Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
“I got it from having common sense, Jesse. If Lucia died at the happiest moment of her life, like old granny Martinez says, why hasn’t she moved on to her next life, or gone up to heaven to eat cotton candy and play the harp all day, or whatever it is that happens to people who really do die without having left behind any loose ends? Instead she’s down here on earth, guarding her friend Becca to within an inch of her life. Something went on in those woods, something no one at Sacred Trinity is talking about because they either don’t know, or are covering it up. But Lucia knows. That could be why she was killed, to keep her quiet.”
“Is that why they killed the horse, too, Susannah? To keep it from giving evidence of what it knew?”
I blinked up at him, not certain if he was being serious or sarcastic. With Jesse, it was sometimes hard to tell, especially at moments like this, when his expression was so completely impassive.
Almost completely impassive. Even though it had grown dark enough outside to trigger the landscape lighting, and the cars pulling into the parking lot had their headlights switched on, I was able to see that his brown eyes had cleared of the shadows that had been hovering there before.
“I knew that part would get to you.” I couldn’t help grinning at him. “You have a soft spot for horses.”
“I have a soft spot for children,” he corrected me. “Especially children who’ve been neglected or treated cruelly.”
“Which Lucia obviously was—”
“I wouldn’t say obviously. We don’t have evidence of that . . . yet,” he added when I inhaled to protest. “But I’ll admit it’s worth investigating, if we can do so without ending up here, like Father Dominic.”
“Fine.” I snatched my phone from his hand. “We can start with the investigating I did online after I got the article from CeeCee.”
“My favorite kind.” His tone was wry. “No one is likely to be put in mortal danger while doing online investigations. What did you find out?”
I gave him a sour look. “The Martinezes did move away after the alleged accident like Father Dominic said, but they didn’t go far, only up to Marin County. They own a few vineyards. She’s got two older brothers. There are no reports on file of anything ever happening to them. And after her death, the family was so heartbroken they adopted two more little girls from the foster care system. Special needs.” I showed him the photos I’d found earlier in the day on the Martinez family’s Facebook page. “See? Cute, right? They have llamas on their farm, too. Who doesn’t love a llama?”
Jesse glanced at the photos and nodded, though he refused to utter the words cute or llama out loud. He was too manly. “That puts the Martinez family in the clear for abuse, then. For the adoption to go through, social services would have had to thoroughly investigate them, and visit often. Obviously, they passed.”
“Which is probably why Lucia isn’t following them around. She’s not worried about them. She’s worried about her friend Becca.”
“Clearly,” he said. “But why?”
“That’s what I can’t figure out. Whoever was able to get close enough to Lucia to kill her must still have access somehow to Becca . . . whether Becca knows it or not. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why Lucia is so protective of her.”
“Someone from the riding class?”
“I thought about that. But Becca says she doesn’t like horses, despite the pendant she wears, which is shaped like one. I checked Google Earth, and there aren’t any stables on the Walters property, nor is Becca enrolled in riding classes anymore. I wouldn’t be, either, if I were her, after what happened to her friend.”
“At the hospital in cases of child abuse, it’s almost always someone in the home. If it wasn’t someone in Lucia’s home . . .” Jesse let his voice trail off suggestively.
“You mean Lance Arthur Walters? He’s the obvious suspect. He’d have had access to Lucia, if the two girls really were friends growing up. He’d be my number-one suspect, except for one small problem.”
“If Lance Arthur Walters killed Lucia, why hasn’t she pushed him down the stairs, the way she did Father Dom? But I checked, and Becca’s dad has never been admitted to the ER here, not even for so much as a bee sting.”
Jesse frowned with disapproval. “Susannah, how could you possibly get that information? Hospital records are supposed to be private.”
“Oh, please. Nothing’s private when you’re a billionaire. Every move that guy and his family make is in the news. That’s how I found out about Becca’s mom.”
“What happened to her mother?”
“When Becca was talking about her mother, she mentioned an accident. I thought she meant Lucia’s accident, but she didn’t. The first Mrs. Walters used to host a yearly society luncheon at their house to raise money for breast cancer research. The year Lucia died, she canceled it—not because of what happened to Lucia, but because Mrs. Walters broke her ankle in a fall. The following year, the luncheon was held by someone else because Becca’s mom no longer lived in Pebble Beach. She’d divorced Becca’s dad and moved to Manhattan.”
Jesse looked skeptical. “You think the poor woman was driven from her own home—and child—by a spirit she couldn’t see?”
“I do. And if what happened to Mrs. Walters was anything like what happened to me at the pool last night, I don’t blame her. Keep in mind she couldn’t see her attacker. It must have been terrifying to her.”
“But you don’t think the woman killed the girl, do you?”
“No, I don’t. Because a couple of years after that, there was a new Mrs. Walters—not Kelly, a different one. And she, too, suffered a fall. She was no longer able to host the Carmel-by-the-Sea Go Red for Women luncheon to raise money for heart disease research due to a broken wrist—”
“They really report these things?” Jesse interrupted, disgusted. “Why is this news?”
“Because,” I said. I often had to explain to Jesse why things like what certain celebrities were wearing—or who they were dating, or divorcing—was news. He still had trouble believing why anyone would be interested. Of course, he also had trouble understanding why it took so long for the U.S. to get involved in World War II. “These fund-raisers are where all the socialites go to show off their new designer shoes and handbags. And of course they do some good for charity, too. And for people like me, who are trying to uncover clues to solve a crime. That’s how I found out the second Mrs. Walters left Becca’s dad, too, probably because she was being haunted by an unseen, menacing force—”
Jesse could take it no longer. He burst out, “If I had these women come into my ER as patients, two wives in a row with fractured limbs, I’d suspect the husband of abuse, Susannah, not an unseen, menacing force.”
“Of course you would,” I said. “Because you’re a doctor, and a good one. And if we didn’t know for a fact that there’s the tortured soul of a murdered child living in that man’s house, I’d say you were right. But we do know that. Combine that fact with the fact that Becca’s dad is constantly in the news for traveling somewhere to give a speech about something, or to open a new branch of his company, or donate a giant check to some hospital in some foreign country—”
“I don’t see how that makes him innocent of abusing his former wives, Susannah.”
“The guy is never home! I’m guessing he barely even saw his former wives, let alone his daughter. So how could he be the one abusing them? It doesn’t add up. What does add up is this: the people Lucia attacked so far—me, Father Dominic, and the two previous Mrs. Walters—all have one thing in common. Becca. I was attacked when Lucia misinterpreted my putting disinfectant on Becca’s wound as ‘hurting her.’ We know Father Dominic ended up in the emergency room for trying to help Becca, and I’m guessing that’s what sent the two Mrs. Walters there, too. That’s what sets Lucia off. Like Aunt Pru said, she’s frightened, and she’s in pain. She may not even be able to tell the difference between helping and hurting.
Jesse continued to look skeptical. “And Mr. Walters?”
“Maybe he’s a monster, but only to his daughter’s friends. Or maybe he’s completely innocent, and doesn’t know how to show affection, and keeps getting serially remarried out of the hope that his new wife will take care of the problem of his maladjusted kid. It’s no wonder Becca’s so depressed, and has had to transfer schools so many times. She can’t ever get close to anyone, because whenever she tries, Lucia pushes them away—literally.”
The skepticism in Jesse’s dark eyes turned to thoughtful concern. “But now your friend Kelly is living there—”
“Do you think I haven’t thought of that? Kelly’s in real danger. Then again, based on the behavior I’ve seen her exhibit around Becca so far, she might be the last person we have to worry about Lucia hurting.”
He winced. “Susannah.”
“I know, that’s harsh. But, Jesse, you didn’t see Kelly yesterday in the office. I did. Trust me, if it’s true Lucia’s coming after anyone who gets too close to Becca, then Becca’s dad picked the perfect new wife. Not to speak ill of a former classmate.”
“Didn’t Kelly used to go out with Paul Slater?”
“Oh, yeah, a long time ago.” I managed a derisive laugh. “That’s ancient history. God, Jesse, don’t you read the online Mission Academy alumni newsletter? Get with the times.”
He shook his head, then slipped an arm around my shoulders, bringing me close for a hug. “How can someone so young and so beautiful be so jaded and cynical?”
“Too much time hanging around with dead people?”
He released me from the hug, but kept the arm around my shoulders. “I wouldn’t doubt it. All right, I suppose it does make sense that Lucia is protecting Becca from whoever it was that hurt her. And it’s a good bet it wasn’t a horse.”
I snuggled against him. “I knew the horse thing was what was going to change your mind about exorcising her.”
“It wasn’t the horse. It was you, as you know perfectly well.”
“Sure. You may have everyone else fooled with your pursuit of a medical degree, Dr. de Silva, but I know the truth. You’re really a vaquero at heart. Admit it.”
“I’ve told you repeatedly that I never herded cattle in my life. Sometimes I think you’re the one who needs to have the demons exorcised out of her.”
“You’re probably right,” I said, enjoying the close-up view I was getting down the vee of his shirt, and the rock-hard feel of those solidly carved chest and shoulder muscles. “Maybe we should head to your car. Since you’ve already got all the necessary equipment, you could start driving the devil out of me right now.”
The lopsided grin I loved so much appeared. “I think for you it would take more than a few vials of holy water.”
“That wasn’t the kind of equipment I was talking about.” I slid my lips along his neck while my hand crept playfully toward his belt buckle.
“Susannah.” His fingers locked around my wrist in an iron grip. “Need I remind you that this is my place of work?”
“No one can see us in here.”
Suddenly three small, plaid-skirted projectiles came sailing through the entrance to the gazebo to launch themselves against my fiancé. Their timing was, as always, terrible.
“Oof,” said Jesse, wincing painfully as Mopsy kneed him in the exact spot I’d been about to place my hand.
“Do you have any gum for us, Uncle Jesse?” the girls cried, patting down the pockets of his brown suede jacket.
Jesse had long been a favorite of my stepnieces due to his habit of carrying bubble gum with him. He was the one who’d taught them how to blow bubbles. It was a skill I’d shown him one day while waiting in an endless line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. While he’d declared gum chewing a disgusting habit in adults (bubble gum had not yet been invented the first time he’d been around), he now found it beneficial in entertaining his younger patients while they were receiving painful medical procedures.
“I don’t know,” Jesse said, pretending to extract a stick from behind Flopsy’s ear. “Do I?”
The girls shrieked with appreciation. The insides of their mouths had been stained red from whatever they’d extracted from the vending machines.
“Hey.” Their father strolled up behind them, looking sheepish. “The nurse said you guys were out here. Sorry it took me so long. Thanks for looking after them, especially after what happened. Is Father D going to be all right?”
I rose from the bench and crossed to Brad’s side so we could speak without the girls overhearing.
“We don’t know,” I said. “Jesse said if he makes it through the next twenty-four hours, he should be okay. Where were you?”
“Oh, you know.” Brad looked down at the sidewalk, his hands in the trouser pockets of his ill-fitting suit. He kicked a fallen bud of bright pink bougainvillea into the grass. “Debbie’s dad wouldn’t let me leave, even though I told him about the kids. He made me inventory all the new SUVs we got in at the lot today. It was his way of getting back at me, I guess, for fighting with Deb. But of course all it did was make your life hell. I’m really sorry. Debbie couldn’t come pick them up because she and Kelly have Pilates or yoga or some goddamn thing on Thursday nights.”
I winced. It didn’t help that the only job Brad had ever been able to keep was with his father-in-law, Debbie Mancuso’s dad, the Mercedes King of Carmel. Trying to keep up with the mortgage payments on the overpriced home on the golf course Debbie insisted they had to have in Carmel Valley Ranch (because that’s where all her friends who couldn’t afford houses in Pebble Beach lived), plus pay the fees for the girls’ private school education wasn’t easy. My mom and Andy helped out where they could, and both Jake and I had given Brad a few loans, too.
But I didn’t know how long the two of them were going to be able to keep it together, especially since Debbie insisted on being a stay-at-home mom, even with the girls gone all day (the mission believed a full-day kindergarten program improved cognitive development. It also improved the mission’s tuition coffers).
Debbie said she needed the “me” time to be the best mom she could be. A lot of her “me” time seemed to be spent working out at the gym with a personal trainer, buying clothes, and going to lunch with the likes of Kelly Prescott Walters.
Of course, Brad took a lot of “me” time for himself, playing golf and partying at Snail Crossing.
I totally understood their need for so much “me” time, since being the parents of rambunctious triplets (and the spouses of one another) had to be really exhausting.
“Brad, you’ve got to find a new job. One where you aren’t dependent on your father-in-law for your income.”
“I know.” He kicked at another dried bougainvillea bud. “But who’d want to hire me? I don’t have a college degree. I barely managed to graduate high school. I know I screwed up. At least I have them.” His gaze rested tenderly on his three daughters, who were now having a contest to see who could stretch their gum into the longest strand.
My own gaze rested on Brad—not exactly tenderly, but with more affection than in the past. He’d driven me crazy the entire time we’d been forced by our parents to live together—so much so that I’d given him the private nickname Dopey, and often wished for his premature death.
But his love for his daughters—and the fact that I rarely, if ever, had to watch him drink directly from a milk carton anymore—mostly made up for that.
“Hey!” he yelled at the girls, startling me. “What have I told you before? Gum stays in your mouth!”
That’s when I noticed something sitting beside Jesse on the bench, something I hadn’t seen earlier because it hadn’t been there earlier. It was white and fuzzy, with brown spots on it. It was shaped like a stuffed horse.
Lucia’s stuffed horse.
Jesse noticed the direction of my stare. He’d never seen Lucia’s horse, and had no way of knowing it belong
That was why Jesse reached out instinctively to knock it from the bench, even though it could not hurt the girls. Not being mediators, they couldn’t see it. Still, his hypervigilance was not something he could turn on and off like a switch.
It turned out not to matter, however.
“That’s mine,” Mopsy said, and snatched the horse from beneath his fingers, then hugged it to her heart.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jesse said.
“Your objection’s duly noted. And you’re obviously not the only one. Debbie doesn’t seem too happy about it, either.”
It was much later. Jesse and I were seated in uncomfortable lawn chairs beside the fire pit in the backyard of Brad and Debbie’s three-bedroom house in Carmel Valley Ranch.
Brad’s fire pit paled in comparison to the one his older brother had constructed at Snail Crossing. Jake’s was made of limestone and was sunk into the ground and surrounded by luxurious built-in couches in a wooded area of the Crossing’s backyard, not far from the redwood hot tub (which comfortably fit ten).
Brad’s fire pit was an overturned metal drum that he’d placed not far from the girls’ swing set, engendering the wrath of his wife, who felt this was unsafe.
This wasn’t all that had engendered Debbie’s wrath.
“You don’t have to stay,” I whispered to Jesse, for what had to have been the fiftieth time since we’d pulled through the gated entrance to the golf resort community in which my stepbrother and his wife lived.
“Of course I have to stay. I’m not going to leave my future wife alone in a house that’s being haunted by a murderous demon child.”
“We don’t know that she’s haunting it. And I thought we established that she probably isn’t murderous, just overprotective. A lot like someone else I know . . .” I let my voice trail off suggestively.
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes