Page 18 of 18

No one chooses to go through eternity alone.

Chapter 39: Questions, Accusations and Lies

"Explain to me, Detective, how you ended up making an arrest—in Jersey City—alone—on a case that your whole team was working—without first notifying your squad leader about what you were doing," Lt. Laughton instructed with a mix of sarcasm and anger in his voice. "Can you explain that to me?"

It was close to midnight, Monday night. Cassidy was sitting in a conference room in the main Jersey City Police Station with Lt. Donald Laughton and Dt. Jason Hale sitting across from her. They had been notified by the Jersey City Police of the situation. The two of them arrived at the Jersey City Police Headquarters building minutes earlier with plenty of questions for Cassidy and no explanation for the Jersey City authorities.

"It was a fluke, Lieutenant," Cassidy began nervously. "When I heard that Kathryn Dryden had taken off, I knew she was on her way to Volker, and I had a—hunch—a suspicion about this name I came across, Steve Babcock."

"Steve Babcock?" Lt. Laughton interjected before Cassidy could continue speaking.

"Yes," Cassidy anxiously confirmed. "You see, we were trying to find Volker, and I started making inquiries about new male occupants in the lower end hotels in the vicinity, and the name Steve Babcock at the Hoboken Rodeway stuck with me."

"What made you think that Volker wasn't traveling under his own name?" Lt. Laughton challenged gruffly.

"I was just checking all possibilities," Cassidy answered defensively.

"And you didn't think to tell the team?" Dt. Hale quickly challenged.

"It was a long shot," Cassidy returned with a shrug. "Besides, I lost my cellphone."

"Then how did you know Kathryn Dryden had bolted?" Dt. Hale questioned with a suspicious frown.

"I called. I used a friend's phone, and I spoke with Vera. She told me that Kathryn Dryden had slipped the surveillance," Cassidy answered with a look of wide-eyed innocence.

"And you couldn't have told Vera about this hunch of yours?" Dt. Hale challenged.

"It didn't occur to me at the time," Cassidy answered with a nervous shrug.

"And you came all the way to Jersey City on a long shot," Lt. Laughton asked with a dubious inflection.

"It was all that we had left," Cassidy returned with a toss of her hands.

Lt. Laughton and Dt. Hale sat back in their chairs and examined Cassidy with bewilderment and annoyance. In their minds, Cassidy's accomplishments since her arrival to Manhattan South Homicide was astonishing to the point of being suspicious. They both had come around to Vera's way of thinking that Cassidy was a show-boater, but not even that could explain how she managed her recent string of amazing arrests. It bothered them both that Cassidy appeared to be intentionally acting on her own whenever possible, but neither of them could find fault in anything she said or did. After a few seconds they resigned themselves to the position that things were what they were, and they sent Cassidy home with instructions to come in to work at noon the next day.

~~~~~Line Break~~~~~

It was early Tuesday morning when Lola heard the first bit of news regarding Tony McGuire. The sun had yet to appear above the eastern horizon, but the sky glowed pink with its advancing presence. Lola had spent the night with her cellphone within easy reach, expecting a call from Tony. As the night wore on without a call, it became increasingly plausible in her mind that some mishap had occurred with Tony. His silence made no sense to her. At sunrise, Lola turned on the television in Mary Thistle's living room. She wanted to scan through the news before settling down to sleep through the day. She had not been watching long when the story of a fire inside Jeremiah's home was being reported on. Lola instantly began to entertain the idea that someone set that fire deliberately.

"Did Tony do that?" Mary asked with astonishment.

Neither Lola nor Keegan paid any attention to Mary's question. The news story was still unfolding with new information that they wanted to hear. Seconds after Mary asked her question, the second part of the news story began. The story reported on the fire at the commercial building owned by Jeremiah and the four bodies found inside.

"That's the stash house," Keegan declared with a shocked expression.

"You sure?" Lola challenged.

"That's the stash house," Keegan insisted with a point toward the television.

"What's happening?" Patricia asked with alarm and agitation in her voice.

Without a thought to Patricia's question, Lola grabbed the remote from the coffee table and muted the sound on the television when a commercial replaced the news program. She stood quietly considering the situation while everyone watched her. Several seconds later, she came to an assessment.

"I think someone out there is killing us," Lola half-heartedly stated. "Someone who knows what we are and don't want anyone else to know."

"The other vampires," Keegan mused knowingly.

"What other vampires?" Mary questioned with fear in her voice.

"Yeah?" Patricia quickly supported Mary's inquiry.

"How do you think Tony became a vampire?" Lola questioned with a hint of sarcasm.

"You think Tony is one of those four bodies?" Mary asked fretfully.

"That explains why he hasn't called," Lola calmly returned.

"And the count is right," Keegan supported, "Tony, Charlie, Ben and Malcolm were in that building."

"You think they're hunting us?" Patricia asked Lola with a look of astonishment.

Lola was too busy considering that very question to answer it. She turned away from Patricia to minimize her distraction while she was thinking.

"Maybe they don't know about us," Mary nervously suggested to Patricia.

"I wouldn't count on that," Lola mused aloud while she continued considering another thought. "They found Tony and Jerry. I'm willing to bet they know we exist even if they don't know who we are."

"If that's the case, then I say we find these fuckers and kill them first," Patricia spoke out with bombast and bluster.

"Yeah, I'm with you, babe," Keegan softly supported while he pondered. "But I think the hard part of that will be finding them."

"Maybe not," Lola spoke up as she continued to look away from the group. "I think all we have to do is ask her," she tentatively continued while pointing toward the television.

The television was continuing to display the news, but the sound was muted. A video of Cassidy arresting Kathryn Dryden was being broadcasted, and the news program was replaying the images of that event over and over from multiple angles. The name Detective Cassidy Tremaine was prominently captioned below the news feed.

"Who is she?" Patricia asked with insistence.

Lola and Keegan used the next half hour to explain to Mary and Patricia everything they knew about Tony McGuire's transition from human to vampire and the people involved in that event. By the end of the half hour, they were through explaining and responding to all the questions it produced from Mary and Patricia. The sun was still below the horizon, but the sky was much brighter. Lola knew that they were all ready to sleep through the day and conserve their energies. Lola decided to give Paula a call and update her on their situation and plans, assuming she was still awake. To Lola's surprise, her cellphone picked up after two rings. She quickly learned from Paula that Donny was still in transition. Lola advised her that Tony was no longer a worry and that she, Kenneth and Donny needed to stay there for the day.

"I'll come by this evening and bring you up to speed then, okay?"

Paula agreed to Lola's instruction and disconnected the call. Lola had just turned her attention back to Mary, Keegan and Patricia when the landline telephone rang. They were all astonished by the sudden early morning call, and Mary jumped slightly. After a pause to be astonished, Mary picked up the telephone.

"Mary, I need your help," said the voice on the other end of Mary's landline connection.

"It's Sarah," Mary whispered to the others in the room with her hand over the microphone.

Lola quickly sidled next to Mary and started listening for Sarah's end of the conversation as best she could.

"Where are you, Sarah?" Mary asked after removing her hand from the microphone.

"I'm at the house of Kenneth's friend, and I think we killed them," Sarah whimpered through the telephone connection.

"She thinks she killed someone," Sarah reported to Lola, Keegan and Patricia with her hand over the microphone.

"Oh, Christ," Lola complained with an exasperated shake of her head. "Ask her when?"

Mary relayed the question to Sarah.

"Just now," Sarah answered in a panicked voice. "We were so hungry and—and Kimberly kept asking us to turn her—and we were so hungry. I couldn't stop myself."

"Who's the other person?" Mary sharply asked.

"It's Beau, Kimberly's son," Sarah answered with a hint of terror in her voice. "We couldn't stop ourselves."

"Sarah," Mary yelled into the telephone. "Feed them your blood. Cut yourself, or bite into your palms, but you must feed your blood into their mouths to turn them. Do it now."

"Okay, yeah—yeah," Sarah responded in a huff.

A silence followed Sarah's acknowledgement. Mary, Lola, Keegan and Patricia waited for Sarah to come back to the phone.

"We did it," Sarah excitedly declared after a long pause. "What now?"

"Sarah, this is Lola. I'm a friend of Mary's," Lola quickly announced into the phone after snatching it away from Mary. "It's still too early to tell if they're dead or alive. But if you gave them your blood then there's a good chance they'll wake up tonight or tomorrow morning. So, this is what I need you to do, stay where you are and get some rest. Mary and I will come by this evening, and we'll see what's what then. And Sarah, I need you to not kill anyone else," she spoke with emphasis. "Is that understood."

"Yes," Sarah anxiously agreed.

"Good, now give me the address there."

~~~~~Line Break~~~~~

It was shortly after 10am Tuesday when Ryan, Alexandra, Ronald, Brooke, Stefan, Helga, Petru, Nadja and David (Cristiãn) assembled inside the Cavern Nightclub to discuss the events of the day before. The meeting was called by Stefan. He wanted to know what all had been done and what else needed to be done, and he wanted everyone to get their marching orders at the same time and as soon as possible. Stefan decided that waiting for night was not an option.

Long before they arrived at the Cavern, they all had learned that Tony McGuire was dead. That was information that David (Cristiãn), Nadja and Petru knew and shared with the others during the night. What they did not know were the names and numbers of any other newborn vampires that might be out there, and they did not know what the authorities had gleaned from the remains of yesterday's activities. To acquire as much public information as they could, that was available, they were all sitting in David's (Cristiãn) office and watching the news on the large screen TV on the wall opposite the desk in the room.

Newscaster: "In a dramatic showdown outside of a Jersey City Rodeway Inn, New York City socialite Kathryn Dryden, the wife of multimillionaire James Dryden, was arrested at gunpoint along with a Karl Volker. The arresting officer at the scene was NYPD Detective Cassidy Tremaine—the same Detective Tremaine who shot and killed the Greenbelt Nine murderer. The moment of Kathryn Dryden's arrest was captured by the smartphone cameras of multiple bystanders. In this video, Detective Tremaine is on the right, and you can see Kathryn Dryden here in the foreground in this video. She's the female wearing the baseball cap, and here she is again pointing a gun at Karl Volker. Multiple witnesses to this event have reported that Kathryn Dryden accused Karl Volker of being her husband's killer. We don't know much about Mr. Volker at this time, but what we do know is that he was registered at the inn under the name Steve Babcock and that he's being held on suspicion of murder. We've also learned that Kathryn Dryden is also being held on suspicion of murder. We're still waiting for the Jersey City Police Department and the NYPD to give us details regarding the arrests of Karl Volker and Kathryn Dryden and the roll that New York City's own, Detective Cassidy Tremaine, played in their apprehension."

The video of the arrest played on for several more seconds. There was very little sound to be heard because of the distance between the camera phones and subjects who were being recorded. The scene was shown several times and from multiple angles.

"It seems your Cassidy had a busy night, Cristiãn," Stefan mused with a smile.

"She's not my Cassidy," David (Cristiãn) corrected.

"You say that like it's a good thing," Stefan grumbled back. "If this newborn problem gets out of hand, Cassidy Tremaine will be our biggest problem."

"I am not going to compel Cassidy," David (Cristiãn) mildly advised. "And I won't let anyone else do it either."

There were smirks, smiles and chuckles around the room in response to David's (Cristiãn) declaration.

Newscaster: "In other news, a pair of mysterious fires and several deaths occurred yesterday evening in Queens. A commercial building under renovation went up in flames yesterday afternoon. The bodies of four men were found inside the structure along with a large quantity of cocaine in the building's basement. The names of the four men have not been given to us yet, and we are hearing that the police are still trying to ID three of the men. We're also just now learning that the owner of the building is not one of the victims. The body of Jeremiah Kingston, the owner of that commercial property, was found by firefighters when they responded to a fire at his home just over an hour after the fire at his commercial property. The NYPD and the FDNY have yet to give any official information about the fires other than to say they look to be suspicious. In other news…"

In response to a gesture from Stefan, David (Cristiãn) used his remote to mute the sound coming from the television.

"So, do we know anything about these female newborns?" Stefan asked while looking around the room.

"We know they have to be someone close to McGuire or this Jeremiah person," Brooke said after a short silence. "All we have to do is find out who that someone is."

Brooke was speaking to something that she knew they all knew. It was almost second nature for a newborn vampire to choose a mate. It was commonly held among the Dacia Vampires that no one would choose to travel through eternity alone. It was especially true among vampires because of the intensity of the attachment that was only possible among their kind. They also knew that relationships with mortals were always short lived and painful in the end.

"There were three other men in that commercial building," Ryan quickly added. "We don't know who they are."

"We do know the names of two them," Nadja corrected, "Charlie Panko and Ben Dalby."

"Cassidy told you that?" Stefan quickly questioned.

"Yeah," Nadja answered without hesitation. "She didn't know who the fourth guy was."

"Well, she'll just have to find out," Helga quickly asserted.

"Okay then," Stefan agreed with a nod. "We know what…"

Before Stefan could not finish his statement before David's (Cristiãn) cellphone began ringing. All eyes turned to David as he retrieved his cellphone from his suit-coat pocket and looked at the display.

"Cassidy," David (Cristiãn) announced as he flagged the cellphone for all to see.

"Put it on speaker," Stefan instructed.

David (Cristiãn) did as he was instructed and set the cellphone down as he spoke.

"Good morning…"

"You set fire to the house?" Cassidy loudly questioned before David (Cristiãn) could finish his greeting.

"I did that," Stefan loudly spoke from his seat to the left front of David's (Cristiãn) desk.

"Who's that?" Cassidy quickly queried.

"I'm not alone," David (Cristiãn) craftily reported.

"Who's there?" Cassidy asked with curiosity.

David (Cristiãn) paused to consider his answer.

"All the usual faces," David (Cristiãn) artfully reported after the pause.

Cassidy paused to consider what to say next. She was angry, and she wanted to express it. She was prepared to restrain herself while speaking to David (Cristiãn), but she felt no such compulsion for the others, and it was that release that was confusing her at that moment. Cassidy knew the vampires did not like speaking freely over telephones, and it was that concern that was now controlling her.

"That was dangerous," Cassidy grumbled through the cellphone. "People could have gotten hurt."

"Before leaving I notified the appropriate—people—so that the fire could be put out quickly," Stefan calmly countered.

Cassidy suspected that Stefan was trying to assure her that precautions were taken to protect the lives and property of neighbors in Jeremiah's community, but his assurance failed with her. Cassidy was made more infuriated by the attempt. She wanted to vent her anger at Stefan with unchecked verbiage, and it took more than a little restraint to stop herself and turn to another subject.

"You could have been seen, and you were almost certainly captured on D-A-S (Domain Awareness System)," Cassidy angrily yelled into her home phone.

"Detective," Stefan calmly spoke with exasperation in his tone. "I doubt that. I made my call from the house phone moments before I—lit the match, and we procured the assistance of a marshmallow head for transportation to and from the house."

"Marshmallow head?" Cassidy sharply questioned without thinking.

"Yes," Helga loudly returned, "someone like you."

Cassidy paused to comprehend that they were speaking about a mortal that they compelled to help them. As she pondered, she could hear laughter of several others who were there with David (Cristiãn).

"He found our request compelling," Stefan added seconds later.

More and louder laughter began coming through the earpiece of Cassidy's home phone.

"You should not have done that," Cassidy warned angrily.

"Well, I thought that was the better option to a thousand more people, like us, crawling all over your city," Stefan returned with defiance.

Cassidy intuitively knew what Stefan was implying. The words he chose to use to defend his actions were her own words being thrown back at her. She took a moment to consider just how angry she should be. The fact that Stefan's actions might keep humans in the dark about vampires did not escape her understanding, but she soon remembered that there were more rogue vampires out there.

"There are still more out there," Cassidy fiercely asserted.

"Yes, there are," Stefan loudly agreed. "And we need you to give us everything you can on the friends and close relationships of the men you torched yesterday."

Cassidy took a moment to fume over Stefan's request and the verbiage he chose to express it. Then she hung up the phone to avoid hearing anything more from him.

"I think that went well," Helga declared cheerfully.

Again, there were smiles and chuckles from everyone in the group accept David (Cristiãn). The mirth trailed off after a few seconds and they returned to the subject of the unknown newborns. They quickly agreed that Cassidy was their best bet at finding out who the other newborns were, and they would likely double in number by the time she did. To give themselves their best chance at finding the newborns quickly, they all agreed that someone needed to stay up for the day and monitor the news channels. It was their hope that the police would identify the fourth man and maybe even some personal information about all four. Stefan shortly assigned Ryan, Alexandra and David (Cristiãn) to the task, then he and the others trekked off for their homes to sleep away the remains of the day.

The Cavern Nightclub was considered an ideal place to spend the day. The only windows on the ground floor were out back in the kitchen, and the buildings just behind blocked them from direct sunlight. David (Cristian) continued his function as host and supplied cube-cut, raw meat and a pitcher of water and glasses for his guest to snack on. Then he took off his suit coat and tie, rolled up his sleeves and went to the kitchen to attend to an oven and some plumbing that were in need of maintenance. He had been in the kitchen for nearly six hours when his cellphone started to ring, but he was too far away to hear it even with his vampire hearing.

David (Cristiãn) had left his cellphone on his desk in the office along with his suit coat and tie. He was not expecting any calls of consequence, and he trusted Ryan and Alexandra to answer on his behalf. He kept few secrets with the other Dacia Vampires, and the same was true in reverse. That mindset was born out of more than 200 years of hiding from vampire hunters. Their patience with each other could be thread thin at times, but the bond between them was stronger than what any mortal could imagine.

"Hello," Alexandra greeted into David's (Cristiãn) cellphone.

"Hi, I'm calling for Cassidy. Is she there?" The voice on the other end of the call responded back.

Alexandra was confused and surprised by this call. She had no idea why anyone would be calling for Cassidy at David's (Cristiãn) cellphone, but she was eager and determined to find out.

"Cassidy Tremaine?" Alexandra pleasantly returned in the hope of winning the caller's confidence.

"Yes, she's my daughter," Margaret announced eagerly.

"Oh, Mrs. Tremaine—Margaret," Alexandra enthusiastically countered. "Hi, I've heard Cassidy speak of you on several occasions."

"Hi, who am I speaking with?" Margaret asked out of curiosity.

"Oh, I'm Alex, it's short for Alexandra," Alexandra answered with a grin. "I work for David Burrell in his club."

"Oh, so this is David's phone number?" Margaret queried with a whole new level of enthusiasm.

"Yes," Alexandra concurred with a smile. "He's in the kitchen doing some maintenance on one of the ovens, but Cassidy isn't here right now. She might come in later though."

"Oh, is she there often?" Margaret fished for information.

"Oh, yeah," Alexandra happily returned. "But that's to be expected," she dangled out for a response.

"Why is that to be expected?" Margaret asked with much curiosity.

"Well, I was just saying because of the way they are," Alexandra intentionally teased hesitantly.

"How are they?" Margaret asked, now intrigued.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Alexandra returned after a deliberate pause. "I thought you might know, and I was hoping you would tell me."

"Tell you what?" Margaret asked in nearly a commanding tone.

Once again Alexandra paused to taunt Margaret's curiosity.

"Okay, you see, we have a bet going on," Alexandra began to explain with a confessional tone. "Some of us here at the club think that the boss and Dt. Tremaine are engaged, and the others say no way. And I was hoping you would tell me who's right."

"Why are they—why are some of his employees saying no way?" Margaret asked in confused.

"It's just that everybody used to think that the boss was a bachelor-for-life kind of guy," Alexandra mused indecisively. "But now, nobody knows for sure because of the way he is with Dt. Tremaine. I mean we've never seen him like this before," she spoke with intrigue and excitement in her voice. "I think he's in love," she finished in a whisper.

"Is that right?" Margaret mused.

"And it looks like she feels the same way," Alexandra enthusiastically added.

"Really," Margaret responded with a smile in her voice.

"So, the boss is up to his elbows in grease right now," Alexandra casually explained. "Can I have him call you back in a few minutes when he's cleaned up?"

"Well, what I really need to do is speak with Cassidy," Margaret answered in a ponderous tone. "She lost her cellphone the other day, and I haven't been able to reach her at the work."

"I hope there's nothing wrong," Alexandra returned with feigned concern.

"Oh, no, no," Margaret quickly dismissed. "Stacy's grandmother just went into the hospital. Stacy is Cassidy's babysitter. She's asking to leave early, and I have a retirement dinner to go to. I need Cassidy to deal with that."

"Oh," Alexandra acknowledged. "Do you want David to call you back?"

"No," Margaret returned with a sigh. "Just tell him to pass on my message to Cassidy if he hears from her."

"Oh, I will," Alexandra eagerly promised. "Bye," she finished with a wide smile.

Ryan had been listening to the whole conversation. He could see Alexandra's delight with something she gleaned from her talk with Margaret and the mischievous scheming that started when she hung up the telephone.

"What is your minx brain plotting?" Ryan asked suspiciously.

"I'm going to do Cassidy a favor," Alexandra impishly spoke.

"She's not going to like it whatever it is," Ryan warned.

"You don't know that," Alexandra countered with a mix of defiance and reservation. "She might like it," she continued with a smile. "We might even become friends," she finished with an optimistic flair.

Ryan gave Alexandra a disapproving look and a disbelieving shake of his head.

"I wouldn't bet on it."

~~~~~Line Break~~~~~

It was 11:52am when Cassidy walked through the front door of the 13th Precinct. From the onset, all eyes turned toward her and followed her until she was out of view. When she entered her squad room, the background noise of people moving about and talking came to a stop. The room seemed to freeze in place with all eyes turned toward her. Lt. Laughton appeared to be the only person within the workspace who was still in motion. Cassidy could see through the window of his office that he was speaking with someone on the telephone while looking at her. Cassidy hesitated just inside the doorway to note all the attention. She then began moving through the room with nervous apprehension. Vera watched her pass her desk with a hostile glare. The other detectives noticed her with amazement and disbelief. The stares came to a stop when she got to her desk, and everyone went back to the work they were doing before she came in.

Cassidy had made herself comfortable, turned on her computer and was just starting to look through her email when Lt. Laughton walked out of his office. His manner was stern, and it was immediately clear that he was coming to her. Cassidy braced herself for whatever was about to be said.

"You're wanted in the Mayor's office," Lt. Laughton announced as he stopped at Cassidy's desk.

"Now?" Cassidy asked with a look of surprise.

"Yes, now," Lt. Laughton sternly returned.

Cassidy quickly went to work undoing the opening of her day. When she got up from her desk, several seconds later, she hurried out of the squad room and building under the gaze of the same officers who watched her come in.

Cassidy was slightly perplexed by the call to the Mayor's office. Without her cellphone, she felt uncomfortable being so disconnected from the people she trusted to watch out for her children. She originally planned to stop at a wireless store on her way to work to replace the one she lost, but she was late leaving home that morning, which made her change that plan. Her new plan was to run down to the closest wireless store for her carrier at her earliest opportunity. She wanted to get a replacement in her hands before Cynthia and John got out of school. She was not expecting any calls concerning them before then, and she knew her desk phone would suffice in the interim; but as she hurried toward the Mayor's office, she was forced to come up with another plan: she would stop by a wireless store on her way back to the precinct from the Mayor's office. Three hours later, Cassidy concluded the new plan was not going to play out either.

Cassidy spent the remainder of the afternoon inside City Hall. She was photographed with the Mayor, the Police Commissioner and other high-ranking city, county and state officials. Sher answered questions for reporters and listened to speeches by politicians. When she was not doing something before an audience, a bank of microphones and an array of cameras, she was waiting to do one of those things. It was a quarter past five in the afternoon when she had both the time and presence of mind to call her home.

"Hi," the voice on the other side of Cassidy's call sang through the connection. "This is the Tremaine residence. How can I help you?"

Cassidy was immediately thrown off balance by the voice that just answered her home phone. The person she heard sounded nothing like Stacy, the babysitter for Cynthia and John.

"Who is this?" Cassidy questioned with surprise.

"Oh, hi Cassidy," the voice returned with excitement. "It's me, Alexandra."

Cassidy was instantly put into a state of shock. She recognized the voice as Alexandra's at the start, but she initially dismissed the idea that it was her. Hearing Alexandra confirm that she was inside her home sent a shock wave of terror through Cassidy's body.

"What are you doing there? Where's Stacy?" Cassidy demanded.

"Stacy had a family emergency, and she had to leave early," Alexandra explained as cheerfully as she could. "But don't worry. I'm here. Everything is okay."

"But what are you doing there?" Cassidy nearly screamed into the telephone of a vacant office.

"Oh. Well, Stacy called your mother when she couldn't reach you, and then Margaret called Cristiãn and got me instead," Alexandra explained with impish delight.

"I want you out of there," Cassidy screamed into the phone.

"I can't leave Cynthia and John alone," Alexandra replied with childish surprise. "When will you be home? Can I cook something for you? I can cook—a little."

Cassidy concluded that there was nothing she could do about Alexandra's presence inside her home from where she was at that moment and slammed down the phone. Leaving Cynthia and John alone in the house was not an option for Cassidy and sending her mother to take over was problematic. She had decided to install Stacy in the house so that her mother and father could attend a retirement dinner for an old friend. She had no reason to think she would be late getting home that evening, so she told Margaret to take Cynthia and John home after school instead of dropping them off at Valerie's house and that she would arrive within the hour. To fill the gap between Margaret and Cassidy's departure and arrival, Stacy agreed to stay with the children as long as four hours, if necessary.

Cassidy set off for her home in a hurry. She allowed nothing to stop or delay her exit. Leaving a full two hours later than usual, her drive home placed her squarely in the height of the afternoon rush. She arrived outside her home frustrated and in a rush to get inside. She jumped out of her car and ran to the front door with her keys in hand. She shoved the key into the lock, opened the door, sprinted three strides into the living room and came to an abrupt stop.

"Hi, mommy," Cynthia and John cheerfully greeted at nearly the same moment.

Cynthia and John were seated on the floor at the coffee table with the board game Guess Who in front of them. Alexandra was seated on the couch on the opposite side of the coffee table. At first sight nothing looked amiss and everyone appeared to be in good spirits.

"We're playing Guess Who," Alexandra announced with a bright smile. "It's harder than it looks. Cynthia has beaten me twice already, and John beat me once."

"Yeah, I won," John gleefully concurred.

Cassidy ignored Alexandra's explanation of their activity and her children's enthusiastic endorsement of it. After taking a few seconds to give her kids and the room a quick examination from a distance, Cassidy began gesturing to her children.

"Come here," Cassidy called as she beckoned with her hand.

Cynthia and John quickly got up from the floor and hurried to Cassidy. As they rose so did Alexandra with a smile on her face. The instant Cynthia and John were within reach of Cassidy, she examined their necks, arms, legs and torsos.

"What's wrong, mommy?" Cynthia asked as Cassidy quickly adjusted her clothing to look at her skin.

"Nothing, baby," Cassidy returned as she continued to examine her body.

It only took a few seconds for Cassidy to complete the examination of her kids. When she was finished, she ordered them up to their rooms and into their pajamas. As they raced off up the stairs, Cassidy turned her gaze toward Alexandra with an angry scowl across her face.

"That hurt," Alexandra dejectedly whined in response to Cassidy's body search of her children.

"Get out," Cassidy yelled without a thought for Alexandra's remark, pointing toward the front door.

"Fine," Alexandra returned with a pout and while walking toward the door. "See if I ever do you a favor again."

Cassidy followed Alexandra to the door, shut and locked it when she was on the other side of it and then went to the window to watch her leave the vicinity.