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A bottle clinked.
She knew the sound.
Waking from a fitful sleep that Saturday morning in early November, Lucy jumped up from her mother's couch, pushing her short blond hair away from her face, before her eyes were fully focused.
Lucy moved toward the sound, her gun still on the coffee table where she'd set it when she'd finally dared to try and sleep.
Standing in front of the closet by the front door, Sandy Hayes wore an all-too-familiar guilty look as she turned to her daughter.
"I wasn't going to drink it, Luce, I swear. I just.. you know how I get and with the thing this morning " Sandy continued to ramble as Lucy took the opened bottle from one of her mother's hands, and the top from the other.
"I The panicky feeling was there and I just had to see that I had relief if I needed it," Sandy said, talking to Lucy's back as she followed her daughter into the old but clean kitchen.
Lucy's own bungalow across the street was a bit newer than her mother's but equally clean.
"You promised me no more hidden stash, Mama." Lucy opened the cupboard over the sink and slid the bottle onto the lower shelf. "No more games," she said. "And no drinking until after we go down to the station this morning."
Not only was Lucy tired from a night spent on her mother's rock-hard, faux-leather couch, she was angry. And a tad disappointed. "I get that you aren't going to stay sober for yourself," she said. Crankiness made her add, "Or for me. But this is for Allie, Mama. This man took Allie."
Dressed in last night's dark slacks and a wrinkle-free pinstriped blouseher daily detective attireshe faced her mother down. "This is important, Mama. Maybe more important than anything we've ever done. The prosecutor says that if you ID this guy, his case is open and shut. And once he knows he's going to prison for life, maybe he'll talk to us. Maybe he'll make a deal."
Sandy stared straight at Lucy, who knew what was coming next. Yep, there they were. The big pools of tears that spoke of a pain so deep her mother couldn't find a way out of its grip.
"You said they have his DNA."
"And the prosecutor is afraid that the defense might be able to lay some doubt regarding the sample they took from you twenty-eight years ago. Apparently there's some question about the collection process they used. You know this, Mama. I told you all about it."
"You also said you thought you'd be able to get the guy to confess and I wouldn't ever have to appear."
"He lawyered up before I got to him the second time. There was nothing I could do about that."
"I can't face him in court, Luce. Not after what he did to me."
"You promised you'd come through for me, Mama." Lucy stopped short of stamping her footnot that the gesture would have had much impact coming from five foot two inches in stocking feet.
"I promised I'd stay sober and I am, Luce, I promise."
"I know you are. Because I've been awake most of the night making certain that you would be sober this morning. I need you to keep it together until we get this done."
"You're angry with me."
"Yeah, I guess I am. It'll pass. How about you go get in the shower, put on those jeans with the embellished back pockets that you like and your new fleecy sweater, and I'll take you out to breakfast and for a drive down by the river as soon as we're finished this morning."
"Can we stop in at the Belterra?"
A casino on the Ohio River. Another place an addict could find escape for a while.
"Yes, but only for a little while. I have to work today."
Sandy turned toward the bedroom, and then stopped. "When are you going to shower?"
So Sandy would have a chance to hit the bottle?
"I showered and changed last night before I came over," she said drily. "I'll wash my face and do my makeup alongside you. My suit jacket will cover up any wrinkles the night brought."
Sandy's shoulders slumped and contrition hit Lucy hard.
"I wouldn't put you through this if I didn't have to, Mama."
"I just wish I've spent almost thirty years trying to forget everything about that man, Luce. I'm scared." She shuddered and her eyes glazed. "I don't want to see his face again. The nightmares will come back and His hands oh, God, Luce."
Sandy started to cry, buckling in on herself, and Lucy stepped forward, using her body to hold her mother upright as she wrapped her arms around Sandy's upper arms and back. "Shhh. I'm right here, Mama. And I'm always just across the street. If the dreams start again, I'll sit with you. Remember all the good times we had, sitting up watching movies and eating ice cream and popcorn in bed when I was little?"
Sandy lifted her head, wiping her eyes as she tried to smile. "Yes, of course I do. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Luce. I just wish I'd given you a better life."
"You gave me a fine life. You were always there for me, too, Mama." Not always sober, but always there. "I had what I needed." Food, nice clean clothes, help with homework and projects. A parent sitting in the front row during the Christmas play. And on the sidelines the year she'd taken up cheer-leading. In the bleachers the year she'd gone out for volleyball. And at her police academy graduation, too.
"We have to do this for Allie, Mama. Try not to think about what this jerk did to you. Think of him as the man who can tell us where Allie is."
Sandy's chin stiffened, her eyes hardening. "Yes. He will pay for taking Allie from us."
Lucy was hoping he was eventually going to lead them to her older sister. Allison Elizabeth Hayes. A girl she'd never known. A baby who'd been abducted before Lucy was born.
"You have to hold it together this morning, Mama. If you exhibit signs of instability that the defense will be able to use to discredit your testimony, the prosecutor might choose not to use you. Then we'd be left taking our chances with the possibly contaminated sample of DNA. This guy could walk."
Nodding, Sandy backed up a couple of steps. "I'll try."
Lucy straightened to her full five-feet-two. "'I'll try' isn't good enough this time, Mama. I have to know I can depend on you."
"I won't let you down."
Lucy didn't relent, her gaze boring into her mother as if she could inject Sandy with the strength she didn't have. Lucy had lost count of the number of times she'd heard her mother's promises only to end up on the other side of another broken vow.
"Do you hate me, Luce?"
"No, Mama." Pulling the slightly taller woman back into her arms, Lucy held her tightly, held her in the cradle of her heart, just as Sandy had done for Lucy in years pastboth sober and drunk. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Luce. More than anything." Sandy clung to her, burying her face in Lucy's neck. "You know that you are the most important thing to me on earth. The only important thing."
Because Allie was gone. "I know."
She did know.
Just as she knew she'd never be enough. They needed Allie.
"Ramsey, is that you?"
Leaning back in the well-used rolling desk chair, Ramsey Miller looked around the vacant office of the Comfort Cove detective squad early Saturday morning. There were six full-time detectives, among the more than fifty officers who made up the Comfort Cove Police Department. Others would be filing in soon, but for now he had the partitioned detectives' office to himself. "Yeah, Dad, it's me."
"How are you, son? It's great to hear from you! You getting enough rest?"
"And enough to eat, too? You know your mother's going to ask."
"How is Mom?"
"She has her good days and her bad days, but overall we're doing just fine."
He wanted to ask if she knew his father. If the dementia had robbed his mother of her memories of Earl yet. But he didn't. Just like he hadn't during last month's call. Or the calls before that. If his mother had worsened to that extent, his father would only lie to him about it.
And to himself, too.
Earl Miller was never going to admit that his wife was leaving him, slowly but surely, one day at a time. He wasn't going to give up on her.
Or see that she didn't have enough love left in her heart to keep her with him. He had love enough for both of them.
At least, that was Ramsey's take on the situation.
"What are you guy's doing today?" he asked now, avoiding the pile of paperwork on his desktwo cold-case records that had been his evening fun the night before.
"Mom's doing the dishes right now and then we'll be heading over to Louisville for their leaf festival. You know how she loves the colors."
"And you like the fudge," Ramsey said, figuring his dad must have been righthis mother had to still be hanging in there if she was cognizant enough to do the dishes before seven in the morning.
"Yep. I get to sample all the flavors. Only thing that would make it better was if you were here to go with us, son."
"I know, Dad. I'll try to get some time off soon."
How long had it been since he'd been back to his Southern Kentucky home? One year? Two?
"We'd love to have you here for Thanksgiving, Ramsey. Your mother's cooking."
"Mom doesn't need me around giving her more work to do." Reminding her of the daughter she'd lost because of him.
"She needs you, son."
Every time he'd been home in the thirteen years since his sister's deatha tragedy due to Ramsey's negligencehis mother had had an emotional relapse.
"I'll see what I can do." He eyed the papers in front of him again. Two more missing-children cold cases that had fallen to him. Little girls, less than two years of age. Both from the Boston area. Both disappearing in August 2000.
Nothing else about them was similar. Not race or parentage, not neighborhood, doctors, schools, hospitals. Their lives had been opposites: one rich, one poor, one had a nanny, one didn't. Their parents had never met or worked in a place where they could have known the same person.
One had been taken at a mall. The other from a park by her home. Neither had been unsupervised for more than a minute.
Both had disappeared without a trace.
Ramsey was certain the abductions were connected to each other somehow, but, thank God, they were not connected to Peter Waltersa pedophile and murderer who was currently incarcerated, apprehended by Ramsey and who Ramsey was going to see in hell. The Boston girls' DNA had been tested and they were not connected to items removed from Wal-ters's home.
".that little place down by the corner." Ramsey blinked. He'd missed the entire gist of what his father had been saying. "They say they're going to put up apartments, but I don't see why. Can you imagine who in this town would fill up an apartment building?"
Ramsey couldn't. "Maybe they're hoping more young people will move to Vienna if they build housing for them," he said.
"There's no jobs for them," Earl said. "And without jobs how are they gonna pay their rent?"
The little town Ramsey had grown up in had been thriving once, back when the tobacco industry had still supported much of rural Kentucky. Today it was mostly inhabited by people like his folks who just wouldn't leave.
"Who's the developer?" Ramsey asked, hoping that his father hadn't already told him.
"Same guy who built the big-box store outside of town."
"So maybe he's providing housing for all the people who got jobs when the store came to town."
"Maybe. It wouldn't be a bad thing," Earl continued. "Kind of exciting, watching the thing go up from scratch. They dig down first, then pour the foundation and."
Earl went on to give Ramsey a blow-by-blow of the beginning of an apartment construction project, and Ramsey listened. Because Earl was his father. And he deserved to be listened to.
"Sounds like you're getting to know these guys," he said when his father finally paused.
"I offered to help out," Earl said. "You know, odd jobs, if they need anything. I know just about everything about everything around here ."
His father sure didn't need any extra cash. The farmer had done well for himself and his family. Well enough to be able to retire in comfort when no one wanted to buy tobacco anymore.
"Maybe it's time you get to know someplace new," Ramsey said, knowing he was wasting his breath.
"This is our home, son, mine and your mom's. It's familiar to her."
"Is it still, Dad? Does she know where she is?"
"Of course she knows. She gets a little lost sometimes. Especially when something reminds her of Diane ."
"Everything there reminds her of Diane."
His slightly older sister had been the life of Vienna when she'd been in high school. She'd loved their little town. Had planned to get married and have enough babies to fill up the school.
Until she'd fallen in love with Ramsey's friend from nearby Greer, Tom Cook. And Ramsey had broken a promise to his mother. And Diane had ended up dead.
"Our life is here," Earl said. Just as he had every other time they'd had this conversation.
"I know. It's been good talking to you, Dad."
"You hear anything from Marsha?"
"Not since the divorce. Alimony was paid in full a couple of years ago so we have no connection at all anymore."
"Jimmy Downs says he saw her over in Greer a couple of months back. Says she's married to some banker there and has a couple of kids. Twins."
Jimmy Downs, owner of the gas station in townone of America's last full-service stationstalked too much.
"I'm not surprised she moved back home," Ramsey said. He was a cop. He knew exactly where she lived. He knew she'd remarried, too. And didn't care. "She wasn't happy in Massachusetts. Too cold for her."
Comfort Cove's frigid winters hadn't bothered his ex nearly as much as the chilly atmosphere inside their home had. His fault, according to her.
"Think about Thanksgiving, will you?"
But they both knew he wouldn't be home. Not for Thanksgiving. Or Christmas.
"Don't let the next time you visit be for a funeral, Ramsey."
"I have to go, Dad."
"Take care, son. I love you."
"Yeah, me, too."
Ramsey dropped the phone on his desk, thinking about funerals. And Vienna. His father might be a simple man living a simple life, but he knew how to put the hook in his son.
Ramsey didn't blame Earl.
He just wished things were different.