A Fool And His Honey Chapter Eleven
Later, I thought of asking Regina if the Granberrys kept any dogs.
’’No,’’ she said, obviously thinking I was an utter loon.
’’Good.’’ Any idea of escape would be complicated by dogs. Once we heard Hayden crying upstairs, and both of us twitched as if we were going to rise and tend to him. (In my case, that meant my arm moved.) I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to get up and go to the bathroom, and I dreaded it... when I had any dread to spare.
Margaret and Luke didn't put in an appearance. Probably totally wrapped up with their new baby, I thought bitterly. Though I wanted them both to die in agony, if they were going to live I wanted them to bring me some Extra-Strength Tylenol.
I slept some, though it wasn't like normal sleep;it was suspiciously like falling unconscious. Regina moaned and wept. I couldn't blame her, but the noise grated at the terrible sore ache in my head. Finally my bladder couldn't hold out any longer, and I talked my niece into helping me up. The trip to the little room at the foot of the stairs was about as much fun as I thought it'd be. At least I emptied myself completely in one trip, since I threw up. I knew I had a concussion, but people survived concussions - right? In mystery novels, the hero always checked out of the hospital when he had a concussion, and went on about solving the case. I knew what books I would throw across the room in the future, providing I had a future.
Also, detectives in books seemed to take as many aspirin as they wanted, without regard for the recommended adult dosage. Was I the only person in the world who watched the clock so I wouldn't take my pills too close together? Though at the moment, I would take anything anyone handed me. Please, knock me out. You can see the quality of my thinking was not high. And those were only the good parts.
I tried to concern myself about escaping. I tried to pretend I was well, and resourceful, and determined. The truth was, I was sick in body and heart, and desperate.
There was an outside door to the basement, the kind I'd only seen in movies before now;almost fiat to the ground, barred on the outside. No windows. Regina assured me she'd tried that door many times, and it was of course always barred. There was nothing like a saw in the basement;the Granberrys had removed the tools. What they'd left was extra stores of canned goods, luggage, and a pile of odds and ends of lumber.
One of them would have to bring us food eventually. And after some hours, Luke did. But Margaret stood above him on the stairs, her gun in her hand. ’’How's Hayden?’’ Regina asked, beginning to sob yet again.
’’Our baby's fine,’’ Luke said briefly and pointedly.
I prayed Regina wouldn't ask them what they were going to do with us.
’’What are you gonna do with me?’’ she asked. So I was only half disappointed. Luke didn't answer, which was just as well. He set down a tray on Regina's makeshift table, and left. Margaret was vigilant the whole time. I looked as ill as possible, which was no stretch.
There was a bottle of Excedrin on the tray. Regina opened it for me, and though I was afraid it would make me sick again, I took four. What a rebel. I propped myself up on one elbow to try the soup, which was Campbell's chicken noodle, and I managed a couple of crackers and some water. I was exhausted when I lay back down.
But after about thirty minutes, I found I felt better.
’’Help me up,’’ I told Regina.
’’Need to go the girls'room?’’
’’No, I need to move a little.’’
Regina had carried the tray up to the top step, which she said was normal routine. Margaret had opened the door, bent down, and removed it. It had looked to me like she was alone.
Now, after my cell mate had helped me stand, I managed to walk by myself, though ’’walking’’ makes it sound more organized than it really was. I went over to the cellar storm doors. I had to push against them for myself. They gave only a fraction of an inch. There was a dead bolt inside the cellar, of course, but at some point Regina had unbolted it and left it that way. ’’What's the bar outside made of?’’ I asked.
’’Metal,’’ she answered gloomily. She had experimented more than she was letting on. ’’I did think of breaking one of the jars, putting a straight piece of glass through the gap, and sawing at the bar, if it was wood. But it wasn't.’’ ’’You were talking before like you were content just to wait down here.’’ ’’I was trying to act like I thought everything would be okay.’’ Now that, I understood. ’’And I guess I figured they were more likely to let me out if they saw me assuming they were going to let me out.’’ She shrugged. ’’It couldn't hurt.’’ Her head tensed. ’’Listen! There's someone here!’’ After a second, I could hear it, too. The front door slammed, and there were more footsteps above us. Suddenly the basement door swung open a crack. ’’If you say one word I'll kill this baby,’’ Margaret said. ’’Don't scream, don't say anything.’’
After she shut the door Regina and I stood looking at each other.
’’She wouldn't hurt Hayden,’’ I said. ’’Look at what she's done for him already!’’
’’I know ... but.. .’’
Suddenly deciding, I managed to get to the stairs, grabbed the wooden railing, began to haul myself up. Then I felt a hand gripping my pants leg. ’’She might mean it,’’ Regina said.
’’Martin may already be dead,’’ I told her. ’’I have to get out of here and get help for him.’’ I was pleading.
’’I'm sorry, Aunt Roe. Not if there's a chance she might hurt my baby.’’ And Regina, bigger and stronger, clapped a hand over my mouth, held on to me, and would not let me go. I was hardly in any shape to offer much resistance. We could hear voices right outside the door. Several male voices, one female.
’’Come over this way where we can hear,’’ Regina whispered, and dragged me off the stairs and over to a spot by the wall where the dryer vent fed into the basement.
I was adding my niece to the list of people I wanted to die.
But for now that would have to wait, and I listened as she bid me. ’’... his truck by the road,’’ a male voice was saying. ’’His wife has been out looking for him.’’
’’Is he going to be all right?’’ Margaret asked, and I swear there was genuine concern in her voice.
’’Well, he's lost a lot of blood,’’ the man said doubtfully. ’’We'll just have to wait and see. One dead, two in bad shape. They can't tell us what happened. You didn't hear any shots?’’
’’... heard what might have been one, late this afternoon,’’ Luke said. His voice was much fainter.
’’And you had already been down there? Everything was okay?’’ ’’Oh, yes, fine!’’ Margaret. ’’But - I hate to say this - Martin's first wife and her boyfriend were there, and there was some bad feeling in the air.’’ ’’Dennis and Martin never did get along,’’ the male voice said thoughtfully. ’’And I really don't like to say this,’’ Margaret said, ’’but it seemed to me like Dennis was kind of making eyes at Martin's new wife.’’ ’’... we don't know where she has...’’ the voice faded away.
If it wasn't for the baby, Regina would let me go.
If it wasn't for the baby, I would scream my head off.
If it wasn't for the baby, none of this would have happened.
No, no. If it wasn't for Regina...
No, even that was wrong. If it wasn't for the Granberrys and their desire to have what nature couldn't give them...
No, it was all of these things.
It was quiet upstairs. Our rescue had walked out the door.
Regina let me go.
I sank down on my sleeping bag, exhausted.
’’I'm sorry,’’ Regina said, when she saw my face. I started to tell her I would never forgive her, but I think she already knew that. At least I was certain that Martin had gotten help, though I had no idea what shape he was in. ’’Tomorrow morning by surprise,’’ I said, ’’we take them.’’ I outlined my plan, which was based on far too little data. ’’I thought you were a nice lady,’’ Regina said, awed.
’’Not anymore,’’ I told her.
In the morning, about eight o'clock, Luke brought our tray down, Margaret covering him as she had the night before. They looked glassy-eyed, and I hoped Hayden had kept them up all night. There were two cups of orange juice and two Toaster Strudels. No coffee. Well, good. That would make me meaner, having to go without my coffee.
We ate. I took more Excedrin. I felt about like you'd expect - hell warmed over - but at least I'd slept fitfully. After we'd used the bathroom and washed our faces in the sink, Regina carried the tray up the stairs and put it on the small landing right inside the door as she had the night before. She came down and stood before me. ’’You're sure you can do this?’’ she asked me.
I could tell by the look on her face that I looked bad. ’’I'm a lot more worried about you than me,’’ I said, with mistimed bluntness. ’’Do you want your baby back?’’
’’Yes,’’ she said fiercely. ’’The people that killed his dad can't raise him.’’ Discovering she was a widow had tempered Regina overnight. I looked in her eyes and saw only determination. It almost matched the desperation I felt, the absolute necessity of reaching my husband to find out what had happened to him. Only that desperation got me up off the sleeping bag, pushed me up the stairs. I stood, one foot on the landing just inside the door and one foot on the next step down, with my back to the wall, looking over the wooden handrail at the open space of the basement, reviewing what I had to do. I glanced at my watch;it was nine o'clock.
Then there was only the waiting. If it were the much larger Luke instead of Margaret, if for once it were both of them retrieving the tray... then we were sunk. I was counting entirely on them being accustomed to Regina's passivity.
I had been hearing someone moving around in the room right outside the door, which Regina had told me was the kitchen. Now the footsteps became clearer. The lock clicked, the door began to open, and I took a deep breath. A head appeared as the door swung open and touched the wall right by my hand. Margaret had come alone for the tray.
She'd bent to pick it up before she noticed me flattened against the wall. And by then I'd reached up, grabbed that long red hair, and yanked with all my might.
Adrenaline had come to my aid, and since I pulled myself back sharply, Margaret shot past me at a good clip, unable even to get a sound out, which was great. She was hurt by the fall, but I don't know how badly, because when she reached the bottom of the steps Regina lifted a board that had been part of the pile of lumber, and hit Margaret Granberry's head with all her might. There was a slight crunching noise, and Margaret lay silent at the foot of the stairs.
’’Ick,’’ said Regina, panting.
My thoughts exactly.
Regina came up the stairs behind me, having stepped over Margaret quite casually.
I picked up the tray to get it out of our way, and took a cautious step into the kitchen. Margaret had propped the rifle by the door, I noticed. Fat lot of good that had done her.
The kitchen was a beautiful sunny room floored with white linoleum. The sun was bouncing off the snow outside and into the room through gleaming windows. My eyes were dazzled by the brightness.
On my right there was an open door into a den or living room, to my left a closed door that I thought led to the outside. I'd have been in more of a mood to appreciate Margaret's decorating skills if Luke Granberry hadn't stomped in the back door just then with an armful of wood. His face was almost funny when he saw me, and the fact that I had the tray in my hands, as he'd expected Margaret to have, seemed to compound his confusion. I threw the tray at him, and the kitchen was clean no longer. He dropped his armful of logs and orange juice splattered his pants. He stared down at them in bewilderment.
And suddenly, as if I'd walked into a wall, I ran out of strength. I sank to my knees, and was hard put to it not to fall on my side. The pain in my head throbbed and pulsed, and my legs felt like Jell-O. Luke looked up from his assessment of the stain to say, ’’Regina, don't do that.’’
His eyes were fixed on a spot behind me and a little to his left. ’’You killed my husband,’’ Regina said. ’’You took my baby. Now you go get him and hand him to Aunt Roe.’’
I managed to turn my head enough to see that Regina was holding the rifle. I wondered if she knew how to fire it.
Luke didn't move. ’’You don't understand, Regina. Where's Margaret?’’ he asked, and I saw the beginning of panic on his face.
’’I think I'll just go get Hayden myself,’’ Regina said, and shot Luke. I sat on the floor, paralyzed and gaping. When Regina changed, she didn't mess around. She went full circle.
In the next second, I was aware that I was alone in the kitchen with the moaning Luke Granberry. He was curled in a ball just inside the still-open door. Cold air was pouring in and he was clutching his right shoulder. His coat was stained with blood.
I pulled myself up until I stood with my hands on the kitchen table. I wondered where the car keys were. Then I spied the telephone. I staggered over to it, took it off the wall. I was so sure it would be dead, it was an almost painful shock to find it worked perfectly.
Margaret had neatly posted emergency numbers on the wall beside the phone. I punched in the sheriffs number.
’’Come get me,’’ I said to the man who answered. ’’I've been hurt and I'm too weak to drive and I have to get to the hospital.’’
’’What's your location, ma'am?’’
I hadn't the slightest idea.
’’I'm at the Granberry farm,’’ I said.
’’What's that route number?’’
I remembered. ’’Eight. It's right next to the old Bartell farm,’’ I said.
’’Oh, all right, south of town, that would be.’’
’’What's the nature of your emergency?’’
’’Oh, shit! Just come! There are dead people out here!’’ I said, and hung up. Stupid man. That would bring them, though the Granberrys might not be dead. Hurt bad, surely that would qualify.
’’Here's Hayden,’’ Regina said, her voice almost a coo. I scarcely looked at him. If I'd said, ’’So?’’ Regina might've shot me. All my energy was bent on lasting, staying upright, until I could see Martin again. ’’He looks fine,’’ I said. My voice came out more like a whisper. I was feeling more like my old self every minute, Aurora Teagarden the librarian, whereas Regina seemed permanently transformed into Iron Woman. But maybe I would never be my old self, I reflected after a moment, since I seemed to be able to ignore Luke's moaning.
I thought of getting the keys and driving Margaret's pickup or Luke's Bronco into town, to save time, but then I had to admit to myself that I would probably pass out along the way. I sank into a chair and put my head on my arms. Regina sat next to me, holding her son, and together we waited for the sirens to get closer.
They even searched Hayden, to make sure he wasn't packing heat in his diaper, I guess.
’’Take me to my husband,’’ I said, and I said it to every officer who came in the door.
It pleased me that they believed us pretty quickly, after they'd been down in the basement and seen the evidence of our imprisonment. But believing isn't the same as releasing, and it was all too long before the sheriff himself decided to drive me into the little hospital in Corinth.
’’They're going to transfer Mr. Bartell to Pittsburgh when he's stable enough,’’ the sheriff told me.
’’He had a heart attack?’’ I asked.
’’Yes,’’ the sheriff confirmed, his wide Slavic face looking so sorry for me that my heart sank.
I made myself ask about Karl.
’’He's in critical condition, but he lasted this long,’’ Sheriff Brod told me. ’’Karl Bagosian is a tough bird. He hasn't been able to tell us exactly what happened. Would you like to tell me?’’
’’My husband and Karl were standing in the kitchen with my niece's friend, Rory,’’ I said wearily, staring out the squad car window at the frozen fields. To me, it was an alien landscape. The cold sun made it gleam like the white linoleum in the Granberrys'kitchen. I saw the blood against it, heard Luke moaning again like an animal.
I got through the account of what had happened, yet again. I could tell the sheriff had a hard time believing I'd started Margaret down the stairs. I was a librarian, for God's sake. I reached up and touched the dreadful bruise and swelling on my forehead. I'd gotten a good look in the Granberrys'bathroom mirror. Even touching as delicately as possible, my head rang with pain.
’’You need to get checked out at the hospital,’’ the sheriff said. He was a big man, wide faced and heavy.
’’After I see Martin,’’ I said, and didn't speak again until we were there. ’’I just want you to know, ma'am, that the deputy that questioned the Granberrys last night... well, he won't go without an official reprimand.’’ I shrugged. It didn't matter anymore.
Somehow I was in a wheelchair going down corridors freshly painted in a glossy beige. The rubberized flooring was a dark chocolate brown. The place smelled like a sure-enough hospital, the sharp odors of disinfectants and medicine and the bland smell of hospital food vying for supremacy. Through the doors marked ICU we went, the nurse pushing me not offering any comment no matter how many questions I asked her. The tiny ICU unit had room for six patients, and Martin and Karl were the only two. Cindy was in Martin's glass-sided room, and she stepped out when she saw me coming. She started to say something to me and then thought better of it. Her eyes were red.
The nurse wheeled me right up to Martin's bed. I looked at him in horror. His face had lost all its normal color, and everything that could be hooked up to a tube was. He looked twenty years older.
’’He hasn't said much,’’ the young man in the shadows of the room told me, and I saw that it was Barrett.
I knew then that Martin was going to die.
’’Sweetheart,’’ I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking. ’’I'm here.’’ I stood and took his hand.
His eyes flickered open. He took in the bruise. ’’You got hurt,’’ he said faintly.
’’That's why you didn't come.’’
’’I knew it.’’
’’Miss me?’’ I said, trying to smile, having no idea what to say.
’’Oh, yes,’’ he breathed, almost smiling.
’’I missed you, too,’’ I said, choking on the words. My eyes brimmed and welled over. I kissed him on his cheek, and wished with all my heart I was alone with him. But I couldn't tell his son to leave.
That meant Barrett was there when Martin gave a rattling breath five minutes later and alarms went off, and Barrett was there when the technicians hustled us out in the hall and worked over my husband, and Barrett was there when the old doctor came out minutes later to tell me that my husband had died.
I became a widow the same week as Regina, the same week Luke Granberry became a widower.
Regina had been deprived of both of the men she'd cared for;I'm not going to assume she loved them. Her mother had returned and promised to help her raise the baby, whom Barby claimed was the spitting image of a Bartell. I never held Hay-den in my arms again. Somehow I never wanted to. Regina faced only nominal charges in the death of Margaret Granberry, since Luke himself attested they had held Regina and me prisoner. Without Margaret, Luke seemed to lose all his resolve, to become indifferent to his own life. But he recovered from his bullet wound to face three charges of kidnapping (Regina, Hayden, and me), two counts of murder (Craig and Rory), one count of assault with a deadly weapon (Karl). Since Luke pled guilty, I didn't have to return to Corinth for the trial.
I would never go there again.
Two weeks after Craig's funeral, Craig's older brother Dylan charged Regina with being an unfit mother, citing her plan to sell her baby to the Granberrys. He and his wife Shondra wanted to raise Hayden along with their little girl. But Regina and Barby together had too much Bartell determination for the judge. He ruled the baby should stay with his mother, but the judge did order Regina to take parenting classes.
She met an older man at the first session, a divorced thirty-year-old ordered to take the class after he'd slapped his child in a grocery store, and the next thing I knew, they were married. Regina seemed to slip into marriage easily, not seeing it as so different from any other state of being.
Of course that was months after I had brought Martin back to Lawrenceton for the funeral. Cindy had hinted that there was room in Martin's parents'plot, and Barby had done more than hint. But I can be mighty deaf when I feel like it. It was none of Cindy's business;ex was ex. And Barby had never been a favorite of mine.
Poor Mother. She had to try to tone down her joy at her husband John's complete recovery from his heart attack, and he was twenty years older than Martin. I saw her efforts and pitied her in a remote way.
Poor John stood by the graveside trying not to look guilty. John was a rock to me, and his children, too. I'd always resented them a little, maybe, having been the sole child of my mother until she remarried, but his two sons and their wives were so kind and tactful that my petty irritation seeped away. I was still in the stunned shell of numbness when the letter came. I'd stopped at the mailbox on my way back from work, and I shuffled through its contents indifferently. Bills, catalogs, occupant mail. But there was one personal letter, hand-written, no return address.
I slit it open when I got into the house.
I glanced at the signature. It was from Luke Granberry. I dropped it as if it were a loathsome spider. But seconds later, I picked it back up.
Dear Mrs. Bartell,
I know you will never forgive me for what I have done but I wanted you to know why I even thought of it.
Margaret and I moved to Corinth because I had discovered my mother lived there.
At least for a while.
I think Margaret told you I was adopted. I was lucky to be adopted by wonderful people. Not only loving, but rich. My dad had made a lot of money in the tire business.
Like most adopted children, I always wondered who my real mother and father were. I didn't want to ask my mom and dad. I knew it would upset them. But I always felt that they knew my mother's name, that they had met her at the unwed mothers'home, from something Dad let fall once. After I married Margaret, she became as determined as I was to find out, and she was a lot smarter than me at thinking of ways to do it. When my mother died, Margaret went through all her papers, thinking she might find some trace, and sure enough she found a private detective's report on a Barbara Bartell Lampton. My mom had kept track of my birth mother that way. Why, I don't know. I guess she wanted to know how Barbara turned out. When Margaret read the old story about Barby, the story about my mother getting thrown out of her stepfather's church because of an illegitimate pregnancy, Margaret knew she'd found my birth mother. From the reports, we found out that Barbara didn't live in Corinth anymore, but my sister Regina did. So we bought the farm next to the one where Regina was living and set out to make friends with her. We'd always wanted a baby, and when we saw what a mess Regina was likely to make of her pregnancy, we felt like we had to take a hand. It seemed just exactly right since Margaret and I had tried so hard for so long. If we couldn't have one of our own, one that was partly ours by blood was next best. Margaret never got over that woman in our building thinking we would like to have her baby. She said she told you that story, about the woman leaving her baby at our door.
We did everything for Regina without telling her I was her brother. We made her go for her checkups. We paid for some of her groceries, so she'd eat the right food. We even went through Lamaze, hoping she'd let us be there at the birth, but she didn't want us there. She'd rather have those two thugs there. At least she was sure one of them was the father of the child. We just wanted the baby. We couldn't kill Regina when it would have been so easy to. No one would have known. But she is my sister, and I just couldn't. We believed her that night when she told us you and your husband had the baby. Margaret never could have imagined that Regina would leave her baby, even for a moment, under a bed.
What I want to let you know is, we never planned for any of this to happen when we first found out who my mother is. I wanted to know that, and I wanted a child of my own and Margaret's. I had a right to those things. I still think so. If Craig and Rory had just stayed out of it, and I had been able to deal with Regina on my own, it would have worked out, since she's my sister. I'm sorry.
I looked at this letter for a long time after I read it. I wondered if Regina and Barby needed to know about Luke. I decided that wasn't my responsibility. I went outside into the cold dry air with a match from the box on the mantelpiece. I hadn't had the spirit to build a fire all winter, from the wood Darius Quattermain had strewn around the yard, the wood that Martin and I had gathered up and stacked ... I headed my thoughts off before I could tear up. I struck the match against a brick, and it ignited beautifully. I set the letter on fire, and when I could no longer hold it I dropped it into an empty flowerpot I'd never put away in the toolshed.
I thought about Darius again, though, about his singing and dancing in the chilly wind. I thought about the drug he'd been slipped, and about Rory's unexpected sleeping jag after the woman at the liquor store had bought them beers in exchange for their help in getting her car out of a trough. I grabbed my keys and drove back into town. Mostly these days I just drove to work and back, and the spontaneous errand felt very odd. I knocked on the Lowrys'door ten minutes later. As I'd hoped, Catledge hadn't gotten home yet. Ellen was by herself.
’’Come in,’’ she said instantly, all graciousness. ’’How've you been doing?’’
Everyone said that now. As if I'd tell them.
I stepped in, sure I was about to ruin my welcome for good, not caring. ’’You were the one doing it,’’ I said without preamble. ’’You put the pills in Mr. Quattermain's bottle, and you drugged the beer you gave Rory Brown.’’ ’’Rory Brown?’’ Ellen's smooth brow wrinkled in puzzlement. ’’Oh, was he the scruffy blond boy at the liquor store?’’
’’Yes. He described you to me, and I remembered you coming in the garage door with that bottle of wine. You weren't acting like yourself.’’ ’’That's funny,’’ Ellen said coolly. ’’I thought I was acting very much like myself.’’
’’Are you that cruel?’’
’’For a time, I was.’’
I stared at her with something like hatred. Who knew how things would have turned out if Rory hadn't been drugged?
’’You're pathetic,’’ I said. It was the worst thing I could think of to say. ’’Yes, I am. I found all those pills in my son's room this summer. I confiscated them. Of course, I should have flushed them down the toilet, but for some reason I didn't. Catledge and I checked Tally into a drug rehabilitation program. You are the only person in this town who knows where he really is.’’ I took a deep breath, let it out. Some of the rage seeped out with it. ’’I couldn't tell anyone. I couldn't talk to Catledge about it, he absolutely refused. The program Tally was in, the head therapist said it was important he not get any visitors for a while so he could concentrate on the agenda. Catledge didn't want me to work.’’ She threw her hands up in the air. See how the world had frustrated her?
’’Don't give me that,’’ I said. My tone wasn't pleasant. ’’You could have worked anyway, no matter what Catledge said. You could have flown to wherever your son is and told them you were paying for his stay and by God you wanted to see him. You could have taken space heaters to poor old people. Instead, you slipped drugs to the unwary.’’
Ellen looked down at me coldly. ’’I won't do it again,’’ she said. ’’For one thing, I'm out of pills. But I've got to say, I kind of enjoyed it.’’ She gestured toward the door and I left.
Driving home tired me out. So many things seemed to tire me these days. I spent a lot of time watching television in bed, which had involved buying another television, getting it installed in a special stand up in our bedroom, and paying a higher cable bill. Reading didn't seem as interesting to me... Nothing did.
Again, I pulled in the driveway and got out, looking around me at the familiar landscape.
The wind had picked up again, and as I watched it snatched up the ashes of Luke Granberry's letter and began to scatter them from the flowerpot. I looked at the weather vane Martin had installed on the garage roof and saw that the wind was blowing the ashes west. Toward the cemetery.