Justin looked at Michael. “Will you take de chillun? Jus’ fo’ a little while, until all dis is over?”
“We will be happy to take your kids, Justin,” Arlene’s voice shocked Michael out of his haze, “for as long as you need. I know you will need time to make all the arrangements. Then, you will need time to grieve alone. But you will have to come and help them grieve as well.”
“I-I will, Amie,” Justin promised, “I-I promise to help them grieve first, Hon. I-I will grieve when I am done.”
Michael was amazed at how quick Arlene took control. She was amazing. Always there for those who needed someone. Or something.
That was why he loved her so. And she had been close to Evangeline. All the women had. They had been their own little support group. And the strength behind the men.
Michael suddenly felt so tired. And old. In a matter of seconds, he felt used up. Washed up. Done.
He no longer remembered the last vacation he’d had. Or the last one he’d taken with Arlene and the kids. He sat down and put his head in his hands. Had it really been so long?
He lifted his head and motioned for Justin to sit beside him. When the Cajun was sitting, he looked at him. “Use your vacation time. You should have enough saved for at least a six-week vacation. I’ll arrange for an extended leave of absence for you with the Commissioner, even if I have to trade in my own vacation time to do so.”
“Merci, Mon Ami,” The Cajun replied, shakily, “I owe you so much.” He hugged Michael. “I’ll need t’ talk t’ you an’ Arlene in a couple weeks. Somethin’ Evangeline asked me t’ do.”
They stayed with Justin at the hospital for most of the night. When they left at midnight, he was arranging for Evangeline’s final journey from the hospital to the mortuary. He would go to the mortuary in the morning. But tonight, he would go home and get some much needed sleep.
As he left the hospital, he knew he had seen his love for the last time. She was gone. There was no bringing her back. He felt so guilty. Had he not pushed with this case, she would still be alive. He was sure of it.
He determined that he was going to quit the force as soon as this was over. He couldn’t put his children through the anxiety of wondering if he was going to come home. If he was going to live through another case. He didn’t want to worry them.
He needed to be a father. He needed to be there. If not for anyone else, simply for them. He needed to be able to do things for them. With them.
He swallowed hard. He had failed them so many times. He wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t want anything to do with him. After all, he had contributed to their mother’s death. At least, that was how he felt.
He only hoped that they would forgive him someday. For this. And for everything else. He prayed that they could.
He stopped the car at the house where he’d made their home. Suddenly, it was no longer home. She wasn’t there to share it with him. She wasn’t there to share anything with.
All his promises had been broken. In a way, he felt as if that had broken her heart and sent her to her death. He had broken his promises not to allow work to become more important then their lives together and it had destroyed her.
He got out of the car and went into the house. It was dark. Too dark. Too quiet. And he was alone.
He flipped on the hall light. There was no one there to meet him at the door. But the house was full of ghosts. Memories. Memories of the happiness that had resided there at one time. Memories of family.
Michael and Arlene took Justin’s children to their house. Michael felt they would end up raising them, but didn’t care. He got the same from Arlene. This temporary thing would somehow turn out to be permanent.
Once the children were all in bed, he turned to her. “Hon, I have a feeling that something is going to happen. Several events have happened since this endless case became a problem that has me wondering what’s next. It has also made me question if my being a detective is even worth all this sacrifice. Look at Justin. This case has cost him everything. I don’t want to lose everything.” He put his arm around her and she turned to him.
“Then promise me one thing,” she demanded.
“Sure,” he responded, automatically, “anything.”
“Make this your last case,” she stared at him, “retire out of the force early. Or quit after you solve it. Come home and be with your kids. Don’t let this job destroy you.”
“I promise, My Love,” he responded sincerely, “I was already thinking about doing that. But I am not sure that I want to continue on this case. It is cold. Nothing makes sense. We still haven’t found who the fingerprints we found belong to. Many are too smudged. Others are incomplete. And some of the partials match the victims. It is almost as if the killer doesn’t exist.”
“You mean to tell me,” she looked him over, “that you are no closer to knowing who did these horrible crimes?”
“That is exactly what I am telling you,” he acquiesced, “And we have no hope of solving it right now.”
“You have a problem, then,” she sighed, “what exactly should be done about this case.”
“I’m afraid so,” he smiled sadly, “and there is no easy answer. I just wish that Justin had agreed to allowing the FBI to get involved earlier on. Would have saved a lot of heartache, and maybe we would have already caught whoever we’re looking for.”