Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.
By the time Al and Susan arrived, hand in hand, back at Trinity Methodist, it was pushing two o’clock. They both knew they were going to have to answer for their irresponsible actions and explain why they’d left church without a word, but before they even set foot on parking lot asphalt, they thought they were in even more trouble than they had anticipated.
There was one ambulance, two paramedics, three police cars, and four cops in the lot. Flashing lights, steel barricades (holding back countless pedestrian rubberneckers), and yellow tape with CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS printed on it surrounded the perimeter. As Al and Susan ducked under it and walked toward the church, Susan asked, “Are we in trouble, Al? Is this because of us?”
“I don’t think so,” Al told her. “I don’t …”
“There they are! Over there!”
Ruth Morehouse came running at top speed toward her son. Just before she plowed over him, she stopped, squatted, and hugged not just Al, but Susan, too. The woman was crying hard, but Al saw they were tears of relief, not sorrow. Squeezing the kids tight, Ruth asked, “Where were you? Where did you go? Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay.”
“We’re okay,” Al and Susan replied in unison.
“Oh, thank God! Thank God! We thought he’d taken you. We thought …”
“Who?” Al asked. “You thought who took us?”
Ruth looked at Susan, crying anew. “Oh, Susan, I’m so sorry. I’m so very …”
“What happened?” Susan asked. “How come there are policemen here? Did we do something bad? Is this because of me and Al?”
“No,” Ruth said. “It’s not because of you. Although they’ve been looking for you, too. Where did you go?”
Susan looked at Al and asked, “Can I tell her?”
Al nodded; the truth had to come out eventually anyway.
Bravely, Susan stated, “After Sunday school, Al saw how sad I was, so he took me on a date to the movies.”
Ruth laughed at that. Hugging both kids, she said again, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“You mean … you’re not mad?” Al asked.
“Of course, I’m not mad. I don’t know what made you get Susan out of here, but in this case … it was a good thing.”
“Why?” Al and Susan asked, once again in chorus.
Just as Ruth was about to answer, Al’s father came running over. He seemed just as relieved as Ruth had been. “Are they okay?” he asked, kneeling down.
“They’re fine,” Ruth said. “Al took her to the movies.”
David Morehouse embraced both kids.
Al – still furious after Uncle Ty’s eviction – grudgingly accepted the hug.
“Do they know?” David asked his wife.
Ruth shook her head.
David took a deep breath, grasped Susan’s little hands in his big ones, and – with heavy heart and choked voice – said, “Honey, I’m afraid I have some terrible news.”
Susan pulled her hands away from the minister, took a step back toward Al, and took his hand instead. “What is it?” she asked.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” David answered, “so … I’ll just tell you. A bad man came here today. After church, he snuck up on your Daddy in the parking lot and … hurt him very bad.”
Susan had repressed much of the previous day’s events, but one thing that stuck with her was the menacing, red-eyed figure that she’d seen in the dark classroom. As she looked over by the police cars, Susan saw what she hadn’t before: staining the sun-faded asphalt was what looked like a large spill of dark blood. With an odd lucidity in her eyes, and a voice far more grave than any eight year old’s should sound, she said, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” David replied, shocked, “I’m afraid he is.”
As Susan processed this, she stated flatly, “It’s because of Nadja, isn’t it?” The Reverend cocked his head. “Kind of. You know about that?”
“I know my Daddy was doing bad things with her. Is that why he’s …?”
“I think so. After the police came, they asked if I had any suspicions about who would do this. I couldn’t think of anybody. Then I remembered that my brother, Ty, had seen a strange car here last night, with the license plate …”
“GRIM-1,” Al finished.
“You saw him, too?” David asked. “When?”
“Right before I took Susan to The Lux. He was out back by the Dumpsters.” “Oh, Al. Oh, thank God He kept you safe.”
“Who was he, Dad?”
“Nadja’s ex-boyfriend. The police just caught him across town. Apparently he’d stalked her for months, even though she’d filed a restraining … I’m sorry, Susan. You don’t need to hear this.”
Still holding Al’s hand, Susan replied bravely, “It’s the truth. I’m glad I don’t have to have a secret anymore. I’m glad Al took me on a date and made me feel safe. I’m glad …” Her eyes rolled up to whites then, and she began to swoon to the ground.
Al moved quickly – bending down and catching her tiny frame in his arms.
Susan was only out for a moment before she came to again. Looking up at Al, she tried to smile, but was interrupted.
From across the parking lot came the wild cry: “Lemme go! Let go of me!”
Near the ambulance, they saw Susan’s mother struggling madly with the paramedics. They were trying to restrain her, and she was swinging at them like a crazy woman.
“Your mom became frantic when she couldn’t find you after church service,” Ruth told Susan. “I got scared, too, when I realized I couldn’t find Al. We were looking for both of you when we found your dad. After the paramedics arrived, Grace was so overwrought, they gave her a mild sedative, and …”
“Let me go!” Grace Davis screamed one last time.
As the mad woman ran toward them, Susan leaned close to Al and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’ll never forget you.”
“Susan!” Grace shrieked. “Oh, Susan, Susan!” Picking up her daughter, swinging her around and smothering her face with kisses, “Where were you?” she asked.
Once more, Susan said, “After class, Al saw that I was sad, and so he took me to the movies.”
Instantly shooting hate-dipped arrows from her eyes at the insolent boy (and then recalling who else was standing with them), Grace softened quickly, smiled gratefully, and said, “Thank you, Mister Morehouse, for keeping my precious little angel out of harm’s way.”
Al didn’t know how to reply. He hoped that his parents had just seen the appearance of the witch, but – considering their inability to see any worth in the man they’d kicked out the night before – it was doubtful.
“I’m taking Susan home,” Grace told David and Ruth, again wearing her brilliant mask of saintly geniality.
For a moment, David saw that the woman’s eyes were slightly crossed and rapidly vibrating with a micron of movement. Dementia was the clinical word that popped into his mind and … he was suddenly very worried about the little girl in her arms.
“Thank you for everything,” Grace went on, as if she were leaving a party. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused you.”
Inconvenience? David thought, trying to process the absurdity of the word. Good Lord, the woman is demented.
As Grace turned away from them and walked back toward her car, she was stopped by a police officer who, seeing her with her little girl, obviously had more questions now that it was obvious they were dealing with just a murder, and not a murder/kidnapping.
David looked at Al and said, “Ordinarily, you’d be very grounded right now for doing what you did. Especially considering where you took that girl. During church, no less. But under the circumstances, maybe God had you get her out of here. You did good, son.” He put his hand on Al’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” Al cried, jerking away. “I don’t care if you do ground me. After what you did last night to Uncle Ty … I don’t care about anything.” Looking over at Susan – tiny and defenseless next to Broom-Hilda – he thought … except maybe that little girl.
After Grace Davis convinced the policeman that she was coherent enough to drive home (the officer agreed to follow her in his squad car), she loaded Susan into her Cadillac Deville, climbed in herself, started it up, and pulled out of the parking lot. As they quickly drove away, Susan looked at Al through the passenger window and gave him a little wave.
Al waved back – his heart aching in a way he couldn’t explain.
He wouldn’t see Susan Davis again for another nine years.
“Aha!” Goodfellow enthuses. “The plot thickens. Grace Davis – now there is a woman after my own black heart.”
Valiant nods and replies, “Yes, I thought you might fancy her.”
“Fancy her? Why, she’s simply to die for. As mad as a hatter. Two hatters. With a cluster of my wicked and warty kinfolk clinging to her like leeches. Wonderful. For a back story, I’m finding this quite the diverting little show.” Clapping his palms together and rubbing them with vigor, he asks, “So, what’s next? Where to now, old friend?”
“We’re skipping ahead about nine years,” Valiant tells him, spreading his powerful wings and ascending toward the electric vortex opening above them. “Come on.”
As two dark, leathery wings sprout through slits in the back of his plush velvet jacket, Nick rises after him, saying, “Right behind you, Val. Working so closely like this almost makes me wistful for old times. Almost.”
go to CHAPTER 8.