Once Trapped – Blake Pierce

Morgan Farrell had no idea where she was or where she had just come from. She felt as if she were stepping out of a deep, thick fog. Something or someone was right there in front of her. She leaned forward, staring, and saw a woman’s face staring back at her. The woman looked just as lost and confused as Morgan felt. “Who are you?” she asked the woman. The face mouthed the words in unison with her, and then Morgan realized … My reflection. She was looking at her own face in a mirror. She felt stupid not to have recognized herself right away, but not completely surprised. My reflection. She knew she was looking at her own face in a mirror, but it felt like looking at a stranger. This was the face she’d always had, the face that people called elegant and beautiful. Now it looked artificial to her. The face in the mirror didn’t look quite … alive. For a few moments, Morgan wondered if she had died.

But she could feel her slightly ragged breathing. She felt her heart beating a little fast. No, she wasn’t dead. But she seemed to be lost. She tried to pull her thoughts together. Where am I? What was I doing before I got here? Weird as she felt about not knowing, it was a familiar problem. This wasn’t the first time she’d found herself in some part of the huge house without knowing how she’d gotten there. Her sleepwalking spells were caused by the multiple tranquilizers the doctor had prescribed, plus too much scotch. Morgan only knew one thing—Andrew had better not see her looking like she looked right now. She had no makeup on, and her hair was a mess.

She lifted a hand to push a strand of hair off her forehead, then saw … My hand. It’s red. It’s covered with blood. She watched as the mouth on the reflected face dropped open with shock. Then she lifted her other hand. It was also red with blood. With a shudder of revulsion, she impulsively wiped her hands on the front of her clothing. Then her horror mounted. She had just smeared blood on her extremely expensive silk nightgown. Andrew would be furious if he found out.

But how was she going to clean herself up? She glanced around, then hastily reached for a hand towel hanging next to the mirror. As she tried to clean her hands with it, she saw the monogram … AF This was her husband’s towel. She forced herself to focus on her surroundings … the plush monogrammed towels … the shimmering gold-colored walls. She was in her husband’s bathroom. Morgan sighed with despair. Her nighttime wanderings had taken her into her husband’s bedroom a few times before. If she woke him up, he was always furious at her for violating his privacy. And now she had wandered all the way through his bedroom into his adjoining bathroom. She shivered. Her husband’s punishments were always cruel.

What’s he going to do to me this time? she thought. Morgan shook her head, trying to pull herself out of her mental fog. Her head was splitting and she felt nauseous. Obviously she’d had a lot to drink on top of too many tranquilizers. And now, not only had she gotten blood all over one of Andrew’s precious towels, she saw that she had made prints all over the white bathroom counter. There was even blood on the marble floor. Where did all this blood come from? she asked herself. A strange possibility occurred to her … Did I try to kill myself? She couldn’t remember doing that, but it certainly seemed possible. She’d contemplated suicide more than once since she’d been married to Andrew. And if she ever did die by her own hand, she wouldn’t be the first to do so in this house.

Mimi, Andrew’s wife before Morgan, had committed suicide. So had his son Kirk, just last November. She almost smiled with bitter irony … Did I just try to continue the family tradition? She stepped back to get a better look at herself. All this blood … But she didn’t seem to be wounded anywhere. So where had the blood come from? She turned and saw that the door leading into Andrew’s bedroom was wide open. Is he in there? she wondered. Had he slept through whatever had happened? She breathed a little easier at the possibility. If he was sleeping that soundly, maybe she could get away without him noticing that she’d been here. But then she stifled a groan as she realized it wasn’t going to be that easy. There was still all this blood to deal with.

If Andrew came into his bathroom and found this terrible mess, of course he’d know that she was somehow to blame. She was always to blame for everything as far as he was concerned. Her panic rising, she began to wipe the counter with the towel. But that was no good. All she was doing was smearing the blood all over the place. She needed water to clean things up. She almost turned on the faucet in the sink when she realized the sound of running water would surely wake Andrew up. She thought maybe she could softly close the bathroom door and run the water as quietly as she could. She crept on tiptoe across the enormous bathroom toward the door. When she got there, she cautiously peeked out into the bedroom.

She gasped aloud at what she saw. The lights were turned low, but there was no mistaking Andrew lying there in bed. He was covered with blood. The sheets were covered in blood. There was even blood on the carpeted floor. Morgan rushed over to the bed. Her husband’s eyes were wide open in an expression of frozen terror. He’s dead, she realized. She hadn’t died, but Andrew had. Had he committed suicide? No, that was impossible.

Andrew had nothing but contempt for people who took their own lives —including his wife and son. “Not serious people,” he’d often said about them. And Andrew had always prided himself on being a serious person. And he’d always raised that issue with Morgan … “Are you a serious person?” As she looked more carefully, she could see that Andrew had bled from many different wounds all over his body. And nestled among the blood-soaked sheets beside his body she saw a large kitchen knife. Who could have done this? Morgan wondered. Then a weird, euphoric calm fell over her as she realized … I finally did it. I killed him. She’d done it in her dreams many times. And now, at long last, she’d done it for real.

She smiled and said aloud to the corpse … “Who’s a serious person now?” But she knew better than to bask in this warm and pleasant feeling. Murder was murder, and she knew that she had to accept the consequences. But instead of fear or guilt, she felt a deep sense of contentment. He was a horrible man. And he was dead. Whatever happened now, this was well worth it. She picked up the phone next to his bed with her sticky hand and almost dialed 911 before she thought … No. There’s someone else I want to tell first. It was a kindly woman who had shown concern about her welfare some time ago. Before she did anything else, she needed to call that woman and tell her that she needn’t worry about Morgan anymore.

Everything was just fine at last. CHAPTER ONE Riley noticed that Jilly was twitching a little in her sleep. The fourteen-year-old was in the adjoining seat, with her head resting on Riley’s shoulder. Their plane had been in the air for about three hours now, and it would be another couple of hours before they would land in Phoenix. Is she dreaming? Riley wondered. If so, Riley hoped that the dreams weren’t bad. Jilly had lived through horrific experiences during her short life, and she still had lots of nightmares. She’d seemed especially anxious since that letter from social services in Phoenix had arrived, informing them that Jilly’s father wanted his daughter back. Now they were flying to Phoenix for a court date that would settle the matter once and for all. Riley couldn’t help but worry as well.

What would become of Jilly if the judge didn’t allow her to stay with Riley? The social worker had said she didn’t expect that to happen. But what if she was wrong? Riley wondered. Jilly’s whole body started twitching more sharply. She began moaning quietly. Riley shook her gently and said, “Wake up, sweetheart. You’re having a bad dream.” Jilly sat bolt upright and stared straight ahead for a moment. Then she burst into tears. Riley put her arm around Jilly and reached into her purse for a tissue. She asked, “What is it? What were you dreaming about?” Jilly sobbed wordlessly for a few moments.

Then she said, “It was nothing. Don’t worry.” Riley sighed. She knew that Jilly harbored secrets that she didn’t like to talk about. She stroked the girl’s dark hair and said, “You can tell me anything, Jilly. You know that.” Jilly wiped her eyes and blew her nose. Finally she said, “I was dreaming about something that really happened. A few years ago. My dad was on one of his serious drunks and he was blaming me as usual—for my mother leaving, for his not being able to keep a job.

For everything. He told me he wanted me out of his life. He dragged me by the arm to a closet and threw me inside and locked the door and …” Jilly fell silent and closed her eyes. “Please tell me,” Riley said. Jilly shook herself a little and said, “I was afraid to scream at first, because I thought he’d drag me back out and beat me. He just left me in there, like he’d forgotten all about me. And then …” Jilly choked back a sob. “I don’t know how many hours passed, but everything got real quiet. I thought maybe he’d just passed out or gone to bed or something. But it was like that for a long, long time, and everything stayed so quiet.

Finally I realized that he must have left the house. He did that sometimes. He’d go away for days and I’d never know when he was coming back, or if he was coming back.” Riley shuddered as she tried to imagine the poor girl’s horror. Jilly continued, “Finally I started screaming and banging on the door, but of course nobody could hear me, and I couldn’t get out. I was alone in that closet for … I still don’t know how long. Several days, probably. I had nothing to eat, and I sure couldn’t sleep, and I was so hungry and afraid. I even had to go to the bathroom in there and I had to clean that up later. I started seeing and hearing weird things in the dark—I guess they must have been hallucinations.

I guess I kind of lost my mind.” Small wonder, Riley thought with horror. Jilly said, “When I heard noises in the house again, I thought maybe I was just hearing things. I yelled out, and Dad came to the closet and unlocked it. He was stone cold sober now, and he looked surprised to see me. ‘How’d you get in there?’ he said. He acted all upset that I’d gotten myself into such a mess and treated me OK for a little while after that.” Jilly’s voice had faded to a near whisper, and she added, “Do you think he’s going to get custody of me?” Riley gulped down a knot of anxiety. Should she share her own fears with the girl she still hoped to adopt as her own daughter? She couldn’t bring herself to do that. Instead she said … “I’m sure he won’t.

” “He’d better not,” Jilly said. “Because if he does, I’ll run away for good. Nobody will ever find me.” Riley felt a deep chill as she realized … She really means it. Jilly had a history of running away from places she didn’t like. Riley remembered all too well how she’d found Jilly in the first place. Riley had been working on a case involving dead prostitutes in Phoenix, and she’d found Jilly in the cab of a truck in a parking lot where prostitutes worked. Jilly had decided to become a prostitute and sell her body to the owner of the truck. Would she do anything that desperate again? Riley wondered. Riley was horrified by the idea.

Meanwhile, Jilly had calmed down and was drifting back to sleep. Riley nestled the girl’s head against her shoulder again. She tried to stop worrying about the upcoming court date. But she couldn’t shake off her fear of losing Jilly. Would Jilly even survive if that happened? And if she did survive, what kind of life would she have? * When the plane landed, four people were waiting to greet Riley and Jilly. One was a familiar face —Brenda Fitch, the social worker who had put Jilly into Riley’s care in the first place. Brenda was a slender, nervous woman with a warm and caring smile. Riley didn’t recognize the three other people. Brenda hugged Riley and Jilly and made introductions, starting with a middle-aged married couple, both of them stout and smiling. Brenda said, “Riley, I don’t believe you’ve met Bonnie and Arnold Flaxman.

They were Jilly’s foster parents for a short while after you rescued her.” Riley nodded, remembering how Jilly had soon run away from the well-meaning couple. Jilly had been determined to live with no one except Riley. Riley hoped that the Flaxmans didn’t harbor any hard feelings about that. But they seemed kind and welcoming. Brenda then introduced Riley to a tall man with a long, oddly shaped head and a somewhat vacuous smile. Brenda said, “This is Delbert Kaul, who is serving as our attorney. Come on, let’s go somewhere to sit down and talk things over.” The group hurried through the concourse to the nearest coffee shop. The adults ordered coffee and Jilly got a soft drink.

As they all sat down, Riley remembered that Bonnie Flaxman’s brother was Garrett Holbrook, an FBI agent stationed here in Phoenix. Riley asked, “How’s Garrett these days?” Bonnie shrugged and smiled. “Oh, you know. Garrett is Garrett.” Riley nodded. She remembered the agent as a rather taciturn man with a cold demeanor. But then, she’d been investigating the murder of Garrett’s estranged half-sister. He had been grateful when she solved the murder, and had helped put Jilly into foster care with the Flaxmans. Riley knew that he was a good man beneath his frosty exterior. Brenda said to Riley, “I’m glad you and Jilly could get here on such short notice.

I’d really hoped we’d be finalizing the adoption by now, but as I wrote to you in my letter, we’ve run into a snag. Jilly’s father claims he made the decision to give up Jilly under duress. Not only is he contesting the adoption, he’s threatening to charge you with kidnapping—and me as an accomplice.” Looking through some legal papers, Delbert Kaul added, “His case is pretty flimsy, but he is making a nuisance of himself. But don’t worry about it. I’m sure we can fix all this tomorrow.” Somehow, Kaul’s smile didn’t strike Riley as very reassuring. There was something weak and uncertain about him. She found herself wondering just how he’d gotten assigned the case. Riley noticed that Brenda and Kaul seemed to have an easy rapport.

They didn’t appear to be a romantic couple, but they did seem to be good friends. Maybe that was why Brenda had hired him. Not necessarily a good reason, Riley thought. “Who is the judge?” Riley asked him. Kaul’s smile faded a little as he said, “Owen Heller. Not exactly my first choice, but the best we could get under the circumstances.” Riley suppressed a sigh. She was feeling less and less assured. She hoped Jilly wasn’t getting the same feeling. Kaul then discussed what the group should expect at the hearing.

Bonnie and Arnold Flaxman were going to testify about their own experience with Jilly. They would emphasize the girl’s need for a stable home environment, which she emphatically could not have with her father. Kaul said he wished he could get Jilly’s older brother to testify, but he had long since disappeared and Kaul hadn’t been able to track him down. Riley was supposed to testify about the kind of life she was able to give Jilly. She had come to Phoenix armed with all sorts of documentation to back up her claims, including financial information. Kaul tapped his pencil against the table and added, “Now Jilly, you don’t have to testify—” Jilly interrupted. “I want to. I’m going to.” Kaul looked a little surprised by the note of determination in Jilly’s voice. Riley wished the lawyer seemed as determined as Jilly did.

“Well,” Kaul said, “let’s consider that settled.” When the meeting ended, Brenda, Kaul, and the Flaxmans left together. Riley and Jilly went to rent a car, and then they drove to a nearby hotel and checked in. * Once they got settled into their hotel room, Riley and Jilly ordered a pizza. The TV played a movie they’d both seen before and didn’t pay much attention to. To Riley’s relief, Jilly didn’t seem the least bit anxious now. They chatted pleasantly about little things, like Jilly’s upcoming school year, clothes and shoes, and celebrities in the news. Riley found it hard to believe that Jilly had been in her life for such a short time. Things seemed so natural and easy between them. Like she’s always been my daughter, Riley thought.

She realized that was exactly how she felt, but it brought on a renewed burst of anxiety. Was it all going to end tomorrow? Riley couldn’t bring herself to consider how that would feel. They were almost finished with their pizza when they were interrupted by a loud signal from Riley’s laptop computer. “Oh, that must be April!” Jilly said. “She promised we’d do a video chat.” Riley smiled and let Jilly take the call from her older daughter. Riley listened idly from across the room as the two girls chattered away like the sisters they’d truly become. When the girls finished talking, Riley spoke to April while Jilly plopped down on the bed to watch TV. April’s face looked serious and concerned. She asked, “How are things looking for tomorrow, Mom?” Glancing across the room, Riley saw that Jilly had gotten interested in the movie again.

Riley didn’t think she was really listening to what she and April were saying, but she still wanted to be careful. “We’ll see,” Riley said. April spoke in a low voice so Jilly couldn’t hear. “You look worried, Mom.” “I guess so,” Riley said, speaking quietly herself. “You can do this, Mom. I know you can.” Riley gulped hard. “I hope so,” she said. Still speaking softly, April’s voice shook with emotion.

“We can’t lose her, Mom. She can’t go back to that kind of life.” “I know,” Riley said. “Don’t worry.” Riley and April stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Riley suddenly felt deeply moved by how mature her fifteen-year-old seemed right now. She’s really growing up, Riley thought proudly. April finally said, “Well, I’ll let you go. Call me as soon as you know anything.” “I’ll do that,” Riley said.

She ended the video call and went back to sit on the bed with Jilly. They were just getting to the end of the movie when the phone rang. Riley felt another wave of worry. Phone calls hadn’t brought good news lately. She picked up the phone and heard a woman’s voice. “Agent Paige, I’m calling from the Quantico switchboard. We just got a call from a woman in Atlanta and … well, I’m not sure how to handle this, but she wants to talk directly to you.” “Atlanta?” Riley asked. “Who is it?” “Her name is Morgan Farrell.” Riley felt a chill of alarm.

She remembered the woman from a case she’d worked on back in February. Morgan’s wealthy husband, Andrew, had briefly been a suspect in a murder case. Riley and her partner, Bill Jeffreys, had interviewed Andrew Farrell at home and had determined that he wasn’t the killer she was looking for. Nevertheless, Riley had seen the signs that the man was abusing his wife. She had silently slipped Morgan an FBI card, but had never heard from her. I guess she finally wants help, Riley thought, picturing the thin, elegant, but timid woman she’d seen in Andrew Farrell’s mansion. But Riley wondered—what was she going to be able to do for anybody under her present circumstances? In fact, the last thing in the world Riley needed right now was another problem to solve. The waiting operator asked, “Do you want me to put the call through?” Riley hesitated for a second, then said, “Yes, please.” In a moment, she heard the sound of a woman’s voice. “Hello, is this Special Agent Riley Paige?” Now it occurred to her—she couldn’t remember Morgan having said a single word while she’d been there.

She’d seemed too terrified of her husband to even speak. But she didn’t sound terrified right now. In fact, she sounded rather happy. Is this just a social call? Riley wondered. “Yes, this is Riley Paige,” she said. “Well, I just thought I owed you a call. You were very kind to me that day when you visited our home, and you left me your card, and you seemed to be anxious about me. I just wanted to let you know, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. Everything is going to be fine now.” Riley breathed a little easier.

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said. “Did you leave him? Are you getting a divorce?” “No,” Morgan said cheerfully. “I killed the bastard.”

.

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