For disclaimers see Part 1
"Me?" Anne spluttered. She was glad that she was sitting down already because she wasnt too sure her legs would hold her up.
"Relax, Anne," Carol said quietly, reassuring the tall brunette, albeit it with an amused smile on her face.
Anne had a bewildered look on her face as she tried to think of what she could have done to get the FBI interested in her. Wherever she looked, in even the darkest recesses of her mind, she drew blanks. Unless they were watching my sexual behavior, which undoubtedly is illegal in any number of states. But, boy, would they have to be bored to care about that ...
Finally, she took a deep breath and, turning to Carol, she exhaled a long, quiet "Okay," letting the sheriff know that she wanted to hear all of it.
For a second, Carol contemplated letting Anne wait and wonder, just to see her squirm, but then a newfound feeling of maturity and the need to tell her story won out. "Relax," she said quietly, "I only was after you by proxy."
"By proxy?" Anne asked, confusion evident in her voice. Her mind felt as if was being shaken around in her head, first one way, then the other. "What who?" she stammered, thinking furiously. Who did she know that connected her to a crime? Of course "You were after Carlos, weren't you?" Confusion turned to anger. "The FBI had him in their sight the whole time and they did nothing to stop him?" Her voice got harder with every word she spoke.
The sheriff held up her hands to stop Anne's indignant words. When the brunette finally reacted to the silent plea for quiet, Carol began to explain. "No, we weren't after Carlos, not at first anyway. If you let me tell my story from the beginning, you'll see what I'm talking about."
Still fuming, Anne made an impatient gesture, letting Carol know she was willing to listen for the moment.
"When I first started out as an agent I was young and very eager. I was fresh out of Quantico and I was desperate to prove myself to my superiors. The first case I was put on was kinda interesting, but not what I had expected it to be. I had wanted murder cases, serial killings or rapes or something like that so I could make a name for myself as fast as possible. This case was about some missing young women whose only connection seemed to be that they weren't from the U.S., but their trail always led here for some reason. And before you ask," she added quickly, seeing the question in Anne's eyes, "yes, they were all Eastern European girls, except for one who was Chinese."
She stopped, letting the information sink in, waiting for a reaction. She wasn't disappointed. "Why did you suspect Carlos?"
"We didn't, as I said." She paused for dramatic effort, although she knew it wasn't really necessary. Then she continued in a very calm voice. "We suspected your father."
"What?" Anne exploded in a breath. "I mean, I know that my father was an asshole, but trading in young girls or even abducting them? I don't think so. I mean when would he how and why?" The questions tumbled out of her as quickly as her mind could produce them. And why in hell am I trying to defend him. She still had trouble thinking about the man who had once been her father.
"Anne, all the evidencewhat little we could find, that isled to him. His name always came up in those countries close to the dates when the girls and young women disappeared. There was always a man who was described as tall, dark, and handsome, with very blue eyes."
Anne knew that this perfectly described her father, but it could also be "Carlos." Not a question.
"Carlos." Carol agreed. "I know that now, but back then, we didn't know. Carlos was very good at keeping his name out of any transactions, even the things that concerned your business matters."
"But my father was already dead when we met." Anne stated the fact as if it made everything perfectly clear, and in a way it did.
"That's the point," Carol admitted. "I think the FBI always assumed your father had a partner, albeit a very silent one, since it would be very difficult to pull off something like that completely alone. When your father died, we took a much, much closer look into all his business dealings, which means into your business dealings as well, and voila, wheels are turning in a couple of agents' heads. Wouldn't the easiest way be to partner with a family member who could get to all those girls under the pretense of looking for training partners?"
"But I was never in China, and hardly ever in Eastern Europe," Anne said.
"Yes, but we thought he was, and you wouldn't need to be. We thought your father went in there, promised the girls a career, starting out as your training partner, and then got them out of their countries." She hesitated, then added, "We still don't know how the girls were smuggled out, by the way, and I'd really, really like to know."
"So," Anne interrupted her thoughts, "you came up with the brilliant idea to get to those girls through me, thinking I'd know where they are?"
"Yes, initially, but my partner and I also had a different idea." She looked up to find interested and wary blue eyes watching her, waiting for an explanation. "You see, there was a whole team assigned to the case, not just my partner and me. One of the kids that disappeared was the niece of some Romanian diplomat, and the government pressured us to get results. The thing was, at that time you had a really nasty reputation--"
"And you all thought I was capable of kidnapping some girls to do who knows what with them," Anne said in a disbelieving voice.
"Most of them did, yes," the sheriff agreed, "but my partner had found Carlos's name in one or two of your father's papers and he started digging into his past. He couldn't come up with much, which was suspicious in itself, but what he found, he didn't like. In short, the few things we found out about him made him look like a slimeball."
"Which he is."
"Which he is." Carol took a sip of her cooling coffee before topping it off. "We knew he was active in the tennis world, and my partner and I had the theory that he was behind it all. We just couldn't sell the idea to the others and our boss, mostly because of your reputation. It just looked too good on paper anyway and there were a couple of suits who'd have loved to get you and your degenerate ways into a really bad light."
"Then the U.S. Open came up and I knew that was my chance. I went in as a security officer, trying to get to know you. I wanted to find out the truth. Then I met you, and everything changed."
"Why?" Anne asked, her eyes understanding.
"Because I fell in love with you, or at least I thought I did. Now I think it was mostly lust, but that can be a very strong feeling as well." Carol closed her eyes, remembering the first few days of being completely dazed by the young tennis player. "You didn't want me, and that hurt. And then "
"And? Then what?" Anne was getting impatient.
"And then I met Carlos. Live and in the flesh." She shuddered at the mere thought. "I ran into him - literally - by chance in the catacombs. I guess he was on his way to one of his players when he and I bumped into each other, stumbling into one of the walls. Instead of asking whether I was okay, he felt me up, and in that second I knew my partner and I were right about him. I called him to tell him that he should dig even deeper, and he did.
"The problem was that you weren't out of the picture yet, even though Dave, my partner, managed to slowly get more and more agents to see things our way."
"That still doesn't explain why you did what you did with me, I mean." Anne sounded hesitant.
"Oh, that. That, my dear, was pure lust and fun, and later hurt feelings." For a second, the sheriff sounded exactly like the woman that had come to the house a day before, brash and brazen and ill behaved.
"I'm sorry I treated you the way I did, "Anne offered again.
Carol waved the sentiment away with a sweeping gesture of her arm. "Don't worry anymore, Anne. I know you couldn't help it, but neither could I. Sometimes I wish things could have worked out differently." She sighed.
"Anyway," the blonde continued, "Carlos must have realized very soon that I was interested in you and he pushed all my buttons to perfection." She stopped and barked out a laugh when she saw where Anne was looking at that moment. "Not those buttons, honey, although not for lack of trying, believe me. No, he made it his business to bump into me as often as possible, talking about you and how great you were in bed."
Anne snorted. "As if he knew."
"I didn't know that then, but I guess I should have wondered," the blonde conceded. "Then he started telling me that you were only interested in Shana, saying that you would never love anyone else in your life."
"Who'd have thought he'd tell the truth for once in his life," Anne wondered aloud.
"Yeah. Anyway, he got me all riled up with stories of your sexual exploits and your frustration because you couldn't get Ms. Straight-and-proper Wilson. He told me that he knew of your preference for rough sex. He must have seen something in me even I hadn't seen until then, and he said that I would be perfect for you. The rest, as they say, is history." Her voice sounded empty all of a sudden. "You fucked me and left me, and I fucked up my career."
"I always wondered what happened after you trashed my room," Anne said, putting a gentle hand on Carol's arm.
"I'm not too sure what happened myself. What I know is that I trashed your room, fully prepared to leave your life after leaving you that last little gift. The next thing I know there are cops waiting in the hall, taking me away." She stopped, shaking at the moment that had ended her career as an FBI agent.
"They took me away, back to Washington, D.C., and I was given a choice. Retire from the FBI or be charged with breaking and entering and whatnot. You can imagine which one I chose," she said with a small, self-deprecating smile.
"How did they know it was you?"
"They didn't, that's why they offered me the deal," Carol replied. "They couldn't prove I trashed your room, even though everyone knew I did it. What I didn't understand for the longest time was how they knew where to be at the exact right time."
"Did you find out?" Anne asked, her interest piqued.
"I think so. A couple of months after that I got a call from Dave, my ex-partner. He was pissed at me for ruining my career and threatening his, but one thing he said stuck with me. He mentioned that just a couple of days before the incident he had found some more interesting stuff about Carlos and that he had tried to dig even deeper from that point on. My take is that Carlos knew we were after him, that Dave wasn't careful enough, and that I was too obvious as an agent to fool Carlos --"
"You sure fooled me."
"-- and that he watched me," Carol continued, ignoring the interruption, "and called the cops to get rid of me and maybe even my partner. God only knows how he knew we were working together."
"Hmm," Anne murmured, lost in quite another thought. "Do you know what threw them off my trail?" she asked.
"Pure luck," Carol answered. "I know that the case was never closed, but that the team was more or less dissolved when that Romanian girl turned up somewhere in the woods, totally incoherent. She lost her memory as well, but the family was happy to have her back. Then another girl disappeared, but you had an alibi. For once, Carlos had bad luck or bad timing. Soon after that, the team members were put on other, more important cases. Dave, however, has been following the trails of those girls since then, but there was never any evidence against Carlos that would hold up in court," she finished dejectedly.
Anne nibbled on her lower lip, digesting all she had heard in the last fifteen minutes. She came to a decision. "Would you do me a favor?" she asked hesitantly, knowing that their relationship probably was not in that arena yet.
Carol looked at her for a moment as if trying to guess the favor. Then she nodded, apparently sure she had figured it out. "You want me to call Dave," she stated.
"Yes," Anne nodded, "I'd like to try and find Daniela Hinkel, one of the girls."
Irene was whirling around the kitchen cleaning and re-cleaning everything she could lay her hands on. When she caught herself wiping down the beautiful oak surface of her beloved kitchen table for the nth time, she finally stopped in mid-sweep and plopped onto the nearest chair. What's wrong with me?
She was irritated and angry, but couldn't tell whether at herself or at her daughter. The talk with Anne earlier had left her uneasy, and feeling bad. She knew that she had given Carol the worst room in the house because she was angry at the sheriff's behavior. She knew that it was petty and definitely not nice. Being reminded of that by her daughter, however, didn't make it any better. Although, Irene mused, Anne found a rather nice way to bring it up.
Irene threw the cleaning rag in the general direction of the kitchen sink, not even looking where it landed, and let her head fall into her hands. She snorted at her own behavior and tried to get her jumbled thoughts into order. The simple truth was that being admonished by Anne about Carol's room wasn't the only reason for her irritability.
Irene didn't believe in lying to herself. She didn't mind a little white lie now and then, but she preferred to lie to people other than herself, finding it easier and much more effective in the long run.
Leaning back in the chair, she stared at the ceiling. She thought about the kitchen table talk they had all had the day before, and the secrets and stories that had come out then. She had already known some of the things, had maybe even suspected some of the others, but in the end, the evilness that had come out had shocked her.
On the other hand, she had been relieved because the various stories had clearly deflected the attention from her own story and the clear detachment with which she felt she had told it. God, I really didn't tell them a thing, but it was so difficult anyway. She had noticed Anne's strange looks while she was talking, and she was sad that she had left her daughter with the impression that she hadn't known about Peter's letter and his reasons for killing himself. Irene knew that Anne couldn't say for certain how much her mother knew, but it was hard to pretend to know nothing at all.
It would have given away too much.
What she had told the others only touched some bones of a long-buried skeleton that she wanted left alone, for her own peace of mind as well as her daughter's. She closed her eyes and thought back to the weeks that had changed her life forever.
The night of Pete's birthday party ended with George Patakis leaving the house. Anne had followed suit, and while Irene was overjoyed at the first development, she was deeply saddened by the latter. She just knew that Peter would miss his sister terribly and that their life would only get worse without her daughter around.
Irene had never told her daughter how much she had come to rely on her quiet strength, and she had never acknowledged that she depended on Anne's abilities to deflect her husband's anger. Anne also had no idea that Irene was beginning to see just how abysmally George treated his son, especially after he began to suspect that Peter wasn't his own flesh and blood.
After the violent confrontation at the party, Irene feared for Peter more than ever but George didn't come home. He just dropped off the face of the earth without another word.
Irene lay awake every single night fearing his return, listening to every sound in the dark house, sitting up at the slightest creaking of the floorboards and the moaning of the wind against her bedroom window. She was scared, but tried to hold everything together for herself and Pete despite her fear.
It took a while to get used to being alone in the house, and she and Pete tried to adjust to the newfound freedom as much as possible, but they did need a couple of weeks until they finally believed that George Patakis would not return home. Neither of them ever asked themselves where he might have gone or what had happened to him - they tried to go on with their lives, not really caring about him. They never really talked about the situation either, and Irene just assumed that they both were happy George was gone.
When they were finally used to the new situation, disaster struck. George returned and he brought a friend. Irene was out when they came, leaving George and Carlos more than enough time to terrorize a frightened Pete.
Irene never knew what happened in the few hours she was out shopping, since Pete didn't talk about it in detail in his letter to her, but she assumed they had taunted her son and beaten him.
When she had returned home that night, she had found Pete in the attic, hanging from one of the wooden beams, a chair lying on its side under his body. There had also been two letters, one addressed to her, one to Anne.
She called the police, doing everything in her power to keep Pete's suicide out of the press for the sake of her daughter. She even called Kevin and Mike for help and to get Anne's whereabouts, and while they gladly helped her, they didn't disclose Anne's hiding place. They simply didn't know it.
It was days later before she read her son's letter, and it almost killed her. She had never really known what had been going on in her house, with her husband's consent and by his doing. Grief and rage had kept her locked up, crying in Pete's room for the better part of a night and day, until she found the strength to get up from his bed and leave the room, trying to face the world.
A ragged sob disturbed the silence of the kitchen and Irene looked around her before she realized that the sound came from her own constricted throat. Damn, it still hurts so much, even after all these years. Somehow she knew the pain would never really go away. She just wasn't sure if she was sad or relieved at that thought.
She buried her face in her arms and cried for a few minutes, shedding tears for her precious son who had died alone and for herself, for all the mistakes she had made so many years before. When the tears finally stopped running down her cheeks, she took a deep breath and looked out into the snow-filled trees. Pete, you would have loved it here.
The thought of how she came to be here, however, brought a scowl to her face as memories of her husband, and of what had happened after Pete's death, rushed through her head. You can be so happy you're dead, you bastard. If I saw you now, I'd kill you.
Irene sat up straight and took a ragged breath, trying to calm down and to alleviate the pain in her chest that always seemed to accompany her memories of that day. In pure reflex, she put her left arm across her breast, putting pressure on her heart. Heartache, she mused, in the very real sense of the word. She took another open-mouthed breath and tried to relax her muscles, having learned long ago how to cope with the pain. After just a few seconds the ache receded, leaving only a dull throbbing behind.
She turned her gaze towards the snow again. Hmm, the weather is getting better. No new snow. I hope it stays that way. She didn't mind winter, loved it in fact, but being cooped up for a longer time with a load of problems to work through was not really her idea of a good time. And she knew that her daughter would get antsy sooner rather than later as well. She chuckled. Ah, well, maybe Shana can keep her occupied.
Anne had always been restless, even as a child, and Irene had been very happy that playing tennis provided her daughter with an outlet for her infinite energy. Peter, however, had been as content to stay inside with her as to run around outside with his adored older sister. Oh, Pete Irene absentmindedly stroked the smooth surface of the table while her mind wandered back to the past.
She still remembered every single step she took on the staircase when she finally emerged from Pete's room to take a look around the family room. She could recall every creak in the floorboards, every single dip in every single step. She would never forget the irregularity of the carpet color, still the dark red it had been when they had bought it, but a lighter, grayer red where the sun hit it relentlessly day after day, year after year. The banister reminded her of every single time she had to ask Pete or Anne not to slide down it, and every single time she hid behind the kitchen door to watch their childish delight when they did it anyway.
She had tried to calm herself down before she left Pete's room, knowing that she had to prepare for the final goodbye. Mike and Kevin had helped her with the funeral preparations, taking over when she couldn't face it anymore and providing strong shoulders to lean on. All that remained for her now was to face the demons of an empty house, and she inched down the stairs.
She was completely unprepared for the sight of her husband sitting comfortably in his recliner with a drink in his hands. Almost as unprepared as for the hot ball of fury that settled in her gut at the sight, robbing her of her senses and making her sick for a moment.
And then he had the nerve to ask her for another drink in his most condescending tone, steadfast in his belief that she would never refuse him. He was totally secure in his knowledge that they were alone and she was in his hands. Irene was by no means a small or frail woman, but George Patakis towered over her by at least five inches, and he outweighed her by a good sixty pounds. She would never stand a chance against him, even if she tried.
She had never tried before.
"Bring me another drink!" he ordered without looking up or otherwise acknowledging her presence. He never even made a token gesture to show his sorrow at having lost his son.
Irene didn't expect him to, and still it hurt her deeply.
She went into the kitchen to fetch him another drink, never acknowledging his presence or his demand. In the kitchen, her eyes fell upon the small medicine cabinet; she had one in almost every room of the house, knowing only too well her childrens penchant for hurting themselves when playing rough. The seed of a plan was planted in her mind.
She turned around and brought George his drink.
By the third drink it the plan was more than a seedd. It had taken over her thinking. Her eyes kept wandering back to the medicine cabinet, staying longer with each visit to the kitchen. On her fourth trip, she straightened her shoulders and opened the door to the cabinet to retrieve the penicillin she knew she'd find inside.
She calmly took out several pills before preparing another drink for her husband. Then she opened the capsules and dropped their contents into his drink, methodically emptying four before she was satisfied that it would be enough. Sometimes, she mused, knowing the weaknesses of your partner really came in handy.
George Patakis was extremely allergic to penicillin, as they had found out early after he had almost died from the penicillin he received for a relatively light infection of a wound. The doctor had said that he would have died if he hadn't been at a hospital already.
Well, there was no doctor around and four pills would probably work even better than one.
She took the drink into the family room and handed it to her husband with the slightest of smiles. He gazed at her with a puzzled look on his face, but took the drink without question. Irene sat down opposite his recliner and watched him taking the first tentative sip of his drink. Something in her behavior had made him suspicious, obviously, and Irene was getting nervous. Unconsciously, her hands began to twitch, and she started to twiddle her thumbs to control their movements.
"Nervous?" George asked, his voice only slightly slurred from his previous drinks.
"N no," Irene replied, trembling inside. "Just sad," she added, wanting to know how her husband would react to any allusion to their dead son.
Irene could hardly believe the callous question, and words failed her. When she didn't answer, George used the silence to down his drink in one gulp, smacking his lips appreciatively.
Irene had given him a large shot of the best bourbon they had for his last drink.
She smiled at him, sweetly, but said nothing. She didn't move, not even when his face turned a deeper shade of pink as his body gave itself over to the anaphylactic shock. His blood pressure dropped dramatically and his throat constricted in reaction to the drug. He looked at his wife with bulging eyes, desperately trying to pull air into his starving lungs.
"What did you do to me?" he gasped with effort before sinking back into his recliner.
Irene stood next to him and looked him in the eyes. "The question is, what have you done to our son, George?" She waited until she saw the understanding dawning in his eyes, then she turned on her heels and left the room. She knew she was killing him, but she couldn't witness his struggle.
She just hoped it would be fast.
After about ten minutes she returned. The recliner was empty, and for a second she panicked, thinking her husband had overcome the drug and would come after her now. When she got closer, however, she could see his body lying on the floor, in front of the recliner. He didn't move, but Irene decided to near the body cautiously, just in case, not trusting the deathly quiet appearance.
He looked like he was sleeping, but when she touched him he was unresponsive. His color was still a nice pink, and he really looked more like he was sleeping off a drunken stupor than a dead man.
After she had made sure that he was dead she was faced with the problem of getting rid of the body, but she decided that she just had to use the easiest way possible. She dragged the body into the garage, straining under the dead weight, and managed to get him into the back seat of his car. The whole trip took her more than half an hour and when she finally had him in the car, she was drenched with sweat.
She went back into the house to grab his car keys, but decided to take a detour to the kitchen for a stiff drink, feeling rather faint from the effort and the mental stress. Then she returned to the car and slowly began to take George on his last journey.
She drove out of town, but not too far, and stopped the car on a parking lot that was a favorite with young lovers on quiet, starry nights. This night, however, was cold and unforgiving, and the parking lot was empty. She stopped the car, got out, and left without another look.
It took her two hours to walk back home, but she needed the time to get a semblance of emotional control back. Back home, she went straight to bed, never even looking at the family room. All she knew was that she had to get up early because Kevin and Mike would be there in the morning to take her to the funeral service.
She didn't sleep a wink that night.
A hand on her shoulder pulled Irene back to the present. She crossed her hands over her racing heart and looked up straight into Shana's concerned face.
"Are you okay, Mom?" came the quiet question.
"Yes, I'm quite all right," Irene answered, glad for the presence of her second daughter. She took a deep breath to settle her nerves and her thoughts before she got up from her seat at the table.
Sensing that something was amiss, Shana pulled the older woman into a firm hug. "You know, Mom," she whispered, "I love you." Telling her that she would be there to listen to any troubles.
"I know." Irene sank into the hug, understanding Shana's meaning, and accepting it gladly. "Another time, sweetie," she whispered back, "another time."
And I hope it doesn't come too soon, Irene thought before she turned towards the kitchen counter to make some tea for Shana.
To be continued in Part 24
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