Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. "Ft. Repose" first appeared in Pat Frank's novel, Alas, Babylon and represented the town of Mt. Dora, Florida. Original plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2007.
Written for Prince Charon's "Helen as Daria's Grandmother" Iron Chef challenge.
Of course, I was a young mother. Too young, really. - Helen Morgendorffer, College Bored
I only wish I could have gone to my mother before I made such an awful mistake. What is it about stunt drivers that makes otherwise level-headed teenage girls just whip off their... - Helen Morgendorffer, My Night at Daria's
Not bothering to change out of the t-shirt and shorts she had slept in, Daria shuffled down the stairs to the living room. It was almost noon and the laziness of summer felt good, even though she knew it wouldn't last long. A week had passed since her high school graduation and breakup with Tom. To the inwardly sensitive teen, it seemed as if her mother was giving her time to adjust to the change in her life. Therefore, it was surprising to see her parents patiently waiting in the living room on a weekday. She said, "Mom, Dad?"
Helen gently said, "Daria, you're old enough now. We need to talk."
Suspicious, Daria took a seat on the closest sofa and joked to cover her worry, "Did Quinn max out the gold card again?"
Helen and Jake looked at each other for several seconds. From a thick manila folder on the coffee table, Helen took an aged photograph and slid it across the table to Daria. She picked it up to see the face of a newborn infant. "Who is this?"
Helen seemed to shiver as she said, "That is my oldest daughter, Anastasia. Only a few people know about her. I was sixteen when she was born."
"I…have an older sister. Why are you telling only me? Shouldn't you include Quinn?" Daria asked in rapid succession.
Helen swallowed hard and struggled to speak while Jake held her for support. She said, "You need to understand something first."
Helen's eyes tried to fill with tears. "Sweetie, you need to understand that I only have two daughters…and one granddaughter."
Jake held onto his wife as she turned to rest her face against his chest. He said to Daria, "Anastasia is your mother."
"My mother?" Daria stammered in shock. "That means…"
"Helen is your grandmother," Jake barely was able to say, "and I'm sorry, kiddo, but…I'm not your grandfather."
Sweat-soaked, exhausted, and numbed by anesthetics against the pain, Helen held her baby close to her chest and said, "Anastasia, say 'hi' to your grandmother."
Standing next to the bed in the recovery room, Mrs. Barksdale seemed annoyed and said, "You named her?"
Not even trying to fight the tears, the frightened teenager said, "Mom, I'm giving her up. A name is the least I can do for her."
The older woman rested a hand on her daughter and tried to comfort Helen. "You know it's for the best - for her and for you. Please, don't get too attached."
"That's easy for you to say."
"No, it's not," Mrs. Barksdale replied, sadly shaking her head. "She's my granddaughter, too."
"Mom, we can still keep her," Helen pleaded.
"Helen," her mother said, "we talked this over. Give your child a chance to grow up with a real family. A 16-year old mother and a worthless stunt car driver father that lives in a travel trailer is not what she deserves. Besides, you know what kind of stigma she, and you, will face here in Virginia."
Helen nodded. "I know, but it's so hard to let her go."
Mrs. Barksdale nodded and watched her child and grandchild. Despite her resolve to see this through for everyone's best interest, her heart was breaking. She asked, "Why Anastasia?"
Helen looked into her baby's eyes. "Because she's going to disappear, just like the Russian duchess."
Hearing the doorbell, Helen called across their comfortable apartment, "I'll get it, Jakey." When she opened the door, she found a man and woman wearing dark suits. The woman had a diaper bag slung over one shoulder and held an infant in a carrier.
The man asked, "Helen Morgendorffer? Formerly Helen Barksdale?"
"That's correct," she answered, wondering what was going on.
The man said, "My name is David Tomlinson and this is Wilma Baker. We're with Children and Family Services. May we come in?"
"You may, though I don't know why you would have business here."
Mrs. Baker said, "It's complicated."
"Have a seat," Helen said. "Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thank you," Mr. Tomlinson said.
"Hi, there," Jake said, entering the living room. Seeing the carrier, he went to it and crouched over. "Aw, you have such a cute baby."
In a low voice while Jake was preoccupied, Mr. Tomlinson asked Helen, "Does your husband know about the child you had when you were sixteen?"
"No, and what does that have to do with anything?" she sharply replied.
He sighed. "It complicates things. The baby is your granddaughter."
Taken by surprise, she said, "My granddaughter?"
Mr. Tomlinson nodded and led Helen back to the living room. "I think we need to start by telling your husband."
Jake looked up and said, "We've been talking about children. What do you think, honey?"
It took a while to calm Jake back down after telling him. Once calm, Helen's experience in law school led her to ask, "Anastasia was adopted and the records were sealed. How do you know that this is my granddaughter and why have you brought her here?"
"There's no easy way to tell you this," Mrs. Baker said. "You daughter is dead, along with her adoptive parents."
"Oh, God," Helen said. "What happened?"
"I don't know. It happened out of state and we weren't given any details. The child has no other acceptable living relatives that could adopt her." Mr. Tomlinson explained. "Court permission was given to open the adoption records to see if the biological grandmother could be found. If so, to see if you are willing to adopt this child."
"Could you bring her here?" Helen requested.
Mrs. Baker placed the carrier on Helen's lap and said, "She's three months old."
Helen gently caressed the baby's face and her heart melted. "What's her name?"
Helen held onto Jake as they told the story. During that time, Daria hadn't taken her eyes off of the photo. You're my mother. Who are you? Realizing that her parents had stopped talking and were watching her, she asked, with difficulty, "What happened to…my mother?"
Sadly, Helen said, "We don't know. They didn't tell us."
"Have you tried to find out?"
"Of course I tried. My daughter and the mother of my granddaughter was dead. I've never given up. Everything I've managed to dig up is in this file, but most of it leads nowhere. Something very strange happened to your mother and her parents that someone wants hidden. But so far, I don't know who that may be, even though I've spent the last eighteen years looking."
Daria said, "Even though you're a lawyer."
She nodded. "I'm positive that Mr. Tomlinson and Mrs. Baker weren't social workers. The birth certificate they provided was made up."
"My birth certificate is a forgery?"
"It has all the hallmarks of a real certificate…only one that was issued after the fact with names and hospital records altered." It took Helen a couple seconds to find the certificate and pull it out. "Do you really think your mother was called 'Ana Smith'?"
"You think the government is involved?"
"I think so," Helen agreed. "Your adoption went through with surprising ease and speed."
Placing the photo on the table, Daria picked up the folder and looked at the birth certificate, noting that one line was blank. "Who was my father?"
This time, Jake spoke up. "We don't know that, either."
"So he may be alive?" Daria asked.
"It's possible, but remember, sweetie," Helen said. "Your mother was 16. There's a good chance your father was also a teen at the time, and may not even know that he has a child. He also may have been one of the people that they said was 'unacceptable' to adopt you."
"Do you really find that excuse of 'unacceptable' believable?"
"No, sweetie. I think you were taken out of some situation for your protection. Maybe the family was in a cult. I simply don't know."
Daria placed everything back in the folder. "May I look at this?"
Both of her parents nodded. Helen said, "Of course."
Daria slowly stood and started back to her room. Halfway up the stairs, she paused and said, "What about Quinn? She is your daughter, right?"
"Daria," Helen said. "Even though you came to us out of the blue, we loved you and knew that we wanted another child."
"I see. Are you going to tell her?"
"When you're ready."
"Okay." Showing the folder, Daria said, "I'm going to need a scanner."
Seated on the floor of Daria's room and looking through the paperwork with her friend, Jane jokingly said, "So, are you going to start calling her 'Auntie Quinn' now?"
Daria looked up wearing a slight smirk. "That would freak her out in front of her friends. And think of how much 'great-aunt' will make Rita and Amy squirm."
Jane placed a hand on Daria's. "You're either taking this very well, or you're half a second away from screaming hysterics."
"More like curling up into a whimpering ball." Daria held up the picture. "One photo. All of this and there's only one photo."
"What about this?" Jane said, holding a second photo.
"That's me; it was attached to my new birth certificate."
Jane held the two side by side. "I can see the resemblance. Both of you are so cute."
"All babies look alike."
"Come on, Daria. No, they don't."
"Okay, they don't," she acquiesced. "But I have a hard time picturing an infant as my mother. I wish there had been at least a picture of her with me. Something to tell me what she was like."
"She must've gone to school somewhere."
"Mom looked into that. She never found evidence for Anastasia Smith, Ana Smith or any other variation within the right time frame attending any school with publicly available records."
"Wow, this is turning into a real mystery."
Suddenly determined, Daria said, "One that I'm going to solve."
"Oh?" Jane said, curious.
Rising and going to her computer desk, Daria selected Raft College's course catalog from the shelf, checked the index and then opened to the proper page, showing it to Jane.
She tilted her head and said, "Are you serious? Department of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science?"
"Mom could only go so far with her legal training. I need something more specialized."
"What about your writing?" Jane inquired.
"I'll never give that up," Daria said. "But a Creative Writing degree won't help me find out what happened to my mother, nor where she's buried."
"Visiting her grave will be the closest I'll ever have to meeting her."
"Maybe you are in the Witness Protection Program," Quinn suggested after the initial shock had worn off. "Like you told the other bridesmaids at Erin's wedding."
"And I was taken in after the mob killed my real family." Daria said, finishing the thought. "Not likely, though it is consistent with what evidence Mom has collected."
Quinn smiled. "You called her 'Mom.'"
"I don't think I'll ever be able to call her Grandma."
"I don't know; I think I'm going to enjoy calling you my niece."
"Do you really want me calling you 'Aunt' in front of Sandi and all of your friends? Better yet, how about me calling you that in front of your next date?"
"Okay Daria, truce," Quinn said, surrendering.
"Because I still think of you as my sister."
Wearing her old Mark Twain night shirt, Daria lay on her bed and stared at the picture of her mother. "Sixteen. I can't imagine having a child when I was sixteen. You must've been terrified. Did you parents support you? Hate you? Who was my father? Was he around or did he run away? How did you die?"
She held the photo to her chest. "Did you love me? I don't remember you. I don't remember you at all. I promise that I will learn everything I can about you. You won't be forgotten."
"Daria L. Morgendorffer. Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science. Magna Cum Laude," the college president announced from the podium. Daria walked across the stage and accepted the diploma folder from the middle-aged woman and shook her hand. After pausing to smile for Jake to take a photograph, Daria finished crossing the stage as the next graduate's name was called. Inside her black academic gown, the photo of Anastasia rested in Daria's shirt pocket. On the way to her seat among the other graduates, Daria thought, Soon, I can start to look in earnest.
Afterwards, Daria found Jake, Helen, Quinn, Jane and even Trent in the waiting crowd. Helen was the first to reach her, grabbing her in a close embrace and saying, "Congratulations, sweetie."
"Thanks, Mom," Daria said, still unable to call her anything else.
"Great going, kiddo," Jake added, joining the hug with his wife. After they finally freed Daria, she accepted hugs from Quinn, Jane and Trent.
To Trent, she said, "I guess this means you're showing up for Jane's graduation next week."
He shrugged and said, "Yeah, figured someone from the family should be there."
"Oh, and he's going to help you pack," Jane said. "Because he's moving in after you leave for Virginia."
"Trent, who's going to watch Casa Lane?" Daria asked.
"Now that Wind's out of jail, he's staying there," Trent answered.
"Is that a good idea?"
"Probably not, but it's time I moved on."
"And in with your sister," Daria said. "Some people could make rude comments about that."
"Hey!" Jane retorted, pushing Daria with one arm. "I need a roommate I can trust, now that you're leaving."
"I'm sorry, Jane, I know you really like Boston, but when the FBI offered me a posting in Richmond, I couldn't pass it up. It's the best place to start looking for my birth mother."
Helen's eyes misted. "You're still determined, aren't you, sweetie."
"I will find out what happened to her. For both of us," Daria said.
"You know, Daria," Quinn said. "Richmond isn't that far from Washington, D.C. and I hear that there are a lot of intelligent, handsome young men around there."
Daria gave her aunt a friendly smile. "You don't give up, do you?"
"No, I don't," she replied with a smirk. "I want my niece to be happy."
Daria pulled Jane over and then pointed at her. "It's not like I haven't had somebody else spending the last four years getting me out of the house."
Jane rolled her eyes faux-dramatically and said, "Usually with a crow bar."
"And you're afraid I'll forget how to go out if you're not around," Daria replied. "I'm touched."
"More like if you're not reminded," Jane shot back. "But seriously, we all know how serious you take everything, especially looking for your mother. We just don't want you to forget to have a life of your own."
Helen said, "She's right, sweetie. I'm sure Anastasia would want you to be happy."
"Okay, okay," Daria relented. "I promise I won't be an obsessed hermit."
Lounging on the sofa in her one-bedroom apartment, Daria held a phone against her ear with her shoulder while surfing through TV channels. "I'll be in court tomorrow morning. At least, I hope it's only morning, but you know how these things can drag out."
In her Boston apartment, Jane said, "They didn't warn you about that part in FBI school, did they?"
"They didn't exactly talk about it much."
"Been out with anyone interesting lately?"
Daria sighed. "No, I haven't. Life's been pretty busy lately."
Jane gently scolded her friend, "Daria, you promised not to be a hermit."
"I'm not," she defended. "I've just had a lot to do. My office really is understaffed, what with how many agents are working the anti-terror side these days. Besides, you and I are only twenty-four, it's not like we're turning into old maids or anything. Tell you what: I'll send my next Melody chapter for you to read, just to show that I'm not all work like certain other relatives of mine."
"You do that, Morgendorffer," Jane said. "But also get out and meet some guys. Or gals, hell, it doesn't matter to me."
"I should be glad that you didn't try to set me up with your sisters when we were in high school."
"You know what I mean, Daria. Don't forget, we lived together for three years. You tend to become a cavewoman if someone doesn't push you outside occasionally."
"I get out, don't worry, and not just to archives and libraries. But let's be honest: I don't like the idea of dating from within the office, and a lot of guys outside get funny about dating an FBI agent."
"They're just afraid of a five-foot-two chick that can kick their ass and packs a nine millimeter."
"Which limits my selections."
"Okay, you've got me on that one. But still, you're my friend and I don't want you to be alone."
"Thanks. Though as long as I can call you, I won't be alone." Before Jane could say something, Daria added, "And I'm not talking about phone sex."
Walking down the steps of the Richmond Federal Courthouse, Daria though wryly of how Quinn and Helen would approve of her tailored, green business suit. It fit perfectly and was feminine while still giving a sense that Daria was serious about her business. It was a necessary change for her line of work, but still hinted at her old ways to those that knew her.
One of the deputy prosecutors jogged down the steps after her, saying, "You were great in there."
"Just doing my job and presenting what I found," she replied.
"Oh, you did more than that. You stayed calm and collected through the entire cross-examination. Hell, you even had the lead defense attorney unnerved by the end."
"I was raised by a lawyer and learned how to deal with it."
He laughed. "Here, I thought it was bad being raised by a school teacher."
"Ouch, I could see that being a challenge."
"Say, would you like to grab some lunch?" the man asked.
"Sorry, I have plans today," she replied without slowing or even really thinking about it.
"Uh, okay. Maybe next time. Anyway, thanks again, Agent Morgendorffer."
They parted ways at the base of the steps and Daria walked to her car. She was in a hurry to get back to the office and claim her lunch hour, which usually consisted of a microwaved meal eaten at her desk as she searched through old records. Using her agent's access, Daria had finally happened upon a line of investigation that she thought would be productive and she was anxious to look through the material.
At her office desk, Daria excitedly opened a large envelope from the FBI archives and took out the paper inside. The typewritten summary document was labeled, "CASE: FL-ORL-83-0013" and was dated January, 1983. Daria started reading the redacted statement:
Sometime between 0100 and 0400 EST 14 January, 1983, an unknown number of assailants entered the residence of Peter and Nancy Jones at 12 Mason Grove Road, Ft. Repose, FL. No sign of forced entry was detected. Mr. and Mrs. Jones, along with their daughter, Ana, were taken to the living room and each was killed execution style by a single .38 caliber gunshot wound to the head. No weapon was recovered at the scene and no gunshots were reported by neighbors. The bodies were found by Mrs. Joan Bowers, who, with her daughter, had arrived at 0730 to take Ana to school. Uninjured, possibly because the assailant(s) were unaware of or overlooked her, was Mr. and Mrs. Jones' granddaughter, XXXXX.
Daria felt a wave of bitter cold settle into her stomach, forcing her to stop reading. Before she could continue, Daria was startled by her telephone ringing. She picked it up and said, "Agent Morgendorffer."
On the phone, her supervisor said, "Daria, please come to my office. I have something I need to tell you."
"Yes, sir," she replied, wondering what would require a personal visit. She put the summary back in the shipping folder and returned it to her filing cabinet before leaving her office. She spent the time walking down the hall to regain her composure. At the door Daria knocked and said, "You wanted to see me?"
The balding, middle-aged man nodded and said, "Please, sit down," as he placed a letter on the desk in front of her. "This came in today."
She sat and picked up the letter, reading it. Surprised, she said, "I'm being transferred?"
"That's right," he said. "Rest assured that I had nothing to do with this. You're a fine agent and I'd rather keep you in this office."
"My guess is that someone down there heard about you and called in some markers."
Daria looked down at the letter again and the office she would be transferring to: Orlando, Florida. This can't be a coincidence. Checking the date, she said, "They want me to start in a month?"
He said, "That's correct. I hate to see you leave, but that's the way things go at times. Finish up your cases or get them ready to hand off to another agent. Other than that, I suggest you start apartment hunting. The Bureau has housing assistance available for these cases; I suggest that you take advantage of it."
"I think that I had better. According to the transfer, I'll work under David Lindsey. Do you know him?"
"Good man, career Bureau who's nearing retirement. Maybe he's looking for a new protégé. It wouldn't hurt your career if he was."
"Maybe," Daria said, wary. "If you will excuse me, I think I have a lot to do."
"Yes you do, Agent Morgendorffer. And good luck."
Back in her office, Daria quickly pulled the summary file from the cabinet and looked at the name of agent in charge: David Lindsey.
"Turn right at the next intersection," the computer voice of Daria's GPS navigator said.
"It's either that or left. I'm glad I have you along," she replied to the device. After a day and a half on the road, she was glad to be nearing her destination. After leaving the interstate at a crowded interchange, the road she was on had quickly turned into a rural two-lane and she had enjoyed the comparative relaxation.
Only as she had neared Ft. Repose had signs of civilization returned: a small town a couple of miles before, small businesses, a couple of seemingly new subdivisions scattered among older homesteads, and once she had passed a major highway, a classic suburb that looked like it had been built in the sixties. Driving through town and following the voice directions of the navigator, Daria allowed herself to look around. Ft. Repose seemed quaint and still felt like a small town, though one that was fighting back against the rapid growth all around.
"Turn left into driveway. You have arrived at your destination," the computer voice said. Daria parked and looked at the small apartment building. The New England inspired wooden building seemed to fit in perfectly among the stately live oak and magnolia trees growing on the green lawn. A neatly painted sign said, "Southern Blossom Apartments." The young woman stepped out and said, "Looks nice on the outside."
The inside was also nice. The century-old lobby was well-maintained and still showed the dignified style of its early days. Daria entered the door marked "Office" and found a white-haired man of around sixty at a desk, working at a computer. On the wall were old photographs of police officers and several law enforcement awards. He looked up and said, "May I help you, miss?"
"I'm Daria Morgendorffer and I arranged to rent an apartment."
"Oh, Miss Morgendorffer, such a pleasure to meet you," the landlord said, rising to shake her hand with old-school, southern charm. "I'm Anthony Saylor, the owner. Your apartment is ready, number 24. Would you like to see it?"
Returning the handshake, she said, "Please. It's been a long trip. Have my belongings arrived?"
"Not yet, miss. I'll let you know as soon as they do. Follow me."
The man took her up a wooden staircase to the second floor of the building. "We have an elevator if you wish. I prefer the stairs. Helps me feel young."
"The stairs are fine," Daria said.
The apartment was as advertised, almost reminding Daria of the place she and Jane had shared in Boston. One bedroom, bath with an antique claw-footed tub, kitchen with a small, attached dining room, and a living room. Off the living room was a small balcony that looked out over the tree-lined street. Mr. Saylor took a pair of keys from his pocket and said, "The power is on and so is the water. Here are your keys; I hope everything is to your liking."
"It looks fine," Daria said. "I have a few things in my car to unload, but otherwise I'm waiting for everything else."
"Very well, Miss Morgendorffer. Please call if you need anything."
Daria lifted a box of books from her car trunk and almost ran into a blond-haired man who had stopped behind her. He looked like someone Quinn would dream up as being from Florida: tall, tanned and well-muscled, wearing sweat pants and shirt. "Um, excuse me," she said.
Backing up, he said with Florida's hybrid southern accent, "I'm sorry. I was about to ask if you would like a hand. You must be the new tenant in 24. I'm your neighbor in number 22, name's Kade Ellis."
"Oh, hi. I'm Daria Morgendorffer and I'm lazy enough not to refuse an offer for manual labor."
He grabbed a second box of books, saying, "A pragmatic woman, I see."
"I've had lots of practice," she explained.
After several more trips, Daria's car was empty and she was directing him to leave the last box on the floor of the bedroom. When he came out, she said, "Thank you for the help."
He shrugged and said, "Just being neighborly."
"Well, I appreciate it." When her stomach audibly growled, Daria asked, "Is there someplace close to grab lunch or a good, quick pizza delivery?"
Kade said, "There are plenty of places to eat downtown and it's only a couple of blocks away. Be easier to walk than to try to find a place to park on Saturday."
"Tell you what," Daria said, "I'll buy you lunch if you can show me to the closest one."
"Deal. Mind if I run to my place and change into some clean clothes?"
Daria looked down at herself. "I suppose I could use a change, too. How about we meet in the lobby in about five minutes?"
"I'll be there."
Five minutes later, he was there, wearing jeans and a comfortable plaid shirt. Daria said, "Lead on," and motioned to the door.
The walk along shaded sidewalks was pleasant and soon Kade brought her to an open air Cuban place called Fernando's on a corner of one of the main downtown streets. The downtown was filled with people going in and out of small stores, many specializing in antiques, art or collectibles. Within only a few blocks, Daria could also see several other eateries, all within easy walking distance. As the hostess seated them, Daria said, "I can see a lot of excuses not to cook around here."
Patting his stomach, Kade said, "Yeah, it can be hard on the old waistline."
The waitress came by and asked, "Would you care for drinks?"
"Just coffee," Daria said. "Cream and sugar."
"Café con Leche?" she asked, "Or American coffee?"
"I suppose I should expand my horizons," Daria said. "I'll try the first one."
"Very good." The waitress then asked, "Sir?"
"Café Cubano," Kade answered.
The waitress said, "I'll be right back with your coffees," and hurried away.
Daria asked, "Okay, what did I just order?"
He chuckled. "Basically, a Cuban Latte."
"That doesn't sound too dangerous."
"Not unless you burn yourself on the milk."
Daria smirked and said, "I'll try to remember that."
After a few quiet moments while each read the menu, Kade asked, "So, where are you from?"
She answered, "Most recently, Richmond. Before that, Boston, Maryland, Texas and back to Virginia."
"So, you were born in Virginia?"
Daria hesitated. "I don't know. I was adopted and the records are sealed."
"You couldn't know. What about you?"
"I'm a rare critter, a native Floridian. So, next stock question. What brings you down here?"
"Job transfer," Daria said.
"What kind of work, if you don't mind?"
"I'm an FBI agent."
"No kidding. I'm an investigator with side training as a forensic scientist."
"That's pretty cool."
"Okay, fair is fair. What do you do?"
"Ft. Repose Police. I'm a patrol officer."
"Really? What are the odds of two people in law enforcement living next to each other?"
"Not as long as you'd think. There was a deputy sheriff that lived on the first floor up until he got married a couple of months ago. Mr. Saylor's an old state policeman and a lot of local agencies know that he prefers to rent rooms to cops."
"That would explain why he was recommended by the Bureau's relocation office."
Finding temporary escape from the pile of loose boxes and several as-yet unplaced pieces of furniture in her apartment, Daria sat on a chair on the balcony to watch the fading sunlight on the street below. She held a cell phone to her ear and said, "As far as I can tell, Mom, everything is here. I don't know yet if it's all intact; I can deal with that tomorrow."
In her living room in Lawndale, Helen spoke to the speakerphone set on the table while around her Jake and Quinn listened, "You moved it all by yourself?"
"No, Mom. Kade, my next-door neighbor, offered to help. He left a little while ago for work."
"Kade?" Quinn said in a voice that Daria knew was accompanied by a grin. "That sounds exotic. What's he like?"
Daria gently laughed at her and said, "Oh, I think you would approve of him. If nothing else, he's nice eye candy."
"So, you can notice what a guy looks like," Quinn teased in return.
Jake sat up, worried. "Candy? What kind of work does he do on a Saturday night?"
"He's a police officer, Dad," she replied. "Which around here means that he's spending the night keeping teenagers out of trouble by pouring out their beer and making sure that they don't park in dark places for too long. On a busy night, they might have a bar fight in one of the places out on the highway."
Helen now sounded worried. "A police officer? Don't you think that's a little too close to your own work?"
"Mom, I just met the man today. He helped me move stuff and I bought him lunch. It's not like we have any kind of relationship."
"You bought him lunch?" Quinn said. "He's going to be back, trust me. You've got his interest."
"You're hopeless," Daria said with an amused sigh.
"No, I'm hopeful," Quinn replied.
After getting her apartment mostly in order the next day, Daria found a park on the shore of Lake Repose that was also within easy walking distance. The view of the marina was picturesque, though she found the green color of the lake water to be somewhat disturbing. Well-to-do houses dotted the low hills surrounding the lake, many featuring boathouses the size of many regular homes. In everything from over-engined bass boats to a small sailboat, several boaters had taken advantage of the cool spring afternoon to be on the lake.
Sitting on a bench, Daria mused, My "birth" certificate says Smith and the case file says Jones. Call me suspicious, but I don't think those are real names. Providing that I am the infant mentioned in the case file and the victims were my mother and grandparents. Still thinking, she stood and walked to the shore and out along a boardwalk leading to a gazebo. The fact that the case officer requested my transfer as soon as I received the file has to mean something. But what?
As Daria reached the gazebo, a snowy egret leapt from the rail and after a short drop, flew away toward the shore. She told it, "I can share." She rested her forearms on another section of rail and continued thinking about reporting to work the next day. Does he want to keep an eye on me and make sure I don't dig too far? If so, why? To hide complicity, or simply his failure?
Daria straightened and sat back against the rail. "Idle speculation won't help you, Morgendorffer. You'll just have to step in and see what happens."
Rhythmic thumps of someone else jogging on the boardwalk brought Daria out of her thoughts and she looked around. "Kade?"
Again dressed in sweats, he stopped just inside the gazebo and leaned forward, hands on his knees. "I was out jogging and saw you. Thought I'd say hello."
Suspicion, both from training and her present worries, colored her reply. "You just happened to be jogging by here."
"Yep, I do it every day." Noting her concern, he said, "Something bothering you?"
"I've been thinking about my new job."
"You start it tomorrow, right?"
"The main office in downtown Orlando?"
"Oh, boy." Kade took a deep breath. "On a good day, the traffic going that way sucks. You'd better be ready for it."
"I went to college in Boston," Daria explained. "I think I can handle the traffic."
"I'm just trying to warn you. Florida collects bad drivers from all over the world."
Daria smirked, her concern seeming to fade without a thought. "Like some great automotive melting pot."
Kade smirked in return. "Pretty much, though it's a little lumpy."
Daria asked, "Do you really jog every day?"
"It's a good way to burn off the donuts I eat while on patrol."
"Feeding the stereotype?"
He shrugged. "I've gotta keep up appearances."
"I don't know if I can believe that. You don't have a donut belly," Daria replied.
"Oops, you caught me. Damn FBI agents."
"That's why they pay us the big bucks."
"I'm sure it's better than what the city pays. Care to walk back to the apartments?"
Daria slightly shook her head. "I still have a few things I want to sort out in my mind. But, um, thanks for the offer."
"Maybe next time."
On Monday morning, Daria parked in a visitor spot in front of the FBI office and got out of her car, stretched and grabbed a slender briefcase. In a slight rush, she went inside, passed through the security check and then went directly to the front desk receptionist. "I'm Agent Daria Morgendorffer; I'm supposed to start work here today."
The thirtyish woman glanced at the clock, noticing that it was ten minutes after eight and said, "Let me guess: you were held up in traffic."
"Yes," Daria replied with a sigh. "It was a lot busier than I thought, even though I'd been warned."
The receptionist chuckled. "You're in Orlando. The traffic is always worse than you expect. Anyway, Chief Lindsey is waiting for you. Fifth floor, all the way down on your right."
Other staff members seemed to ignore Daria as she went to the elevator and rode it up to the fifth floor. The Station Chief's office was at the end of the hall and the secretary immediately said to Daria as she entered, "Ms. Morgendorffer, Mr. Lindsey will see you now."
Daria nodded and said, "Thank you."
Inside was a bald man of about sixty, who rose as Daria entered. "Agent Morgendorffer, welcome to Orlando. I'm David Lindsey."
"Good morning, sir," She said. "Sorry I'm a little late. Traffic."
"A common mistake, I hope you don't make it twice," he said. He looked at Daria for several seconds and tilted his head. He faintly smiled and said, "You've certainly grown since the day we brought you to your grandmother."
"So you know who I am, "Daria said, clearly as a statement and not as a question.
"When word came to me through the grapevine that someone was looking into that case and I saw the name, I knew it was you. And yes, they were your family…and my greatest failure."
Without a word, Daria slowly sat in the closest chair as the news made its way from her brain to her heart. The tiny hope that had resided in the back of her mind was gone. Her mother was dead.
Sunlight glinted on the fronds of two sabal palms on either side of the roadside business sign for Miami Bay Auto Sales. A handsome, nicely dressed young man entered the sales building and went straight to the owner's office, closing the door. "Mr. Santiago needs a car for a run up to South Carolina."
Like many men in their late forties, Peter Danzig was somewhat overweight and his black hair was thinning. As always, he wore a nice suit and tie and politely nodded a greeting to his visitor. He then swiveled his chair to examine a board covered with car keys hanging from hooks. Peter chose one and then took a magnetic-framed license plate from his desk drawer. Giving them to the young man, he said, "Enrico, take the green '76 Impala with faded 'Reagan for President' bumper stickers."
The young man took the items. "Gotcha, Mr. D. How's your family?"
A knot formed in Peter's stomach, the same one that formed any time one of Mr. Santiago's men asked that question. "Ana hasn't been feeling well lately. Nancy took her to see the doctor this morning."
"I hope she's okay," Enrico said. "She's a nice girl."
"I'm sure it's just a stomach bug," Peter answered.
Enrico nodded. "I'll bring the car back Friday."
"Okay, be careful with it."
"Hey, I'm always careful."
After the young man left, Peter stood and walked to the office window, watching the green car leave his sales lot. Tomorrow, it would be carrying cocaine to South Carolina and with it, another piece of what Peter felt remained of his self-respect. "I wish I'd let the place go bankrupt instead of ever accepting that damn money."
Anastasia took her golden-framed glasses off and placed them on the dresser next to her bed. She sat down and pulled her knees up to her face, sobbing. Long, brown hair fell around her face as she grasped her legs and held on tight, fearful of what would happen when her mother told her father.
"Pregnant." The doctor's words echoed through her mind as she tried to believe them. "I estimate about two months along," he also said.
"Two months, as if I needed to be told," she haltingly said. "One time, it was only one time."
Ana looked up when she heard the door, expecting to see her father raging. Instead, he looked haunted and very, very tired. Peter came in the room and sat on the bed next to his daughter, placing a hand gently on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, princess. I'm so sorry."
"Daddy?" she said, confused.
"Your mother told me everything. If it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have ever met Enrico," he explained. "Don't bother trying to call him."
"Another test drive?" she asked.
Peter nodded, feeling guilty. "Yes, that's why I'm so sorry. And I don't want you to call him at all." He was firm with his next directive, "Ever."
"Shouldn't he know?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Ana, you're going to stay home with your mother tomorrow and pack up whatever you think is important."
"You're sending me away?!" she cried out, horrified.
"We're all going away; I've made some terrible mistakes."
Agent Lindsey looked at Peter's statement and said, "I must admit that it's an ingenious method to move cocaine north. However, you should understand that I need better evidence than just your word before we can grant you protection."
Peter said, "Pick up the car and the coke. If the driver follows habit, he'll be on the Turnpike or on I-95. I've also given you my second set of books so that you can see how I laundered the money that they paid me."
"Sir, you are aware that it can be used against you by the IRS, as well as us."
"I said it was laundered. We padded various repair charges and sales with the money, so I've actually paid sales and income tax on all of it."
Lindsey nodded. "We really want to get a break against Santiago, so we're going out on a limb and offering you entry into the Witness Protection Program."
"Is there anything else you'd like to say?"
Peter growled, "I hope the cops rough up that punk when they arrest him."
Ana watched passing orange trees through the cloud of dust kicked up by the FBI agents' car in front of the car she and her family were riding in. The last couple of days seemed like a bad dream. Moving out of her childhood home on a day's notice with stays in a couple of older, roadside motels, and driving along back roads to the orange clay road they currently followed. After about a mile, they turned onto an unpaved driveway and her father parked in the carport. The house was built of cinderblocks, with jalousie windows that had hinged, awning style storm shutters over them. The yard was large, with the neighbors' houses a considerable distance away.
Agent Lindsey got out of his car and walked to the Danzigs. "This is your new home. I know it's not as nice as your old place, but right now, we want nondescript and for you to quietly slip into the local community without notice."
"What about school?" Ana asked. "You pulled me out of class with only a little bit more than a month left in the year."
"You're already registered to attend Ft. Repose High. It's a lot smaller than Miami Bay, but I think you'll like it."
"Smaller, great," Ana said, depressed. "They'll notice the preggers girl that much faster."
A couple of years younger than her husband, Nancy brushed her red hair aside, gave Peter a brief, annoyed glare and then turned to face her daughter. "Ana, you heard your father on why we have to move. I know it's going to be tough for you, but we'll all be here for you."
"Tough?" Ana said. "We're moving to some hick town in the orange belt where I don't know anybody and there's probably almost nothing to do. By the time school starts in the fall, I'm going to be huge and everyone will know I'm pregnant. After that, everyone will think I'm easy. I think that rates a little more than 'tough.'"
"Why don't we take a look inside?" Peter suggested.
"We don't have anything better to do," Ana said.
"Our movers have already set your things up inside. We hope it's to your liking," Agent Lindsey said.
In the evening, Ana sat at a small writing desk in her new room and opened a pale blue book, her diary.
Well, we're in our new "home". Ft. Repose is a little town stuck between a lake and orange groves. Despite being in the middle of a redneck county, from the paper, it sounds like there might be a little culture downtown. The shops look nice, they have a real bookstore and I was surprised to learn that they have a community theater group in town. Maybe it won't be as bad as I thought, though I'm sure I'll catch hell from the other kids once I start showing.
I can't believe how much my life has turned upside down in the last week. I'm pregnant and Enrico is in jail for drug trafficking (looking back, how did I ever fall for his charming act? I think Dad is right, I don't want him to know and I don't want him to have any influence on my baby). We're in Witness Protection because Dad was involved with one of the cartels and he's trying to testify against them. So, our old home is gone and now we're here. Mom's trying to be nice, but I can tell she's angry at Dad over all this. She's not too happy with me, either. Right now, Dad seems more depressed and guilty than anything else. What a mess. I wish I could just wake up and find it's all been a bad dream.
Daria's new office was fairly spartan, a plain wood desk, two chairs, a pair of filing cabinets, a large corkboard on one wall, a reasonably up-to-date computer and a window looking out from the back of the building, but still presenting a nice view of the Orlando skyline. Behind her desk were two large file boxes. She closed the file in her hand and placed it back in one of the boxes. "So that's how it all started," she whispered, looking at the small photo frame on her desk that held one each of Helen, Jake, Quinn, plus the one baby picture of Ana, as Daria had started calling her mother in her mind. "Better not abuse the Chief's nod," she said, closing the box and turning back to her computer. "I suppose I better finish logging into the network and then go down to HR to make sure all my other paperwork was properly transferred."
After a knock, a blond-haired woman of about thirty stuck her head in the door. "Hi, I hope you've had some time to settle in."
"I'm getting there," Daria answered.
The woman stepped the rest of the way into the room and said, "Sadie Kallin, I'm in charge of evidence storage."
With a half-smile, Daria said, "One of the people on whose good side I should stay."
Sadie chuckled, "A smart one. I like that."
"Actually," Daria gave the file boxes a brief look, "I'll probably see you later to dig around in the archives. A cold case."
"That bastard already has you on a cold case? Damn, he's getting mean in his old age."
"I don't mind."
"Just remember; we're still the Feds and you need the paperwork filled out in triplicate," Sadie said as she backed out of the room. "See you later."
After spending the remainder of the day meeting coworkers and doing paperwork, Daria was glad to be on the way home. Following several suggestions, she broke down and paid tolls to take the expressways out of downtown and then around the west side of the city. "Okay, I've saved enough time to make it worth the tolls, not to mention all the screwed-up traffic lights I've avoided," she said, merging off the expressway and onto the busy highway that would take her home.
The rest of the trip home still required some stop and start through a couple of towns, but otherwise, it was uneventful. Once at the apartment building, Daria parked in her designated spot and got out, picking up a file box from the passenger seat of the car. As she passed by his office on her way to the stairs, Mr. Saylor cheerfully called, "Good evening, Miss Morgendorffer. How was your day?"
"Okay, for a 'first day on the job Monday' kind of day."
Deadpan, he replied, "That's why I tried to never start a new job on Monday."
She paused, nodded in his direction, said, "I'll have to remember that," and then continued on to her room.
There, she placed the box in her living room and then went to her kitchen. From the freezer, she took a frozen dinner and without bothering to read the instructions, prepped and started cooking it in a microwave oven. While it cooked, she walked to her bedroom and changed out of her work clothes. She reemerged wearing a comfortable pair of shorts and a loose, pullover shirt, just in time for the timer on the microwave to ring.
Daria took a fork from a drawer, along with a wicker paper plate holder. She removed the dinner from the oven, putting it on the plate holder before tearing away the plastic cover of the microwave dish and tossing it into the trash. "Mmm, nutrition," she said, not very convinced.
Back in the living room, she flopped down sideways on the sofa, her back resting against one arm and her feet propped on a pillow. Daria lifted the TV remote from the sofa back and turned it on, catching part of a local news broadcast. The announcer said, "After it had made a couple laps around the swimming pool, the alligator was captured by Fish and Wildlife officers and relocated to a safe place. After the break, Nudist Cruises - getting away from it all while wearing nothing at all."
"You know, if I can watch this in real life, I'm not so worried about Sick, Sad World being canceled." Daria absently said to the TV. She looked at the box and said to it, "I'm not that obsessive. You can wait until I finish eating."
A couple of hours later, Daria sat cross-legged on the sofa with the box beside her. She had been methodically and carefully looking through the reports in the box. Descriptions, analyses, and interview notes were all there. She stuck a tall sheet of cardboard into the box to mark her place among the files as she pulled out the next manila envelope. It was marked, "Film roll #1 prints". She opened it with the same care, and out slipped a stack of color 8 x 10 prints.
Her breath caught at the image of a man face down on the floor, hands tied behind his back and blood pooled around his head. The following images were taken at different angles or focused on details of the dead man. Next, she found a photo of a red-haired woman, similarly bound and also shot in the back of the head. Daria's stomach knotted as she went through the detail photos. Even though she had experience investigating multiple homicides, this was overwhelming her emotions and her control. Despite her growing fear, Daria couldn't stop looking. When Daria found the picture of a brown-haired girl with golden framed glasses knocked loose and resting on the floor several inches from her head and all surrounded by blood, Daria choked and pushed the photos back in the envelope.
She jumped from the sofa and fled across the room to the balcony, opening the door and stepping out. The evening air vaguely helped, as did the faint sound of insects among the trees. Daria leaned against the railing and watched the street, trying to drive the image from her mind. Ever since the day Helen and Jake had told her about Anastasia, her mother, Daria had wondered what she looked like and had wished to see a photo, a single photo of the woman who had carried her within for nine months. One picture of the person who had brought her to life.
Tears of grief formed in the corners of her eyes, slowly seeping down her face or onto her glasses. More so than at any time before in her life, Daria felt alone. A light to the right caught her eye and she looked over to the balcony next to hers illuminated from the apartment within.
Drying her face, Daria went back inside and closed the balcony doors. On the way across the room, she picked up her keys and dropped them into her pocket just before she stepped out of the door. A couple of steps down the hall, she stopped at the next door and pressed the doorbell.
Kade opened the door and said, "Hi, Daria."
It took most of her will to calm her voice to say, "Do you mind a little company tonight?"
He grimaced in embarrassment and said, "My place isn't really up to having guests tonight, but if you don't mind a bit of a mess, come in."
"I don't think I'll mind, thanks."
The apartment was clearly occupied by a bachelor, though not as bad as Kade had made it out to be. The coffee table was covered with old newspapers and magazines covering a range of subjects from firearms to conservation to popular science. Overall, there was a sense of disorder, but yet, constrained and not dirty. Kade went to his refrigerator and asked, "Would you like something to drink? I have, uh, water, orange juice, beer and uh, that's about it unless I make some coffee."
"Beer," Daria answered, taking a seat on a sofa.
He took two microbrews and stopped to open both bottles with an opener at the counter. He placed one on the coffee table in front of Daria and took a drink from the other. "Are you okay?"
"Feeling lonely. Um, new town and all."
Hoping for something to take her mind off the photos, Daria said, "Why don't you tell me about more about yourself? Such as, what your family is like."
"Like I said before, I'm actually a native, born in Fountain Memorial Hospital down the road in Pendryville. I have an older sister, also born there. My mom and dad moved to Florida back in the seventies when he got a job with the Fisheries Lab over on Lake Pendry."
Daria nodded and said, "Go on."
Kade said, "Good night, Daria," as she opened the door to her apartment.
"You really didn't need to walk me back to my place, it's not that far," Daria said.
"Seemed like the right thing to do."
"Okay, then. And, Kade, thanks. I'm feeling better. Good night."
He tipped his head as she closed the door. Going back to his apartment, Kade thought, Something really rattled her. I hope she's going to be all right. Inside, he picked up a couple of empty bottles and tossed them into a recycle bin, ignoring the clanking as they settled in with other bottles and cans. She is an interesting woman. After a moment, he pulled the bin out from under the sink and set it beside the coffee table. "I really should clean this place up." Whistling, he started sorting the papers and magazines, dropping most of them into the bin.
Daria sat on her bed, covering her face. I can't believe it. I've never been that forward with a guy. Thank goodness he didn't get any ideas and was happy to just talk. For a while there, he probably… She rubbed her eyes and looked around her room. Is that what happened to Mom and the stunt driver or…and my mom and that drug courier? Were they vulnerable around the wrong kind of man? The kind that would take advantage of their vulnerability?
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Daria rose and went back to the living room and the file box. "Why did I have to find those photos first?" she asked. With reservations, she reopened the box and started scanning the file labels. Near the back of the box, she found one marked, "Witness Protection Entry".
Inside the file were the dossiers on Peter, Nancy and Anastasia. "I guess they were running short of aliases when they decided on Jones," Daria said, reading the details. "Peter and Nancy were married in 1964 in Virginia. They adopted Anastasia when they discovered Nancy couldn't have children. The family moved to Miami Bay in 1968. Peter started work at a used car lot, buying it when the owner retired in 1975. Anastasia, called Ana, was an A/B honor student who often felt isolated. I know that feeling."
Included with the dossiers were photos of each. Daria looked over the images of Peter and Nancy to learn who they were. With Ana's photo, Daria stared at it with complete fascination, studying every detail from the pretty, rounded face that Daria knew was much like hers, to the brown eyes and rich, dark brown hair. Daria also saw the differences; the fluffed bangs of Ana's hair were consistent with the popular style of the time, while her glasses were trendy and attractive. Finally, Daria could see the light use of lipstick and a blush to produce soft accents on her mother's face. She touched the face on the photo, saying, "You're beautiful."
Hearing the door open, Sadie looked up from her paperwork and said, "Morgendorffer, what brings you here?"
"Please, call me Daria. I have a pair of requests for my cold case." Presenting a stack of forms, Daria then said, "Filled out in triplicate, signed in, signed out, stamped, spindled, folded and mutilated."
Chuckling, Sadie read the forms and said, "Okay, Daria. Three .38 caliber bullets and related images for a new ballistics analysis." Cocking her head at Daria, she completed the description, "Diary, pale blue cover? That sounds like it belonged to a teenager."
Daria nodded. "I want to get a better idea of what was going on with a family."
"I remember my old diaries and the dirt I have on my brothers and sister," Sadie said. "Wow, eighty-three. That's going to take a while to dig out of the annex. Give me a couple of days."
"I'll just have to wait. Besides, I know I'm going to get my load of regular assignments today."
"You got the cold case before your regulars?" Sadie asked. Before Daria could answer, she said, "I don't want to know."
The summer air soaked through Ana like a warm bath. It felt good to be outside and feel the freedom of summer. Tall clouds were growing and darkening in the sky toward Lake Repose and she knew that an afternoon storm would roll by soon. The hot sand massaged her bare feet as she walked out to the mailbox to collect the day's mail.
Ana looked over and saw a blonde teenager riding a bicycle along the clay road. Ana replied, "Hi."
The blonde said, "You must be the new girl that lives here. I'm Cindy. Cindy Bowers."
"I'm, uh, Ana Jones."
"I think I saw you around school, but didn't know you lived out here." Cindy pointed down the long clay track. "I live up there, at the corner with the state road."
"Okay. It's nice to know someone else is out here."
"Where'd you come from?"
"South Florida, down around the Miami area."
"Ah," Cindy said. "I didn't think you had a Yankee accent."
"Maybe a little Cuban-Spanish accent, but definitely not a Yankee one," Ana joked.
"What brought your family up here to the middle of nowhere?"
Ana's hand reflexively went to her stomach and she paled. "It's a long story."
Cindy shrugged, "Hey, we've got all summer."
After hearing that all the agents were in place, Lindsey waited outside a beachside nightclub until a characteristic white Corvette drove up to the valet parking. A handsome and dangerous looking man stepped out and casually tossed the keys to an attendant, who grinned widely and said, "Good evening, Mr. Santiago."
After the car rolled away, Lindsey stepped up, displayed his badge and calmly said, "Jorge Santiago, you are under arrest for conspiracy to transport and sell an illegal narcotic."
Santiago nodded politely and presented his arms, wrists close together. "So you're the one that Danzig's been talking to."
"Mr. Santiago, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you."
"He and his family will be of no use to you."
"Do you understand what I just told you?"
"Yes, I do, and I have nothing further to say until I speak to my attorney."
Self-conscious of how tight her swimsuit fit around her stomach, Ana stayed mostly submerged in the clear spring water, watching the other teens taking turns on a rope swing. Cindy was next in line. She laughed, waved at Ana and then launched herself over the water before releasing the rope and doing a flip before landing in the water.
In the past two weeks, she and Cindy had become fast friends. Cindy liked to hear about the bustle of south Florida and Ana was amused by stories of the rural antics of those living around Ft. Repose. Cindy's exuberance had been infectious, resulting in Ana readily accepting the invitation to go swimming.
Cindy swam underwater to Ana and popped up a couple feet away. "Come on, take a jump. It's fun," she cajoled.
Ana nervously replied, "No, thanks. I don't think it would be a good idea."
"It's okay; you swing out over the spring boil. The water's forty feet deep."
"That's not it," Ana said. "It's the, um, jump part."
"Don't worry; if you wipe out, it only stings a little."
"It really wouldn't be a good idea for me."
"Because you've put on a little weight? Don't let it get to you."
"No, that's not it. I'm…"
Noting the catch in her new friend's voice, Cindy asked, "Something wrong?"
Ana grabbed Cindy's arm and pulled her further away from the others. She stopped and dropped her face, staring through the water at the submerged grasses on the bottom. "I really should've told you earlier, but I was too embarrassed, even if I know it's impossible to keep it secret forever."
"Keep what secret?" Cindy asked, curious and afraid.
"I'm not getting fat. I'm pregnant."
"Oh, um…wow. You…damn, that's a lot to deal with. I'm sorry."
"I'm only starting to show, so I don't blame you for thinking I was getting fat."
Working through her embarrassment, Cindy asked, "Um, uh…when?"
"I'm due in November."
"Did you consider ending it?"
Ana bit her lip and nodded. "I'm still scared, but Mom and Dad promised to be there for me."
"I'll do what I can, though I don't have a clue of what that might be."
"Keep being my friend."
Around the outdoor firing range, tall sand pines grew from thickets of wire grass, scrub rosemary and saw palmetto. A faint wind only provided a little cooling from the summer heat, leaving Daria's shirt damp with sweat. Spinning a hand crank, Daria reeled her target back to the firing stand from the backstop. She examined it and complained, "Still a little high and right."
"Pulling a little on the trigger squeeze?" Kade asked while holding his target, which had a close, centered pattern.
"I've always had it," Daria confirmed. "I was a lot worse in training and almost didn't qualify. I burned through a lot of practice rounds before I got it under control."
"I grew up shooting, so it was already second-nature when I qualified."
"When I lived in Texas, a lot of kids learned how to shoot, but my parents weren't big on guns. Old hippies."
"Ah, I see," he said. "You know, if you want some good pointers, you should talk to Mr. Saylor. He's really good."
"Who doesn't know how to shoot around here?"
"Most of the imports," Kade replied.
"You spent a lot of time in Texas; you're tolerable."
Daria deadpanned, "I'm overjoyed," before holstering her pistol. "Though seriously, thanks for letting me know about this range. I like it a lot more than being indoors."
"Even if it's a bit of a drive?"
"I wouldn't complain about the drive," she answered.
After putting his pistol away, Kade squatted down and started to collect his spent shell casings. "While I'm at it, if you want to pick up your brass, I'll reload them for you."
Surprised, she asked, "You reload?"
"It's a lot cheaper than always firing new rounds."
"Don't you have to go through a lot to make it worthwhile?"
He nodded and dumped the casings in an empty box. "I do competitive pistol shooting from time to time, especially local inter-agency matches. Well, what do you say? Reload or not?"
She smirked. "I can't say I've ever had someone offer to reload my brass before. Sure."
When Kade started to gather the spent casings around Daria, she looked down at him and said, "How do I know that bullets and gunpowder are the only things on your mind?"
He looked up at her and said, "Now that you ask: the Fifth Avenue Players are performing Wait Until Dark. Interested?"
"Target practice, reloading and now you're asking to take me to see a show. My sister would say that you're interested."
"What if I am?"
Daria felt a blush and was surprised at her own flirting. "Then, uh, you'll let me buy dinner."
Kade placed the remaining brass into his collection box and stood, shaking Daria's hand. "Deal."
Leaving the theater, Kade asked Daria, "Well, what do you think?"
She replied, "I'm embarrassed to say that I'm pleasantly surprised. I wasn't expecting something that good from a small, suburban theater."
"So, we Southerners aren't as backward as you thought?" he teased.
"Well, not all of you. Some of the people I've interviewed for work…remind me of certain people I knew in Highland."
He laughed. "Trust me, I know the type. I've lost count of how many calls I've responded to that started with someone saying, 'Hold my beer.'"
They walked down the sidewalk a short distance before they reached Kade's car. Unlocking the door for Daria, he said, "You know, you're the most fascinating person I've ever dated."
Suddenly feeling insecure, Daria said, "The voice of a lot of experience?"
Going around the car to his door, Kade realized his faux pas and stopped, lightly banging his head on the car roof. "Insert foot in mouth, chew vigorously."
"I shouldn't be surprised," Daria said, feeling a little guilty about the implication of her comment. "You're a handsome and personable young man. If you find me the most fascinating, I should be flattered. Despite my age, I'm not that experienced with this whole dating thing."
"No. I dated one guy during my senior year of high school and my roommate set me up on a few dates in college. They…were not what you would consider successful. I can't really blame the poor guys; they were nice, I was simply too focused on my studies at the time."
"You seem pretty focused on your work now." Kade opened his door and asked, "Should I feel flattered that tonight seems to be a success?"
Sliding into her seat, Daria said, "I think you should get to know me better before you decide if you should be flattered or frightened."
"My one real relationship, the one in high school. I wasn't the easiest person to deal with. I know that I still made the right decision to break up with him, but in hindsight, he was a lot more understanding than I gave him credit for."
"You seem like the type to learn from your past."
"I hope so."
Joking, Kade asked, "Is there anything else you need to warn me about?"
"Um…my parents and sister will be in town starting next weekend. They will want to meet you."
Daria sat back and stared at her computer screen. "Okay, Melody. Make up your mind. It's bad enough that you insist on taking over the story, but do you have to dawdle like this?"
The sound of the doorbell forced her to sit up and close out the file. "Sorry, you snooze, you lose. You'll have to tell me your decision next time." After a quick look around the apartment to make sure it was in reasonable order, she went to the door and opened it.
Daria gently smiled as she saw her father standing outside, dressed like a classic tourist: loud shirt, shorts, and the truly tell-tale sandals with socks. "Hi, Dad."
"Hey there, Kiddo!" he said, grabbing Daria in a bear hug. "How's my little girl doing?"
"I'm good," she said in a fake whisper. "Though I'll be better when I can breathe."
"Oh, sorry," he said, releasing her.
"I'm kidding, Dad," she replied.
"You're still at it," Helen said. She was dressed in shorts, but more sensibly in a polo shirt and walking shoes. "It's so good to see you, Sweetie."
After a hug with Helen, Daria turned to Quinn. "So, Sis, how's Morgendorffer and Morgendorffer treating you?"
Wearing a light, airy sundress, Quinn said, "Not as bad as you expect. The bosses are pretty reasonable." She also embraced Daria and when she pulled back, asked, "Okay, where is he?"
"Not wasting any time, are you?" Daria replied. "Kade's at work right now and won't be off duty until eight."
"Kade," Quinn said, almost dreamy. "That is such a hot name. Are you sure you're not making him up?"
"Oh, I'm sure," Daria replied. "But don't read too much into things. We've only been out on one real date."
"You've mentioned him every time we talk on the phone," Quinn pointed out to her sister. "Not to mention all the e-mails."
"He's my next-door neighbor," Daria said. "We run into each other a lot."
Helen said, "I'm sure you have other neighbors. You don't talk about them."
"Okay, I like him," Daria admitted.
Helen glanced towards Kade's apartment. "When you were younger, I don't know how I would've dealt with you living this close to someone you were dating."
"Mom, by the time I was in college, I was a legal adult and before then, to be that close, he'd have to be in the old guest bedroom."
"You had a boy in the old guest room?" Jake said, shocked and surprised.
"No, Dad," she replied. "Kade just lives that close now."
"You mean this is a co-ed apartment building?"
"Jake," Helen said with a heavy sigh. "She's not in college any more."
"Oh! Oh, yeah. Sorry."
Daria placed a hand on his shoulder. "You were worried."
Sheepish, he said, "Yeah."
She whispered, "Don't stop."
Helping Daria put dishes in the washer, Helen said, "Lasagna for old time's sake?"
"How could I resist?" Daria answered. "Though it was takeout instead of frozen."
"A lot better than I used to serve."
Daria finished and closed the washer. "It costs more, too, and I'm not trying to pay for two teenagers."
Helen asked, "Are you sure we shouldn't have left some for Kade?"
"He planned to eat dinner during his regular shift break."
Helen smiled. "So you discussed this with him."
Turning back to look at Jake and Quinn, Daria replied, "I wouldn't expose anyone to my family without warning them about a few things first."
"A wise move."
Moving back to the living room, Daria asked, "So, how are Dad and Quinn really getting along as business partners?"
"They seem to really be working well together. Quinn calms Jake and he doesn't lose nearly as many clients as he did before."
Their conversation was interrupted by the doorbell. Quinn jumped up from her seat and rushed to the door, pulling it open. Kade waited outside, holding a bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer. She looked him over with great approval and said, "You must be Kade."
He said, "That's what my momma called me. Judging from the red hair, you must be Quinn."
Daria moved to the door and pulled her sister back. "He can't come in if you don't get out of the way."
"Oh, um, sorry, Daria," Quinn said, seeming to come out of a daze.
Daria waved him by and said, "It's relatively safe to come in; they're not armed."
Helen came forward and said, "I'm Daria's mom. You can call me Helen."
"It's nice to meet you, Helen," Kade said. Looking beyond the others, he said, "And finally, Jake. It's also good to meet you."
Jake stiffly offered his hand. "Hello."
Quinn moved up beside Daria and said, "Damn, sis, he's hot."
"There is more to Kade than just looks," Daria corrected.
"Icing on the cake," Quinn replied. "Come on, Daria. He's hot and you like it."
Daria blushed and said, "Well, I can't really complain."
Kade shook Jake's hand and evaluated the look in the older man's eyes. "My intentions are completely honorable. Besides, while I may be more accurate with a pistol, it's not by much and she's faster."
"Oh," Jake said, realizing how much his paternal instincts were showing. "Daria's a big girl now; she can take care of herself."
"I'm sure," Kade said. "I brought a couple of local flavor beverages, Blanc du Bois wine and some Landshark lager to hopefully cover most tastes."
Helen accepted the gifts and started to take them to Daria's dining table. "Thank you, young man. You're very thoughtful."
He nodded and waited until Helen had returned to say, "I can see where Daria got her good looks."
Helen turned away and everyone else went quiet. Kade dope-slapped his head as he remembered, "Damn, I'm sorry. You look so much like Daria that I forgot that she'd said she was adopted."
Helen rubbed her face before turning back. "No harm done and it was rather a nice compliment."
Standing in her living room after her family had left for their hotel, Daria turned to Kade. "There's some…there's something I need to tell you about my adoption."
Kade sat down on the sofa and lowered his head. "I'm really sorry. But it really looked like you and Helen are related."
Daria sat next to him. "We are."
He looked up. "Huh?"
"It's a little hard to believe, but she's my grandmother."
"Helen had my mother when she was sixteen and placed her for adoption. I was born when my mother was sixteen." Daria took a few moments to steady herself. "My mother and her family died when I was an infant. Helen was the closest relative available to take me in."
"I'm not that current on child placement, but isn't that a little unusual? Wouldn't records need to be unsealed and such?"
Daria sighed. "In for a penny…I lied to you a little bit when I said I didn't know where I was born. It was…in Fountain Memorial Hospital. The same place you were born."
"Okay, this is getting strange. Your mother, who I'm guessing was single and probably living with her folks, lived somewhere around here. Is this where…"
"They were murdered. Executed. My adoptive grandfather was involved with one of the old cocaine cartels and was trying to get out by cooperating with the authorities. He had been placed in witness protection, but the cartel found him and his family. Somehow, I wasn't killed, either because I was too young to testify, or I was overlooked. The murderer was never found. For my protection, I received a new birth certificate and was quietly taken to Helen and Jake."
"That must be the old Jones murders," he correctly deduced. Kade looked directly in her eyes. "You're back to reinvestigate."
"Yes. When time permits."
"If there's any way I can help, let me know."
Daria reached for his hand and held it. "I will."
After a perfunctory knock, Sadie stepped into Daria's office and asked, "Surviving your relatives?"
Daria looked up from the paperwork she was studying and said, "Better than I would've a couple years ago. They're at SeaWorld today. Quinn wanted to see the penguins."
"Yeah, they're cute."
"What brings you up here, besides curiosity about my family's travels?"
Sadie placed a manila folder on Daria's desk. "Ballistics got seven hits on your cold case bullets in the last ten years. The most recent was last April."
"Seven?" Daria said, surprised, as she opened the report.
"All executions and all associated with some kind of organized crime."
Quickly scanning the overview, Daria said, "Including victims in rival groups. The shooter must be an independent."
Sadie let her concern through in her voice. "Be careful. There are eighteen victims in eight incidents that we now know of, and who knows how many that haven't been entered into the databases. You're looking for a hardened killer with at least 24 years of experience. For the seven, now eight, known cases, the Bureau refers to the shooter as the .38 Executioner."
"Have you told Lindsey?"
Standing, Daria gestured with the report toward the boss's office. "I better go tell him. This looks like my cold case just joined an active case."
"Good luck," Sadie said as she followed Daria out of the office and started toward the elevator.
"I'll need it," she replied. So the killer is still out there and still killing. Mother, I promise, I'll find him.
After her mom parked the car in the Jones' driveway, Cindy hopped out and went straight to the front door, knocking on it. After several seconds, Ana's mother answered. "Hi, Cindy. Ana will be here in a second."
"We have time," Cindy said.
Clearly showing her pregnancy, Ana came out of the kitchen and stopped beside her mother. "I'm not looking forward to this."
"Hey, it's the first day of school. I'm not either," Cindy said, trying to reassure Ana.
"You're not huge," she retorted.
"This is the eighties, not the fifties," Cindy said. "You don't have to hide."
"I hope you're right."
Nancy told her daughter, "Make sure you thank Mrs. Bowers for the ride to school."
Ana sighed. "Don't worry, Mom, I will. I'm pregnant, not stupid."
In the crowded cafeteria, Cindy pushed a boy back, causing him to crash into his buddies and fall, spilling his lunch tray on the floor. She barked, "Hey, asshole. Choice means that, choice, not just doing what you would do. But then, you're too much of a wimp to go through it. Hell, menstrual cramps would probably kill you."
The surrounding boys broke into laughter at Cindy's comments. When the boy angrily stood, one of his friends said, "Dude, she hosed you. Let it go before she does it again."
While the other boys hustled the embarrassed teen away, the speaker said to Ana, "I'm sorry for what my friend said. He can be a jerk at times, but he's usually a nice guy."
Fighting back tears, she said, "Okay."
"We're still kinda backwoods around here, we don't see a lot of, uh, girls like you in class."
"You can say it, I'm pregnant."
The young man looked around. "Um, yeah, sorry again. This is, uh, really awkward."
Ana faintly smiled. "How do you think I feel?"
Balancing his lunch with one hand, he placed his other hand on the edge of Ana's tray. "Here, let me give you a hand. To make up for my friend."
"Thanks, I tire real easy."
"Oh, I'm Josh."
The doorbell took Daria away from reading her mother's diary. She set it aside and hurried to the door. Looking at the clock on her DVR, she muttered, "Damn, that late already?"
Helen, Jake and Quinn were outside. Daria said, "Come in."
"We can only stay a few minutes," Helen said. "We want to make sure we get to the airport in plenty of time."
Jake said, "Too bad you couldn't have spent more time with us, Kiddo."
Daria smiled at her father. "Me too, but I used all the leave I had available. At least we were able to see Disney and the Space Center together."
"Are we going to see Kade again?" Quinn asked.
"I'll see if he's home." Daria stepped past her sister and walked down the hall. She rang the doorbell and waited.
After a few moments, Kade opened the door, hair dripping with water and a blue towel wrapped around his waist. "Um, hi, Daria. Something up?"
Turning red, but also admiring him, she said, "My…my family's about to leave. They wanted to know if you were going to say good-bye."
"Well, let me get some pants on and I'll be right over."
"Um, yeah. That would be a good idea."
He closed the door and Daria returned to her apartment. "He will be over in a couple minutes."
Inside, Helen was beside the chair Daria had been using. She touched the small, blue book and said, "One of your old diaries?"
Daria felt chilled inside. "Actually, no. That's my mother's diary."
Helen picked it up and sounded hurt. "You didn't tell me you had this."
"I shouldn't have let you see it. That's officially evidence. As a lawyer, you know I can't go into more detail, but I promise you will get to see it when the case is closed."
"There's something else you're not telling me."
Daria gently grasped Helen's arms. "There is. We've found an important connection, but we don't know where it will lead, yet. Until we know more, we can't risk compromising the investigation."
Helen hugged Daria and said, "Okay, sweetie. I trust you."
As promised, Kade appeared a couple minutes later, hair still damp but combed, barefoot, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He said, "Hope you enjoyed your visit."
"I had a great time, my man," Jake said. "It's been great meeting you."
"Growing up, I always pictured Daria going for the bookish nerds," Quinn said to Kade. "And here she's gone and out-classed me."
"Quinn!" Daria exclaimed.
Kade laughed and said, "I think she meant that as a compliment. By the way, Quinn. Did I mention that I was on the A/B honor roll in high school?"
That caused Quinn to laugh. "Okay, Daria. Hot and smart. I guess you had to make up for lost time."
"Quinn, it's not like I went out looking for anyone. Kade just happens to live next door."
"And you didn't let the opportunity slip by," Helen said warmly.
Helen held up her hand. "I'm not saying anything more than I approve of your taste in gentlemen to date."
Daria relaxed. "Okay. I was beginning to think everyone was ganging up on me."
"Jane will do that when she visits," Quinn said.
Daria sighed. "At least that won't be until the art show in November."
Jake checked his watch and said, "Gotta go, Daria," as he hugged Daria. "I've missed you, kiddo."
"I've missed you, Dad. Mom, Quinn, you too."
After a round of hugs and good-byes, Jake, Helen and Quinn left, with the latter giving Daria a wink and a whispered, "You sure know how to pick them."
Daria closed the door and fell back against it. "That was brave of you to come over to endure that."
"Your folks weren't that bad and they seem to like me."
"I still appreciate it and I owe you. Can I buy you dinner?"
"Okay," he said. "But I would like to go back and finish my shower."
Peter interrupted his conversation with Agent Lindsey to ask Ana as she came in the door, "How was your day?"
"I survived." Patting her large stomach, she grumbled, "I can't even fit in the school desks any more. Talk about embarrassing."
Carrying a full book bag by the straps, Cindy came in and said, "Ana, you want these in your room? Oh, hi, Mr. Jones."
"Good afternoon, Cindy," Peter replied.
Ana said, "Yeah, my room's fine." Helping to cover for her father, she then said, "I had an idea. Dad, can I go up to Burger World with Cindy to hang out for a while?"
In the hallway, Cindy said, "You just want to see if Josh is up there."
Peter nodded. "Sure, you can go, but be back here by six for dinner."
After tossing the book bag on Ana's bed, Cindy came back and said, "Thanks, Mr. Jones. I promise not to keep your daughter out too late."
Peter asked, "So, tell me about this Josh that Cindy mentioned."
She answered, "He's nice and he helped to discourage the other kids from teasing me."
"So you like him."
"Yeah. Daddy, I think I learned my lesson about being careful. Trust me, I've learned."
The target range was small and decades of burnt powder and cigarette smoke gave it a faint, distinct aroma. Though small, the old indoor range had the feel of being part of the local history.
Mr. Saylor quick-fired six rounds from a police service revolver at a target and even at range, Daria could tell the pattern was close and on the mark. Speaking over their ear protection he loudly said, "Anyway, after Pappy died in '79, I left the state police and took over running the orange groves and the properties. Then came the big freezes on '83 and '85 that wiped out citrus in the county. Had to sell off most of the grove land to developers to keep afloat, but I managed. Okay, your turn."
Daria fired off a quick eight rounds from her automatic and gazed at the target. "That looks better," she said.
"Yep, you're getting there, little lady."
"Thanks, you've been a lot of help."
"Don't mention it; shooting's one of my passions and when I can help other law officers, so much the better."
Daria asked, "I take it you've kept a lot of contacts in the field."
"I still have a lot of good friends that carry a badge and I don't mind helping."
"Such as making an open apartment available when an FBI agent needed a place to live."
"Like I said, I don't mind helping."
Daria smiled. "You just might be able to help with something else. I have a local cold case that was just linked to an active case."
"Oh? What kind of local case would get the Feds involved?"
"A family killed, execution style, back in 1983 in Ft. Repose. It's been linked to several other organized crime executions."
Mr. Saylor nodded knowingly. "The Jones case. It was big news at the time. What do you think I could do?"
"You were around then and know the local people and the land. I don't know what might come up, but first-hand knowledge like that could be useful."
"Feel free to ask, any time."
"Ahhhh! Dammit!" Ana cried out, her voice carrying outside of the maternity station at Fountain Memorial Hospital.
Holding her right hand, Nancy tried to comfort her daughter. "We're right here, princess."
"But you're not feeling this!" Ana barked. Her face shone with sweat and she struggled to focus without her glasses. Thirteen hours of overnight labor had taken its toll on the teen.
On her left, Peter said, "No, we're not, but you won't be alone."
The doctor said, "The baby's crowning. Once more, Ana."
"Ahhhh!" she screamed while pushing again. Suddenly, the pain and pressure were gone and Ana felt a wave of welcome relief.
A moment later, the doctor said, "Congratulations, you have a healthy baby girl."
Nancy leaned over and kissed Ana's cheek. "You have a daughter."
"Yes," Peter said. "She's as pretty as you are."
The doctor and nurse completed their work, cleaning, measuring and weighing the baby. The nurse placed the pink-skinned infant on Ana's chest. "Say hello to your mommy."
Tears flowing freely from her eyes, Ana held the tiny child and said, "Hi."
The baby gurgled and buried her face against Ana.
That afternoon, a familiar face peeked in the hospital room. Cindy said, "Hey, there, how are you doing?"
Holding her child, Ana said, "Hi, Cindy. I'm tired, I'm happy, and I'm sore in places I never wanted to be sore."
"Oh, all in all, it was worth it. Meet Daria."
"Daria? That's a cool sounding name."
"Thanks. I hope it will be special for her."
Cindy brought an instant camera out from behind her back and said, "How about a first picture?"
"Sure, Cindy." Ana held the baby's cheek next to hers and posed while Cindy snapped the photo.
Cindy took the photo from the camera and gave it to Ana. "Oh, and you also have another visitor." She went to the door and said, "Come on in."
Josh appeared, holding a small vase of flowers. "Hi, there."
Ana's face brightened more. "Josh, how sweet."
He placed the flowers on the table by Ana's bed. "She's cute, and so are you."
"Oh, you. I can't believe you're not freaked out by all this."
"I gotta admit that the girl I like having a baby is on the 'I never planned on this' side, but hey, it's part of the deal."
Ana smiled. "I hope you realize I won't be able to go out as much as I used to."
"I'll just have to visit." Josh leaned over and tickled Daria's chin. "That way, I get to see two girls at the same time."
"So, that was your plan all along," Cindy said. "I should've known. You never were happy having just one of anything."
"I'll take it," Ana said. "We'll see how happy he is with two girls when one of them needs a diaper changed."
Curled up on her bed, Daria turned the page of the diary and gasped. Cindy's Polaroid picture was taped in place, with "Me and Daria - November 19, 1982," written under it. She gently touched the photo and the aged tape failed. The photo slipped free into Daria's hand. "I wish…oh, I wish I could keep you."
Instead, Daria placed the book on her nightstand and almost reverently carried the photo into the living room and her computer. She opened the scanner lid, saying, "But I can at least keep a copy."
Daria paused, and then stepped into her boss's office. "You asked to see me?"
"Yes," Chief Lindsey said. "Have you passed on the Danzig case information to the principal investigators for the .38 Executioner case?"
"Yes, sir. Well, all but one piece that I'm still going through."
"You need to give them everything."
"Sir, it's…my mother's diary. I can only handle reading a little at a time, but I'm almost through."
"I understand." Lindsey fiddled with a pen on his desk and then suggested, "I'm sure that they'll be happy with scanned images. Can you do that?"
"Yes, I can."
"Good. Look, I know this is difficult for you, but there is a team working on the larger case and they have priority."
Daria said, "I understand. I hope you understand that I will continue looking at my part of the case. You have my word that all of my findings will be passed on immediately. My priority is to have my family's killer brought to justice. I'll take all the help I can get."
"Okay. I want to see this solved, too."
Multicolored lights glowed and blinked on the Christmas tree as Ana sat on the floor beside it, Daria cradled in her lap and staring around in awe as Ana opened a present. "Oh, Daria, look at this," she said, bringing a stuffed animal out of the box. "Grandpa thinks you're tough enough to have a lion."
Month-old Daria flailed at the stuffed lion and grabbed it, pulling the toy to her and starting to gum one of the ears.
Seated on an easy chair, Peter said, "I think I was right."
Also seated on the floor, Cindy looked at the stack of gifts and joked, "Now I see your evil plan. You had a kid so you can get all the neat, new toys."
Ana threw a wad of wrapping paper at her friend. "Yeah, thirteen hours of labor for all this. What a deal."
When they heard a knock at the door, Nancy turned and said, "I'll get it."
"I wonder who that could be?" Peter mused.
Cindy smirked and nudged Ana. "I have a good idea."
Ana blushed and looked down at Daria.
Peter leaned forward in his chair and said, "Let me guess, Josh."
"What can I say? He's nice, but clueless," Cindy said with a shrug. "I helped him with some ideas."
"Oh, God," Ana muttered, before saying to Daria, "Watch out, Aunt Cindy's on the loose again."
Nancy returned with the young man. Josh said, "Hi, Mr. Jones. Hi, Cindy," as he walked over and sat next to Ana, presenting two gifts. "For both of you."
"Oh, you shouldn't have," Ana said, impressed by his gesture.
"Hey, I like you, and the Squirt."
First, Ana opened Daria's gift, a stack of baby books. She leaned over and kissed Josh on the cheek. "Thank you. I can't wait to read these to her."
"Hey, I figure she's going to be smart, like her mom. Okay, now yours."
"You didn't have to get me anything," Ana said while starting to unwrap the present.
"I didn't have to…"
The golden locket had a small cameo profile on the face and a delicate chain. Ana held it up and said, "It's wonderful."
Josh gently stroked Daria's hair. "I figure you can keep something like a picture of the Squirt with you all the time."
She placed her hand on his. "You really are very good to me."
He gently laughed and said, "I really like you."
Seated at Daria's computer desk, Kade read the story on the monitor with fascination. Daria faintly smiled and watched as he scrolled from page to page, oblivious to everything else around him. Reaching the end, he rolled the chair back and said, "Whew. What a ride."
"Thanks," Daria said, taking a seat on the desk corner. "I guess you like it."
"I loved it," he said. "Where are you going to send this?"
Suddenly uneasy, Daria said, "I'm not really sure, yet. There are still some adjustments I want to make."
"I'm not an expert, but I can't think of anything," he said. "But you have a lot more invested in this than I do."
"Yeah, I tend to get personal with my stories."
"What a combo, FBI agent and a writer. How'd you get started on writing?"
"Actually, I was interested in writing long before I became interested in investigation. Up until I found out about my mother, I was planning on being an English or Writing major."
"Well, don't give up. This is really good and you should send it in."
"You know, the last time a boyfriend encouraged me to send a story in to be published, it was rejected."
He coughed and said, "Let's hope it's not a trend?"
"I hope not," she replied. "I really didn't take the rejection well."
"Well, let's assume it's not a trend until proven otherwise," Kade suggested.
"I suppose that would be the best course of action."
Suddenly noticing a stack of worn, slim books on the table, he picked up the top one and flipped through the pages. "Bob's Big Bug. Wow, I remember that. I haven't had any of my old children's books in ages."
Daria stood and went to him, placing her hand on his arm. "I've always had a hard time letting go of books."
Kade read the faint pencil writing inside the cover. "Christmas, 1982. That would've been…"
"Yes." Daria nodded, feeling a tear as she remembered retrieving it and three other old books from her shelf. "The set is from my first Christmas. When I was adopted, my Mom said that they brought some of my toys along. It only dawned on me recently that these must've been among them."
"What about the rest?"
"I was never as attached to toys as I was with books."
Kade passed the book back to Daria and closed her hand over it. "So it's something from your birth mother."
"Actually, I think they're from her boyfriend."
"Someone she met in school. From Ana's description he seemed like a nice guy and actually liked me."
"Obviously a man of good taste."
"Now you're just trying to flatter me."
"Am I succeeding?"
"A little," Daria said, stacking the books back together and taking them to their place on the shelf. "I'm glad she found someone, even if it was only a teenage romance. Much better than the man who was actually my father."
Carefully, Kade asked, "Have you ever wondered about him?"
Daria turned and coldly said, "I checked. He was in and out of prison for several years until he was shot by a rival cartel and his body dumped in the Everglades. The triggerman is serving fifteen to twenty-five."
"Kade, he was in his twenties and took advantage of a lonely, 15-year old girl. My mother meant nothing to him. He means nothing to me. I don't think he was ever told that my mother was pregnant; that's one of the reasons that they didn't bring him up on statutory rape charges." Daria stopped and looked at him, standing silent. She said, "Sorry, I got a little carried away. My mother was a good person who really got a raw deal in life. I'm a little defensive for her."
"She's your mother; you're supposed to be."
Seated on the sofa, Agent Lindsey closed his briefcase and said, "It looks like everything is on track. You'll leave in a week for the trial. We have a secure facility for you to stay while in Atlanta. You're scheduled early in the prosecution's case, so you shouldn't be up there that long. After that, back here and finally able to start your new life."
Peter was hunched forward, rubbing his hands together. "Are you sure everything is secure? When Santiago says he's going to kill you and your family, he means it. I'm not as worried about me; I'm the one that made a bad decision. But I don't want my family hurt, especially my granddaughter."
"I can vouch for everyone who knows you are here. Your family will be safe."
"I hope you're right."
Lindsey stood and shook Peter's hand. "Try to take it easy and relax over the next week. I'll see you then."
"I'll try," Peter said, rising and escorting the agent to the front door. "See you later."
"Good night," Lindsey said before turning away into the evening dark.
In her room, Ana sat cross-legged on her bed, with Daria on her lap and a notebook on hers. Ana finished an algebra problem and looked down to see the baby starting to nod off to sleep. "I can't say that I blame you, but look at the jump you'll get on other kids your age," she joked and then placed the notebook aside.
She lovingly lifted the child to her chest and slid over to the crib placed next to her bed. "But if I keep you up, you'll be cranky all morning and Grandma will be cranky when I get home from school." Ana laid the child in the crib and stroked her cheek for a moment. With a quick kiss on the forehead, she said, "Good night, sweetie."
Confident that Daria was falling asleep, Ana went back to her homework, completing it soon and setting it aside with relief. "Ah, a little time for myself." She rolled to the side and picked up the phone on her nightstand and dialed a memorized number.
She patiently waited until she heard Josh say, "Hello?"
Ana replied, "Hi, it's me."
"Hey, there. Thanks for giving me an excuse to get away from my homework for a few minutes."
She smirked to herself. "I just finished mine."
Playful, he chided, "Brain."
"Is that a problem?" she asked, also joking.
"Nah, not really. What about the Squirt?"
Ana rolled to the other side to look into the crib. "She conked out about half an hour ago. Mr. Phillip's algebra was too much for her."
"Her and me both."
Laughing, Ana said, "Mom's okay with watching Daria a couple hours on Saturday night. So, we're on."
"That's great," Josh said. "Is The Dark Crystal still okay?"
"It sounds like fun."
Over half an hour later, Nancy came in and said, "You should probably wrap that up. You have school tomorrow and you know Daria will probably wake up for a feeding at three."
Ana nodded and said into the phone, "Hey, sorry to cut you off, but I need to run. See you at school tomorrow."
Josh said, "See ya. Good night."
"Night." Ana set the phone down and said, "Sorry, Mom. I'll spend a little time with my diary and then get to sleep."
"Don't stay up too late," her mother said, stepping away and back down the hallway.
Ana took her diary from the drawer of her nightstand and started to write.
That was the last entry. Slowly, Daria paged through the rest of the diary, confirming that everything following was also empty. She closed the book and put it aside, drawing in a ragged breath as she did so. "Goodbye, mother," she whispered as tears pooled in her eyes. Curling up on the sofa, she instinctively pulled her nightshirt down around her legs and hugged her knees to her chest.
Well into the night, Daria sat there, staring ahead as she felt the loss. She'd come to know and admire her mother for all she had done in putting her life back together after the pregnancy and the sudden move. Ana had her mother's strength of will and drive. Daria was amazed at how she had maintained her grades while being such a caring mother. She'd even found a nice boyfriend, while at the same age, Daria was still pining for her first big crush, Trent. Then, it was over. No word, no hint, no epilog in the diary; Ana's life simply ended.
Shivering, Daria suddenly stood and went out to stand in front of Kade's apartment. After several seconds, she knocked on the door and waited.
A voice within said, "Just a minute!" After what seemed like far longer, Kade, clearly recently woken and finishing donning a t-shirt, said, "Daria?"
She quietly asked, "May I come in?"
Surprised, particularly at seeing Daria wearing only the nightshirt, he stepped aside. "Of course. Are you okay?"
"No." She turned and pressed herself against his chest, holding tight. "I finished reading my mother's diary."
Putting his arms around her, Kade said, "I'll do whatever I can."
Daria drifted up from contented slumber and let her hands glide along Kade's arms wrapped around her nude body while his soft breathing warmed the back of her neck. Slowly, memory of the night returned to her; the grief, the comfort and finally, the desire. Daria squeezed her eyes shut and whispered, "Me, too."
"Hmm?" Kade murmured, also just waking. He knew something extraordinary had happened the night before and Daria felt like a dream in his arms.
"Lonely and vulnerable, I ended up in bed with a guy. That's what happened to my mother and my grandmother." Breaking free, she sat upright and faced away from him. "Dammit! I can't even blame you. You asked me a couple times if it was what I really wanted."
Gently stroking her back, he said, "I think it was something we both ultimately wanted."
"I'm sure that they ultimately wanted it, too. They were caught up in the moment and look at what happened. Mom…" Daria sighed in frustration. "My grandmother…the guy made a smartass remark and left. Or my mother…the guy was arrested and put in jail. I wanted my first time to be something special."
"I thought it was special," he said. "And I'm not going anywhere. I felt something very different last night and I want to see where it leads."
The anger at herself draining away, Daria leaned back against him. "When I came over, I knew that I could trust you and let down my guard. Boy, did I let it down. And then…yeah, something very different."
Kade embraced her and said, "I'm glad you could trust me."
She hummed something like, "Me, too," and rested against him for a minute. On another train of thought, she said, "I'm glad that you had protection on hand, though I'm curious about why."
"Um…leftover from former girlfriend," he said, wincing.
Daria felt a temporary wave of jealousy, but managed to say, "You're a very handsome man; I shouldn't be surprised that I'm not your first."
"You didn't miss much. My first time was a rushed, cramped affair in the back seat of a compact car that's not one of my proudest moments."
Closing her eyes, Daria asked, "How many?"
Kade said, "Four. It's been over a year since the last one."
Letting everything sink in while gently resting her head on his shoulder, she asked, "So what do we do now?"
The buzzing of the alarm clock made Kade frown as he answered, "Get ready for work."
Daria and Kade stood inside the boardwalk gazebo and looked toward the sun starting to set over Lake Repose. She said, "Back to the question from this morning. What do we do now?"
"Keep going…slowly," Kade said. "Like what we've been doing."
"There was nothing slow about last night."
"No, there wasn't, but we don't have to continue at the same pace."
Apprehensive, Daria turned to Kade. "Do you see me any differently?"
He carefully thought out his response before saying, "You let me see how sensitive you really are and how much you care for people that are close to you. I like what I saw, and I'm honored that you let me."
"Thank you, but what about the other part?"
He turned and held her hands. "Only for the better. What about the other way? Do you see me any differently because of…well, my prior experience?"
"I have to admit to a pang of jealousy and I've never been good at dealing with that emotion." She drew in her breath and said, "But I'm going to try to not dwell on the past and just think of last night as our first time together."
"I appreciate it."
After several awkward moments of not knowing what to do or say, Daria released Kade's hands and slipped hers around him and looked to the west. "How about if we watch the sunset?"
"Sounds like a good idea," he replied, putting his arms around her.
The older house stood out between the newer subdivisions on either side of it. Parked across the street, Daria double-checked the address. "5689 Mason Grove Road. Thank you, 911 addressing," she sarcastically muttered. "12 Mason Grove Road sounds better."
The house and surrounding area were almost unrecognizable when compared to the old file photographs. The clay road was paved and the orange groves were gone. Newer planned subdivisions had sprouted on the old grove land, leaving the older houses as relics of a bygone era. But even the house itself had been transformed with new paint and trim. The carport was now enclosed to become a formal garage. The jalousie windows had been replaced by newer, energy efficient sash units and the storm shutters had been removed. The simple, sturdy Bahia grass lawn had been replaced with a manicured landscape of grass and foliage beds.
Daria shook her head and started the car. "The inside is probably changed just as much. I won't get any insight from going in." She put the vehicle in gear and drove back down the road. At the corner to the main county road, she happened to see the name on a mailbox: Bowers.
She stopped, backed up and pulled into the driveway. This house was less changed and was gracefully showing its age. "This must be Cindy's home, and someone from the family still lives here."
Daria stepped out of the car and straightened her suit before going to the door. With no doorbell visible, she knocked on the door and waited, looking around the yard.
An elderly woman opened the door and said, "Hello. Can I help you?"
"Mrs. Joan Bowers?"
"My name is Agent Morgendorffer and I'm with the FBI. I'm investigating a cold case in this area - the Jones murders from 1983."
The woman seemed to pale further and said, "Oh dear, that was so very long ago."
"Yes, ma'am," Daria said. "If you don't mind, may I talk to you a little about it?"
Stepping back to allow Daria in the house, Mrs. Bowers said, "I don't mind, dearie, but I'm sure I answered everything back then."
"I've read the reports, but they can leave out some things."
Continuing to her kitchen, Mrs. Bowers asked, "Would you like something to drink? I made some fresh iced tea."
Reminding herself to be polite, Daria said, "That will be fine, thanks."
Mrs. Bowers returned with two glasses and placed them on coasters arranged on a small table set between two chairs. Daria sat on one and the older woman on the other.
When she tasted the incredibly sweet brew, Daria thought, Yep, that's southern sweet tea. Guaranteed to generate a boost of insulin. She turned on a small recorder and said, "According to reports, you discovered what happened."
Mrs. Bowers grimly nodded. "When nobody answered the door, I checked the door and found it wasn't locked. That was odd because they were city folk and always locked their door. So, I went in and…" She paused to catch her breath. "…found them. The house was so deathly still and silent."
Daria held up her hand and asked, "Did you say, silent?"
"That's right, not a sound. I was afraid that even that sweet girl's baby was dead, but I found her fast asleep in her crib."
"Asleep?" Daria said to confirm she'd heard correctly.
"Yes, but she was usually asleep that early in the morning. After Ana left for school, Nancy, that is, Mrs. Jones, usually didn't need to feed the little one until about nine."
Mrs. Bowers went on to explain, "I called the police and then ran outside to tell my Cindy to stay in the car. She didn't want to, and I'm afraid that is the only time I slapped my daughter. It was hard enough when I told her what happened; she didn't need to see it."
"Did you go back inside?"
"Yes, I didn't want to leave the baby alone, so I brought her out and she stayed with us until Children's Services arrived."
"Thanks, you've been helpful."
"Really? After all these years?"
"Yes, you have. Would it be possible to talk to your daughter?"
"I don't see why not. I'll write down her address," Mrs. Bowers said as she picked up a pad and pencil from the table. "She usually gets home with her children at six."
Daria took the address and said, "Thank you, Mrs. Bowers."
"Please, call me Joan, and you are very welcome."
The young woman hesitated and then said, "You can call me Daria."
Joan's hand went to her mouth and her eyes widened. "No wonder you seem familiar. You look so much like your mother."
"That means a lot, thanks."
Cindy's house was a pleasant home set along a gently winding street. Daria sat with her on a sofa, looking through an old photo album. At forty, Cindy was no longer the slender teen in the pictures. However, her smile was still as infectious. Daria looked and listened in fascination as Cindy explained each photograph. She pointed to one and said, "This was at the homecoming game, about a week before you were born. Needless to say, Ana didn't jump around like the rest of us."
A man the same age as Cindy entered the house. A bald spot was already apparent on the top of his head and he also carried a little extra weight around his middle, but he was still a fairly handsome man. He said, "Hi, honey. Who's our guest?"
Cindy rose and Daria followed. Cindy then said, "Josh, do you remember Ana's baby, Daria? This is her."
A fast mix of emotions played over the man's face: surprise, joy and a flash of sadness. "Oh, my gosh. The Squirt's all grown up."
Daria couldn't help but smile at the nickname coming from the man who might have been the person she called Father if life had gone differently and briefly wondered how she may have turned out differently.
To Daria, he asked, "What brings you here? How did you know to contact us?"
"I'm with the FBI and I'm investigating my family's murders as a cold case. As part of the evidence, I read my mother's diary and know how important you two were to her."
Josh suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. To this, Daria said, "Cindy explained that you and she drew comfort from each other after my mother was killed and things grew from there. I understand, trust me."
He asked, "Is there some new evidence or something?"
Daria sighed. "I really can't give out any details of the investigation. I'm sorry."
"Do you think you might find more information with us?"
"I don't know. I'm talking to those that were involved, just in case something was missed during the initial investigation. And to be honest, I'm learning a little more about my mother."
Cindy said, "Come on, honey, have a seat. We're looking at old pictures."
Josh sat next to his wife and said, "Where are we?"
"Just before Daria was born."
On the next page were pictures of Ana with Daria, both in the hospital and soon after coming home. Daria said, "Josh, from what my mother wrote, I bet you've been a good father to your children."
Cindy held his arm. "He has."
"And she thought the world of you, Cindy. I know how she felt; I have a friend I met at about the same age as when she met you. She'll be in town next month for the art show."
Cindy said, "I still sometimes miss Ana. We were closer than sisters."
"Like I am with my friend Jane," Daria said. As Cindy turned to the next page, Daria leaned down and looked closely at a sign that was behind Cindy and Ana, with Ana holding Daria. Each teenager held a small paper bag and they were in front of orange trees. The sign read, "Saylor Groves." She asked, "Where was this taken?"
Cindy answered, "Between our houses. We were picking a few oranges. Mr. Saylor never minded the local kids picking a few ripe fruit, especially his tenants."
"Yeah. Cindy's folks rented their place from Mr. Saylor. His family used to own a lot of grove property before the big freezes. I understand he made a ton of money selling the land off to developers over the next few years. Good thing, because as word had it, he wasn't that great at running the groves, not like his father was."
Daria continued to study the photo and simply said, "Thanks."
Daria sat at her work desk, reviewing her notes from the case file. It adds up, she thought while reading about the tire tracks found near the house. All of them matched a car known to visit her family's house: theirs, Chief Lindsey's car, the Bowers' car and Mr. Saylor's truck. Because of a single set of footprints found going to and from the residence through the grove, the original investigators assumed that the killer had parked somewhere in the grove. However, the soft sand meant no details could be obtained from the tire track, and they had disappeared into the many foot and tire tracks that crossed through the grove during the ongoing harvest. Because there was a freeze warning that night, Mr. Saylor stated that he had checked the grove at 12:30 and nothing was amiss - the same when he checked again at 4:00 AM and dismissed the standby crew that was there to run sprinklers to protect the fruit. Ana had probably fed me at about 3:00 AM; that's why I was still asleep when the Bowerses arrived. He could've been in the area during the estimated time of death and nobody would think it was odd that he was in the grove. Daria sifted through the papers more, thinking, All I have is circumstantial evidence that isn't strong enough to get a search warrant, for good reason. Am I grabbing at straws? I need some real evidence one way or the other.
Setting her automatic on the firing stand, Daria peered down range at the target and was very pleased with the results. In the next range, Kade finished his clip and placed his pistol on the stand also. At the third lane, Mr. Saylor said, "Excellent shooting, both of you."
"The practice is helping," Kade said as he started collecting his spent rounds from the sand. Daria also started to collect hers.
Mr. Saylor started collecting his gear and said, "Nice range, but I think I prefer my old haunt. It feels kind of like a second home. This feels like I'm out camping and I'm getting a little old for that."
"To each their own," Daria replied. "I like the openness and the fresh air."
"You probably don't care for the cigar smoke, either," Mr. Saylor replied. "You two probably want to spend some time together, so I'll be on my way." He waved and walked to his pickup. Daria and Kade finished picking up and getting ready as he started the truck and left.
Daria went to her car and returned with a pair of needle-nosed pliers, a small rod and a knife. She walked down the firing lane that Mr. Saylor had used. At the backstop, she inspected the ballistic rubber backstop for fresh bullet holes. At one, she carefully inserted the rod, measuring the depth to a bullet. Then, she cut a slit and used the pliers to remove a .38 slug from the material.
Behind her, Kade asked, "What are you doing?"
"Checking something I really hope that I'm wrong about."
"Is that one of Mr. Saylor's rounds?"
"Yes," Daria said, placing the bullet in an envelope and sealing it.
"You're treating that like evidence."
"It might be. I'm sorry, but that's why I wanted to shoot at a public range. We're on federal land and I don't need a warrant."
"You suspect Mr. Saylor of something? Something involving that revolver?"
Daria sighed. "Right now, all I have is some circumstantial evidence. This will give me a solid yes or no answer."
"Can you let me in on it?"
"I'm sorry, but you know the drill."
Hands in pockets, Kade said, "This really makes me nervous. He can get into your apartment at any time. If he has done something and gets wind of your investigation…"
"I know. That's why we have to be very discreet."
"In that case, why are you letting me see this?"
Very serious, Daria said, "In case anything happens."
Pressed against a wall to avoid the crowd, Daria watched passengers stepping off of the elevated tram that carried passengers from the airport gates to the main terminal in Orlando. The mass of men, women and children moved out of the simultaneously opening doors and moved like a single organism toward Daria. After a minute, she finally saw Jane moving among the others and waved to get her attention.
Jane smiled and waved back as she forced her way across the current to reach her old friend. "Daria!" she said and hugged her.
"Hi, Jane," Daria replied, trying to sound unimpressed but her happiness at seeing Jane coming through.
Stretching her back and moving a little stiffly after the flight, Jane said, "Let's blow this joint and get my bags. I want to see your new place and your new toy."
"At least you mentioned my place before my boyfriend. There is hope that you are not completely single-minded."
"Hey, I'm mellowing in my old age."
"Or you don't want a swift kick in the ass."
Jane laughed. "That, too. Since you learned all that self-defense stuff, I have to rely on speed and wit to keep me alive around you."
"Good thing you have speed," Daria said. "Because your wit still won't protect you."
Still laughing, Jane scanned the overhead signs and started walking toward her flight's baggage claim. She said, "So, Agent Morgendorffer, when are you going undercover in a beauty pageant?"
Daria shook her head. "Jane, that was a movie."
"Yeah, but look at how much Quinn would have a cow."
"Still not worth the effort," Daria replied.
"You're getting soft in your old age, too. Or is it just because you finally got laid?"
"Hey, I call them as I see them."
"I knew I shouldn't have told you," Daria complained.
"Come on," Jane said. "Fair's fair. I told you everything."
"Yeah, even when I was trying to cover my ears."
Jane laughed more as they continued through the airport. "The art show is going to be so cool. You promise that you're within walking distance, right?"
"From what I hear, it's the best way to go; trying to park a car in downtown Ft. Repose is going to be as bad as parking in downtown Boston."
Daria nodded. "My thoughts exactly. It's going to be a zoo and Kade will have to put in a long shift. Nobody in his department has the weekend off."
"So, I'll just have to keep you entertained, but I'm warning you that I'm not that kind of girl."
Daria looked at her friend. "I think we need to find you someone so that you can get laid."
Spread on the sofa with one leg hooked over the back, Jane said, "You're turning into Helen, bringing work home with you."
Seated in her armchair, Daria read through printed copies of old business news from the local newspaper. "It's only half work. The other half is personal."
"Okay, turning into half a Helen."
"Funny, Lane." Daria held up the papers and complained, "Damn cheapskates at the city library charged me 25 cents a page to print from their microfilms."
"So, what are you looking for?"
Rereading one article, Daria said, "Confirming a comment about a person's company being in bad financial shape." Hearing a knock on the door, she told Jane, "That must be Kade." Rising before Jane could, she added, "I'll get the door."
"You just want to get some smooching time in," she said, tossing a potato chip at her.
"Like that's a problem?"
Daria opened the door to see Kade in the hallway with two large pizzas in his hands with a pair of 2 liter soda bottles and a box of breadsticks balanced on top. "From what you've said about your old friend, I figured pizza would be a good idea."
"Good thinking," she said. Daria led him in and said, "Please be nice, Jane. There really aren't any great pizza places in town. We have to make do with average."
"Damn, Daria. Talk about having to rough it. But seeing the delivery boy…I can see how you can stand the hardship." Jane wiggled her eyebrows and gave her friend a lecherous grin.
Daria rolled her eyes and put her arm around Kade's waist and said to him. "Are you really sure you don't have a brother? At least to keep Jane busy for the next week."
"Sorry, only a sister," he said. After placing the food on the coffee table, Kade said, "Hi, nice to meet the infamous Jane Lane. Daria has told me so much about you."
Jane stood and gave a grossly exaggerated curtsey. "Infamous? Daria obviously told you the good stuff about me. It's great to finally meet the guy that got through to my usually oblivious friend."
Kade cocked his head in confusion. "Oblivious?"
"About guys, yeah," Jane answered. "Don't tell me you didn't notice."
"Maybe a little shy, but otherwise, no," he said.
"Really?" She ran her eyes up and down his body. "Well, I guess she just had a little more inspiration than the boys we knew in Boston."
Daria said, "See what I had to put up with all through college? Not to mention most of high school? Always trying to set me up with someone."
"Hey, I only tried to hook you up with my brother in high school," Jane said in defense. "Tom was completely your doing. Come to think of it, you still owe me at least a mouse."
"Jane, I paid you back three years ago. Remember, a whole bag of Gummy Mice?"
"Oh, yeah," Jane said. "Enough of that, we have untouched pizza begging to be devoured."
Kade knelt beside the table and opened both boxes. "One Kitchen Sink and one Meat-eater's Mainline."
Jane sagely nodded to Daria, who was pulling her chair closer to the table. "You have trained this one well, young Morgendorffer."
Seated on the floor, Kade took a slice from one of the nearly empty pizza boxes. Daria used the break in the conversation to excuse herself and head for the bathroom. When he saw that she had closed the door, Kade lowered his voice and asked Jane, "Well, do I pass the best friend test?"
Jane sat back on the sofa, held her hand over her mouth and burped. "So far, so good."
He relaxed and said, "Good."
Jane also took a slice and said, "Though to tell the truth, I'd always pictured Daria ending up with a kinda cute, skinny, nerdy guy."
"Instead of a small-town, southern cop?"
"Instead of a tall, buffed-up blond guy. She was never much for outside appearances."
Kade took time to finish a bite of pizza. "Yeah. But then, she's one of those women that are just beautiful without having to do much."
Jane grinned and pointed to her red lips. "Like lipstick? Actually, Daria's improved in that area; she used to go out of her way to hide how she looked."
"Oh, no I'm not. Look, Daria was always very careful about who she let close to her. Hiding how she looked was one way to do that. Daria is tough on the outside and very sensitive on the inside."
"I can attest to that."
"And she wouldn't get as close to you as she has without good reason. Says a lot about you."
"Um, thanks. I only tried to listen and be a friend, especially when she needed one."
Jane took a drink from her soda. "I'd say you did a hell of a job listening. I've never seen her so…happy."
"Well, she makes me happy," Kade replied.
"Good, keep it up." Jane pointed her pizza at him. "But just remember, if you hurt her, I will kick your ass."
Seated on Daria's usual chair, Jane watched her friend spread sheets and a pillow on the sofa and said, "Hot body, able to literally watch your back and capable of listening to even you. He's a keeper."
Daria glanced back. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Thought you'd like to know."
"Well, now it's your turn."
Jane shrugged. "Eh, considering my brothers' and sisters' track records, I think I'll just leave things loose for a while."
"Leave things loose? Have you been listening to Trent again?"
"From time to time."
Daria completed her efforts and stood. "There, you have a place to sleep."
"You know," Jane said, fighting a grin, "you could just stay next door and let me use your bed."
"We don't spend the night at each other's place," Daria said. "We…I'm still not ready for that on a regular basis."
"Damn," Jane said. "Oh well, you can't blame a girl for trying. On another note, how are things going with your mother's case?"
"I might be close."
"Hey, that sounds promising. Think you can arrest the guy soon?"
"Don't know. I'm waiting on some evidence to be processed and that might take a while. Real life forensics isn't like the TV shows. Evidence doesn't get processed overnight."
"I hope you hear something soon."
Daria nodded and said, "Thanks."
Getting up from the chair, Jane said, "Tomorrow should be fun, hanging out with the other artists while they set up for the weekend."
"Hey, you pitch in and help; you make a few friends, friends that know show culture and can help you get in."
"Ah, so there's a method to your madness."
"Yep. Besides, a lot of artists are fruit loops and provide great free entertainment."
Excited, Sadie barged into Daria's office and pushed an open folder onto the desk in front of her. "Damn, Morgendorffer. You did it."
She looked up from the report she was proofreading and said, "I did what?"
"You found the Executioner. That .38 round you gave us matched."
Daria's throat went dry. "Matched?"
"Textbook. You did it."
"What? I thought…"
"I was hoping this would rule someone out. Have you told the task force yet?"
Sadie said, "I sent them a copy. They'll probably be up here in a minute or two."
Daria nodded. "Thanks, and thanks for rushing this through. I wasn't expecting results this fast."
"I was running a couple other .38s picked up from another shooting, so I included yours. Those didn't come up with a match, but yours did."
Running a hand through her hair, Daria rolled her chair to a filing cabinet. "Well, thanks. If you'll excuse me, I need to get a bunch of stuff together for the task force and for Chief Lindsey."
"Trust me; he's going to want to know about this."
Nervous, Daria straightened her suit jacket and stepped into her boss's office. Lindsey said, "I hear you cracked the .38 Executioner case. Congratulations."
Quiet, she said, "Yes, sir." She placed the case dossier she'd assembled on his desk and said, "You need to see this, considering the suspect."
Suddenly curious, he opened the folder and read briefly before looking up. "Anthony Saylor? I don't believe it. I've known him for most of my career."
Daria explained, "I didn't want to believe it myself, but that's where the evidence points. The family business was failing, and then somehow, it was in the black only a couple months later. Ana's diary was clear that she fed me at around 3:00 AM every night. Since I was asleep the next morning, the murders must've happened after that and very close to when he said he was in the nearby grove. Finally, there's the bullet match…if he's not the killer, then the killer is regularly using his old service revolver."
"Damn," Lindsey muttered. Sad, he looked up at Daria. "Thank you for having the guts to tell me directly."
"So, what now?"
"We're going to go by the book, get a proper warrant, agents from the task force will serve them, and then pick Anthony up for questioning. Before you ask, while your contribution is greatly appreciated, this is the task force's case. Let them have the collar."
"Okay, sir, and thanks. I liked Mr. Saylor, too. I don't think I could be the one to put cuffs on him."
"I'll keep you updated."
"I appreciate it." Daria stood and exited, going back to her office. There, she sat down and immediately placed a call. After immediately hearing voice mail, Daria grumbled, "Dammit Jane, turn on your phone." She placed hers back on the cradle and stared at her computer. "You had better be hanging out with a bunch of artists and not still asleep."
For the next couple of hours, Daria was barely able to get any work done and continued to hit Jane's voicemail each time she tried to call. A sudden commotion outside caught her attention and she went out into the hallway. Chief Lindsey was trotting down the corridor toward her while other agents and staff moved around him, some joining to pass on messages and others leaving. "What's going on?" she asked.
Shaken, he said, "Something went wrong and Saylor shot both agents."
"Get your gear," Lindsey commanded. "The Ft. Repose police have the apartment building surrounded and he might have hostages."
"Jane," Daria said out loud. "I'll be right with you."
Daria dashed back into her office to grab her suit jacket. From a small coat rack in the corner, she also picked up a protective vest. In seconds, Daria was back in the hallway and following Lindsey while putting on her vest.
The apartment building was surrounded by numerous Ft. Repose police cars and county sheriff deputies. Lindsey had barely stopped the car before he was out of it and asking, "Who's in charge here?"
A moment later, a man in his fifties, wearing a Ft. Repose police uniform, appeared. "I'm Police Chief Anderson. Who are you?"
"I'm FBI Station Chief Lindsey. Those were my men that were shot. Can you get me up to speed?"
Anderson pointedly said, "Your two feds showed up and let us know that they were executing warrants. Once inside, they must've buggered things up badly. We got a 911 call of shots fired and two bodies on the floor from a resident who fled out of the front. When my first officer arrived, his windshield was shot out and he had to dive for the floorboard. Now it's your turn to tell me what in the hell is going on."
Lindsey explained, "My men were executing a search warrant for Mr. Saylor, specifically looking for a .38 revolver that has been associated with several crimes."
"I'm having a hard time believing that. Mr. Saylor's been a friend of the police since I was a rookie and a pillar of our community."
Lindsey grimly said, "I've learned that people can hide some horrible things, even when they seem examples of virtue. I'm known him for many years myself. He's done a lot of favors for me and the Bureau."
"Well, I guess you're right, since your two men are dead and Mr. Saylor is holed up inside."
"I heard that there might be hostages."
"Lucky for us the only person we thought might have been a hostage escaped."
Seeking among the others, Daria spotted Kade and, much to her relief, Jane was crouched behind a car next to him. Keeping low, she ran over and said, "Jane, thank goodness you made it out."
Shaken, Jane hugged Daria and said, "Good thing I'm still a runner. I was eating some leftover pizza when I heard gunshots downstairs. I was still trying to figure out what to do when that crazy bastard started to break into your apartment. I ran down the fire escape and across the lawn to behind a parked car before he could get to the balcony."
Glad that Jane was safe, Daria hugged back and said, "Thank you for staying in shape. He's a good enough shot that if you hadn't been hidden, he might have got you."
"Yeah, Kade said the same thing."
He said to Daria, "What is going on?"
She closed her eyes. "Mr. Saylor has been a gun-for-hire. That bullet I collected was a match for multiple organized-crime-related killings…going back at least to my family."
Dumbfounded, Kade said, "He killed your family?"
"I'm sure of it. He had the motive, the opportunity, and the weapon."
A few moments later, Lindsey joined them and said, "Morgendorffer, we can't allow an assault of the building. Even though Mr. Saylor would be killed, I'm afraid that he would take several officers with him. He's too good of a shot and he knows the procedures. I wouldn't put it past him to have a respirator inside in case we use tear gas. We have to try to talk him out."
Daria asked, "Is there a negotiator on the way?"
"I don't know if one would do any good," he said. "But I think he'll listen to people he knows."
"And you. I understand you've been taking shooting lessons from him."
"He has to know that I'm the one that put the dots together," Daria said. "He tried to grab Jane as a hostage."
"And I'm the one who requested the warrant. Look, he's backed into a corner and he knows it. If anyone else goes in, he will shoot before they get close. If we go in, he might not."
"Might not," Daria said, not very convinced.
"It's going to be dangerous and he might start shooting anyway. Morgendorffer, this is our case and I know that you want him as much as I do. We have to go in, but I also want Saylor alive for information, if at all possible. If he is the Executioner, we can find out who hired him and when. We can break up a lot of criminal organizations with that knowledge. If they send in a SWAT team, he's not coming out alive and the information dies with him."
Daria sighed and said, "Okay, but, no offense Jane, I feel like I'm wearing a red shirt."
Kade offered his hand to the station chief and said, "I'm patrolman Ellis and I live here, too. If you go in, I want to go, too."
"Excellent. I've heard about you from Agent Morgendorffer," Lindsey replied. "You're in."
Lindsey kept low and ran back to Chief Anderson. "Sir, I've known Mr. Saylor for many years. Agent Morgendorffer and your Officer Ellis live here. If anyone has a chance of talking him out, it will be us."
"With all due respect," the police chief said, "our negotiator has already tried talking to him. No luck. What makes you think you can do better?"
"Because he trusts me, while he doesn't know your negotiator from Adam. He thinks enough of Agent Morgendorffer and Officer Ellis to teach them pistol marksmanship. It'll be harder for him to shoot us and easier for him to talk. I'm counting on that."
"I don't think he trusts you that much if he shot your men."
"If it was me alone, you would be right. But all three of us, he'll think twice. We are the only chance of this ending without more deaths."
Anderson nodded. "I don't like it, but I'm willing to give you a chance. But if anything happens, the SWAT team is going in."
Lindsey tapped his radio headset. "All three of us will stay in contact, just in case."
"Oh, I will."
Daria clenched her fists and closed her eyes. "Pardon me for a second."
Lindsey said, "Nervous?"
"Scared shitless," Daria answered. "This is the first time I've really faced deadly force, or had to use it."
Kade squeezed her shoulder. "Don't worry; I'm only one up on you and about as scared."
"It's good to be scared," Lindsey counseled. "It keeps you alert; just don't let it take over. Are you ready?"
Daria took a moment before saying, "As ready as I'll ever be."
When Kade nodded, Lindsey stood and walked around the car. "Anthony, I'm coming in to talk, and I'm bringing a couple of other people you know."
Daria and Kade stood and followed behind Lindsey. She whispered, "Okay, Melody, here we go."
From within the building, Saylor called back, "I see you, David, along with Daria and Kade. Put down your weapons."
Lindsey said, "You know we can't do that. We're here to talk, not become hostages. You know you can't get away. You can either deal, or you'll be killed. I think you want to deal."
"What kind of deal?"
"You'll have to let us in to talk. You have a lot to bargain."
"You bet I do. Okay, come in."
Cautious, and with pistols drawn, the three walked up the steps. Lindsey gently opened the door and stepped inside. "Here we are, Anthony."
Mr. Saylor had stepped back into his office and kept his gun trained on them. The bodies of the slain agents were still on the floor near the door. Like the others, he wore an armored vest and a full-face respirator was on the desk behind him. Saylor said, "All the way in and close the door."
Daria and Kade joined Lindsey and she pulled the door closed.
Not moving from his office, Saylor said, "David, you didn't even have the guts to come in person. You sent two of your men."
"I'm sorry, Anthony, I didn't think things would happen like this."
"How did you expect them to happen?"
"I thought that you would have the decency to come in peacefully."
"Bastard," Saylor growled.
Daria was intently aware of every individual's actions as Saylor pulled the trigger. Hers, Kade's and Lindsey's pistols all fired in a rapid volley that almost sounded like one gunshot while each separately dove to the floor. Lindsey's head jerked to the side as a round struck his face and Daria saw blood spatter. Saylor staggered as a round struck his body armor and pushed him back against the desk. As she rolled and tried to bring up her pistol, Saylor fired again and Daria felt the bullet slam against her chest, stopped by the armor. The blow rolled her back and knocked the air out of her lungs as she heard Kade fire again. Daria rolled back in time to see Saylor fall with his neck covered in blood.
Over the radio, Daria could hear Anderson yelling, "What's going on in there?"
Kade yelled, "Daria!"
She coughed and waved that she was okay before moving toward Lindsey.
Face bloodied by a bullet that had passed through his cheeks and broke his jaw, he gave a thumbs up as she yanked a handkerchief from his pocket to make a fast bandage for his wound by tearing it in half and tying it around his head. He waved her aside and pointed to the office, ordering her and Kade to secure Saylor first.
Kade replied on the radio, "Saylor is down but condition unknown. Lindsey is hurt and will need an ambulance. Morgendorffer and I are about to check on Saylor."
Weapons trained on the wounded man, both moved forward and into the office. Still clutching his gun, blood bubbled from Saylor's mouth with each breath as he watched them approach with resignation in his eyes.
"Drop the gun," Daria said.
Behind them, Lindsey rose and watched Daria and Kade in the office. Unemotionally, he reached into a pocket, took out a small grenade and pulled the pin.
In a barn filled with grove tractors, sprayers and trimmers, Lindsey stormed, "You were supposed to kill everyone!"
Saylor glared back. "It was bad enough killing the girl. I couldn't kill the baby. You brought me into this to kill criminals for you, not kids."
"You accepted the assignment. Danzig helped move tons of cocaine north that led to who knows how many deaths. He only turned because his kid got knocked up and then we were going to give him a new life. I couldn't let that happen and it had to look like Santiago did it. We can use his apparent link to the killings to dig deeper against that son-of-a-bitch and find something that will stick better than a trafficking conviction."
"Bastard," Saylor spat.
"My bosses won't let us go after these cocaine cowboys like we should, so we have to go after them any way we can. And don't complain; you're already in this too deep. There were bound to be a few civilian casualties."
Growling, Saylor said, "Fine. Just give me my money."
Lindsey took a roll of cash from his jacket pocket. "You know, Santiago would sure be surprised to learn his money paid for his downfall."
Daria and Kade both saw Saylor lift his pistol and the hammer glide back with a trigger pull. Again with perfect clarity, Daria saw the revolver fire, followed by her pistol and then Kade's, all within a fraction of a second. Saylor's head jerked back as both bullets hit and passed through, destroying the back of his skull.
Daria spun to check her boss and saw Lindsey falling backward. Recognizing what dropped from his hand, she yelled, "Grenade!" and dove at Kade. The sudden move drove him off-balance and both fell hard on the floor moments before the grenade exploded outside. Bits of drywall and wood splinters knocked out of the wall by shrapnel showered down on them.
Anderson's voice bellowed on the radio, "What in God's name was that?!"
Kade looked up at Daria lying on top of him. "What he said."
Daria gulped a lungful of air as the fear passed. She said into her radio, "Lindsey had a grenade. He dropped it when Saylor shot him."
"What in the hell was he doing with a grenade?" Kade said, as his chief yelled something similar.
Daria rolled off of Kade and crawled to her feet. "That's what I want to know."
In seconds, police were swarming into the building through the blasted front door. Several turned a bit green at the sight of Lindsey's fractured body. Anderson bullied his way through to Daria and Kade. "Are you hurt?"
Daria looked down at the hole torn in her jacket. "I'm going to have a hell of a bruise later, but I'm otherwise fine."
"Uninjured, sir," Kade said. "Thanks to Daria pushing me out of the way."
"What was that?"
"She saw the grenade and pushed me away from the open door before it went off."
Anderson looked down at Saylor, the dead agents and then at Lindsey. "Three feds and the suspect dead. The front of a building blown out. What a screw-up. Morgendorffer, get yourself checked by the paramedics, just in case. Ellis, let's clear the scene so forensics can start to collect evidence."
Daria said, "I'll get checked out, but leave room for our forensic team, too," and stepped past, avoiding her boss's corpse and walking outside.
Jane ran past several of the other officers and grabbed Daria in a bear hug. "You're okay!"
Daria winced and gently pushed back. "Okay, but not great. My vest stopped a bullet."
Jane stepped back and looked at the bullet hole's location on Daria's left breast. "Damn, that's got to hurt."
"Yes, it does. I'm hoping I don't have a rib cracked under it. I'm going over to the medics to get it checked."
"Good. What happened in there?"
"Jane, I really don't know, but I've got a bad feeling that my boss was involved with Saylor. Damn, it makes sense. One grenade and he could take out everyone who conceivably could've fingered him."
"But you got a lucky shot at him."
Daria stopped. "No, Saylor did. He knew Kade and I would shoot if he lifted the gun. I guess he figured that he was dying one way or the other and that he could at least take out Lindsey if he did shoot."
"So, he saved your life."
"Yeah, he did. And we shot him for it."
The door to Daria's apartment had been hurriedly re-hung but the new wood was still unpainted. She sat on her armchair and sipped on a glass of wine while holding her cell phone with the other hand. "Dad, I'm okay. A big bruise, but that's it. Until the review board completes its investigation, I'm on administrative leave. The same with Kade, he's on leave until his department's board reviews his shooting. Tell Mom and Quinn that I'm okay and that I'll talk with them later, when I've had a little more time to rest and calm down. Bye."
On the sofa, Jane said, "Shot in the boob. That's going to be one hell of a story to tell your kids."
Daria gave her friend a tired look and set her phone aside. "Oh yeah, I can just see that. 'Listen children. Let me tell you about the time I was shot in the boob.'"
"I suppose you should leave out the part where Kade kisses it and makes it all better."
"Jane, I…" Daria didn't finish the statement, but did have a faint smile.
"I saw that," Jane said. "Besides, he owes you for saving his life."
"I just reacted, Jane."
"Yeah, you reacted just right and saved your main squeeze's life. He owes you. Speaking of him, where's he at?"
Daria looked at her door. "I'm curious, too. I can't believe that his paperwork took longer to finish than mine."
"While we're waiting, how are you holding up?"
"So far, so good. I'm expecting the screaming hysterics to show up about two in the morning. How about you?"
"I'm glad we're both alive. I'm holding onto that right now so I don't have to think about anything else."
"A good plan."
After a silent pause, Daria said, "Jane…are you going to be okay if you're alone tonight?"
"You're not asking me to share the bed with you, are you?"
"No, but I don't think I can be alone tonight."
Jane smiled. "I've got ya. I'll be okay, as long as you don't mind me using your bed instead of the couch."
"Thanks," Daria quietly answered.
"Daria, it's okay to be with Kade. You two went through a lot today. A lot more than I did. Stay with him; it'll be good for you."
Daria gulped down the rest of her wine and set the glass aside when she heard a knock on the door. She jumped up and ran, opening it to find Kade holding a large bouquet of flowers. He said, "Sorry I'm late, but with everyone else in the department still getting ready for the art show, I had to do everything myself. Plus, I decided to pick something up on the way here."
Daria took the flowers and read the ribbon run through them: My Hero. She blushed and said, "I could say the same about you. I'm sure Mr. Saylor's next shot would've killed me if you hadn't gotten him first."
"How about we share it, then?" he asked before leaning down to kiss Daria.
Daria moved against his chest and put her arm around his waist. "Sharing works."
In the morning, Daria awoke and pulled Kade's arms closer around her. Keeping his arms around her, she rolled in place to face him. Watching his soft breathing, she lifted one hand and stroked his cheek. Smiling, she thought of the tender cuddling the previous night and how right it felt. Even though they'd gone no further than that, Daria felt a softly contented afterglow. She also felt something stronger that she couldn't deny any longer. Daria whispered, "I love you."
He faintly smiled and murmured, "I love you, Daria," without seeming to wake up.
She kissed him and asked, "How long have you known?"
His eyes slowly opened and he said, "Since the first time you stayed here. I told you that I felt something special."
Still feeling emotionally drained from the internal investigation and the media coverage, Daria sat down at her work desk and tried unsuccessfully to catch-up on her backlogged assignments. Instead, she thought of how Lindsey had set up his own men. A prepaid cell phone found in his trash matched a call to Saylor minutes before the agents arrived. Saylor's repeated calls back after their deaths had gone unanswered. A one-way ticket to the Bahamas purchased online that day and a packed suitcase indicated that Saylor had intended to flee the country.
However, the Ft. Repose police had responded to the shooting faster than he'd anticipated. After his attempt to grab Jane as a hostage had failed, he seemed resigned to dying, which made sense to Daria. As an ex-cop and an assassin of numerous organized crime figures, he probably wouldn't live long in any prison. As a final act against Lindsey, Saylor had left dates and details of each person he had killed.
The investigation of Lindsey found that each of the targets had been individuals that the Bureau had been unable to gather sufficient evidence against to put away, or whose death would hurt someone the FBI wanted. In frustration, Lindsey had taken matters into his own hands to extra-judicially deal with them. Many of the assassinations had occurred within a month or two of major money seizures supervised by Lindsey, which he had skimmed money from before they were tallied and logged in as evidence.
Finally, Daria thought of her family. The deeper investigation of Santiago authorized after their deaths produced the evidence that put the drug kingpin away for life. His lawyers were already requesting a retrial and to suppress evidence collected on the basis of the murders.
Daria stared off into space. I wish we could've interrogated them. There's still so much we don't know.
"Hey, welcome back," Sadie said, standing at the door with a small bag.
Shaking her head, Daria said, "Thanks, I'm glad it's over. What's in the bag?"
"With the case closed, I need to return personal effects to the next of kin." Sadie placed the bag on the desk and took out Ana's diary. "That's you."
Daria accepted it and said, "I appreciate this."
"Hey, just doing my job…and taking my turn to schmooze with the hero."
Daria rolled her eyes. "Not you, too."
"Hey, they're giving you a medal. Don't knock it."
"I wish they'd just do it privately. I really don't want to deal with more press."
Sadie leaned forward and said, "Speaking of some of those news stories, did you really date Thomas Sloane in high school?"
Daria rested her head on her hand. "Yes."
Laughing, Sadie said, "You really lead an interesting life. I have a feeling things aren't going be dull around here from now on."
Glad to get away from the noise and crowd after the award ceremony, Daria dropped into the back seat of a Bureau car. Kade was there and put his arm around her as she let out a sigh and said, "It's over."
"Thank God," Daria said, leaning against him. "I can't believe how long-winded they got."
"You certainly confused them when you thanked your mom and your mother."
Daria lightly laughed. "I bet some tabloid will have a field day, but I still can't bring myself to call Mom, Helen, Grandma."
Kade looked over his shoulder and then said, "It looks like your family made it to Jane's car."
The driver asked, "Are you ready?"
"Please," Daria said. "Get us out of here."
"To your apartment?" he asked.
"Yes," Daria answered. "No night out on the town. I think I've had enough publicity for today."
As they rode along, Kade kissed her cheek and asked, "So, what are you going to do with your life? You found your mother and you found the truth about what happened to them."
Daria thought for a moment and then looked up into his eyes. "I think it's time I started to look for myself, and I think I know where to start."
"Hmm, I think I like the sound of that," he said.
"But there's still one more thing I need to do."
Wearing a light jacket against the cool air that Floridians tended to consider chill, Ana set Daria's baby carrier on a park table and made sure her child was secure and warm. She then set out a light lunch from a small cooler and sat opposite Daria, so that they faced each other. The teen unwrapped her sandwich and said, "I know you can't exactly join me in eating right now, but you will in the future."
The baby gurgled, smiled and gummed on two fingers.
Ana laughed and said, "If that makes you happy, go ahead." More seriously, she said, "Daria, I want us to know each other and to be able to talk. So, we're going to have a nice lunch together every month, just the two of us. What do you think?"
Daria let out a small, happy cry and waved her hands.
"I thought you'd like it." Ana took a bite from her lunch and pondered while she chewed. Done, she said, "I suppose I'll have to start. I bet you're wondering what I want to do with my life, since you'll be sponging off of me for the next eighteen years. Okay, you're sponging off of Grandma and Grandpa right now, but that's going to change. I'm going to finish high school and go to college. Looks like I'll have to stay close, maybe UCF or Stetson or Rollins. Lake Community College would also be possible, at least for my first two years. After that, I'm not sure. I like to write, but I need to think about you. Beginning writers don't make a lot of money. Maybe one of the sciences. They have a new microcomputer in the school library; learning about them could be a good move." Ana sighed and said before taking another bite of lunch, "I have time to decide."
After a drink, she asked, "Now, what about you? Do you want to write? How about an astronaut? Or a doctor?" Ana leaned across the table and kissed Daria on the forehead. "You have plenty of time, too. And whatever you choose, I'm sure I'll be proud of you."
Daria reverently laid a rose on each of three new gravestones in the country cemetery. The final one was inscribed, "Anastasia Marie Danzig." Daria ran her fingers along the lettering and said, "It's time you had your real name back. Jones was the name given to protect you and for too long, it became a name to cover up the failure to protect you. I wish I could remember something from the little time we had together and I wish, just once, I could talk to you now. Perhaps we could have lunch and get to know each other, just like you wrote about that one day twenty-five years ago."
Daria wiped tears from her eyes. "I never became an astronaut or a doctor, but I still write and hope to sell something, someday. I have your diary and some day, I hope to pass it on to my daughter. That's right, it's my turn. There seems to be something particularly fertile about our lineage, but that's okay, I'm happy with this. I'm not far enough along for an ultrasound, but somehow, I know it's a girl. But don't worry, Kade's a good man and he'll be a good father. You would like him, and we're going to leave you a space at our wedding." Starting to choke up with emotion, Daria stood and rested her hand on the marker. "I love you, Mom."
Helen joined Daria and also laid a rose on the grave. "I've never forgotten you, my precious Anastasia."
Helen stood and put her arm around Daria. Together, they turned away and walked back to where Jake, Quinn and Kade waited. Helen wordlessly went to Jake and held tight as she cried on his shoulder. Kade gently held Daria and stroked her hair as her tears also fell.
Leaving the others, Quinn went to the marker and knelt down. "Hi, sis. I wish I could've met you, too." She looked back and said, "But your daughter will always be a sister to me. You can be proud of Daria. I know I am."
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.
October - December 2007