Ghost of Halloween Past
"Happy Halloween, Sweet Baby Kate." I barely had time to register the voice before I was thrown to the floor of the empty church. I couldn't breathe. Lips crushed mine. Hands groped me. No!
Crying out, I sat up in bed and covered my head of shoulder-length auburn curls with my arms. Taking deep breaths I got my mind to register that I was safe in the top floor apartment of the brownstone building I shared with six other tenants. Althea Teague, one of the older and wealthier parishioners of my uncle, Father Sean Cragen, had given me the apartment last year for my twenty-first birthday. She had kept the reasons for her generosity to herself, but I'm sure my all-knowing and generous uncle had had a hand in things.
This blue-eyed giant had been arranging my life since the night he had found me kneeling at the altar of St. John's. I'd been begging God to send someone to believe my stories about The Witch and The Monster -- legally my mother and father. Father Sean had taken me in and, eventually, I'd been adopted by Mom and Dad -- Margie and Don Cragen.
I fell back on my pillow and stared at the shadow cast on the ceiling from the glow of my night-light, that, apparently, I would be sleeping with the rest of my life, thanks to The Monster, Mr. Allen, and his teen-age son Russ. They had blindfolded me, among other things, and carried out their sick fantasies. I still freaked when it came to the dark and had a night-light and an over-abundance of flashlights in every room.
The Monster had been beaten to death after being in prison for only a month, but by some fuck-up of nature, The Witch, Mr. Allen, and Russ had survived. The Witch and Mr. Allen still had two years to serve. The curly-chestnut-haired, brown-eyed, handsome as Lucifer, Russ had gotten out six months ago. Two weeks ago, the flowers had started arriving every morning. The calls came irregularly. I wasn't sure when I'd last slept more than three hours, until this afternoon.
I'd just gotten up from the altar at St. John's, where I'd thought I was alone, when Russ attacked me. The impact with the floor had taken my away my breath, and my mind had been so numbed by the repugnant memories that I hadn't been able to cry for help. Suddenly, though, seemingly from out of nowhere, the wrath of God had shown throughout the sanctuary -- God's wrath in the form of Father Sean Patrick Cragen -- all six feet ten inches of him. Seizing Russ, he had lifted him off me, thrust a fist into his stomach, and hurled him down the aisle. "Get the fucking hell out of my church."
Talking Uncle Sean out of phoning the police, I'd came home, showered, put on my black silky-type collared sleep shirt, imprinted with Snoopy, called Mom to cancel my visit to the house, and had crawled under the covers.
I looked at the digital clock on the cedar nightstand that had been made, along with the rest of the bedroom suite, by Uncle Sean. Ten o'clock. I'd slept almost six hours. I felt like I hadn't slept at all.
The phone rang. Sitting up, I stupidly picked up the receiver from the extension beside my clock.
"Happy Halloween, again, Sweet Baby Kate," Russ chanted using the sing song tone children used in silly games. "Almost time for tricks and treats. See you at midnight."
I slammed down the phone. Hugging myself, I closed my eyes and rocked. Thinking of teddy bears, kittens, rainbows, Mom and Dad, Sean the Priest, and Mike the Cop, I managed to block out the hellish images from Halloweens spent with him. From what I'd heard from my friends about the Halloween movies, Michael was a kitten.
Sighing and running my fingers through my damp hair, I got up and went to the kitchen for some chocolate milk.
I was headed for the room with the skylight that I used for my sketching and painting, when the buzzer on the intercom sounded. I almost lost my grip on the glass. Heart pounding, I went over and pushed the button. "What?" I demanded, copying Dad's way of answering the phone.
"Happy Birthday!" Mike Logan proclaimed loud enough for all of Manhattan to hear.
"Michael Francis Logan, are you out of your freaking mind? I turned twenty-two four months ago."
"So?" he demanded and I rolled my eyes. There was never an answer to that damned question that would fit whatever logic he was running on at the time that he asked it. "Are you decent?" His voice was filled with amusement.
I looked down. My shirt hung three inches below the knees of my five-feet-ten-and-a-half-inch frame and was buttoned up to the first button. I was decent enough, but with all that had been going on with Russ, I wasn't sure I was up to whatever he had in mind, even though I'd been waiting for him.
He had been a big brother to me since he had thrown me over his shoulder and carried me out of that bar seven years ago. But after I turned twenty-one, things had started changing between us and in six months we were up and down like a roller coaster -- more down than up -- as we pushed each other away. Eventually, we reached the point of acknowledging each other, being polite like people who see each other often at social gatherings and are merely acquainted.
Max's death almost two months ago had seemed to fix things between Mike and me. And I had reached the point of wanting to deal with us, in spite of being scared to death. Then, Mike shoved me away one afternoon in an Italian restaurant where he had come in to eat lunch with his new partner, Phil Cerretta.
He hadn't approved of Gerry, whom I hadn't actually been with. Even in a suit, Gerry looks like a biker from hell, but he's a fantastic child psychologist and adored by all of his patients -- and my friend Emma who works at the bookstore. Her nephew was one of his patients and they'd hit it off five months ago when she'd carried Kyle in for his session. He had asked me to lunch to get my opinions on asking Emma to marry him. When he'd been paged to the hospital, Mike had taken his seat. Caught up in his lecture, he hadn't been interested in anything I was trying to explain, so I had just sat back and listened to everything he wasn't saying. Then, I gave him what he was asking for. I told him to butt the hell out of my life. To make it really good, I picked up my almost full water glass and tossed the contents in his face. We hadn't acknowledged one another or been polite in over a month.
Laughing softly, I buzzed him in.
That heart-melting smile greeted me when I opened the door. He was wearing a maroon dress shirt that looked as soft as silk, a dark gray windbreaker jeans, and sneakers. His gray eyes were lit up like a child's face at Christmas as he carried in a large pizza and whatever was in the medium-sized bakery bag.
"Planning to feed an army?" I asked, locking the door.
"Nope. Just us." He swung open the kitchen door. "We can have the rest later."
His we and later went off in my weary mind like a sawed-off shotgun. I retreated to the workroom, where I started a rough sketch on one of the book covers in a series I was doing for Dorothy Branson. I'd met her during my second year of college while working at the mystery bookshop Who Done It? Gray hair, dark green eyes, a vivacious 70, she had been signing copies of her latest novel, Murder by the Book, featuring the quirky amateur sleuth of the 1920s, Miss Lydia Carswell, who also happened to be a professional assassin. I'd gone to the upper level of the store to dust when she'd came up and introduced herself. I'd done the covers of her books ever since and we were as close as I let anyone get to me -- other than Mike the Cop who seemed to be getting closer every minute.
My hand jerked, sending a streak across Chief Inspector Sean Ryder's handsome features. Lydia had met him in Murder by the Book and would be meeting him again this spring, in Murder According to Bodkins. I cursed softly and reached for an eraser.
I heard Mike gasp.
Damn. I hadn't put away the portrait of Max. I'd woken up one night with the memory and had started painting Max sitting in his favorite chair as he read the Christmas story to his kids who were sitting at his feet. I put down my eraser and left Mike alone with him.
Collapsing on the cloth couch, a darker gray than Mike's jacket that he'd tossed over its arm, I curled my legs up under me and turned on the television, muted. I went through half a dozen channels before deciding to chuck the Saturday night offerings. I tossed the remote on the glass-topped coffee table and went into the kitchen.
Two candles glowed in the center of the oak table in the breakfast-nook. Several pieces of the pepperoni pizza had been placed on the serving platter that went with the hunter-green china I'd bought myself as a house-warming gift. Two plates had been set, along with two glasses, which were filled with soda.
I'd been there long enough to shred a paper towel I'd grabbed off the roll, when Mike joined me across the table. I could tell he'd been crying.
"Marie'll love it," he said softly. He gave me a small grin. "Where's the one you're doing for me?"
I sighed. "At the shop being framed, wise-ass."
He laughed and grabbed a slice of pizza.
And just like that, we were okay.
While we worked our way through all he'd put on the plate, plus a couple of more slices from the box, he kept up a steady stream of chatter bringing me up to date on everyone we knew. When he reached the end of the latest Profaci peril, which was told with the usual animation and laughter, he pushed back his chair and linked his hands over his muscled belly. "Russ Allen's back in town."
"How'd you find out?" I whispered, trying to fight off the images invading my mind.
"Saw him over at the three-one this afternoon. He's been doing research there for some new cop soap that's on cable -- Cops of Our Lives." I giggled and he grinned. "Or maybe it's As the Badges Turn. Whatever, he's the executive writer."
"He does have an imagination..." I conceded, rubbing the back of my neck, "sick as it is at times."
"Has he been in touch with you?"
I sighed in frustration. "Mike, please, I --"
"He called a couple of weeks ago and I handled it, okay?"
He raised his thick bushy eyebrows and the cut-the-fucking-crap look entered his eyes.
"Okay, okay. He's been sending me fucking flowers every damn day for the last two weeks and he calls at all hours of the freaking day and night. I'm dead from little to no sleep."
Muttering a curse, I rubbed my eyes with my palms. "He called right before you arrived. He's coming over at midnight to play. See, I was his tricks and treats on Halloween. One of the things he did, he did at midnight. He would dress up like a vampire, prick me with pins, and lick my blood."
"Yeah. I had a real Halloween. Michael, Smichael."
"Why the hell haven't you called me?"
"Gee, Michael, I don't know. It sure as hell couldn't be because you've been acting like a fucking jerk."
"Bullshit." His eyes softened. "You know exactly what I've been doing -- the same thing you've been doing. You just figure to ignore Russ and it'll all somehow go away."
"Go to hell." I picked up my glass and plate and carried them to the sink. I turned the water on full-blast.
"Dammit, Caitlin." He reached around me and shut off the faucet. "Tell me, what's going to happen the next time he comes after you and Sean the Priest, or someone else, isn't there? Will you please just tell me that?"
"Uncle Sean called you."
"Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Of course, he did, Katie. He knows you almost as well as I do." His finger played with one of the curls hanging down my back. "Phil and I tracked Russ to the three-one. We had a little talk with him." He chuckled. "I had to pull Phil off him."
I giggled. Phil usually had to reel Mike in when he lost his fiery temper.
"I love you, Katie."
He had rarely spoken those three words to anyone. They were worth more than the combined treasures of the world and, in spite of wanting them, everything else I was afraid of shrank to near invisibility at hearing them.
He wrapped his arms around me and, after a moment, I leaned into him. He kissed my right ear and just held me.
My emotions in total chaos, and feeling as though every fragment of my being was about to shatter, I finally turned to face him. The look in his eyes was a combination of tenderness and desire.
Slipping my hands behind his neck, I pulled him closer and kissed the tip of his nose, his cheek, his chin. "This is scarier than the dark -- letting you get this close."
"I'm not exactly feeling like Superman myself." He stroked his hands up and down my back from shoulders to hips. My thighs tingled and I shivered. "You okay?"
Giving a slight nod, I brushed my lips against his -- then let them linger.
We kissed our way down the hall, into the bedroom, where we took our time undressing. Falling across the bed, we explored each other's bodies. As we got further into the lovemaking, I had several flashbacks, which he rocked and talked me through.
Finally, determined I was not going to let the bastards of my past steal this from me, I fought my way through an image of Russ forcing himself into my seven year-old body and opened myself up to Mike. As he was easing himself inside me, Russ crashed into my head. Using a remote control he fast-forwarded through all the nightmares. Excruciating pain seared through me. I was about to scream, when a light filtered in. My pain ceased and the screen of horrors went blank. A sword with a cross-shaped guard, swept from the light toward Russ and he was gone. The screen came back on. There was only Mike and me, and I knew the overwhelming joy that flooded over me came from more than the climax of our lovemaking.
Mike buried his face in my neck. Feeling his tears, I clung to him and buried my own wet face into his hair.
He rolled off me and moved to the side of the bed. He lay on his back, hands resting on his stomach. I gave him ten minutes and then crawled over to him. Pressing myself against him, I propped my head on my left hand. I ran my right forefinger down his slightly hooked broad nose, around the rough edges of his jaw, down his neck and across his broad shoulder, which I kissed. I then stroked his muscled arm.
"You okay?" he asked, after a few minutes.
"I've been better." I grinned. "Detective Logan."
He growled and I went into fits of giggles as he rolled on top of me and plastered my face with playful kisses. They soon became slower and more deliberate and we spent a little time necking and petting.
Finally, I rolled on my right side to sleep. He spooned his body against my back, his arm wrapped securely around me.
The ringing phone exploded in my head. I moaned and kept my eyes shut. "Who the fucking hell is calling this damn early on a Sunday?"
His lips pressed against my ear, Mike laughed as the second ring pierced through my grogginess. "It's ten-thirty."
Feeling like I'd only slept ten minutes, I grabbed the receiver halfway through the third ring. "What?"
"Now that's what I like to hear," Phil said pleasantly, "a cheerful greeting."
"I always do my best." I laughed. "Mikey?"
Handing the phone to the cop nibbling the back of my neck, I smiled and closed my eyes. Other than Mike's nieces and nephews and Max's kids, Phil was the only one who got away with Mikey.
"Hey, what's up?" Pause. "Who caught it?" Pause. "You're kidding. Oh. Won't the press love that? Thank God it's --"
I must've drifted off because the next thing I knew, Mike was reaching over me to hang up.
"What's going on?" I yawned.
He wrapped his arm around me and kissed my head. "They found Russ this morning. Apparently he was stabbed through the heart with a sword."
I felt the hair on my arms rising. "A sword?"
"Yeah. It was placed on top of his body."
"What does the sword look like?" I asked, my voice trembling.
"Hey." He turned me over and looked down at me, his finger caressed my cheek. "What is it?"
"Is it old -- look like something out of the Old Testament -- and have a cross-shaped guard?"
"Yeah. How --"
"And the name Michael engraved on the blade? And --"
"Katie." He kissed me. "Whatever else you're going to say, save it for Sean the Priest. For once, I want to be in ignorant bliss."
Grinning, I ran my fingers through his hair. "You know, I think there might just be an even more blessed state of bliss."
He laughed wolfishly and lowered himself on top of me.