Authors: Maggie Shayne
“She has her own men here,” Kurt Parker said, stepping front and center. “Don't think for one minute we're gonna let him get away with anything.”
Sighing, River took Jax by the arm and led her into Frankie's office. He closed the door behind them, and she turned to face him.
“Don't turn your back on Kurt Parker. He's a snake.”
He nodded slowly. “But that's not what you brought me in here to tell me.”
“No. This is.” She twisted her arms around his neck, leaned up and kissed him. He was stiffâwith surprise, not resistanceâbut only for the briefest flicker of a moment. And then he was wrapping his arms around her waist, holding her to him tenderly and kissing her deeply. One of his hands cupped the back of her head and he supported all her weight
in his arms. She felt herself wishing she would never have to leave his embrace again, and the thought scared her, yet she didn't break the kiss. Not for a long time.
Not until he lifted his head, maybe because he needed air. His eyes glittered with something unnamed and a kind of desperate wish, with hopelessness behind it. “I hopeâ¦”
“Shh. Just take care of this now. One thing at a time, River. The restâ¦we'll figure it out. Later.”
He smiled just a little. “Are you sure there's anything to figure out?”
“Oh, yeah.” She kissed him one last time. “Don't be long, okay?”
“No longer than I have to be.”
Nodding, she limped out of the office, giving the lawyer a nod so he could proceed in behind her. As she moved toward her parents, who were waiting by the door, Kurt Parker leaned in close. “Don't think you'll still get that job, not after all of this. Heard he's been staying out at your placeâcourse that's just gossip. That's aiding and abetting. There will be repercussions.”
“Yeah, I know there will,” she said. “I just don't happen to care very much right now. But you know one thing I
“What's that?” he asked, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“If I do get this job, my first order of business will be to send you packing.” She reached up and gripped the collar of his shirt. “And if you put one finger on River Corbett, Kurt, I'll see to it you never work in law enforcement again. If I don't kill you instead.”
She released him and he gaped at her, too shocked to reply.
As she limped out the door, the other two Blackberry police officers flanked her. Campanelli held the door open for her. Matthews caught her eye, gave her a nod. “Nice job, Jax. And don't worry about Parker. We'll keep our eye on things.”
She stared from one to the other. “You don't even know I was right about this yet.”
“Your word's all we need,” Campanelli said softly. Then he leaned closer. “Besides, over time we've pretty much figured out that if Kurt's on one side of a fight, that
be the wrong side. Now you go home. Feel better.”
She really liked these guys, she decided. And it seemed to be mutual. Yeah. Maybe things were going to be all right, after all.
awn paced. She hated this.
“Dawn, will you relax?” Bryan sat on the edge of her bed, watching her. “You saved their lives. What more can you do?”
“I don't know. Something.”
She looked around the room. There were others present. Bryan couldn't see them, of course. But she could. Stephanie Corbett was there, her face partly beautiful and partly black and disfigured from the fire that had killed her. In her arms she held the baby she'd never borne. Mordecai was there, looking as she imagined he must have when Beth had first known himâwith his long sable hair pulled back in a ponytail, and his huge brown eyes intent and endlessly deep. He was silent now. They all were. There were others, others she'd never seen before. One man was dressed in a white getup, as if he worked in a hospital, and his face was smashed to hell and gone. He was the orderly River had been accused of murdering during his escape. Dawn didn't know how she knew that, but she did. And there was another man, grizzled and unclean. His name was Arty. She knew that, too. And there was a teenage girl who looked a lot like Jax. Her sister. Dawn hadn't even known she
a sister, and yet she knew that's who it was. Carrie. A teenage boy stood beside her, ligature marks on his neck. He'd killed her, but he was at peace now.
And there was an older man, who'd been accused of the crime and who had died because of it. He was there, too.
She didn't want to know all these things. These horrible things. But they were there in her mind, as if every one of those people were shouting their stories to herâshouting in silence. She didn't want to know, she didn't want to hear them.
They lurked, all of them, against the walls of her bedroom, watching her, just watching her. And waiting.
“How do you know you have to do something more?” Bryan got up and came to her, blocked her path so she had to stop pacing. “Look, my dad has been on the phone, pulling strings and asking questions ever since we got back from the hospital. He says Corbett and Jax, along with a judge and a pile of lawyers, are all over at the Blackberry PD with Frankie, working through all of this. He says it looks like Ethan Melrose is the real villain.”
Dawn blinked as she looked at the roomful of spectral observers. “He does have a silver Mercedes,” she said.
And then he was there. Ethan Melrose. She saw him, a hole in one side of his head and a ribbon of blood streaming down his face. He was very faint. For a moment she'd thought he was only some odd cloud of mist or vapor or something, but then she noticed his features taking shape. Weak, pale, translucent, and fading to invisible every few seconds. There was something different about him.
“But he was at his office, Bry. He had an SUV in the driveway. A Mercedes, M-Class, I think. I was there with him, and I freaked out and took off. And then I saw the Mercedes that had just hit Jax. He couldn't have done it.”
“Maybe he had the car parked around a corner. Maybe he took a shortcut. Look, the police will figure it out. It's not your job. You've done enough.”
She frowned and tried to see Ethan Melrose again, and then
she wondered why he was there. She said, “I think maybe Dr. Melrose is dead, Bry.”
Bryan sucked in a breath, standing still. “What makes you think he's dead?”
She blinked, not taking her eyes off the spot where he'd been, even though he'd vanished again. “Shot in the head, I think.”
“Dawn, where are youâ” Bryan broke off, and looked around the room. But he saw nothing. She knew he couldn't. She wished she couldn't. “They're here, aren't they? The ghosts?”
“Yeah. A butt load of them.”
He rubbed his arms. “I'll go check with Dad. He'll know. He's on top of this.”
She nodded, and Bryan ran out of the room. Could he feel it? she wondered. The cold? The unearthly chill that permeated the place when they came? God, why did they have to come at all?
“I did what you wanted,” she said, addressing Stephanie Corbett. “I saved them from the fire.”
Stephanie just stared at her. Standing there, almost as real as if she were still alive.
“Why do you have to look like that?”
The woman tipped her head to one side, frowning as if trying to make out what she was saying, but unable to.
Dawn shot a look at Mordecai. He shook his head sadly, lowering it. And she knew, then. She knew he wasn't going to talk to her again unless she asked him to. Maybe it was some kind of rule.
She closed her eyes, so she wouldn't see them, but she could still feel them there, all around her. Death, closing in on her from all sides. And she wondered if maybe she
run from it. If maybe, no matter where she went, they would find her.
Damn it, what did they want?
The bedroom door opened, and she jumped and spun to face it. But it was only Bryan coming back inside. Beth and Josh were close behind him, and man, did Beth look worried. So worried Dawn took a quick sideways glance at herself in the mirror, and almost gasped at what she saw.
She was pale and her hair was a wild mess that stuck up all over, probably from the countless times she'd pushed her hands through it. She had dark circles under her eyes, but there was more than that. Her eyes were wide and odd looking. She looked as if she'd seen a ghost, she thought, almost smiling at the phrase that popped into her head. She guessed she understood it now.
“Ethan Melrose was shot in the head an hour ago, at his house,” Bryan said softly. “But he's not dead. He's in a coma in the hospital.”
She nodded slowly. “That explains it.”
“Explains what, Dawnie?” Beth asked, coming into the room. “Honey, you look terrible. Are you okay?”
“I don't know.” She looked around at all the dead people, then closed her eyes. “Could you guys leave me alone for a minute?” she asked the living.
“I don't thinkâ” Bryan began.
“Bry, let's give her minute,” Josh said. He put a hand on his son's shoulder.
Bryan looked into her eyes. Dawn looked away, ignoring him. She didn't want him involved in this. It wasn't his nightmare.
When she heard the door close, she looked around her, at the dead, and finally, she faced her father. “I need you to talk to me. Tell me. What more am I supposed to do?”
Mordecai sighed as if in relief. “Ask Stephanie. She knows.”
“I tried that. She can't hear me, and I can't hear her.”
Mordecai moved closer, reaching out to her. “You can, if you let me help you.”
“I don't want your help. Dammit, Mordecai, I don't want anything from you. Not your help, not your presence in my head and not your curse. Least of all that.”
He nodded, and she'd never seen anyone look sadder. “I'm sorry.”
She glanced toward the womanâStephanie. She was speaking urgently now, gesturing with one hand while cradling her child in the other. She seemed desperate. Tears were flowing from her eyes.
Dawn looked at Mordecai again, lifted her hand. “All right,” she said. “Help me.”
He reached out, took her hand in his, and she felt it, but not like a physical touch. It was cold, clammy and not solid. Like holding a handful of icy cloud, only slightly more dense than that. It sent frigid shivers up her arm, and down her spine.
Mordecai looked at Stephanie, and Dawn did, too.
“She can hear you now,” Mordecai said. “Talk to her.”
Stephanie spoke, and Dawn heard her. And as she spoke, Ethan Melrose faded and didn't come back.
Moments later, Dawn opened her bedroom door to find Beth and Josh and Bryan standing outside it. They'd been talking. About her, no doubt. But the conversation stopped as soon as they saw her.
“I have to go to the hospital. I have to see Ethan Melrose. I don't know why, but I think it's pretty important.”
* * *
“Your Honor.” River's attorney, Derrick Brown, lowered his head as Frankie introduced him to Judge Henry. “I've never known a judge to go above and beyond like this. I'm grateful.”
The judge grumbled some sort of reply. River recognized the man, remembered him from his hearing so long ago. He had skin like aging leather and hair the color of slate. His face was a transcript of every trial over which he'd ever presided; line by line, every one seemed etched there.
Then the judge was staring him in the eye. “Corbett, you look decidedly different from the last time I saw you.”
River nodded. “I was under the influence of some pretty powerful drugs back then, Your Honor, prescribed by my psychiatrist at the time.”
“Mmph. Dr. Melrose. I remember.”
Frankie had arranged chairs around her tiny office. They all sat in them now. Her, the D.A., River and his lawyer, and Judge Henry. Frankie had filled the judge in on what had happened today before he'd even begun questioning River.
“This was my case,” Judge Henry continued. “I don't much like being told I was wrong about a decision, but in this case, I believe the weight of the mistake falls squarely on your own shoulders, Mr. Corbett. Why did you plead guilty if you were innocent?”
“Your Honor, my clientâ”
River put a hand on the lawyer's shoulder. “How about I speak for myself here? It's my life that's on the line, after all.”
Brown shot him a look, and nodded.
“Your Honor,” River said, “I get these blackouts. I sort of zone out for a period of time and afterward I don't remember anything that happened. It's because of a bullet that's lodged in my brain, from a gunshot wound I received in the line of duty. At the time of my wife's death, I honestly didn't remember what had happened.”
“And now you do?”
“No. I could tell you I did, but that would be a lie. I don't remember. But I have learned that the psychiatrist who convinced me I must have done it, was having an affair with my wife.”
The judge looked up sharply, held up a hand when the D.A. started to argue. “Can you prove that, son?”
River nodded. “The maid at the Harrington Inn, where they used to meet, will testify to it. The manager, too, if pressed by the law. And I'm pretty sure that Ethan Melrose
fathered the baby my wife was carrying when she died. It's on the record that it wasn't my childâthough no one told me back then.”
The judge looked at the D.A. “Did you know about this?”
The man shook his head, flipping through papers. “The autopsy wasn't completed until after Corbett's plea has been entered and accepted. It was not brought to my attention.”
“It's my belief, Your Honor,” Derrick Brown said, “that Dr. Ethan Melrose had been keeping Mr. Corbett heavily and needlessly drugged during his time in the state hospital in a deliberate attempt to keep him from remembering what truly happened that night.” He set a sheaf of papers on Frankie's desk. “These are his medical records, and a report from a top psychiatrist who's gone over them. In his opinion, none of the drugs Corbett was given were indicated by his symptoms.”
The judge opened the folder, looking at the top sheet, then lifting his head. “Dr. Cameron. That's a very famous psychiatrist.”
“I didn't want there to be any doubt about his credentials. I hired the best. I also have the sworn statement of a psychiatric nurse who worked with Mr. Corbett, who complained several times that he was showing signs of being over-and wrongly medicated, but her complaints were ignored.” He handed another sheet to the judge.
The judge perused it, and nodded, glancing at the D.A. “You'll want your own expert to review all of this.”
The D.A. nodded. “There's still the escape charge,” he reminded the judge. “And let's not forget the orderly Corbett killed in order to get away.”
“I didn't kill him to get away,” River said. “I killed him to keep him from killing me. And it wasn't intentional, either. The man pulled a knife on me.”
“A knife that has that so-called orderly's prints on it,” the lawyer added. “And it turns out he was working there illegally,
using a false ID. He had a record, had taken money to do harm to people in the past. Did time for it.”
The judge leaned back in his chair, blinking at the D.A. “Is that true?”
The D.A. sighed. “Yes.”
“So you have here a man who was framed for the murder of his own wife, betrayed into a psych ward by his doctor, drugged into oblivion and then attacked by a felon with a knife, and you want to prosecute him?”
The D.A. lowered his head. “He hasn't
“Your Honor,” Derrick Brown said. “All I ask is that my client be allowed to keep his freedom while the evidence is reviewed and a decision made as to whether to prosecute him.”
“He's a flight risk,” the D.A. said. “He escaped the state hospital. Who's to say he won't vanish?”