This story is part of an ongoing series. The chronological order of my stories is listed in WifeWatchman's biography.
Feedback and constructive criticism is very much appreciated, and I encourage feedback for ideas.
This story contains graphic scenes, language and actions that might be extremely offensive to some people. These scenes, words and actions are used only for the literary purposes of this story. The author does not condone murder, racism, racial language, violence, rape or violence against women, and any depictions of any of these in this story should not be construed as acceptance of the above.
Part 1 - Prologue
"And you're a cherry blossomYou're about to bloomYou look so prettyBut you're gone so soon..."
--- Fall Out Boy, 'Centuries'.
Tuesday, April 7th. Teresa Croyle, Father Romano, and I were at University Hospital, in the room of a nine-year-old girl named Sarah, and her mother Beverly.
Beverly had left her abusive husband when Sarah was very little, and had struggled mightily to raise her child in Midtown. She'd had a small flower shop in Midtown that had done well enough for them to survive. And then Sarah had become ill.
The little girl's condition was misdiagnosed, then finally determined to be a rare soft-tissue cancer that doctors said could not be cured. Sarah's medical bills had piled up while BigBenefitInsurance had canceled her mother's medical insurance. Beverly had lost her flower shop and her home as her debt had piled up. Beverly and her very sick child were about to be forced to live on the streets.
Their plight had come to the attention of Midtown Police Detective Nell Bell, who had called me. Laura had worked with me and with Dr. Napp to get little Sarah admitted to University Hospital, and her mother stayed at the Ronald McDonald House on the other side of University Avenue.
Father Romano, seeing that Beverly was almost out of hope, had called in someone to help, a woman known for never giving up. Teresa and Sarah became fast friends, because Sarah liked to sing, no matter how bad she felt. And Teresa would sing with her.
Alas, Dr. Napp told us that Sarah's condition had no cure. He told Sarah and Beverly that he could enroll Sarah in a research program, an experimental process with no certain results. Sarah had wanted to try it, and Beverly, almost out of hope, agreed.
But it had not worked. And Teresa had watched Sarah slowly deteriorate, like she had watched Amy deteriorate. (Author's note: 'Hampered In His Plans', Ch. 04.) And now the end was expected... partly because the Death Cat had come into the room, and was perched on the cabinet next to the bed, silently watching.
I was sitting with Beverly on the couch Beverly had been sleeping on as Teresa sat at Sarah's right side, with Father Romano praying on Sarah's other side. The little girl opened her eyes and smiled when she saw Teresa.
"Hi Teresa." she said, her voice barely audible. Teresa took her hand and said hello.
"Will you sing for me, Teresa?" Sarah asked.
"Sure." Teresa said. "What would you like me to sing?'
"Ave Maria." said Sarah. Teresa nodded, then began singing, her wonderful singing voice adding to the beauty of the song:
"Ave Maria, Gratia plenaMaria, gratia plena, Maria, gratia plenaAve, ave Dominus, TecumBenedicta tu in mulieribus, Et benedictusBenedictus fructus ventris tuaeVentris tuae, JesusAve Maria"
Sarah was smiling as she watched and listened to Teresa sing. Near the end of the song, with the smile still on her young face, she closed her eyes... for the last time.
As the heart monitor went to monotone and Father Romano prayed whispered incantations, Beverly began sobbing bitterly. I took her in my arms and she collapsed against me. She had lost everything desperately trying to save her child, and now she'd lost her child, as well. I felt terrible for her, but I knew that I could not know the pain she was in, as I had not lost a child myself. All I could do was be there, to give the grieving mother an anchor to hold in the midst of her sea of total misery.
Teresa did not stop singing, but finished the song. Finally, as nurses came in, Father Romano took over tending to Beverly. I walked with Teresa out of the room, the Death Cat leading the way. As he went the other way, we walked down the hall towards the elevators.
"You okay?" I asked.
"I will be." said Teresa. "I just... I just wish there was something I could do."
"You did all you could." I said. "And Sarah died with a smile on her face, listening to you sing to her."
"I don't mean that." Teresa said, tears in her eyes. "I mean... just look around. This is a great Hospital, it's done so much teaching people to be doctors, and nurses. And kids are surviving cancer at greater and greater rates. I just wish I could do more to help those kids with the rare diseases, the ones that don't get all the research money."
"I hear you." I said. "But Jesus said 'the poor will always be among us'. There's only so much we can do."
Teresa said "I know. And I'm not an advocate of State Socialized Medicine, as there will never be money for research under that system... but I just wish I could do something to help make that research possible... so that little girls like Sarah, and... and Amy... wouldn't have to die so young."
I just nodded and put my arm around Teresa's shoulders, and led her out of the Hospital and to my Police SUV...
In the pre-dawn gloaming of Friday, April 10th, Police Chief Harold Bennett stopped his vehicle on the road in front of the cemetery. Walking through the gate and up the walkway, he came upon the tombstones of Teresa Croyle's family. Her sister Alexis's headstone was on the right. In the middle was her father's, with the words 'Medal of Honor' inscribed. And to the left was Teresa's mother's headstone, in pink marble... which was now a pile of shattered rock.
"Who the hell would do something like this?" Chief Bennett said angrily to himself and the Wind that was blowing across the grounds. He turned to go back to his car. Just as he arrived, three masked men, wearing all black, sprang from around the car!
"Get him!" one man uttered as they attacked the Police Chief with baseball bats and tire irons. There were three of them, and Chief Bennett had no chance to fight back. He curled into ball, protecting his head as much as he could with his hands, and absorbed the blows until consciousness left him.
One of the men got Bennett's cellphone out of the car, tried each of Bennett's fingers on it until one of them opened the phone. He went and took a photo of Teresa's mother's destroyed headstone, and sent an email that contained the photo. Then the men ran down the road to a waiting car, leaving Bennett lying on the ground beside his Police car...
Part 2 - It Begins
"This is Bettina Wurtzburg, KXTC Channel Two News!" shouted the redheaded MILF reporterette at 7:00am (local time), Friday, April 10th, from the rooftop of the building on the corner of Riverside and College, with City Hall in the background. "The Election season is becoming heated as candidates trade barbs!"
Bettina began: "In the race to succeed Reginald B.F. Lewis on the Town & County Council, Edgar Silas and Dr. Joseph E. Williams will hold competing rallies over the weekend. Mr. Silas, who was formerly the lead Commissioner of Boards of Inquiries investigating Donald Troy for Police brutality, is running on that record, and waging his campaign based upon unequal treatment of blacks, especially by the Police. Dr. Williams, who served on the Charter Commission with Donald Troy, is championing his own accomplishments in bringing better school conditions to black children in the County."
Bettina: "And Councilwoman Malinda Adams is being primaried by Town & County Assemblywoman Stacey Jacobs. Ms. Jacobs, who is black, attacked Ms. Adams for not doing anything for her black constituents. Roll tape."
Tape rolled, showing Stacey Jacobs saying "Malinda Adams has not done anything for the plight of blacks in this County! Because she's white, she does not understand the abuse and prejudice blacks are subjected to every single day!"
Then Malinda Adams was shown, saying "I have supported minorities all my life, and especially women, who have also been subjected to discriminated by white men! But I support all minorities, while Stacey Jacobs only supports blacks! She has done nothing for women, nothing for Hispanics, and nothing for the poor constituents of this County!"
Back to Bettina live: "And in State politics, Ruby Russell, daughter of the late U.S. Senator Samuel Russell, and former hostess of the 'Point Taken' television program, is battling former State Secretary of State Brian Cagle for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Roll tape."
Ruby Russell was shown, saying "I will stop the racist policies of Val Jared, Sharon Marshall, and the corruption of Brian Cagle, and I will restore the Republican Party to the Establishment policies of great men and women like Mitt Romney, John McCain, and my father, Samuel Russell!" KXTC chose not to show anything by Cagle.
Back to Bettina live: "The winner of that race will likely face State Senator Corey Coons from the City in the General Election. Maxine Watts is running for her old State Senate seat in the City rather than mount another bid for Lieutenant Governor. And it's a fierce race for the Republican nomination for Governor, as Lieutenant Governor Sharon Marshall, a crony of deeply unpopular Governor Val Jared and a supporter of his racist policies, is being challenged by State Attorney General Karl Handel, an enlightened Establishment Republican that supports hardworking Undocumented Workers..."
"Just when I thought Bettina was being 'fair and balanced' to the candidates, she goes off on a biased rant against Sharon Marshall." I said as we drank coffee in the Chief's Conference Room.
"You think she wants Sharon Marshall to lose?" Teresa Croyle asked with just a wee bit of acerbity in her voice.
"You okay?" Cindy asked, having turned to look at Teresa.
"I will be." Teresa said. "We buried little Sarah yesterday. Her mother didn't have enough money to send Sarah back to Midtown for burial, so the TCPD's Funeral Detail acted as pallbearers, and we buried her in the indigent section of the cemetery here."
"What's her mother doing?" Cindy asked.
"She doesn't know." said Teresa. "I'm paying for her to stay at one of the hotels near Junction Station, and Father Romano has her come to their soup kitchen to help out, and she eats there. She's trying to look for a job here, since there's nothing for her in Midtown."
"That's sad." said Cindy. "Maybe my dad can help her."
"I have a question." said Tanya P. Muscone. "I was surprised Bettina showed Ruby Russell's comments. I'd think KXTC would want Cagle to beat her."
"Nooooo." I said. "Ruby Russell is, to coin a phrase, deeply unpopular with Jared and Marshall supporters. Bettina and the Media hope she'll win the primary, and then get crushed by Corey Coons, who is black and a rising star among State Democrats. I thought he would run for Governor, but he didn't."
"Har." growled Sheriff Griswold. "You don't know a damn thing about politics, Crowbar." Everyone laughed, knowing that Our Sheriff was ribbing me, and hard.
"Thank God for small favors, Sheriff." I replied, as a red crowbar was waved in his general direction in retaliatory response.
"Who is running for Governor for the Democrats?" asked Cindy.
"Hoyt Stenson, the State Representative from Jacksonville, leads the field." I said. "Justin Madoff from the City was considering a run, but was 'persuaded' to run for his seat again."
"Why him? Why Stenson?" asked Cindy. "He's white, elderly, and a moderate."
"Exactly." growled Griswold. "The Democrats can nominate radical Leftists in safe districts, like Stacey Jacobs in Malinda Adams's district, and Maxine Watts in the Badlands District in the City. But Statewide, they have to think of the General Election. Stenson for Governor provides cover for Coons as Lt. Governor."
"That's true." I said. "Coons is not the most extreme Radical out there, but he's black, and he'll be expected to sling the slogans like 'defund the Police'. But by not being on the top of the ticket, and moderate Stenson there, the Dems hope to win both positions. You're right, Sheriff, I should've seen that. I'll stick to the day job."
Everyone laughed at that. Then Tanya said "So Maxine Watts chickened out of another run for Lt. Governor?"
Teresa said "I don't blame her. She was absolutely crushed by Sharon Marshall for the Lt. Governor seat last time." (Author's note: 'The Four Boxes of Liberty', Ch. 05.)
Cindy said "I still don't see why they think Stenson can win."
I replied: "Stenson is indeed a moderate Democrat, but he was calling for Governor Jared's impeachment early on, which gives him puppy points with the State Democrat Party. And the Democrats really, really want to beat Sharon Marshall, who I believe will win the Republican primary. They'll do whatever it takes to beat her."
"Will the Democrats cheat to win?" asked Teresa. "Will there be fraud in the General Election?"
Sheriff Griswold growled; "Does a cat got climbing gear?"
BRING! BRING! BRING! BRING!
The chime was Teresa's personal iPhone, and was an email. The ringing phone was Chief Moynahan's. He answered it.
"Whaaa?" they both said simultaneously. Moynahan got up and walked out of the room.
Teresa said "I just got an email message from Chief Bennett in my childhood home town. No words, just a photo." She showed us the photo, showing her mother's tombstone having been reduced to a pile of pink rubble.
"Who would do something like that?" Cindy asked, anger showing on her ruggedly pretty face.
"I don't know." said Teresa. "But I can't go out there, right now. Todd's in Apple Grove; they had another fire at the BOW Enterprises factory up there. Damage was minor, but he went up to check on things." (Author's note: 'Red Squad', Ch. 04 for the first fire.)
Just then, Chief Moynahan came back in. "That was my friend, the former Police Chief in Teresa's hometown. They found Chief Bennett next to his car near the cemetery, severely beaten. He was rushed to the hospital 30 miles north of there, and is in critical condition."
We all gasped at the news. Teresa said "But... but he just sent this email. How did he send this email?"
I said "I have a feeling these two incidents are very much related."
"So do Iiiiiii." drawled the Chief. "Ms. Croyle, why don't you go out there and see what's going on? And you go with her, Ms. Ross."
"What about me, Chief/" I asked as the women got up to go.
"I need you here, Mr. Crowbarrrr." the Chief said. "Go ahead, ladies." Cindy and Teresa left.
"I'm going, too." said Sheriff Griswold, getting up. "Harold Bennett was a good man for me here in the TCPD. I'll call my office, and tell them I'll be out of Town for a few days. I'll see how Bennett is doing while the girls investigate that headstone destruction."
As he left, Chief Moynahan looked at me, to find me looking at him. "You want to go out there with them, don't you, Mr. Crowbar?" he said.
"You know it, sir." I said simply.
"So I guess Captain Muscone here will be in charge while you're gone?" the Chief asked.
"Between you and her, Chief, it'll be all good." I replied.
"Then what are you waiting for?" replied the Chief. "Go... go. Before I change my mind..." I moved out smartly.
Part 3 - The Crime Scenes
"Some legends are told,Some turn to dust or to gold,But you will remember me,Remember me for centuries..."
--- Fall Out Boy, 'Centuries'.
2:00pm local time, Friday, April 10th. The BOW Enterprises Learjet came in for a landing at the airport nearest Teresa's hometown. On the flight, we discussed what was going on. I got out my laptop and got into the FBI's files with my FBI account.
"Okay, the attack was on Teresa's mom's headstone," I said, "so maybe it was something against her. Teresa, what was your mother's maiden name?" When I didn't get an answer, I looked up, to see Teresa in what could only be described as a reverie. "Teresa?" I said as we all peered at her.
"I... I don't know." Teresa finally said as she looked into space. Then she turned and looked at me and said "I don't think I've ever known."
"Alexis didn't tell you?" Cindy asked. "She never said anything?"
"No." Teresa said, still trying to search her memory. Then she said "Alexis was only two years old when my mother died in childbirth with me. She may not have known. And we never talked about her when I was growing up. My father never even talked to me, much less had a conversation about my mother, and he may not have spoken to Alexis about that 'live wire' subject."
We all nodded. "Okay, I'll research it the hard way... damn, there's nothing there." I typed some more. "According to military records, you dad put your mom on record as his wife and his prime beneficiary in late 1968, not long after your father was commissioned into the Army, but the only records of her have his surname, i.e. her married name."
"So why would someone destroy her headstone?" Cindy asked. "It only had her married name, also, didn't it?" Teresa nodded.
"We'll just have to see what the townspeople say." I said. "Maybe I can talk with the old schoolteacher Mildred, see what she knows. And we can see if there's a marriage certificate record in City Hall or the Courthouse..."
It was a sunny early Spring day as we landed, but the wind was blowing steadily and fairly hard, which made windbreakers a welcome part of our wardrobes.
"I reserved the house we were at when we were here last time." said Teresa. (Author's note: 'Home For The Holidays', Ch. 01-02.) "But I get the feeling we need to be careful. The BOW Enterprise pilots will stay with the plane, sleep on board, and guard it, and we can come back to if if we need to."
"I agree about being careful." I said. "Make sure no one goes anywhere alone. Cindy and Teresa, stay with each other. I'll stay with Sheriff Griswold." Everyone nodded.
"How are we going to get into town?" Cindy asked. "Ubers?"
"I think these vehicles might can give us a lift." I said. A black Escalade was driving up, followed by a Police car. To everyone's surprise, FBI Special Agent In Charge Jack Muscone and Special Agent Tim Jenkins got out of the Escalade. I noticed Cindy's eyes light up at the sight of Tim, and his eyes soften as he saw her.
A second later, the driver got out; he was Supervisory Special Agent Eduardo Escobar, formerly of Jack Muscone's team but now stationed in Texas. "Jack called me, and asked me to help out over here." said Eduardo as we shook hands.
The two Police Officers came up to us. "We're here to take a couple of you to see Chief Bennett."
"I'll go with the Sheriff." said Jack Muscone after a 'general discussion' amongst ourselves. I noticed there was a sheet on the backseat of the Police car.
"We took the Chief to the hospital in this car, rather than wait for an ambulance." said one of the Officers. "We cleaned it out, but put the sheet down just in case we missed a bloodstain." I nodded as Griswold and Muscone got in the backseat, and the Police car drove off.
"Where to, ladies and gentlemen?" asked Eduardo.
"Let's go see the cemetery." I said. We piled into the Escalade. I was offered the shotgun seat and took it. Tim Jenkins sat in the back, next to Cindy, who was in the middle. Teresa was behind the driver's seat, and just watched out the window as we got onto the road...