|Beckett charms Maureen with his pancake flipping skills|
He washed and dressed, then set things up for Mass. When Maureen didn't return to join him, he figured she must be tied up with the little one, and started without her. By the time he finished the last prayer, he could hear voices downstairs, and smell breakfast in the making. Kevin ambled into the kitchen to find the Sheriff at the stove, spatula in hand, pancakes stuck to the ceiling and stove, and his sister and Beckett in a fit of giggles. Normally, he would have found the scene amusing. But today, the joviality seemed out of place.
Maureen turned to greet him, her face flushed from laughing. "Oh Kevin! You missed it! Ted was showing me his 'expertise' in the art of pancake flipping."
"I guess I'm a bit rusty." The Sheriff smiled, and pointed to the mess he had made of the kitchen.
"Uh...so I see." He stood there expressionless, his arms crossed in front of his chest.
Maybe it was the tone of his voice, or his telling body language, but both Beckett and Maureen stopped laughing, and stared at him sheepishly. In the months to come, he would look back on this moment, and feel guilty at stealing their bit of found joy in a terrible situation. But right now, having no crystal ball to see into the future, he was just plain pissed. There had been a young girl brutally murdered, and an orphaned baby left like a puppy on the doorstep. Not to mention the fact that the Sheriff's own fiancee had gone missing only twelve hours before, and here he was, trying to charm another woman. A woman who just happened to be the pastor's little sister.
And what the hell was wrong with Maureen? Hadn't she learned anything from her experience in Boston? Why did she continually set her sights on men who belonged to someone else? Was this some kind of game to her, or was she just naturally self-destructive? He was about to open his mouth and say something that he would undoubtedly regret, when, surely by divine intervention, the doorbell rang at the front of the cabin. Beckett wiped his hands on a towel, and left to answer the door, while Maureen made herself busy fixing a fresh bottle for the baby, careful not to meet Kevin's face.
They could hear the Sheriff talking to someone who answered in a woman's voice, but the volume was too low to hear what was being said. They didn't have long to wait before Beckett called out to them from the great room.
"Maureen. Fr. Kevin. Can you come out here, please? And bring the baby with you."
His sister lifted the baby from her basket, and bottle in hand, she and Kevin joined the Sheriff and his visitor, who rose from her perch on the sofa.
"Mrs. Parker, these are friends of mine, Fr. Kevin O'Kenney, and his sister, Maureen O'Kenney.
They were also here when the baby was found on the porch." Noticing their curious stares, the Sheriff explained. "Mrs. Parker is with Children and Family Services here in Plymouth county. She's come for the baby."
Maureen paled, and held the baby closer. "Come for the baby? But I thought you...you said...the baby was coming back to Dollyville with us? That she'd be placed there."
"Well, that's what I originally thought, but policy here in Plymouth states that the infant must remain in the location it was found. Just in case the mother, or extended family, might be in the area."
It was clear that Maureen was at loss over the new developments, and she stumbled over the words. "But...what about...about the n..."
Before she could get the rest of the sentence out, Beckett suddenly cut her off, stepping in front of Maureen, sliding the baby out of her arms, and handing her over to the caseworker. "Ms. O'Kenney has become quite attached to the child. She's done a wonderful job of tending to her these past few days."
"I can tell she's been well cared for by experts, Sheriff Beckett. Thank the Lord she was left here with responsible people. Who knows what the outcome might have been if the parent had chosen a different spot. Ms. O'Kenney, you have our sincere gratitude."
Seeing Maureen's stricken expression, Kevin felt awful, and put an arm around his sister's shoulder. Her tenure as a social worker for Catholic Charities should have toughened her up, but every sad case still seemed to crush her heart. He hoped the woman would take the baby and leave. Soon. Before Maureen lost her composure, and broke down in tears.
The Sheriff disappeared into the kitchen, and returned with the basket the child had arrived in, along with the remaining formula and diapers. Kevin thought about the note that came with the baby, but a firm look from Beckett kept him from asking.
"Here you go, Mrs. Parker. This is the basket she was found in, and uh...everything that was in it. Can I help you carry all this to the car?" As he talked, it was obvious the Sheriff was herding the woman towards the door.
"That would be very helpful. Thank you, Sheriff." Taking the pink and blue afghan and wrapping it around the infant, Mrs. Parker reached out to shake hands all around. "Father, Ms. O'Kenney...on behalf of Plymouth County, we surely appreciate your kindness. We'll take good care of this little angel."
Maureen, patted the soft, red down on the top of the baby's head, and asked in a small voice, "Will she be placed in foster care?"
"Why yes, of course, dear. We'll find her a lovely temporary home until we can locate a blood relative."
Over the course of her career, Kevin had heard his sister tell more than one horrible tale of foster care gone wrong, and of defenseless children who seemed to fall through the cracks of bureaucracy. He didn't wait for Mo to begin sharing her opinion, and taking the case worker by the arm, offered to bless the baby as he maneuvered she and the child outside, and into the waiting car.
Neither he or the Sheriff said a word as Parker's car pulled out of the driveway and headed toward town. They lingered and watched as the car drove out of sight, not anxious to face Maureen's wrath over what she would perceive as disloyalty and cold heartedness. And true to form, she was standing in the middle of the room, eyes narrowed, and hands on hips. A red headed time bomb waiting to verbally shred everything in her path.
"Damn it! Why didn't either of you tell that woman about the frickn' note in the basket? It's obvious that who ever left this baby knows Kevin! Knew he'd be here! So it's gotta be someone from the parish who followed us out here. Maybe the same person that was driving the white Volvo Kevin saw on our ride up? There's no way they're gonna find any family here in Plymouth, 'cause the Mama is surely from Dollyville. And you two morons let that case worker drag that poor child into foster care. She'll be passed around like a damn box of peanuts! How could you be so cruel?" In her rage, she tore off her left slipper, and flung it at her brother, clipping him along side his head.
The Sheriff was in her face before she could whip off the other slipper. "Use some damn common sense, Maureen. You're acting like a spoiled child! Do you recall how Cassie reacted to the letter...and the baby's red hair?"
"That's because Cassie's a bit..." She saw the expression on Beckett's face, and decided to change her verbiage. "She's not a very kind person. No one else would think such terrible things about Kevin."
"You can't be that naive? Of course they'd think the same thing. It would a juicy, lewd, little story. The kind people love to comment on, and then spread around. Can you imagine what that type of nasty gossip would do to your brother's reputation? Good God, girl...wise up!" He waited a few seconds to let the realization sink in, and then continued. "Both Sheriff Jenkins and I feel the baby has some connection to the dead woman. It's just too much of a coincidence. Once they do an autopsy on the body, they'll be able to tell if she had recently given birth. If it appears she has, then we test the vic's DNA, and the baby's, and see if there is a match. Do you really want your brother involved in a nasty, violent murder investigation that he probably has nothing do with?"
Kevin could feel the heat rise from under his collar, and make its way up to his cheeks. After the whole incident with Tessa Peppers, the Bishop had scolded him, and insisted he keep his nose out of
criminal business. How would he ever explain being tied up with that poor girl's horrible murder, or for that matter, an abandoned baby left specifically to him? He had thought the dead woman looked a bit familiar, but he certainly didn't know who she was, or whether or not the baby belonged to her. And although he felt a mite guilty for not doing more, he was grateful that the Sheriff believed his innocence, and felt inclined to keep him out of the whole mess.
Maureen pondered Beckett's words before answering. "But won't the other Sheriff think it's odd that the baby was dropped at your cabin? Why here, and not somewhere in the town?"
"You make a valid point, Maureen. But the body was found less than three miles from here, and if the woman and the baby are connected, as we think, then it's plausible she dropped the child at the only place she could find if she was being chased. There's not another home near here for miles." He turned and looked pointedly at Kevin. "And if you know anything at all about either the baby, or the
the vic, I suggest you tell me right now."
Blushing, Kevin stammered out an answer. "Honest, Sheriff. There's almost nothing I can add.
I don't have a clue as to who left this baby. No one sought my counsel about an unexpected pregnancy, or asked my advice about placing their baby. We have channels set up for that, and I would have directed the woman to them." Returning the Sheriff's glare, he continued. "And if you are asking, or insinuating, that I am the father of that child, I most emphatically say no. I would have hoped by now that you knew me well enough to have answered that question on your own."
"Look Father...I didn't mean to piss you off. I just want to get all the pieces in order. This has gone beyond an orphaned baby to a major murder investigation. I can't help you if you're keeping things from me."
"If you ask me, Sheriff, maybe you should look to your own missing fiancee." Maureen pointed her finger at Beckett, and huffed, "She certainly took off in a hurry. Right after we came back from the woods. Maybe she knew more than she was telling? Why else would she run off like that?"
The Sheriff, near exasperation, exploded. "Don't think I haven't thought of that myself, Miss O'Kenney! But it's so 'nice' of you to bring it up. You know, it was obvious you never thought much
of Cassie, although I don't see how your personal feelings have anything to do with what's going down here. I resent you trying to drag her into this mess. "
Kevin could sense that the conversation had gotten well out of hand, and was moving toward a downward spiral. He stepped between his sister and Beckett, acting as barrier. "This bickering is not helping the situation. May I suggest we pack up, and head back home as soon as possible? There's no reason to linger here. If Cassie ends up anywhere, it will probably be back home." He turned his attention toward his sister, and warned, "And the Sheriff is right. His relationship with his fiancee is none of your business. I'd rather you didn't bring it up again." He knew he would hurt her feelings, but it couldn't be helped. He would deal with that when they returned home to the rectory, without the Sheriff as an audience.
"Sound advice, Father. Let's plan on leaving in an hour. Now, if you'll both excuse me, I'm going to go clean up the pancakes." He abruptly turned on his heels and headed toward the kitchen.
Maureen gave her brother a long, cold stare, and marched up the stairs, hopefully to dress and pack up her belongings. Fr. Kevin sighed, said a silent prayer for patience, and followed suit.
In less than an hour, they were ready to leave, their belongings strapped down in the back of the pick-up, and the three of them squashed together in the front. Conversation was at a bare minimum, with unsaid words hanging like a thick curtain between them. It was almost a relief when Beckett's cell phone rang, breaking the uncomfortable silence in he truck.
"Beckett here. Oh hello, Sheriff Fenton. What's up? Uh huh. You did? That's great. Yeah, I have a few minutes, go ahead. No, we were getting ready to head back to Dollyville. No, it's fine. Just give me the basics now, and you can send the rest to my email. I can check it from my iphone. Really, it won't be a problem. Elizabeth Donahue? No, the name doesn't ring a bell. She was, huh? I suppose you'll want to do a DNA swab on the infant. A Mrs. Parker from Children and Family Services picked her up a few hours ago. Yeah, check with their office on where the baby was placed. Uh huh. No, I agree. Well, it clears up a few things at least. It's a shame that such a young woman got herself mixed up in that kind of business. Yeah, I know. But you never get used to it. Well, thanks for keeping me in the loop. Appreciate it. If there's any connection on my end, let me know. Be glad to offer my assistance. Thanks, Sheriff...and I'll look for that email."
Without a word to either of his passengers, Beckett pulled out of the cabin's driveway and headed
toward home. A few minutes later, his phone beeped, signaling an incoming email. The highway was virtually deserted, yet the sheriff pulled off to the side, and flipped on the emergency lights before attending to the cell phone. Maureen stared out the window, doing her best to ignore everyone in the truck, but Kevin watched as the Sheriff read over the contents of the message. It took several minutes, and through it all, Beckett stayed silent, his eyes wide, and his lips pressed together in a tight line. When he was finished, he slammed the cell phone into the cup holder, and pulled back onto the road, foot to the gas, and driving with a renewed sense of urgency.
In a run down motel room, somewhere off the Ohio Turnpike, a young woman toweled dry
her newly colored hair, the red dye still clinging to the bowl of the sink. Facing the unfamiliar reflection in the mirror, she picked up a pair of new scissors, and began to clip away.
Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus