C3 Anthology

For the 2019 C3 Anthology, Intrigue Publishing, LLC will be publishing a special Friday the 13th anthology for the con. We would like your stories to relate in some way to Friday the 13th, if possible. I hope everyone can have some fun with this one!

Please pay close attention to the submission guidelines below:

Word Count: Maximum 7,500 words.

Genre: Any fiction genre

Limit: One short story per author, who must be registered to attend the C3 con.

Limited to twenty-five stories, so be sure and get registered today!

Short stories accepted for the anthology must be previously edited, and will also be edited and proofed by Intrigue Publishing, LLC for format and consistency.

By submitting a short story, the author agrees to give Intrigue Publishing, LLC the rights of usage for the short story in the anthology to be printed for the attendees at the annual conference only. The anthology will not be published to the public at any time or in any format.

All of this is at no cost to the author, other than the cost of attending the C3 con.

Deadline to submit: August 16, 2019.

For more information or to submit your story contact Intrigue Publishing, LLC at info@intriguepublishing.com

We want to highlight one of our previous year registrant stories here as well. This short story is by Sharon Buchbinder. This will give you a little taste of the quality of writer we get at our con. Don’t wait to register so you too can be in this amazing book.


THE LAKE PLACID CURE

by Sharon Buchbinder

A star-studded sky and a full moon shone over the quiet village of Scarsdale, New York. Sandra Blake Radcliff climbed out of her SUV, crunched across the snow and ice-encrusted parking lot behind the converted Victorian home, and climbed the steps to the law offices of “Big” Jim Radcliff. Despite having been sent home by her husband earlier that evening to get some rest, she’d decided to get up and go back into the office.

Pre-trial jitters, she thought. One more look at the files, then home to bed. Despite all her work at prepping their client’s daughter, a teenager with nails bitten to the quick, Sandra worried the kid would fall to pieces under cross-examination. The father, claimed he’d been at home with his daughter, watching television the night of his ex-wife’s murder. Sandra’s gut told her the client, was lying, a concern she had shared with her husband. As a defense attorney, Jim was obligated to defend the man to the best of his ability—but he didn’t need to be blind-sided.

He had listened to her, nodded and said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got it under control.” A nagging concern something wasn’t quite right forced her out of bed and back to the office.

The building was dark, the back door locked. Had Jim gone to his club for a nightcap? As she entered the foyer, a distant thumping sound came from the direction of her husband’s office followed by a loud groan. Visions of her spouse beaten and struggling for his life raced through her head. Had a homicide victim’s family member, enraged by a not guilty verdict, finally gotten revenge?

“Jim!” She raced down the short hallway to his office, threw open the door, and froze. The dim light from the computer screen clearly outlined the appalling scene.

A naked, thirty-something, visibly pregnant blonde sat on a man’s lap, facing the door, her mouth an “O” of surprise. “Ohmigod! It’s your wife!” Her partner’s face, contorted with shock, rested on her shoulder.

Sandra flipped on the overhead fluorescent lights. “Not again,” she said exhausted by his constant philandering. “What’s this make? Bimbo number fifteen?”

Red-faced, her husband gasped, “What are you doing here?”

“Working.” She turned her attention to the bimbo. “Strange to see you here, Ms. Cain. Or should I call you Assistant District Attorney, since you’re supposed to be preparing to prosecute our client?”

The woman jumped up, attempted to cover herself while struggling to pull on her panties.

“It’s not what you think,” Jim said in a tone usually reserved for hostile witnesses.

Sandra pointed at his crotch. “I’d say I have a smoking gun right here—so to speak.”

He jumped up, grabbing a file folder to cover himself.

“This is a new low, even for you,” she snarled. “Now I understand why you weren’t worried about this case. But, please, do go on, oh great defense counsel. Try to talk your way out of this one.”

“Candi’s the real deal.”

“Your first name is Candi?” Sandra asked the now weeping younger woman. “What were your parents thinking?”

“Leave her alone!” Jim shouted, reaching for the other woman’s hand.

With Candi at his side, Sandra had a mental image of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. An irresistible urge to giggle overwhelmed her.

“I love her.”

“What did you say?”

“I love her. She’s carrying my baby. We’re getting married.”

“No, you don’t mean it. You never mean it.” She couldn’t take her eyes off the woman’s swollen belly. An iron fist reached into her chest and squeezed her heart. His baby.

He slipped an arm around Candi, then kissed the top of her head. “We wanted to tell you—but not this way. It’s over, Sandra. We’re over.”

Vision blurred, breath ragged, she stumbled backwards. As she righted herself on the door jamb, she caught a look of pity on Jim’s face. Turning on her heel, she bolted.

 

The expensive Manhattan hotel offered all the amenities, including an honor bar stocked with mini-bottles of booze. Pulling out the first four her hand touched, she lined them up by height on the nightstand, then placed one of Jim’s sleeping pills in front of each bottle.

One pill for every miscarriage she’d suffered through.

Her wedding band landed at the end of the line-up. Kicking her shoes off, she sat on the edge of the king-sized bed, and flipped through the television channels, stopping when she came across the The Women. Joan Crawford, wife of a philandering husband, stood in a department store dressing room confronting the other woman about their affair—only to have the hussy announce the husband planned to divorce her.

It was as if her very life was being replayed before Sandra’s disbelieving eyes. “Son of a bitch,” she yelled, and chugged the scotch to wash down a pill. “How dare he do this to me?”

She hurled the empty tiny crown-shaped bottle across the room, anticipating the satisfaction of shattering glass—and watched it bounce harmlessly off the wall.

“Dammit! I can’t do anything right!” She punched the pillow, then kicked at the dust-ruffle, only to hit something hard beneath. “Ow, ow, ow!” She grabbed her foot, flopped onto the bed, and sobbed. As she drifted off to sleep, the television whispered in the background, and the wronged woman’s friends coaxed her to go with them to a resort to get over her broken heart.

Hours later, as she emerged from a dream of punching Jim, an infomercial for “The Cure Center, a MediSpa in the beautiful resort town of Lake Placid” commanded her attention while a flood of memories washed over her.

In 1980, she and a group of college friends decided to drive from the State University in Albany to Lake Placid to take part in the biggest party Upstate New York had ever held: the 1980 Olympic Games. A pre-law student, working part-time as a secretary in a law firm, Sandra scrounged together enough money to buy two tickets to most of the events and stay in a cheap motel. When they arrived in Lake Placid, they went straight to a bar, where her wallet was stolen. Fortunately, she’d listened to her granddad and put the tickets in a money belt. Too bad she hadn’t put her money there, too.

The next day, bundled in layers of wool and down, and forcing a big smile, she stood on a street corner in downtown Lake Placid holding a cardboard sign reading: “Will Sell—Figure Skating, Ski Jump, etc.”

A large, handsome man in his thirties stopped in front of her, took a picture, and said, “I’ll buy all your tickets—but only if you go with me.”

Days later, in the middle of a crowded tavern, Jim and Sandra screamed and cheered with the euphoric crowd as the U.S. hockey team roared into history. When television announcer Al Michaels crowed, “Do you believe in miracles?” Sandra screamed, “YESSSSSS!” and hugged Jim.

He leaned down, kissed her, and shouted, “Marry me!”

That was more than twenty years ago, when she’d been young, beautiful, and built like Raquel Welch. Now a paralegal and soon-to-be ex-wife, she was still taller than her peers. Now, silver shimmered in her auburn brown strands, and she longed to recapture the time in her life when anything had been possible—even miracles. She turned up the volume, listened to the hypnotic spiel for the medical spa promising rejuvenation, and dialed the twenty-four hour number plastered across the screen.

 

The next day, shards of pain shot through Sandra’s head—either from the rough van ride, the scotch and sleeping pill hangover, or a combination of both. Jim had always said she couldn’t hold her liquor. I guess the S.O.B. called that one right. She pressed her sunglasses firmly in place, and glanced around the vehicle.

The driver stared ahead at the road, wearing head-phones blasting music so loud, she wondered how much hearing loss he had. The big man with the crew cut sitting at the end of bench seat had helped her into the van at the Westport train station after she’d arrived from Grand Central with little more than the small overnight case she’d packed for the hotel. What was his name? Bert? Bud?

A young copper-haired girl whom Sandra guessed to be about twelve or thirteen sat between her and what’s-his-name. Dressed in a faux-fur trimmed navy-blue parka, hands clasped in her lap, the girl stared straight ahead, her face an immobile mask. With her attention riveted on the child’s strange affect, Sandra’s headache was all but forgotten. “Who is she?”

“Shh.” What’s-his-name stroked the girl’s hair. “Her name’s Erin. Sweet thing’s had a terrible time. Mother murdered in front of her. Police had a time of it getting her out of the crawl space under the house, half-frozen, mute. She’s practically catatonic.” His hand lingered a bit too long, fingers played a tad too sensuously with tendrils of hair trailing down the girl’s neck.

He licked his lips and revulsion shuddered through Sandra. “Take your hands off her.”

Startled, the man jerked his head in Sandra’s direction, his hand mid-air. “What?”

“If you don’t take your hands off her right now, I’ll call the police.” She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket.

The creep slid away from Erin and pressed against the sliding van door. Sandra put her arm around Erin’s shoulder, pulled her tight against her side, and glared at the man.

He muttered something, pulled the hood of his jacket up, and hid his face.

Forty minutes later they arrived in the Village of Lake Placid. The Adirondack Mountains rose up around her. In the distance, a tiny gondola crawled up a cable. Normally the sight of the picturesque village and its colorful shops would have excited her, filling her with the urge to visit all the places she’d been during that eventful time when she met Jim. Her mood now, however, was anything but festive. What had possessed her to come here? Was it a search for another miracle? A last stab at youth? An attempt at closure? What should one do when a marriage is over?

The van pulled into a parking lot next to a path leading to the front door of an old-fashioned camp cottage with a screened-in porch. Despite the sunglasses, the glare of the morning sun on the snow stabbed at her eyes. Using one hand as a visor, she focused on the building, and watched a pinch-faced woman dressed in a puffy black coat step off the porch, walk to the van, and open the door.

The creep hopped out and mumbled something indecipherable to the woman.

“I’m Louise Carson, Nurse Manager.” She reached for the girl’s hand, and led her out of the van, handing her over to the waiting man. “Take her in house. We’ll be right there.”

Head down, Erin went along.

No!” Sandra shouted. “He shouldn’t be alone with her.”

Carson gripped Sandra’s arm. “Not to worry, Ms. Blake. Bob will take care of her. She’s in good hands.”

Bob. That was the pervert’s name.

“His hands were all over Erin in the van. No matter what I said, he kept touching her.”

The nurse sniffed. “Bob’s an excellent mental health aide. Now, let’s get you into the cottage.”

An arctic gust blasted across the frozen water and up the hill to the cottage, its temperature close to the iciness in Sandra’s voice. “Listen to me. I’m a CASA volunteer—a Court Appointed Special Advocate for kids. I’ve seen a lot of creeps in my time, and I don’t like the way he—”

Louise cut her off mid-sentence. “We’ll get you a bite to eat and settle you into Cottage A. There’ll be plenty of time this afternoon to talk about your stay with us.” Iron-handed, she half-dragged Sandra along the icy sidewalk. Her breath came out in white puffs in the sub-zero air. “Here we are. Watch yourself. We need to get some salt on these steps.”

Sandra stopped at the door, teeth clenched in frustration. “Your excellent employee is a pedophile.”

“Ms. Blake, please,” Louise huffed. “All our staff have impeccable credentials. You have my word on it.”

With a short honk of a horn, an SUV with LAKE PLACID POLICE printed along its side pulled into the parking lot. The driver’s window rolled down, revealing a handsome, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and matching mustache. He removed his sunglasses and yelled, “You lose someone?”

Louise stiffened. “What did you say?”

“Looks like you lost one of your patients. We found her on Main Street. In pajamas. Barefoot. Incoherent.”

Louise picked her way down the stairs, stepped over to the squad car, and stared through the rear window. “She’s ours.”

First the creep in the van, now this? Sandra thought. What the hell’s going on here?

“Second one this week,” the cop said in a sharp voice. “You guys having problems?”

A man’s scream came from inside Cottage A.

Sandra raced inside with Louise not far behind. Hands over his mouth, eyes bulging, Bob moaned and writhed on the floor. Blood oozed through his fingers.

In the hallway, Louise shouted, “We’ve got a situation here. No, not a patient. The new mental health aide. Yeah. I need an administrator here ASAP. The police chief is outside. I think he’s calling for back up.”

Movement caught Sandra’s eye. The girl, Erin, sat in a corner with her head on her knees, hands inside her jacket, rocking. Years of working as a CASA never prepared Sandra for this. She knelt beside her. “He can’t hurt you anymore, Erin. Do you have something in your pocket? Could you give it to me, please?”

Louise shrilled from the doorway, “Get away from her. She might have a weapon!”

The girl looked up, her beautiful face smeared with red streaks. She removed her empty hands out of her pockets, smiled, and spat a chunk of pink flesh into Sandra’s open palm.

 

While the EMTs attended to Bob, a patrolman took Louise to a separate room, leaving a female uniform behind to stand guard. Erin refused to let go of Sandra’s arm and remained glued to her side while they sat on a couch in the waiting room.

Sandra thumbed through spa and tourism pamphlets with her free hand, and a wave of melancholy swept over her when she came to a glossy brochure advertising guided tours of Olympic sites.

“Ms. Blake?”

Sandra had to tilt her head back to see who was speaking. The man from the squad car stood in front of her, a cowboy hat tilted back on his head, a dark blue uniform beneath a shearling jacket. The heavy coat accentuated a pair of broad shoulders. His V-shaped torso tapered to a loaded Sam Browne duty belt, sans shoulder strap. His light blue eyes seemed to pierce her protective aura, an impression heightened by his furrowed brow. As she studied him, he was examining her.

Refusing to remain in a subordinate position, she stood. Erin, making soft grunting sounds, clung to her arm with one hand while patting her shoulder with the other. “It’s okay, honey. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Ms. Blake?” he repeated.

At five-feet ten inches, Sandra was taller than some men—but not him. “That’s me,” she said. “And you are…”

“Chief Doug Harrington, LPPD. I need a statement about the incident.” He nodded at Erin. “Is this the young lady you found with the victim?”

“I’m not sure the term ‘victim’ applies to Bob. He’s lucky she only bit his tongue.”

The Chief lifted an eyebrow and his lips quirked. He took a pen from behind his ear, pulled a small notepad out of his shirt pocket, and stood with pen poised over paper. “Could you describe what you heard and saw—minus the editorials?”

While the Chief scribbled, she described Bob’s behavior in the van, then the scene in the cottage bedroom, careful to delete the editorials.

“What brings you to Lake Placid?”

She raised her hands and gestured to the walls of the small room. “We’re standing in a world-renowned spa. I’m a woman. You do the math.”

“Were you under the influence of any substances?”

“I had one scotch and one sleeping pill—over eight hours before I arrived here. I know what I saw.” She paused. “As soon as I got here, I told Louise I didn’t like the way the creep touched Erin in the van. She refused to listen.”

“Go on.” He stared straight into her eyes, giving her an even stronger impression of being inspected. She stared right back at him, silently daring him to blink.

“If this nurse was so concerned about her employee, why’d she call her boss before she gave Bob first aid?”

“Louise Carson says you were drunk and combative.”

“Bullshit.”

“She also says Erin’s a person of interest in an ongoing murder investigation. Father stashed her here to protect her. Maybe she’s pretending to be mentally ill to avoid jail time?”

Sandra fought back the urge to punch him right on his way-too-perfect-for-a-real-man nose. “Are you out of your mind? Look at her.”

Harrington studied Erin for a moment, as did Sandra.

Boney hands. Torn, bitten cuticles. Dirt under her nails. Hadn’t anyone bathed the child after they dragged her out from under the house? By this time Erin was rocking side to side, shifting from one foot to the other. A sweater and jeans bagged on her too thin body. Sandra had to wonder whose clothes she was wearing. Her dead mother’s, perhaps? She shuddered at the thought.

“Look at her face.” She tilted Erin’s head in the Chief’s direction, so he could have a better look at her empty eyes and vacant expression. “Some might argue she acted in self-defense against a sexual predator. Others might conclude she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, secondary to witnessing her mother’s murder. The creep went after a vulnerable, mute girl in full view of a witness. Re-victimizing the child by suggesting she’s feigning her symptoms to avoid prosecution? That’s beneath you, Chief Harrington.”

He gave her a long, assessing look.

Sandra locking onto those unsettling blue eyes. Butterflies ice-skated in her stomach and warmth rushed up her neck. Her knees started to knock.

Whoa! The last time she’d felt this way had been in 1980. Here. At the Olympics.

He sighed. “Are you a lawyer, Ms. Blake?”

“Paralegal. And a CASA volunteer.”

“How long have you’ve been a CASA?”

“About ten years.” Starting two months after the doctor told me I’d never be able to carry a baby to term, she thought. “It’s not a hobby; it’s a calling. I’ve worked with hundreds of kids who have witnessed brutal crimes against family members.” She tipped her head towards Erin. “Like her.”

“Interesting.”

Afraid her knees might buckle under the weight of his attention, she sank to the sofa. Erin floated down alongside her.

Harrington made a few more notes, snapped his notebook shut. “We’ll be in touch.”

He turned on the heel of his cowboy boot and left, taking the two uniforms with him.

Louise entered the waiting room, reversing Sandra’s good mood. “Time to get you to bed, Erin.”

Putting a Vulcan grip on Sandra’s arm, the girl shrank behind her. “Tell you what, Louise. Why don’t you show me where we’re going? Looks like she and I are joined at the hip.”

 

Sandra had to admit she liked the ambiance of her suite in Cottage A. Decorated in soothing shades of aqua-blue and greens, the room held huge bed, an in-room snack bar stocked with bottled water, juices, organic fruit, cookies, and Swiss chocolate. A young woman in a turquoise one-piece ski uniform and matching hat delivered breakfast on a white tray. The smells of piping hot bread, chocolate, and rich, dark coffee provided a wakeup call for Sandra’s taste buds.

Sated on croissants and coffee, she shrugged into a thick, white terry-cloth robe and wandered across the hall to check on Erin. Still sleeping. When awake, if Sandra stepped out of her sight for more than a few seconds, Erin would become agitated, rocking and grunting.

After my shower, I’ll try to coax her to eat some breakfast. Maybe she’ll like the pastry. The poor kid didn’t touch her dinner last night.

Louise whispered in Sandra’s ear, startling her out of her reverie. “We’ll have to sedate her to keep her calm so you can begin your deluxe treatment regimen.”

Sandra closed Erin’s door, and motioned to Louise to step into her suite. “Who’s paying for Erin? What’s the real reason she’s here?”

The nurse picked a piece of lint off her slacks, avoiding eye contact. “It’s none of your concern.”

“How on earth will a seaweed wrap help this child?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Bright red spots bloomed on Louise’s cheeks. “The psychiatrist will be up later this week to conduct an assessment.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Sandra’s voice rose. “She needs an emergency psych evaluation. What kind of operation are you running here?”

“We’re a licensed mental health and substance abuse treatment center—as well as a MediSpa. Erin will receive psychotropic medications, electro-convulsive therapy—whatever she needs—when her own psychiatrist sees her, someone with whom she has a therapeutic relationship.”

“Shock therapy? I thought we left 1950 a long time ago.”
“It’s an excellent treatment for depression.”

Appalled at the prospect of someone passing electricity through anyone’s brain, Sandra snapped, “It’s a great way to get brain damage and memory loss!”

Crossing her arms over her breasts, Louise’s lips thinned. “Since you’re not a physician, Ms. Blake, your opinion isn’t relevant. Now, if don’t mind, I’ll give Erin her medication so you can get some time for your own much needed therapy.”

Sandra followed the nurse across the hall. Louise removed a zip lock bag containing a pre-filled syringe from the pocket of her turquoise smock. As she approached the bedside, Erin woke up and began to wail, eyes wild with fear.

“For God’s sake, woman, let me by!” Sandra pushed her. Erin threw her arms around Sandra’s neck and howled. It looked as if she’d become Erin’s surrogate mother.

She pointed at the syringe. “What is it?”

“A sedative to calm her down.” Louise said in a brisk tone of voice. “Doctor’s orders.”

“Hand it to me now.” She reached for the medication. “You have to get past me first.”

Louise shrugged and handed her the medication.

“Vistaril?” Sandra recognized the mild anti-anxiety drug from her post-partum depression days, when she’d been so agitated she thought she’d jump out a window. “Don’t you have this in pill form?”

Louise smirked. “This is the route the doctor prescribed.”

Holding the quaking girl, Sandra said, “Hang on to me, honey. This will be over in a moment.”

Torn between remaining with the teenager and going to her scheduled appointment, Sandra stayed at Erin’s side until the girl fell back to sleep.

 

Louise offered to call the van to drive her to her appointment, but Sandra declined. A walk in the fresh air would help her calm down. A slow-moving maintenance worker was shoveling a footpath through the snow-covered walkway, but didn’t seem to be getting very far. As she stood on the curb and eyed the pavement with trepidation, a police SUV pulled up alongside.

“Ms. Blake?” Chief Harrington beckoned to her. “May I speak with you for a moment?”

“I’m supposed to be at Cottage D right now.”

“That’s over a mile from here. Hop in.”

Sandra debated for a tenth of a second and slid into the warmth of the car. She turned sideways to face Harrington. “What can I do for you?”

A zigzag scar accented his strong jaw line, adding to his rugged appeal. Restraining a sudden urge to reach over and trace the path of its smooth whiteness, she pulled off her knit hat and brushed strands of hair out of her eyes with trembling fingers. Jeez. She was like a teenaged cheerleader with a major crush on the captain of the football team.

“You were right,” he said. “Bob is a registered sex offender.”

She allowed herself to gloat. “I’d say ‘I told you so,’ but I’m too busy trying to understand why they hired a creep like him.”

“Seems Louise Carson was in a rush to fill the position and skipped the criminal background check,” he said. “Explains why she called her boss before giving Bob first aid.”

“Told you so. Sorry. I could help that, but decided not to.”

Harrington grinned, showing dimples she’d missed before. A tingling sensation emanated from a long-neglected region of her anatomy. Her inner cheerleader shouted: “Not dead yet!” Her older, sane self said: Sit down and shut up!

“Erin’s not off the hook. Detectives are coming up from Long Island tomorrow with her father. Any chance you’d be willing to sit in on the interview with her? With your background as a CASA, you’re the perfect choice to be her advocate, help her feel safe. I bet you’re a pit bull when it comes to advocating for your kids.”

Sandra stared at him, shocked by his assessment of her personality and work style. “Who have you been talking to?”

He gave nothing up. “Consider it a good deed and say yes.”

“Hmmm.” She took a moment to consider. “You’d be indebted to me, right? I might need a favor from the local PD, like in case I punch Louise Carson in the face the next time the witch talks down to me?”

He laughed. “Getting an assault charge dropped might be beyond the scope of my duties. How about dinner instead?”

Her stomach flip-flopped while her inner cheerleader performed an intricate tuck and roll.

“For all you know, I could be a serial killer.”

“I’ll be sure to carry my sidearm. Here’s your stop. Watch your step.”

A tall, handsome, and funny guy asked her out for dinner. Lake Placid was looking better and better.

 

A wall of framed diplomas attested to Allison, “call me Allie”, Johnson’s education in counseling.

“After what you’ve told me, and based on today’s battery of tests,” Allie said, “my professional assessment is you need extensive talk-based therapy and good, old-fashioned pampering. Lucky you saw our ad and called. Tell me about you and Jim.”

Allie was half Sandra’s age. Would she understand why she’d put up with his wanderlust for so many years when Sandra wasn’t sure she understood it herself?

“If it was only about sex, I could have dealt with it. He’s had plenty of affairs. After a month or so, he’d get bored and come back to me. But this woman is different—and now I know why: she’s pregnant.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Depressed. Humiliated. Like I let us both down. He’s ten years older than me and wanted children. I wanted to be a mother, but I’ve had four miscarriages. I can’t carry a baby to term. Seeing her so pregnant with his child—well, it was the final straw. He’s gone for good. For the past ten years, I’ve deluded myself, pretending we had a good marriage. I guess you could say I’ve bottomed out.”

Allie nodded. “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

The question caught Sandra off-guard. “I hadn’t even thought past this afternoon’s manicure and pedicure.”

“Can you consider this a time to regroup and work on a plan?” Allie tapped a pen against her milk chocolate-colored cheek. “Today’s Wednesday. Let’s get together again on Monday, okay? You’ll have time to get a massage, maybe a seaweed wrap and facial. The plastic surgeon comes on Fridays to do Botox injections and implant assessments. Louise made an appointment for you.”

“You know what?”

Allie looked up from her notes. “What?”

“I’m going to hold off on injections and surgery for a while,” Sandra said. “If I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, what difference does it make what I look like?”

Allie nodded. “You’re a pretty woman. You don’t need all that stuff. Don’t tell anyone I said so.” She shrugged and rolled her eyes. “It is a for-profit clinic, after all.”

Sandra walked back to her lodging, admiring the converted cure cottages along the paths. Long open porches spoke to the genteel days of old when locals opened their homes to men, women and children suffering from Tuberculosis who came to the Adirondacks, hoping for a cure. The Cure Center was built on the local history of spas and sanatoriums, only on a cash or credit card, no-insurance-accepted, basis.

She took a deep breath of the biting cold air, and considered Allie’s question. What was she going to do now? She couldn’t bring herself to hate Jim. True, the humiliation of catching him with his pregnant mistress ripped a big hole in her self-esteem. Her volunteer work with CASA, looking out for other people’s kids, was satisfying—but hadn’t assuaged the grief over her inability to have children. Perhaps she’d been blind to Jim’s sorrow and greater need. She was jealous he’d have a baby to enjoy, and saddened she would never be a mother.

Picking up the pace, she decided she’d pitied herself long enough. No more self-delusions. She and Jim had been friends and co-workers over the last years, but the love needed to sustain the relationship had long been extinguished—and both were culpable. Her priority now was to figure out how to make a fresh start.

 

The next day when the Long Island detectives arrived, everyone crowded into an overheated conference room in main building of the spa.

“Ms. Blake, nice to meetcha. I’m Tom Jones. This here’s my partner, Vic Martinez.” The Long Island police officer bore no resemblance to the popular Welsh singer. With his build and pure Bronx accent, Jones looked like a former football player. His partner nodded, but didn’t say a word.

Erin continued to cling to Sandra’s arm but cringed and pulled back when her step-father, a weasel-faced man named Webster, tried to kiss her cheek.

Louise’s eyes flicked back and forth between the detectives, Chief Harrington, and Webster. “Ms. Blake, we don’t need you here during this interview.”

“Yes. I demand you leave,” Webster said waving Sandra away. “This is a private matter.”

“Okay.” Standing with some difficulty, she peeled Erin’s hand from her arm, then headed for the doorway.

With a shriek, Erin threw herself at Sandra.

“What the hell have you done to my step-daughter?”

Sandra turned and glared at the man. Harrington gave her shoulder a light squeeze.

“As I said before, Mr. Webster,” Harrington said, “Erin has bonded with Ms. Blake. If you want to determine who killed your wife, you’d best let her stay.”

“Very well, then. She can stay. But that woman,” he pointed to Louise, “has no need to be here.”

The nurse marched from the room, slamming the door behind her.

Sandra wondered why the three cops were allowing this weasel to run the show. Was this a set-up?

“Officers, let’s proceed,” Webster said. “I’m wasting time, and time is money.”

Jones started off. “Let’s begin with the night in question. Please tell us what happened.”

“I’ve been through this a hundred times,” Webster whined.

Jones pulled out his notepad and pen. “I know, but not with your step-daughter present.”

Webster sighed. “I’d been out to dinner with some clients. My wife had a migraine and couldn’t come with me. When I arrived home, the first thing I noticed was our front entrance lights were out. It was odd because we always leave them on. After I pulled my car into the garage, I saw those lights were out, too, and began to get concerned.” He took a deep breath. “The door to the kitchen was damaged—there were marks on the doorjamb, like someone had used a screwdriver.”

Erin dug all ten fingers into Sandra’s arm.

“I ran into the house, calling my wife’s name—‘Rose! Where are you? Are you okay? Rose!’ No answer. I found my wife on the floor of the study, a fireplace poker next to her. Her face was broken like a porcelain doll and covered in blood. She took a few breaths as she lay in my arms. I called 9-1-1, but by the time they arrived, she was gone. My beautiful Rose was dead, killed by an intruder. I think I must have surprised him, and he took off when he heard my car.”

He pulled a crisp white handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow.

Staring at Webster, Martinez asked, “Where was Erin during all this?”

“At that precise moment, she wasn’t my concern,” Webster snapped. “I needed to attend to my wife.”

“Your thirteen-year-old step-daughter may have been in danger, raped, or kidnapped by an intruder whom you say killed your wife.” Martinez leaned down to get into the weasel’s personal space. “Weren’t you worried about her whereabouts?”

“I was thinking about my dying wife.” He pursed his lips and stared at the girl. “I’m sorry, Erin. I should have looked for you sooner.”

The girl buried her face into Sandra’s shoulder, dug her fingers deeper into her arm, and shuddered.

Martinez plowed ahead. “Weren’t you, in fact, in the middle of making arrangements to send Erin away to a boarding school for the emotionally disturbed? Weren’t you and your wife fighting almost nightly about this?”

Erin started to grunt in a rising scale of notes. “Unh, unh, unh, unh!”

Webster clenched and unclenched his hands with each grunt. “Have you no mercy? She’s just lost her mother. Now you’re coming after me. You’re upsetting her!”

“One more question, Mr. Webster,” Martinez said. “We’ve been doing a little research. Your wife has no other living relatives. Who becomes the beneficiary of her estate if Erin is declared incompetent?”

Webster glared at him. “What the hell is going on here?”

“We checked with the restaurant.” Martinez again put his face within breathing distance of Webster’s. “They confirmed you left at half past ten. Your 9-1-1 call was logged in at five minutes before midnight. The restaurant is only ten miles from your house. What took you so long to get home?”
Red-faced and sweating profusely, Webster roared, “I thought we were here to see if Erin could assist in the investigation. You have a different agenda. I’m done here. You can speak to my lawyer.” With that, Webster stormed out of the building.

Putting together the pieces, Sandra said, “You wanted to observe Erin while you interviewed Webster.”

“Bingo,” Harrington said. “This young lady is the key to the case—if she could talk.”

“Don’t you think you took a huge risk she’d be driven further into her shell?”

“That’s why you’re here,” Harrington said.

“I can be her advocate, but I’m not a shrink. Now, I’m concerned about leaving Erin alone. Webster is pissed enough to try something.”

“Don’t worry.” Harrington gave the Long Island cops a meaningful glance. “We’ve got an undercover cop to watch over her when you have other things to do.”

“Then, gentlemen, if you don’t mind, my best girlfriend needs to get some food and rest.” Sandra moved toward the girl’s suite with Erin still attached to her arm.

“I owe you,” Harrington said when she passed him.

“Yes, you do. Big time.”

 

“Where are we going?” Sandra asked as she climbed into Harrington’s beat-up, non-LPPD Ford Explorer on Friday evening.
“Call me Doug, please. We have reservations at a quaint little place called The Veranda.”

“Are you sure Erin will be safe?” Sandra turned in her seat to look back at the cottage. “I should go back.”

“Relax. She’s covered.”

“Don’t you ever get upset?”

“The last time I got upset was two years ago, when my wife left me. She claimed I was married to my job, not her. A police chief on a tiny force is always on call. She never understood it. She left me and for a younger guy, a nine-to-fiver who comes home every night for dinner.”

“Oh.” Unwilling to share her marital woes, she settled back to enjoy the blazing sunset as he drove around Mirror Lake to the restaurant.

A fireplace blazed in the restored wood and high-beamed Adirondack manor, filling the intimate dining room with warmth. Conscious of Harrington’s physical proximity with each bump of his knee under the small table, Sandra perused the menu while hoping the butterflies in her stomach would eventually cease the downhill slalom course they’d been taking for the past hour. After a short discussion, they decided to share a Chateaubriand for two, accompanied by a bottle of Merlot.

As they ate, they speculated on what would happen to Erin. Sandra realized his knee was resting on hers—and it seemed natural. Where had he been all her life? How had she missed him that fateful day in 1980? Or had he not been in Lake Placid then? She glanced around and noted they were the last two people in the dining room. She started to suggest they should think about leaving and caught him staring at her left hand. “Something wrong?”

“Why didn’t you mention your husband is Big Jim Radcliff?”

“How is that your business?”

“Let me see.” He tilted his head and put his finger to his chin. “You arrive in the middle of a series of unusual events. You become a mother-bear for a girl involved in a murder investigation. And, you happen to be a CASA. I’m a cop. You do the math, as you told me once.”

Sandra lowered her eyes and stared at her bare left hand.

“As of this week, he and I are through. I caught him in our office with another woman. Another pregnant woman.” She let the statement hang out there for a few moments before looking up to catch his gaze. “I’m over forty, have had multiple miscarriages. My husband never kept his pants zipped, but as long as he kept coming home, I pretended we were okay. He’s not coming home anymore.”

Hot tears filled her eyes. She was not going to cry. She tossed back the rest of her wine and thumped the glass down on the table.

He grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry. I’ve met so many women who come up here for the spa, get Botoxed, and conveniently forget they’re married. I was afraid you might be one of them. I like a woman with a few gray hairs and laugh lines.”

Sandra wasn’t sure if he’d complimented—or insulted her. “Are you saying I look like I need Botox?”

“That’s not what I meant!” He motioned the server for the check.

Maybe this date wasn’t such a good idea. Here she was rushing into another relationship, and she wasn’t even legally separated.

The ride back to the cottage was frigid, and not only from the temperature. He pulled the car next to the curb. “Let me walk you—”

“I’m fine.” She shoved the car door open to cut off further conversation.

“God, you’re hard-headed.”

Screams cut the air. Sandra ran and fell on the icy walkway. Harrington pulled her to her feet, and they raced up the stairs. More screams came from the back of the cottage. They ran toward the sounds and slammed into a locked room.

Harrington drew his revolver, pushed Sandra away from the door, and flattened himself against the wall. “Police. Open up.

He kicked in the door and Sandra raced in behind him. Strapped to a table, Erin struggled and kicked while Louise attempted to strap her legs down. A man in a white coat stood at the head of the table, holding a paddle over Erin’s head.

“I said shock her, goddammit!” Webster shouted from the corner of the room.

“Nobody move!”

Ignoring Harrington’s order, Sandra slipped to Erin’s side to remove the restraints. She was only able to loosen one wrist before someone grabbed her arm and twirled her around.

“You interfering bitch!” Spittle hit her face as Webster shook her hard enough to make her teeth rattle.

“Don’t hurt Mommy! I’ll be good! Don’t hurt Mommy!”

Everyone froze.

Between sobs, Erin repeated, “Please don’t hurt Mommy! I’ll be good!”

Webster shoved Sandra put of his way before bolting for the door. Arm extended, Harrington stepped in and clothes-lined him, then pinned him to the wall. “C’mon. Gimme a reason to kill you.”

Webster growled, but didn’t move.

 

Sandra pondered the whirlwind of events as she walked to Cottage D to visit Allie one last time. Friday evening, once all the excitement had worn down, Harrington had found the officer, unconscious and duct-taped, in a closet.

Webster was under arrest. The local court refused to set bail. Louise Carson was also under arrest for an assortment of crimes, including assault for drugging the police officer, and false imprisonment. The unlicensed psychiatrist awaited deportation back to Russia. The Cure Center was closed indefinitely, pending further investigations.

Erin had recovered the ability to speak in complete sentences. She was going to make an excellent witness for the prosecution.

“Enough about everyone else,” Allie said as she filled a box with personal items. “What about you?”

“I have a plan.” Sandra said. “My soon-to-be ex-husband has agreed to help me apply to become Erin’s legal guardian. He’s so happy I’m only asking for the house, my car, and money to cover my living expenses, he’s promised to pull some strings to expedite the process. She’s about the age of one of the children I would have had, if I hadn’t miscarried. She already calls me Mommy.”

“What about the rest of your life? Children grow up and move away.”

“When Jim and I married, I gave up law school, became a paralegal, and helped him build his practice. I’m going to pick up where I left off.” She smiled. “I’ve become very attached to the Adirondacks. I’ve applied to Albany Law School. If I’m accepted, Jim has offered to pay my tuition. Can you believe it? Said it’s an investment in his financial freedom.”

A horn honked. “There’s my ride. Thanks for everything.”

Sandra squinted at the diamond bright sunshine—and the outline of a man leaning against the limousine. Disappointment speared her. It was the chauffeur.

Did you really think he’d be here?

“Ready to go, Ms. Blake?”

“Yes, thanks.”

She took one last look around. Tears welled and threatened to spill. Damn, damn, damn the man! He had gotten under her skin. She choked out, “Let’s go.”

The driver opened the back door and Sandra slid into the dark leather interior. Needing time alone, she pressed the button to close the divider, and leaned her head back in the seat. Too soon, the car stopped. Despite pressing all the knobs in the back seat, the divider wouldn’t go down.

The back door flew open and Harrington stood on the curb. He reached in to take her hand. “Come with me.”

Bewildered but excited to see him, her inner cheerleader somersaulted. “What’s going on?”

He pulled her up the steps of the gray courthouse, through a metal detector, and into a judge’s chambers—all without a word.

A gray-haired man in black robes looked up from a stack of papers. “Ms. Blake?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve spent the last two hours on the phone with Family Court judges in New York City, each and every one of them singing your praises. A bossy lawyer named Jim Radcliff has called here so often, I’ve told my secretary not to put him through anymore. And this fellow—” the older man shook his finger at Harrington. “—has been badgering me to death.”

Sandra opened her mouth, but all that came out was a weak whisper. “Why?”

“Because a certain young lady needs a foster parent, and everyone in the State of New York thinks you’re the best person for the job.”

Erin burst into the room, leaped into Sandra’s arms and hugged her. “Mommy, Mommy!”

“I thought you’d like some company on your trip back to Manhattan,” Harrington said with a grin.

Sandra took the pen, and signed the paperwork with shaking hands as the judged beamed at her. Harrington embraced Sandra and Erin in a giant bear hug.

“Do you believe in miracles?” Sandra whispered.

“Yes, I do.” And he sealed the deal with a kiss.