Rachel’s eyelids kept sliding shut, as Thomas drove her home. She desperately attempted to marshal her unfocused thoughts. Something happened in that kitchen. One minute, Rachel was talking to Nicole. In the next moment, she had dropped into a deep, dreamless state, conscious only of Nicole’s lips brushing against her ear as she whispered something which Rachel was too groggy to recall. The sound of Nicole’s voice still echoed through her mind. What had Nicole said? Rachel couldn’t stay awake long enough to dredge the words up from her foggy memory.
She could feel the whisper echoing through the recesses of her mind, each time she drifted off. Thomas drove her home. He didn’t like abrupt way she kept nodding off or the boneless way her head lolled to the side. Even drunk, she had never been that out of it. How much blood did Nicole take from her? He worriedly helped her out of the car and walked her to the door, supporting her unsteady footsteps.
Rachel managed to fish the door keys out of her purse, but was too uncoordinated to slide the key into the lock. After several unsuccessful attempts, Joshua opened the door, curious about the source of all the scraping at the front door. He took one look at his sister being propped up and shook his head disgustedly. He reached out to relieve Thomas of his burden, grabbing Rachel’s arm.
“Ouch, not so hard boy. My arm is sore,” exclaimed Rachel.
Joshua yanked his hand back and saw the livid mark against her light skin. He looked quizzically from her to Thomas. His eyes narrowed suspiciously at the abashed look on his friend’s face. He waited for an explanation which did not come.
“Please tell me my sister hasn’t been injected with something.”
“Of course not.”
“Then what the hell is that on her arm? It wasn’t there when she left.”
“I didn’t see what happened, but Nicole probably drew a little blood to have it tested. She thinks that Rachel is pregnant,” he said in a rush.
“So she just took it upon herself to jam a needle into my sister’s arm? Who the hell does that? Rachel, did you tell that woman she could draw blood from you?”
“What? No, I didn’t even know she did it. I…dozed off for a minute. That must be when it happened.”
“Same thing she did to mom. Still wanna tell me your girl didn’t infect my mother? I can’t believe I let you make me feel guilty for suspecting her! Richard? Richard! Come and get Rachel.”
Richard heard the anger in his brother’s voice and walked quickly out of the kitchen. He could see the two friends were having a heated discussion. Wordlessly he helped his sister up to her room, intending to hustle down the stairs in case his brother needed him.
Harriet came out of the kitchen and fell in step with them, staying behind to help Rachel get ready for bed. Richard went back down the stairs and stood within earshot of the conversation. Thomas was attempting to reassure Joshua.
“You all are my family. I would never allow anyone to hurt Rachel.”
“We’re your family huh? Tell me, why did you leave her alone with that woman, if you could see she was out of it?”
“I never thought that Nicole would harm her. I know she wouldn’t.”
“Is that right? So you think it’s normal for her to run around sticking needles in people?”
“I…I’m not gonna lie. I did think it was odd.”
“So, what did you do when you saw her drawing blood from my sister? Did you tell her to stop? Did you take the syringe from her?”
Richard heard the anger rising in his brother’s voice and hastened to his side as he swung at Thomas. He pulled Joshua back before his fist could connect. He talked him down and sent Thomas away before things could escalate any further. Joshua angrily wrenched out of Richard’s restraining hold and tried to run after Thomas. Richard caught and dragged his resisting brother inside.
“Calm down Joshua. I don’t want to have to bail you out of jail because you assaulted your best friend.”
“Oh, I’m gonna do more than just hit that sonofabitch! I can’t believe you just let him go.”
“Jumping on him won’t fix anything.”
“So we just let him get away with it?”
“No we use our heads, instead of doing something that will bite us in the ass. Right now, we have no proof that Nicole did anything wrong. You saw how messed up Rachel is; she doesn’t remember what the hell happened. For all we know, she could have asked Nicole to draw her blood or maybe she stuck the needle in her own arm.”
“I know you don’t believe Rachel injected herself with something. She may dabble in drugs but she has never shot them up. Look at her arms, she doesn’t have any track marks. You don’t think it’s odd that this is the second time that Nicole has used a syringe on one of us?”
“We don’t know that for sure Joshua. Neither one of them actually saw Nicole use a syringe on them.”
“I can’t just let it go. We have to do something Thomas.”
“Well, what do you propose we do? So far, your plan seems to be to beat the hell out of your best friend. It might make you feel better but it won’t solve anything. Besides, you two have been friends for too long to throw it all away over suspicions.”
“I asked you to help me investigate Nicole’s past and you refused.”
“All right Joshua, you win. I will help you look into things but we do it my way.”
“What are you going do?”
“Well, for starters I’ll call my friend Summer. She’s a cold case investigator but being a police officer, she has access to the offender database. She can also ask around down at the precinct. Maybe Nicole is already on somebody’s radar over there.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about Summer. She works on the night shift doesn’t she? You should call her now, and get the ball rolling.”
“You won’t leave me alone until I call her will you?”
“Hell no, I know you. You’re just stalling, because you hope I’ll forget about it by tomorrow and then you won’t have to do anything.”
Joshua continued in the same vein until Richard grudgingly hauled himself up off of the living room couch and went to his bedroom to make the call. He needed a few minutes to get the nerve up. It was seemingly a lifetime ago, the last time he spoke to Summer.
They had gone to the same high school, always on friendly terms but not exactly friends. Richard’s rough and tumble friends were a bit too juvenile for Summer. He sat on the edge of his bed and recalled the beauty of her hazel, green flecked eyes, the sensuousness of her soft, full lips and the way they curved upward when she smiled at him. Richard always admired her from afar, painfully aware that she was out of his league.
After high school, he lost contact with her and assumed that she married a doctor or some rich executive. Richard entered the police academy straight out of high school. He recalled his shock a few years later when he discovered that Summer was a rookie at his station. He looked out for her and showed her the ropes. Summer was a natural and took to the job like a fish to water.
The smile slid off of Richard’s face as the memory of the fateful night he responded to a call that wrecked his life. He’d had a bad feeling as soon as he climbed out of his car. Something just didn’t seem right. Everything was too still and silent. The person who called it in was nowhere to be found.
Richard had chastised himself for hesitating, reminding himself that he had misgivings all of the time, it was part of the job. If someone inside was being assaulted, then their needs took precedence over his gut feeling. Richard entered the building, identified himself aloud and receiving no response, moved further inside with his gun drawn, moving quickly from room to room.
He walked into the kitchen and came face-to-face with his wife. Shock made him drop his arms. Her face was a mask of hatred. The room was so dark that a gun seemed to materialize in her hand. Wordlessly, she fired into his chest and left him bleeding on the filthy floor. It was an amateurish attempt to collect on a life insurance policy and spousal benefits for death in the line of duty.
Her betrayal nearly cost him his life and left him with diminished lung capacity, but that pain was bearable, compared to the humiliation of having walked into a trap set by his own wife. The mean-spirited speculation of his fellow officers started during his convalescence. It continued to be whispered behind his back, after he returned to work until curiosity overcame good manners and the inappropriate questions and jokes began.
Richard smiled through it all, trapped behind a desk by his disabling injury, and felt himself dying inside. In the end, he walked away from the job, to save his sanity. Then Reverend Mother’s harangues about pulling himself up by his bootstraps drove him out of town, in search of a peaceful refuge in which to lick his wounds.
In Richard’s absence, Summer worked her way up to detective, eventually moving into the cold case division. The thought of calling her made his palms sweaty. It was entirely possible Thomas was telling the truth and the motives for Nicole’s behavior, were misguided but innocent.
The last thing he wanted to do was waste Summer’s time with baseless accusations. Even worse, she might just blow him off. Somehow, the thought of an irritated or preoccupied dismissal tied his stomach in knots. This was not how he wanted to reconnect with her. A part of him had secretly hoped that he would be further along in life, when next he spoke to her. He felt like such a loser.
Realizing procrastination would not make the task any easier, Richard pulled his cell phone out of the holster on the belt at his waist and dialed. The receptionist put him on hold. While he waited, Richard considered disconnecting the call at least a dozen times, before she answered. His tongue suddenly felt too thick.
“Um hi Summer, this is Richard…Richard Blackshear.”