Sunday, January 6, 2013
Chapter Forty Two
“Hi, Mom, I hope it isn't too late to be calling,” Samantha Clifford said quietly into the phone.
“Samantha, it's not too late, what's wrong, dear? You sound upset. Is Brad alright? The kids?”
“Everyone is fine. It's just that the strangest thing happened tonight. Brad is on a book tour in California and he's right in the middle of a signing now so I can't call him.
“About an hour ago, an old friend and roommate of Brad's came to the door with his daughter, Maggie. His name is Woodrow Malone. He is from Boston and I've never met him before. Brad has talked about his time with Woody, but I really don't know much about him. He seems like a nice enough fellow.
“He said he had been deployed to Afghanistan and he had no one to take care of Maggie while he is gone. It took me by surprise and before I knew it I was offering to watch over her while he was gone.
“Mom, she is sleeping upstairs and Woody Malone has vanished. After he left I started remembering some things Brad said about him. He had rheumatic fever when he was a toddler and it affected his heart. He would never be accepted into the service, let alone be deployed to Afghanistan.
“I'm usually so level headed, I don't know what came over me. Woody told me a sob story about how his wife had died giving birth to Maggie. She is a pretty little girl and has the saddest eyes. What in the world could this man want from us?”
In the California bookstore where Cooper Dillon was signing his new book, the doors were finally closing after the last patron's departure. Bradley Clifford was relieved this book tour was almost over. It wasn't his favorite thing to do, but it helped to sell his books, so it was a necessary evil. Cooper Dillon was Brad's pen name. He was a well known mystery writer. He met Samantha Mackenzie when he was holed up in a cabin in the foothills of Camden Corners. Samantha had come to the cabin to unwind after aiding in the aftermath of a serious accident. Samantha was a trauma nurse who had never become immune to the suffering she witnessed when a tragedy occurred.
Brad discovered his ancestors owned the abandoned cabin, but the state owned the property it was built on. He found his way to it through the woods. With his manual typewriter he began writing again after a long spell of writer's block. Being secluded in the cabin without any modern conveniences triggered his imagination. He didn't even mind using the outhouse or bathing in the stream that ran behind the cabin.
Samantha Mackenzie surprised him one day when he returned to the cabin clad only in a soaking wet towel. He lost track of time and hadn't realized he had been living there for two months while writing two novels. On the trip down the mountain, he couldn't take his eyes off the rear view mirror. Samantha was behind him in her Jeep. He was surprised by a young boy driving his motorcycle erratically. Brad was forced off the road and down an embankment. Samantha saved not only his life, but his manuscripts while risking her own safety. Brad didn't know when he had fallen in love with her, but suspected it was the day she stood in the cabin's only room trying to avert her eyes from his wet towel.
Samantha and Brad were married on the grounds of The Merryweather where Sam and her mother lived when they first arrived in Camden Corners. Brad had taken a liking to the little town and gave up his apartment in the city. He never regretted that decision. Within a year Samantha gave birth to their son, Joseph Gregory Clifford. Joey was named after Samantha's two dads. Eighteen months later, Eric Bradley Clifford came along followed by their little sister, Daisy two years later.
“Samantha, I'm going to send your dad over,” said Melanie. “I don't want you to be alone.”
“I'm sure I will be fine, Mom. Woody didn't seem menacing and Maggie is very sweet and quiet. She fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. I don't even know why I'm calling you. I'm not frightened, I just think it's strange.”
“Sam, this wouldn't be the first time your intuition alerted you to danger. Why don't you pack everyone up and come over here? I'd feel better if I know you are safe.”
“I can't do that, especially with Maggie here. I'll be fine, I'm sure. I shouldn't have called, I know you will only worry about us all night.”
“At least call Brad. You can leave a message for him to call when he's free. Maybe he can describe his friend to you to make sure he is who he says he is. For heaven sake, how much longer can that bookstore be open? Never mind. It is three hours earlier there. I'm calling Luke, I'm sure he is up studying. I'll have him stop by to check on you.”
“Mom, don't do that. Luke needs his study time.”
“Call Brad dear, and call me if you need anything at all.”
Samantha wasn't surprised when her brother knocked on the door. “Samantha, it's Luke, Mom said you needed me.”
“Luke, I'm so sorry, it's nothing, really.” She explained the situation to him.
“It does seem peculiar. I'm just reading and I can do that here as well as in my apartment. Go to bed if you want to. I like being the one Mom asks to protect my sister. Maybe she is realizing I'm not a little kid anymore.”
“You know Mom, we will always be her little kids. I'm waiting for Brad to call. Mom said to describe Woody to him to see if he is who he says he is.”
“Samantha, I had a message to call you,” said Brad. “Is everything alright there?”
“Hi Brad, everything is fine, I seem to be alarming everyone tonight.” Samantha explained the situation and the guest to Brad.
“If Woody was there, he wasn't telling you the truth. He would never be able to pass a military physical. I'm glad Luke is with you. It sounds like it could have been Woody, but check that box of clippings in the hall closet. There is one from several years ago with a picture. Woody is standing next to me and holding up a copy of Baby Blue Eyes. If I remember correctly, it's a fairly clear picture of him.”
“I remember that one. It scared me to death. The title was very deceiving,” Sam said as she was going through the box of clippings.
“Here it is. That's him alright. He is much thinner, but he has the same face.”
“I remember that night,” said Brad. “We met at a pub after the signing. He wanted to talk about a girl who he'd had brief relationship with. It didn't last too long, but she became pregnant. She came to him for money to pay for an abortion. He was against it and offered her money to continue the pregnancy. She agreed, had the baby and then gave up all rights to her.
“He was crazy about that little girl. She would be around eight years old by now. I can't imagine why he would tell you that story and I can't imagine why he would give up his daughter after all these years. I'll be home in two days and we can try to figure this out. I haven't heard from Woody since shortly after the baby was born. I don't have any reason to believe Woody is dangerous, but I'm glad Luke is there with you and the children.”
The following morning, Maggie was the first of the children to wake up, she walked down stairs and offered to help Samantha with breakfast. The young girl knew her way around the kitchen. Samantha let her scramble the eggs and had to admit they were quite tasty. Daisy was a chatterbox and asked the visitor all the questions Samantha wanted to ask herself. Maggie was the most evasive eight year old Samantha had ever known.
After breakfast, Joey went up to the room he and Eric shared. He came charging down the stairs with an empty sock in his hand. “Where is my money?” he shouted looking directly at Eric. “Mom, my money's gone and Eric stole it. I'm gonna kill him!”
“I didn't steal your dumb old money!”
“Joey, calm down. Are you sure that was the sock you put it in. You are constantly counting that money, maybe you forgot to put it back into the sock. Did you look under your bed?”
“I know I put it back in there last night before I went to bed. It's gone.”
“I'll help you look for it, when we clean your room later. Right now I want you to rake the leaves on the front lawn. Eric will help you.”
“That brings back memories,” said Luke. “Staci and I were always taking things from Robbie and hiding them. He used to get so mad at us. The madder he got, the more we did it.”
“Maggie, do you want to see my doll house?” said Daisy. “My grandma and grandpa gave it to me last Christmas, it's in my room.”
Maggie followed Daisy silently. Two minutes later, Daisy's shriek could be heard in the kitchen. “The baby is gone! Somebody took my baby.”
Samantha looked at Luke, “It's going to be an interesting day. I hope you will be able to get some studying done.
“That's strange, I put my watch here before I rinsed the dishes. It seems to have disappeared. Eric might swipe something from his brother and sister, but he would never take something of mine.”
Luke and Samantha looked at each other. “Do you suppose your young guest is a kleptomaniac?” asked Luke.
“I'd say that was a definite maybe. Now I need to know what to do about it. Joey didn't have much money in that sock, but I can understand why someone would take money regardless of the amount. A baby from a doll house and a nurses watch are two different things. Makes you wonder if she isn't doing it knowing she will be caught.”
“Mom!” another shriek from Daisy's room. “Maggie has my doll in her pocket. She took Joey's money too.”
“Daisy, stop your shouting. You and Maggie come downstairs”
Daisy stomped down the stairs holding Maggie by the arm. The fact that Maggie was at least a foot taller than Daisy didn't seem to intimidate her.
“Maggie, do you have Daisy's baby?”
“Yes, ma'am,” she answered.
“Do you also have Joey's money and my watch?”
“Yes, ma'am, are you going to send me home?”
“Is that why you took these things? Did you want us to send you home?”
“Yes, ma'am, I want to be with my daddy,” her chin quivered and she began to cry. Her crying turned into sobs. Samantha held her close and let her cry until there were no more tears.
“Do you know where your daddy is, Maggie?” Luke asked.
“I don't know where he is, he didn't say goodbye. He told me we were coming to his old friend's house for a long visit, but he didn't tell me he wasn't going to stay too. It is nice in this house and I like everybody, but I miss my daddy.” Her chin started to quiver again, but there were no more tears.
“Maggie, your daddy left last night without telling us where we can reach him. What is the phone number to your home?”
“I tried to call this morning but a lady came on and said it was not in surface.”
“I think she said not in service,” said Luke.
“Maybe that is what she said.”
“Where do you live, Maggie?”
“In Boston. That's in Massachusetts.”
Samantha's heart was breaking for this little girl who seemed to be alone in the world now that her father had obviously disappeared. I wish Brad was here she thought to herself. I don't know what to do.
The door opened and Brad appeared as if he'd heard her wish. “I canceled the rest of the tour. I couldn't let you handle this alone.” He kissed his wife and hugged the children.
“Luke, I'm glad you are here. This must be Maggie. Hi sweetheart, aren't you a pretty girl?”
Samantha told Brad what Maggie told her which wasn't much.
Daisy took Maggie by the hand again. She let her hold the doll house baby as they walked up the stairs to Daisy's room.
Maggie smiled at Samantha, Brad and Luke. “I'm glad you didn't send me away, I like it here but I do miss my daddy.”
Samantha gave Joey back his money. He was so happy to have it he didn't think to ask where his mother had found it. Samantha was glad, she didn't want to lie to her son or tell him it was found in Maggie's pocket.
The girls played outside most of the afternoon. The sound of all the children laughing came in through the window. Maggie seemed to be forgetting her troubles for a little while anyway. She giggled right along with the rest of them.
After dinner, the children watched a rented movie while Brad was in the den talking to Jack Crowley about locating the missing man.
He heard the doorbell and then heard Maggie call out, “Daddy!”
“I think he has reappeared, Jack,” said Brad.
“Call me if you need my help for any reason, Brad. Good luck!”
Brad walked to the front hallway where Woody was on his knees hugging his daughter.
“Why did you leave, Daddy? I didn't think you were going to come back for me. I did a terrible thing so Samantha would make me go back home, but she didn't.”
“I'm so sorry, pumpkin. I love you,” Woody said with tears in his eyes.
“Come on, children. Let's let Maggie and her dad talk. Pause the movie and we will go make some popcorn,” said Samantha.
“Maggie, you go with Samantha. I need to talk with Brad.”
“You promise you won't leave again, Daddy.”
“I promise, now run along.”
“Let's go in the den where we can talk. I'd like to know the reason why you left your daughter here without any explanation to anyone. I never knew you to be cruel Woody, but that was a terrible thing to do to her. I might add, I'm not happy that you placed this burden on my wife either.”
“Brad, I didn't intend to walk away like I did yesterday. I knew the minute I met Samantha that she would take care of Maggie. I was going to fill both of you in on my plan, but when I thought of saying goodbye to Maggie, I broke down. I couldn't let her last memory of her father be one that was crying like a baby. It seemed best just to leave. I know now it was the wrong thing to do.
“I can't leave Maggie without letting her know I love her. I have to find a way to tell her I'm dying.”