The Arrangement Ch. 12byTara_Neale©
Jill forced herself to hum softly for Britney and Ashley. The twins were as cranky today as she felt and being restrained in their stroller did not help. "It won't be long, princesses. We just need to pick-up Jesse and Bel," she promised as her tummy did a little flip. She frowned; it had been a couple of weeks since the worst of the morning sickness had passed.
As they approached the stop sign that marked the designated school bus stop, she waved to Simone. She tried to force a smile, but none would come. There was not much to smile about these days. Three months and twenty-three days since Daniel's unit had been deployed.
If that was not bad enough, both she and Simone received almost daily calls from Sergeant Martin about Trish. The woman had disappeared, even before Jill was released from the hospital. She had simply woken up the next morning and signed herself out of the hospital. She had gone to straight to Chloe's before either Jill or Simone knew what was up and sweet talked the young woman into handing over her son, not that they could have stopped her, Jill supposed. TJ was her child, but still they all felt awful that in her time of need Trisha had not turned to them.
At least they knew she was safe. Simone had called her family in Lubbock to tell them what had happened, only to discover that she and the baby were there. She steadfastly refused to talk to either of them though. That hurt, considering how close the women had been.
But Jill had big problems closer to home to deal with. Jesse had become more withdrawn every day since her father left. She rarely came out of her basement bedroom except for meals and school. Jill had thought it was just missing Daniel and had tried to talk to her, but the girl just pushed her away.
The biting wind off the ocean cut through Jill's coat. She supposed she understood some of the girl's angst. Thanksgiving had come and gone without her father, then Christmas, even the New Year. While they had celebrated the holidays with Simone, Althea and the other families, it was not the same as their summer barbeques had been. Jill smiled weakly, who knew how much beer swilling men added to an event.
Simone held out her hand as they approached the stop. "Whatever that thought is, keep it. I haven't seen that smile on your face in weeks." Jill chuckled, "I was thinking about beer swilling men."
Simone wrapped arms about her. "Oh sugar, it won't be long now."
Jill brushed back tears and cursed her own weakness under her breath. "Damned hormones."
Simone nodded and ran her eyes up and down her friend. "Yeah, well, the boys better get back soon or your little efforts to keep this whole thing from everyone will be for nothing."
Jill nodded and pressed her hand over her tummy where a pair of Daniel's grey sweat pants and an old Naval Academy shirts peeked out from between buttons on her coat that would no longer close.
She sucked it in as much as she could, but then exhaled loudly. "I know, it's no fucking use. This baby must be another bruiser like DJ was. I swear I have not been this big, this soon since he was born." She shook her head, "I refuse to gain seventy pounds this time."
Simone laughed, "Any luck finding your Turkish doner kebabs?"
Jill stared at her, a look that would freeze most people's blood but only made her friend laugh harder. "No, dammit. I never thought I'd miss anything about that place, but I'd kill for a doner from the little shop down the road from my flat in London."
Simone tried to straighten up as the big yellow school bus approached. "Yeah, well, back to pretending, girlfriend. Although how you manage to keep that a secret from a curious teenage girl is beyond me," she said pointing to Jill's protruding abdomen.
"If she were out of her bedroom for more than five minutes, I probably couldn't." Jill smiled as Bel bounced off the bus and ran to hug her. She squeezed the girl and listened as she droned on and on about the new girl at school.
She frowned as Althea stepped from the bus. Her head was down as she went to her mother. Jill waited for a moment until the doors of the bus closed. "Althea?" she asked, turning towards her friend.
She froze as she noted the huge tears cascading down the young girl's cocoa skin. She trembled in her mother's arms as she turned towards Jill. Her voice broke as she began, "I begged her not to go. Honest, I did, but she wouldn't listen. She said, if her dad could find a," the girl stopped and looked up into her mother's eyes.
"What, Althea? What did Jesse say? We need to know everything."
The girl nodded, "She's just mad. You have to understand. About you marrying her dad, taking over everything she used to do for Bel and even the babies. And now you're having another baby. She didn't mean it, she's just not thinking all right?" Her eyes pleaded for understanding.
Jill nodded slowly as the revelation that Jesse knew about her pregnancy sank in. The girl began again. "She said if her father could find a whore on the Internet then she could too." Althea looked at the ground and sighed, "She's been talking to this boy from Richmond online for months now. Since you got married. He's asked her to meet him several times, but she always refused. But this time, well, she's really mad at you and her dad. Said he promised no more babies." The girl blushed when Jill's hand went protectively to her stomach. Simone and she exchanged glances.
"Go on, Althea. Where is Jesse now?" demanded her mother.
She shook her head, "I don't know. She swore that she would be back before the school bus left. She snuck off at lunch time, said she was going to meet him for coffee at the mall, but that neither of us would get into any trouble because she would make it back before anyone knew. He is seventeen and has a car...or so she said."
The color drained from Jill's face. "Seventeen? Jesse isn't even thirteen yet?"
Althea nodded, "I know, but she told him she was fifteen."
Bile rose up as Jill realized that it would be just as easy for the man to lie to her step-daughter. "Oh my god."
Simone hugged her daughter, "You should have told us sooner, little lady, but we will discuss that later." Turning towards Jill, she forced a smile, "I'm sure everything will be fine, sweetie. You go home and call that police sergeant. I'll take Althea and go to the mall. I'm sure we'll find her there, but just in case, get the police involved as quickly as possible."
Jill closed her eyes to fight back the tears as Britney began to fuss in the buggy. Daniel would never forgive her if something happened to his daughter. She felt tiny arms about her legs and looked down to see Bel's golden curls pressed against the swell of her stomach. She rubbed the girl's back and murmured soothing words that she herself did not belief. That feeling was eating at her gut once more as she turned her small troop back towards the house. Never, she thought.
"Open the fucking door, bitch," he growled as he yanked hard on Jesse's hair. She fumbled in her school bag trying to find her keys. Tears swirled in her eyes. This was not what she had planned. This man. She hated him. She had since her mother first brought him into their lives. Now, it was hard for her to process the fact that all these months it had been him on the other end of the computer. She felt sick, but she choked it back. She had to keep her head clear. It was their only chance against Clay Dodd.
His grip tightened, then he pushed her aside and fumbled with his free hand in his jean pockets. He withdrew a set of keys and inserted one in the lock on her front door. He smiled at her when it turned and the loud click announced its opening. "Thank your crazy bitch mother for the key she gave me herself." His smile widened, "Or your stupid father for not having the locks changed after she died. Aw, don't go all soft on me, princess. Who knows how many other men the whore gave keys to?"
Jesse wanted to fight him, to deny his words, but he was right. Her mother had been a whore. She knew that from the moment she had brought this man into their lives. It was why she had never really grieved the woman's loss. "Good riddance to bad rubbish," for the first time she breathed her true feelings aloud.
The man threw back his blond head and laughed as he shoved her through the door. "Yes, well, I'm about to finish taking out the trash, princess."
Jesse froze standing by the couch. "What do you mean?"
Daniel, Samuel and Travis were joking as they stepped from the military transport plane, but it all laughter quickly faded at the sight of four Marine MPs. The men approached them.
"Lieutenant Travis Hall, you are wanted for questioning in the attempted murder of your wife, Trisha Hall. Hands behind your back, sir."
The group froze as color drained from Travis's face. "Attempted murder? Trisha?" His arms went automatically behind his back, his face blank as he attempted to process their words. "Oh holy fuck, TJ," he screamed as he began to struggle with the Marines.
Daniel felt as if he had been kicked in the stomach. After almost four months in the desert, heat and cold combining to numb the senses, then the excruciatingly long flight home on the uncomfortable transport, he had been looking forward to a warm shower and the first night back in his wife's arms. This turn of events changed all that.
He stepped forward and caught Travis's sight, "Go with them, man. Get this straightened out. Samuel and I will check on TJ and Trisha. Find out what is up from Jill and Simone. OK, man?"
Turning to the MPs, he asked, "Where are you taking him?"
The oldest, a Staff Sergeant, answered, "Our orders are to deliver him to the Hampton Roads Police Department, sir."
"Thank you, Sergeant," he replied as he turned back to his friend, "See you there in a couple of hours, buddy. Until then, keep it cool."
Travis nodded, "Just find out about my son."
"I will, man, I will," Daniel watched as the Marines took his friend away in cuffs. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Samuel. "What the fuck is up, man?"
Samuel shook his head, "I don't know, man, but you're right, the girls will be able to tell us. We should head home as soon as possible. Right after the debriefing."
Daniel shook his head and walked away, "Fuck the debriefing. We are needed on the home front."
The short walk back to their home had never seemed so long. Bel chattered even faster than usual. Jill smiled at each word, adding a few sounds here and there to reassure the little girl, but she heard nothing. Britney and Ashley fussed in their double stroller, not even the motion seemed to calm them.
Just as nothing could calm Jill's troubled mind. Jesse was gone. With some mysterious boy from the Internet. If it was a boy at all. Dozens of horrible headlines about young girls lured to their demise by adult predators swam through her murky mind. She struggled to control the nausea that she thought was a thing of the past as she entered her second trimester.
She paused on the front porch. The door was ajar. Relief swamped her as she pushed it open and rushed in. The first thing she saw was Jesse and her heart leapt in joy that the girl was safe. "Jesse," she smiled. But she was frowning, her eyes wide with...fear.
Then Jill noticed the large man that stood off to the side by the fireplace. He held a gun in his hand. A gun that was pointed directly at her step daughter. The scene took on a surreal slow motion as Bel pushed past her and rushed to the man's side. "Unca Clay, Uncle Clay, did you bring me more strawberry ice cream? You know it is my favorite."
The man's face contorted in disgust as he pushed the little girl down. She hit her head against the corner of the fireplace and slumped there with blood pouring from a cut on her forehead. Jill rushed to the child's side. She felt first for breathing, but while Bel did not respond to her cries, her breathing was steady and the pulse in her neck strong. Jill took off her coat and wrapped the sleeve tightly about the cut then used the rest of it to make a pillow of sorts.
She looked up as the twins began to cry in their seats. But Dodd was beside them in an instant. She watched as he unwrapped lollipops and handed them to the toddlers. It seemed to silly given the gun in his hand, but she fought not to lecture him for giving sweets to the girls.
"It's all right, my girls. Daddy's here now." He bent and brushed a thick blond curl out of Britney face before he turned back to face Jill. "I just have a few nasty details to take care of, then we can be together forever."
Jill shook her head as details that she had forgotten came flooding back to her. Brakes. Her brakes would not work. She had been rushing to the hospital because she realized that it had been Clay, who pushed Jesse. Strawberry ice cream. The red stains on Cindy bear's tummy after they brought Bel home from the hospital. It had always bothered her, but with the trip, then her own illness that she had assumed for so long was confirmation of the food poisoning diagnosis, and finally Trisha and the car accident, it had just slipped her mind. But not anymore, the room titled as all the pieces to this very nasty puzzle fell into place.
The man laughed, "So now you see. It took you long enough, you stupid bitch," he said waving his gun.
Jill shook her head, "Daniel won't let you get away with it. You can't take our daughters."
"Your daughters? Your fucking daughters? These babies are mine. They always have been. That stupid cow thought that she could use them to manipulate me the way she did her weak ass husband. Thought she could have it all. Well, all my money, friends back in New York City, the parties and drugs. But she showed her hand too soon. She was a lousy mother, not worthy of my seed. I only let her live long enough to bring them into this world."
Jill held onto the arm of the couch to steady herself. Bel moved in her arms, a reassuring sign. But it was the pale, blank stare on Jesse's face that worried her most. The man was making accusations that the girl had no business hearing. She needed to stop him somehow before any more damage was done.
"What do you intend to do with us?" she asked.
Another laugh echoed around the room, "A little accident, a gas leak, a big boom. Image the pain that the loss of his whole family will do to the Commander. Does he know?" he asked waving the gun at her stomach.
Jill shook her head, "I wanted to tell him face-to-face." Her eyes sought Jesse's as her mind tried to formulate an escape plan. The girl was on the other side of the room. Dodd was between her and the front door, but if she could somehow catch Jesse's attention perhaps the girl could make a run for the back door, alert the neighbors. Jill laid Bel's head gently on the floor, to use herself as a diversion.
"Why? Why do you hate Daniel so much?" she asked as she moved herself so that he could not see her motioning towards the door behind her back.
The man stared at her with pure hatred, "Because he took from me what was mine, now it's time I did the same. And this time something that he will give a damn about...a wife he really loves and his children. Just like he killed my son."
Jill shook her head. His words made no sense. She knew her husband, the man would have no part of murder and certainly not a child.
Daniel saw the light on in the living room and smiled as they drove up to the front of his house. "You go see what you can find out from Simone. I'll check with Jill. Call you in five, old man," he said as he hopped out of the car. Neither had even bothered with their gear, leaving it at the air field. Their only thoughts had been to help their friend. He practically ran up the sidewalk to their house. He did not even pause as he threw open the door.
He stopped just inside the door when he saw Clay Dodd standing next to his daughters' stroller, a gun pointed at his wife. Bel lay unconscious, it seemed, on the floor and Jesse was virtually catatonic in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. His blood froze when the man laughed.
"Well, well. Welcome home, Commander." He smiled, but it was a look that turned Daniel's stomach, "I don't think this can get any better. The great war hero comes home, kills his whole family and then commits suicide. Oh yes, so much better than I had even imagined."
Daniel watched as Jill gripped the couch even tighter at the man's words, her face going even paler than it had been. His heart tightened.
Dodd moved to stand next to Jesse, who seemed frozen. He wrapped his arm about her waist and brought the gun to her head. She whimpered, but that was the only sign of life. "Come in, Commander. Close the door and join the party. I was just explaining to your lovely wife here how you killed my son."
Daniel turned and closed the front door. His mind began to tick off the moments. Samuel was expecting a phone call. He would know something was up when he did not get one. If he could just buy some time, then they all stood a good chance.
Problem was collateral damage...and there was too god damned much of it, spread across too wide a distance. The way Dodd held Jesse meant that his knife would do him no good. Of course, he might be able to get off a kill shot between the eyes, but even that was risky with his wife and daughters so near. So his only choice was to play along, bid his time and look for an opening.
Dodd waved his gun at Jill, "You, bitch, go get that rope you have in your dresser drawer. And do it quickly," he said pulling Jesse tighter and pushed the gun into her temples until she let out a shrill cry of pain. He turned towards Daniel and motioned him to the chair, "Take a seat, Commander. We might as well have a little chat. There's a few things I want to get off my chest before I kill you."
Jill practically ran down the hall to their bedroom. For a moment, she considered calling the police or Simone, but thought better of it. The man had a gun to Jesse's head and given all that she knew he had done and the things that she suspected him of, murder did not seem that far off. She reached into their toy drawer and pulled out the coiled length of rope. Her stomach turned again when she realized the truth. How did he know about this?
But she did not have time to dwell on any of it. Her family's lives depended on it. Of course, she had never been happier to see Daniel. Between the two of them, they would figure a way out of this. Right now, she was more focused on getting the man to confess as much of his crimes as possible. Beginning with what he did to Trish.
She squared her shoulders and walked back into the living room. Her eyes did a quick check, watching the rise and fall of Bel's chest. The twins continued to fuss but she noted that they were quieting slowly, sucking on lollipops that Dodd had given them.
The man smiled, "Yes, maybe, you aren't as stupid as I thought, Missus Daniels. A mild sedative, but I can assure you it is perfectly safe. I would never do anything to harm my daughters."
Jesse struggled a bit in his arms at the words as if they woke some part of her shattered mind. Looking to where her husband sat like a tiger watching its prey, she registered the leashed anger in every muscle of his body.
Dodd followed her eyes, "Tie him up, bitch. I'm sure you know what you're doing. My little research on the Internet was quite enlightening, Mistress J."
Jill squared her shoulders and held her head up proudly. She had never been ashamed of the profile that she and David shared on the alternative lifestyle website. And despite the fact that she had just begun to reveal that side of herself to Daniel, she would not allow this man to humiliate her. That had always been one of her hard limits and it was not about to change now, "Yes, so I'm sure you know the things that I want to do to you, asshole."