“That’s one hell of an embankment for a car to flip down,” Detective Gladys Freeman remarked.
Mitchell Donovan, Addison’s newest detective, agreed. This section of the road had always been dangerous. He hadn’t been out here in fifteen years. Not since his mother’s death. She’d careened off the road opposite to where they stood now. The white Cadillac that’d hung up on the tree trunk precariously near the rising river flashed through his mind. The paramedics hovering over her dead body as they tried relentlessly to revive her ...
Mitchell’s fists clenched at his side.
Gladys touched his arm. “It’s your mom, right? Over there is where it happened?”
He nodded unable to speak, the lump in his throat making it hard to breath. Why did he insist on coming back here? How was he supposed to do his job? Mitchell inhaled a couple of deep breaths and turned back to the accident at hand.
“I’ll be fine. Let’s get down there.”
The pounding rainstorm during the night had caused the steep hill to become soft and slippery, making the descent a trick. They crawled down backwards on hands and knees, and after nearly tumbling, landed at the edge of the clearing.
The red Camaro had ripped down the embankment, tearing up the ground. The car rested on the driver’s side with the windows blown out and the top crushed flat. Somehow, the firefighters had extracted the woman from the passenger side.
Mitchell stumbled. It couldn’t be. But, this was the same model, the same two black stripes, the same position. Everything.
He’d had a nightmare in the early hours before Gladys’ call had awakened him. The Camaro from his dream sat in the same exact spot. His dead friend, Aidan, had pointed out the car and told Mitchell he had to save ‘her’, whoever that might be. Mitchell figured he was about to find out. If, in fact, he wasn’t losing his marbles.
One of the paramedics approached them. The woman had joined the fire department six weeks earlier, around the same time Mitchell had returned to Addison.
Gladys shook her head, brushing the red clay off her hands. “You’d think they would have fixed this road after two accidents in the last six months. Now this one makes three.”
"Who were the other two?” the female paramedic asked.
“There was that DUI two months ago. That man walked away from the Jeep he’d mangled across the street from here. I think he only had scratches and maybe a bruise or two. Lucky SOB. The other was an antique truck that busted through the bridge wall. He wasn’t so lucky.”
Mitchell held himself steady. A twisting pain ripped at his heart with the mention of the second man. Mitchell’s best friend, Aidan Delaney. At least he had been before Mitchell left town fifteen years ago.
“So, who do we have and what’s the story?” Gladys asked the paramedic, snapping Mitchell out of memory la-la land.
They followed the paramedic toward the ambulance. Gladys and the other woman continued to talk.
As they rounded the corner to the back of the ambulance, Gladys stopped short, causing Mitchell to nearly collide with her. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he croaked, and then cleared his raw throat. “What’s the victim’s name?”
The paramedic shook her head, blonde ponytail swishing. “We don’t know. Haven’t found any ID yet, and she’s a little confused. Has a nasty bump to the head.”
He let Gladys climb aboard. Her upward movement stopped in midair, one leg dangling a little too close to Mitchell’s jewels. He jumped back as she whipped around, almost losing her balance. In a barely audible tone, she said, “I know her.”
“You know practically the entire town.” Mitchell gestured toward the victim. “Say something. Who is she?”
Her gaze stared off in the distance above his head. “It’s just so weird. It’s the widow whose husband drove off that bridge a few months ago.” She pointed toward Jenkins Bridge, the old wooden-covered overpass in the distance.
An icy chill ran up his spine. Gladys moved aside, giving him full view of Katherine Delaney. She may be battered and bloody, but Mitchell could never forget her face, her high cheekbones, or the tiny, turned up nose. Shit.
Their eyes met, and his chest instantly tightened, his throat constricting.
Something was wrong. She seemed to stare through him. Surely, she recognized him. He hadn’t changed that much. He managed to find his voice. “Hello.”
Katherine closed her dazzling emerald eyes. “What happened?”
He put his trembling hands behind his back, interlocking them. “You were in an accident. What’s your name?”
She shook her head. Her eyes widened, her gaze darting between Mitchell and Gladys.
“It’s all right. This is Detective Freeman and I’m Detective Donovan.” Would the name register?
If it did, she didn’t react. She closed her eyes and turned her head away from them.
The paramedic held up a hand. “Gonna have to finish this at the hospital after the doctor examines her.”
Mitchell reluctantly backed away, allowing Gladys to jump down. Once the ambulance left, Mitchell stuffed his hands in his pockets. “She didn’t recognize me.” Hundreds of miles apart and fifteen years later, and none of that mattered anymore. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and protect her. What was her life like now? Did she still live on the ranch with Aidan’s mother? Or did she have another whole life somewhere else?
Would she be okay? What if something happened to her? He couldn’t think like that. He wouldn’t.
“You know her?”
“I used to.” Of course he had. When he left Addison, he had been running from the hurt they’d caused one another. And his mother’s death. And his own demons. “You forget that I grew up in this town.”
”What’s your connection?”
He didn’t want to get into his and Katherine’s complicated past at the moment. “We went to school together. Her husband, Aidan, and I were best friends.”
* * *
Her head throbbed. Splinters of light jabbed at her eyes as she forced them open. On instinct, she used her arm to block her face from the bright lights. Dull pain shot from the tips of her fingers straight to her neck, and she groaned.
She wiggled her fingers. No incredible pain there. She flexed her hand. Seemed okay. She lifted her right arm again, being more careful. Muscle pain, but at least the arm moved. Touching the side of her head, her hand grazed the bandage at her temple. A slight tug from the IV line kept her hand from moving too far. The green and blue plaid curtain divider provided the room’s only splash of color, contrasting against the plain white wall. The blood pressure cuff tightening around her upper arm startled her. What was that smell? Almost like antiseptic. Why was she in the hospital? What had she been doing before now? She struggled to think, but the pain interfered.
A flash of someone talking to her before the paramedic had closed the doors. Who had it been? She could barely remember the ambulance taking off. I must have passed out.
“Hello dear. I’m your nurse, Barbara. Glad to see you awake. Let me page the doctor. What would you like me to call you?” Barbara patted her hand.
Her heart skipped a beat. She couldn’t answer. Why didn’t she remember her own name?
* * *
“Dr. Reichheld, is Mrs. Delaney’s memory loss temporary?” Mitchell asked Katherine’s doctor. Mitchell stood against the wall, arms crossed and tapping his notepad against his bicep.
“Every patient is different. For most, yes. There have been a few who never recovered completely from certain cases of amnesia.”
How could he find out anything if Katherine couldn’t remember her own name? He pushed himself away from the wall, and stuffed his hands and the notepad in his pockets. “You should know we think Mrs. Delaney may have been run off the road. If that is the case, we don’t want to take any chances. An officer will need to be posted outside of her room around the clock.”
“As long as no one gets in the way Detective.”
“Can we go in and talk to her?”
“I don’t know how that will help, but go ahead. Just don’t upset her. You have five minutes.”
Mitchell stepped around Gladys upon entering Katherine’s room. His stomach churned at the sight of his dead friend’s wife lying in the hospital bed.
Katherine’s bruised cheek and superficial cuts didn’t take away from her beauty. A bandage covered her temple on the left side. Her ebony hair was tied back at the nape of her neck. Those dazzling emerald eyes he’d fallen in love with all those years ago held so much sadness.
Katherine blinked causing a single tear to roll down her cheek.
He walked toward her and held onto the foot of the bed to steady himself. His voice scraped out her name in a dry whisper. “Katherine?”
“Is ... is that my name?” she murmured.
“Why can’t I remember? What’s going on?”
He moved over to the side of the bed and touched her hand. “It’ll be okay.”
Katherine tried sitting up. “Why am I here? How do you know me?” She moaned as she attempted to swing one leg over the side of the bed. She grabbed at Mitchell’s shoulders. “Please help me.” Her breathing quickened as she gasped for air.
Gladys rushed into the hall and returned with the nurse.
Nurse Barbara helped calm Katherine down enough to lay her back and place the oxygen mask onto her face. “What happened?”
Gladys explained and turned to Mitchell. “Let’s wait outside. Ma’am, we will be back in a few moments.”
Mitchell turned. “Maybe I should-”
Gladys lowered her voice. “You need to come out in the hall with me right now, Mitch.”
Once outside of the room, he stopped Gladys. “What are you doing?”
“She’s not ready yet. What is going on with you? I know she’s your friend’s wife. But there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Dr. Reichheld approached. “What happened in there?”
Mitchell watched as his partner stood near the doctor, her hands on her hips. If it hadn’t been for the shock of seeing Katherine hurt, Mitchell would have chuckled aloud at the complete contrast between the doctor and his partner. Gladys stood all of five foot, two inches, and was African American. And sassy as hell. In all his years with the FBI, he’d never met a female officer like Gladys. The doctor had to be over six foot and his face so white, Mitchell had to wonder if this doc ever saw the sunlight. “You do know who she is, right? The man who went off that bridge a few months ago was her husband. We looked for him for several days, but never found his body.” Mitchell saw the sincerity in Gladys’eyes when she turned to him and said, “Sorry.”
The doctor rubbed his chin and then held up a finger. “That’s right. I helped with the search effort. What was his name? Andy? Aaron?”
Mitchell spoke through clenched teeth. “Aidan.”
“Let me see what’s taking the psychiatrist so long to get down here. You didn’t question her then?”
Gladys answered. “No, sir, but she did learn her name. She was pretty confused. She’d practically leapt out of the bed before having breathing problems.”
Mitchell paced the floor. He’d lost his mind back there in the room. “What the hell is wrong with me? I have no right. No claim. Nothing. Only as a detective.” He stopped pacing. He found Gladys watching him intensely. He must look like a nut. It dawned on him he’d been talking aloud, arms flailing.
“Please don’t go back in there right now.” Dr. Reichheld walked to the nurse’s station.
“Mitchell, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you’re beginning to worry me.”
“Freeman, you have no idea.”
“I know there’s more, and I hope sometime soon you will tell me. Like now would be great.”
“Not about Mrs. Delaney.” He guided Gladys over to the end of the hallway near the large window overlooking the park across the street.
“You’re my partner now, and I have to trust you with my life. Only the Chief knows why I was hired on here.”
Gladys placed her hands on her hips. “What’s the secret?”
He lowered his voice. “I’m an FBI agent sent here to take down one of L.A.’s most notorious alleged criminal minds.”
Her jaw dropped. Then the finger came out poking him in the chest. “You’re a Fed? And you waited this long to tell me? And don’t give me none of that ‘had to build our friendship’ crap either.”
“I’m undercover. You should understand that. I had to tell you before I officially started poking around. I didn’t want you having any surprises.”
“All right. I get that.” She paused looking out the window. “Who is your notorious criminal?”
“Hold up. You telling me Arcangelo Giordano is around Addison? This town isn’t all that small, but I would have heard about that one.”
“He’s my father’s silent partner.”
She reached out and laid her hand on his arm. “Oh crap. You’re serious?”
“Yeah, shocked me too when I found out.”
“How involved is your father?”
He wished he knew. “Hopefully not at all. But if he is, then he’ll go down, too.” Once in a while, Mitchell regretted not having a close relationship with his dad.
An officer walked up to them and extended a wallet to Mitchell. “That is Jane Doe’s. Well, her name is-”
Mitchell snatched it out of the man’s hand. Ass. Running his hand over his head, he apologized and shook the officer’s hand. “We know who she is.” But would she? “You’re on duty first shift. No one is allowed in unless it is her doctor or her nurse. A psychiatrist is coming, so just clear him through Dr. Reichheld.”
Mitchell turned his attention to the wallet. The middle held little plastic pockets containing photos. A faded one with her and Aidan. One of a beautiful miniature Katherine with pig tails. “Does she have children?”
“Now that you mention it, I believe so. I recall a daughter. You didn’t know that?”
“No.” This had to be her little girl. The feeling of an instant connection with her overwhelmed him, almost like Déjà vu, but not quite. More like the familiarity of knowing her all her life.
But, that was impossible. He’d never met this child before.
The next picture revealed the girl to be much older than he thought, perhaps her early teens. Again came that familiarity. He flipped to the last pocket and noticed the corner of a photo tucked behind all the rest. Unbelievable that after all these years, she’d held onto their first picture taken in high school. Katie with her pony tail. She had her arms wrapped around his neck, with his arms around her calves, holding her up piggyback style.
* * *
Katherine wiped away tears with the back of her hand. Her confused mind spun in circles. The man had called her Katherine. Could it be possible? Someone knew her? Neither the name, nor the man, seemed familiar. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t she remember anything?
She was lucky to be alive. Her mind kept drawing a blank as she wrestled to remember the accident. Frustrated, she slammed her fist down onto the bed. Pain instantly shot through her arm causing her to moan.
The sterile room with plain white walls and constantly beeping machines drove her nuts. She needed out.
“Katherine,” she said aloud. Nothing. She couldn’t recall a blessed thing.
A little boy skipped past her open door with the mother closely following. She wondered if she had any children. A husband? Brothers? Sisters? Parents? Or was she completely alone? A sob escaped and she covered her mouth.
She wished the man who’d said her name would come back. He recognized her. He seemed very concerned. Husband? Boyfriend? Brother? Who was he? She closed her eyes for a moment.
Flashes of memories flooded her mind like a flickering television screen. Running through a sprinkler. An Easter egg hunt. A dance of some sort. Graduation. Walking on the beach. A funeral. She couldn’t grasp the memories long enough to decipher them. The images weren’t clear enough to help her. Window shopping. A baby crying ... Aly crying. Holding Aly’s little hand skipping down the sidewalk.
The memories gradually slowed. Graduation. A picture being taken of her, Tracey, Aidan, and Mitchell. That had been one of the best days in her life. Mitchell and she were so happy then. Katherine smiled as relief flooded her. Now she knew who she was. Katherine Delaney. The man who spoke her name was Mitchell. How could she forget Mitchell, or any of them? Especially Aidan, her own husband.
Scratch that. Her ex-husband. Oh God, Aidan! Where was he?
And what about Aly? Maybe with Aidan? Katherine had to find out where she was.
Katherine reached for the nurse’s call button and pressed it several times. Her chest was going to explode, her heart pumping double time. The nurse wasn’t coming quickly enough. Katherine yanked at the IV in her hand. The nurse rushed in.
“I know who I am,” she said as she struggled to get out of bed. “Mitchell!”
Mitchell, followed by Gladys and the doctor, all rushed into the room.
“I know who I am, Mitchell!”
“Calm down. Shhh, it’s okay. Let the nurse tape the IV back down.” Mitchell gently cupped her right cheek in his large hand. The warmth and strength she hadn’t felt in such a long time brought back comforting memories.
“Ma’am, let me ask you a few questions,” Dr. Reichheld said. “What is your full name?”
“Katherine Eleanor Delaney.”
The doctor looked to Mitchell who nodded. “When were you born?”
“Um ... August twenty second, nineteen seventy-four.”
“Where do you live?”
“How did you get here?”
She huffed. “You told me about the accident.”
“But, do you remember the accident?”
“Well ... no.”
“Can you tell me what you remember before the accident?”
Frustrated, she struggled against Mitchell pushing him away. “Please tell me where my daughter is.”
“We will get to that in a moment. Please Mrs. Delaney. Let me finish. Now, what do you remember?”
Katherine sighed and searched her memory. She remembered sitting in the living room at home. Aidan sat next to her explaining something. How he would protect everyone. He was in a state of panic.
Katherine’s eyes grew wide. She grabbed Mitchell’s hand. “Aidan, where is he?”
“One thing at a time.”
“No Mitchell, you don’t understand. He’s in trouble. I need to find him and Aly.”
“Mrs. Delaney, listen. Please answer me. What is the last thing you remember? This is important.”
She didn’t remember exactly what Aidan was so worried about, but he might be in serious trouble if she said too much. “My ex-husband and I were talking at my home.” She had a small twinge of regret at the thought of her divorce, but nothing would change that now.
"What month is it?”
“April,” she responded through clenched teeth.
"Detectives, can I speak with you outside for a moment?”
She didn’t want Mitchell to leave. Panic rose like bile in her throat. “Mitchell, don’t go. Where’s Aidan?” She had to find him. And where was Aly? “Is Aly with him?”
* * *
“Her husband went off that bridge a few months ago.” Dr. Reichheld spoke aloud.
Mitchell couldn’t find his voice suddenly. He hadn’t been here for either of them when he should have been. Had Katherine referred to Aidan as her ex?
“You two stay right here. I’m going to see if I can get a better approximation as to the time she is talking about.” Dr. Reichheld turned to the nurse’s station. “I need you to page Dr. Leavitt. High priority.”
Mitchell didn’t know how to react. He was numb. Aidan was gone, and Katherine didn’t remember. This would devastate her all over again. But, this time, he could be here for her. This time, he’d help her through it.
Or would he?
What the hell was he thinking? He wasn’t about to jump back into her world. Katherine wouldn’t allow it anyways. Besides, she was better off without him screwing up her life anymore than he had in the past. Not to mention he was in town only for one reason. Giordano. “Did she say her ex-husband?”
Gladys turned. “Yes. I forgot that part. Does it matter?”
She tugged at his sleeve, motioning him back over to the end of the hallway. “Tell me more about Giordano.”
“I put my boss, Jacob Harding, in contact with my father for a residential build. Jacob came here to finalize things and found Giordano waiting outside Charles’ office. After their meeting, Charles introduced Jacob to his partner, Giordano. Knowing Giordano’s suspected criminal activities back in LA, Jacob sent in an informant, Daniel Saunders, after I got word Charles was looking for a new accountant. The former one disappeared suddenly leaving a very brief resignation. No forwarding address, which is extremely strange as she had rights to a very nice pension. Jacob never did find her.”
“You think Giordano killed her off?”
“Either that or he hid her well. Personally, I think she was done away with. Anyway, Daniel found some slight discrepancies with a supply company, but we never heard from him again after his last call confirming he hit it huge. Said he gathered the evidence and would be leaving that night to bring everything to us. Obviously he never showed.”
“Your friend was accused of his murder. He was found on surveillance video standing at Daniel’s car at the driver’s side door. It’s kinda grainy, but there’s no doubt it was him.”
Mitchell turned to the window. “He called me shortly before ... well his death.” Mitchell sighed and faced Gladys. “He didn’t really give me much to go on. Just that he didn’t murder Daniel and he could prove it. That he was being followed. I believe him.”
“Now wait. Just because you two were-”
Mitchell held up a hand. “No. I heard it in his voice. He sounded genuinely afraid the more I thought back to our conversation. At first I thought he was paranoid. He asked me to look into things. He didn’t know we’d already begun. That last conversation happened before the accident.”
“And you don’t know what your father’s involvement is?”
Mitchell stood up as his phone vibrated. “No, but I intend to find out.” He answered the phone and filled the Chief in on their progress.
“Put Freeman on,” the Chief ordered.
Mitchell handed the phone off to Gladys. Within a few seconds, her eyes grew wide, and she shook her head.
“I need to go downtown for a bit. You stay here with her. Keep her calm. And for her sake, listen if the doctor tells you to shut up and leave.” Gladys turned and headed for the elevator.
“If she asks for her daughter, just stall her.”
“Hold up. Why?”
Stopping in the middle of the hall, she turned around. “Just trust me.”
* * *
Katherine’s head was splitting. So much for the meds working. Dr. Leavitt, the psychiatrist, grilled her and seemed to have no intention of letting up while Dr. Reichheld sat on one side observing. “Look, can you stop with the twenty questions and get Mitchell back in here?”
“A couple more questions. Where does your husband work?”
“Ex husband. Donovan Construction, damn it. Now will you stop?”
“Katherine, I understand your frustration.”
“Oh, do you now? I seriously doubt that.” She glared at Dr. Leavitt, challenging him. “If you don’t get Mitchell in here right now, I’ll go get him myself.” Katherine moved herself to the edge of the bed.
Leavitt put his hand up in surrender. “Alright. Dr. Reichheld, will you get Officer Donovan, please? There, is that better?”
“Much.” She settled back against the pillows. But, that had been a stupid move. Now, her head hurt even more.
“Good. The last thing you remember is talking to Mr. Delaney at your home. Do you remember what you two spoke of?”
“Do you remember the day of the week?”
She pondered this for a few seconds. “I think it was Monday.”
She sensed Mitchell’s presence before he reached the doorway and came in, sitting in a chair near the door. She couldn’t help checking him out. His piercing blue eyes stared back at her. She noted the stubble of his unshaven face giving him that rugged appearance she’d liked back then. He still looked good. Too bad he had left without a trace.
“How about the date?”
She took her focus off of Mitchell and turned to the doctor. “April twenty-first. Three days before Aly’s birthday.” A sudden scowl appeared on her face.
“You keep asking for Aly. Who’s she?”
Katherine glanced toward Mitchell and frowned. She looked down at her hands. “My daughter.” With Aidan gone and Mitchell back, he needed to be told the truth about Aly. He should have been told years ago, but he’d disappeared and obviously didn’t want to be found. All because she may have been a little quick to make assumptions.
Katherine clung to his hand. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the memories were there, but she couldn’t access them. It was like pounding her head against the wall.
“Dr. Reichheld and I will be back in a bit. Just try relaxing. The memories will come when they come.”
Mitchell let go of her hand and slipped his notepad from his pocket, fidgeting with the paper’s corner.
“Where have you been for the last fifteen years?”
“Doesn’t really matter now, does it?” The sarcasm oozed from her lips.
“I guess not.”
“Maybe it should. Maybe you left more behind than you realize.” How would he react to finding out he was a father? Maybe he already was one? For all she knew, he could have a family complete with a wife. Peeking at his left hand folding and unfolding the corner of the paper, there wasn’t a ring. Not even a white line where one may have sat.
And what about Aly? How would she react to discovering Mitchell was her father and not Aidan? But, Aidan was gone. Not that Mitchell could ever replace him in Aly’s eyes.
He shifted in the chair. “Let’s talk about the last conversation you had with Aidan.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “Why?”
“I’m hoping it will bring back your memory some.”
“I told them I remember everything. You were sitting right there.” Katherine placed her arm over her eyes. “I’m tired. My head hurts like hell. Just leave me alone.” Go away.
“Go. Let me rest. We’ll talk later.” She would tell him about Aly. Once she was out of this damn hospital.
As he reached the door, she asked, “Can you please find my daughter and Aidan?”
“Try her cell.” She read off the number.
He wrote it down in his notepad. “I’ll try it after I check in at the station. You get some rest. I’ll be back.”
As he moved out of the room, she let out a deep sigh. Why didn’t he just stay away? Why did he have to come back and complicate her life?
* * *
Mitchell reluctantly walked out of the room, his gut telling him something wasn’t right. She refused to talk to him. What did he expect after being AWOL for fifteen years? He moved toward a cluster of conversing doctors.
“He’s been missing for almost six months. That’s a good chunk of memory gone,” Dr. Leavitt commented.
Mitchell asked, “How long before she gets it back?”
“I’m not sure, Detective Donovan. We’ll need to work with her to see if we can jog her memory. I will call if she remembers anything from the accident.”
He wanted to protest. Hell, he wanted to tell them ‘Tough shit. I’m staying.’, but Mitchell was a professional and didn’t have any rights. He wanted to find out what she was hiding. And what had happened between her and Aidan? Why were they divorced? And how did that affect their daughter? Aidan hadn’t mentioned the divorce. What else hadn’t he told Mitchell during their conversations in those last couple of weeks before Aidan’s death? Why had Aidan contacted him out of the blue? Aidan hadn’t sounded quite right. Almost as if he wanted to tell Mitchell something. He had been no doubt afraid.
Then, he was gone. The newspapers claimed Aidan committed suicide, but the more Mitchell thought about their conversations, the more he swore Aidan spoke with fear in his voice. Besides, his body had never been recovered. There was a suicide note, but it had been typed. Mitchell didn’t believe that at all.
Katherine. How was he to remain neutral and professional? And where was her daughter? At school he would imagine. He’d head back to the station and begin the search for Aly. The hospital was working on getting a hold of Katherine’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth.
If he hadn’t had an alcohol problem and run off all those years ago, Katherine’s daughter could have easily been his. Life would have turned out vastly different.
Rein it in, Donovan.
Mitchell had overcome his addiction long ago. He’d forgiven himself and moved on. Besides, he was only here in an official capacity. No one except Katherine knew anything of their roller coaster past. That might be a good thing for now. Her well-being took precedence over wanting to know what had happened in her marriage to Aidan. But, she was definitely hiding something. He intended to find out just what that something could be.
AVAILABLE NOW @ Soul Mate Publishing: The Swan Cove Murders Coming June 6th: Secrets of Jenkins Bridge