FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I respond to everything except flames. Constructive criticism is valued.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters. No profit is being made. It's all for fun.
A/N: Thanks for the reviews!
A/N2: Some canon elements may be a bit off - I needed to play with a few items.
Graven Images (4/4): Home is Where the Heart Is
My head dips forward slightly and I smother a sigh of irritation. It's hardly Melissa's fault I've pulled a double, need a cup of coffee as if it were my life's blood and was hoping to sign this report and head home. Home. It's still weird to think of this place as home. Nice enough, I suppose. But weird.
Also, nightmare-free. Recrimination-free. And, having checked the world weather reports half an hour ago, snow-free.
"Yes, Melissa," I say. "What is it?"
She smiles. "Someone here to see you."
I can't imagine whom it could be – cop? Solicitor? Next of kin? I actually spent most of my double shift working on files. One decidedly nice thing about Sydney is there is less crime than Boston. "Family member?"
"I don't think so." She flicks up her eyebrows at me. "He's someone very good looking."
I nod at her, with a self-conscious smile. Melissa flirts with anything in pants and she's made a fuss over Pollack every time he's stopped in to see me. "Show him in." As I wait, I skim my report one last time, aware now that he's standing in the doorway, watching me add my signature. I make a minor production of it, grinning.
Are you happy, Jordan? Paul had e-mailed that last week.
You know, I think I am I had replied. Not ecstatic, but happy enough. There's been a peace in giving up the things I could never have in favor of the attainable. The charm Boston held for me is…
Standing in the doorway, scrutinizing me with frank, deep blue eyes and a worn smile. "God, that's a long flight, Jordan."
I laugh awkwardly. "Yeah, it is." I stand up, smoothing the skirt I'm wearing. My boss here is a tad more traditional than Garret. Woody's glance is approving. "What are you doing here?"
He leans against the door jamb. "I know why you left, Jo."
"And you were wrong."
Half an hour later finds us at an early lunch at Circular Quay, the hub of downtown Sydney. We're a stone's throw from the Opera House with its white, billowing "sails." Spanning the harbor in front of us is the Harbour Bridge, or the Coathanger as I've grown used to calling it. We can watch the ferries going in and out, taking passengers across the water to Manly and hear the trains sliding into the station, connecting other parts of the city and the suburbs. A steady stream of people flows by our outdoor table at one of the little restaurants that dot this area. We're drinking coffee and waiting for our pasta to arrive. Woody's carry-on bag, the only luggage he brought, hulks in a chair next to him. We'd agreed not to talk about why he's here on the train from the morgue to the station, so I'm still trying to sort out what he means, what threads have brought him halfway around the world.
He hunches forward, his hands lying loosely open on the table. He yawns.
"Do you want to do this later?" I ask, too eager, I know. "You've got to be exhausted."
He shakes his head. "I actually slept on the plane."
"Do you have somewhere to stay?" I bite my tongue. Even if he doesn't, I can hardly offer to have him stay with me – us. Talk about an international incident.
He nods this time. "Lily found me some place." He rattles off a name.
"Good!" I sip my coffee, trying to marshal my scrambled emotions. "That's pretty close to here, actually. Are there any places you want to see? The beaches are great. Of course, the Opera House is-"
"But, Woody, there really is a lot-"
"Stop. Okay? Stop. I didn't come down here to sightsee."
"Then why…?" My hands lay on the table in front of me. I twist them.
He reaches for my hands and squeezes them softly. "I told you. I know why you left Boston. And you were wrong."
I shake my head. "Woody, I know – I know you – No one wants to – to think – Well, to think about what happened, but it is what happened."
"Why didn't you tell anyone?"
I sigh. "Because I knew what they – what you – would do and say. Exactly what you're doing now."
"Telling you that you didn't kill your mother? That's a bad thing?"
"I know everyone wants that to be the truth, that I didn't shoot her, but I know the truth. I know what I did. And I knew no one at ho- in Boston would be able to accept that."
"Gee, we don't want you to be responsible for killing someone. We're terrible people."
"No! It's not that, Woody." I struggle for the words. "I – I need to be somewhere that I can accept the truth though."
"Great. Come home."
"This is home."
"Home is where the heart is, Jordan." He looks at me steadily. "And your heart will never truly be here."
I prickle. "Sydney's great! The weather is usually wonderful; the people are terrific; there are tons of things to do…."
"Fine," he tells me. "Come back for a visit or two."
"Jo, you didn't kill your mom."
I feel tears sting my eyes. "I remember what happened. And my dad confirmed it."
"I don't care. You didn't do it."
I give him an exasperated sigh. "How'd you find out anyway?"
"He told you?" I'm appalled.
"Of course not. You confessed to him, Jordan. He wouldn't violate the sanctity of that. Believe me, I tried to get him to. He dropped a hint or two."
I take a deep breath and hold it for a moment. My heart is hammering in my throat. "A hint?"
Woody shrugs. "He came in with some parishioners. Their daughter had been raped and we needed her to i.d. the assailant in a line-up. After it was over, he asked me about a homicide I was working. A vagrant from the shelter. He said something about knowing the other M.E.s were good, but still wishing it could be you handling the case at the morgue. I figured he didn't know you were gone." He pauses. "Imagine my surprise when he told me he thought moving to Sydney had been good for you."
"I didn't even tell Garret where I was going," I murmur.
"No, you didn't." He eyes me sternly. "Do you know Garret has given you an indefinite leave of absence?"
"But I told him that! I mean, I left him my resignation."
"Yeah, well, when it comes to you apparently he's an optimist."
I snort at that thought and then realize that Woody has a point. Garret knows me, but he's never seemed to give up hope I'll be more than I have been. I should have told him where I was going. Guilt washes through me.
Woody plows on. "So I asked Paul why. He said he couldn't tell me, which I didn't get and asked why he couldn't tell me. He said you'd told him something in confession and it had to do with your moving. When I couldn't figure out what you might have confessed he told me to think about it."
"I'm not exactly stupid, Jordan. Between that and Nigel's mentioning you'd asked Danny McCoy – and Vegas Boy, Jordan? Vegas Boy? – to find Max… well, it didn't take long to figure it out."
"You couldn't be sure," I try diffidently.
"I played Twenty Questions with Father Paul on that one. I hope he doesn't play poker. He can't bluff to save his life."
I can't help but grin. "I know. He never could." I flex my hands in his. "Woody, I appreciate this, but I know what happened."
"No, you don't."
"What do you remember?"
"What exactly do you remember?"
I glare at him. "I remember shooting my mother."
"You remember climbing up on a chair, aiming a gun and pulling the trigger."
"Yeah, I-" My tongue trips over itself as my words come to a sudden halt. "What?"
"Once I figured out what was going on, I asked Nigel to help. I pulled the files, Jordan. Nigel ran simulations that couldn't have been done back then and he ran some tests that should have been run and weren't."
"My dad wanted to protect me," I tell him.
"Yeah, well, maybe your dad should have tried to find out the truth."
"Sorry." He scowls. "I'm sure Max did what he thought was best." He hesitates. "But it wasn't, Jordan. Because you didn't do it."
"But I… remember. And he found me… with the gun."
Woody nods. "Right. And what do you remember?" He's persistent, like someone picking at a scab or a mosquito bite.
"I – Um – I…." My jaw drops. "I'm standing over my mom. I'm holding the gun. I can smell the gun smoke. I'm covered in my mom's blood." I disengage one hand and absently run it over my lip. "And my dad told me a little of my own. She slapped me, split my lip… we argued – Dad said Mom and I had been arguing over things for a while – he said even at ten I thought I knew best."
"You may have argued with her, Jo, but she never slapped you. And you didn't kill her."
The waitress arrives with our meals. Reluctantly, I think, Woody drops my hands and leans back. With a sardonic smile, he tilts up his wine glass in a toast. "Here's to the truth."
I look away. When I manage to bring my gaze back to him, he's studying me intently. I begin to eat my lunch, but find it has no taste. Defeated, I set the fork down. "All right, why are you so certain I didn't – that it wasn't me?"
"Other than the fact I know you and I know you just couldn't have done it?"
"I'm not sure how well you really know me, Woody," I reply in a tiny voice.
He gives me a wary look. "Maybe you've got a point, Jordan, but I know that no matter what, you couldn't have pulled that trigger. Because of who you are – who I see, if you want – but also because it's forensically impossible."
"If there weren't a lot of tests done…?"
"The angle was wrong, Jordan." His expression is tender, concerned. "Unless you were really tall for your age, you'd have had to have climbed up on a chair to do it."
My hand trembles as I reach for my wine glass. I feel the cold liquid in my mouth, but its flavor is lost on me. "Are you sure?" I choke out my question in a whisper.
He nods. "Nigel ran it – I don't know how many times, Jo."
"But – But everything I remember. Everything my dad found…."
"You don't remember pulling the trigger, do you?"
I shake my head.
"Because you didn't."
I feel nauseous. I bolt up, apologizing, asking him to give me a little time, promising to call his hotel in a couple of hours. I grab my purse and flee for the pier, where one of the ferries is about to depart. I just make the boat and find a place outside, in the sun and fresh air. I'm shaking violently and tears are streaming down my face. When the ferry docks at Balmain, where we're living, I stumble off. The cottage is about three blocks away. I never will recall that walk. The only thing I will ever remember about those hours is walking through the front gate and thinking how loud the buzzing of the bees in the front garden sounded to me and how bright the flowers appeared and how, in that moment, I was suddenly glad of the passion so many Aussies bring to gardening.
I'm sitting in the back garden now – much less profuse in its floral variety. The sun is still high. A glass is in my hand. Scotch. I don't remember coming in or changing, which I must have done, judging by my torn denim shorts and white tank top. I don't recall picking up the bottle of alcohol or coming to sit out here, but I do know we just bought the Scotch and now the bottle is about a third empty.
I hear the scrape of Pollack's key in the lock. He calls out my name and, when I don't answer, makes his way to the kitchen. I must have left the back door open because he pokes his head out.
"There you are, Cavanaugh. I was about to call the… what's wrong?"
I shake my head. My tongue is too furry for communication.
He covers the ground between us in a few strides. His sharp eyes take in the bottle and my glass. Worry flashes across his face, but he tries to coax me out with a lighthearted tone. "Work that bad?"
I shake my head again.
He sinks down in the chair next to mine. "Come on, Cavanaugh. You're scaring me."
I gulp the tears I'd forgotten I was in the midst of crying. "Woody's here."
He glances around. "Hoyt? Here?"
I wave a hand in the general direction of the city. "In Sydney. Came to see me at work."
Pollack is working at it, trying to remain calm and casual. "Taking in the sights?"
"Nope." Okay, yeah, I am more than a little buzzed. "Came to tell me I'm wrong."
"I didn't kill my mom."
For a moment, he is silent, taking this in, digesting it. I think the implications are more instantly obvious to him than they were to me. They usually are for outsiders, which is what he is, no matter how much I tried to tell myself he wasn't. He nods at last. "So you came back here and drank half a bottle of Scotch?"
He didn't say home; that's not lost on me. "A third," I protest a bit wobbly. "But yeah."
"Can I ask – I mean, are you sure?"
"Nigel – Nigel did some tests. The angle of the shot was wrong. I'd have to been standing on something." I shrug, sobriety returning in leaps and bounds. "And of the things I remember, you know what I don't remember at all?" He waits. "Pulling the trigger."
He stands up and I scoot over so he can sit with me. He puts an arm around me. I drop my head to his shoulder. "Really threw you, huh?"
I nod. "My dad – He thought I could have done it. Thought it – Believed it so strongly that he helped cover up any evidence. Woody said very few tests were run that should have been. I know he was protecting me, but – he – he thought – he thought what he thought. I think it was almost worse to find that out."
He is silent for a moment. When he does speak, his voice is low and sad. "And to find out you ran when you didn't have to." It's not a question.
Slowly, I raise my head to look into his face. "I'm sorry," I murmur.
He reaches up a hand and strokes my cheek. "It's all right, Cavanaugh. I'd rather you had the real truth than not."
"Even if it means…?"
"That you'll be wishing for your winter coat in short order as you struggle through the Boston snow?"
Sadly, I nod.
He kisses my forehead. "Yeah. It's what's best for you. And I can be selfish bastard at times, especially when it comes to getting stories, but I care about you – a lot. And that means I want you to be happy."
I sniff back tears. "Maybe we'll – I'll visit."
He smiles at me. "Just not for your honeymoon, please."
I snort. "That's jumping the gun a bit."
He shakes his head. "I doubt it."
Woody meets me at Circular Quay and takes my bags from me. I'd never brought a lot, and Pollack will ship back the things I couldn't pack. We walk silently back to his hotel. He guides me into an elevator and hits the button for the ninth floor. We stop in front of room 942. He works the key card and, after pushing open the door, takes my luggage in. He hands me the key car and tells me he's right next door. "I didn't think… didn't want to… I thought this was best."
I nod, looking around at the sterile room. I haven't even left, and the warmth I'd valued in Sydney is leeching from my memories.
I look up and nod. My liquid lunch, tea and early dinner were a lot of empty calories.
"Room service okay?"
"Great. I'm kind of tired."
He laughs. "Me, too."
He orders some food and then we face each other across the Gulf of What Next? "So." He shifts from one foot to the other. "Want to talk about it?"
I shake my head. "I want to figure it out."
"Figure what out?"
"Who killed her?"
"Woody, we know I was there – I had to be. Come on."
"Oh, not the Game again?" He sighs. My expression must be implacable, for he gives in. "All right. Set the scene." He's got to feel it, too – if we play this game, we can avoid the other one we've been playing since … since we met almost.
"I've just finished breakfast." I see it in my mind. "I'm putting my bowl in the sink and my mother's telling me something." I close my eyes. "I'm supposed to go to Lindsey Chambers' birthday party that Saturday. But I hate Lindsey Chambers. I don't want to go. She's telling me I'm going. We're arguing. Just like my dad said." I open my eyes and look at him, hoping he'll push for me.
"Where are you? Still in the kitchen?" I nod. "Okay, how did you get out of the kitchen?"
"I don't – there was a knock. The front door." I gape at him in shock. "Someone came to the door. Mom told me to stay in the kitchen, told me to finish putting my lunch together. I was doing that – putting my sandwich in the bag, getting out milk money from where she kept it…."
I shake my head. "Mom's yelling. She's yelling about – it doesn't make sense. Now someone is yelling back."
Woody leans forward. "Male or female?"
I glance up at him, my eyes darting around the room, seeing our 1970s Boston house and not this hotel. "Female." My lips go slack. "Mom's arguing with another woman. About a man. About – I don't know. I hear a sound and my mom's voice changes – she's afraid of something." My fingers go to my lips as they did at lunch. "I run in to be with my mom, to protect her."
"Okay," Woody says. "Where is everyone?"
"Mom's there," I point. "She's facing the other woman."
"Much as it impinges on my manhood, I'll make the sacrifice," Woody tells me, joking gently. "I'm the other woman. Where are you?"
I track my finger across the room. "I run in from the kitchen. My mom puts out a hand, tells me to stop, to go back, but I'm ten and I already know more than she does."
I smile tightly at him. "I see – Oh, God – the woman has a gun. She's pointing it at Mom. I'm going to tackle her and scream for Daddy. It's going to be fine. I'm going to make sure Mom's fine. I run toward the woman with the gun. She hits me." My eyes widen at him. "My lip! She hit me. And – She hit my tooth. I cut her hand! But – She knocked me down. And before I could get up – she – oh, no…." I can barely catch my breath. Woody ends the game and comes to me, holding me as I gasp for breath.
"It's okay, Jordan. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. It's okay."
I slump into his arms and he settles in an armchair, keeping me tight in his embrace. "I tried to save her. I tried, Woody. I really did." The tears are scalding and copious now. My body is wrenched with twenty-five years' worth of sobs.
"Shh, Jo. Of course, you did. You were a kid. You might have been killed, too." He tilts up my chin with one finger. "And then where would I be?"
"Kewaunee?" I ask gamely through the tears.
He laughs and strokes my hair. "I am serious, Jordan. You did everything you could and probably a few things you shouldn't have." His smile is fond. "No surprise there, huh?"
I shake my head and then it bowls me over again. "I didn't kill her."
"No. You wanted to save her."
"All these years – that's why – could that be why I've pushed so hard? I thought maybe I could have done something." I look up at him. "There wasn't anything, was there?"
He shakes his head. "No."
"Maybe that's part of why I couldn't remember."
We are silent for a while. He simply holds me, letting me rest against him. Our reverie is broken by a tap on the door. Dinner has arrived. I manage to eat my way through this meal, though Woody tells me I'm not with him mentally. One little thing nags at me.
Who was the woman?
What had my dad told me? Cherchez la femme?
After dinner, I wander to the window and stare out. I can see the harbor lights; a few sailboats are out for a nighttime jaunt under a luminous moon. "Who was she?"
Woody returns from putting the room service dishes out in the hall. "What?"
"Who was she? The woman that morning?"
He sighs. "Jordan-"
"I need to know."
"Isn't it enough that you know it wasn't – it wasn't you." He hesitates. "And it wasn't your dad."
I shake my head. "It's not enough."
"What are you hoping for?" I can hear the frustration in his voice. "After all this time?"
"Nigel ran simulations, you said-"
"Jordan! He ran those to prove you didn't do it! You know anything any of us find out wouldn't stand up in court."
I whirl, tears thick in my throat. "I know that! But I need to know. I need to know who took away my mother, my childhood, hell, most of my adult life!"
He crosses the room and puts his arms around me. "All right. Yeah, okay." His voice is soft. I think he understands. He is motherless, too, after all. But at least he has a name for what stole his mother. I need that. "What do you want to do?"
I pull away and push my hair from my face. "Maybe if I try harder…."
He waits for a moment. "Do you want to do this tomorrow? We're both tired."
I shake my head. "But if you – It's okay. I understand."
"No, I'll stay."
I let out a breath of relief. I've done this on my own for so long, been so resigned to that. The simple thought of having someone else – no, having Woody – here helps.
He sits on the edge of the bed. "Did your mom know her?"
I shrug. "I don't… well, she must have. Mom let the woman in and it was – it was early."
"Okay. Who might have stopped by early in the morning?"
"I – I don't know. Mom didn't have a lot of close friends, not after all her – her problems."
"The Avon lady?" He scrubs a hand through his hair.
I smile sadly and shake my head.
He sits up. "How long before the argument started?"
My eyes widen a bit. "Almost immediately." I'm pacing. "Okay, who would she have argued with like that?"
"You said they were arguing about a man? I hate to ask, but…?" His expression is apologetic.
I wave away his concern. "Yeah, it could have been a jealous wife. She. – Yeah." I chew my lower lip and then shake my head again. "But – No. It wasn't about that. I mean, I think maybe the other woman said something…." I'm ten again and words I don't really understand are flying between my mom and this intruder. "You sent him to my house! My house!" I'm unaware I've said anything.
"What? Jordan? Hey." Woody's voice is far away and anxious.
I blink, bringing myself back. "What?"
"You said – You said 'You sent him to my house! My house!'"
I nod. "That's what the other woman said to my mom."
I'm slipping away again, back to the dining room. "I didn't send him."
"Jordan, you're scaring me." I can feel Woody's hands on my arms, feel his fingers tightening around my biceps.
"He already knew. He knew."
Woody says my name again. He shakes me gently. "Jordan!"
I swallow and nod at him. "I'm okay."
"You were – not here."
"I know. I used to get like that sometimes. With Dad."
"Why would this woman have been mad about your mom sending the woman's husband back?"
I shake my head at him. "She didn't send the husband back." I look at him. "They weren't talking about an affair – at least not one that was going on then."
"Why would this woman care?"
"Because she was Malden's wife. And he was already climbing the ladder. If his affair with my mom and James' birth had come out…?"
"Goodbye, Chief of Police someday."
"Yeah." I exhale angrily. "It makes a lot of sense. Malden must have known. God."
"Jordan?" His eyes are filled with concern. "I hate to ask this, but are you sure?"
"She hit me."
He nods. "Split your lip open." I gesture that he should continue. For a moment he looks at sea, then a grin lights up his face. "You said you – what? Bit her?"
I laugh. "Not exactly, but she scraped her hand on my tooth. I remember it bled."
"Got her good, huh?"
"As much as I could at ten, I guess."
"Think you could prove it?"
"Maybe." I check my watch before placing a call. "Nige? Yeah, hi. Yeah, yeah. Okay. You're right, all right? Sheesh! Look, I need a favor. I know, I know, what else is new?" He enumerates a few of the many favors he's done over the years, but agrees. "In my desk – or where Macy put my – still there, huh?" I grin. "Well, okay, there's this picture. It's of my dad, taken at my mom's funeral. Remember Chief Malden? He's in the picture, with his wife. She must have been comforting my dad or something because she's got her hand on his arm." I hear drawers being opened and wait until Nigel's triumphant "aha" greets me. "Can you see anything on her hand? What? You sure? Thanks, Nige. What? I'll explain it all. I promise!" I roll my eyes in good humor as he harangues me. "When I get back. I'll explain when I get back." I look at Woody, my eyes questioning. He shrugs and whispers there are flights every morning out of Kingsford-Smith. "Soon, Nige. Soon."
"Well?" But Woody is already smiling at me.
"She's wearing a bandage on her right hand. Nigel says he'd have to blow it up, but it looks like the bandage didn't cover the whole wound and what you can see appears to be thin, gouging cut." I smile at him in triumph. "Just like the scrape a child's tooth might make."
He gives me a moment. "How do you feel?"
"Motherless." My mouth twitches down for a moment. "That's never going to change, is it?"
He shakes his head.
"But also – free. Everything – I loved her, Woody. Dad loved her. But she had so many problems. Maybe now I can get some perspective on them."
"You can stop waiting for her problems to become yours?"
I nod. "I don't owe her anything now. Except to remember the good times."
He reaches for my hand, lacing my fingers in his. "Good. Because I think there are a lot of things you owe yourself." He tugs me to him, his free hand resting in the small of my back. Gently, he kisses me.
I pull back – softly, easily, my heart fluttering with hope and fear.
"Bad timing?" He asks.
"No… not exactly." I put my hands against his chest. "Woody, when – when you were shot-"
"I know. I heard you."
"And then you told me it didn't change things."
He looks down and scuffs the carpet with his shoe, just like a child caught in some naughty act.
"The way you acted after that… things you said."
He places his hands over mine and meets my gaze. "I was a jackass."
"Woody, I've been hurt – a lot more than I like to admit – but nothing has ever felt that bad. I need to know – I need to know where – where we are." I am fighting tears. "I'm not asking for promises and – and all of that – but I feel like I could be on shaky ground again. If I stayed here… Nothing would be the same, but it's stable."
He nods. "Do you want to come home, Jo?"
Slowly, gravely, I dip my head down, raising it ever so slowly to give my assent.
"Then come back. Come back with me. You are everything I've ever needed and I am never – never – going to be stupid enough to push you away again." His eyes plead with me to believe him.
I lean into him. "Those sound a lot like promises, Detective Hoyt."
He tilts up my chin. "They'll sound a lot like vows if you'll have me."
Thirty-six hours – or something like that - Woody just calls it Groundhog Day, after the Bill Murray movie – we're both back in Boston. Nigel greets me, asking how my walkabout went. Bug acts as if nothing has happened; Lily hugs me as if I'd been on safari, captured by pygmies and threatened with being the main course at their evening meal; Garret welcomes me back with a closed door. I stop short until I notice he's placed a hand-written sign over his stenciled name. I grin and knock, not waiting for his permission.
"Heck of a promotion," I congratulate him.
He smiles wryly. "Well, I figured – You know."
"So, should we call you 'Saint' or is just 'Jude' okay?"
"I was thinking of 'Your Holiness'."
"Tsk, tsk. That's the Pope!" I give him a hug. "And I think I'm found. Finally."
He nods. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"I had all sorts of reasons. They made great sense at the time."
"Can we not talk about them?"
"I thought I knew who killed my mother," I start without preface. "My dad even confirmed it."
Garret nods. "Max really did know all these years."
"You could say that."
He looks askance at me. "But…?"
"Garret, my father found me standing over my mother's body, holding the gun that killed her, covered in her blood. He'd heard an argument going on downstairs." I raise my eyes to his. "He got me out of the room, got me cleaned up and by that time, I'd blanked it all out. He saw a chance to save me."
"And he took it." Garret nods. "I can understand that."
I shrug. "He couldn't protect me forever. The dreams? It finally all came back. I killed her."
"Jordan – why didn't you say anything?"
"Because all of you would have given me that look you have now – the one Father Paul gave me, the one Woody gave me, the mild version Pollack tried to hide when I told him – disbelief, pity, even a determination to protect me. I couldn't deal with that."
"So you left."
"But now you can deal with it?"
"Woody ran into Paul. Something Paul said got them talking about me and why I'd left. When Paul told Woody that he couldn't tell Woody why I left, but Woody should think about what he knew about me – Woody put it together. And with Nigel's help, they ran a few tests they shouldn't have." I grin; they'd learned so well from me. "All of the tests proved I couldn't have killed her."
"That's why Woody went to Sydney."
"Yeah. And now… now I really do know who killed her."
For a moment, my own personal Saint Jude, patron of lost causes, stares solemnly at me. At last, with his usual matter-of-fact tone, he asks, "What are you going to do about it?"
I shrug. "There's not a lot I can do about it. The woman who did it is, the last I heard, in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer's. The men who helped cover it up? One is dead and the other – the other believed I did it." I look out Garret's window. It is cold and gray and it is home. "I have to think about that."
"Can I ask?"
I turn my gaze to him once again. "Who it was?"
He whistles. "They must have been a match made in Hell."
I nibble on my lower lip. "Ambition, ruthlessness, lack of anything resembling a moral bone in their bodies…yeah."
He hugs me gently at that and whispers his words of welcome. He also tells me that I, Jordan Cavanaugh, have used up every chance he'll ever give me. I grin, figuring I'll break it to him that Jordan Cavanaugh won't need such chances in the future. He can learn how to deal with Jordan Hoyt soon enough.
It's the truth that there isn't much I can do about the truth I've learned, but I still cannot let it all simply fade away, the vivid colors of murder leeching to pale grays and whites. The time is long past for the most honest conversation I've ever had with my father. But first there is one more person I must see.
They tell me Mrs. Malden has her good and her bad days. I don't really care. I just want to see her. She is in her room, sitting in a chair watching it snow. The nurse has told me it's been a good morning so far, but when she introduces me to Helen Malden, her face is blank. Nearly. The nurse leaves with a sigh.
I crouch next to this woman. My skin crawling, I pick up her hand, speaking softly. "I'm Jordan Cavanaugh. Do you remember me? Your husband and my father were on the police force together."
Fear is in her face. This is not the fear of confusion or embarrassment. Nonetheless, she stammers, "I don't know you. I'm sorry. I have trouble…."
I smile gently. "Oh, I think you remember me quite well." I lift up the hand I'm holding gently. There, on the back of the hand, almost lost among the wrinkles and age spots, there is a tiny, vertical scar. "I think you remember that I gave you this scar, as a little girl."
Her eyes are huge and her mouth gapes open. Slowly she shakes her head. I'm almost impressed, in spite of myself, at her bravado.
"I know you remember. And the thing is – I finally do, too." I pause, letting it sink in. "I remember everything. Everything."
She gasps and her hand jerks free from mine. "Get out!" she hisses. "Don't ever come back here!"
I raise an eyebrow at her. "Don't worry. I won't. I just wanted you to know that you didn't get away with it."
"She was a tramp," the old woman spits at me. "She was a mental case."
"At least she wasn't a cold blooded killer. And she never would have let a father believe his own daughter killed his wife." I take a breath. "Her demons chose her; you struck a deal with yours."
I walk out and leave my guest badge at the nurses' desk. The young assistant asks me how it went. I smile sadly and tell the girl that my old family friend didn't recall much.
Woody is waiting for me when I get back to the parking lot. I shake my head at him. He puts out his arms and I walk into them. "I knew you couldn't stay away," he murmurs.
I shake my head.
"Did she remember… you?"
I raise my eyes to his. "She knew everything. Tried pretending she didn't, but she did."
I have to think about that for a moment. "Yeah. I think – Yeah."
"Even though no one will ever pay for Emily's murder?"
I snort. "People have paid, Woody."
"You know what I mean, Jo."
I slide out of his arms and begin walking to my car, his arm around my waist. "Woody. I was a cop's daughter long before I was an M.E. and I've been an M.E. a long time now – I know the difference between justice and the justice the legal system metes out. I know what happened to her now. I know the truth. And I know that in terms of payment…." I shake my head. "Malden's dead, my dad's living in the shadows, my brother's dead, Malden's wife's brain is slowly turning to Swiss cheese…."
He releases me as we arrive at the El Camino. I key open the lock and slide in, opening his side. "And Jordan Cavanaugh?" he asks as he argues with the seat belt, which doesn't want to buckle this morning.
I smile at him. "I'd done paying. I'm done paying and I'm done making everyone in my life pay for that morning."
He leans over to kiss me and is stopped short by the seat belt; apparently it decided we were going to be in a crash and should not allow any give. Woody growls at it and wrestles the buckle free. He slides closer to me and gives me a kiss that makes me want to forget we're in a parking lot in broad daylight.
That night I call my dad – or more correctly, I call the number he gave me. I leave him a simple message. "Hey, Dad. Guess what? I didn't do it. I know who did." Nigel starts an office pool – whoever can guess how long it'll take before Max is back in Boston wins the pot. He laughs when I ask how many chances I can buy. The winner surprises me – mostly because it's the espresso vender from the corner stand. I guess we Cavanaughs are not exactly masters of subtlety.
I'm at my desk, feeling only mildly like a 'roo kicked me in the head – yes, the jet lag is fading slowly – when he says my name. I look up to find Dad's eyes boring holes into me. His face is both eager and fearful. In the end, I tell him the story simply. I watch as he realizes how much of the friction between us has been unnecessary, maybe evitable even. I want to tell him not to regret those years – they have made me who I am and, crazy, obsessive, commitment-shy, stubborn, I wouldn't change it.
Dad stays only a few days this time. The night before he plans on leaving, Woody asks to talk to him after a dinner we've shared at Dad's house.
"Christ, Woody, I'm tired. I've got that early flight. Can we do it in the morning?"
Of course, neither Woody nor I believe my dad will actually still be here in the morning. Every subtle sign is that he'll bolt under cover of darkness.
"Sorry, Max. This is important." He glances over at me. "Really important and I don't want to leave it until the morning. Just in case, you know."
Max flicks up an eyebrow. So what if he knows we're on to him? The game, the dance goes on, but the music is lighter now. "All right, all right," he says with a put-upon sigh.
Woody stammers his beginning. "Um, Max – Mr. Cavanaugh, I mean – I think perhaps you've noticed I have feelings for your daughter, Jordan."
"Woody," my dad drawls. "Half those corpses she autopsies have noticed you have feelings for her. And I thank you for clarifying that my daughter is Jordan."
My poor detective blushes to the roots of his spiky hair. He opens his mouth several times. Part of me has the urge to club him on the head the way you do a fish gasping like that. It might be kinder. Not nearly as fun though. "I – uh – of course." Woody swallows and straightens his tie. "Well, then, I suppose you won't be – will say – That is… I would like… Oh, hell," he mutters. "I'm asking for your daughter's hand in marriage. It may seem very old-fashioned to you but I think it says a lot about my values and how I feel about the sanctity of marriage and…."
Wow, he actually said sanctity of marriage. I'm biting my cheek to keep from laughing. Sanctity being what it is and all.
Max stares at Woody, his face blank, his eyes cold stones. Finally he speaks and I realize I've been holding my breath. Maybe I'm not as jaded as I sometimes feel. "My daughter's hand? My daughter – Jordan by name – her hand?" Oh, Dad is enjoying this.
Woody gulps and nods.
My suitor's face falls. I have to admit, my heart pounds wildly as well.
"No?" Woody managed only a squeak.
"No," Dad repeats. "You have to take all of her – not just her hand."
It takes a good half a minute for Dad's lame joke to sink in. Then Woody beams in relief and tries to compliment Max on his sense of humor. His heart isn't in it though. I think his heart is actually still in his throat.
Dad hugs me and shakes Woody's hand, telling him I'll keep him on his toes.
When we wake up in the morning, he's gone. The note says to call and leave a message and he'll come back for the wedding. He's been trying to get rid of me all these years, he's not going to miss out now. Woody chuckles and holds me to him. "I am never going to try to get rid of you, Jordan. You know that, right?"
I smile up at him, my chin tilted, my eyes still bleary and have closed. "You've mentioned something like that. Wanna remind me?"
He lifts me off the floor and carries me back to bed to remind me of just that.