Authors: D.J. Palmer
Simon brought Daisy to Glen for a visit. Might as well, or so he said, since everyone was now staying under the same roof. During the course of his captivity, Glen had seen glimmers of kindness from Simon. Not every moment was spent torturing and tormenting. To do so simply required too much effort. He must have understood at some level they were all living beings with needs, wants, and desires. Some part of him must have held fragments of compassion. Some part of Simon was human.
Daisy went completely berserk when she first saw Glen, spinning in circles inside the box, licking his face, his arms, his hands. The second visit was more of the same. The third no different from the first. Dogs were the best that way.
Simon watched this reunion joylessly.
“Time is running out,” he said. “Why hasn't Nina asked me to come back? She has to know I have her dog. At least she should have called by now.”
Daisy had calmed enough to rest her head on Glen's lap, and it felt like a touch of heaven.
“It's not going to work,” Glen said as he gave Daisy some gentle pats. She didn't notice his chain, had no idea they were both on leashes. “Give Daisy back. We'll come up with another way.”
Glen knew Nina's rejection of him would cause Simon to snap.
Then the blood, the knife, live video feed of his family's murder.
Simon shook his head defiantly. “No. No, it doesn't work like that. She needs to come to me. I was so close, too.”
“Close to what?” Glen's voice rose in exasperation. Despite the circumstances, all of the suffering, he had to know. What was it all about? What drove this man to such lengths? Why Nina?
“It doesn't concern you,” Simon said. “Nina needs to come around, that's all. Things are going to get bad, Glen, if she doesn't. They'll get so much worse.”
There was only one way for it to get worse.
Glen stilled. He swallowed hard, trying not to think the thoughts racing through his mind.
“What are you going to do?”
“I took you,” Simon answered flatly. “If I have to, I'll take her, too.”
The darkness in his eyes deepened.
“The children?” Glen tried to keep his voice level.
The look on Simon's face said enough. Empty. Void. Expressionless. Soulless.
Glen understood well enough. The box would become Nina's new home. Perhaps the police would search the basement, but it was doubtful they'd find the hideout. It was too well concealed. Glen and the children would be disposed of somewhere and Simon would go on.
After a time, Simon yanked Daisy out of the box and closed the door behind him. Darkness again. No new batteries for his lone light. Dark as a coffin. Dark as death.
Glen screamed, and screamed again, but nobody on the outside, not even Daisy, could hear him.
It wasn't often I won an argument with my mother, but by Wednesday she had agreed to let me go to school. I knew she wasn't comfortable with it, but I wasn't comfortable letting Simon control my life. I missed Ben and I was falling behind in my work. She agreed I'd be safe there as long as I kept to the plan and stayed indoors. I was given strict instructions to avoid Simon at all costs. If he spoke to me, I had to ignore him. I also had to keep my backpack with me at all times, and there were no brownies from a mix in my lunch that day.
After first period, I had to get to science, which unfortunately required me to walk by Simon's classroom. I would have done anything to avoid it, but there were only so many ways to get there.
Ben was with me because we had class together.
“Are the police doing anything?”
He was worried about Daisy, too.
The hallway was noisy, crowded with kids, as it always was between classes.
“Not a thing,” I said with disgust. “If anyone thought Simon took me, they'd break down his damn door. But since it's a dog, well, âGo and talk to him.'” I said this in a deep voice, like I was imitating the police. “That's their response for you,” I said, back to my normal voice. “Like he's not totally suspect! Daisy's there. I know it. I
Ben seemed to agree.
We were nearing “Mr. Fitch's” classroom and my stomach did a flip. I think I slowed down, and Ben knew why.
“Want me to go ahead, see if he's in there?”
“No,” I said. “We'll go together.”
We walked side by side, every step a bit more tentative than the last as we neared the creeper's classroom. At the open door, I tried to keep my eyes forward, but I couldn't resist looking. I turned my head just a bit, just so, and there he was, standing at the front of his classroom wearing his dumb polo shirt and dumb khaki pants. Same old Simon. The leather bag my mom bought him was on the floor next to his desk. It was so wrong that he still used it. I mean, this guy poisoned me and stole our dog! How could they let him teach children? What a whackjob!
I tried to turn my head before he saw me, but Simon caught my eye and there it wasâthe look I had tried so hard to record. Even from a distance I could feel its heat. He wanted to kill me, no antique gun this time. He would shoot me dead if he could, that's what his eyes were saying.
Simon made a thin-lipped smile, but the darkness didn't leave him. He put his hand up, fingers waving at me, and the smile on his face grew wider until his teeth were showing. To me he looked ghoulish, like the worst Halloween mask ever. I wanted to scream and run away, but instead I froze in place. I couldn't move a muscle. Simon continued to stare at me, until Ben finally dragged me away, and that broke the spell.
“What a freak,” he said as we walked away, but this time at a faster pace.
“A freak with my dog,” I snarled. “If I could get at his briefcase, I'd take his keys and go get her myself.”
Ben stopped suddenly and grabbed hold of my arm. “What did you say?”
“I said I'd go get the keys to his house, which he always keeps in that bag, and go get my dog myself.”
It was all talk, of course.
Maggie's big show!
But I was feeling extra combative at that moment.
Ben locked eyes with mine, no blinking, deadly serious.
“You mean it?”
I gave him a funny, sideways glance, because I wasn't sure I'd heard him right. I kind of laughed it off.
“It's not like I can go in there and just take his keys,” I said, rolling my eyes at him.
Ben looked around like he was scanning the hallway for something. Then, he locked on his target.
“You got one chance,” he said to me, showing me a single finger. “One. Take it.”
I didn't know what he was talking about, but off he went, like a sprinter, backtracking toward Simon's classroom. I reached out to stop him, but he was moving too fast. I told myself he wasn't doing what I thought he was doing. But sure enough, he had Justin D'Abbraccio, my former pal, the boy who started all the whatnot with Laura Abel, in his sights, and he was heading for him with a determined look on his face.
Justin whirled to see Ben storming at him, hands balled into fists at his sides. When he got to within spitting distance, Ben reached out a long, skinny arm and took hold of the front of Justin's T-shirt.
Justin looked like someone had dumped cold water on his headâit was that kind of shock and surprise.
“You really should learn to be nicer to people, you know that?”
Even when he was being aggressive, Ben sounded polite. He shoved Justin with some force, and that wasn't polite at all. Laura Abel was nearby and she and a bunch of her cronies moved in close to watch.
“Hey, back off, Odell,” Justin said, sounding a little unsure. “What's your problem?”
“You.” Ben gave Justin another hard shove and this time Justin shoved back.
“What the hell, Ben?”
Justin couldn't understand what was happening to him, and honestly, neither could I.
“Maggie is a nice person and you've been nothing but mean to her and I've had enough of it.”
Justin didn't look like he wanted to fight, but the kids who gravitated to the action were salivating for one. Ben gripped Justin's shirt harder. Justin grabbed Ben's. And that was all it took. It was a full-on kid fight. No punches thrown, just a lot of going around in a circle, holding on to each other's clothes, trying to drag the other person to the floor. One second we're on our way to class, and the next it's WWE, Seabury style. It took me a bit to figure out what the heck Ben was up to, but when I saw Simon bolt out of his classroom, along with a few other teachers, well, then I got it.
Ben wasn't defending my honor. I mean, cute if he was, but he wasn't.
He was creating a distraction.
I knew I wouldn't have long. I slipped into Simon's classroom unnoticed (I hoped), which was now empty because the action was out in the hall, and went right for the leather bag on the floor. The noise level was like a fire drill on steroids. Nobody would hear me rustling about.
It took two seconds to feel around inside the bag before my fingers brushed up against his keys. I grabbed them, put them in my pants pocket, closed up the latches, and went back out into the hall. When I got there, Simon and another teacher were pulling the combatants apart. Ben caught my eye and I gave him a thumbs-up sign. He smiled sweet as could be. Then I took off to find a quiet place where I could call my mom.
Nina didn't waste one second getting to the school. Maggie was waiting for her in the nurse's office, feigning a stomachache. She talked to her daughter in private, and made the exchange. Of course Maggie wanted to go with her to Simon's place, but Nina's denial was firm. So she agreed to stay put with the nurse, where she'd be safe and looked after, recuperating from nothing, while Nina went on her mission.
She was furious with her daughter for taking the risk, but at the same time incredibly proud of Maggie's bravery and ingenuity. Ben's, too. It was actually a stroke of genius, though Nina doubted the kids had thought it through, especially since Maggie said it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Either way, according to Ben's researchâand plenty of photographic evidence gathered by her childrenâSimon's home would be without renters and vacant while he was at school. She hoped he hadn't changed the alarm code, but if he had, she'd lie to the police and tell them Simon had given her permission to check the house for her dog. Why have his keys? It would be a case of he said, she said. If Daisy were there, Simon's denials wouldn't carry much weight. Getting the keys back to Simon would be easy. She'd leave them in the school parking lotâor perhaps she'd just toss them down a storm drain.
a few minutes after eleven thirty in the morning when Nina pulled to a stop in front of Simon's home. The air carried a bit of a chill, portending winter, and as if in answer to that thought, she heard the geese that nested on the lake. A moment later, Nina saw them taking off in chevron flight, en route to a warmer climate.
The house had an attached garage and a well-kept lawn, one of the few in the neighborhood not blanketed with fallen leaves. Somehow, he was keeping up with the maintenance here.
Maker Lane, where Simon lived, was a quiet street in a part of town Nina seldom frequented. She didn't know any of Simon's neighbors. Not that it mattered, not that she would have called on them. She'd come here for one purpose only: get in and get out as quickly as possible, hopefully with Daisy. She stuffed her cell phone and a leash into the pocket of her dove-gray jacket, leaving her purse in the backseat of her car. She wanted to enter the home as unencumbered as possible.
She didn't see Simon's pickup truck anywhere, and after checking the home's exterior and seeing no lights on inside, felt confident that he wasn't around.
She found the right key. There was a faint click as the lock disengaged. She opened the door, hearing the beep-beep-beep of the alarm. All went silent when she entered the code, and Nina breathed a sigh of relief.
She had watched Simon turn the alarm on and off many times and automatically committed the sequence to memory. Nina thanked her social work training for sharpening her observation skills, as well as Simon's complacence with keeping the same alarm code.
If she had second thoughts, Nina couldn't act on them now. She was here. She had no choice but to push forward. A split second after setting foot inside, however, she knew something was wrongâterribly wrong.
As a childless bachelor, Simon didn't own much furniture. What he had acquired, he had moved into the new home. He had told her he
bought new furniture for the renters, so she expected to see couches, chairs, tables. But the home was stripped bare of everythingâthere were no rugs, no plants, no nothing. Even the walls were smooth, no markings where pictures might have hung.
It looked to her like nobody lived here, but when she checked the floor with her fingers, not a speck of dust collected on the tips. Someone was keeping the home spic and span, just the way Simon liked it.
Nina peered down the front hallway before taking one tentative step followed by another. With nothing to absorb the sound, her footsteps echoed loudly, and her heart stayed lodged firmly in her throat. She listened. Did she hear something? A scratch? A bark? No, the home was as still as a morgue.
“Daisy? Are you here?” Nina's voice bounced off the walls as she ventured farther into the quiet, empty house.
Emboldened, she wandered about, noting the lack of furnishings in each room, the dearth of comforts of any kind. She passed through a spotless kitchen, where there were some signs of actual lifeâdishes drying on a wooden drying rack, pots on the stove. She checked inside the refrigerator. There was milk, along with cheese, eggs, and vegetables for a salad. Someone was eating, but she didn't see any dog food, and that was upsetting. Maybe Simon was telling the truth. But every fiber in her body told her Daisy was here, somewhere, so she kept searching.
Eventually, Nina made her way to the master bedroom, which was at the end of a short hallway. It was the room where she and Simon had first made love, but what had once been a cozy space was now nearly barren. There was a mattress on the floor and bedside it a lamp, no end table. The bed was made, neat and tight like a soldier's bunk.
Nina's gaze went to three framed photographs hanging on the walls, the only pictures she'd seen in the entire house. Her blood froze. She approached and studied the images carefully. One picture was clearly of Emma Dolan, but lacking the genial smile she'd worn in the image Hugh had shown her. This portrait was far more subdued, taken
in black-and-white at what looked like a photography studio, with her hair styled as Nina's was now. The second picture was of Nina, a photograph of her that she remembered Simon taking in a park after she'd gotten her new hairdo. It, too, was printed in black-and-white, mounted in a simple black frame with a white mat.
It was the third photograph that left Nina shaking.
This was another picture of her, only it
her. The woman in the photograph was leaning up against a tree in a verdant park, and unquestionably in her twenties. And strangely enough, she looked just as Nina had at that age. Judging by the woman's outfitâplaid, pleated miniskirt, a high-neck sweater, platform shoesâit was a style Nina might have worn in the '90s. The haircut, however, was the same as Emma's, the same as Nina'sâa bob with straight bangs and angled sides. While Nina and the person in the third photograph shared uncannily similar facial features, the younger woman had the saddest eyes she'd ever seen.
“Who are you?” Nina whispered, touching the glass as she traced her fingertips along the contours of the young woman's face, so similar to her own.
She surveyed the rest of the room, not that there was much to see. She noticed now what she hadn't before: a small book on the bed. It was the only book in the room and possibly in the entire house, which was odd for someone who studied history and enjoyed building robots as a hobby.
Nina picked up the book and studied it. She ran her hand over the textured cover of brown leather. She dragged her fingers along the edges of the yellowing paper. It smelled old, like a vintage volume an antique dealer might own. Only when she opened the top cover and flipped through the crinkly pages did she realize it was somebody's handwritten diary.
At first, she figured the diary was Simon's, but while the neat and looping handwriting was as legible as a teacher's might be, it was remarkably different from his. The lettering looked familiar, and she
remembered where she'd seen it. Simon had shown her a few pages of Emma Dolan's diary when they were talking about her depression. The handwriting was unquestionably the same. But when Nina turned to the inside cover, searching for an inscription, she found the name of Allison Fitch.
A sinking, sick feeling washed over Nina. Not only had Simon lied about the diary belonging to Emma, he'd also lied when he told her he had no pictures of his first wife. There was at least one photograph of Allison Fitch, and it was hanging on the wall directly opposite her.