Stephanie Voss consulted the Tarot, threw down the cards, and despite the advice of the Arcana, decided to kidnap the children.
At the Burns suburban home, she made up a story of having earned a bonus day off and said she wanted to treat Jamie and Annie to a day at Funside Pier. Dan and Mariana could hardly say no, the kids were all excited, and so off they drove in Steffie’s yellow beater for the tawdry boardwalk delights of East Poke Island.
Jamie was a little disappointed because not all the rides were open. Annie was thrilled to spend an hour in the Seaside Aquarium. Jamie drifted from Ferris Wheel to Arcade to the pizza stand. Stephanie made him promise to meet her in an hour, and walked the long boardwalk, thinking, thinking, thinking.
A narrow inlet separated East Poke from Poke, and here the Destiny River rough-met the ocean, and the scallop boats bobbed in and out to their ports at the deeper end of the bay. Here Stephanie stood, pondering, looking over at Poke Island, and imagining the horror of being choked to death by your husband, then dumped into the bay to be eaten by fishes.
She shuddered. She leaked tears. She dug Kleenex out of her purse. Her eye makeup ran. The wind blew her long luxurious hair around into her face. A scallop boat bobbed by, its long arms folded up, headed out to a dangerous sea.
She lit a joint. She smoked against the wind. Another hurricane was churning out there somewhere. All the storms had missed this coast this year. Sooner or later …
She left the boardwalk and hiked two sandy blocks inland to the home of her sister. Julie Voss, once a drug addict, had two children by different fathers and made her living as a psychic, giving readings to the beach tourist crowd. Her ramshackle salt coated home had only stones where a lawn might be. A cracked, painted sign was decorated with mystic stars and a moon. The storm door was propped open and only a flimsy screen door guarded entry to the house. Stephanie knocked at its rim.
“Who is it?” echoed a voice from the dark house.
If Julie was really psychic, wouldn’t she know? This was an old joke between them and made Stephanie laugh.
“Me!” Steffie shouted.
Julie’s face appeared behind that dark, dirty screen.
“I can’t see you now,” Julie said.
“What do you mean?”
“You came for a reading but I can’t see you.”
“Julie, I just wanted to, I need to ask.”
“You are very dark, Stephanie, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.”
Julie shut the door and click, threw the deadbolt.
Thoroughly spooked, Stephanie collected the kids, drove them back to Taylor’s condo, and waited. Jamie was delighted to play on Taylor’s gaming computer. Annie chose among his graphic novels. Stephanie, mildly high from the joint she’d smoked on the boardwalk, sat on the deck and worked a quilt.
When Taylor walked in the door he did a double-take and said, “Hey! What’s going on?”
Annie leaped up. “We went to Funside Pier!”
Jamie didn’t look up from his video game.
“Wow,” said Taylor, “your Aunt Steffie is really nice to you.”
Then he stepped out onto the deck, alone with Stephanie, and shut the French door behind him.
“What’s this?” he said. “Is everything okay?”
“No it’s not, I can tell,” Taylor said.
“Julie shut me out.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I went to see her, she acted like I was a demon and slammed the door on me.”
“She’s crazy, Stef.”
“No she’s not. She’s a sensitive. She’s always been special. She can see auras. Taylor, we need to pay more attention to these children.”
“Something terrible is about to happen.”
“Oh, Steffie, this psychic stuff …”
“These children are going to need us, Taylor.”
He put one arm around her. “I know.”
“You know? What do you know?”
“I know they’re grieving. I know they’ve lost too much.”
He kissed her, warmly. “I think I’ve got a job lead in The City.”
“No,” she said.
“In the burbs, actually. Middletown.”
“Too far away,” said Steffie. “We’d have to move.”
“Not right away. I could take the train for a month or two.”
“No,” said Steffie.
“Steffie, Console’s never going to take me back and there’s nothing else here.”
“I don’t care. You were going to build a beach house for these children, remember? Your promise to your mom?”
“We’ll see. I’ll be down on summer weekends.”
“Taylor, there’s a hurricane out there.”
“There’s always a hurricane somewhere.”
“We can’t leave these children with a hurricane coming.”
He pushed out of her embrace. “What the hell has come over you?”
“I want to keep them here. I don’t ever want to take them back to your father’s house.”
Taylor sat in a steel chair under umbrella shade.
“Have you lost your mind? Okay, what’s he done now?”
“I already called and asked if they could spend the night. Mariana said okay.”
“Will you quit tap dancing around it? Tell me what he’s done to spook you like this. Because you are obviously…”
“Taylor, he’s going to be arrested.”
“Who’s going to be arrested?”
“I can’t tell you.”
He rose up from the chair, knelt before her, put his hands on her thighs, stared into her eyes.
“What kind of crazy shit is going on?” he demanded. “Tell me right now.”
“I can’t. I won’t. I have to. Taylor, he murdered your mother.”
As if he were pushed by an ocean wave, Taylor fell back until he sat on the deck, looking up at Steffie, the sun behind her, half hidden in the fog.
“Son of a bitch. No. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.”
Stephanie walked to the rail, looked over the glitzy street, and all its shoppers and traffic. “We’ll need to pay those children special attention, Taylor. We’re going to get married. And we’re going to adopt them.”
Taylor, like a soldier guarding the perimeter, silently patrolled the edges of the deck. He stopped beside Stephanie, bunched her blowing hair. Turned her face to him.
“I knew something was wrong. I knew it back in Hawaii. She made a move to claim her own life, and he punished her for it. I remember the bruises. The muffled shouts in the night. The makeup she wore to try to hide the bruises. Steffie, that woman hated makeup. But she never wanted me to see those bruises. Children know. They always know.”
He kicked the railing, compulsively, like an overactive child. “They have evidence?”
“I heard from Penny.”
“She’s the weekend sheriff’s steno.”
“They still have stenos?”
“Apparently. She’s coming over.”
“I’m sending the kids to Mike Fink’s for supper.”
“Penny’s coming here to this house?”
“She wants to warn us Taylor.”
“Fuck! Am I living in a nightmare?”
“I’m yours, Taylor. I’m your rock. Cling to me.”