A majestic ash tree shadowed the picnic table where the son of Professor Clarke Carroll chewed his ham salad sandwich with a sneer. As he munched another bite, he leaned elbows on the wood and said, "Dad has mentioned how much your time is worth, so I will not waste it. I have been a married man about five years, but me wife abandoned me as soon as she learned she was pregnant. Let me be clear when I say that I am not looking to get her back, per se, but I want to contact her to ask to have a paternal role in the life of our child," Killian swallowed the last of his meal and swiped the crumbs from his hands onto his plaid shirt. "Can you help me?"
"You're asking for contact information," Calder confirmed as he scrawled his notes in elegant cursive. He pressed an arm down on the page as a breeze curled the page over his ebony suit sleeve.
"Yes – substantial enough information to regain contact with her. A location would be perfect."
"All right. I need any information you can give."
"Amelia Lynn Carroll," he slapped a photo down of a woman with chestnut curls to the middle of her back and a shy smile, "was born on February 26th in 1996. She is about five feet, two inches in height, a mite above a hundred pounds. She drives this," he slapped down a second photo of two women beside a recent model plum Honda, "and stole the registration. And that is her sister, Lorna Grady, her closest confidante. She will almost certainly know where me wife is," his intensity softened into a smile. "I daresay Amelia Lynn is lovely as a fresh spring daisy. That child of ours is going to be something special!"
"Yes," Calder agreed as he rose. "I am going to get started."
"Should be getting back, anyway," Killian smeared his hands on his jeans and rose to squeeze his hand with a crushing grip. "I sincerely appreciate what you're doing, even if it is part of what you do for a living. I hope to hear back from you shortly."
"That's the idea."
And with that, as the heavens softened into a heather gray, Calder drove home and spread the case across his coffee table with steaming teacup painted with irises. There was something inside him that was restless and dissatisfied with Killian. Perhaps the recurring exposition of the chewed contents in his mouth sparked it, but the sooner he could locate the girl, the better.
The stolen vehicle registration would clearly indicate that she made herself the owner of that Honda. He slid the photo closer to himself and stared down at the car to determine the model. When he recognized the emblem for the Accord, he realized there was a clear shot of the license plate.
He raised the teacup to his lips and twisted around to start up his laptop. After retrieving a magnifying glass, he leaned down to distinguish the more questionable digits of the plate and added them to the rest of the vehicle information to trace registration.
Amelia Lynn had switched the registration to her own name and edited her address to a town close to the mountains. The moment he printed the results of the trace, his cell phone erupted into a violin and cello symphony. The identification on the screen revealed the call to have derived from a Garda station.
"This is Sergeant O'Connor. We need you to interview a victim of a mugging."
Twenty minutes later, Calder was striding down the edge of a street with his clenched hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. There was a pair of Gardaí ahead of him, and they were speaking to a woman with auburn hair almost to her shoulders and a navy coat with a university patch on the breast pocket.
"Kyla O'Sullivan," the sergeant moved aside and gestured toward Calder, "this is our forensic artist."
"Hello," she greeted him with a trembling hand.
"Hello," he gave her a nod of acknowledgement. "Why don't we sit down somewhere and talk?"
She crossed her arms and rocked herself back and forth on her feet as she stared down at the pavement. She raised and dropped her shoulders with an apologetic smile. "Maybe there's a bit too much adrenaline in me system right now. Where should we go sit, if that's what we do?"
Calder surveyed the area around them. "How about if we get something to eat? I have it covered."
She considered this and gave a reluctant nod. "What about that café over there?"
She pointed across the street to a stone restaurant with a scarlet neon sign in the shape of steaming coffee against the window.
The aroma of pastries met them as they entered. Flames ignited the fireplace across the room, and several people were seated with their computers at maple round tables. A barista smiled at them from behind the counter, but allowed them to explore in silence. When they approached the counter, Kyla asked for a slice of cherry pie and a cup of coffee. Calder pointed out a salad and also asked for coffee. After he paid, they gathered their purchases and Kyla seated herself close to the fire.
"You're a student," Calder assumed as he withdrew a chair across from her and dropped into it, sliding his satchel from his shoulder to extract his sketchpad and pencil.
"Yes," she answered meekly.
"What do you study?"
"Anatomy and education. I may teach secondary school."
"Really," he mused as he raised his cup to his lips. "I teach part of the time, too. Mathematics and physics at Seacrest University. Me brother teaches art in secondary school."
"Oh," she smiled and poured another container of cream into his coffee. "Does he enjoy that? I mean, do the two of you enjoy teaching?"
"He loves it. So do I."
"That sounds lovely," she smiled again and prodded at her pie with a fork. She severed away the first bite and raised it to her mouth with a hand that still trembles to a mild extent. Calder crossed his arms and eased against the back of his seat.
"So what were you doing in town today?"
Kyla cleared her throat and laid the fork back down. She stared down at the warm wooden surface of the table and drummed her fingertips against the smoothed grains.
"I was going to meet a classmate to study. He and I were actually going out to eat."
"Where were you going to go?"
"There is a restaurant a bit down the street with garlic bread. He was explaining how certain he was that I would love their menu, so I was going there until… Someone stopped me when I was going down the stars beside me flat. He said that there was someone at the top of the stairs who would stop me, unless I dropped everything I had on me into his hands. He got me purse with money and identification."
"I have heard of that restaurant. They have decent soup, too."
"But I can't remember what the man looked like," she lamented with an emphatic slap of her jeans. Calder darted his eyes around at the various people in the café around them.
"Look around a bit and see if anything reminds you of him."
She scanned the area and started with surprise. She pointed at the cheddar cheese wheel the barista was slicing to lay across open sandwiches. "He was wearing a scarf around his mouth of that color."
She twisted around in her seat and peered around at the different people and objects around her. At first, she seemed dismayed by the sink in her shoulders. Then she froze and stared for some time at a sweatshirt someone had draped over the back of their chair.
"He was wearing a black sweatshirt, like that one," she pointed. "And he had a rough voice. He shoved me down after he got me purse. I almost knocked me head against one of the steps."
"You're doing really well in recalling these events," Calder praised.
"Go raibh maith agat," she released a smile as she twisted back around and knitted her brows together in contemplation. "And he seemed rather large. Not as tall as you are, though."
"What about any shapes?"
"He seemed really stocky. His head was an oval; reminded me of a watermelon."
"Can you see his eyes?"
She closed her own and squeezed them more tightly shut in the fervor of her struggle. She shook her head. "No, I still can't remember those."
"That is all right. Keep an eye out for something that may remind you of them."
"He was wearing jeans, and his shoes were muddy," she pressed onward. "I remember because I saw them when he pushed me down. And he had a red shirt on underneath his sweatshirt, same shade as the cherries here on me plate."
Calder continued carving outlines of the man she described into his paper with a variety of pencils. She squinted across the table at the golden scarf he had started shading and pointed out that it was more coiled. He repaired the difference when she mentioned that the jeans were baggy. She guided him through drawing those when they came down to his shoes, whose mud almost covered their natural white shade. By the time they reached the shape of his head, she remembered the shaved scalp. And when she remembered the shaved scalp, she remembered that one ear was pierced.
After that, the details of his expression came through – the keen narrowed eyes, the bulbous nose, and the dense brows. By the time he completed the rendition with her supervision, she breathed in awe.
"That could almost be a photograph," she praised.
He thanked her for her compliance and praised her for her courage. After he insisted upon escorting her to the home of a friend, he checked the many messages left on his phone during the time he spent with the girl. The moment he saw the name of Victoria on the identification, he tensed.
"Calder, I am going to assume you scheduled an appointment over our lunch plans this afternoon. I can almost hear the sound of your despair as you remember them right now. Please, get back to me in case it's not too late. I'm sure we can schedule something another time if it is. Tomorrow is Good Friday. We may have to decide on a time in the next week."
He checked the time on the phone. It was a quarter to three in the afternoon. A vision of the many essays piled in the corner of his coffee table appeared in his mind. After returning her call, those would be all he could see until tomorrow afternoon.
. . .
There was a cottage beside a blossoming dogwood, the ivory petals and peridot leaves suddenly vibrant against the slate sky and the silver mist. The Slieve Blooms were behind Calder and his car, and the road ahead was richening into mud. The Accord and its plate matched the one he was given, but there was a man in a plaid shirt pitching an ax into the trunk of a downy birch in the middle of the grass.
The screen door opened and Amelia Lynn emerged with a steaming cup of tea and a smile. Her pregnancy was apparent beneath her camellia sundress. Another strike with the ax sent the birch crashing to its side. The man straightened, smeared the sweat from his palms onto his jeans, and accepted the tea. Calder leaned his arms on the open window of his car and snapped several photos.
Afterwards, he inscribed his discoveries into the report he was to deliver to Killian. After he emptied the teacup, the man with the ax smiled at Amelia Lynn, and after a succinct conversation, he climbed into a van parked against the street. Calder slumped down into his seat until he heard the van rumble past him on the rough road.
"Well, she's moved on quickly," Killian whistled with impression at the array of photos strewn across the picnic table. He smiled around the cherry tomato sandwich he was chewing and stared down at the photos with contemplation. "Go raibh maith agat. This should be enough for me to get a discussion."
"Yes," Calder mused and searched his eyes. "I pray that everything will be sorted out. Happy Easter."
"Yes, you, too," Killian answered without removing his eyes from the photos.
. . .
The sun rose on Easter to a horizon of butters, peaches, and salmons. The sanctuary of the stone church was packed until people were squished against the side panels of the pews. He repeated every sentence after the preacher in his mind to ensure he was attentive, but managed to absorb only parts of the message. Something stirred within him about his completed case that unsettled his mind. He could imagine the expression of some sort of twisted pleasure on Killian when he was given those photos. One could see the turmoil beneath the veil of his silence, as if he were stringing together a plan.
His cell phone vibrated against his him several times, and each one unsettled him more.
The people rose at the conclusion of the service, and Calder started up after them. With a kiss to his mother's cheek and a promise to return to their home in time to eat supper with the entire family, he darted to his car and scrambled into the driver's seat as his phone vibrated again.
"Hello," came a voice smeared with tears. "Me name is Elizabeth Carroll, and I am Killian's mother. He is furious and going to see his wife. I'm afraid he's going in injure her. Me husband has always been this way, and he's taught his son to do the same! Please, could you go check on her?"
"I am," Calder promised as he rummaged around his pocket for his keys. "Report to the Garda what has been happening to you. See that they know everything he has done, so they can help you."
"Get to Amelia Lynn," she answered curtly. "Don't be concerned about me."
Calder ended the call and cast his phone aside. As he searched beneath the seat for his gun case, there was a heavy slap against his window. Eagan peered down at him and punched the window with the underside of his fist until he rolled it down with an aggravated "I have to go! Get back."
"I see you're going to a disaster," he shouted through the glass. "Let me in the car."
"Trust me, I'll be fine! Stop pounding the glass!"
"Trust is when I ask you to let me in your car. Unlock the door!"
Calder rolled his eyes and relented. Eagan came around the car and dropped into the passenger seat, almost thrown against the seat as his brother sped toward the street.
The heavens almost cleared by the time the sun was in the middle of the sky, and the scent of the mist remained in the air. Amelia Lynn stepped into the sunlight and allowed the screen to close with a smile as Hope stirred within her. A breeze ruffled the ivory sundress around her sandals and send dogwoods drifting toward the dewy grass.
"We're going to live here," she murmured to her child. "No more being scared about what would happen after we get up in the morning, or when we come home two minutes late."
As she said this, a car approached down to dirt road. She squinted and shielded her eyes until it emerged into view, and then her eyes widened with terror. She swiveled around as the car screeched to a halt and rushed toward the cottage. She sensed his presence on her heels and heard his breath as he reached her and snatched her hair. She released a scream in the hope that someone close was home.
"Shut your mouth!" he snarled in her ear. "Shut your mouth, or I'll kill you!"
Tears streamed down her cheeks as he wrestled her toward the doorway of the cottage. Outside, another car stopped. Eagan exploded from the car and rushed at Killian with a punch against the skull that sent him clattering into the house. Amelia Lynn darted away as her husband clamored up and tackled Eagan to the grass. Killian drove punch after punch into his opponent with an enraged grimace. Eagan managed to ward him back with punches of his own and wrestled the man beneath himself out of absolute determination. Despite the adrenaline thundering in his heart, Calder motioned Amelia Lynn to him, and she hurried to his side. "Please, you have to stop them!"
"Eagan is only going to get him under control," Calder soothed with crossed arms. "He is the most fiercely obstinate man I know – even if your husband is enormous."
Killian had managed to shove Eagan beneath him again, but when he raised his hand, he snatched the axe out of the oak stump beside them and raised it above his head. Calder darted a hand to his holster and was startled by the crack of the pistol. Amelia Lynn screamed as the smoke cleared. The axe had toppled to the grass. Calder stared in astonished silence and observed the scene that unraveled.
Killian tumbled to the grass when Eagan shoved him away to extract his own cell phone and dial an ambulance. He kneeled beside Killian who lay on his stomach with clenched fists and blood seeping through his tee shirt. Amelia Lynn covered her mouth with her palms and tears streamed down her cheeks, but she remained beside Calder. She then reached to lay a hand over her child.
Calder dropped to his knees with the pistol beside him. The scene swam in his eyes as he rasped each breath. He should have realized what was happening sooner so he could have prevented all this. The father of this man would surely hate him with a passion. Why was this man such a giant, that he dominated Eagan that second or two required to murder him? His brother was almost murdered. But would Killian have to die, and surrender any hope of salvation if he had not shot him in time? A vision of his mother with sobbing into her hands and the pained expressions of their family pierced him with remorse. Surely he was right in protecting his brother. And what could he say to them if he hadn't? He should have snatched Eagan by the arm before he could get out of the car. But then Amelia Lynn and her child may be dead. He shuddered at the idea that there was no easy answer.
Sirens and revolving crimson lights startled him out of his musings. Eagan dropped down beside him and secured an arm around his shoulders. "I knew that pistol was a smart idea. Look, Calder," he roused his brother gently, "I was almost killed by that man and you stopped him. You saved me life."
Calder remained silent beneath his brother's arm until the every emotion simmering within him bubbled to the surface, and he lashed his arms out to release himself from beneath the arm and rose to storm toward the dogwood, where he could stand alone until he was to give a report.
. . .
"Paralyzed and imprisoned!"
Elizabeth flinched at the shout. Her husband stormed across the room with his arms thrown above his head and slashed his arm across the fireplace mantle, scattering the trinkets across the wood. Among them was a porcelain dove that Killian had given her when he was a child after he paid for it with his allowance money. This was before everything his father hammered into him was absorbed in his mind.
"You are going to have to bloody see him every day, Elizabeth, and make sure they treat him right!"
She remained still with her hands clasped ahead of her and stared down at that dove, somehow intact after clattering to the wood. Clarke spun around at her silence and stormed toward her, denim eyes almost bulging in his rage as he grabbed her by the upper arms and rattled her.
"You are going to see him every single day! That is going to be your primary occupation, now. Do you hear me? And if you stop going, I'm going to bloody kill you. No more neglecting your duties as wife! Do you understand a word I'm saying, or are you that stupid?"
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she nodded. "Yes, I hear you."
With a satisfied nod, he stormed down the hall and slammed the door at the end. Elizabeth shuddered with every breath as she gathered up what courage she had left and switched off the recorder in one hand. She sneaked across the wood and stooped to gently pick up the dove and settle it into the pocket of her calla lily dress and straightened.
She eyed the hallway with another deep breath and sneaked toward the door. She grasped the brass handle and gingerly pushed it down to open the door with a soft creak. She darted her eyes back toward the hall, but he never emerged. She parted the door a little more and slipped outside, suddenly running the moment her shoes hit the grass.
Seven mornings later, two elderly women scooted into their cream classic rover and rumbled down the dirt road ahead of the Slieve Blooms until they reached the cottage they were searching for. Then they eased out of each seat respectively and started down the narrow driveway to knock on the door.
A woman with coffee curls and violet streaks across her upper arms answered the door with a smile. When Sarah and Emma introduced themselves as the women who go to church with Calder and his family, another two women with chestnut curls emerged from elsewhere in the cottage. One cradled a bundle with rosy cheeks and a carnation blanket.
After cooing over the infant and praising her size for being only a week old, Sarah and Emma presented ran several times to and from their car with packages of diapers and a treasure chest of clothes, stuffed animals, and a quilt.
Tears streamed down the cheeks of the mother as she covered her mouth with her hand. Her sister accepted the child so she could embrace the women, and her mother-in-law rubbed her back as tears misted in her own eyes.
Meanwhile, Calder breathed in the rich aroma of grape and vanilla as wine dribbled into the glass he raised with a trembling hand. The newspaper laid out beside him was a reminder that Clarke and Killian were imprisoned. Even so, the moment the wine reached the rim, he slammed the bottle back down to the table and raised the glass to his lips until it was empty.
. . .
Meeting Killian right after: "Louise" by John Whelan
Sketching the mugger: "Laughing Wolf/Mountain Madness" by Alasdair Fraser
Amelia Lynn stands outside: "The Lion and the Wolf" by Thrice
Gunshot and aftermath: "Realm of the Ravens" by Iona
Elizabeth going out the door: "The Road North" by Alasdair Fraser
Delivery to the new mother: "New Land" by Eden's Bridge