35. Who Can It Be Now

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The rest of the long night continued in a blur of men in white suits. These men took samples of his mother’s skin, hair and blood. They scraped under her fingernails, stripped her and bagged up her clothes, and they ran some sort of beeping machine over every inch of her body. At first Frank tried to keep Michael from the room, but it wasn’t possible. Michael had to know what they were doing. 

His relationship with his mother had been rocky, at best. Right now, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that some monster had murdered her. And that the monster might be someone he’d begun to care about. Venus. Yet another relationship that would let him down.

Regret also bogged him down. Guilt over the way he’d treated his mother the last time they spoke. The last words he’d said. There’d never be another opportunity. No more hope for a chance at reconciliation. 

The last time he’d seen her had been dinnertime the night before. His mother flung a paper plate full of mac and cheese at him. Yelled ‘happy birthday,’ and then started in on her usual barrage of spiteful words. Michael hadn’t backed down. They’d fought. She’d yelled at him for bringing ‘that slut-girl into her house’ and said, “You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”  She’d hit him, more than once, not that it mattered now, not when he remembered what he’d said back.

He’d grabbed her arm, yelled in her face, towering over her, “I hate you.” He hadn’t stopped there. He’d said worse. “No wonder Dad left. He couldn’t stand to be around a crazy bitch. Neither can I.” 

He’d stomped out of the house. It was the last time he’d seen her alive. Her mouth twisted in anger, gray eyes burning with hurt and hate.

Sadness tore through him.

When they zipped his mother into the body bag, Michael puked again. His thighs wouldn’t stop shaking. Then they wheeled her body out of the house, on a gurney, and slid her into the back of a black van.

He never got to say good-bye.

The police showed up not too long after the van drove away. Frank and his team were able to clear them off the street and out of the neighborhood within minutes. Not a single police officer made it inside the house. Frank made a phone call and they went away. By four o’clock in the morning, the living room looked as pristine as it had when he’d left earlier that day. There wasn’t a trace of blood. Even the coppery, citrus scent had vanished, replaced by the odor of Clorox.

Frank informed Michael that he needed to be in protective custody.

“No way. I can’t.” The words came out with conviction, but Michael was still underage—seventeen. Whether he liked or trusted Frank was beside the point. He was Michael’s father, so he had to do what his father asked. Didn’t he? Alcohol never sounded so good. He wanted to be numb, to forget.

You are stronger than you think! The words forced their way in. It hadn’t sounded male or female. But like . . . both—many.

“Michael? Hey!” Frank snapped his fingers in Michael’s face.

“I don’t want to go with you.”

“What? You have other plans?” Frank’s dark eyes searched Michael’s while he waited for an answer.

“No. But, I’m not, don’t—”

“Sir, we have the results back.” The man wore white, including a hairnet on his head. Michael could see his eyes, crooked nose, and an untamed blond mustache. He’d looked directly at Michael when he spoke, his eyes accusing. Then he turned to his father, “We’ve got something.”

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