By Kelly Rourke

Harry bounded up from the floor the moment he saw his parents coming down the short flight of stairs toward him.
"Is it time for the cassamole?"
"Didn't you just eat dinner?" Laura asked him.
"Yeah, but you an' Daddy didn't! An' I helped make it! An' you hungee!"
"Hungry, sweetheart," his mother corrected. "But we're not quite ready to eat yet. I have to do something first. I think Daddy needs to set another place for you."
"So I can watch you eat?"
"No, so you can eat with us." She smiled at the toddler. "It's a surprise."
Harry didn't seem to notice his mother watching him a bit too closely as he scrambled up into his high chair. She disappeared into the far corner of the kitchen, but Harry was busy watching the rest of the operation. His father put the casserole in the middle of the table and set out another plate in front of Harry's high chair. He added child-sized silverware and laid a napkin down too.
Laura came back to the table with two slices of white bread and laid them down on her son's plate. Harry looked at them and blinked.
"No peanut butter, Mommy?"
"Not this time. I'll be right back." Laura smiled and disappeared back into the kitchen, returning with a pan, a pair of tongs, and a bottle of ketchup. "Buns are better, but just this once, I thought bread would be o.k." She used the tongs to take a long, red hot dog out of the pan and laid it across one of the slices of bread. She followed this with a second hot dog on the other slice. Then she set the ketchup on the table and took the pan back into the kitchen.
When she returned with a small glass of milk, one of the hot dogs was no longer on the bread, it was in her son's small hand, being waved gleefully overhead. "I gotta hot dog, Daddy! See? Mommy gived me a hot dog!"
His father was spooning casserole on Laura's plate, but he smiled up at her as she snagged the hot dog from their son's hand and put it back on the bread.
"See, Harry? You use this bread the same way you use a hot dog bun." She wrapped the bread around the hot dog and picked up the ketchup. "Now, you want ketchup on this, right?"
"Uh-huh," he agreed, but he seemed distracted, looking at his father. "Put lots of 'nums on Mommy's, o.k.? Lots and lots of them!"
Her smile was almost natural as she settled down in front of her own plate. "Well, there's plenty of onions here, aren't there? It looks like you did a good job putting them on."
"Uh-huh," he agreed, grabbing his hot dog and inspecting it carefully. "I even washeded my hands first, like Daddy said!"
"Well, that's a good thing," his mother said, "because we don't want to eat any dirty dinner, do we?"
"Uh-uh," he mumbled around his mouthful of hot dog. His mother finished filling her own plate and sat down with it. She carefully focused on her dinner for a few moments, until she was sure they were all seated together again.
"You and Harry made a wonderful casserole," she said, smiling at him. His face puckered for a moment and then he remembered to smile.
"An' Daddy made peaches for after!" her small son informed her. "I got to hold the can when he putted them in the bowl an' I didn't even drop it!"
"Good for you!" his mother said, glancing at him. "Sweetheart, use your napkin. You don't want food all over your sleeve, do you?"
"Oh yeah," he said, grabbing for the paper napkin, "I forgot."
"Harry told me that he and Colin and Rashad made a big castle today," his father said. This came as no shock as this was Harry's usual report on his sandbox activities. The 'castle' consisted of a large mound of sand in no particular shape. But it was a castle, nonetheless, and demanded respect from any adult informed of its existence.
"Wow," his mother said, with just the right note of appreciation in her voice, "you guys really work good together, don't you?"
"Yeah, an' Colin hurted his finger on the bucket, but he kept making the castle anyway. He's really brave," her son informed her earnestly.
"How did he hurt his finger?" Laura asked.
"He got it caught in the thing where you carry it."
"The handle?"
"Yeah. That. But he didn't even cry. Almost, but he didn't. An' Miss Kathy helped him and blew on it an' made it better."
"Harry," his father put in, "I can't remember who your other teacher is. What's her name?"
His son mumbled something indistinct and suddenly shoved almost a third of a hot dog into his mouth. He didn't look up at his father, but began chewing noisily.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," his father said, patiently, "I couldn't hear you. What's the name of your morning teacher, please?"
His son continued to chew for a minute, but he finally looked up at his father, who was waiting patiently for an answer. He swallowed and his shoulders slumped a bit. "Mrs. Johns," he said and began stuffing the second hot dog into his mouth.
His mother put out a restraining hand, "Harry, not such big bites, please. You don't want to choke yourself." The toddler stopped stuffing and stared at his hot dog for a moment, before taking a slightly smaller bite.
His father continued calmly. "Does Mrs. Johns do smart things when children hurt themselves like Miss Kathy does?"
Harry stared at his plate and shrugged.
"You like Miss Kathy, don't you?"
His son looked up at him, eyes shining. "Everybody likes Miss Kathy. She plays with us. Last week, she pusheded me on the swings and she might do it again tomorrow, maybe."
"Is Mrs. Johns nice, too?"
His son fiddled with his spoon a bit. "She's just a teacher. She knows lots of songs. I can do some! Like the spider one...itsy bitsy spider ran UP the WAter SPOUT! DOWN came the rain an' WASHED the spider OUT!"
His father watched the small boy singing and waving his spoon about in time to the song. For a moment, there was a puzzled look on the older face, but suddenly, it cleared.
"...SPIder climed UP the SPOUT aGAIN!" The child leaned back in his chair, satisfied. "I do that song good."
"Yes you do," his father agreed, "but do you know the finger part?"
"Huh?" The small face was puzzled. His father held both hands up, palms out, then turned his left hand around so that the left thumb touched the right forefinger and the right thumb touched the left forefinger.
"This way," he told the fascinated child, "you can make the spider walk up. Watch!" He sang the song over, "walking" the imaginary spider up. His son caught on and began twisting his own fingers inexpertly in imitation of his father. He didn't quite have it, but his father didn't correct him. When the "rain" came, the child was delighted and made it pour just moments later, "washing" the spider out in a sweeping gesture that threatened his milk glass and several other nearby objects. Once the spider made his next assault on the imaginary water spout, his son almost kept up with his own finger gestures, only seeming displeased that the song had to come to an end.
"Again, Daddy! Do again!"
His father smiled. "Maybe later. We should probably eat our dinner, don't you think?"
His son regarded his plate and reached for his milk. "Hey Daddy, later, do the monkeys one, o.k.?"
"I'm afraid I don't know the monkeys song," his father said with a small smile. "But, you know what?"
"I bet Colin and Rashad might know. If you asked them, they might show you."
"I could do that! An' then I'd know two of the finger ones!"
"Yes, you would, but you need to eat now, o.k.?"
"O.k., Daddy."
For a moment, silence reigned as the youngster's attention returned wonderful hot dog.
"Harry," his father said, "Do Colin and Rashad like Miss Kathy?"
His son looked up at him. "I told you, everybody likes Miss Kathy. She's nice."
"What about Mrs. Johns. Does everybody like her?"
The small eyes returned to the almost empty plate. "I dunno. They like the songs. And Rashad sings the loudest of anybody. You almost can't hear anybody else but him."
"He must like music a lot," his father said, smiling. "What about Joji?"
His son's forehead puckered in confusion. "Joji likes music. I sing to him all the time. You were there when I sanged to him before."
"Yes, I know Joji likes music. I was thinking about Miss Kathy and Mrs. Johns. Does Joji like Miss Kathy and Mrs. Johns?"
There was a long pause while Harry laid what was left of his hot dog against his plate. Finally, "Joji liked going to the playground with Miss Kathy and us. He thought the sandbox was the best, but he went down the slide with me, too."
"What about Mrs. Johns. Does Joji like her?"
Harry stared fixedly at his plate, though the hot dog was still now. "He doesn't want to go to her school any more. He'd rather stay in my room instead."
"How come?"
"He likes it better. He can play with all my toys while I'm at school."
"Can't he play with the toys at your school?"
"No. He likes it better in my room."
His father fell silent. Watching his expression, Laura leaned forward, "Harry, is that why you don't take Joji to school with you anymore? Mrs. Johns won't let him play with the toys?"
Harry laid the hot dog down on his plate and stared at it with sorrowful eyes. "She made him stay on top of the tall thing, the wood thing, with the doors?"
"The cabinet?" his father guessed. "The tall cabinet along the wall?"
"Uh-huh. She made him stay up there and she said--" His fingers twisted together while he blinked, and the silence began to stretch.
"What did she say, sweetheart?" His father's voice was gentle, but the line of his jaw was tense.
"I shouldn't talk about it," the little boy muttered.
"Harry, you can tell us anything she said to you," his mother told him, but the toddler seemed unconvinced.
"Harry, were the other children there when she said it?" his father asked. The small head nodded. "Well then, they already heard it, so it must be o.k. if we know. What did she say?"
For a moment, the child remained silent.
"She said, if I didn't stop turnin' around to look at him, she was gonna put him in the garbage can." His voice rose. "An' he wouldn't like it there! He couldn't see anything and he couldn't see me and I didn't want him in there!" He struggled for a moment, a measure of calm returning. "An' I sat really still and she didn't put him in the garbage. An' later, when Miss Kathy was there and she wasn't, Miss Kathy took him down and gived him to me to take out in the playground. But he doesn't wanna to go back. He likes my room upstairs better."
"I can understand that," his father said evenly. "Does Mrs. Johns ever say she'll put anyone else's things in the garbage?"
Harry seemed to give the question some serious thought. "I don't think so. I never heard her."
"I understand. Harry?" The child blinked up at him. "Did you want your peaches now?"
Harry sighed with relief. "Yeah, Daddy! I like peaches!"
His father retrieved the peaches from the refrigerator and Harry dug into his happily. Laura barely looked at hers when the bowl was set in front of her. The feeling of his hand gently rubbing her back made her raise her eyes to his face, and he smiled gently and nodded. With an effort, she returned his smile, hoping it looked brighter than it felt.
He sat in the gathering darkness with a feeling of triumph. He tried to tell himself that it was far too soon for that particular emotion. He hadn't won. Yet.
He could hear his mother's voice, telling him he was being too cocky, too sure of himself. Telling him, again, that sure as he had been born, he had been born to fail. The great lesson, as she would have told him, that he had never learned, somehow.
But she was wrong. She had been wrong and even the ghost of her voice ringing in his head was still wrong. He had not been born to fail. And he would prove that, once and for all, once he'd removed the one remaining obstacle to his own success. And he would remove it.
The only question remaining was when. The sun was almost down. Night was the perfect time. He knew that. And yet...
Time and time again, he'd counted on the cover of darkness. He'd found them all at night. All the false faces, smiling at him under dim lighting, half in shadow and always wrong. Perhaps, as his mother had also advised, patience would work best in this one instance. He'd made one great change already. And nothing horrible had happened. There had been no pounding at his door, no fearsome accusations. All was as it had been and he was still safe.
If one change had worked, why not two? His most risky habit had been, finally, discarded. Biter, as he'd come to call his toy, had finally failed him. But it had failed him in silence, and no one had been the wiser. A muddy bog had covered what Biter hadn't rendered into more easily disposable packages. It was a large bog and might prove useful yet again.
So, another change was in order. Maybe more than one. She was wary of him at night, sending her dopplegangers to suffer for her. But she wouldn't expect him in broad daylight. No one would. It was risky, but perhaps not so much as he might once have thought.
Because he'd finally done what he should have done from the beginning. Instead of looking for her in out-of-the-way places, finding her in faces that weren't even hers, he should have been looking elsewhere. He should have done what he had finally done, and from the safety of his own couch.
He looked at the thick pages, open on his rickety coffee table. There she was, in black-and-white. Her name. Her address. Her phone number. Not that he'd call her. He didn't need to. And the final change would make it perfect.
Her ghost wouldn't linger in the corners of his home, like all the others, who hissed at him from the shadows. Because she wouldn't be here. There was no need. And when it was done, all he had to do was wait. Wait for darkness, the deepest darkness of a long night, before taking her to a slightly different, but still remote portion of the bog that had been so useful the last time.
And this time, finally, the darkness would be his friend.
But daylight still worried him. What if she weren't there? Daylight was unexpected, but it was also the time most people weren't in their own homes. And being seen entering her home might be remembered.
But if she might be out, so would her neighbors, wouldn't they? Maybe not all, but there was always some risk. The trick was deciding whether the risk was acceptable. A soft voice, somewhere in the recesses of his mind reminded him that he was born to fail.
He clenched his fists against his thighs. It had to end. But when? Tonight? Tomorrow? Some other time? How could he decide what was best?
Suddenly he relaxed. His fists unclenched. He didn't even notice the small drops of blood where his nails had penetrated the flesh of his palms again. He had a plan again.
He didn't have to do anything definitive tonight, but he could decide easier once he'd taken a small trip. He had an address, but he had never seen the place. He had no way to decide the risk of a location he'd never been to. Darkness, once more, could be his friend. He could visit. He could look. He might even risk ringing her bell. What was the worst that could happen? He could always say he had the wrong address. And then let her worry about it. Or, if it seemed right, he could finally end things. End them to his satisfaction for a change.
He began to smile. He might ring her bell tonight. He might not. But he would go and see. And then he could decide. He could decide so many things.
It was time.
Harry was sitting on the couch, talking things over with Joji. "An' I had peaches for extra dinner! An' hot dogs! Really! I did!"
His parents were in the kitchen, ostensibly cleaning up after dinner. But they were mostly talking, in low anxious tones.
"I can understand not wanting to upset him any more, especially just before bed, but Laura, we have to know. And we have to know before we go to bed!"
"Why? Why do we have to know right now? What's wrong with tomorrow? Maybe when John can help?" The dishtowel in her hands was twisted into a nearly impossible shape.
He sighed and put another plate away in the cupboard. "Because John will be able to help us more when we can give him more information to work with. And also, because I don't know what John's schedule is tomorrow. He can't just drop everything because we need him. He has a certain amount of flexibility, but he might not be able to even see Harry until sometime in the afternoon. I don't know. But I don't think I'll last until tomorrow afternoon without some kind of answers. Could you? Seriously? And what do we do about tomorrow?" He faced her, and she saw moisture glinting in his eyes. He hadn't actually broken down, but he was dangerously close, she could tell. "We can't take him back there. We can't!"
She laid a calming hand on his arm. "No, of course we can't. I know you have patients to see, but I don't think I have anything that can't be put off tomorrow. I can stay home with him. Mildred can cover for me easily enough. He's not going back there. Not tomorrow and not ever!"
He smiled, but it was a twisted smile and didn't convey any positive feeling at all. "Laura, do you realize we have no idea what we're really protecting him from? A vague threat to Joji and a lot of soiled clothing. We know it's bad, but we still don't know what it is. Or how bad it is. And I think, somehow, that's the worst part."
"But we can't put him through any more!" She looked terrified and he realized how he had sounded. Would he never stop hurting this woman?
"No, Laura, we can't put him through any more. But we can't help him until we know more ourselves. Do you want to sit on his bed again tonight? Listening to him scream? And have no idea what to do to help him? I don't think I can do that again. Can you?" In some ways, this was more cruel, but there didn't seem to be anything he could say at this point that wasn't.
She took a long, shaky breath and looked down at the dishtowel in her hands. "I don't think I want to do that, either." She began, slowly, to untwist the length of cloth. "But will we be preventing another round of nightmares, or causing them?"
"I think we can prevent at least some of them easily." She looked up at him, genuinely confused. "All we have to do, really, is tell him that he gets to stay home with Mommy tomorrow. I think that will go a long way toward a better night's sleep than anything else, don't you?" He gently pulled the towel from her hands, smoothed it and hung it up for her. "And knowing that might make it easier for him to talk to us about what's really been going on . Without upsetting him too much. At least, it's worth a try."
He wrapped his arms around her, and hope surged in him when she relaxed against his chest with a low sigh.
"O.k., but if he gets too worked up, we back off. Agreed?"
"Agreed." When she looked up at him, his smile was genuine, at last, which helped her to square her shoulders and even smile back at him. Whatever they had to face, she knew they would face it together. The fear she'd lived with for so long now had finally met a foe it couldn't defeat. It might bring her down, but it wouldn't get the best of the two of them together.
And it never would.
The sodium vapor lights in the parking lot made his head hurt. He looked at the rows of cars. The distinctively shaped white Rabbit was there. How it was still on the road was a mystery. The vehicle was long past it's "sell by" date. He contemplated it silently for a long moment. Then he turned his gaze upward. A long, diagonal staircase to a second floor landing. A nondescript blue door with gold-plated numbers on its face. Next to it, a rectangular window, curtained, with warm, glowing light behind it. Kitchen? Living room? The second floor was higher than the first floor.
Almost room for another story altogether. There were scattered windows in that higher region, but no more doors.
He checked his watch. It was both too early and too late. Life was going on behind that blue door. Dinner was probably over, but there were dishes and television shows and quiet conversations and a dozen small responsibilities to be handled at that hour. This was the time of day for responsibility and camaraderie. Not murder.
He sat for several long minutes, looking at the door, at his watch, wondering if he should wait. Wait for a slightly later hour, or possibly for the dawn itself. Then, from the darkest depths of memory, it rose accusingly.
A shoe. One single shoe. On the side, where the mud and muck hadn't settled, it was pink. Pearl-pink. The satin finish had almost glowed in the moonlight. That shoe had been designed for dancing.
For dreams. For daylight.
He growled softly to himself. The hell with the hour. Movement was needed, not polite intentions. His car door was open before he was even aware of touching it, and he was stepping out, feeling the light from the lamp settle sickly along the side of his face. He wanted to wipe it off, but that was nonsense. He growled his way past it instead.
The cars in the parking lot were still and silent. The rows of doors on the first floor, like the rows of doors on the second story above them, were mute and blank. Behind them, though, were a dozen faces, a dozen voices, a dozen truths and possibly even more lies.
Tonight he didn't need truth or lies. He needed solutions. But solutions weren't granted, like a Papal dispensation. They were found. They were seized. Sometimes they had to be pried from the muck itself.
You just had to be willing to get your hands dirty.
He felt himself wiping his hands on his pants leg before gripping the railing leading up. Leading, he hoped, to a solution.
They were sitting side-by-side on the couch, the small brown head tucked in between his parents. His small fingers clutched Joji tightly and his blue eyes never left the stuffed felt face on his lap.
"Sweetheart," his mother said gently, "we understand that you don't want to talk about it. But we need you to. We have to understand what's going on."
The pouting lips muttered something too softly for his mother to catch, but his father did.
"Harry, if nothing's going on, why were you so mad at me the other day?"
Now the toddler looked up, genuinely confused. "When, Daddy? When I mad at you?"
His father smiled gently. "The other morning, when I told you I wasn't going to go to work with Mommy. You were really mad at me, weren't you?"
The eyes returned to the safety of felt. His teeth gnawed at his lower lip. "Yeah, I mad at you then. Not now. I not mad anymore, Daddy." He looked up earnestly to make sure he was believed. "I not mad at you at all."
His father hugged him gently. "I know you aren't. But you were really upset then. If I remember, you said it was because I wasn't going to stay home and play with you and I wasn't going to work with Mommy." The smaller head nodded reluctantly. "I understand wanting to stay home and play. But you wouldn't have been so angry if I'd gone to work with Mommy and I wondered why."
There was no sound for a few moments. "Because you supposed to, that's all."
"Do all the other mommies and daddies go to work together?"
The tiny shoulders shrugged helplessly. "But you did before and now you don't. But you should."
His tone remained level. "Why should I go to work with Mommy? Can you tell me?"
The little head was tucked down as low as possible now. His mutters were directed at Joji. "Because you'd be with her, then. She wouldn't be by herself. Nothing would happen. But you not there now." The sentence took something out of the toddler and he sighed deeply.
"What would happen, darling?" he asked gently. The question made the child seem to shrink into himself. The arm his father still had around his shoulder could feel the shudders running through the small form. "It's o.k. You can tell us what you're afraid of."
"Uh-uh." The brown head shook defiantly.
"Why not?" The calm tone came at a cost. Looking over her son's head at him, Laura could see the strain in his eyes, and the small vein jumping near his jaw.
"Something bad would happen. She said."
His father drew a long, silent breath. "She said something bad would happen if you told us about it?"
The small head nodded for a change. "Anybody. I can't tell anybody or the bad thing will happen an' I don't want it to!" He leaned against his mother wordlessly and his father loosened his hold on the child's shoulders to make it easier for him. Laura slipped her arm around the child and pulled him close.
"It's o.k., sweetheart," she murmured. "It's all going to be just fine."
His father cleared his throat gently. "Let's see if we can figure out a way to make this all right again. Harry? You wanted me to go to work with Mommy, right?" The blue eyes focused on him and the small head nodded slowly. "So you think something bad will happen at Mommy's work, is that right?"
The child bit down on his lower lip so hard a white line appeared under it. Finally he nodded again and a tear slipped from the corner of his eye. He brushed at it impatiently, and missed. His father leaned over and wiped it away.
"O.k., now we're getting somewhere. You were upset the other night, too. You had a nightmare. And you asked you Mommy not to go anywhere. You meant she shouldn't go to work, didn't you?"
There was a small gasping breath and Harry muttered, softly, as his parents strained to catch the words. "That's where the bad things happen. Where Mommies work."
His father looked at him carefully. "In the office? Where Mommy and Mildred and Grace work? That's where bad things happen?"
The boy sniffled a bit, then shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe. She didn't say. But..." He stopped and they waited for him to continue. But he lowered his head again.
"But what, Harry? Please?"
"But it happened!" There was genuine anguish in the child's voice. "It happened somewhere where she worked an' I don't want it to happen to my Mommy! I don't! An' I don't know how to stop it! I try, but I don't know how!" He looked up, his eyes swimming in tears. "I try, Daddy! I do!"
This time his father plucked him out of his mother's arms and held him close. "Shhh. Harry, it's o.k. Shhhh."
Laura moved closer, pressing against the small back, stroking his hair. After a few minutes, the gasping sobs died down a bit. Laura fished a tissue from the pocket of her cardigan and
handed it to her small son, who rubbed it against his face for a minute, then went back to sniffling. She took it from him and used it a bit more effectively to clean him up, then dropped a kiss on his cheek when she'd finished.
"Now," his father said, still snuggling the toddler, "let's talk about this a minute. What do you do to 'try', Harry? Can you tell me how you try? What you have to do? Maybe Mommy and I can find a way to help."
"It's just that I don't know how," the little boy said, looking up at them, his voice earnest. "I try not to be bad an' dirty, but she says I still am. An' Joey...I don't know what he did wrong. We were both doing the same, but she still went away an' died an'--"
Doorbells never seemed to go off when you wanted them to, only when you didn't. This one wrung a muttered curse from him as he glared at the door and handed his son off to his mother. Laura clutched him and the child nestled his head on her shoulder, seeming relieved that the parental interrogation was over.
As the doorbell sounded again, he didn't so much open the door as tear it savagely toward him. Jarvis stood, looking sickly in the yellowish light coming from overhead.
"Hi," he said. "Hope this isn't a bad time or anything." The folder in his hand was almost bent double from the pressure of his rigid fingers.
"I'm afraid it is, rather." His tone was mild, but his eyes were hard as stone and he actually began to swing the door shut again, when Jarvis' hand slammed out and blocked him.
"Sorry about that," Jarvis said, his teeth clenched. "Don't mean to be pushy or anything, but something seems to be wrong here and what kind of friend would I be if I didn't try to help?" He pushed gently against the door and stepped across the threshold smoothly as it opened.
"Hi, 'tec'ive Jarvis!" Harry, at least, sounded pleased to see the lanky homicide detective and Jarvis headed toward him with a smile.
"Hiya, Harry, how're you doing tonight?"
The toddler straightened with excitement. "I learned a new song today! Wanna see?" He paused a moment and frowned. "I mean, I knowed the song, but I learned the finger part. Wanna see?" He held his hands up in expectation of Jarvis' assent. And Jarvis didn't disappoint.
"Sure! Show me, short stuff!" The child obligingly tried to emulate an imaginary spider, but fumbled almost immediately. Jarvis reached out and gently turned the child's right hand over. "It goes the other way, see? The thumbs go with the fingers, not with each other."
Grinning happily, the child twisted the "spider" up the nonexistent water spout, successfully this time. Jarivs clapped when the spider had washed out properly. "There you go! You're an expert at that one, aren't you?"
"Uh-huh! Daddy showed me it. An' he said tomorrow, maybe I can get Rashad an' Colin to show me the monkeys one. I like that one the most." He looked up appealingly. "Do you know that one? Five lit-tle mon-keys...?"
But Jarvis was looking around him at the living room and the dining room beyond it. He stepped quickly around the couch and headed toward the dining room table, craning his neck to see into the kitchen area. Then he spun back around and headed back again. He paused at the foot of the stairs, peering upward.
"Detective, there's nobody else here."
Jarvis threw him an insincere smile. "Of course not. Didn't think there was."
Laura, looking between the two men, decided it was time to step in. "Detective, you can look all you want, but there's nobo--"
But Jarvis, smiling happily, was already headed for the stairs. "Thanks, Miss Holt. Don't mind if I do."
The two adults stared after him astonished as he trotted up the stairs. From the living room, they could hear him opening doors, entering rooms, even checking closets. At last he came back down the stairs. Reaching the bottom, he gave an exaggerated shiver.
"Man, it's cold tonight. Weather's changing. Hope you guys have warm coats handy." Before they could react, he stepped quickly to the small coat closet between the stairs and the front door and wrenched it open. He used his hands to move the clothes hanging there so he could look bewtween and behind them.
"Detective, honestly, there's no one here besides us."
Jarvis closed the closet door and smiled at him blandly. "That's good. You all just looked so tense, I thought there might be something wrong. Can't blame me for worrying, can you?"
"We don't blame you at all, Detective," Laura put in warmly. "In fact, we appreciate it."
Under her steady gaze, he coughed nervously. "Yes, Detective Jarvis. We do appreciate it. There's nothing to worry about, though. We were just having a family discussion about Harry's school. We think there may be some...issues there."
Jarvis looked slightly astonished. "Issues?" He smiled down at the toddler. "Well, music isn't one of them. Harry seems to be doing good there." He crouched down in front of the couch to look the child in the eyes. "Why don't you sing me the monkey's one and I'll see if I know it, too. I think I might." He looked up at Laura. "And then I'll get out of your hair and let you get back to your evening, o.k.?"
Laura smiled at him and hugged Harry gently. But the toddler was sitting up as straight as possible. "Five lit-tle mon-keys jum-pin' on th' bed!" he chanted, and Jarvis cheerfully chimed in.
"Yep. I know that one," he told the youngster. "Do you want to learn the finger part?" As the toddler nodded, Jarvis held up one hand, all fingers extended. "O.k., put your hand up like this. See? These are the five monkeys and they're gonna start jumping." He made his hand bounce up and down to the rhythm of the chant. "Now, wait. You only need one finger for this part." He showed the child how to hold up one index finger and have it "fall" off the imaginary bed, and then rubbed circles onto his own head to show how the "monkey" bumped it's head.
"Mama called the doctor..." and Jarvis held one hand up, thumb at his ear, forefinger at his lips, while the other fingers spun an imaginary round dial around, "...and the doctor said..." Now one finger was shaken in an admonishing manner. "No more mon-keys jum-pin' on the BED!"
When they were done, Harry clapped excitedly, while his parents looked relieved. But Jarvis looked solemn.
"Wait, we're not done yet." He reached out and took one of the child's hands. "We lost a monkey, so you have to tuck your thumb in, now. There's only four monkey's on the bed, so show me four, o.k.?"
With the small hand in the correct position, Jarvis went through the song again. At the end, he took his musical partner's hand and tucked the little finger down as well, for three monkeys. They continued until all five monkeys had tumbled off the bed, incurring five head concussions requiring medical assistance and gleeful shrieking, which Jarvis joined in on with gusto.
Finished, he rocked back on his heels. "There you go, kid. Now you know the monkeys one. So Colin and Rashad will have to teach you a different song tomorrow. Think they can?"
"Sure," the child told him earnestly. "They know lots of songs."
Jarvis looked at him closely. "So how come Colin and Rashad know the songs and you don't? You're a pretty bright kid."
The child shrank back into his mother, and looked down at Joji, still perched on his lap. "They can see it better than me, that's all."
Jarvis appeared to think this over for a moment. "So you're not sitting where you can see everything, huh?"
The small body squirmed slightly. "Uh-huh." Quietly, and without disturbing him, his father sat down next to him again.
"Did you tell your teacher you couldn't see?" Jarvis' tone was mild.
"Why not, Harry?" Jarvis managed to sound merely curious.
"She knows." It was muttered into his mother's shoulder.
"Oh." Jarvis managed to sound as if nothing were odd about this. "Is it just during music? What about the rest of the day?"
The little boy looked up at him, his eyes clear. "I play outside with Rashad and Colin and the others in th' afternoon. We have fun. An' I can see anything I want."
Jarvis nodded thoughtfully. "But not in the morning, huh?"
The small blue eyes darkened as they looked down again and the small brown head nestled back against his mother's shoulder. His father leaned forward suddenly.
"Harry, darling, what about Joey?"
The small body stiffened and his tiny fingers clutched Joji, squeezing the stuffed animal nearly flat.
"You said she went away and died, but Joey didn't do anything. What did you mean?"
The toddler buried his face in his mother's sweater and his words were too muffled to make out. Laura gently pried him upright. "Sweetheart, you need to sit up so we can understand you. What did you say?"
There was a soft whimpering, but finally, "I don' know if he did anything. Maybe. She said...an' then his mommy was dead an'...an'..." Large tears were running down his cheeks. Laura pulled him close and his father looked stunned. But Jarvis suddenly tensed, and even leaned forward.
"Harry?" No one moved. "Harry? Your friend Joey, was his last name Gardener? Joey Gardener?"
The small shoulders shrugged.
"But he was in your group at school, right? So he was your age. What did his mommy do, Harry?"
The small head twisted and one blue eye stared at Jarvis. "She did like my Mommy does. The same."
Now Jarvis rocked back on his heels, looking almost relieved. "No, Harry. Not quite the same. Almost, but not quite the same thing at all." He pulled himself to his feet and looked down at the three people on the couch.

"Harry, I think someone's been lying to you. Do you know what lying is?"
"Saying something that's not right?" The child was facing him now, looking confused.
"Almost. It's saying something that's not true. And I think someone told you something that wasn't true. And I think I can prove it. If your Mommy and Daddy will bring you over to where I work, I think I can make a lot of things make a lot more sense. What do you say?"
Jarvis was facing the child, but his eyes were on Laura. Slowly, she nodded. Harry twisted on her lap. "Mommy? Can we? I never saw where 'tec'ive Jarvis works. Joji wants to see."
Now it was his father who stiffened. He glanced at the clock sitting on top of the television. "Isn't it a bit late to be going out?"
Jarvis gave him a reassuring smile, that didn't seem to reassure him at all. "Nah. We've got plenty of time. It's not Harry's bedtime yet. And I just have to get to my desk to look up a number. It won't take long at all. Besides, it'll be good for Harry to see where I work. I think it'll be a really good thing to do. Hey, Harry, have you been to your Mom's office yet?"
The toddler nodded, gathering up Joji and starting to slide off his mother's lap. "Uh-huh. I go there all the time. Auntie Mildred lets me color on Daddy's old desk. He works in a different office now. He showed me it. But I like Mommy's office, too."
Laura, looking nervously over at him, was getting to her feet, too. "It'll be o.k.," she reassured him. "We'll both be right there and I'm sure nothing bad will happen."
With both Jarvis and Laura looking at him, he rose to his feet as well, but he didn't look at all happy about it. While Laura crossed to the hall closet and grabbed sweaters for both herself and her son, he managed to voice his concern.
"I appreciate everything you've done, Detective, honestly. But don't you think your time would be better served elsewhere tonight?"
Jarvis smiled at him, though the smile had a faint edge to it. "No, actually, I think this is exactly what I need to be doing tonight. And not just for Harry. I think, by doing this, I may just be able to take care of some very important unfinished business." Laura and Harry joined them and Jarvis' smile eased slightly.
"Shall we go?"
There was an overhead light right outside the door that illuminated them perfectly. And it was her. How could he have made that mistake? Made it so many times now?

He smiled to himself in relief. This was right. This was certainty. This was the absolute certainty of memory. Not a faint resemblance to a faded newspaper photograph in black and white, pinned to a piece of cardboard and kept in his closet. This was her. In the flesh. And it was like puzzle pieces clicking together with firmness and surety. No more mistakes. The smile on his face widened.
And then he closed his lips firmly together. One of her doppelgangers had said it. His smile glittered, especially under halogen lights. And he couldn't let that spoil things now. Not when he'd found her at last.

His mother's voice whispered in the recesses of his brain. Glitter-smile, she'd called it. It was nasty the way she'd said it. You have that glitter-smile again. What are you up to? What are you planning? Should I go look?

He sneered to himself, lips safely closed over his teeth. She'd never looked. Not in the right place. And she'd believed him when he said the dog had run off, and the cat too. She hadn't gotten any more animals after them. But she hadn't bothered digging a garden in the back yard, either. Or she might have found both of them. And a few other things she might not have liked any more than his smile.

But she was gone now, tucked into a box lying in the dirt. Just not the dirt of her backyard. No, he'd buried her properly, publicly. Not furtively, in the dark, like the others. And now, there was only one more thing he had to bury. This one wouldn't need any digging. The bog was nice and soft and sucked things down without much effort needed.

But not tonight. No, he'd been right before. Daytime would be better. Tonight there were others with her. Too many others. But she didn't know he'd found her. She hadn't caught even a glint of a glitter. She expected him in the darkness. She would never see him coming in the light.

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