Dark Hunger


Part Two. REHAB Chapter Eleven


Change your opinions,

keep to your principles;

Change your leaves,

keep intact your roots.

-??VICTOR HUGO

ELEVEN

We can take shifts." Ford glanced over at Cilla as he drove. She hadn't objected when he insisted she needed to go home, get some rest, have a meal. And that worried him. "They're pretty strict in ICU anyway, and don't let you hang out very long, so we'll take shifts. Between you and me, Shanna and some of the guys, we'll cover it."

"They don't know how long he'll be in a coma. It could be hours, or days, and that's if-"

"When. We're going with when."

"I've never had a very optimistic nature."

"That's okay." He tried to find a tone between firm and sympathetic. "I've got one and you can borrow a piece."

"It looked like he'd been beaten. Just beaten."

"It's the skull fracture. I talked to one of the nurses when you were in with him. It's part of it." Knowing it, even knowing it, he thought, hadn't dulled the shock when he'd been allowed a minute with Steve. "So's the coma. The coma's not a bad thing, Cilla. It's giving his body a chance to heal. It's focusing."

"You do have plenty of optimistic pieces. But this isn't a comic book where the good guy pulls it out every time. Even if-or we can go with your rainbow when-he comes out of it, there could be brain damage."

He'd gotten that, too, but saw no point in pushing through to worst-case scenario. "In my rainbow world, and in your darker version, the brain relearns. It's a clever bastard."

"I didn't get the goddamn padlock."

"If somebody got in the barn and went at Steve, why do you think a padlock would've kept them out?"

She curled her fingers into her palms as they approached her drive. "I took down the gates. And planted fucking trees."

"Yeah, I figure the trees are what did it. Makes it all your fault." He waited for her to take a shot at him-better, to his mind, than wallowing. But she said nothing. "Okay, again, if someone wanted in, how would a couple of wrought-iron panels stop them? What happened to pessimism?"

She only shook her head and stared at the house. "I don't know what I'm doing here. That crazy old man was probably right. The place is cursed. My uncle died, my grandmother, and now Steve may die. For what? So I can buff and polish, paint and trim this place? Looking for that link, that click, that connection with my grandmother because I've got none with my own mother? What's the point? She's dead, so what's the point?"

"Identity." Ford gripped her arm before she could push the car door open. "How can we know who we really are until we know where we came from, and overcome it, build on it or accept it?"

"I know who I am." She wrenched free, shoved the door open. Slammed it behind her.

"No, you really don't," Ford responded.

She strode around the side of the house. Work, she thought, a couple hours of sweaty work, then she'd clean up and go back to the hospital. The patio had been repaired, the new slate laid, with the walkways roped and dug except for the one she'd added to the plans. The one leading to the barn. Yellow crime-scene tape crossed over her barn door like ugly ribbon over a nasty gift. She stared at it as Shanna dropped her shovel and raced over the lawn.

Cilla willed her compassion back into place. She wasn't the only one worried and distressed. "There's no change." She gripped Shanna's extended hand.

The rest of the landscape crew stopped working, and some of the men from inside the house stepped out. "No change," she repeated, lifting her voice. "They've got him in ICU, monitoring him, and they'll be doing tests. All we can do is wait."

"Are you going back?" Shanna asked her.

"Yeah, in a little while."

"Brian?"

Brian gave Shanna a quick nod. "Go ahead."

Yanking her phone out of her pocket, Shanna strode toward the front of the house.

"Her sister can pick her up," Brian explained. He pulled his cap off his short brown hair, raked grimy fingers through it. "She wanted to knock off when you got here, go by and see Steve herself."

"Good. That's good."

"The rest of us, and Matt and Dobby and such, we'll go by, too. Don't know as they'll let us in to see him, but we'll go by. Shanna had a jag earlier. She's blaming herself."

"Why?"

"If she'd let him stay the night, and so on." Sighing, he replaced his cap. After one glance at Ford, he got the picture. Taking off his sunglasses, he focused his summer blue eyes on Cilla. "I told her there's no ifs, and no blame except for whoever did that to Steve. Start hauling out the ifs and the blame, you could just as soon say if Steve hadn't gone out to play pool, if he hadn't gone in the barn. And that's crap. Best thing is to hold good thoughts. Anyway."

He took a bandanna out of his pocket to wipe the sweat from his face. "The cops were here, as I guess you can see. Asking questions. I can't say what they're thinking about this."

"I hope they've stopped thinking he was drunk and did that to himself."

"Shanna set them straight on the drunk part."

"Good." It loosened one of the multitude of knots in her belly. "I met your mother."

"Did you?"

"At the hospital. She was a lot of help. Well." Tears continued to burn the back of her eyes as she stared into the sunlight. "The patio looks good."

"Helps to have work."

"Yeah. So give me some, will you?"

"That I can do." He shot a smile at Ford. "How about you? Want a shovel?"

"I like to watch," Ford said easily. "And I've got to check on Spock."

"Just as well. Give this guy a shovel or a pick?" he said to Cilla. "And if there's a pipe or a cable in the ground, he'll hit it, first cut."

"That only happened once. Maybe twice," Ford qualified.

WHEN THE CREW KNOCKED OFF, she knocked off with them and hit the shower. She wanted to say she felt human again, but was still well shy of the mark. Like an automaton, she pulled on fresh clothes. She decided she'd buy some magazines, something to occupy her mind at the hospital, and maybe snag a sandwich from a vending machine.

When she jogged downstairs, Ford stood in her unfinished living room.

"I'd say you're making progress, but I don't know that much about it, and it doesn't look like it to me."

"We're making progress."

"Good. I've got dinner out on the veranda. Spock sends his regards as he's dining at home this evening."

"Dinner? Listen, I-"

"You have to eat. So do I." He grabbed her hand, pulled her out. "We've got my secondary specialty."

She stared at the paper plates and cups, the bottle of wine and the can of Coke. And in the center of the folding table sat a dish of macaroni and cheese.

"You made mac and cheese?"

"Yeah, I did. That is, I put the package in the microwave and programmed according to directions. It's mac and cheese if you aren't too fussy." He poured some wine in a paper cup. "And the wine'll help it along."

"You're not having wine."

"That's 'cause I like the nuked version just fine, and I'm driving you to the hospital."

A hot meal, companionship. Help. All offered, she thought, without a need for asking. "You don't have to do that, do this."

He pulled her chair out, nudged her into it. "It's more satisfying to do something you don't have to do."

"Why are you?" She looked up, into his eyes. "Why are you doing this for me?"

"You know what, Cilla, I'm not entirely sure. But..." He pressed his lips to her forehead before he sat. "I believe you matter."

She clutched her hands in her lap as he scooped out two heaping spoons of the macaroni and cheese onto her plate. Then, to clear her throat, she took a sip of wine. "That's the second thing you've said to me today no one else ever has."

Those eyes of his lifted, zeroed in on hers. "No one ever told you you mattered?"

"Maybe Steve. In different words, in different ways. But no, not just that way."

"You do. Go on and eat. That stuff gets cold, it turns to cement."

"The second thing-or the first, actually, that you said to me today was you wouldn't leave me alone."

He only looked at her, and she couldn't tell if it was pity or understanding, or simply patience, on his face. Whatever it was, she knew it was exactly what she needed. And so much what she'd never expected to find.

"I guess you meant it, because here you are." She stabbed up a forkful, slid it into her mouth and smiled around it. "It's terrible. Thanks," she said and stabbed another bite.

"You're welcome."

THERE WAS NO CHANGE when they arrived at the hospital, and no change when they left hours later. Cilla slept with the phone clutched in her hand, willing it to ring, willing the on-duty nurse to call to tell her Steve was awake and lucid.

But no call came. The dreams did.

SHENANDOAH VALLEY 1960

"This is how it looked, the first time I saw it. My little farm."

In red capri pants, a white shirt tied at the midriff and white Keds, Janet strolled arm in arm with Cilla. Janet's sunshine hair bounced in a jaunty ponytail.

"Of course, that's not true-exactly-as when I first came here there were the trailers, the lights, the cables, the trucks. The city we make on locations. You know."

"Yes, I know."

"But we're looking through that now. As I did then. What do you see?"

"A pretty house, with simple lines. A family home with wide, welcoming porches with old rocking chairs where you can sit and do absolutely nothing. Sweet little gardens and big shade trees."

"Keep going."

"The big red barn, and oh! Horses in the paddock!" Cilla rushed over to the paddock fence, thrilled with the breeze that fluttered through her hair and rippled the manes on the mare and her foal. "They're so beautiful."

"Did you always want a pony?"

"Of course." Laughing, Cilla turned her head to smile at Janet. "Every little girl wants a pony. And a puppy, a kitten."

"But you never got them."

"No, I had call sheets and script changes. You know."

"Yes, I know."

"A chicken house! Just listen to them cluck." The sound made her laugh again. "And pigs rooting in their pen. Look at the fields. Is that corn? And there's a kitchen garden. I can see the tomatoes from here. I could grow tomatoes."

Janet's smile was both indulgent and amused. "And have a pony, a puppy and a kitten."

"Is that what I want? I'm not ten anymore. Is that what I want? I can't seem to figure it out. Is it what you wanted?"

"I wanted everything I didn't have, and if I got it, it was never exactly what I wanted after all. Or in the long run. Even this place." She swept out an arm, a graceful dancer's gesture, to encompass the farm. "I fell in love, but then I fell easy and often, as everyone knows, and out again. And I thought, I have to have it."

Lifting both her arms, Janet turned, circle after circle. "The family home with the wide, welcoming porches, the big red barn, tomatoes on the vine. That's what I've never had. But I can buy it, I can own it." She stopped spinning. "Then, of course, I had to change it. The gardens had to be lusher, the colors bolder, the lights brighter. I needed bright, bright lights. And even though I made it bolder, brighter, even though I brought the stars here to stroll like Gatsby's ghosts across the lawn, it never really changed. It never lost its welcome. And I never fell out of love."

"You came here to die."

"Did I?" Janet cocked her head, looked up under her lashes, suddenly sly. "You wonder, don't you? It's one of the reasons you're here. Secrets-we all have them. Yours are here, too. It's why you came. You told yourself you'd put it back, as it was, and somehow put me back. But like me, you'll make changes. You already have. It's not me you're looking for. It's you."

In the dream she felt a quick shiver, a chill from truth. "There is no me without you. I see you when I look in the mirror. I hear you when I speak. There's a filter over it all, just enough to dim the brilliance, but you're under there."

"Did you want the pony or the call sheets, Cilla?"


"For a while, I wanted both. But I'd have been happier with the pony." Cilla nodded, looked back toward the house. "Yes, and the family home. You're right. That's why I'm here. But it's not enough. The secrets, the shadows of them. They're still here. People get hurt in the dark. Steve got hurt in the dark."

"Then turn on the lights."

"How?"

"I'm just a dream." Janet smiled, shrugged. "I don't have any answers."

WHEN SHE WOKE, Cilla grabbed the phone she'd dropped in her sleep and speed-dialed the hospital.

No change.

She lay in the dim light of predawn, the phone pressed between her breasts, wondering if she should feel fear or relief. He hadn't died in the night, hadn't slipped away from her while she slept. But he still lay trapped in that between world, that place between life and death.

So she'd go talk to him, nag him, browbeat him into waking up. She climbed out of bed, cleaned herself up. She'd make coffee, she thought, make lists for any of the subs she might miss while she was at the hospital.

As she passed the next bedroom she stopped, and studied Ford. He slept half in, half out of the sleeping bag. And what was out, she had to admit, was very nice.

The dog curled at the foot of the bag, snoring like a chain saw in mid-massacre. Ford hadn't wanted Spock to spend the night alone, she remembered, and went to get him when they returned from the hospital. Went to get his dog, she thought, after he told her he'd be sleeping in the spare room.

He wouldn't leave her alone.

She went down, made the coffee, drinking hers on the back veranda. There had been no patio in the dream, but her subconscious had known Janet had added that, and the walkways. The crops in the field, another given. The kitchen garden? She couldn't remember if that had been original, or one of Janet's additions. Either way, it was something she herself wanted.

And the barn? It was no longer red. That bright color had weathered away long ago. The coffee turned bitter in her throat as she stared at the yellow tape crossing the door. If Steve died, she'd tear the bastard down. Tear it down, burn it, and everything inside it.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she battled back the anger that wanted to scream out of her. If he lived, she told herself, if he came back whole, she'd paint it that bright, happy red again. Red with white trim.

"Please, God."

Why God gave a damn if she burned the barn to the ground or painted it red with yellow smiley faces she couldn't say. But it was the best she had.

She went back inside, poured another mug and carried it upstairs to Ford.

She sat cross-legged beside him and, sipping her own second cup of coffee, gave him a good study. Unlike his dog, he didn't snore, which added points in his favor, but the way he sprawled indicated bed hog. Points deducted. He had a good growth of stubble going, considering he hadn't shaved the day before, but she had to admit it added a sexy edge to the package.

He wasn't what she'd call buff or ripped, but reasonably toned over a build that leaned toward skinny. Just a touch of gawkiness, she mused. Add a few cute points for that.

He had good arms. Strong, lean rather than bulky. Best, she thought, they knew how to hold on. Major points, she decided. He just kept racking them up.

And the lips-top score. Leaning over, she rubbed hers to his. He made a humming sound in his throat, reached out. When she eased back, his eyes blinked open.

"Hey."

"Hey yourself."

"Did you have a bad dream?"

"No. A strange one, but I'm prone to them. It's morning."

"Uh-uh." He shifted enough to turn his wrist, blink at his watch. At the foot of the bag, Spock yawned, a high-pitched whine, then went back to snoring. "Nope. Six-forty isn't morning. Crawl in here with me. I'll prove it."

"Tempting." More so when he tugged her head down again and improved, considerably, on her casual wake-up kiss. "Very tempting," she said. "But some of the crew should be pulling up in about twenty minutes."

"I can get it done in twenty minutes." He winced. "That probably didn't translate to my advantage."

"Have coffee." She held out the mug, waved it slowly under his nose.

"You brought me coffee?" He sat up, took the first sip. "Now you have to marry me."

"Really?"

"Yeah, and bear me eight young, dance naked for my pleasure every Tuesday and wake me with coffee-that's after the sex-every morning. It's the law of Kroblat."

"Who's Kroblat?"

"Not who. The planet Kroblat. It's a very spiritual place," he decided on the spot. "I try to live my life by its laws. So, we'll have to get married and all the rest."

"We'll get on that, first chance." She brushed her hand over his hair. "Thanks for staying."

"Hey, I got coffee, a wife and eight kids out of it. You checked on Steve?"

"No change. I'm going to go see him. Maybe I can bitch-talk him awake, you know?"

"Maybe. Give me ten minutes, I'll drive you."

"No. No, I'm fine. I'm going to sit with him awhile, nag him awhile. Then I'm going to pick up some supplies and materials, drop them back here. I'll be back and forth a lot today. Let me ask you something. If I made a bargain with myself-or with God, fate. Whatever. And it was that I'd paint the barn red, red with white trim if Steve comes out of this okay, would I be jinxing it if I bought the paint before... before he comes out of it?"

"No. In fact, it shows faith."

She shook her head. "I knew you'd say that. I'm just the opposite. Too scared to buy the damn paint." She pushed to her feet. "I'll see you later."

"I'll be by the hospital."

She stopped at the door, hesitated, then turned back to look at him. "I can pick up dinner for tonight, if you want."

"That'd be great."

"I really want to sleep with you." She smiled when he nearly bobbled the coffee and when Spock's tiny ears perked. What a pair they were. "I really want to know what it's like, to just let go. But I guess it's like buying the paint, for now."

He kept his gaze on hers, and smiled. Slowly. "I've got time. For later." Ford sat where he was, drinking coffee and making a mental note to write down that stuff about Kroblat. It could come in useful sometime, somewhere.

He felt pretty damn good for a man who'd slept on the floor, he decided. And one who'd had some trouble not thinking about the woman sleeping on the floor in the next room.

Now, since he was up at this ungodly hour, he'd drag his ass across the road, get in a workout, check on Steve, get a couple solid hours in on the novel, then drop by the hospital.

"You get your lazy ass up, too," he said to Spock, and juggled the dog fully awake with his foot. He heard the first truck pull up as he pulled on his pants. By the time he was dressed and pouring a second cup of coffee, with Spock doing what Spock had to do in the backyard, the noise and activity level hit the red zone. Deciding he'd just borrow the mug and bring it back later, Ford headed outside with the coffee.

He saw Brian directing one of his men toward the back of the house with what looked like a load of sand. Ford shot up a wave. "Hey, Bri."

"Well, hey." With his thumbs in his front pockets, Brian strolled over and shot a meaningful look toward the house. "And hey."

"Nah. Separate rooms. I didn't want her to be alone."

"How's she doing?"

"Seems steadier this morning. She's already on her way to see Steve."

"Shanna called the hospital. No change yet. It's the damnedest thing. Hell of a nice guy."

"Yeah." Ford looked over at the barn. "How much paint do you figure it'd take to do that barn?"

"Hell if I know. Ask a painter."

"Right." He glanced over as another car pulled up. "This place is a madhouse half the time. I'm going home."

"Cops." Brian jerked his chin. "Cops're back. I hope to hell they don't want to talk to Shanna again. It gets her going."

"I'll see if I can take it."

Neither of the men who stepped out of the Crown Vic were the cop- Taney, Ford remembered-they'd talked to the day before. Neither of them wore a uniform, and instead sported suits and ties. Detectives, he assumed.

"Hey, how's it going?"

The taller of the two, with snow-salted gray hair and prominent jowls, gave Ford a curt nod. The second, small, lean and black, eyed him coolly.

And both, he noted, stared down at the dog that stared up at them.

"Cilla-Miss McGowan's-not home," Ford began. "She left for the hospital about fifteen, twenty minutes ago."

Tall White Guy studied him. "And you'd be?"

"Sawyer. Ford Sawyer. I live across the road. I spoke with Officer Taney yesterday."

"You live across the road, but you stayed here last night. With Miss McGowan."

Ford sipped his coffee, met Short Black Guy's eyes while Spock grumbled. "Is that a statement or a question?"

"Your hair's still wet from the shower."

"So it is." Ford offered an easy smile, then sipped his coffee.

Tall White Guy took out a notebook, flipped pages. "Can you tell us where you were night before last, between two and five A.M.?"

"Sure. Would you mind doing the ID thing? It's not just for TV"

"Detective Urick, and my partner, Detective Wilson," Tall White Guy said as they both produced their badges.

"Okay. I was in bed-over there-from about one A.M. until I heard the sirens yesterday morning."

"Have company?"

"Yeah, Spock." He gestured at the dog. "You could take a statement from him, but I'd have to translate so it probably wouldn't work. Look, I get you have to check out everything and everyone, but the fact is somebody was out here a few nights before. I saw somebody skulking around with a flashlight."

"We got that." Urick nodded. "You're the only one who claims to have seen anything. What's your relationship with Miss McGowan?"

Ford beamed an exaggerated country-rube grin. "Friends and neighbors."

"We have the impression, from other sources, that your relationship is more than friendly."

"Not yet."

"But you'd like it to be."

As Ford blew out a breath, Spock began to circle the cops. He wouldn't bite, but Ford knew if irritated enough, Spock would sure as hell lift his leg and express his opinion.

Bad idea-probably.

"Spock, say hello. Sorry, he's feeling a little irritated and ignored. If you'd take a minute and shake, he'll settle."

Wilson crouched, took the paw. "How's it going? Damnedest-looking dog I ever saw."

"Got some bull terrier in there," Urick commented, and leaned down to shake.

"Yeah, at least that's what I've been told. Okay, back to would I like it to be more than friends and neighbors. Have you seen Cilla? Met her?

If so, you'd know I'd have to be stupid not to like it to be. What does that have to do with Steve?"

Urick gave Spock an absent scratch before straightening. "Miss McGowan's ex-husband, staying with her. Three's a crowd."

"Again, only if you're stupid. But you've made it clear that none of what happened was an accident." Ford turned, studied the barn. "Somebody was in there, and whoever it was fractured Steve's skull and left him there. Just left him there."

The thought of that, just the thought of that stirred the rage he'd managed to hold still and quiet. "Son of a bitch. What the hell were they looking for?"

"Why do you think someone was looking for anything?" Urick demanded.

Ford's eyes were cold green ice when he turned back. "Give me a fucking break. Not some scavenger, either, not some asshole poking around trying to score a pair of Janet Hardy's shoes to sell on eBay. That doesn't follow."

"You've given this some thought."

"I think a lot. Listen, look at me as long as you want, as hard as you want. If you've got more questions, I'll be around."

"We'll find you, if and when," Wilson called out.

No doubt about it, Ford thought as he headed for home with his dog.

Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.