The Finder of Lost Children

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SOMETHING WAS WRONG. Something was very, very wrong.

Deirdre glanced around the room. It didn’t look like anything was wrong. There wasn’t any smoke as far as she could tell. The place wasn’t on fire. There were no home invaders. She heard no unexplained noises. As far as she could tell, there had been no explosion or any nearby act of terrorism.

In a city like New York, that was always a possibility.

What the hell was it? Deirdre pulled at her ears. It was a buzzing, an undercurrent, like something just beyond her hearing, but not so far she didn’t feel it. Maybe there were electrical issues. Maybe it was the plumbing.

Whatever it was, no one else seemed bothered. Deirdre glanced around the room. Nope. Nobody else was freaking.

Not that that anybody here would show it, if they were. Deidre sat in the middle of a crowd of women, all of whom were the wives and appropriate girlfriends of the New York City’s one percent. Quiet, attentive, still, posture perfect, legs crossed at the ankles, hands folded in their laps. These women would look cool if they were on fire.

How did they do it? How could they keep so cool? Must be genetic. Even though Deirdre was technically a one percenter, she was here because of her marriage. Deirdre had been born well off, but she had married rich, very rich. Her husband’s money bought her a seat, but it could not buy her acceptance.

Not that she cared. Useless bitches. Deirdre sighed, then crossed and uncrossed her legs.

Whatever it was that was bothering her was something instinctive, something visceral. She shifted in my chair and pulled at the hem of her skirt.  Focus, she told herself. Focus on Molly.

“Finally, I cannot express how very grateful we are to Mrs. Charlotte Dandrige for offering her beautiful Gilded Age mansion as the site for tomorrow’s annual Halloween Masque.” Deirdre’s sister-in-law Molly Cosello glanced out from the podium and waited for the women to finish clapping.

Deirdre’s other sister-in-law, Amelia Cosello, nudged her. “Clap,” she whispered.

Molly was pretty because she was wealthy, but Amelia had hit life’s lottery. Born beautiful and stupid rich? How was that fair? Deirdre responded with a single clap and a side eye.

Flawlessly blonde, perfectly groomed, elegantly dressed, well-bred, aristocratic Amelia was also a murderer.  It was a fact Deirdre like to point out, lest somebody meet Amelia and not know she had poisoned her first husband.

It was also a fact Deirdre didn’t like her sisters-in-law. She leaned over and whispered, “Can I go to the restroom?”

“No.”

Deirdre rolled her eyes, slumped in her chair, pulled at her skirt hem, crossed her legs, uncrossed her legs, and crossed them again.

Amelia jabbed her in the side. “Sit still.”

“I am sitting still. I’m totes still.” Deirdre continued to squirm. “I’m going to use the restroom.” Deirdre moved to stand up, but Amelia pulled her down. “Wait until Molly’s speech is over.”

“I can’t. I have to go.”

Amelia’s eyes narrowed. “Wait.”

“Omigod. Whatev.” Deirdre slouched in the chair and picked at a nail.

“Having our traditional Halloween Masque here at the Dandrige House will be the highlight of our season!” Molly continued. “The Dandrige House is not only one of the few remaining Gilded Age mansions left in Manhattan, but you know what they say–” she paused for effect “– it’s haunted!”  Molly clasped her hands and grinned. “I know! Our Halloween Masque at an actual haunted house! It’s a real coup!” Her smile turned vicious. “Take that, D.A.R.”

This house was haunted? Crap. Deirdre sat up. Double crap. She had a thing about haunted houses. “Did she say this place is haunted?”

Amelia shushed her, which Deirdre ignored. That explained her twitchiness, her feeling of unraveling. Something was definitely wrong with this house.

It wasn’t that she was psychic… Deirdre would have laughed if someone called her psychic. It was just every and then she would see things… or pick up an undercurrent of something… unsettled.

Whatever was in this house was distinctly unsettled.  Deirdre squirmed; it was too much to bear. Whatever was going on made her feel like there were hands under her skin. She turned to Amelia and loudly whispered, “I will wet myself if I don’t go to the restroom.” The ladies in front of them glanced back with disapproving looks.

“Oh my God.” Amelia cringed as much as her botoxed face would allow. “Fine. Go. Just… go.”

Deirdre hopped out of my chair and shot out of the room . The front door was to the right, just a few steps away. She could make it. Open the door. Come on, feet. One step. One more. Just open the door. Her hand reached for the door knob. It’s right there. Grab the door knob, twist it, pull the door open and run… but something behind her wrapped her in its grip and made her stop.

Deirdre closed her eyes. “No. You can’t make me. No.”

The force turned her around. She opened her eyes.

Standing at the end of the hall was a girl, a kid really, wearing skinny jeans, an ’80’s retro t-shirt that said Frankie says Relax, and white fringe boots. Her hair long hair was black and curly and accessorized with a side pony tail. Her skin was pale, her eyes dark and shadowed.

Deirdre could hear the clapping in the room but couldn’t take my eyes off the girl. It had been a long, long time since she had seen anything like her. “I got to say, you’ve got the whole ’80s thing down, don’t you, Madonna? Papa, don’t preach I’m in trouble deep, right? Am I right? I’m right.”

The girl stared only stared, then turned right and disappeared.

Deirdre cursed. The emotion rolling off the girl was too strong to ignore. It  propelled her forward to follow after her. “Not my house, not my problem,” she muttered. “Yo, feet, why are you following a dead girl? There’s nothing we can do for her. She’s dead, feet. You hear me? Dead. D-E-A-D.”

At the end of the hall she glimpsed the girl as she disappeared around another corner.  Deirdre started walking faster; soon, she was jogging. Another turn, another glance of brown hair… she caught up in time to see the girl open a door at the end of a long hall and disappear behind it.

Deirdre stopped and waited. “Close, close, close,” she chanted, but the door stayed open. Dammit. “I get it. You want me to follow, do you? Fine. I’ll follow. But you better not be all bloody and shit.” She clenched her fists and trotted over to the open door. Her stomach churned; her head ached. Whatever was behind that door was not good. A song flitted in her head. Just like a prayer.  Your voice can take me there. “Just like a dream,” Deirdre started to sing. “You are not what you seem.” She reached the door and pulled it wide open.

It was a basement. Of course, it was a basement. Deirdre got her phone out and tapped open the flashlight. “Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there.” Brick walls, brick steps, brick everywhere… wall to wall brick, along with a large helping of mold, mildew, and something else. Deirdre stopped at the bottom of the stairs. What was that smell? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Ah yes, decomposition. Something had decayed down here. Probably a mouse. Probably.

“Hey, Madonna, you down here?” Deirdre changed songs. “Borderline, feels like I’m going to lose my mind, you just keep on pushing my love over the border… hey, what’s that?” Something sparkly on the brick floor caught her eye. She bent down. It was a rhinestone stick pin with the letter T on it. On the back of it was the imprint 1928 Co.

1928 was a costume jewelry company big in the Midwest. It was on the cheaper side of track. Such an inexpensive bauble was not something you would expect to find in the basement of the House of Dandrige. Deirdre put the pin in her pocket. “Madonna? Did you lose your pin? I got it right here.”

Something fell in the behind her. “Madonna? Is that you?”

A light breeze blew her hair forward. Her skin goose bumped. Somebody was crying. No, not crying. Sobbing. Deirdre swallowed. “Hello?” Madonna? You’re driving me over the borderline, you know that.”

The sobbing grew louder. Deirdre shined the light along the back walls.  Through the furniture and the stacks of boxes, Deirdre could see her, crouched by the wall, her face buried in her hands, and sobbing deep, body shaking sobs.

Deirdre rubbed her face, surprised to find it wet. She navigated around the furniture until she stood in front of the girl. Upstairs the girl wore a vintage 1980 outfit. In the basement she was naked, bruised, and bloody. Deirdre knelt beside her. “Oh, honey. What happened to you?”

The girl glanced up and one word reverberated through Deirdre. Mommy.

Deirdre’s knees buckled and she fell to the ground; the grief, the shame it was all too much. She started to choke, gasping, clutching at her throat… the anger… holy shit, the anger.  Her vision blurred.

There was whistling. Deirdre recognized the song. You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.

Her vision cleared. A man in his forties, covered in blood, stood next to her, bricking up the wall. Deirdre peeped into the hole. There was a doll wrapped in plastic.

Not a doll. A body.

“Okay, Mandy.” The man glanced over his shoulder at another girl, maybe fourteen, who stood cowering in a corner. “That’s exactly what I like. Find more like her.” He placed another brick and wiped cement on top of it.

The girl nodded. “Yes, Mr. Dandrige.”

“I’ve left you a present for being such a good girl. But you probably should first go and spend some time with Mrs. Dandrige.” He turned back to the brick wall and resumed whistling. You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.

Deirdre’s visioned cleared. She pressed herself against the brick wall, eyes closed.

“I hear you. I’m coming.”

_____________________________   ***  _____________________________

TAKING DOWN A brick wall was harder than Deirdre thought it would be. After going at with a pail – the only metal thing she could find – Deirdre came upstairs. She needed something heavier. Like a sledgehammer. The thing was, where would a sledgehammer be in a house like this?

Worst of all, the meeting was over, at least judging by the wandering wives of the one percent. Crap. They were probably looking for her. Double crap.

Life is a mystery,” she sang, “everyone must stand alone.” She stopped one of the one percenters. “You wouldn’t know where I could find a sledgehammer, would you?”

The woman stared at her with unconcealed contempt. “You are such an odd young woman,” she sneered and walked off.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Deirdre yelled after her. “Odd is the new black…shit.” She pushed back her hair and thought hard. “Yo, Madonna. Help a girl out. Madonna? Need some help, here.”

But the girl didn’t show up. Figures. Deirdre made a face. Spirits be all help me, help me, but where are they when I need help?

She wandered back to the main room, where several guests remained chatting and whatnot. Who to ask, who to ask? Her eyes fell upon Charlotte Dandrige and Amelia, deep in conversation. A voice in her head whispered, “I’ve left you a present for being such a good girl. But you probably should first go and spend some time with Mrs. Dandrige.” Deirdre stifled a giggle. So weird to see two murderesses talking like normal, but hey, they probably had a lot in common, seeing as how they were both murderesses.

Hey Charlotte, where do you keep a sledgehammer? I want to tear down the wall your husband built to hide a dead body. Deirdre giggled again, but this time out loud.

The giggle caught Amelia’s attention. She waved Deirdre over. “Deirdre. There you are. Come meet our hostess, Charlotte Dandrige.”

When you call my name, it’s like a little prayer. Deirdre whistled as she moseyed over. “What up?”

Amelia’s eyes flashed with controlled irritation. “Charlotte. This is Deirdre. John’s new wife.” Amelia brushed aside a stray lock of hair off Deirdre’s face. “Lovely, isn’t she?”

“I suppose,” Charlotte sniffed. “A little young, maybe?”

Deirdre ignored her and stared at the girl from the basement, who had manifested next to Charlotte, her face full of unconsummated wrath. A bone deep chill passed through Deirdre. Someone muttered something about the air conditioning. “Maybe, but at least I’m legal. Full on, over 18 years of age, and legal under the law. I can give consent and everything. Unlike people under 18 years of age.”

“Deirdre,” Amelia warned, but Charlotte noticiably paled.

Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone, I hear you call my name, and it feels like home. 

Amelia began buttoning her sweater. “Charlotte, I think there’s something wrong with – ”

The light bulb in the lamp behind the group exploded. Charlotte and Amelia both jumped. Some screamed. As the room burst into nervous laughter to calm themselves, Deirdre turned away and headed for the kitchen. Where’s a sledgehammer? I needed a sledgehammer. Here sledgehammer. Here sledgehammer. An older woman in a maid’s uniform passed her in the opposite direction, her canape tray empty.

A proud member of the household staff would know where there was a sledgehammer. They knew everything. Deirdre raced up behind her and followed the woman into a butler’s pantry. “Hey, wait up.”

The woman blinked, surprised. “May I help you, Miss?”

Deirdre eyed the hors d’oeuvres that were sitting on the counter. It had been hours since she’d eaten. “Can I have one?” Before the woman could say anything, Deirdre shoved one in her mouth. It was good. Kind of mushroomy, kind of bacony, all kinds of fatty deliciousness. She took another and shook it at the woman. “These are awesome good.”

The woman turned to her tray and began restocking. “I’ll be out with another tray in a moment. Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss?”

“It’s Mrs,” Deirdre replied with a full mouth. “I know. Everyone thinks I’m a kid. Anyhoo, I was wondering if you have a sledgehammer around here. You see, there’s a dead girl in the basement. I want to get her out, and I need a sledgehammer.”

The woman turned towards her, eyes wide, head cocked. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I said there’s a dead girl in the basement, and I need to get her out.” She spotted shrimp. “Ooh, shrimp.” She grabbed one, dunked it in some cocktail sauce, and shoved it in her mouth. “I need a sledgehammer. Where do you folks keep those thingamajiggers?”

The woman took a deep breath and turned back to restocking her tray. “You… you’re… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Uh huh.” Deirdre helped herself to more shrimp. “So, it’s like that, huh? Listen, lady, I’m on a schedule here. Tell me where there’s a sledgehammer, or I’m going to have to go all Old Testament Biblical on your ass.”

“I don’t know.” The woman glanced around. “And you can’t make me say I do. I’ve got a family to feed.”

“You have a family?” Deirdre spit out a shrimp tail onto the floor. “That’s awesome. You know who else had a family? The dead girl downstairs. She had a family, too. Now she’s all alone down there, in the dark, away from her mother. Did you know she died crying for her mommy?” Deirdre paused as pain chills wafted through her. The fear. The pain. “Did you get that? She wanted her mommy.

The woman hardened her expression and shoved her back with the tray. “I don’t know nothing about that, and even if I did – ” she shot Deirdre a glance of pure contempt ” – she should have been with her mama instead of coming here.”

Deirdre blinked, stunned for a moment, then knocked the tray out of the woman’s hand and pinned her by her neck against the wall. The appetizer tray crashed to the floor. The woman squealed, but Deirdre covered her mouth.

“Shh,” Deirdre hissed. “Listen up, bitch. Did you know God hates people who fuck with kids? He does. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.” Deirdre pinched her face. “Did you get that part? The finder of lost children. That’s me. I’m a finder of lost children. I found one. She’s in the basement.” Deirdre dropped her hand. “Now tell me where there’s a sledgehammer.”

“I don’t know,” the woman whimpered, her eyes tearing up. “You’re crazy…”

Deirdre pinched her cheeks harder and forced her head against the wall. “You know what else it says? It says, ‘And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, and you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance down on you‘.”

“Please…”

“Vengeance belongs to the God, but He uses people to fulfill His mighty will.” Deirdre  smiled into the woman’s horrified face. “I feel like He’s using me, and I’ve got to say, it’s a fucking rush.”

“What do you want?” the housekeeper choked. “What can I do?”

“Find me a sledgehammer. I want it waiting for me in kitchen tomorrow night. And if you don’t, well…” Deirdre paused. “My husband is John Cosello.”

The woman’s eyes bulged. It wasn’t something that Deirdre or her sisters-in-law like to mention, but the Cosello reputation as Mafiosos still carried a lot of weight, even if it wasn’t quite as true as it once had been.

The Cosello men of this generation were better described as managers than enforcers, having fully assimilated into the culture with upper level degrees from Ivy League institutions and no discernible accents, but down deep inside there was still a certain criminality that the generations hadn’t quite eradicated.

Deirdre’s marriage was proof of that. A 20-year-old college drop out marrying a 38-year-old in-house counsel to a multinational shipping concern? Like that ever happens.  The fact that Deirdre’s marriage also conveniently paid off an enormous debt was far from coincidental. So it was arranged. So what?  Other people might have been put off, but Deirdre wasn’t. John was old, sure, but he was also rich and hot, so whatev.

“So you know the name.” Deirdre patted her face. “Good. Get me a sledgehammer and then go to church. Ask God to forgive you for your hard heart and avarice.”

Somewhere in the distance, Deirdre heard Molly calling for her. Time to go.

It would be better to wait until the party, anyway. Lots of people. Lots of police. Lots of press.

Deirdre stepped on as many appetizers as she could on her way out. Callous bitch.

_____________________________   ***  _____________________________

ON THE WAY home, Deirdre burst into tears.

“Deirdre, what’s the matter?” Molly pulled out a packet of tissues and handed one to her. “Are you alright? Did something happen?”

Deirdre’s sobs only grew louder.

Amelia pulled out a compact from her purse and needlessly powered her nose. “Of course, something happened. She was rude to Charlotte. Not that I was surprised.” She accidentally on purse nudged Deirdre’s foot.

Molly gasped. Unlike Amelia, or even Deirdre, her social standing was much less secure. “She was not.” She turned to Deirdre. “You were not.”

“She…she…” Deirdre stuttered. “Murder. Murderer…she…murder…”

Amelia snapped the compact shut. “Oh, for God’s sake, Deirdre, please stop. Crying is not going to redeem you.”

“Is she saying murder?” Molly turned to Deirdre, a curious gleam in her eye. “Are you saying murder? Nod once for yes.”

“Mur…der…” Deirdre wailed. “Murderer…bad…murd…er….”

“God,” Amelia groaned and rubbed her temples. “Make her stop. I have enough of a headache as it is.”

Molly flushed bright red.  “Amelia, she’s upset… ”

Deirdre tuned the two women out and stared out the window. She didn’t want comfort. She didn’t deserve comfort. What comfort could there be in a world that used and discarded children? It was dark, so dark in that hole behind the wall. Deirdre squeezed her eyes shut. Mommy.

Suddenly, the despair lifted and her sobs dried up, as quickly as if someone turned off a faucet. She opened her eyes. The SUV had just crossed 5th Avenue and was now cruising through Central Park. The Dandrige House was far behind them. Deirdre took a deep breath and yawned. “Can we stop at Starbucks? I need a frappacino.”

Molly and Amelia stared at her.

Deirdre stared back. “What? My blood sugar’s low.”

“See? She’s fine.” Amelia dug through her purse and found her phone.

Molly shot Amelia a dirty look, then turned to Deirdre. “Didi, are you okay? You were awfully upset.”

“God. Those people suck.” Deirdre rubbed her forehead. “How can you stand them?”

“They’re rich and influential.” Amelia shot her a dirty look. “Be mindful of that.”

“Is that something to be mindful of?” Deirdre shot back. “Because you know what I’m mindful of? I’m mindful of…”  Her voice trailed off as she watched a jogger run through a teenage girl wearing a Frankie Says Relax t-shirt. A wave of sadness washed over her. “Whatever. Can we please stop at Starbucks?”

“Didi,” Molly began, “did you see something at the Dandrige House?”

“Molly,” Deirdre sighed. “What do you want me to say? Yes? Do you want me to say yes?”

Molly’s eyes shone with excitement. “Did you?”

Eh, fuck it. Deirdre nodded.

Amelia shook her head at the same time as Molly shrieked, “I knew it!”

Amelia sighed. “Molly, don’t encourage her.”

Molly was too excited to pay any attention. “Encourage her? Did you see what just happened? She was having an emotional breakdown and now she’s not!” She grabbed Deirdre’s hand. “It’s like she’s psychic! Tell us what you saw!”

“Molly, stop it,” Amelia chided. “There are no such things as ghosts.”

Deirdre snorted and freed her hand. “I want to go to Starbucks.”

Undeterred, Molly bounced in her seat and clapped happily. “I knew it! I knew you were spooky! I read somewhere that redheads were sixth sensy! What did you see? Was it Belle Époque? I bet it was. ” She waggled her eyebrows “I heard that the ghost of Cornelius Vanderbilt likes to feel up the ladies.”

Deirdre didn’t have the energy to lie. “All right. Fine. You want to know what I saw? I saw a girl, okay? A little girl.”

“A girl!” Molly repeated, slightly disappointed. “Oh. Well, I bet it was a servant. Some poor Irish girl from Five Points, probably. Did she have on a long black dress and apron?” She pulled out her phone. “I can’t wait to tell Charlotte!”

“You probably shouldn’t tell Charlotte,”  Deirdre replied. “This was a girl, maybe 13 years old, or so. She was wearing a t-shirt that said Frankie says relax and stirrup jeans.”

Amelia looked up. “Are you sure it was a ghost?”

Deirdre smirked. Truth bombs away. “Very sure. It’s what she was wearing before Walter Dandrige sexually abused and then murdered her.”

Molly gasped, shocked into silence. A slight tic in her right cheek appeared in Amelia’s cheek. She leaned over Molly, her blue eyes as hard as glass. “Deirdre, as God is my witness, you will never say those words again.”

“She’s right, Siobhan,” Molly added. “Words have consequences. The Dandriges are old, old money… they could sue us for libel… ”

The SUV turned onto Central Park West and stopped at a light. Deirdre unlocked the door and hopped out. “Walter and Charlotte Dandrige spent the 1980s and 1990s sexually torturing and murdering little girls. Their basement is a charnel house.”

She slammed the door on their shocked faces and headed to the nearest Starbucks.

_____________________________   ***  _____________________________

Deirdre clutched her husband’s arm as they climbed the steps into the Dandrige House. The party was here. Amelia had nearly succeeded in convincing Deirdre’s husband to keep her home, but Deirdre turned on the tears. Her husband finally agreed, and the two of them were now here.

Deirdre felt light-headed, as if she’d been drinking, even though she hadn’t.

Inside, the house was hazy, almost foggy. Madonna’s Like a Prayer was blasting through the home stereo system.

“Whoa.” Deirdre shook her head to clear it. “I feel funky.” She turned to her husband. “I feel…” Her voice trailed off. He was gone.  He had ditched her for his brothers Cesare and Julian. Deirdre watched as Julian slapped him on the back and handed him a Cohiba as they disappeared into a room off the foyer.

Men. Dismayed, Deirdre drifted around for a moment until someone tapped her shoulder. Amelia had crept up on her, a thoughtful expression on her normally expressionless face.  “You look lovely, Deirdre. Who picked out the dress?”

“What? Oh. I don’t know. Didn’t you?”

Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there…

“No.” Amelia’s eyes narrowed. “Are you high?”

“Not yet… where’s the kitchen?” Deirdre looked over Amelia’s shoulder. “Is it that way? I need to go to the kitchen.”

Just like a dream, you are not what you seem…

An old blond man sidled up to her. “Amelia. My favorite mariticide. How was prison?”

Mariticide meant husband killer. Deirdre frowned. Amelia was a murderess, but as far as she was concerned, only she could rub it in Amelia’s face. Deirdre turned to chastise him, but instead of a wrinkled old man, a much younger version leered at her. “Have you started your period? No? Good. Take off your clothes.”

Life is a mystery… everyone must stand alone… I hear you call my name…and it feels like home…

The man’s old face blurred into focus. Walter Dandrige the child predator, AARP edition pressed himself against Deirdre. “Who might you be?”

Amelia pushed him back. “This is my sister-in-law, Deirdre. She’s married, Walt. She’s John’s wife. You remember. You were at their wedding.”

Walt the child predator would not be deterred. “Ah yes. The child bride. I remember you.” He deftly moved around Amelia and wrapped an arm around Deirdre’s waist. “You’re much too young to be married, aren’t you, ginger?” His hand dropped lower, down to her ass. “Tell me, ginger, Is your bush red, too? I love a burning bush.”

Deirdre removed his hand. “The Lord will rebuke you,” she muttered and headed to the bar.

When you call my name, it’s like a little prayer, I’m down on my knees, want to take you there…

At the bar, Deirdre ordered a scotch neat and started to sing. “Like a little prayer, your voice can take me there…”

“Are you a Madonna fan?”

Deirdre glanced to her right. A good-looking older man stood next to her, surreptitiously staring down her cleavage. Amazing how many men hit on her at these society functions. Deirdre shook her head. “Not really. But I kind of like it tonight.”

I hear your voice… it’s like an angel crying… I had no choice, I hear your voice…

The bartender brought the scotch. She slammed it, then made a face. “Ew. Double malt.”

The man stepped back. “Are you all right, Mrs. Cosello? You seem… out of sorts.”

Deirdre wiped her mouth, fully aware that she hadn’t introduced herself. Whatever. Sledgehammer. I need the sledgehammer.

“I’m aces,” Deirdre croaked and pushed herself off the bar. “Which way’s the kitchen?”

“That way.” The man pointed to the left. Deirdre patted his arm and teetered in that general direction.

Like a little prayer your voice can take me there…

Raised voice down the hall alerted Deirdre that she was going in the right direction. A turn to the left led directly into the kitchen, where Deirdre found Molly pitching a fit. “Oh my God, do something about this song! The musicians are here, for God’s sake. They need to get started!”

A wild-eyed housekeeper squatted on the floor, her eyes huge. “That’s just it, Mrs. Cosello, the system’s off! We shut the entire entertainment system down to reboot, but the song keeps playing.” The girl gestured under the table. “We unplugged it, Mrs. Cosello. The system should be off. Look. See? It’s unplugged.”

Molly paled. “Then how is it playing?”

“I don’t know!” The housekeeper stood up and grabbed her purse. “But I’m not staying to find out.”

Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone, I hear you call my name, and it feels like home…

Deirdre walked down the hall, sledgehammer in hand. It was heavy. She swung it back and forth. Heavy enough to break down a wall. A man in a tux tried to talk to her. Deirdre ignored him. He stepped in front of her. She pushed him aside.

In the midnight hour, I can feel your power, just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there…

Deirdre was at the basement door. She was down the basement stairs. The lights flickered on as Madonna’s hymn to the power of prayer grew louder and louder.

Deirdre stood in front of the wall, clutching the sledgehammer, her heart racing. “Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there.” She swung the hammer and hit the wall in its sweet spot. Cracks appeared and pieces of shattered brick fell to the ground. “Just like a muse to me, you are a mystery.” She swung again. “Just like a dream, you are not what you seem, just like a prayer, I know your voice can take me there.”

Another swing, and another. Bricks tumbled to the ground. Madonna singing, Deirdre singing, one more swing… then one more… the wall fell. A gaping hole of darkness faced her. Deirdre leaned the hammer against a pile of bricks and pulled her phone out. Flashlight on, she peered behind the wall.

There was girl’s body, as she expected, but what was that next to her? Deirdre shined the flashlight over to it.

Another body. “You weren’t alone.” Deirdre took a step back. “Good God. You weren’t alone.”

She turned; facing her were several other girls around the same age. Deirdre rubbed her forehead. This wasn’t a mansion. It was a slaughterhouse. A piercing headache began its assault.

“Drop the phone.”

Walt the child predator stepped out from behind a large chest of drawers, holding a firearm.  “That’s quite the mess you made, ginger.” He smiled thinly. “Looking to join them, I see.”

JUST LIKE A PRAYER, YOUR VOICE CAN TAKE ME THERE… Madonna screaming…

Deirdre reached for the sledgehammer as something sharp skimmed by her head. There was a bright light… the girl held her hand as the others surrounded her…  her eyes fluttered open. She lay sprawled on the brick floor, half in, half out of the hole. “Ow,” she mumbled as crawled to her feet. “Did you shoot me, perv? Man, that smarts.”

Walt the child predator was laying a good distance from her on his back, gasping like a fish out of water. The sledgehammer had buried itself deep into his chest. Blood spurted out of his mouth. His eyes glazed over.

Deirdre walked over to him. “Wow. I did that? Huh. I’m a good shot.” She nudged him. “That did some damage, huh?”

He moved his mouth and gurgled.

Deirdre hopped up on a nearby table. “You remind me of this parable I learned in back in my Catholic school days. It was about this smug ass rich guy.”  She felt a trickle of something on her forehead and wiped it off on her dress. A bright red stain appeared. “He’s thinking that his bank accounts are full, and his lawyers are smart, and he’s all proud and shit. Then an angel of the Lord tells him his soul is required of him, and that all his bank accounts, and smart lawyers, and good breeding and whatnot would not keep him out of hell.” Deirdre pointed at him, her hand red and bloody. “Walter Dandrige, your soul is required of you.”

The girl manifested at Walt the child predator’s feet. More girls appeared and circled him. Walt the child predator’s eyes grew wide; he jerked and strained to move his paralyzed body. A wet stain appeared on his crotch. The stench of body fluids filled the basement.

A massive mahogany dresser standing next to Walt the child killer wobbled. Deirdre smiled. It was a massive piece of furniture; easily seven feet high and looked heavy as fuck. It wobbled and wobbled, then finally crash on top of him. Walt the child killer’s legs spasmed, then were still.

Deirdre stared at the remains of Walt the child predator. “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, and you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance down on you.”

“Deirdre! What’s going on?” Her husband’s voice at the top of the stairs. “Are you down there?”

Deirdre slid off the table and took her place against the wall. “Somebody… anybody… I think I’ve been shot…”

_____________________________   ***  _____________________________

Originally titled What Lies Between

Copyright Liz Charnes April 2018

All rights reserved.

Portrait of a Girl by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

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