“You promised me that you would keep her safe!” Bill Granger bellows.
“I did, damn you!” Richard Headrick roars back. “How was I to know that crazed woman would come barging into the office to kill Piccolo in broad daylight with so many witnesses around to see her?!”
Chairs scrape across the hard floor.
“Dammit, Meggy, that hurt a lot more than the last time you did it!” Bill wails.
“And I’ll slap you upside that thick, bald head of yours even harder if you don’t quit it RIGHT NOW!” Meggy Granger yells at her husband. “As for you, Mr. Headrick, I’ll wallop you one, too, if you punch my husband again! I don’t care if he DID hit you first! NOBODY hurts my family and gets away with it! NOBODY!“
A rap on the door interrupts the argument. It swings open and the loud voices of scant seconds before become whispers. Papers rustle, and then the door closes.
“I love your daughter,” Richard professes to the couple, “and I would never see her hurt for anything in the world. Anything! How I wish it had been me, instead! I would gladly trade places with Piccolo, if only I could wind back the clock! I would willingly give up my life in an instant if it meant saving hers!”
He breaks down then, inconsolable.
“Oh, you poor thing, we had no idea,” Meggy says helplessly, her urgent decisiveness to reach out to him as natural as her maternal instincts to offer him comfort in the warmth of her embrace like she always did with her beloved daughter.
He returns her hug with interest while Bill watches uncomfortably, overcome with guilt.
“I’m sorry,” he apologizes to Richard. “I know you did everything you could to protect her. I don’t blame you. Not really. I blame myself. I’m a retired Navy SEAL, for fuck’s sake, and I should have been able to see it coming, should have been able prevent it somehow! But I failed her.”
All three are weeping uncontrollably now, drowning in their shared misery.
“Why are you all talking about me as if … as if I’m dead?” I grouchily rasp at them from my hospital bed, my mouth and throat dry as fuck from the damn tube that I’m guessing was shoved down them so an anesthesiologist could put me under for surgery.
I’ve undergone surgery in the past to remove some particularly nasty plantar warts on the bottom of my left foot, so I remember all too well how shitty I felt coming out from under the anesthesia.
Just like this.
“Piccolo!” Mom manages to beam at me through her tears. “You’re finally awake! We’ve been so worried about you, honey!”
She pours some water into a Styrofoam cup while Richard pushes a button on the side rail to my right to adjust the head of the bed so I can sit up and drink without dribbling cold liquid all over myself. The slight movement from the head of the bed being raised shifts my left shoulder a bit, causing me to hiss at the abrupt pain.
I still don’t remember getting shot. I never even felt it, perhaps due to my sudden burst of adrenaline during the final moments of that frightening ordeal with the certifiable Abigail Wellington-Smith.
I’m just relieved it’s finally over.
For real this time.
“Water tastes so good,” I croak, greedily slurping from the cup Richard accepts from my mom and holds up to my parched lips until it’s empty and he hands it back to her to be refilled. “I’m so thirsty.”
And still so groggy, I’ll probably fall asleep again in the not-so-distant future.
I reach out to touch Richard’s face with the tips of the fingers on my right hand, swollen knuckles and all, lightly stroking the freshly split upper lip Dad gave him before moving it higher to touch his shockingly gel-free hair. Baby soft. Nice. I opened my eyes just in time to witness my dad slug him and Richard respond with an uppercut. The area around Dad’s right eye already is swollen, indicating he’s going to have one hell of a shiner.
Good. Serves them right for fighting in a hospital room like a couple of back-alley thugs.
I still think Mom and I need to let them go 12 rounds in our backyard or Richard’s or wherever so they can get all of this … this territorial tomcat bullshit out of their systems, else we’re going to be having a lot more of these, uh, bouts, if you’ll excuse the pun, for years to come.
I wonder what our kids will think, seeing those two go at it.
Whoa, Nelly! I’m getting WAY too ahead of myself here!
But a big, goofy smile flutters across my lips as I picture a surly little boy with dark hair and rebellious black eyes before I fall back into the sleep of the dead.
I awake much later to the sun shining through the open blinds on the windows and the three of them conversing with Briscoe as the ever-silent Harpo nudges his partner to let him know my eyes are open.
After guzzling more water in the same fashion I inhale my prized Krispy Kremes, I’m ready to give the detectives my official statement, at once dreading the moment Dad finds out Lester Smith is, indeed, my biological father and knowing there’s no way I can omit that ugly truth to protect him from the heartache it is certain to cause him.
But first, they fill me in on the details leading up to and following my deadly confrontation with Mrs. Smith.
No one gave a second thought to her being in the building Tuesday, from what Briscoe tells me, since she had just been at the Daily Herald the previous day for that interview with Mandy Jo. Alex was doing some work in his own office but didn’t know she was there, or he’d have called the police well before anyone heard the gunshot because Richard at least had the foresight to fill him in on our suspicions. Not that it changed the outcome, mind you, but his heart was in the right place.
IS always in the right place.
The bullet was lodged in my left shoulder, Briscoe informs me, so it had to be surgically removed. This was achieved via a minimally invasive procedure known as a shoulder arthroscopy, Dad interrupts the detective to explain, in which the surgeon utilized a tiny camera to assess the damage, carefully remove the bullet and repair tissues inside and around the joint. He also tells me the cuts to my legs from Mrs. Smith’s stilettos are superficial, although there is extensive bruising that will take a while to heal before I’m able to get around without assistance.
I vaguely remember the surgeon looming over me in recovery doing a bunch of babbling, but he might as well have been speaking in a foreign language for all I understood while I was in such a woozy state of mind.
“You were damn lucky, young lady,” my dad says gruffly as he bends down to kiss me on the forehead.
“Nice black eye there, Rocky,” I quip before getting to the statement that no longer can be delayed.
Everything I tell them corroborates Bob’s boastful confession — he’s quite proud of his role in their painstaking murder scheme, from what Briscoe relays to me — and further strengthens the state’s cause as it begins to build its case against the villainous couple. And when it finally does go to trial, I’m sure to be a slam dunk as the state’s star witness, thanks to my well-known inability to lie.
Bob — who was probably watching my apartment for any activity from me — predictably fell for our plan, making a grab for Deputy Alexis Roberts while she was interviewing Coach Wayne Thomas at Ruffian County High School. The bumbling idiot didn’t even bother to wait until she was alone in my borrowed vehicle, either, pulling his gun out in apparent desperation to get to ME when SHE was talking to Coach Thomas in front of his entire football team during practice. One of the linebackers blindsided Bob and knocked his ass out cold.
That’ll teach him.
Mrs. Smith, meanwhile, is expected to recover from the beatdown I gave her, but she’ll be needing a bit of plastic surgery to make that once-flawless face of hers presentable again.
Good. No one ever will look at that bitch the same way again once the whole world discovers the true woman beneath her public facade, if it hasn’t already.
I pity her sons, though.
It’s still difficult for me to digest.
“Dad, I don’t care what that damn DNA test says,” I hold out the hand on my good arm for him to grasp tightly, unable to keep the tears dammed up any longer. “You’re my dad, and I love you. No test is ever going to change that. What I feel in my heart — what I know in my heart — is real. I’m your daughter. I’ve always been your daughter. And I’ll always be your daughter. Nothing, and no one is ever going to convince me otherwise.“
I look at my mom then, the anger and disillusion of a few days ago gone.
“Lester Smith did a lot of bad things in his life,” I commence by stating the obvious. “He caused so much pain and suffering, never once giving a damn about the consequences of his actions. Unlike you, Mom. You stumbled during what had to be the most trying time of yours and Dad’s lives with a man who preyed on women’s weaknesses, and yet, neither of you ever treated me like I was a mistake. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t know then what I do now. What does matter — the only thing that matters — is that you always made me feel like a … a miracle. You never once made me feel unwanted or unloved. All you’ve ever done is love me and protect me. When it would have been easier for you to hide the truth from Dad by having an abortion, you stood your ground and told him because … because I was the miracle baby you’d been trying to conceive for so long.
“But the truth is YOU are MY miracle. I have been blessed with the most wonderful parents anyone ever could imagine, and not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for the two of you for giving me the amazing gift of such a loving life.”
We’re all in serious need of a box or two of Kleenex by the time I finish what has become an emotional show-and-tell session that ends in a fierce hugfest.
Even Briscoe and Harpo turn away, swiping at their eyes as they exit the room with the older detective promising to keep us informed with the progress of their continuing investigation.
“The two of you are going to have to get used to having Richard around, y’know,” I warn my parents, though I only have eyes for Richard as mine find his and hold them steadily. “Besides, he tends to grow on you, after a while. Kind of like ivy. There was a time when I used to spend just about every waking moment trying to devise ways to get as far away from him as I could. And now, well, I love him, and I can’t even begin to imagine ever wanting to get away from him again.”
As if on cue, Bill and Meggy Granger leave the room, abuzz with talk of grandchildren on the horizon.
Richard takes the opportunity to move in closer, lowering the rail on my right side to perch on the edge of the bed without jostling me. He gives me a velvety kiss, wincing from the contact to his currently very swollen split upper lip.
“So, I guess we’re not in any shape to, uh, show each other how much we love one another right now, huh?” I say, the yearning in my voice unmistakable.
“I suppose we shall simply have to show each other often to make up for it,” he promises. “As often as WE desire.
“In the meantime, why don’t you tell me all about these children of ours?”