Valley of Shadows- Chapter Thirty-Five

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Joshua was in the kitchen making himself a grilled cheese sandwich when Richard and Rachel walked in. They took a seat at the table and accepted sandwiches from him. Joshua poured drinks and joined them at the table. The trio ate in preoccupied silence for a few moments.  Richard spoke first.

“Where’s ma?”

“I put her to bed. She’s not doing so well.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you know that she has wound that’s not healing?”

“No, of course not. Where is it?”

“It’s across her stomach. I’m going with her to the next doctor’s visit. Don’t worry I’ll find out what’s going on. As nasty as that wound looked though, that’s not what’s bothering me. Her mental state seems a little…fragile.”

Rachel leaned forward, “what do you mean?”

“Mom has been hearing voices.”

Rachel looked as though she thought Joshua was joking. Seeing that he was serious, she slowly asked, “She told you that?”

“Yes, mom and Thomas both seem to think that Nicole has it out for them and is using some sort of supernatural powers to torment them.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?”

“I just found out.  You know, I’ve never believed in that mumbo jumbo.  If only one of them was saying it, I wouldn’t take it seriously. How is it possible that without discussing it with each other, mom and Thomas are basically saying the same thing? They’re not prone to overreacting.  In fact, they’re two of the strongest people I know.”

“You’re starting to scare me Joshua! Now, I’m wondering what Nicole did with that blood she took from me,” blurted Rachel.

“I don’t know about Nicole being into voodoo, but something weird is going on with her. What did you two find out when you followed her the other night?”

Rachel spoke before Richard could answer, “We saw her go into a warehouse wearing scrubs and carrying what looked like a medical bag. It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes later that a van pulled up, two men carried a body out of the building and loaded it into the back.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions Rachel.  We don’t know whether or not it was a body,” Richard cautioned.

“Yeah right, why else would those men chase you and shoot Carl?”

Joshua interrupted, before the two could argue, “Wait a minute, what is she talking about Richard? Some men chased you? What does that have to do with Carl getting shot?”

“It’s a long story. Let’s not get off topic here. When I went back to that warehouse alone, I got there just as everything was getting loaded up and had a quick look around inside the warehouse.”

“Looking around in there was my idea.  You should have taken me with you,” pouted Rachel.

Richard ignored her and continued, “The room I went into was set up like some sort of operating room. There was a big metal table, big glass-fronted cabinets full of medication, and there was a big smear of blood on the floor.”

“Then they were loading a dead body into that van. I knew it,” crowed Rachel.

Richard shot her an irritated glance and Joshua distracted him from replying by asking, “do you remember anything else?”

“I used my phone to snap a picture of some of the labels on the medications in the cabinet. There were some pain meds but most were immunosuppressant meds used to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs.”

Joshua stroked the stubble on his chin thoughtfully, “I wonder what it all means.”
Richard shrugged, “I don’t know. Nicole seems to be the common denominator here. We need to figure out what she’s up to. I suspect that the answer is criminal though and not supernatural.”

Joshua was starting to feel frustrated and helpless again. His life had been turned upside down and inside out. For the first time in his life, he was confronted with the prospect of losing his mother and his best friend. He would be all alone, if they both died.  His brother and sisters would be supportive, but they’d eventually have to return to their lives. Joshua was haunted by visions of the remainder of his life being an endless succession of lonely days and nights in an empty house. He tried to keep the alarm out of his voice.

“What are we going to do Richard? I couldn’t handle…I don’t want to lose mom and Thomas.”

“And you won’t Josh. For one thing, it doesn’t seem like this wound ma has is life threatening. You already said that you were going to talk to her doctor. If you don’t feel up to it, I’ll do it.”

“Um Hello, am I suddenly invisible? I’m not helpless. I can talk to mama’s doctor,” Rachel protested.

Joshua and Richard exchanged dubious looks, which annoyed their sister.  Rachel opened her mouth to give them a piece of her mind. Richard quickly held up a restraining hand, “Yes, well we’ll see. My point is that we can easily get to the bottom of what’s going on with ma’s health. As for the question of what to do about Nicole, we’ll have to a little digging. Josh, I was thinking that you could use your investigative journalist skills and find out who owns that warehouse and whether or not they’re renting it out to someone. That ought to help us figure out who was behind all of that shady business over there the other night.”

“Ok, I can do that. Maybe you could ask your old partner on the force to run the plates on that van.”

Richard and Rachel exchanged cautious looks. Joshua watched them curiously.

“I don’t think that would be such a good idea. I’ve more or less been…discouraged from nosing around. I get the feeling that Darryl is somehow involved in whatever is going on. At the very least, he hasn’t told me everything he knows.”

“What makes you say that,” asked Joshua.

Richard filled his brother in on the state of things with his old partner. Joshua sat back in stunned silence. What was going on? No one was who they seemed to be. How could the three of them make any headway, if no one outside of their small circle could be trusted? Joshua was starting to feel hopeless again.

He needed to busy himself with something, before his depressed mood robbed him of the will to do anything. Richard needed him to do a little research. There was no time like the present. Joshua retrieved his laptop, set it up at the kitchen table, and turned it on. Rachel and Richard moved to sit on either side of him, waiting for it to boot up.
They heard the front door open and close. Harriet was home. They waited, but she didn’t enter the kitchen. Joshua thought he should to check on her. She was halfway up the stairs when he stopped her.

“Hey Harriet, wait up. Why don’t you join us in the kitchen? Joshua will fix you a grilled cheese sandwich and we can finish our conversation. Just because I’ve been hanging out with Rachel doesn’t mean I forgot about you.”

“Oh hey, no problem. The squeaky wheel gets the oil right? Apparently, Rachel needs you more than I do.”

“That’s not fair Harriet. Rachel’s marriage is falling apart and she might lose custody of her daughter. Her friend Carl is in the hospital fighting for his life. Plus, she’s struggling to stay sober. Don’t you think she deserves a little support?”

“You know what Richard? You’re absolutely right. It’s not like Rachel brought any of that on herself by treating her family like dirt and blowing all of their money on drugs. Stop looking at me like that Richard. Don’t act like she’s an innocent victim. Once that wedding ring of hers granted access to hubby’s money, Rachel wouldn’t give him the time of day. She only had a child to shut him up, because she knew how badly he wanted to start a family. She always acted like her daughter was a burden.”

Richard took a step back, stunned by Harriet’s venomous words. This wasn’t like her at all. Where had his kind-hearted, mild-mannered sister gone? Richard didn’t recognize the person standing in front of him. Where had all this anger come from? She didn’t even look like herself. He took in her disheveled appearance.

“Is that blood on your shirt?”

“Oh, I get it.  You’d rather change the subject than admit that I’m right. What’s the matter?  You afraid she might hear you?  Stop staring at my shirt.  It’s not my blood.”

“You never told me what happened to your face.”

“There are a lot of things that I never told you Richard.”

“What does that mean? Hey, where are you going?”

“Up to my room, not that it’s any of your business.”

“Don’t you want to talk?”

“I wouldn’t want to bore you with my problems. It wouldn’t do any good. Apparently, I’ve always been a gloomy Gus. I guess I just enjoy feeling sorry for myself.”

Richard gave her such a blank look that Harriet realized he had completely forgotten what Rachel had said about her earlier. That was how little Harriet meant to him. How had she not seen it sooner? Harriet turned to continue up the steps and Richard grabbed her hand.

“I know you don’t mean any of the things you just said. You’re just upset, and you have every right to be mad. I’ve been neglecting you and I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been a little distracted with trying to straighten out this mess ma has gotten herself into. Come down to the kitchen and have something to eat. We’re all worried about you.”

Harriet searched his face and saw the concern in his eyes. Her resolve began to falter. It had been a long night. Witnessing the brutal way that Stryker’s people had ripped into that man had her a little freaked out. Maybe talking to Richard would help take her mind off of it. Harriet had started to accept his invitation when Rachel called out from the kitchen.

“Richard, get your ass in here! You have got to see this.”

Her brother unceremoniously dropped her hand and rushed off, leaving her alone on the steps. A moment later, she could hear the muffled sound of their excited voices. Harriet turned and slowly made her way up to her room.