Dark Hunger


Part Three. FINISH TRIM Chapter Twenty-One


And though home is a name,

a word, it is a strong one;

stronger than magician ever

spoke, or spirit ever answered to,

in the strongest conjuration.

-??CHARLES DICKENS

TWENTY-ONE

How are you feeling?" Wilson asked when she sat on the sofa with Ford, with the dog between them.

"Oddly enough, lucky."

"Have you been checked out by a doctor?"

"No, it's bumps and bruises."

"It would be helpful to have a doctor's report, and photographs of your injuries."

"I don't have a local doctor yet. And I'm not-"

"I've got one," Ford interrupted. "I'll make a call."

"We interviewed Hennessy," Urick told them. "Took a first pass at him. He doesn't deny ramming your truck or forcing you off the road. He claims you were harassing his wife."

"I went to see her this morning. I forgot," she said to Ford. "It wasn't top of my mind after all this. I went to see him, actually, but she said he wasn't home. We had a conversation, out on her porch. Then I left. I didn't harass her, or anyone. And if he thinks having a conversation with his wife justifies running me into a ditch, he really is crazy."

"What time did you speak with Mrs. Hennessy?"

"I don't know. Around nine. I left and did a number of errands. Four or five stops, I guess, between Front Royal and Morrow Village. I saw his van coming from the direction of my farm as I was heading toward it. He saw me, and a minute later he was behind me, coming up fast. He rammed me. I don't know how many times now. Three or four, at least. I know I was all over the road. I went into a skid, thought I was going to flip. I went into the ditch. I guess the seat belt and air bag kept it from being any worse."

"You got out of the truck," Wilson prompted.

"That's right. Supremely pissed. I started yelling at him, he yelled at me. And he shoved me. He shoved me again, and knocked me back into the gate of the truck. He said, 'I see you in there.' And he raised his fist. That's when I kicked him."

"What do you think he meant by that? 'I see you in there'?"

"My grandmother. He meant he saw my grandmother. And I'd say if he had to hurt me to get to her, that's what he'd do. He attacked my friend, vandalized my property, and now he's attacked me."

"He hasn't copped to any of the incidents before this afternoon," Wilson told her. "He denies the rest."

"Do you believe him?"

"No, but it's hard to understand why a man who confesses to vehicular assault, reckless endangerment, assault with intent refuses to admit to trespass and vandalism. The fact is, Ms. McGowan, he seemed righteous about what happened today. Not remorseful or afraid of the consequences. If his wife hadn't gotten a lawyer in there when she did, we might've gotten more."

"What happens now?"

"Arraignment, bail hearing. Given his age, his length of time in the community, I'd expect his lawyer to request he be released on his own recognizance. And given the nature of the offense, his proximity to you, I expect the DA will ask for him to be held without bail. I can't say which way it'll go, or if it'll land somewhere between."

"His wife swears he didn't leave the house last night." Urick picked up the notebook in his lap. "That they left the park right after they saw you, and he stayed in all night. We did, however, pull out of her that he often spends time in their son's room, locks himself in, sleeps in there. So he could've left the house without her knowing about it. We'll push there, I promise you."

Cilla had barely settled herself down after the police left when her father arrived, with Patty and Angie. Even as the anger and emotion level rose toward what she thought might be the unbearable, Ford's mother sailed in carrying a large Tupperware container and a bouquet of flowers.

"Don't you get up, you poor thing. I brought you some of my chicken soup."

"Oh, Penny, that's so thoughtful!" Patty sprang up to take the flowers. "I never thought of food, or flowers. I never thought-"

"Of course you didn't. How could you, with so much on your mind? Cilla, I'm going to heat you up a bowl right now. My chicken soup's good for anything. Colds, flu, bumps, bruises, lovers' spats and rainy days. Ford, find Patty a vase for the flowers. Nothing cheers you up like a bunch of sunflowers."

Clutching them, Patty burst into tears.

"Oh now, now." Penny cradled the Tupperware in one arm, Patty in the other. "Come on with me, sweetie. You come on with me. We'll make ourselves useful, and you'll feel better."

"Did you see her poor face?" Patty sobbed as Penny led her away.

"She's just so upset." Angie sat beside Cilla, took her hand.

"I know. It's okay."

"It's not." Gavin turned from staring out the front windows. "None of it is. I should have confronted Hennessy years ago, had this out with him. Instead, I just stayed out of his way. I looked away from it because it was uncomfortable. It was unpleasant. And because he left Patty and Angie alone. He didn't leave you alone, and still, I stayed out of his way."

"Confronting him wouldn't have changed anything."

"It would make me feel like less of a failure as your father."

"You're not-"

"Angie," Gavin said, interrupting Cilla, "would you go help your mother and Mrs. Sawyer?"

"All right."

"Ford? Would you mind?"

With a nod, Ford slipped out behind Angie.

Cilla sat, her stomach twisting with a new kind of tension. "I know you're upset. We're all upset," she began.

"I let her have you. I let Dilly have you, and I walked away."

Cilla looked into his face and asked the single question she'd never dared ask him. "Why?"

"I told myself you were better off. I even believed it. I told myself you were where you belonged, and being there, being with your mother, allowed you to do what made you happy. Gave you advantages. I wasn't happy there, and whatever turned between your mother and me brought out the very worst in both of us when we dealt with each other. When we dealt with each other about you. I felt... free when I came back here."

"I was only about a year old when you moved out, and not even three when you went away."

"We couldn't speak two sentences to each other without it devolving. It was better, a little better, when we had a few thousand miles between us. I came out every month or two to see you for the first few... then less. You were already a working actor. It was easy to tell myself you had such a full life, to agree that it wasn't in your best interest to come here for part of your summer break when you could be making appearances."

"And you were building a life here."

"Yes, starting over, falling in love with Patty." He looked down at his hands, then dropped them to his sides. "You were barely real to me, this beautiful little girl I'd visit a few times a year. I could tell myself I did my duty-never failed to send the support check, or call on your birthday, Christmas, send gifts. Even if I knew it for a lie, I could tell myself. I had Angie. Right here, every step. She needed me, and you didn't."

"But I did." Cilla's eyes swam. "I did."

"I know. And I'll never be able to make it up to you, or to myself."

His voice went thick. "I wanted a quiet life, Cilla. And I sacrificed you to get it. By the time I understood that, you were grown."

"Did you ever love me?"

He pressed his fingers to his eyes as if they burned, then, dropping his hands, walked over to sit beside her. "I was in the delivery room when you were born. They put you in my arms, and I loved you. But it was almost a kind of awe. Amazement and terror and thrill. I remember most, a few weeks after we brought you home. I had an early call, and I heard you crying. The nurse had fed you, but you were fussy. I took you, and sat with you in the rocking chair. You spit up all over my shirt. And then you looked at me. Looked right into my eyes. And I loved you. I shouldn't have let you go."

She took a breath as something opened in her chest. "You helped me pick out rosebushes, and a red maple. You painted my living room. And you're here now."

He put an arm around her, drew her against him. "I saw you," he whispered, "standing on a veranda you'd built with your own hands. And I loved you."

For the first time in her memory, for perhaps the first time in her life, she turned her face into his chest, and wept.

LATER, SHE ATE CHICKEN SOUP. It surprised her just how much better it made her feel. A tall green vase full of bright yellow sunflowers didn't hurt, either. Cilla decided she looked a great deal better when Ford didn't argue with the idea of her walking over to check on what work had been done that day.

"Walking around some'll help you not stiffen up too much, I imagine."

"It's cooled off some. It feels good to be outside. Smells like rain's coming."

"Aren't you turning into the country girl."

Smiling, she lifted her face to the sky. "That, and like any contractor, I checked the weather channel this morning. Evening thunderstorms, sixty percent chance. And speaking of weather, you weathered the emotional storm earlier very well."

"Barely, if you want to know the truth. My mother's giving Patty the there-theres, and Angie gets going, and that gets my mother started. So I've got three women crying in the kitchen while they're heating up soup and arranging flowers." Looking pained, he dragged a hand through his mass of disordered hair. "I nearly bolted. Spock slunk out through his dog door like a coward. I thought about doing the same."

"Sterner stuff is Ford made of."

"Maybe, but it was touch and go when I looked in the living room to see if that coast was clear and you're mopping at your eyes."

"Thanks for sticking it out."

"It's what we men in love do." He unlocked the door, pushed it open.

She paused in the doorway, as Spock made himself at home and walked straight in. "Were you ever, before?"

"Ever what?"

"In love?"

"I was in love with Ivy Lattimer when I was eight, but she treated me with derision and mockery. I was in love with Stephanie Provost at thirteen, who returned my affection for six glorious days before tossing me for Don Erbe and his in-ground swimming pool."

She pressed her finger into his chest. "I'm serious."

"Those were very serious love affairs to me, at the time. There were others, too. But if you mean has it ever been real, have I ever looked at a woman and known and felt and wanted and needed all at the same time? No. You're the first."

He lifted her hand, brushed his lips lightly over her knuckles and made her think of her father making the same gesture with Patty. "Looks the same in here to me. What do these guys do all day?"

She wandered into the living room. "Because you don't know where to look. Switch plates and outlet covers I special-ordered-hammered antique bronze-installed. That was a nice, unnecessary thing to do. Matt left the trim in here because he knows I have an emotional attachment to it and want to hang it myself."

She moved off, let out a happy sound at the doorway to the powder room. "Tile's laid." She crouched, studied. "Nice, very nice, the warm pallet in this mosaic ties in well with the color of the entrance foyer, the living area. I wonder if they got to the bathroom on the third floor, or finished the drywall?"

And she's up and running, Ford thought, following her through the house.

By the time she'd checked everything to her satisfaction, the first rumble of thunder sounded. Spock let out a pip of distress and clung to Ford's side like a burr.

She set the alarm, locked up.

"Wind's starting to kick. I love that. I really love when it waits to rain until night, and doesn't screw up time on the job. Brian's crew is scheduled for tomorrow, and we're finally going to work on the pond. Plus, we're... Oh damn, I completely forgot. I put an offer in on the house this morning. Just had the impulse hit, and hit strong enough, it said do it now. I should hear if they're going to counter tomorrow. Which is when I made an appointment for us to go through the other house. I figured if that didn't work for you, I'd just reschedule. And I forgot about it."

"Gee, wonder why? What time tomorrow?"

"Five. I've got a full slate, so five worked out."

"It's fine. We'll go right after your doctor's appointment. That's at four."

"But-"

"Four," he said in that tone she heard rarely. Which, she imagined, spoke to its success.

"Okay. All right."

"Now, what do you say we sit outside with some wine, and watch this storm roll in."

"I say that sounds like a nice way to end a seriously crappy day."

CILLA THOUGHT SHE was pulling it together pretty well. She'd gotten a decent night's sleep-maybe aided by two glasses of wine, two Motrin and another bowl of Penny's famous chicken soup. She'd managed to creak her way out of bed at seven without waking Ford. Another spin in the whirlpool, some very light and gentle yoga stretches followed by more Motrin and a breathlessly hot shower had her feeling almost normal.

Over a quiet cup of coffee she wondered why she needed a doctor's appointment. It didn't require a doctor to tell her she'd been banged around and would be a little stiff and sore, a little achy for a couple of days.

But she doubted Ford would see it that way.


And wasn't that nice, when you got right down to it? There was someone who cared enough to get pushy and bossy about her welfare. It didn't hurt to be flexible, to bend enough to accommodate.

Besides, the worst was over. Hennessy was in jail, and couldn't touch her or her property. She'd be able to live, and finish her rehab in peace. And move on to the next.

She'd be able to sit down and really think about what it meant to have a man like Ford in love with her. And, yes, to worry and obsess about what it meant for her to be in love-if she really understood the state of being-with a man like Ford.

They could take some time, couldn't they, to build on that? To restructure, to decide on tones and trim? They could take a good look at the foundation, evaluate. Because hers was so uneven. Lots of cracks there, she mused, but maybe they could be shored up, supported and repaired.

Since his were so solid, so sturdy, there had to be a chance to make the whole thing stand. To make it last.

She so badly wanted to make things last.

She wrote him a note to prop against the coffeemaker.

Feeling good. Gone to work.

Cilla

The truth would be closer to "less crappy," but "good" worked well enough.

She filled her insulated mug with coffee and headed for the door only two hours later than her usual start time.

She jolted back a step. Mrs. Hennessy stood on the other side of the door, her hand lifted as if to knock.

"Mrs. Hennessy."

"Miss McGowan, I hoped you'd be here. I need to talk to you."

"I don't think that's a good idea, under the circumstances."

"Please. Please." Mrs. Hennessy opened the screen door herself, crowded in so that Cilla was forced to step back. "I know you must be upset. I know you have every reason to be, but-"

"Upset? Yeah, I'd say I have every reason. Your husband tried to kill me."

"No. No. He lost his temper, and that's partly my fault. He was wrong. He was wrong to do what he did, but you have to understand, he wasn't thinking straight."

"When wasn't he thinking? When he drove out here in the first place, or when he rammed into my truck, repeatedly, until he ran me off the road? Or would it be when he shoved me? Or when he raised his fist to me?"

Mrs. Hennessy's eyes shone-fear, distress, apology. "There's no excuse for what he did. I know that. I've come here to beg you to have some pity, some compassion. To open your heart and understand his pain."

"You suffered a tragedy, over thirty years ago. And he blames me. How can I understand?"

"Thirty years ago, thirty minutes ago. For him, there's no difference. Our son, our only child, lost his future that night. We could only have the one child. I had problems, and Jim, he said to me, it doesn't matter, Edie. We have everything. We have our Jimmy. He loved that boy more than anything in this world. Maybe he loved too much. Is that a sin? Is that wrong? Look, look."

She pulled a framed photo out of her handbag, pushed it at Cilla. "That's Jimmy. That's our boy. Look at him."

"Mrs. Hennessy-"

"The spitting image of his daddy," she said quickly, urgently. "Every-onesaid so, from the time he was born. He was such a good boy. So bright, so sweet, so funny. He was going to college, he was going on to college and to medical school. He was going to be a doctor. Jim and me, neither of us went to college. But we saved, we put money by so Jimmy could go. We were so proud."

"He was a handsome young man," Cilla managed, and handed the photo back. "I'm sorry about what happened. I'm sincerely sorry. But I'm not to blame."

"Of course you're not. Of course you're not." Tears trembling on the brink, she pressed the photo to her heart. "I grieved, Miss McGowan, every day of my life, for what happened to my boy. Jimmy was never the same after that night. It was more than never walking again, or using his arms. He lost his light, his spark. He just never found himself again. I lost him, and I lost my husband that same night. He spent years tending to Jimmy. Most of the time he wouldn't let me do. It was for him to do. To feed him, to change him, to lift him. It took his heart. It just took his heart."

She drew herself back up. "When Jimmy died, I'm not ashamed to tell you I felt some relief. As if my boy was finally free again, to be again, and walk and laugh. But what was left in my Jim just shriveled. Jimmy was his reason for being, even if the being was bitter. He snapped, that's all. The weight of it all, it just broke him. I'm begging you, don't send him away to prison. He needs help. And time to heal. Don't take him, too. I don't know what I'll do."

She covered her face, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Out of the corner of her eye, Cilla saw a movement. As Ford came down the stairs, Cilla held up a hand to stop him.

"Mrs. Hennessy, do you know what he did yesterday? Do you understand what he's done?"

"I know what they're saying, and I know he hurt you yesterday. I shouldn't have told him you came. I was upset, and I started on him, how he had to let it go, leave it, and you. How I couldn't take you coming to the house that way. And he went storming off. If I hadn't riled him up-"

"What about the other times?"

She shook her head. "I don't know about other times. Can't you see he needs help? Can't you see he's sick in his heart, his mind, in his soul? I love my husband. I want him back. If he goes to prison, he'll die. He'll die there. You're young. You have everything ahead of you. We've already lost the most important thing in our lives. Can't you find enough pity to let us try to find our peace?"

"What do you think I can do?"

"You could tell them you don't want him to go to jail." She reached out to grip Cilla's hands. "The lawyer says he could ask for a psychiatric evaluation and time in a hospital. That they could send Jim to a place where they'd help him. He'd have to go, isn't that punishment? He'd have to, but they'd help him."

"I don't-"

"And I'd sell the house." Her hands squeezed Cilla's harder, and her desperation passed from skin to skin. "I'd swear it to you, on the Bible. I'd sell the house and we'd move away from here. When he's well enough, we'd move to Florida. My sister and her husband, they're moving to Florida next fall. I'll find a place down there, and we'll move away. He'll never bother you again. You could tell them you want him to go to the psychiatric hospital until he's better. You're the one he hurt, so they'd listen to you.

"I knew your grandmother. I know she loved her boy, too. I know she grieved for him. I know that in my heart. It's that Jim never believed it, and he blamed her, blamed her every time he looked at our boy in that wheelchair. He couldn't forgive, and it made him sick. Can't you forgive? Can't you?"

How could she hold against such need? Cilla thought. Such terrible need. "I'll talk to the police. I can't promise anything. I'll talk to them. That's all I can do."

"God bless you. God bless you for that. I won't trouble you again. Jim won't, either. I swear it to you."

Cilla closed her eyes, then closed the door. With a tired sigh, she walked over to sit on Ford's steps. She leaned her head on his shoulder when he stepped down to sit beside her.

"There are all kinds of assaults," he said quietly. "On the body, the mind, and on the heart."

She only nodded. He understood she felt battered by the visit, by the pleas, by the tears.

"It's about redemption, isn't it?" she said. "Or some part of it. Me coming here, bringing her house back. Myself back. Looking for her in it, for the answers, the reasons. She never recovered from Johnnie's death. Was never the same. And most people say she took her life because of it. Couldn't you say Hennessy didn't have that luxury? His child was still alive, but so damaged, so broken, so needy. He couldn't turn away from it, and had to live with it every day. And that broke him."

"I'm not saying he doesn't need help," Ford said slowly. "That mandatory time in a psychiatric facility isn't the answer. But, Cilla, it's not him who's asking for pity or forgiveness. It's not Hennessy who's looking for redemption."

"No, it's not." And there, too, she knew he was right. "I'm not doing it for him. For whatever good it does, I'm doing it for that desperate and terrified woman. And more, I'm doing it for Janet."

IN CILLA'S EXPERIENCE working with a good crew in construction meant no coddling because you happened to be female. She got questions, concern, anger and disgust on her behalf, but no more than she'd have been afforded as a man.

And she got plenty of jokes and comments about being a ballbuster.

It helped put her back on track so she could spend the morning hanging trim.

"Hey, Cill." One of the laborers stuck his head in the living room as she stood on the stepladder nailing crown molding. "There's a lady out here, says she knows you. Name's Lori. Want me to send her in or what?"

"Yeah, tell her to come in." Cilla shot in the last nails, started down the ladder.

"If I'd been through what you went through yesterday, I'd be lying in bed, not climbing up ladders."

"It's just another kind of therapy." Cilla set the gun aside and turned to her Good Samaritan. "I was going to come by later today or tomorrow, thank you again."

"You thanked me yesterday."

"Not to diminish what you did, but I'm always going to have this image of you running down the road with a portable phone in one hand, and a garden stake in the other."

With a laugh, Lori shook her head. "My husband and I took this week off, short holiday week, to putter around the house and yard. He was off with our two boys buying peat moss and deer repellant while I restaked the tomatoes. I can tell you, if he'd been home, he'd likely've beat that idiot over the head with the stake, even as he went down."

With a sympathetic smile, she studied the bruise on Cilla's temple. "That looks painful yet. How are you doing?"

"Not too bad. I think it looks worse than it feels now."

"I hope so." She looked around the room. "I confess, while I did want to see you, I've always wanted a look inside this place."

"It's in major transition, but I'll give you a tour if you want."

"I'd love a rain check on that. This room's very nice. I love the color. Well, let me just wind my way around to the point. Of course I know who you are, and who your grandmother was. We moved here about twelve years ago, but Janet Hardy's legend looms large, so we knew this had been hers. It's good to see somebody finally tending to it, which is not the point I'm winding to."

"Is something wrong?"

"I don't know, because while I know who you are, and feel a particular interest in you now, I don't know you. I've had two reporters call me this morning, wanting quotes and information and my account of what happened yesterday."

"Oh. Of course."

"I told them I gave my account to the police. In both cases, they got pretty insistent, and that put my back up."

"I'm sorry you're being bothered by this."

Lori tossed up a hand, waved that aside. "I stopped by to let you know that someone's been talking to reporters. For all I know you might've talked to them yourself, though I can see now that's not the case."

"No, but I'll have to. I appreciate you letting me know."

"We're neighbors. I'm going to let you get back to work." She glanced around. "I think it's time to go nag my husband about painting the living room."

Cilla walked Lori to the door, then went back and sat on the stepladder. She considered the cleanest, most direct way to get out a statement. She still had contacts, and even if tapping any of them was dicey, the Hardy name would ring the bell. She needed something brief and concise, carefully written. She'd been taught not to duck a story but to confront it, spin it and ride it out with class.

She pulled her phone off her belt when it rang, then closed her eyes as she answered. "Hello, Mom."

"Cilla, for God's sake, what's going on out there?"

"I had some trouble. I'm handling it. Listen, could you contact your publicist? You're still using Kim Cohen?"

"Yes, but-"

"Please, contact her and give her this number. Ask her to call me as soon as she can."

"I don't see why I should do you any favors after the way you treated-"

"Mom. Please. I could use some help."

There was a beat of silence. "All right. I'll call her right now. Were you in an accident? Are you in the hospital? Are you hurt? I heard some crazy man thought you were Mama's ghost and tried to run you over with his car. I heard-"

"No, it's not like that. I'm not hurt. I need Kim to help me straighten it out, get out a statement."

"I don't want you to be hurt. I'm still mad at you," Dilly said with a sniff that made Cilla smile. "But I don't want you to be hurt."

"I know, and I'm not. Thanks for calling Kim."

"At least I know how to do a favor," Dilly said, and hung up.

Cilla couldn't deny it as the publicist called within twenty minutes. In another twenty, they'd refined a statement between them. By the time Cilla hung up, she knew she'd done the best she could.

"I'M NOT MAJOR JUICE," Cilla said to Ford as they drove from the doctor's office to the appointment with the realtor. "But there's always some ripples when there's any sort of violence or scandal. And the Hardy connection may give it a little more play. But the statement should cover most of it. There won't be much interest."

"There will be locally. It'll be big news around here, at least for a few days. And if it goes to trial. Did you get in touch with the cops?"

"Let's hope it doesn't-and yes. I know Wilson thought I was the crazy one for asking if they'd consider Hennessy's emotional and mental state."

"What did he say?"

"Psych evals are already in the works. One from the defense, one from the prosecution."

"Dueling shrinks."

"It sounds like it."

"I'd say it's going to be pretty clear to both that Hennessy downed a big bowl of crazy."

"Yeah. I guess the upshot depends on what the prosecution's guy has to say as to whether or not the DA holds on the charges, makes a deal or recommends a psychiatric facility and treatment. The house is coming up on the left. The little Cape Cod there."

"Huh?"

"Red compact out front. She's already here. Vicky Fowley. It's a rental-empty-the owner wants to unload. And Vicky's anxious to get it off her list."

Ford looked at the overgrown, weedy front yard and the small brown box of a house sitting on it. "I can't imagine why. Could it be the extreme uglies?"

"Perfect attitude. Keep that up, seriously." She gave his hand a bolstering pat. "And let me do the talking."

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