EXCERPT: Relatively Rainey (A Rainey Bell Thriller) by R. E. Bradshaw

Relatively Rainey

by

R. E. Bradshaw


Part I

PRELUDE TO A NIGHTMARE

“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.”

 ― Edgar Allan Poe

 

CHAPTER ONE

7:00 PM, Monday, September 2, 2013

Chancery Court Subdivision

Durham County, NC

The small window screen in Dr. Kent Barker’s hand puzzled him. His profound bewilderment drew the attention of his neighbor.

“What’s the trouble there, Kent?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Kent, half listening, still tried to make sense of things.

The smiling neighbor pointed a dripping hose nozzle at the screen.

“You’ve been standing right there since I started watering this flowerbed.  I was so caught up in watching you, I think I over-soaked it.”

Kent looked at the perfectly maintained bed of flowers edging the driveway next door. The flowerbed exemplified the order in Kent’s upper-middle class, manicured subdivision. The homeowners’ association made sure everyone conformed to the neat and tidy rules. Upon returning an hour ago from a Labor Day weekend trip to the beach with family, the Thomas Kincaid-ness of his cul-de-sac struck him once more. The French Country style homes formed a perfect jigsaw puzzle picture of the American dream. No matter how many times Kent made that corner, the image remained the same.

He remarked to Marilyn, his wife, “I could take a picture of this street every day, and it would only reflect the change in seasons.” He smiled at his college freshman daughter’s reflection in the rearview mirror, adding, “There is comfort in that sameness.”

Hannah was almost on her own now, soon to relegate her time with the family to weekends when she could manage it. She was the last of the Barker brood to leave the nest. Kent had just turned fifty, and the slower pace of suburban living suited him. None of his medical school buddies would believe beer-bong champ Barker would prefer the mundane and routine in his later years. But after a long day of surgery, surprises were the last thing an anesthesiologist wanted. Spotting the screen out of place interrupted the solace Kent felt in his world of comfortable banality.

The neighbor persisted, “What happened? Did you get that off and now can’t figure out how to put it back?”

Kent asked, “Reece, were you around this weekend?”

“Yes. Well, I was. Travis took his mother to see his brother on Sunday, but I was here all weekend. Why, what’s wrong?”

Kent glanced back down at the screen and the basement window it should have been covering.

Shrugging, he answered, “I don’t know. This screen was off, but the window was still locked on the inside, and the alarm was active. Marilyn says it just feels like someone was in the house, but we can’t find anything missing.”

“Now, that’s disconcerting. I sure didn’t see or hear anything. Is she sure?”

Kent’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Hannah, came screaming out the front door with the answer.

“Daddy, some pervert went through my laundry and stole all my underwear, all of it, bras, and everything.”

Hannah left her first week’s worth of college laundry in the basement, before joining the family for the beach holiday with her older siblings and their spouses. Kent knew this because he carried the bulging duffle bag down the stairs Friday afternoon.

Kent’s wife fled the house close on Hannah’s heels, phone to her ear, and in mid-sentence, “…broke into our house and stole our teenaged daughter’s underwear. And if I’m not mistaken, there is some genetic material you need to come collect.”

At that moment, everything in Kent’s banal world changed.

#

10:00 PM, Friday, July 25, 2014

Buckhorn Road, Chatham County, NC

Arianna Wilde climbed into her grandmother’s farmhouse canopy bed, sinking into the feather top and down pillows. A source of countless fond memories, she felt the bed cradle her as it had on those special occasions when she came to visit the farm. Snuggled under Nana Wilde’s arm, Arianna would listen to her favorite books read aloud. Her war bride grandmother maintained her cultured British accent throughout her life, even after spending the last sixty-nine years of it near the banks of the Cape Fear River. Arianna believed a genuine appreciation achievable for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan only when the texts were read aloud by a British grandmother.

She inherited the farm and her grandmother’s feather bed in January. After finalizing her divorce and the sale of the matrimonial home, Arianna moved into the farmhouse in May. The money from the settlement helped restore and modernize the old place. Having lived in Chapel Hill since her college days, the move twenty-five miles south to her family’s ancestral country home was a welcomed one. Wherever her laptop received a signal became an office, and the solitude of country living appealed to her at this juncture in her life. Relocating seemed the answer to the question Peggy Lee sang over and over in her mind for the last few years, “Is that all there is?”

The intense stress of living on site during a remodel was well worth it. Arianna relearned the self-sufficiency of her youth after too many years of living dependent on the skills of others. Now in the final stages, she was down to the cosmetics of painting the interior and trying to get a handle on the overgrown grounds. Beating back nature to the wood line in the massive yard by day and painting the two-story interior by night, Arianna worked her body to its limits over the last few weeks. She had no spare moments to dally in the past. The work focused her and kept her old friends Regret and Dread at bay.

Arianna regretted she didn’t love her husband. He was sweet and kind, but it wasn’t enough. She regretted that she’d stuck it out for thirteen wasted years and dreaded the thought of dating again at forty-one. She regretted she hadn’t spent more time with her aging grandmother. She dreaded the weekly phone calls from the ex, ostensibly to make sure she was all right, but it was more about propping him up.

He ended almost every conversation with some form of, “I could understand if it was someone else, but you just stopped loving me.”

Arianna regretted ever being honest with him about her feelings. She had contemplated telling him there was someone else, in hopes that he would move on with his life. She regretted that she didn’t care enough to lie.

Today she added a new bit of remorse to the list. She thoroughly regretted saying, “How hard could this be,” before turning the key on the old tiller and promptly sending it through the side of the barn.

“I should have remembered the tractor debacle,” she said aloud, following it with chuckles.

Her muscles ached but were taut. Her body looked better than it had in years. She overcame many things since the move, learning something new about herself and the farm seemingly minute by minute. She had taken back her name and worked on taking back her life one day at a time. Regrets aside, Arianna had mastered her dread of a coming new day.

Tomorrow, I will conquer the tiller.

She reached for the bedside lamp. As she pulled the old chain, plunging the room into darkness, she said aloud, “Think happy thoughts.” It was something her grandmother would say each night. Arianna thought of the happiest thing she could.

The new washer and dryer will be installed in the morning. Praise baby Jesus.

The lace curtains of the canopy bed swayed slightly with the light summer wind coming through the open windows. The heat and air would be installed once all the construction dust settled.

“No need to clog up a new system, ma’am,” the installer informed her, as he handed her a trip ticket with a much later installation date than she had hoped scribbled at the bottom.

The dust was the reason the wood-framed screens were removed downstairs and the large windows thrown open. Fans sat on sills, running day and night to dry paint and suck out the seemingly never-ending drywall dust. She cleaned and vacuumed every day, but the dust prevailed. Plastic covered the portal to the bedroom where she slept. With the door shut much of the time the room stayed relatively free of contaminants. The powder-fine gypsum dust still managed to slip through the tiniest cracks. She thought the hand-tatted canopy should come down before it was damaged, but it comforted her with the retained fragrance of her grandmother’s perfume. Arianna’s eyes fluttered shut as the night breeze tickled her nose with Nana Wilde’s Chanel no. 5.

#

He knew she would be one of his girls the first time he saw her. He had twenty-five regularly visited targets, but was always ready to add a new one if the urge struck. He had jogged past the old Wilde farm the day she ran the tractor into the ditch by the road.

“Perhaps brush-hogging the front forty wasn’t your wisest choice for a first outing,” he had said to her.

“No kidding,” she said, and then laughed before blowing strands of stray hair from her brow.

He had been obliged to stop, along with several other helpful country neighbors. That was the thing about people living in the county where they buried Mayberry’s Sheriff Taylor’s Aunt Bee. Down on the river, away from the suspicion and self-absorption of urban life, folks were there to help a neighbor in need. He needed Arianna Wilde from the moment she smiled in his direction.

He paid his first furtive visit to her that very night. He helped himself to a black bra and panties left hanging from a makeshift clothesline on the back porch, and now treasured among the many items he removed during successive visits over the last eight weeks. It took him only a few minutes the next day to find out about the new resident on Buckhorn Road. He simply mentioned the activity around the Wilde place to the man at the feed store over in Brickhaven. What the old timer didn’t know, his nosey wife filled in. A little more searching on the Internet and he had all the information needed on his new target, Arianna Wilde.

He watched her bedroom window, as the amber glow of the bedside lamp went dark. It wouldn’t be long now.

RelativelyRainey

#

7:50 AM, Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arianna Wilde’s Farmhouse

“What do you mean there wasn’t anyone at home? I’m at home. I saw you drive away.”

Arianna listened to the voice on her phone for only a second, before unleashing a tirade.

“I think spending thousands of dollars with your company warrants more than a cursory knock. Flash Gordon could not have made it to the door before you decided no one was home.”

The voice interrupted her rant, causing her to pause. Upon hearing the delivery driver’s response, she sighed heavily.

“You want to know who Flash Gordon is? Oh, for the love of— Look, your office said the delivery would be between eight and nine this morning. It is just now seven-fifty. You turn that truck around this instant or return after I get off the phone with your boss, your boss’s boss, and on up the chain of command until I have a washer and dryer installed and working in my home, today.”

Arianna was halfway down the stairs when she hung up on the apologetic driver. The old washer was on its last legs and the dryer gave up the ghost years ago. Dogs or cats or some other creatures had been making off with her lingerie for weeks. She suspected the crow that hung out near the clothesline. He looked guilty and seemed always to be watching. Arianna laughed at the thought of a tree somewhere decorated with her bras and panties. She hated to think of the alternative—that one of the workers had a thing for ladies underwear. Her dirty clothes from the past week waited in a basket on the kitchen counter, in anticipation of a new working washer and dryer, and as a way to stem the tide of vanishings. She couldn’t afford to hang any more underclothes on the line to dry. She had no time right now to shop for more.

Reaching the front door, she flung it open and stood there ready to speed dial the appliance store if its truck did not return in a timely fashion. Another bright July day had dawned on a clear blue Carolina sky. Sunrays shot through the open door, illuminating the dust she stirred on her way down the stairs. Arianna watched the particles dance in the sunbeams. The light revealed a floor and stairs she’d cleaned the evening before, cast again with a layer of powder-thin dust.

“When will this end?” She asked, with a palm raised to the invisible powers that be.

She saw the footprints at the same time the appliance truck slowed on the road in front of the house and began the turn into the driveway. Tracing the path of the footprints with her eyes, Arianna noted they approached from the back of the house, went up the stairs, and then returned the way they came.

“Carl, are you here already?”

Arianna called out to the handyman she’d hired to help with the finishing touches. Maybe he arrived early and realized she had not come out of her room yet. He was supposed to finish the tile repair on the upstairs bathroom today. No response came from Carl. He was probably out back, waiting for her to appear with coffee. The guys were getting out of the delivery truck, tools in hand. All was right with Arianna’s world for a moment.

The euphoria was short-lived. As she led the installers through the kitchen to the laundry room at the back of the house, Arianna saw her dirty clothes dumped on the floor. The empty basket was left on the counter. As she reflexively picked up the clothes and returned them to the basket, she froze with her eyes on the footprints. She could see now they led up to her bedroom from the back door. Arianna’s sense of security took a major hit. Her anxiety registered with the men now watching her.

“Are you okay?” One of them asked.

Her shaken state evident in the reply, Arianna answered, “I believe someone has just stolen all my underwear.”

#

7:10 AM, Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chancery Court Subdivision,

Durham County, NC.

Kent Barker turned the last bend in the running trail, legs and lungs on fire. With the end in sight, he dug deeper, sprinting as fast as his fifty-one-year-old legs would allow. Crossing his imaginary finish line, Kent alternated between walking off the lactic acid surging through his near cramping muscles and grabbing his knees, gasping for air.

“Nice sprint,” a sheriff’s deputy said from the edge of the woods.

He and two other deputies appeared to be searching the strip of land behind Kent’s house that separated the running trail from the yards in the neighborhood.

“Thanks,” Kent replied, between gasps. “What’s going on?”

The deputy approached, asking, “Do you live around here?”

“Yeah,” Kent said, finally able to stand erect. “I live right there.” He pointed to the back of his home.

The deputy pulled out a pad and pen. “Could I have your name, sir?”

“Dr. Kent Barker. What’s going on? Has something happened to my wife?”

“Why would you ask that, sir?”

Kent became impatient. “Because you’re standing in the woods behind my house asking me questions.”

“Your wife is Marilyn Barker?”

“Yes. What’s happened? Is she okay?” Kent demanded.

“May I have a look at the soles of your shoes, sir?”

Kent immediately showed the bottoms of his shoes to the deputy and began to panic, “Oh, my God. Marilyn. Tell me what’s happened.”

“Your wife is fine, Dr. Barker. Someone broke into the house two doors that way.” The deputy pointed just a few hundred yards down the trail. “During the canvas this morning, we found tracks in the mud there and the same tracks here behind your home and more muddy prints on your back patio. They do not match your shoes. We spoke to your wife. We understand you reported a theft a little over a year ago. Is that right?”

“Yes. Did he come back?” Kent asked.

“The crimes seem to match the fetish burglaries we’ve had over the past twelve months, starting with your home last September, only this time the female was at home.”

“The Tanners, that’s who you’re talking about, right? Is anyone hurt?”

“Tanner, yeah that’s right. Do you know them?”

“Yes, we all know each other. It’s a friendly neighborhood. You didn’t answer me. Is everyone okay?”

“Yes, sir. No one was hurt. The teenager was home alone. She took a shower and when she came out, the clothes she left on the bathroom floor were gone along with the contents of her lingerie drawer.”

“My God, he was in there with her. When did this happen?”

“Where were you around midnight last evening, Dr. Barker?”

Incensed that he was under suspicion, Kent responded, “What? You think I stole my own daughter’s underwear, and now I’ve moved on to the neighbor’s?”

“We’re asking these questions of everyone, Dr. Barker.”

“I was home with my wife. Didn’t you speak to her? Didn’t she tell you that?”

The deputy smiled. “We have to ask and yes she did. Did you see or hear anything unusual last night?”

Kent relaxed. “No, nothing. We went to bed around eleven. I take a sleeping aid, and I was out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t have heard a thing for at least six hours. My wife says I’m like the living dead.”

“In the last year, have additional personal items disappeared from your home?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but our daughter doesn’t live here anymore. She shares a house with some friends a few miles away and closer to her school. The responding officers last year told us she was the target, that it was probably a teenager with issues.”

“I think we’re reevaluating that assessment, Doctor. This is the eleventh reported fetish burglary in the last year.”

“My God, I had no idea,” Kent said, feeling sick to his stomach.

The deputy made a note and put the pad back in his pocket. “We might want to speak with you again. Keep your doors and windows locked, sir.” He started to turn away but added, “You might lay off that sleeping aid for a bit. At least, until we catch this guy.”

#

4:56 AM, November 22, 2014

Arianna Wilde’s Farmhouse

Buckhorn Road, Chatham County, NC

She watched the second hand on her grandmother’s kitchen wall clock tick away the minutes in slow motion. The large red rooster with the clock in his belly hung in that very spot as long as Arianna remembered.  She’d been sure to rehang it as soon as the new paint dried. Mr. Rooster’s clock hands said it was closing in on five in the morning. Her attacker left her at three, two hours ago. Two hours that crept by one tick at a time.

“Arianna, can you look straight ahead for me?”

The EMT’s smile did not cover his concern, as he focused a small flashlight in each of her eyes.

“Thank you,” he said, clipping the penlight back inside his shirt pocket. He checked the bandage on her head, seemed satisfied, and asked, “Are you warm enough? Can I get you anything?”

Arianna pulled her grandmother’s quilt tighter around her shoulders and resumed watching the seconds tick by.

“Are you sure we can’t take you to the hospital?” A second EMT asked.

“I’m sorry, gentleman. May we have a moment alone with Ms. Wilde?”

Arianna heard the voice of the female detective again, the one who tried to interview her before without much luck. The only words Arianna spoke in the last two hours were to the emergency operator. The details she gave were sparse. Her name, address, and the declaration “he raped me” were all she said before hanging up. The phone repeatedly rang in the long minutes she waited for the police to arrive. Arianna ignored it while she watched Mr. Rooster tick-tick-tick away the life she knew. Convinced this was punishment for walking out of her marriage, for trying to start over, for seeking the life of independence she craved—Arianna Wilde stopped talking because there was nothing left to say.

The flashlight bearing EMT protested being asked to leave, “She needs medical attention.”

“That’s the goal, but right now what she needs is to process,” the detective responded with authority.

“Well, if she starts showing signs of shock—”

A female voice unfamiliar to Arianna interrupted the EMT.

“I think what Ms. Wilde needs right now is a little quiet. If you will just wait outside in the hall, I’m sure she’ll leave with you voluntarily when she’s ready.”

The room cleared of all but the detective and the other woman, the one with the calm, controlled tone. The moment the police arrived the normally peaceful country night had filled with male voices and the sound of heavy footsteps. They attempted hushed communications, but Arianna could still hear them—and smell them. Or was that his odor lingering on her skin. She rubbed her nose in her grandmother’s quilt, hoping for a whiff of Chanel no. 5, as quiet returned to the kitchen.

Arianna heard the refrigerator door open. She turned to see the calm voice belonged to a tall woman with short chestnut curls, dressed in a black, classic, long wool coat. At the moment, she was removing a carton of half and half from the shelf. Arianna became entranced with the woman who did not try to speak to her, but went about making tea. A full five minutes of silence passed before the tall stranger sat down across from Arianna and slid a cup of tea in front of her. A little wisp of steam curled up between them.

“I hope I got it right,” the darkly attractive woman said. “You look like you could use something warm. It’s getting chilly in the early mornings, isn’t it?”

Arianna nodded and reached for the cup. She pulled it close, wrapping both hands around it for the warmth. To her bones, she felt a chill that only seemed to turn colder as time wore on. Tea was exactly what she wanted, but she hadn’t been able to articulate that to anyone. Arianna stared across the table into eyes that understood.

With eye contact made, the woman began to talk. Nothing in her voice registered the seriousness of the situation. She spoke as if they were sitting down for a casual tea, two strangers meeting for the first time.

“I’m a coffee drinker, but my spouse spent a summer in England during college. I’ve been told putting the milk in first and then adding the tea and water makes a better cup. Do you add your milk first?”

Arianna answered without thinking. “Yes, my grandmother was British and taught me to make it that way.” She then took a sip of the tea and found it tailored to her taste. She smiled at the stranger. “It’s perfect. How did you know?”

The woman returned the smile and replied nonchalantly, “You have half and half in the refrigerator. The used cup in the sink has a residue, giving me a clue as to the color I was shooting for. The sugar bowl, a few spilled granules, and the spoon on the paper towel by the hot water dispenser were a clue that you stirred a bit of sweetener into your tea. Since you are health conscious, according to your food choices, and appear to be in great shape, I guessed it was only a small amount, a guilty pleasure.”

Arianna took another sip before asking, “Are you some kind of Sherlock Holmes?”

“In the way that Doyle explained the power of observation, I guess you could say I am a believer. My name is Rainey Bell. I’m a behavioral analyst by trade.”

“Are you a detective, like her?” Arianna indicated the other woman standing silently by the kitchen sink.

“No, Detective Robertson and I go back to my days as an FBI agent, but I’m a consultant for local law enforcement now.”

“Why are you here?” Arianna wanted to know.

“Sheila,” Rainey said, giving a nod to Detective Robertson, “thought I might be uniquely qualified to help you.”

“Why, because you have experience making victims talk?”

Rainey Bell leaned a little closer and locked her eyes on Arianna’s. “No, because I’ve been exactly where you are. I know what this feels like, and I think I know what you need to hear.”

“Oh yeah, and what is that?” Arianna asked with a bit of attitude, thinking this woman couldn’t possibly know what to say to take away the self-blame. Could she have fought harder? Should she have fought him until he killed her? He would have, she was sure of that. And what was that feeling, nagging, pulling at her heart—was it shame for choosing compliance over death?

The behavioral analyst kept her deep green eyes focused on Arianna as she explained,  “Every assault is unique, but one thing remains the same. You did what you had to do to survive and that is all that matters. You survived. Hang on to that. Hold it tight. It will help you in the days to come. When your brain starts telling you what you should have and could have done differently, simply remind yourself that you are alive to hear those doubts.”

“He was going to kill me,” Arianna said, and finally broke.

#

9:15 PM, Sunday, November 30, 2014

Long-term Parking, RDU Airport

Wake County, NC

“Park on the other side of that RV in the last row. The security cameras can’t see this far back.”

The older man laughed. “I see this isn’t your first rodeo. How old are you kid?”

The teenager turned to the man. “However old you need me to be to complete our business.”

The man eased the car into the parking place and put the car in park.

The teenager instructed, “Turn it off. The security guard tools around here on a golf cart. He won’t notice us if the car isn’t running. Keep your foot off the brake.”

“You come here often?”

The man’s attempt at humor was lost on the teen. He replied to the joke, “Let’s get this over with. Fifty bucks for the blow, like I said. If you want to touch me, that’s going to cost you double. Money up front.”

The man dug into his back pocket for his wallet. “I don’t usually pay first.”

“Well, you haven’t been tossed out of a moving car by an asshole that didn’t want to pay up.”

The kid held out his hand for the money, unprepared for the cold steel that slapped around his wrist.

“You are under arrest for prostitu—”

The teenager didn’t hesitate. He snatched his wrist free of the man’s grasp, taking the handcuff with him. In an instant, he was out of the car and running toward the woods. There was no moon, and once he was out from under the parking lot lights, he was plunged into inky black darkness. His eyes took their time adjusting, but he didn’t slow down. He heard footsteps and shouts coming fast on his heels.

“Stop! Police!”

“Fuck that,” the boy said, and ran faster.

His heart pounded in his chest as his feet flew across the ground before he felt the earth drop out beneath him. A few seconds of hang-time later he plunged into the frigid water of the drainage pond.

“Dammit,” he thought, “I forgot about the fucking pond.”

He thrashed around in the cold water and finally found his footing. He stood up in the glare of multiple flashlights.

Silhouettes of officers shouted, “Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands.”

The teenager reached for the sky. A submerged tree branch caught on the handcuff still dangling from his wrist. It followed his hand into the air and slapped against his side.

“Jesus Christ,” a voice behind a flashlight exclaimed.

“Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot,” the kid yelled, before stumbling backward.

As he swung wildly to catch his balance, the branch swung around in front of him. That’s when he saw it wasn’t a branch at all. The teenage tough-guy turned into the little boy he truly was, screaming and falling on his back in the water, as skeletal arms wrapped around him.

#

1:00 PM, Monday, December 1, 2014

Bell’s Bail and Investigations

East Franklin Street

Chapel Hill, Orange County, NC

“Rainey Bell,” she said into the phone.

“Ms. Bell, this is Detective March, from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.”

“Good afternoon, Detective. How can I help you?”

“Actually, I have some information for you,” the detective replied. “It’s about your assault case. I was told you should be informed of a recent finding.”

“Okay, I’m listening,” Rainey said and sat up straighter in her chair.

“We found three bodies in the drainage pond near a long-term parking lot at RDU. Two of the bodies haven’t been there long enough to be JW Wilson’s victims, but the third, a male, appears to be that of Dr. John Taylor. We don’t have DNA evidence yet, but we did find his wallet and credit cards near the body. We aren’t making this public knowledge until the test results come back, but things leak. You know how it is. We thought you should know before you read it in the paper.”

“Thank you for that consideration, Detective. I appreciate it. You don’t have to call the former Mrs. Wilson. I’ll take care of that.”

“You’re welcome. Yeah, Detective Robertson, over in Durham, said you’d probably want to do the notification with Mrs. Wilson.”

Rainey tensed and corrected him. “She’s Mrs. Bell-Meyers now.”

“Yeah, I guess she remarried. Anyway, we can put the case to bed. Wilson must have sunk the missing escorts out deep in the lake.”

Rainey commented, “I guess we will know that when the bodies are discovered. Thank you again for calling. Is there anything else?”

The detective seemed confused by Rainey’s dismissal. “Uh, no. I guess that’s it. Have a good day, Ms. Bell.”

“You too, detective,” she hesitated, before sending him off with the truth. “By the way, Katie Meyers Wilson married me. She’s my wife and the mother of our triplets. You can put that in the file before you close it. People should know there was a happy ending for us.”

Rainey was pleasantly surprised at the detective’s response, “I’ll do that, Ms. Bell. That’s good to hear. Congratulations.”

She hung up the phone and stared at the wall.

Ernestine Womble, the office manager who only came in two days a week now, topped the stairs leading into Rainey’s office. Known as Ernie by all that loved her, she was still as spry as ever, acting and looking much younger than her seventy-two years. She was semi-retired but kept an eye on things, as she had since Rainey’s father opened the bail bond business back in the seventies.

“What crazed idiot does Wake County want you to help them catch this time?”

“That wasn’t a consultation request,” Rainey replied. “They found John Taylor’s body—the veterinarian set up to take the fall for JW Wilson’s crimes.”

“Oh,” came Ernie’s one-word reply.

“I guess I better call Katie before the media leaks the story.”

“You all right kid?” Ernie asked.

Rainey would always be a kid to Ernie. She helped Rainey’s dad, Billy, raise her and was more of a mother figure during her formative years than her biological mother. Ernie was giving Rainey the eye, the one that said, “Don’t lie to me.” Rainey knew better than to be anything but truthful.

“I think so. I’m not sure. Every time I get to a place where the memories of that time dissipate, something pops up to remind me. Here comes another round of nightmares.” She added sarcastically, “Katie will be thrilled.”

“He didn’t win, you know,” Ernie reminded her.

Rainey shook her head in response. “Yes, he did. He intended to scar me for life and apparently he has. JW Wilson will just not go away.”

Ernie would not abide self-pity. “He intended to kill your ass, how many, three times? He did not succeed and is dust in an urn as we speak. You’re still here. You fill your head with that beautiful family of yours and evict that evil SOB from your mind. He’s of no consequence to you now.”

Rainey smiled at Ernie’s simplification of a complicated neural process.

“That’s not exactly how PTSD works. I can’t control when the memories come. It doesn’t matter how happy my life is. He comes again in the night with no warning. Each round of nightmares brings more detail than the last. I suppose until my mind processes the entire event, I’m going to be forced to witness the explorations of my repressed knowledge of that night.” She paused, before adding another truth with a sigh, “Ernie, I don’t want to remember.”

“Maybe that’s the problem, Rainey. You need to talk it out. You never have. Your dad was the same way, kept everything tight to the vest. He wouldn’t even talk to Mackie about the war for years. His demons came in the night too until he had to get help. Do you know when that was?”

“No, I just remember his nightmares, his screams, and barking orders.”

“Oh, those were mild compared to the early years. He shot a hole through the sliding glass door in his bedroom once. He was dangerous in his sleep.”

“I never knew that,” Rainey said, wondering what else she did not know about her father. The first ten years of her life, she hadn’t known he existed. She didn’t come to live with him until she was fourteen. Parts of Billy Bell’s life remained a mystery. Rainey had discovered only a few years ago that she had a half-sister.

“When you started coming to visit, Mackie and I told Billy he had to go to therapy, or he might shoot you during one of his nightmares. He went every day for a while. He’d check in at the office in the morning and then head to the VA hospital over in Durham before beginning his day. It changed him for the better. He still had the dreams occasionally, but they were never as bad.”

“I knew he spent a lot of time with vets, working through their PTSD battles.”

“He was working on his own as well, Rainey. You can’t keep those horrid memories locked inside forever. At some point, they are going to come out. The question is, will it be on your terms or theirs?”

#

The house was finally quiet. After feeding, bathing, and tucking the triplets into their beds, Rainey read to them until the last little eye closed. She and Katie went to bed a few minutes later, exhausted from the trying day. The discovery of John Taylor’s body had veiled the evening in somberness. Emotionally drained, they lay there quietly, each lost in thoughts of her own. Freddie, Rainey’s cat, was comfortably curled at her feet. With Katie’s head resting on Rainey’s chest, they drifted off to sleep.

The movie in her dream began almost immediately. Rainey had experienced it many times before. Disconnected from her bound and gagged body, spread-eagle on the bed, she watched him rape her. Rainey saw him dig the scalpel into her flesh, as she floated above the scene, able to look on now without the heart-pounding panic of earlier viewings. Time had hardened her emotions toward the violence perpetrated against her body. The physical scars from those injuries had healed. It was the gaping wound to her psyche that had yet to close.

She had come to view this part of the dream as the prelude to the impending nightmare. If she were lucky Rainey could force herself awake, before being thrust into the helpless body on the bed and returned to the pain and panic of the attack as if it were happening for the first time. But that was not to be the case on this occasion.

He was at her ear, whispering, “You be a good girl now, or I will have to hurt her.”

Rainey felt the plastic wrapped mattress beneath her body. She closed her eyes against the panic and the searing pain screaming through her body. She fought the bindings, flailing her head wildly from side to side.

“Look at her,” he demanded.

Opening her eyes to see an unconscious Katie tied on the bed next to her, Rainey’s guttural cries were muffled by the gag while the nightmare continued to veer from its normal course.

“What?” He asked, his eyes sparkling with delight behind the black mask concealing the rest of his face. “You don’t want me to hurt her?”

Rainey glared at him through eyes nearly swollen shut, her breath fast and shallow, air puffing in and out of her gagged mouth. Her nose bled profusely, providing no access to more air and threatened to drown her in her own blood, but still she fought him.

He raised the scalpel over Katie’s chest. “She should have known, you know. She should have seen what I was. She wasn’t paying attention. This is all her fault, right? She should pay for the pain she allowed me to inflict on you. Katie should have seen it all coming, don’t you think?”

The blade glinted in the air. Rainey tried to scream and tore at the bindings, ripping skin as the rope dug deeper into her wrists. The small part of Rainey’s brain that was conscious and horrified by what it saw began to beg.

Please God, start the siren.

Rainey’s silent prayer was answered with the sweet sound of a distant whine blaring from a patrol car in route to save the day. It was an accident, a mistake that saved her life. The orders were to approach in silence. A rookie cop hit his siren and charged toward the scene before someone told him to turn it off. Mercifully, it sang out just long enough to warn her attacker.

The dream resumed its chilling retelling of the night JW Wilson nearly killed her. Katie’s body disappeared. Rainey once again inhabited her private hell alone with JW, who bolted from the bed and scampered out of the room. Now came the moment when he paused at the door and looked back over his shoulder. Rainey could see his mouth move, but she could never make out what he said—until now.

She could only imagine he believed she wouldn’t survive the overdose of narcotics he’d given her, or at least the amnesia-inducing effects would block her memories. Rainey didn’t remember, but her subconscious had witnessed the entire attack and kept a record. It had been a long reveal, one painful disclosure at a time, but Rainey had now seen it all. Her mind finally played the last moments on the memory reel.

JW looked down at her. “I should have done that years ago.”

The next and last second of the movie played in slow motion. It was the first time it had ever advanced this far. Rainey watched in disbelief.

Oh, my God!

“Rainey, wake up. Rainey! Wake the hell up!”

Rainey’s eyes flew open. Katie was standing by the bed, cautiously hitting her with one of the decorator pillows from the chaise lounge by the window.

“Wake the hell—oh, there you are. Wow,” Katie said, “that was a bad one. Sorry, I had to hit you. You were losing it. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Rainey sat up. “I’m sorry, honey. I wasn’t loud, was I? I didn’t wake the kids, did I?”

“No,” Katie said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “It was one of those where you’re trying to talk, but it’s all garbled in your throat. Are you okay, now? Did Freddie hurt you? He was biting your wrist.”

Rainey blinked her eyes a few times and looked down at the tiny feline bite marks on her left wrist. She sighed deeply and then wrapped her arms around her wife. She buried her face in Katie’s hair and whispered into her neck, “No, honey, I’m not. I need to call Danny. I need help.”

 

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