tagNovels and NovellasThe Arrangement Ch. 11

The Arrangement Ch. 11

byTara_Neale©

Jill smiled weakly and waved as the school bus pulled off from the curb. Exhaustion and something else ate at her insides. She promised herself that she would take a nap when Britney and Ashley had theirs. She shook her head. This should have been easy. Old Hat. Instead it was eating her lunch, she thought. Three days. How the hell was she going to make three months, maybe more?

"Are you sure you're all right? Why don't I take the babies for the day? You can rest and call the damned doctor to make an appointment," Simone insisted.

She chuckled nervously. "No, really I'm fine."

Simone shook her head, "No, no, you ain't, girlfriend."

Jill frowned, "Girlfriend? Simone, when was the last time you saw Trisha?"

Simone frowned, "At your house on Monday morning, I think."

"I left a message on her voice mail yesterday morning, but I still haven't heard back from her."

The frown deepened, "I've left three. I think it's time we had us a little intervention, girlfriend."

"Intervention?" Jill questioned.

"Yeah, fancy word for ganging up on the poor girl."

Instead of turning back towards their houses, they walked ahead in silence. It was only a short walk. Most of the houses in their neighborhood looked almost identical. There were no numbers painted on the curb or on the front doors. Most of the people in this ordinary looking subdivision were military and those were just the most basic of counter measures.

Simone pounded loudly on the door. When their friend did not answer immediately, Jill rang both the home phone and Trisha's cell.

"No answer," she said as she jostled the double stroller trying to quiet the girls.

"Her car is in the drive way. Trav's truck too."

Jill nodded and fought back that uneasy feeling once more. She hated it, but it was becoming a way too common occurrence.

"You stay here with the babies. I'm going around back to look around," Simone pushed past her.

Jill hummed softly to the girls as she waited. She tried to keep the worst of the worry at bay. She knew the babies would pick up on her emotions and she did not want them upset, unnecessarily. But when the front door swung open it was Simone that stood in the doorway, not Trisha. Her eyes filled with unshed tears.

"Simone, oh god, what is it?"

Her friend shook her head. "I need you. Turn on the TV and leave the girls in the living room. Then come to the nursery."

Bile rose in Jill's throat, "Nursery, oh god, something's wrong with T.J.?"

"No, I don't think so, but she won't let me get close enough to find out."

"What?" Jill questioned as she squeezed the stroller through the front door. But Simone had already gone, disappeared back down the hallway towards the sounds of uncontrolled crying. Jill could recognize the baby's, but the screams and sobs of a woman practically drowned them out.

She turned on the large screen television. She did not even need to search for the remote as the lilting voice of Elmo boomed out of the speakers hidden in the wall next to it. It was a good thing too. Looking around the room, Jill thought that it had been hit by the proverbial tornado. It was not just the toys and clean laundry that was thrown about it, but the couch was shoved at an odd angle and the end table had been turned over.

The lamp that usually sat on it was broken into pieces on the floor. Her first thought was to pick up those pieces, they were sharp and dangerous. But the wailing down the hall seemed to be growing louder with each Nano-second. With the girls locked in their buggy, they should not be able to reach it. She shook her head at the thought, "Well, at least not in the couple of minutes it takes me to check on things with Simone."

As she padded down the hall, the sounds got louder and louder. She could not make out any words, just the heart-rending pleas of a wounded animal. When she pushed open the door to the nursery, her mouth fell open.

Only the faint light from a small crack in the Handy Manny curtains illuminated the room. But what she could see horrified her. Dirty diapers were strewn about the room. Bottles too, empty ones, half full ones and there were half a dozen more full ones lined up on the dresser, next to jars of baby food and an open box of animal crackers. The carpet was a landmine of toys everywhere. Each step must be carefully negotiated to keep from stubbing a toe or tripping.

But by far the worst was the woman, if she could be called that, sitting in the rocking chair squeezing the toddler and screaming. It was not just the shrill sounds emanating from her mouth that made Jill think of the mythological Celtic creature, a shrew. The creature was pale beyond words, well except for the dozens of dark patches that marred most of her body. Bruises were everywhere that she could see around the torn night gown that hung limply from one purplish shoulder. Jill thought she could even see the faint circle of teeth prints on the swell of that breast.

"Oh god, what happened to her?"

Simone shook her head, her eyes pleaded with Jill for help. "That's not important right now. We need to get them help. I called nine-one-one and they're sending an ambulance and the police. But we need to get her to let go of the boy before they get here," she whispered.

"Never. I have to protect him. He's coming back. He said he would. And next time he's going to take T.J. He said so," screamed the creature as she rocked the crying baby back and forth faster and faster.

Jill picked her way through the toys towards her friend. She had to fight back the nausea when she got close. The smell of human waste was almost overpowering. She put her hand across her nose and breathed through her mouth.

Tangled layers of red hair formed a half mask across the creatures face. But even through it, Jill could see the blank stare of a mad woman beneath the swollen blue tissue surrounding the normally clear green eyes.

She knelt on the floor by the rocker. She reached out to touch her friend's knee but the creature jerked back so suddenly that it almost toppled the rocker. Jill drew her hand back slowly and looked up at Simone. She shook her head as she began to sing softly the same lullaby that she did with the babies.

"Shh, Trisha, it's all right, sweetie. No one's here but me and Simone. No one's going to hurt you. I promise," she crooned as the song came to an end.

The woman shook her head violently, "No, no, you're wrong. He said he would be back. Said he was always watching me. Said he would know if," she broke down in tears once more as she clutched her son even closer. The boy let out another cry and tried to squirm away.

"Trisha, you're hurting T.J.," Simone whispered.

"No, no, have to keep him safe. Can't let anything happen to him. He said he would," she kissed the boy's red curls. "He said that accidents happen to people all the time," she looked at Jill as she spoke.

Jill forced air through her lungs. "Who, Trisha? Who is he?"

Trisha shook her head. "No, can't tell you. Just put you in more danger." The woman stood up suddenly clutching the child closer to her chest. The rocker turned over in the melee. "Have to get away. Far away. Have to keep T.J. from him," she sobbed.

Jill could hear the sirens in the distance. She looked at Simone for help. "Give T.J. to me, Trisha. If he is coming for you, then let me help you. Let me keep him safe."

Trisha's usually beautiful face contorted in pain and fear, but she nodded her head and kissed the screaming boy's head. "You're right. I can't protect him. Not anymore." She passed the child to Jill reluctantly then she slumped to the floor burying her face in her hands. "It doesn't matter. Not anymore. It doesn't matter what happens to me as long as T.J. is safe," she sobbed.

Simone knelt on the floor next to the creature. She slowly extended her hand to the woman's back. The creature flinched at the first contact but did not pull away this time. "It's all right, sweetie. We're here now," she soothed.

Jill looked the little boy over carefully. Other than being frightened by the strange behavior of his mother, he seemed fine. Even his diaper seemed to be fresh. "No, sweetie. You did good. T.J. is fine now. You did it. You kept him safe," she kissed the boy softly. "Everything is all right now, sugar," but not even the knot in her stomach believed the hollow words.

"Hello," came a distant voice.

Simone looked up at her. "You go let them in and take care of the children. I'll stay with her."

Jill nodded as the tears began to run slowly down her cheeks. "All right. I'll call Chloe or Beth. Have them come over to watch them. Then I'll meet you at the hospital."

Simone nodded as two uniformed police officers walked through the door, guns drawn. "Ma'am?" one questioned.

Jill brushed a tear off her cheek. "The scene is secure. No one was around when we found her. So please get the paramedics in here as soon as you can."

The man in front nodded as his partner backed out of the room, holstering his gun. "All clear," he yelled as three technicians walked through the door carrying two large orange bags. Jill nodded at Simone as she slipped from the room, carrying the baby towards the living room where Brit and Ash were beginning to fuss.

She softly rocked the stroller with her hip as she sang along with Ernie. Tears raced unchecked down her face as she murdered "Rubber ducky you're the one. Rubber ducky you make bath time so much fun." But her mind was splintered.

She grabbed her cell phone from the small bag that hung from the handle of the stroller. She filed through her contacts until she found Chloe's number. She did not even have to explain the situation, simply tell the woman that she needed her.

Jill hung up the phone and tried to focus on caring for the children but her mind was as numb as her body was cold and tired. Time seemed to freeze as one television show ended and another began.

Moments later Chloe was racing up the walk as the ambulance crew pushed the stretcher with Trisha's limp body through the front door. Her friend burst into the living room, "Oh my god, Jill, what happened?"

Jill could barely speak as she passed T.J. to the woman's arms. "Be back," was all she managed to mumble as she raced down the hall to the bathroom. The nausea finally winning this battle.

She knelt on the wet floor as she gripped the sides of the toilet. There was not much to come up, just a bit of herbal tea and some crackers. But the dry heaves continued for several more minutes.

Finally, when she thought that the worst of it had passed, she stood slowly and splashed some water on her face. Looking around, she realized that this room bore its own signs of chaos. The tub was full. The water on the floor obviously from it running over. And half a dozen towels were thrown about the room. Several bottles of soap, disinfectant and even bleach were scattered about the tub. She fought back the nausea again at the overwhelming smell of the chemicals.

"Oh god, Trisha, what happened to you?" she asked as she backed slowly out of the room. But her mind was already mulling over what she knew and she did not like the conclusions it was coming up with.

She walked slowly back down the hall, holding onto the wall a bit as everything swam about her. She tried to smile as she walked back into the living room where Chloe was trying to answer the police officer's questions. Jill noticed that Dwayne held T.J. and Chloe's son Thad on his lap in the wheel chair as he made funny faces at her daughters.

She passed a hand over her face as she stepped up to take over answering the questions as best she could anyway.

"Ma'am, do you know what happened here?"

She shook her head, "Not really, officer. We hadn't seen Trisha in a couple of days. And she hadn't returned our calls either so we decided to come over and check on her and T.J."

"We, Ma'am?"

She shook her head to clear it. "Yes, Simone and I. Simone Jackson. The three of us are friends."

The man nodded his head, instantly understanding the bond the women held. "Yes, Ma'am. You said you had not heard from her in a few days. When was the last time?"

"Monday morning. Our husbands are in the Navy and they shipped out and I had a little brunch at our house that morning."

"Yes, Ma'am. And your husband is?"

"Commander Daniel Monroe, officer."

The man nodded, "Yes, Ma'am. I know him. I responded to the call when his first wife died."

Any other time, Jill knew her curiosity would have demanded she ask him dozens of questions that had been bothering her for months about the woman's death. But this morning, it all seemed so irrelevant. Rachel was dead. And as much as she did not want to think about, she knew that if she and Simone had not stopped by, there was a very real possibility that Trisha might be too.

"I don't know what else I can tell you. Trisha didn't say much about what happened. She just kept mumbling and ranting about him coming back."

"Him, Ma'am? So she clearly indicated that her attacker was a man?"

Jill nodded, "Of course. Did you really think it could be anyone else? Look around." She caught herself, knew that she was being disrespectful. The man was just doing his job. "I'm sorry, officer. It's just that I'm very upset. Someone hurt my friend very badly. So even if she had not said it was a 'he' I would have just assumed with this level of violence."

The man smiled and nodded slowly. "Yes, Ma'am. Most people would, but let me tell you I've seen the damage that women can do. Even when they are smaller, they can still wreck havoc if they get riled up enough. Seen some pretty big guys wearing black eyes or worse."

The way that he looked when he said that sent those bells tingling once more in her gut, but with Chloe and Dwayne around she checked her tongue. "Yes, well, she repeatedly said he and him. So I think we can safely assume it is a man this time."

"Yes, Ma'am and that is a help. You said that your husbands deployed? When was that again, Ma'am?"

"Monday, Monday evening."

"And that was the last time you saw her? Before her husband left?"

Jill swallowed hard. She did not like where these questions were going. "Yes, officer. That was the last time we saw her."

"Before he actually left, Ma'am?"

"Yes, a couple of hours before. But I really don't think there is anyway that he could be responsible for this. That was three days ago."

He nodded, "The EMTs couldn't give us a specific time, Ma'am, but they said those bruises weren't fresh."

Jill choked at his words. "Oh god."

"Ma'am, do you know if Missus Hall and her husband were having any problems?"

She wanted to lie. Wanted it so badly. She did not want this man thinking that their friend might have done this. Done this horrible thing to his own wife. But she knew how angry he was. How hurt and betrayed. And reluctantly, she had to admit that spousal abuse, especially among high stress macho types like police, fire and military was an all too common problem. She knew personally the realities of it, had counseled a dear friend through some pretty dark days.

"They were having some problems, officer," she whispered.

"What kind of problems, Ma'am?" he asked as he continued to scribble in a notebook.

"Trisha had an affair during Trav's last deployment."

He nodded his head and wrote faster. "Do you know if they were getting any help, Ma'am? Counseling? That sort of thing."

She shook her head, "No, I don't think so. I just found out about it a few days ago. Trisha told me when I saw her at the mall with the man. They were arguing about something when I walked over. She was pretty upset."

"So you know who this other man is, Ma'am?"

"Yes, Clay Dodd. He used to be in my husband's unit a few years ago."

He nodded again. "Yes, Ma'am. I know Mister Dodd too. Could you hear anything they were talking about?"

"No, not really. They both shut up when I came over. But Trisha told me later that Dodd was trying to get her to convince Trav to quit the Navy and come to work for his father at Night Walkers. She said he threatened to lie and tell Lieutenant Hall that their affair was still continuing if she didn't. She was pretty upset about it. But I really didn't have the chance to ask her anymore because my step-daughter was injured in a fall down the stairs at the mall."

His brow furrowed, "So Mister Dodd wanted the man whose wife he was having an affair with to come to work for him? That seems a bit strange don't you think? Do you know if Lieutenant Hall knew that it was Mister Dodd who his wife had the affair with?"

She nodded slowly. "Mister Dodd has been poaching men from my husband's unit for some time. He even tried to get my husband and Master Petty Officer Jackson to quit and come to work for them. But, yes, Travis knew who Trisha had the affair with. She told him herself when she confessed the whole thing months ago."

"She confessed the affair to her husband? When was that?"

"Right after he came back from their last deployment. So I don't think it could have been Trav. If he were going to harm his wife, wouldn't he have done it before? When she first told him about it? And no matter how much he might be upset with Trisha, he loves his son. He would never do anything that might hurt the boy."

He nodded, "Perhaps, Ma'am. But there is no evidence of forced entry so your friend likely let her assailant into the house or he was already here. And according to the paramedics, the little boy was not hurt at all, just his mother. Perhaps Lieutenant Hall didn't realize how badly he had hurt his wife or maybe he was counting on you or one of the other wives to find her before something happened to the child."

Jill sucked in her breath. The man looked at her, "Ma'am, is there something more I should know?"

Her voice trembled as she answered, "Trav asked me and Simone to keep an eye out for her."

The man looked solemn as he closed the small notebook and placed it back in his pocket. The other officer called from down the hall "Sergeant, I think you should see this."

"Excuse me, folks," he mumbled.

Jill slumped on to the couch next to Chloe, who had taken Britney out of the stroller and was now holding the fussy toddler on her lap. The woman passed her daughter to her and picked Ashley up out of the stroller. "You don't really think it could be Trav, do you?" she asked.

But before Jill could speak up, it was Dwayne that responded. "No way. Like she said, Trav would have never done anything that might hurt T.J. I know that much. If you ask me, he should have been asking more questions about that sleaze ball Dodd. That son of a bitch is nothing but trouble. He always has been. Even when," he paused.

Jill nodded, "I agree. He was awfully angry with Trisha that day at the mall." Her eyes went wide as she realized that Clay had been at the mall the day that Jesse was pushed down the stairs. Her step-daughter's description of a big man would certainly apply to him as well. "Oh my god," she gasped as she passed Britney back to Chloe.

"Dwayne, take Chloe and the children to my house," she reached into the small purse on the stroller and pulled out her keys. She fumbled with them for a moment before she tossed him a set. "Those are to the house. I have to get to the hospital. Check on Trisha and talk to Simone." She pinned the man with a cold stare, "No matter what happens, don't leave the house or let anyone in."

He palmed the keys as he swung his wheel chair towards the door, "Yes, Ma'am. You can count on me."

Jill called out to the officers that she was leaving for the hospital. She assured him that he could reach her later if he had anymore questions. She raced down the streets towards her home. She was breathing heavy and more than a bit panicked by the time she reached the SUV. She fumbled with the key. Her fingers trembled so much that it was hard to get them into the lock. She drew several deep breaths to clear her mind as she slipped the key into the ignition. She backed out of the driveway and pulled into the road.

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