Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 50

   

“He did!” Jem said, dropping his spoon and sitting up straight. “He did, Mr. Menzies! He said he was going to take me to spend the night with Bobby, only he didn’t, he took me up to the rocks and—”

“Jem.” Brianna spoke quietly, but it was her Shut Up Right Now voice, and he did, though with an audible snort and a glare at her.

“Yes, he did,” she said levelly. “What do you know about it?”

He blinked in surprise.

“I—why, nothing. I can’t imagine why he—” He broke off, coughed, and taking his glasses off, pulled a pocket handkerchief out and polished them. By the time he put them back on, he’d pulled himself together.

“You may remember, Rob Cameron’s my cousin. And he’s in lodge, of course. I was knocked off my perch to hear this about him. So I thought I’d maybe come out to Lallybroch, have a word with you and your husband”—he lifted an eyebrow, but she didn’t respond to this obvious hint about Roger, and he went on—“see that Jem was all right—are ye all right, Jem?” he broke off to ask seriously, glancing at the boy.

“Oh, aye, fine,” Jem replied airily, though he seemed tense. “Sir,” he added belatedly, and licked a smear of chocolate ice cream off his upper lip.

“That’s good.” Menzies smiled at Jem, and Brianna saw a little of his usual warmth light up behind the glasses. The warmth was still in his eyes, though he was serious when he looked at her. “I wanted to ask if there’d maybe been a mistake, but I’m thinking that there likely wasn’t? In light of . . . all that.” He tilted his head in the direction of Lallybroch and swallowed.

“Yes, there was,” she said grimly, shifting Mandy’s weight on her lap, “and Rob Cameron made it.”

He grimaced, drew a deep breath, but nodded.

“I’d like to help,” he said simply.

“You definitely did,” she assured him, wondering what on earth to do with him now. “Ick! Mandy, you’re dribbling all over everywhere! Use a napkin, for heaven’s sake.” She swabbed Mandy’s face briskly, ignoring her daughter’s cranky whine. Could he help? She wanted badly to believe him; she was still shaking internally and all too ready to grab at any offer of assistance.

But he was Rob Cameron’s relative. And maybe he’d come out to the house to talk, and maybe he’d come for some other reason. He might, after all, have intervened to keep her from blasting Rob into bloody shreds, rather than to save her and the kids from Rob and his masked sidekicks.

“I spoke to Ernie Buchan,” Menzies said, nodding toward the plate-glass window. “He, um, seemed to think that you might not want the police involved?”

“No.” Bree’s mouth was dry; she sipped the lukewarm tea, trying to think. It was getting harder by the moment; her thoughts scattered like drops of quicksilver, wobbling away in a dozen directions. “Not—not just yet. We were at the police station half of last night. I really can’t deal with any more questions tonight.” She took a deep breath and stared at him directly.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I don’t know why Rob Cameron should have kidnapped Jemmy—”

“Yes, you d—” Jem started, and she whipped her head round and glared at him. He glared back, red-eyed and clench-fisted, and with a jolt of alarm she recognized the Fraser temper, about to go off with a bang.

“You do so know!” he said, loudly enough that a couple of truckers at the counter turned round to look at him. “I told you! He wanted me to—” Mandy, who had started to drop off again, jerked awake and started to wail.

“I want Daddeeeee!”

Jem’s face was bright red with fury. At this, it went white.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” he shrieked at Mandy, who yelped in terror and screamed louder, trying to scramble up Brianna’s body.

“DADDEEE!”

“Jem!” Lionel Menzies was on his feet, reaching for the boy, but Jem was absolutely beside himself, literally hopping up and down with rage. The entire restaurant was gaping at them.

“Go AWAY!” Jem roared at Menzies. “DAMMIT! Don’t you touch me! Don’t touch my mam!” And, in an excess of passion, he kicked Menzies hard on the shin.

“Jesus!”

“Jem!” Bree had a grip on the struggling, bawling Mandy but couldn’t reach Jem before he picked up his dish of ice cream, flung it at the wall, and then ran out of the café, crashing the door open so hard that a man and woman on the verge of entering were forced to leap aside to avoid being knocked over as he rocketed past.

Brianna sat down quite suddenly, as all the blood left her head. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us . . .

The room was silent, save for Mandy’s sobbing, though this was dying down as her panic subsided. She burrowed into Brianna’s chest, burying her face in the padded coat.

“Hush, sweetie,” Bree whispered, bending her head so that Mandy’s curls brushed her lips. “Hush, now. It’s all right. Everything will be all right.”

A muffled mumble ended with a tearful “. . . Daddy?”

“Yes,” Bree said firmly. “We’ll see Daddy soon.”

Lionel Menzies cleared his throat. He’d sat down to massage his shin but left off doing this to gesture toward the door.

“Had I . . . better go after Jem?”

“No. He’s all right . . . I mean . . . he’s with Ernie. I can see him.” They were in the parking lot, just visible in the glow of light from the neon sign. Jem had cannoned into Ernie, who was coming toward the restaurant, and was clinging to him like a limpet. As Brianna watched, Ernie, an experienced father, knelt down and hugged Jem to him, patting his back and smoothing his hair, talking earnestly to him.

“Mmphm.” It was the waitress with Menzie’s butty, her stolid face melted into sympathy. “The wee lassie’s tired, nay doubt.”

“I’m sorry,” Bree said feebly, and nodded at the shattered dish and splotch of chocolate ice cream on the wall. “I’ll, um, pay for it.”

“Och, dinna fash, lass,” the waitress said, shaking her head. “I’ve had weans. I can see ye’ve got enough trouble to be goin’ on with. Let me fetch ye oot a nice cup o’ tea.”

She trundled off. Without speaking, Lionel Menzies popped the tab on his can of Irn-Bru and shoved it in her direction. She picked it up and gulped it. The advertising implied that the stuff was made from rusty iron girders salvaged from Glasgow shipyards. Only in Scotland would this have been considered a good selling point, she reflected. But it was about half sugar, and the glucose hit her bloodstream like the elixir of life.

Menzies nodded, seeing her straighten up like a wilting flower revived.

“Where is Roger?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know,” she said, just as softly; Mandy had given a final hiccuping sigh and fallen heavily asleep, face still buried in Brianna’s coat. She twitched the quilted fabric aside so Mandy wouldn’t suffocate. “And I don’t know when he’s coming back.”

He grimaced, looking unhappy and strangely embarrassed; he was having trouble meeting her eyes.

“I see. Mmphm. Was it—I mean, did he . . . leave because of what Rob . . . er . . . did to Jem?” His voice dropped even lower and she blinked at him. Rising blood sugar had brought her thoughts back into focus, though, and suddenly the penny dropped, and the blood rushed into her face.

He thought Rob had abducted Jemmy in order to—and Jemmy had said, “You know what he did,” and she’d shut him up sharp . . . and she’d said she didn’t want the police involved . . . oh, dear Lord. She took a deep breath and rubbed a hand over her face, wondering whether it was better to let him think Rob had molested Jemmy—and was now trying to murder her in order to cover that up—or to tell him some halfway believable version of some part of the truth.

“Rob came to my house last night and tried to rape me,” she said, leaning over Mandy’s head in order to keep her voice low enough to escape the flapping ears of the truckers sitting at the counter, who were glancing covertly over their shoulders at her. “He’d already taken Jem, and Roger had left to try to find him. We thought he’d taken Jem away to . . . to Orkney.” That seems far enough. “I . . . left messages; I expect Roger’ll be back any time now—as soon as he hears that Jemmy’s been found.” She crossed her fingers under the table.

Menzies’s face went blank, all his previous assumptions colliding with new ones.

“He—he—oh.” He paused for a moment, mechanically took a swallow of her cold tea, and made a face. “You mean,” he said carefully, “that you think Rob took Jem in order to lure your husband away, so that he . . . ehm . . . could—”

“Yes, I do.” She seized on this suggestion gratefully.

“But . . . those other people. With the—” He passed a hand vaguely over his head, indicating the balaclavas. “What on earth . . . ?”

“I have no idea,” she said firmly. She wasn’t going to mention the Spanish gold unless or until she had to. The fewer people who knew about that, the better. And as for the other thing . . .

But the mention of “those other people” reminded her of something, and she groped in her capacious pocket, drawing out the balaclava that she’d snatched off the man who’d broken the window with the rifle. She’d caught the barest glimpse of his face amidst the shifting light and shadow and had had no time to think about it. But now she did, and a fresh qualm went through her.

“Do you know a man named Michael Callahan?” she asked, trying to keep her voice casual. Menzies glanced at the balaclava, then at her, eyes widening.

“Of course I do. He’s an archaeologist, something to do with ORCA—Orkney Research Centre, I mean. Orkney . . . You’re no telling me he was with the people who—”

“Pretty sure. I saw his face for just a second when I pulled this off him. And”—she grimaced in distaste, plucking a tuft of sandy hair from the inside of the balaclava—“apparently that’s not all I pulled off him. Rob knows him. He came out to Lallybroch to give us an opinion on some ruins up behind the house, and stayed to supper.”

“Oh, dearie me,” Menzies murmured, seeming to sink back into his seat. He took off his glasses and massaged his forehead for a bit. She watched him think, feeling increasingly remote.

The waitress hove to and put down a fresh cup of hot, milky tea, already sugared and stirred. Brianna thanked her and sat sipping it, watching the night outside. Ernie had taken Jem off in the direction of the garage, doubtless to check on his van.

“I can see why you don’t want trouble,” Menzies said carefully at last. He’d eaten half his butty; the rest of it lay on the plate, oozing ketchup in a queasy sort of way. “But really, Mrs.—may I call you Brianna?”

“Bree,” she said. “Sure.”

“Bree,” he said, nodding, and one corner of his mouth twitched.

“Yes, I know what it means in Scots,” she said dryly, seeing the thought cross his face. A bree was a storm or a great disturbance.

Lionel’s face broke into a half smile.

“Yes. Well . . . what I’m thinking, Bree—I hate to suggest it, but what if Rob’s done some harm to Roger? Would it not be worth the questions to get the police to look for him?”

“He hasn’t.” She felt unutterably tired and wanted only to go home. “Believe me, he hasn’t. Roger went with his—his cousin, Buck. And if Rob had managed to hurt them somehow, he’d certainly have gloated about that when he . . . well.” She took a breath that went all the way down to her aching feet and shifted her weight, getting a solid hold on Mandy.

“Lionel. Tell you what. Drive us home, will you? If that lot’s still lurking around, then we’ll go to the police right away. If not—it can wait ’til the morning.”

He didn’t like it, but he was suffering from the aftereffects of shock and fatigue, too, and after more argument finally agreed, done in by her implacable stubbornness.

Ernie had telephoned for a ride, after being assured that Lionel would see them home. Lionel was tense on the way back to Lallybroch, hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, but the Fiat’s headlights showed the dooryard empty, save for a discarded tire lying in the gravel, shredded rubber spraying out like the wings of some gigantic vulture shot out of the sky.

Both the kids were sound asleep; Lionel carried Jem in, then insisted on searching the house with Bree, nailing up laths across the shattered window in the parlor while she combed the rooms—again—suffering déjà vu.

“Had I not better spend the night?” Lionel asked, hesitating at the door. “I’d be happy to sit up and keep watch, you know.”

She smiled, though it took a lot of effort.

“Your wife will already be wondering where you are. No, you’ve done enough—more than enough for us. Don’t worry; I’ll . . . take steps in the morning. I just want the kids to be able to have a good night’s sleep in their own beds.”

He nodded, lips drawn in in worry, and glanced round the foyer, its gleaming walnut paneling serene in the lamplight, even the English saber slashes somehow grown homely and peaceful with age.

“Do you maybe have family—friends—in America?” he asked abruptly. “I mean, it might not be a bad idea to get right away for a bit, aye?”

“Yes,” she said. “I was thinking that myself. Thanks, Lionel. Good night.”

ALL MY LOVE

SHE WAS SHAKING. Had been shaking ever since Lionel Menzies left. With a faint sense of abstraction, she held out her hand, fingers spread, and watched it vibrate like a tuning fork. Then, irritated, made a fist and smacked it hard into the palm of her other hand. Smacked it again and again, clenching her teeth in fury, until she had to stop, gasping for breath, her palm tingling.

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