A Broken Hallelujah

Late April, 2003

“There’s nothing standing in your way.”

The words had been echoing in Snipe Thompson’s mind for almost two weeks – since the moment he had left her office the day he had gone to thank her. The phrase had become like a mantra to him, and it was louder than the wrestlers currently yelling at each other on his television set. He testily shut off the program and plopped down on his tattered couch. The television was arguably the nicest thing in the dingy apartment he called home, and for the first time, that realization bothered him. He was fifty-five years old, and he had nothing to show for all of those years except a prison record, an ex-wife from a brief ill-fated marriage, and a grown daughter he knew he would never get to know. His parents and only brother were dead, and while his nephew was still living, Bull had yet to return to Sleepyside since his release from prison six months earlier. He actually breathed a sigh of relief as he thought of Bull’s reluctance to visit. The rumors coming down the grapevine from Croton where Bull was now living hinted that prison had hardened him, and he was now even more dangerous than his Uncle Zeke had ever thought about being.

He pushed thoughts of his nephew aside and idly wondered what it would be like to get the fresh start she had talked about – to get a respectable job and a decent place to live. Even in his fantasizing, he knew it was nothing more than a pipe dream. Despite his mother’s best efforts, he had dropped out of high school a year shy of getting his diploma, and his only real skills were nefarious ones. He doubted any potential employer would consider his years of running a bookie joint as experience in accounting, and while he could hot wire a car and break into almost any secure building, he knew those weren’t exactly marketable skills. Even if there was something he was somehow qualified to do, his criminal record and lack of even a GED were black marks that would be insurmountable to gainful employment. It was frustrating, because his small stash of money was running out, and ever since she had saved his life, none of his usual schemes were appealing. At the rate he was going, the television would soon be sitting with a scratched out serial number in a pawn shop a few towns over where he would hope that no one would be able to either identify it or trace it back to him.

A loud knock on the door startled him out of his thoughts, and he growled, “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Uncle Snipe. Let me in, quick.”

He was both surprised and unhappy to hear his nephew’s voice, but he got up to fling open the door. “What do you want?”

“Is that any way to greet me?” Bull asked. “It’s been what? Eight years since we’ve seen each other?”

“Something like that. You’ve been out of the pen for six months, though, and it takes you this long to suddenly decide to show your ugly mug. So yeah, I think you want something.”

“I’ve been busy,” he protested. “And it took me a while to find you. You weren’t living here last time I saw you. Whatever happened to ‘Aunt’ Donna?”

“You know full well I divorced her,” Snipe told him. “Right about the time you both went to prison. So I’m asking again. What do you want?”

Bull’s eyes glistened dangerously as he smiled a slow smile. “Like I said, I’ve been busy, but I think it’s something you’d be interested in. Not much money in it, which is a shame considering how much expensive equipment I had to steal, but I’ve got a plan to settle the score for Uncle Zeke. Any chance you got a DVD player in here?”

Caught off guard, he nodded. He barely knew how to work it, but he had acquired it at the same time as the television. Bull handed him an unlabeled disk in a plastic case, then sat down on the end of the ragged couch. “Put this in. It should work.”

Snipe reluctantly turned the television back on, and although it took him a few minutes, he finally got the DVD to start playing. An image of a cozy kitchen filled the screen, and he raised his eyebrows. “What is…?” he trailed off as a familiar blonde woman and a young girl came into view. “What? How?”

“Just wait,” Bull said smugly, smirking at his uncle. “This is just a highlight reel. I have a friend who works for Carlson Carpets, and it was a lucky break when he got assigned to lay new carpet for them. He ‘borrowed’ the key, and it was a snap for me to get in and hide a few bugs and video cameras here and there. I have the audio going to their barn, but it was easier to wire the cameras to a computer I hid in the attic. I made myself a copy of the key, so it’s easy to get inside when no one’s home to make copies of the scenes I want.” He grinned. “I bet the officer that encouraged me to take those computer classes in the pen never thought I’d put them to such good use.”

The scene had shifted from the kitchen to a view of what appeared to be the master bedroom. She was dressed in a rather brief green negligee, and the sight of her scantily dressed and passionately kissing her husband would forever be burned in his memory. The man in the video slowly began to lift the negligee over her head, revealing the matching panties underneath. Every base instinct Snipe had cried out in frustration as he averted his eyes, and he swallowed hard as he turned to his nephew. “So, what are you going to do with this? Blackmail? You know that’s Molinson with her. Blackmailing a cop is never a good move.”

“Nah. I’m not that stupid. I made this copy for you, because I wanted to show you what I have. Think of it as a down payment on our revenge. But other than that, the video’s all mine. I have a few disks for my own personal collection, and who knows. If I ever get desperate, I’m sure I could sell this footage and make a fortune on the black market.” He shrugged his shoulders. “The real reason for the cameras, though, was to learn their routines. I’ve been hiding out in their barn for a week or so now, and between the cameras and the bugs I’ve got their regular habits down cold. Thing is that it looks like I’m finally getting a big break. There’s supposed to be a raid on Olyfant’s tomorrow night, so she and the girl will be all alone. I scored a sweet Beretta last month that’s more than a match for that piece she has. I’ve been fantasizing about her for a good ten years now, so I figure I’ll have some fun with her first. Show her what a real man is like. Then, just when I have her screaming and begging for more, I’ll  finish the job Uncle Zeke started. While I’m with her, I need you to dispose of the girl. Do what you want with her. I don’t care what. Just make sure she’s dead by the time we leave. Then we can take what we can carry and get out before anyone shows up at the house. On the off chance Molinson survives the raid, what better torture for him than finding their mutilated bodies and never knowing who did it?”

His blood ran cold at the thought of Bull’s plan. As he had told her, he didn’t believe in hurting innocent women, and she herself was beyond special. Just the idea of Bull in the same room with her, let alone touching her, hurting her, killing her, made him sick, but the dangerous glint in Bull’s eyes made him very aware that he had to tread carefully as he tried to talk him out of it. “You’re an idiot, Bull. By now, everyone in New York knows we’re related to Uncle Zeke, so we’ll be the first suspects he’ll come after. Do you really think he’ll rest until he has us rotting in prison? I’m assuming you’ve heard the rumor going around town that she’s pregnant. If she is, it means we’d be up on triple homicide charges!”

“Oh, I’m not going back to the pen,” Bull said, nonchalantly. “So I don’t care how many people we have to kill. Worst thing that happens is we have a shoot-out when he tries to arrest us. We kill him, then his partners kill us. Uncle Zeke is still avenged, and we go out in a blaze of glory.”

Trying to hide his sheer horror, he took a deep breath, knowing he’d never admit to Bull just why he was so certain Zeke had planned to kill him next. “Why, Bull? I mean, I’m the one who taught you about family honor, but you do realize that Zeke was going to kill one of us next, right? You heard the 911 recording, didn’t you? We’re the only nephews he had left. Do you really want to die for someone who was going to kill you?”

“Do you really think the pigs didn’t doctor that tape? The whole thing was probably created in a studio somewhere just to get her off the hook,” he shouted. He took a deep breath, then spoke in a calmer voice. “Besides, she’s had this coming for over ten years now. She single-handedly sent me to juvie over those stupid swords, and just how many times did she get you arrested?”

“Several,” Snipe admitted. There was no use denying it, and he knew there had been a time when he would have wanted revenge. That time had long since passed, though, but there was no way he could tell his nephew that.

Bull suddenly stood. “Meet me in their barn at eight o’clock tomorrow night. And I’m warning you. Word on the street is that you’ve been getting soft lately. Don’t even think of chickening out or double-crossing me. I’m trusting you with my plan, but you better trust me on that. Breathe a word of this to anyone, and you won’tlive to regret it.”

Against his better judgment, Snipe slapped his nephew hard across the face, much as he had so often done during the younger man’s childhood and teenaged years. “I’m still your elder, Bull, and don’t you ever dare threaten me again. Family sticks together, and you know it.”

“Now that’s the Uncle Snipe I remember,” Bull laughed, rubbing his cheek. “Eight o’clock, and don’t forget it.”

“I’ll be there,” he lied. “Now get out of here before anyone realizes you’re back in town.”

Bull slipped away, and Snipe sank down on the couch again, desperately wondering what he was going to do. He had had no idea that Bull was so knowledgeable about computers and bugs, and he realized that he could have easily bugged his own apartment at some point while he was out. The possibility meant that it wasn’t safe for him to call anyone from his apartment, but he knew he had to do something.

After a few minutes, an idea came to him, and he idly rummaged around in his almost empty refrigerator, purposely finding nothing that appealed to him. He gave a cursory look through the cabinets, then grabbed his jacket and slipped out the door. Not knowing if he was being followed, he kept up his pretense of looking for food by heading for the all-night diner a couple of blocks away on Balsam Street.

The diner was deserted except for the burly cook and a lone waitress, and after nodding to them, he headed towards the pay phone in the back corner near the restrooms. He took out his wallet and pulled out the business card he had picked up on a whim the day he had visited her at the detective agency. He had second thoughts when he noticed the young waitress wiping down the end of the counter nearest him, and he sighed. She would overhear anything he said, and his instincts were telling him not to trust her. He knew that he couldn’t just stay there without looking suspicious, so he dropped two quarters in the slot and called for a cab. He reluctantly paid for a styrofoam cup of what he considered to be the world’s worst coffee, then went outside to ostensibly wait for his cab at the corner.

Instead of waiting, however, he kept walking. He soon found himself on the town commons, and almost before he knew it, he was walking into the lobby of the police station. It was the first time he had ever entered the doors willingly, and he hesitated, realizing he wasn’t sure where to go. An unfamiliar policeman waved him over to his desk and asked, “Can I help you?”

Given his history in the station and the very real danger he had just placed himself in, Snipe couldn’t bring himself to trust anyone he didn’t know. “Any chance Molinson is working tonight? I need to talk to him.”

“No, I’m sorry. He’ll be in tomorrow, though. Is there anything I can do for you?”

He thought hard. There was another friend of hers on the force that he could trust and that might even trust him. “What about Mangan? Or could you call one of them? It’s kind of important that I talk to one of them as soon as I can.”

The young officer nodded. “Sure. Dan’s here tonight.” He pointed to a desk across the room. “You can go on over.”

With a brief word of thanks, Snipe tried to act nonchalant as he approached the young man. “Officer Mangan?”

Dan looked up from his paperwork in surprise. “Wow. Didn’t expect to see you here. What’s going on?”

“I need help.” He sighed, then spoke bluntly. “This goes against everything I’ve ever believed, but if it wasn’t for her, I’d be dead right now. On the other hand, I just committed suicide by coming here, so that doesn’t really matter now. I had to come, though. It was either let him kill me for ratting him out, or he’s going to kill them, and I can’t let that happen.”

“Okay. Back up,” Dan requested. “I’m lost. What in the world are we talking about?”

“Her.” Snipe groaned. “Trixie. I went and talked to her, you know, after she took care of Uncle Zeke and saved my life. She actually took the time to listen to me. Despite everything I’ve done, even after holding her in an armed robbery years ago, she really listened to me. I told her Uncle Zeke would have killed me next if she hadn’t killed him, and I thanked her for what she did. She even told me it’s not too late for me. I had just about convinced myself she’s right when my nephew showed up at my apartment tonight. He wants revenge, and he’s got a plan to kill them tomorrow night. Wants me to help him, but I can’t do it. I just can’t. He can kill me, but I can’t hurt one hair on her head or her daughter’s.”

“I’m still confused, but I think I’m getting it. Back up and start at the beginning. I want to take some notes.”

He nodded, and quickly told Dan why he was so sure Zeke would have killed him, why he had gone to talk to Trixie, and about Bull’s visit earlier in the evening. Then he hesitated and lowered his voice. “Look. I’m breaking every code I’ve ever sworn to by ratting out my nephew. Family used to mean something to me, and I admit this is hard, but she’s more important. I don’t even know who else I’m ratting out. Everyone on Hawthorne knows you’re trying to break up Squinty’s hooker ring. If Bull knows you’re planning a raid tomorrow night, so does everyone else. I think he’s counting on Molinson to be killed in the raid, and while I have to say I can’t prove it, I’m convinced Bull’s helped set up a trap to make sure it happens. His idea is to rape and kill her and that little girl while you’re all occupied with the raid. I don’t know what he’ll do to them when he realizes I’m here, so I’d suggest getting them somewhere safe as quick as you can. All three of them. Bull’s dangerous, and he’s willing to die himself rather than be arrested again.”

Dan hesitated for a long moment as a maelstrom of emotions played across his face. “Okay. I may regret this, but I believe you. I need to call the chief, though, and he’s going to want to know if you have any proof of all of this.”

“I’m paranoid right now, and I’m not convinced my own apartment isn’t bugged, but if you want to risk it, Bull brought me a disk with some of the videos he’s taken. It’s still in the dvd player. I swear I’m innocent, but you’re going to find my fingerprints on it since I put it in the player. I suspect you’ll also find Bull’s. Either way, the video alone is enough to show that someone’s got a hidden camera in their house.” He flushed. “I don’t care who you get to go get it, and I’ll even give you my keys. When you get it, though, can you be careful who watches it? I – I don’t want to see her embarrassed. I turned it off pretty quick, but one of the cameras is in her bedroom, and uh, well, I don’t think she’d want anyone to see it, you know?”

“Her bedroom?” Dan asked. He winced. “Please tell me they were sleeping.”

Snipe reluctantly shook his head as he handed over his key ring. “Like I said, I admit it wasn’t easy, but I stopped watching when he started undressing her. I know Bull watched it all, though, and he says he has plenty more recordings. For all I know, he’s got a camera in the little girl’s room, too. I don’t think she could stand it if any of that became public.”

“You can trust me,” Dan assured him. He put the pen he was holding down on his desk and sighed. “Believe me. We’re talking about my boss and a woman who is like a sister to me. I can’t promise, but I will try to make sure no one but the Captain sees it. If anyone else has to, it will be either Captain Molinson or the Chief giving them permission. Not me.”

“Thanks,” he sighed with relief. “That’s all I can ask. Well, that, and I really don’t believe I’m asking this, but would it be possible for me to hang around a while? I know I’m most likely dead anyway, but I’d like to at least know it’s not in vain, you know?  At this point, I’d almost confess to something just to stay here until I know she’s safe.”

Dan gave a faint smile. “No confessions unless you actually committed the crime, please. You’re going to get a fresh start, remember?”

“Would be nice.”

“I want to keep you safe, too. So we may wind up doing some kind of protective custody.”

He flinched. Protective custody was just another name for the hole, and while he was thankful he had never been in it, he knew people who had.

Dan noticed his expression and hastened to reassure him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean solitary confinement. I’m just talking about a secure location. It depends on how long this drags out just how we’d manage it. Maybe a hotel room or safe house, but for now, I do strongly advise you to stay here.”

“That would work, I guess. Thank you.”

Dan nodded. “It’s late, and I need to make some calls. If you’ll give me a few minutes, I’ll turn one of the conference rooms into a makeshift room for you. They only have a table and chairs, so I’ll grab a cot from an empty cell. Then you can at least get some rest, and I’m sure you’d prefer it to actually being in the cell.”

“You’re right,” he agreed.

Dan stood. “Okay. Follow me. There’s a restroom right outside the door to the conference room you’ll be in, and if you need something to eat, let me know. I can have one of the rookies run somewhere and pick up something.”

Snipe nodded and silently followed him to the conference room. It was rather utilitarian, with a long table that would seat comfortably seat ten and a large whiteboard hanging on one wall. He sat down heavily at one end of the table and put his head in his hands. He had no idea what would happen next – where he would go when this was over or even if he would even be alive. Bull had become a psychopath, and regardless of whether or not he survived this or went back to prison, he would never again be part of his life. He suspected his so-called friends would desert him once word got out that he had gone to the police, and he would no longer be welcome in his old haunts. In his despair, an image of her came to his mind. She should now be safe, and somehow, that was all that mattered.

A few miles away, Trixie leaned against the door sill of Erica’s room, silently watching for signs of the nightmare she expected the little girl to have. They had only been back in their home about a week, but both she and Erica had been plagued by nightmares every night. She had learned that if she awakened the little girl, she would eventually fall back into a dreamless sleep until morning. Erica was already tossing and turning, and when she started to whimper,  she quickly strode across the room and sat down on the edge of the twin bed. She gently shook her awake, then pulled her into her arms. “Shh. It’s okay, munchkin. I’m right here.”

“Mom?” Erica gasped, her eyes opening. “You’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” she assured her. “Everything’s okay.”

“No,” she whispered. Tears filled her eyes. “Someone was after you again.”

Despite herself, Trixie shivered, wishing that Erica’s nightmares didn’t so closely mirror her own. “It was just a bad dream. There’s no one after me.”

“Mom?” Erica hesitated, clinging tightly to Trixie’s neck. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course. You can always ask me anything.”

“Have you seen the shadows, too?”

Chills ran down Trixie’s spine. “What shadows?”

“The ones in the windows when I wake up at night. If I go look, there’s no one there, and there’s no tree or anything there that should be making them. I saw one in the hall once, too.”

She shook her head. While it was certainly possible the shadows were figments of Erica’s imagination fueled by the nightmares and that she hadn’t actually seen them, the incident with Emily Martin had taught her to take Erica seriously. “No, I haven’t, but I want you to let me know the next time you….” She trailed off as the darkened room seemed to get even darker, and she glanced up at the window. The curtains were tied back, and the vague outline of a man filled the portion of the panes that was visible. She clutched the child even more tightly. “Is that what it looks like?” she whispered.

Erica nodded and started to tremble. “Dell?” Trixie called out, trying to keep her voice even. “Would you come here, please?”

Dell entered the room within seconds, but the shadow disappeared as quickly as it had come. “What’s wrong? Another nightmare?”

“Yes, but I think there’s someone out there. It was like someone just looked in the window.” She took a deep breath. “Erica said she’s been seeing ‘shadows’ in the windows when she wakes up at night. How long have you been seeing these?”

“Ever since we came home,” Erica said softly. “I thought I was imagining things at first, but Mom saw it just now, too.”

He quickly crossed the room and looked out the window. “There’s someone going in the old barn.” He grabbed his phone and pushed a button. “Dan? Is anyone available right now? We just saw someone going in our barn, and I’ve got a bad feeling about it. I want backup before I go in there.”

The sound of Dan swearing came through the phone’s speaker, and then, “Hey, Captain? Could you open your phone, please?”

Trixie’s heart raced as her husband flipped the cover of his cell phone open. Like most of the other police officers, he preferred the convenience of the walkie-talkie function when talking to others on his network, and Dan’s request for privacy made her wonder what was going on. She was unable to tell anything from Dell’s impassive face and the short answers he gave, and when he ended the call and closed the phone, something in his expression let her know to keep quiet. She looked at him with a question in her eyes.

He sat down beside her and wrapped both Trixie and Erica in his arms. “This is very, very important,” he said as softly as he could. “Dan thinks there’s a good chance we’ve been bugged, so we need to be careful not to say anything we don’t want to be overheard. I’m going to go get our revolvers so we’re armed. Help is on the way, so Erica, I want you to go ahead and get dressed again. But for now, just pull your clothes on over your pajamas.”

Trixie raised her eyebrows, but then her eyes widened. “Is there a camera, too?” she mouthed.

Dell shrugged. “Probably. Not sure where, and I don’t want to take the time now to find it.”

Suddenly grateful that she and Dell were still fully dressed, she helped Erica put a loose pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt on over her pajamas. Then she took the holster Dell handed to her and nimbly put it on under her own sweater. She slid her revolver into it and whispered to Dell, “Any chance we could make a run for it and get to the car?”

He shook his head. “By now, he knows we’re on to him. We’ll be sitting ducks the minute that door opens.”

“There are too many windows here to be safe,” she sighed. A thought struck her. “The attic! If we go up there, we can pull the ladder up after us.”

He thought for a moment, then nodded. “That’s a good idea. Grab your phone and take Erica up there. I suspect that’s where you two will be safest.”

“You, too!” she exclaimed. She was disappointed but not surprised when he shook his head.

“I’ll be okay, baby, but I need to be down here.”

It was useless to protest, and inwardly, she knew he was right. Someone needed to stay in case the intruder did manage to get inside the house, and if it hadn’t been for her pregnancy and for Erica, she would have insisted on staying with him. Dell quietly opened the trap door in the hallway ceiling and pulled down the ladder. “When you get up there, I’ll close it for you.”

Erica’s eyes were wide as she stared at the unfolded wooded ladder she had never before been allowed to touch. “We’re going up there?”

Trixie nodded reassuringly. “You and I are.”

Erica tried to put on a brave face, but her fear shone through. “I want to stay with Daddy.”

Dell reached over and gave her a big hug. “I know it’s scary, sweetie, but right now, I need for you to be a big girl and stay with Mom. We’ve got to take care of her and the baby, you know. Can you do that for me?”

“But it’s dark up there!” she whispered. “And that’s where all the spooky sounds have been coming from!”

He looked startled, but quickly recovered. “There’s a battery-powered lantern beside the door up there that will give you plenty of light. Enough light to take care of any noises, I promise.”

She took a deep breath and put a foot on the ladder. Then she put her other foot on, and slowly started to climb. Trixie followed closely behind her. Once they were both securely off the ladder and Trixie had switched on the lantern, Dell refolded it and pushed the door closed.

Unlike the full attics at Crabapple Farm and the Manor House, this attic was unfinished and little more than a crawlspace. At some point, someone had laid sheets of plyboard over the joists and insulation, and she warned Erica, “Be careful. These boards aren’t nailed down.”

They slowly and carefully made their way to the middle of the attic, which gave Erica enough room to stand upright. Trixie sat down with her legs crossed and pulled Erica down into her lap. “I’m glad you’re up here with me.”

“Me, too,” Erica admitted. “I didn’t want to leave Daddy, but I’m scared.”

“I am, too,” Trixie confessed. “But we have the best policeman in all of New York downstairs. Do you really think he’ll let anything bad happen to any of us?”

Erica smiled and shook her head. “No.”

Trixie wrapped her arms tightly around the child. “So. You think those noises are coming from up here.”

“Some of them, anyway. I think most of them were from outside, but I know I’ve heard things from up here.”

She glanced around the attic, seeing only the few boxes of old Christmas decorations that Miss Rachel had left up there. However, she realized that the boxes were now stacked to form a makeshift wall across one end of the attic, and she distinctly remembered that they had been pushed as close to the walls as the steeply angled roof would allow. “Stay here. I’m going to go see what’s behind those boxes. Mice or squirrels may have gotten inside somehow, and that could be what we’ve been hearing.”

“I want to come, too,” Erica said in a small voice. “I can bring the lantern.”

Trixie hesitated. She didn’t want to tell Erica, but she knew that no squirrel or mouse had stacked the boxes that neatly, and she didn’t want to risk having her exposed to what was hidden behind them. She also realized that the child was scared to be left alone. She finally nodded. “Stay behind me, though, and be careful.”

They cautiously made their way across the makeshift floor, and she took a deep breath before peering behind the cardboard boxes. She was almost certain the shadowy figure outside was using it as a hiding place for something, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found, and she unsuccessfully tried to stifle her gasp.

“What is it, Mom?”

She moved out of the way and motioned for Erica to come closer. A wire rack held a computer monitor a few inches off of the makeshift floor, with a tower almost immediately behind it. The computer was surrounded by several spindles of DVDs along with other electronic equipment that she couldn’t identify. Lights on the front of the tower told her that it was on, and when the fan kicked on, Erica’s mouth dropped open.

“That’s the noises I’ve been hearing! At least, some of them.”

“Me, too,” Trixie agreed. “I’m going to go see what program is running, so I do want you to stay here. I’ll only be a few feet away, but until I know what’s on it, I don’t want you to see it.”

“Uncle Mart didn’t put this up here as an early birthday present for you, did he?” Erica asked doubtfully.

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. This is not a good thing.”

“I was afraid of that,” Erica sighed. “Isn’t it better to find it, though, than to not know it’s here?”

“Absolutely. The more we know, the better off we are.” She kissed the top of the child’s head, then carefully approached the computer. She pushed the button to turn the monitor on. The screen flickered on, and soon she was looking at four separate windows arranged in a grid so that they were all viewable at once. She swallowed hard as she realized that the windows were direct video feeds from the living room, kitchen, Erica’s bedroom, and her own bedroom. The implications struck her, and she fought back a wave of nausea.

“Mom? Are you okay?”

She tried to nod, but couldn’t. The stacks of dvds made her certain the cameras had been there for a while, and while it was bad enough that the kitchen and living room had cameras, the bedroom cameras had likely captured not only her most intimate times with her husband, but even Erica sleeping and changing clothes. She wasn’t sure which horrified her more, and tears filled her eyes as she stabbed at the monitor’s power button. She then motioned for Erica to come to her and enveloped her in a tight hug. She needed to talk to Dell so they could decide together how much to tell their daughter, but for now, she just said, “I will be when this is all over.”

“Me, too,” Erica admitted. “I think we’re both scared right now.”

They both jumped as they heard what sounded like someone knocking on the front door. A moment later, the door slammed, and they looked at each other. Erica whispered, “Daddy will be okay, won’t he?”

“Yes,” Trixie assured her, showing more confidence than she felt. They soon heard loud voices in the yard, but they were unable to decipher the words, and she took a deep breath. “Know what this reminds me of?”

Erica shook her head. “What?”

“My very first case with your Aunt Honey. It was the summer after I turned thirteen, and you know how Uncle Jim ran away from his mean stepfather, don’t you?”

Erica nodded. “And Miss Trask took you and Aunt Honey to go find him.”

“That’s right,” Trixie smiled. Reminiscing made it easier to ignore the commotion outside, and by the time she got to the part of the story where she and Honey were hiding in the loft of the Smith’s barn, Erica was entranced.

“So you kicked him off the ladder?” she asked, shivering. “Weren’t you scared?”

“Terrified,” Trixie admitted. “It was the first time I’d ever faced down a criminal, and I felt like it would have been my fault if he had actually kidnapped Honey.”

“You’ve caught a lot of them since then,” Erica said softly. “You and Daddy both. I just get scared sometimes that the bad guy will win.”

Trixie tightened her arms around her. “It’s okay to get scared, munchkin. I still get scared, too. But if we didn’t do what we do, they would win.”

A loud burst of gunfire reached their ears, and Erica burst into tears. She buried her face in Trixie’s shoulder. “Daddy!” she sobbed.

Trixie rubbed her back as more shots were fired, followed by more yelling. “Please, God,” she prayed desperately. “Please let him be okay.”

Back at the police station, Snipe lay silently on the cot Dan had brought him. At the policeman’s suggestion, he had turned out the light, but sleep was elusive. Not knowing what was happening was torture, and his mind kept going back and forth between his nephew and her. Suddenly, he heard the doorknob turning, and he jolted upright, wincing as bright light flooded the room.

Dan entered the room with the police chief and looked at him soberly. “I’m sorry to wake you, but we need to talk.”

“What happened?” he demanded urgently. “Is she okay?”

The chief motioned for him to take a seat at the conference table with them. “If you mean Trixie, yes, she is.”

“Not long after you came in here, the Captain called to ask for backup to deal with an intruder in their barn,” Dan explained. “You were right that the house was bugged, and that was enough to let Bull know he had been spotted. He was waiting for us when we got there.”

“I don’t understand,” Snipe said. He felt a faint glimmer of hope. “Did he turn himself in, after all?”

Chief Gillespie shook his head. “No. He opened fire before we could even get the barn surrounded.”

“He said he would shoot Molinson before going back to prison,” he gulped. “Did he succeed?”

“No, he didn’t. I’m sorry, Snipe. We had no choice but to return fire, and well, he didn’t make it. I wish there had been another way, but it was unavoidable.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said gruffly, wiping away unexpected tears. Until now, he had focused on the cold, calculating eyes that had looked at him so menacingly and the threat that Bull had become, but his mind was now flooded with memories of the baby and little boy that his nephew had once been. “He knew what he was doing.”

“I know it may not help right now, but  you did the right thing,” Dan said. He slid the box of tissues closer to Snipe, then leaned over the table and patted his shoulder. “And speaking as a friend of the Molinsons and not on behalf of the department, I want to say thank you. It’s thanks to you that Trixie and her family are okay. If we hadn’t already been on the way when the captain called, we may not have been in time to help them.”

He managed a small smile. It hurt him more than he had realized was possible to know that Bull was dead, but it did help knowing that she was safe and had nothing else to fear from the Thompson family.

“We officially thank you, too,” the chief said. “I’m very sorry about your nephew, but without your warning, this had the potential to be much worse than it was.”

“I know you’re in shock right now,” Dan added. “And even though we’ll keep your involvement as quiet as we can, this is Sleepyside. If anyone saw you come in here and puts two and two together, well, even with the immediate threat gone, it still might not be that safe for you. Why don’t you stay with me for a few days? I can help you make any arrangements you want to make for Bull and you can take some time to decide what’s next for you.” He looked Snipe straight in the eyes. “It’s up to you, but I’ve been where you are. You’ve made the first step to your fresh start, so make sure you take the second one.”

Snipe nodded. He was totally overwhelmed with grief and indecision, but he realized that the young policeman he barely knew and would have considered the enemy not all that long ago was offering him a helping hand. “If you’re sure, I think I’ll take you up on that.”

“I’m sure. I’ll warn you that all I have to offer you is a sofa bed, but I think we can make you at least somewhat comfortable. You’re not allergic to cats, are you?”

“Nah. Never really liked them, but I’ll cope. And trust me, I’ve had much worse than a sofa bed.” He hesitated, then blurted, “And Officer Mangan? I really appreciate this.”

True to his word, Dan took Snipe under his wing and helped him make arrangements to quietly bury Bull next to Isaac in the city cemetery. He couldn’t afford a funeral, but he knew that even if he had, he would have most likely been the only real mourner there. As it was, he watched in stoic silence as the plain casket was lowered into the earth, then turned away with tears in his eyes so he wouldn’t see the dirt covering the lid. He realized deep down that he wasn’t just burying the last of his family, but also almost everything he had ever known.

A few days later, Trixie was alone in her office, staring morosely at the stack of file folders piled on her desk. The time since the shoot-out had passed in a blur, but the revelation of the cameras and audio bugs planted in her house had destroyed the last of the security she felt there. The chief had let her help him and Dell with personally destroying the multitude of disks found in the house and barn, and she had watched as Dell had taken a hammer to the physical hard drive they removed from the computer. They had kept only one disk that contained a heavily redacted copy of scenes from the kitchen and living room. It had placed in a secure location in case it was ever needed as evidence and was off limits to anyone without a direct authorization from both Dell and the chief. She couldn’t help but wonder, though, how many copies Bull had either sold or given away. It had helped knowing that the scenes from Erica’s bedroom only showed the child sleeping or doing homework, however, there had been several files that had graphic images of Trixie in bed with Dell. Even though she knew the cameras had been removed and no one was watching, it would be a long time before she would feel comfortable leaving a light on in the bedroom.

She tried to push the thoughts aside and reached for the folders so that she could return the filing cabinets. Before she could get started, she heard the door open and forced herself to smile as she looked up. Her smile became genuine as she recognized her almost twin. “Hi, Mart. What’s up?”

“I actually took a day off,” he told her with a grin. He sat down in the visitor’s chair across from her desk. “Had some meetings in town this morning, though, so I wanted to stop by. Any chance you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Of course. You just missed Brian. He had some unexpected free time, too, and he stopped by to take Honey to lunch.”

“They didn’t ask you to go with them?”

“Of course they did,” she assured him. “You know Brian. But it’s not often that they actually get to have lunch together, and I knew they’d like some time alone. It worked out, though. Otherwise, I’d have missed you.”

“Have you had lunch?” he asked with concern in his voice. “Please tell me you’re trying to eat.”

“I had a can of soup and crackers. It’s about all that will stay down this time of day, but it works. I’ll make up for it at the Farm tonight.”

He grinned. “Ahh. Moms’s cooking can’t be beaten. Well, except by Di, of course.”

“I’d take offense at that, but given how much of my pantry is in cans and boxes, I’ll let it pass,” she sighed. “So, you didn’t come just to ask me if I’m eating right.”

He shook his head. “No, but I wasn’t going to pass up such a good opportunity. I actually came by to tell you I ran into Tom Richardson a couple of days ago. Remember him?”

“He’s the one developing Hoyt Acres, isn’t he?” she asked, referring to the new housing development currently being built on Hoyt Lane.

“Yes, that’s Tom. He was telling me he has three of the houses finished, but he’s having a hard time finding buyers for them. His thought is that if he can get someone in, especially someone who is well known and respected in the community, that it might be a draw for other potential buyers. He asked if I could think of anyone, and of course, I immediately thought of you. It’s still close to Glen Road, and it’s a gated community, like the one he built in White Plains.” His blue eyes twinkled. “And they’re brand new houses, Trix, on land where the Hoyts farmed for generations. It’s as close as you can get to a guarantee that there aren’t any ghosts around.”

She laughed. “Sure there was never an Indian burial ground there?”

“No, that was in the Wheeler’s game preserve,” he reminded her with a laugh of his own. “I think you’re safe there.”

She grinned, but then her shoulders slumped. “It is a good idea, Mart, but I’ve seen the brochures. Those houses are way out of our price range, and even then, we have to sell the house we’re in before we can move. We’re doing okay, but we can’t afford two mortgages.”

“Actually, Tom’s getting pretty desperate to get someone in there,” he said softly. “He’s willing to drastically lower the price for one of the completed houses as an investment in attracting buyers for the others. Think of it as losing money to make more money.”

“That makes sense,” she said doubtfully. “Kind of, anyway. But still, the housing market right now is almost impossible. We’ve had absolutely no interest in our own house.”

Mart sat up straight and took a deep breath. “That’s really the main reason I’m here. Patrick and I met with Matt yesterday and we talked it over. Remember how the two of them bought Lisgard House, then turned it over to the historical society after they restored it? Well, it’s doing really well as a museum, and we want to do the same thing with your house. We’d buy it, then restore it to what it was like when it was the servants’ quarters for the Martin estate. We’d obviously have exhibits on the Martin family, but we also want to renovate the barn and turn it into a learning center focused on the ecosystem of the marsh. The plants have both historic and modern uses, you know, and I suspect the local high schools would jump at the chance to take botany students out there under carefully controlled conditions.”

Her mouth dropped open. “You can’t be serious.”

“Very serious,” he told her. He opened his briefcase and took out a thick manila envelope that he handed to her. “We’ve drawn up a formal offer, but it is just an initial offer, and we’re willing to negotiate. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no time limit, but I can’t guarantee how long the houses at Hoyt Acres will be available. Talk it over with the captain, but if you’re interested, I’d suggest jumping on it before someone else does.”

She glanced briefly at the contents of the envelope, then looked up to meet his eyes. “I – I don’t know what to say. I mean, I will need to talk it over with Dell before we decide, but why? I don’t want to feel like you’re bailing us out. Would you be doing this if it wasn’t my house?”

His eyes twinkled. “Well, I probably wouldn’t know the situation so well, but honestly, Trix, it’s a solution to several problems. One – you have a house that you can’t sell. You’ve never said, but I suspect you got it at a bargain because no one wanted to buy it from Miss Martin. It’s right there on the marsh, which means no developer would touch it because of the same wetland ordinances that kept the road from going through, and well, it wasn’t in the best of shape until you two fixed it up.”

She nodded. “True, but…”

“Two,” he interrupted. “I really do believe our plan will be a boon to the Historical Society. Lisgard House is a big draw for tourists. They go to Sunnyside in Tarrytown, then come here to tour our museum. It would be good both for the society and for Sleepyside to have something extra to offer them.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Plus, it will be a donation to a non-profit. Just think of the tax deduction!”

Trixie let out a startled laugh. “I didn’t think of that.”

“Trust me,” he said dryly. “You don’t even want to know what my tax bill is every year. I’m convinced it’s one reason we never had trouble getting donors and backers when the BWGs would do fundraisers for charity.” He reached for her hands. “Trixie, I promise that the only charity here is the Historical Society, The amount in the offer is what we believe to be a fair market value, and of course, it’s just a starting point. You’ve had to put quite a bit of money into remodeling and repairs, and we don’t want you to take a loss on that. However, you are my sister, and you can’t go on this way. It’s been one thing after another since you moved in there.”

“I know,” she admitted. “I’d give almost anything for a good night’s sleep again.” She pulled away from him and wiped her moist eyes. “I’ll talk to Dell and see what he thinks, but Mart, whatever we decide, I want you to know that you are the best almost-twin ever.”

“You’re a pretty awesome one yourself,” he told her softly. Without a further word, he stood and walked around the desk to give her a hug.

A few hours later on the other side of town, Snipe sat uneasily on one end of Dan’s couch, nervously stroking Hannah. When he had first started staying at Dan’s, he had tried his best to avoid the small calico, but she had been persistent, and he soon discovered that in a contest of wills with a cat, it was a safe bet that the cat would always win. He had woken up his first morning there to find her sound asleep on his chest, and when he tentatively reached out a hand to pet her, she had started to purr. To his surprise, the gentle purring had reached deep into his heart and started to dull his emotional agony. Now as he petted her, he sighed. “Never thought I’d say this, kitty, but why don’t I stay here with you tonight? Maybe play with that stuffed mouse you like so much?”

“No,” Dan said firmly as he entered the room. “You and Hannah can play later. Right now, we have a birthday party to get to.”

It was her twenty-fifth birthday, and for reasons he couldn’t fathom, he had been invited to the Belden’s get-together at Crabapple Farm. While a part of him was anxious to see her for himself, to know first hand that she was okay, the rest of him was a bundle of nerves. “This is a bad idea, Dan. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been invited to anything like this?”

“Look, Snipe. I’ve been there, and I know how hard it is.” He snorted. “You’re actually lucky. When I first got here, Mr. Maypenny was the only one who believed in me. Even my own uncle was afraid I’d be an embarrassment to him, and while I’m not proud of it, I almost proved him right. Despite all that, once the others accepted me, they never once turned their backs on me, and I have to say the Beldens are the most welcoming family in Sleepyside, and they’re always willing to let bygones be bygones. Besides, both Trixie and her mom explicitly asked me to make sure that you’ll be there tonight. Can you imagine telling either of those women ‘no’?”

He chuckled as he rubbed Hannah’s velvety ears. “I don’t know her mom, but well, she definitely has a way of getting to someone. So if she gets that from her mother, then no, I can’t.”

He and Dan were among the first to arrive at Crabapple Farm and he soon found himself ensconced in a comfortable armchair with a mug of what he decided had to be among the world’s best coffee. It had been so long since he had had decent coffee that it disappeared quickly, and he was trying to decide if he dared ask for a refill when she sat down on the hearth beside his chair. Unlike the day in her office when he had felt in control of the situation, he found himself tongue-tied as he looked into the bluest eyes he had ever seen.

“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long, but I wanted to say thank you for what you did. If it wasn’t for you…,” she shuddered as she trailed off.

He gave her the softest smile he had ever given anyone. “Just returning the favor. I’ll never forget that you saved my life, and well, it was only right that I did what I did.”

“Still,” she said. “I know it wasn’t easy, and we appreciate it. More than I could ever tell you. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re expecting a baby next fall, and I’m glad he or she will have a chance to be born.”

He had suspected the rumors were true, and he was surprised to find that his heart ached when he heard the confirmation from her own lips. He spoke gruffly.  “Congratulations, Trixie. I am, too. And glad that you will be safe.” He looked around to make sure no one was paying them any attention, then lowered his voice. “By the way, I want you to know, that Bull told me that no one saw those tapes except for him. He made a copy of one for me, when he tried to rope me in, but once I realized what was on it, well, I shut it off. I promise you that I didn’t see anything I shouldn’t have.”

A look of intense relief crossed her features. “So he didn’t spread it all over Hawthorne?”

He shook his head. While trying to avoid his old haunts as much as possible, he had made it a point to snoop around to make sure Bull had told the truth on that matter. “As far as I can tell, no. And I made sure Dan took the copy I had, so you really don’t have to worry.”

“You have no idea how worried I’ve been about that. Not just for me, but he had a camera in Erica’s bedroom, too. Dell and the chief personally destroyed the disks I found, but oh, you can’t even know what a relief this is!” She jumped up and threw her arms around him. “Thank you!”

The embrace was both platonic and fleeting, but he still felt her arms around him as she almost floated to her husband and whispered something in his ear. While he was happy to know he had given her some needed solace, his heart twinged again as he saw her face light up when she looked into the police captain’s eyes and snuggled into his side.  Before he could dwell on it, though, someone else sat down in the spot she had so recently vacated.

“So, I heard that you’re looking for a job,” the blond man stated.

He was somewhat taken aback, but nodded. He had quickly learned that jobs in Sleepyside or the surrounding area were scarcer than he had expected, and jobs that he was qualified for were even more so. “I don’t suppose you have any leads.”

Mart grinned. “I actually do. Know anything about computers?”

Snipe’s heart sank as he shook his head. He knew how to fence them, but that was about all. “Not really.”

“Just wanted to ask. My company has a few positions open, but even the mailroom is now becoming computerized.” He took a breath. “However, my wife was talking to her uncle on the phone last night. Monty Wilson. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he owns a dude ranch out in Arizona. He’s looking to add to his staff. It will be mostly janitorial, but he wants someone willing to learn as much as he can so that he can help out wherever he’s needed. He says the pay isn’t that great, but room and board are included. So are medical insurance and a 401k. The job’s yours if you want it.”

“Wow.” Had the position been in New York he would have jumped at it, but he wasn’t sure about moving across the country. On the other hand, he realized that it would help give him the fresh start he wanted. He thought of something, and his face fell. “Does he know about my past?”

Mart nodded. “Yes, and he’s willing to give you a chance. He knows what it’s like to have to start completely from scratch. I suppose I should ask, though, are there any legal issues keeping you here?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m finally free as a bird as far as the law is concerned.”

“That makes it easy, then,” Mart said. “I know it’s a big decision, so take a day or two and think it over.” He took a business card from his wallet and handed it to him. “Call me when you decide, and if you need help getting ready to go, I think any of us will be willing to help. I know I’d be happy to.” He sighed. “Look. I hope you don’t think I’m trying to run you out of town. I’m not. You made a huge sacrifice for my baby sister, and I can never thank you enough for that. I just know the job market here, and well, it’s not going to be easy leaving your old life. This is a good opportunity for you to really start over, away from everything that would hold you back here.”

“I know,” Snipe assured him. Somehow, he had realized that the young man really wanted to help him. “And trust me, I really am grateful.”

“She’s my sister,” Mart repeated softly. “This is the least I can do.” He stood as Peter called out that dinner was ready. “Well, this, and making sure you don’t miss out on any of Moms’s scrumptious repast. Knowing her, she’s been cooking all day, and trust me, there’s nothing like one of her home cooked meals.”

Fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, and homemade rolls were followed by cake and ice cream, and he knew it would be a while before he was hungry again when dinner was finally over. As everyone filtered back into either the living room or kitchen, he slipped out onto the porch. He sat down on the wooden swing and stared out through the darkness as the twinkling stars. She had saved his life, and he had helped save hers, and now, he had been given a real opportunity for that fresh start she had convinced him could be his. He sighed. He knew it was foolish to even hesitate taking the job. With both Uncle Zeke and Bull gone, she was the only thing keeping him in Sleepyside, and he knew she would never be his.

“She’s something special, isn’t she?” a deep voice asked.

He groaned as he made room on the swing for the redhead. “Tell me I wasn’t that obvious.”

“Not to her,” Jim assured him. He sank down beside him. “Probably not to anyone else, either, but I’ve been there, so I know the signs. I was only fifteen when she rescued me, you know. She seemed to be an angel in disguise.”

Snipe smiled wistfully. The term suited her.

Jim continued. “In a lot of ways, I think she still is, but it took me three years to realize our relationship would never work out on a romantic level. She needed someone who could help her reach her dreams, and quite frankly, her dreams were my nightmares. She wanted to right wrongs, and I just wanted to keep her as safe as I could.”

“Do you still love her?” he asked quietly.

“As a sister,” Jim told him. “I honestly believe now that what I thought was love was simply gratitude I didn’t know how to really express.” He flushed. “Well, I was a teenage boy, too. I’d be lying if I said there was never any lust involved.”

He chuckled wryly. “Tell me about it. Avenging angels shouldn’t be hot blondes with sparkling blue eyes and curves that won’t quit.”

“I

0

 

t would have made life a lot easier,” Jim grinned. “On the bright side, I eventually found real love, and I wouldn’t take anything for Joeanne. She completes me in ways Trixie would have never been able to do.” He hesitated and looked at the older man. “I admit it took me years to see it, but Wendell Molinson completes her, and she’s very happy with him.”

“I know,” Snipe sighed. “It hurts, but believe me, I know. Besides, even if he wasn’t in the picture, she deserves a lot better than me. So does that little girl and the one she has on the way. I was a washout as a stepfather, as you know.”

Jim shook his head. “If I remember correctly, Mitzi was practically grown when you married Donna. From what Jonesy said, her first husband wasn’t the best example, and that really says something coming from him. I don’t think you can be blamed for the way Mitzi turned out.” He sighed. “And for what it’s worth, I know you weren’t involved in that whole fiasco.”

Snipe gave a small smile. “I divorced Donna as soon as I learned she agreed with killing Juliana when the kidnapping didn’t work. No matter what I’ve done, I wouldn’t hurt an innocent woman.” He shrugged. “Even so, no one can say I’m not to blame for Bull. Me and Uncle Zeke. It’s hard to say, but I think I’m glad I never got to know my biological daughter. Trina made sure Ruth turned out well.” He closed his eyes. “I know I have no right to ask this, especially given our history, but would you do me a favor? Her brother found me a job out in Arizona, and I think I’m going to take it. After I go, would you write me once in a while to let me know how she’s doing? At least let me know when the baby is born?”

“Of course,” the younger man agreed. “I went to Arizona once. What city is it?”

“Somewhere near Tucson, I think,” Snipe said. “A dude ranch of all places, but beggars can’t be choosers, and it sounds like a good job. Room, board, even benefits.”

Jim laughed. “If it’s Monty Wilson’s ranch, you’ll love it. We all went out there when we were teenagers. And hey. There’s one benefit you’ve overlooked. When we were there, there were quite a few nice looking single women on vacation. You never know. You might meet someone out there.”

He would never claim to know what the future would hold, but he shook his head. “Nah. You were lucky, Jim, when you were able to move on. I’ve been around a long time, though, and trust me. For me, no one could ever hold a candle to her.”

And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry you can hear at night,
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

Author’s Note: Even as a child reading Missing Heiress for the first time, the connection between the Thompsons and Jonesy bothered me. I always wondered just how they all came to be involved with each other for the incident with Juliana. In this universe, Snipe married Jonesy’s sister, Donna. Her daughter, and thus Snipe’s step-daughter, Mitzi, was the niece that impersonated Juliana. Snipe was aware of the kidnapping attempt, but was ultimately found innocent of any actual involvement. Jim knew of Donna and her daughter but never met them until the events in Missing Heiress, at which point he also learned of their connection to Snipe. The title for this story and the song lyrics at the end are taken from Rufus Wainright’s Hallelujah. I know it’s a cover, but it was the one going through my head when I was writing this. It’s not a happy song, but it fits Snipe at this point in his life.

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