones are all simple ones that can be handed off to those in your department that need the experience in solving them. Secondly, you are involved in this case Thomas. Quite deeply now aren’t you? Finally, and most importantly Thomas, you have shown more concern about Patricia than anyone else has. Therefore, you are part of our family now Thomas.”
Thomas frowned, “What exactly does it mean that I am part of your family?”
She smiled, “You go where angels and devils fear to tread…”
For the first time Tom managed a chuckle, “Do that every day ma’am, that’s going to be nothing new.”
She turned to Camilla, “Answer his questions, Daughter; all of them. Give him what he wants.”
She nodded, “Yes. I will.”
And then the woman began to walk away with the minister. Before they had moved too far away, Tom called out, “What’s your name?”
She paused in mid stride and with an oddly pleasant smile replied, “Tera. My name is Tera.”
And then she continued on her way, leaving Tom more confused than ever…
After the pair walked away, Tom just stood there, watching them. She was an enigma. Tom didn’t like those. He liked to put people into categories, that made it easier for him to connect them to other people in ways not normally apparent. So far — and Tom didn’t like this — every person he’d met had been put into a category he called “Hell If I Know.” Shaking his head, Tom returned his attention to Camilla, “Okay, I have questions, you have answers. So, what the hell is going on around here?”
Camilla had walked to a park bench nearby and after brushing off some leaves that covered it. sat down and looked at Tom. “That’s a big question Thomas. You want to narrow it down some?”
It seemed odd that she would ask for a more direct question, but Tom could play that game. He sighed and pinched his nose: “Right. Let’s start with something simple, then. What is your family’s last name?”
The answer was not what he expected: “We don’t have a last name.”
Tom was getting frustrated again, but managed, “Okay, no last name? That doesn’t make any sense, Camilla. You have to have one.”
She folded her hands into her lap. “I did have one; not anymore. There is no need for one. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, Thomas, but … for us, it does…”
He mumbled, “Also makes for lots of fake I.D.s.”
She raised a finger in the air: “I have never changed my name since Tera gave me her gift.”
Tom dismissed that and continued, “Who is she exactly, this Tera? How is it that she has so much… power?”
This answer was also a surprise, “She’s the Queen. That’s the why. The how is more … involved.”
He stumbled over his words just slightly, “The Queen? So she has diplomatic immunity, I suppose here. You know, I’ve never heard of a queen named Tera before. But then why does she operate out of a normal building and not an embassy? And where is her security? A head of state doesn’t just walk down the street everyday.”
Camilla smiled, “Tera does. She is the Queen, but she refuses to take on the trappings of one. She would rather be with the world instead of being separated from it. Pomp and ceremony, to her, only means that you don’t care about the people who call you their ruler, or other things, so she spends her time in the world, easily accessible, and never once has she refused a request if someone has asked to see her.”
“But her connections?”
“She’s been around for a very long time Thomas. Did you know that she was one of the founders of this city?”
Tom shot her a look. “This city is over 500 years old, Camilla.”
She nodded, “Yes. Yes it is. Interesting contradiction, isn’t it?”
Tom paced for a few moments trying to fit that into his worldview. It was impossible. No one could be that old. That woman definitely wasn’t. There was a piece which was missing, something important that Camilla wasn’t saying and he hadn’t managed to ask. Then he said, “Well she looks good for being 500. But you must mean a previous queen named Tera, and she’s something like the twentieth one or something.”
Her answer was a shrug, “Or something like that.”
Then he turned to another subject, “Tell me about Patricia then.”
Camilla sighed, “She was, is, one of Tera’s Daughters like I am. She became one before I did. She lived in the city with three children she adopted with her … husband for the last 17 years: two boys and a girl. They’ve left the city with their father. They are quite safe where they are.”
Tom sighed in reply: “You know that he’s a suspect, right?”
Camilla shook her head: “He’s not. I can guarantee that.”
“You can’t know that.”
She just smiled again, “Tera knows. He couldn’t lie to her and if he tried she’d know.”
“Handy to be a living lie detector.” Tom managed a smirk. “Still, I want to talk to her husband and the kids, Camilla. I can’t just accept her word on him.”
“It won’t get you anywhere Thomas, but I’ll make sure you meet them.”
Tom nodded: “Thank you. Now, did Patricia have any enemies?”
Camilla actually looked confused for a moment. “Why would a loving wife and mother have enemies? They lived their lives together, Tera let them be and didn’t ask them to do anything save live their lives and look after their children. They did their time in Hell, Thomas. They survived, Tera found them and gave them what they wanted most of all. Why would someone hate that?”
Tom’s answer was blunt, “Extortion perhaps. Kidnapping. Money. Anything is possible.”
Camilla put her hands over her nose for a moment: “None of that is a good enough reason for her passing, Thomas.”
Tom walked to her and placed his hand on her shoulder, “I know. It never is.” He took a long pause before he asked, “Why weren’t her husband and kids at the ceremony?”
She explained, “In our ways they don’t appear at the memorial service. They are, at the moment, burying Patricia.”
“Here?” Tom was very confused now.
She nodded, “Where else?” Then she waved a hand in the direction of some trees behind him, “Well actually, over there a way.”
Tom threw up his hands in frustration, “Look, this is nuts! You can’t bury someone in the middle of the city.”
“Who said we were in the city Thomas? At what point did I suggest that you were there?”
“Sorry Camilla. That’s bullshit.”
Her next words sent a shiver down his back, “You haven’t been in the city since you walked into our world.”
“What exactly do you mean by that, Camilla? Your world?”
Camilla stood, taking Tom’s hand in hers, “Come on. Tera said to show you everything.” She started walking away from the gazebo to a clear spot in the grass around them.
In protest Tom pushed her for an answer, “What are you talking about? Where are we going?”
A pointed look and the words, “To open your eyes.”
Before Tom could react, Camilla made a motion in the air with her hand, and, in the next moment Tom found himself standing at the base of a lush, green mountain, hundreds upon thousands of gray stone markers surrounding him. This was impossible, he knew. There was no way that this was real.
Tom turned to her and exclaimed, “What the hell?” and found himself looking at Camilla transformed. There were short black devil horns in her hair, her dress was shiny red latex where it had been cloth, a long, black, spaded tail moved in the air behind her… and there were tears in her eyes.
Tom started to panic, then. All of the stories he had been told from childhood about devils and evil, about hell and damnation came rushing into his thoughts.
She still held his hand tightly in hers. “This is all real Thomas. Don’t panic okay? I will not harm you. Just try to get your bearings and calm down okay?”
He tugged at her grip, trying to dislodge it, but she held him firmly. Putting a hand against her chest, he tried to pull away, grunting out, “What the fuck are you?”
“Tom! You need to calm down! Please!”
He didn’t. The fear welling up within him, his thoughts of the gun under his jacket and the thought that he might have to shoot her. His free hand moved away from her and reached for the weapon.
“Let … GO!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught her tail whipping around and braced for when it struck him, knowing that he was damned…
Closing his eyes, Tom’s thoughts turned to Beth, there had always been a hope in his mind that they would be reunited someday. Tom waited for what he had been told was the fate of those that consorted with demons: pain, fire, brimstone, eternal suffering…
That didn’t happen.
Everything turned quiet, Camilla’s hand still holding his as he felt something brush over his suit and then move away. Then she said, “Open your eyes Thomas. Please?”
He didn’t. She got nothing in response.
She let go of him and continued to talk, “Thomas, I’m going to explain some things to you. I hope that you will listen to what I am saying, because you really need to.”
He heard her step back, “The first thing you need to know is that you are in our Realm now. You can’t get back to your home without me. You have no idea how to.”
That made him open his eyes and look at her. Managing to push the fear of devils and demons down he managed, “I’m in Hell, aren’t I?”
She frowned, “No. You aren’t. It’s complicated, but you aren’t, and you aren’t damned like your legends say you should be. ”
Her tail moved in the air behind her, tossing something to the ground in front of him. Looking at it, Tom could see it was his gun. Or it has been once. The barrel of it was now bent backwards. She smiled thinly, “You can’t hurt me or anyone here with that.”
His heart was still pounding, “You are evil. You just are.”
She sighed and put a finger of her right hand over her lips, “If I was evil, then I would have killed you when we first met, Thomas. If we were evil, we would not have shown you as much as we have. If we meant to do evil, we could have easily caused havoc across your world with little effort.”
The logic of that statement made him pause, “You still haven’t shown me anything that makes me believe that you aren’t evil.”
Her answer was, “Haven’t I?”
She laced her fingers together, then put them under her chin, “You’ve seen that we have been accepted by a man of the cloth. You’ve seen that we have a great number of people who care enough to come to a funeral for one of us. You…”
“I have only your word on that; nothing more.”
A shrug, “Sometimes thats all you get.”
“I. Want. Out.”
“You can’t get out. You are up to your neck in this and it’s your own fault Thomas. If you would have left well enough alone, if you had simply not poked your nose into places, you would be still so very ignorant of reality. But you couldn’t. Why?”
“None of your business.”
“Spill it, Thomas. There is something that is driving you. Something that you can’t let go of.”
“No. It’s personal.”
“Thomas, tell me. You need to. You have to see that even through that thick skull of yours.”
He didn’t want to say, not at all. Tom had managed to keep it deep insidem or so he thought. Now, suddenly, unbidden the memories started to return to him, and he breathed one word.
It started innocently enough: two people in a crowd, making their own way through the universe. That was, until the universe gave them each a nudge towards the moment they would meet for the first time.
Tom had finished his first day as a beat cop and was on his way home. It was the third week of spring, the weather was nice and he, being short on cash until his first paycheck, was in the Eighth Street Station to catch the train home.
Then he saw her.
In the mass of people milling around, the waves of grey and black that marked those of business and formality, a woman in a bright canary-yellow dress made her way towards the edge of the platform he stood upon.
She was, as Tom would tell his friends the next day, cute. Nothing else really mattered past that. She stopped to wait for the train at the edge of the platform ahead and to the left of where Tom was. He couldn’t help but look her over.
She had short, almost pixie-cut, brunette hair with the occasional streak of blonde in it, a button nose, nice full lips painted with pink lipstick, pink nails. Of course, the heels she wore matched the dress; you’d expect that. She wasn’t a looker, but, in truth, Tom never was one for the supermodel type. He preferred women who were independent, smart, and good company. He noted that she carried a small yellow purse and a copy of a newspaper in one hand, her other hand strategically placed to keep her dress from blowing around in the wind when the train arrived.
The train came into the station, stopping in its place before the doors opened and Tom and this woman in yellow entered the car. There was a bench seat free at the front of the car on which Tom, entering the car further ahead, took a seat, waiting for the train to continue on.
The doors closed and, with a lurch, the train began to move. He closed his eyes and sighed a bit thinking about that woman and wondering what her name was.
As the wheels of the train screeched around a corner, he heard a perky voice ask, “Umm… Excuse me, would you have some room for a girl with worn out feet?”
Opening them again and looking up, he found himself looking at Miss Yellow Dress. Standing up, he offered her the seat beside him, “Please, have a seat Ma’am! Wouldn’t want you to stand there.”
She smiled and gratefully took the seat beside him. Then, turning to Tom, she said, “The worst part of my day is the subway ride. Have to switch eight trains to make it home and to work everyday.”
Tom asked in confusion, “Eight? Hell of a ride for anyone. Why not live closer to work?”
She laughed, “My cat would never let me move. Silly thing; sometimes I wonder if she owns me or I her.”
Tom chuckled, “Well cats are like that – Independent – but they’ll come when they want to be fed.”
The two chatted for a time, the train moving between stations as they shared little bits of information about themselves. She was impressed that he was in the police. She was involved with a charitable foundation. He talked about his first day — the mistakes, what he had learned on the job that he didn’t in the police college — she about the day she spent at the general hospital downtown, visiting sick children and reading them stories, all of the small things of their day.
The train lurched to a stop again. Tom looked up to note that his stop would be next. Standing up he said, “It’s my stop next. Wish that we could talk more, but thank you, Ma’am, for the time you have given me. It’s been the highlight of my day.”
She favored him with a smile, “It was my pleasure.”
For a moment they just looked at each other as the car swayed from side to side, then a sharp shake passed through the car and she fell against Tom with a small gasp of surprise.
Tom found himself looking at her surprised eyes, his thoughts full of whether she was seeing someone, if she was interested in him, really, or just being polite in talking with him.
But he somehow just knew that she was – for him at least – perfect.
She giggled musically and with one hand gave his arm a squeeze, “I have a feeling that you are very good at sweeping a girl off her feet…”
Tom laughed, “Well, you’ll have to let me try to see, won’t you?”
For a moment, Tom thought that he had pushed too far. She had this odd smile and, as he found out later, that meant she was bemused and, more importantly, interested in him.
She straightened up and then opened her purse to take out a lipstick tube, which she used to write a series of numbers across the paper before offering it to him. “Maybe, if you’d like, we could meet for a movie on the weekend?”
Tom paused for a moment before taking the offered paper from her fingers, “I’d be honored to. Could I call you tomorrow? I have some friends waiting for me at the pub and…”
She nodded, “And of course you should be there. Have fun, and we’ll talk tomorrow, call me whenever…”
The lights of the station appeared around them and Tom moved towards the exit, feeling her eyes still on him as he did. The train slowed down and came to a stop, the doors sliding open.
As he stepped through, he turned to her and said, “I didn’t catch your name.”
She chuckled, “You didn’t ask. I’m Bethany.”
He grinned and tipped his cap to her, “Tom.”
With that, he left her sitting there in the car, but didn’t leave her life. Tom had already decided that he would see her again soon.
Tomorrow came and Tom did call Beth… a lot.
She would make a joke of it at their wedding the following year. She knew, she would explain, that Tom was seriously interested in her when she heard his Sergeant yelling at him to get to work.
Nine times over the day.
Finally, the weekend arrived, but they didn’t go to a movie. Instead Beth asked Tom to meet her at Central Park next to boulders at the south entrance. Tom was leaning against one of the smaller ones when he heard her voice, “It’s too nice a day to be inside isn’t it?”
He found himself looking at Beth in a bright yellow sweater and blue jeans, carrying a picnic basket in her hand. She gave him a peck on the cheek and added, “And I make a heck of a sandwich.”
Tom was taken aback for a moment at her kiss. He wasn’t sure if he should wrap his arm around her and was about to ask a question when she took hold of his hand and led the way into the park.
She continued to talk as they went on, “I really wish that there was a park on every corner. Would make the city such a nicer place to live don’t you think?”
He smirked, “I see. You just want us guys mowing lawns so that you know where we are right?”
A squeeze of his hand in hers, “I have a really good idea of where you are right now silly…”
They found a small rise in the park next to a grove of trees and, in a short time, the two of them were sitting on a yellow blanket sharing the meal that Beth had brought with her.
Tom was chewing on a deviled egg when a question came to him, “Why all the yellow?”
She looked at him with bemusement. “I like yellow. Yellow makes people happy, the children like it when I spend time with them and, most importantly, the yellow hides all of the cat hairs pretty well!”
Tom chuckled, “Smart, practical, and has a wicked sense of humor… How did I get so lucky?”
Before Tom knew what was happening, Beth had moved from the far side to sit beside him and then lean against him slightly as she took a sip of water, “Oh hush you. Stop asking dumb questions and tell me that you like me will you?”
He put the sandwich down and turned her to look at him, “Like? Beth, honey, I fell for you hard.”
The next few minutes were ones that Tom would dream about in the years to come. A long, tender, perfect kiss from the one who had his heart, and there wasn’t a thing that he wanted to do except hold her and love her.
And she him.
The wedding came one year to the day from when they had first met. Beth had told Tom that she didn’t want a huge over-the-top wedding, simply because they couldn’t afford it. Tom had to agree and was prepared to have a civil wedding at City Hall and then just be off on their honeymoon together.
It didn’t quite work out that way …
Within one short week after the wedding date was announced, Tom’s precinct and Beth’s office pooled enough money together to get Beth a wedding dress and Tom a decent tuxedo. They also managed to arrange a ceremony at the park where the couple had first dated and, to match that event, a picnic for all that attended.
The entire thing was a whirlwind, as the couple never knew what had been planned for them. Beth didn’t make it out of her apartment before her girlfriends bushwhacked her, and Tom was gang–tackled by his buddies. They were each blindfolded before leaving for the park, not seeing again until they were both at the altar.
They worked the blindfolds away, and then Tom found Beth standing beside him in a white wedding dress with a bright yellow train. Beth saw Tom in a white tuxedo, a yellow carnation in his lapel. Both of them heard the crowd yelling surprise as the minister began to speak.
They were both asked the traditional questions, to which they both said yes. Then they exchanged the rings that they had spent a year saving for. And then, finally, to the throwing of rice, Tom lifted Beth’s veil and finally kissed his new wife.
Life was good … finally … For a while …