The crimson stone – Preview #4

After tossing and turning in my bed for God knows how long, the idle vampire in me snuggles deeper under the duvet in a vain attempt to escape light. The cold February sun reflecting on the snow carpet creates a blinding light that filters in through the window and makes it impossible to sleep. On top of that, yesterday’s events have been crowding my mind ever since I left the police headquarters. At some point of my restless night, the meeting with Christopher must have crept into my dreams, for I remember pieces of a conversation we never had. I try to recall what we were saying but the more I focus the blurrier the memory gets and it’s frustrating. With a deep snort I check the clock. It’s a few minutes past 7 a.m. on a day without looming deadlines, which means it’s way too early to wake up, so I decide to just chill in bed for a little longer. Over the past hours every possible feeling has vied for my supremacy, making me bounce back and forth between frustration, curiosity, anger, confusion, sense of guilt and, it would be pointless to deny it, a fair amount of worry. How do you deal with the doubt that someone you used to know closely might have done something so beastly? Oh. Come on. It’s Chris. Remember? Yes, that Chris who saved you from more than one hangover. He’s no Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s your old friend! Who am I kidding? I don’t know that man anymore. He’s a celebrity now, let’s face it, and the side effects of fame are unpredictable. What could I do anyway? Accepting his appeal is not an option, my days as lawyer are dead and buried, nothing and nobody can change my mind. Even if they weren’t? Criminal law and I have never been crazy about each other.

When the sound of Hannah’s footfall outside my door interrupts my nonsense, it’s almost a relief. I listen closely and upon hearing nothing but silence, I convince myself that she went back to sleep. I’ve been barely lazing for a few minutes and my head is already spinning, until a light knock on my door tells me I was wrong about my daughter. It’s the second day in a row we both wake up early, though my insomnia has a name and a face this time. “Come on in,” I invite her, reemerging from the dark comfort of my cobalt pillow with a stifled grunt and a drowsy smile.

“I can’t sleep,” she whispers. Her ruffled curls frame her oval and fall on her peach cheeks, accenting the tiny button of her nose.

She looks almost sorry to intrude this early in the morning, so I pat on the mattress as an invitation for her to join me. It doesn’t happen often, especially lately, that she needs – or wants – some motherly cuddling, so when she walks in, then closes back the door behind her, I smile, make room for her under the blankets and watch as she lays down on her side, facing me. But the instant she stares at me with restless eyes, almost frightened, the reason of her insomnia is not a mystery anymore. It’s happening again. I close my eyes, struggling to come to terms with the idea. What I hate more in all of this mess is not being forced into a situation, or being completely unaware of what is going to happen, or how it’s going to end. The one thing hurting me the most is to know that my daughter never volunteered for this. This time, more than ever, having to question her feels like a real violence and my resigned exhale gives away all my reluctance. “I think you have to tell me everything you remember about that dream.”

“It’s happening again, isn’t it?” Her question is barely whispered, almost timorous.

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The crimson stone – Preview #3

I had nursed the naïve hope that my days visiting the police department were over, but all the upsetting memories held in that modern building resurface with vehemence as its unique architecture comes into sight. Dom had called me in the middle of innumerable nights to get him out of there; if he wasn’t drunk, he had ended up in a fight. It seemed to never end. I lived that life for seven years; because despite his flaws he’s always been a good man, because when you are young you think love alone can perform the miracle of fixing people. It’s the biggest lie ever told. The night I found myself with no money for his bail was the night I said ‘enough’. I regretted that choice more times than I’ll ever care to admit – and sometimes still do – albeit aware it was the right one, like I blamed myself countless times for not trying harder to fix him. So the day Hannah was arrested for a stupid act of bravado my sense of guilt reached new altitudes. It felt like a failure both as a wife and as a mother, and it took months and the different perspective of a new life outside the city to realize I had done my best instead and to promise myself I’d never get to cross those doors again.

So what am I doing here now, breaking that promise for someone I haven’t met in half my life, someone who asked for a kind of help I probably cannot grant anyway? And why me for a start? Christopher should already have a lawyer, shouldn’t he? And even if he doesn’t, the cream of the MBA is likely already in line to defend him against whatever charges he was pressed on. But the only line that can be seen now are the media vans, parked like vultures in front of the building. A sudden sense of uneasiness and inadequacy takes hold of me as I dash past the reporters and entrench myself into the police headquarters like a refugee seeking for asylum.

“Well, well, look who’s back in town!” The gravelly, enthusiastic welcome is a pleasant reminder that I still have friends here.

“Hey Matt!” With the most genuine grin I haste to hug the man who helped me out of many troubles, sometimes even of financial kind. To call him friend is reductive, during my years in Boston he’s become family, one of those corpulent uncles who always gets your back, no matter how much you screwed it. He and his wife are one of the very few things I missed when leaving town.

“I haven’t seen you since…”

Easily guessing what he’s about to say, I stop him mid-sentence and slowly release from his embrace. “Please, don’t remind me. How are you doing, instead? I thought you’d be retired by now?” I question, peering at the tremendous amount of cockades and stripes that hang proud from his uniform.

The crimson stone – Preview #2

Enjoy another tiny snippet!

***

Paul shrugs, barely sparing me a glance, then calmly closes the folder before moving forward to the next one. “I can’t let the other coworkers think you get a special treatment for being friends with my wife.”

“Oh.” Well, this makes sense and doesn’t make it at the same time. My monosyllabic answer must give away all my perplexity, for Paul finally stares at me, equally confused. I suppose I should have shut up and thanked him.

“But you are free to rewrite the whole piece if it makes you feel better.”

“I think I’ll pass.” Shuddering at the idea, I duck out before my attitude can cause some irreparable damage, then dash to my workstation and jump on the incoming emails at the speed of light. I scroll the senders and subjects, until one catches my attention. It comes from Mark, the dead walker, and for the life of me I have no idea how he got my work email. Taylor, of course… Damn her… But you know the saying? Curiosity killed the cat and, albeit between muttered curses, my pointer finger is already clicking on it. ‘Got tickets for next week’s Red Sox :)’ It’s all the message says and my mind goes inevitably to the exchange I had with Hannah about my hatred for sports. I’m about to decline in the politest way when my phone starts buzzing on the desk, startling me. The number flashing on the screen is unknown, but the area code is not; Boston city. I cast a wary glance around while answering, “Hello?”

“Miss Penelope Cosgrove?” The voice is aloof and definitely unfamiliar.

“Yes, who’s speaking?”

“There’s a collect call for you from the Boston Police Department, Madam. Will you take it?”

The cold shivers assailing me at the mention of that place are icier than the forty inches of snow sitting outside the building. I remember perfectly the last time I got a call from there; it was when Hannah and her ex-boyfriend had been detained. Quickly skimming through the list of people still living in the city, my first thought goes inevitably to Dom. What on earth did he do now? Please, Lord, you can’t have dropped him in another fight with some creditor. “I… Sure, of course.” I’m so upset that my voice barely comes out as a whisper and I’m not sure the person on the phone heard me, until a loud rustle suggests a change of hands. My stomach is already twitching in anxiety as I count the deep exhales on the other end; three before someone finally talks.

The crimson stone – Preview #1

My fingers are already finding their place on the keyboard, resolute, when the sound of barefoot steps catches my attention. Hannah is approaching me, lids still heavy with sleep. “You’re up early.” My daughter has never been a morning person – and neither have I, to be honest – so it’s quite a historical event that we’re both awake before dawn.

“You too,” she observes with a raised brow, moving closer to glance at the screen and at the notes scattered on the desk.

“Working on next week’s issue.”

“Exes fighting over dog’s custody. Wow,” she mutters with her typical vein of sarcasm.

What was she hoping to read? Ever since we moved to Gardner, there hasn’t been anything exciting to consult. “Spare me your irony, please, this stuff pays your study,” I reproach her, while she’s already leaving my side. The idyll didn’t last long.

She sinks heavily onto the sofa and looks outside. “I don’t understand why dad can’t contribute.”

“Because I decided so.” My voice doesn’t grow of a decibel, but my tone is firm.

Dominique and I divorced four years ago, officially for incompatibility, after his gambling habits left us stone broke. It was my choice to never tell Hannah her father was a compulsive gambler – in the end he’s always been a decent father, why ruin that? – but as she grows and gets demanding, it becomes harder to explain why she can’t rely on her father’s financial support.

“Whatever floats your boat,” she grumbles.