Lead Me Gently Home

"Murder in Douglas Park"

One raw March night....

"I tell ya, I've been on the force only five years. I've seen a lot of stuff. But when something like this..."

The patrolman endeavored to keep his voice from cracking, as he gave the TV news crew his comments. "...It gets to you every time."

Sgt. Horty, with only two hours of his shift remaining, took a deep breath as he glanced over at the two heaps covered with now-blood-stained sheets. What a night! Just what we needed...another brutal, senseless... Two dead...one barely alive...And whoever's responsible's long gone.

At least, he thought, his part was over. Let the coroner and homicide handle this one. Yeah, right...like this case will ever be solved...just like all the others...unsolved...

But this, thought the patrolman, was different.

Once the crime scene was secured --- the photos taken, evidence gathered, and the bodies taken to the City Morgue --- detectives and uniformed officers combed the neighborhood, gathering whatever information that would lead to the culprit's arrest. Weird, thought Horty, usually these folks cover for their own, they seldom reveal much. Yet somehow...This is different! People are actually cooperating...

Mike Matteson, one of IPD's finest homicide detectives --- nineteen convictions out of twenty-three investigations --- talked to the elderly man who made the initial 911 call. The old man, his bushy, snow-white hair a sharp contrast against his wrinkled dark chocolate complexion, stated he knew the victims.
"Nice folks, too. I heard all this hollerin' and screamin'. I thought it was them dope-heads and gang-bangers." The old man buried his face in his hands, and silently wept. "I didn't think it was somethin' like this."

Matteson's team got similar stories. Stories about a commotion that started in a modest house nearby. Then the arguement escalated outside, into the streets, then into the park. It was there that the helpless victims met their fate.
Matteson shook his head as he took in all the facts. Not again...When are folks gonna learn? But we're goin' after this one...This is one case that'll get solved...I'll see to it personally.

Just as Matteson got into his car, Horty approached him. "Lt. Matteson", he began, swallowing hard, "Aren't you going to interview the survivor? I mean, that's your only eyewitness." Matteson silently laughed at this still wet-behind-the-ears patrolman.
"I guess that's why I'm a homicide detective and you're still manning a squad car." Matteson then sighed, and glanced over at the crime scene. The brownish grass, still awaiting the kiss of the spring sun, was smeared with blood, brain matter. A quiet little neighborhood park, a safe haven for kids, that, for some, tragic reason, became a place of profound dread, a place to be feared.
Matteson then said he was on his way to the hospital. "Hopefully, our survivor will be ready to talk."

(From Danisha's journals)

Oooh...Please don't tell me that's the phone? Let me sleep longer...I don't...don't feel so great...

The phone went off in my ear, just as I finally drifted off to sleep. It had been a restless night; my mind had been clouded with so much grief, so much anguish, that I stayed up half the night. I couldn't go to sleep, no matter how hard I tried.
I was in pain most of the previous day. I had a feeling that something was wrong; but, as always, I was in total denial. I lied awake, thinking how much of a mess I had made of everything. Images of my family, my friends, and, more importantly, the man I love, flashed before my eyes.

It's all over...I can't hide this forever...the truth will come out...eventually..then I'll never hear the end of it.

I shuddered at how my parents would react. And then there was Fern...and Jacki...and Kyle...and Tony...and Sam, and...Marcus! That poor kid! If only I had leveled with everyone!

I had made up my mind; I was finally coming clean. I wanted to clear the air, tell everyone everything. I may make some people upset, but it's the only way. And I thought of Claude.
Oh, Claude! How I wish I had been honest with you, from the beginning. We kept no secrets from each other; we had always been upfront, and open with each other. He always felt that he could confide in me, just as I could trust him with all my secrets. Of all people, why hide all this from the man I truly love?

Just before I fell asleep, I made up my mind. I was going to 15th Century Paris; I wanted to tell Claude everything, no matter how much it hurt. Hopefully, if he loves me like he says he does, he'll understand.
I then recalled a few favorite memories of myself, a 20th Century American woman, hopelessly in love with a middle-aged city magistrate from 15th Century Paris. "A love that transcends all time and space", was what he told me, on that night he revealed that Fern was his spy, and that she brought me to medieval Paris, just to meet Claude Frollo.

I remembered the good times we shared: that friendly chat over cake and lemonade; that Sunday afternoon journey to Chateau d'Arcy; that first time -- a wild, no-holds-barred night of passion.

Then there were the dark times: those first awkward meetings; a broken window; an anguished, heart-wrenching session up in Notre Dame's belltower.
Always, I've been there for him, to rescue him from some embarassing situation. I had to laugh at that time I found him in the streets of Paris, shivering and naked. Some numbskull soldier had stolen his clothes, and Snowball, while Claude went for a late-afternoon swim. Poor Claude! He endured the long walk back to town, only to be chased through the streets by all those adoring FSMs.
Then my amusement turned to sorrow, as I recalled what happened after I rescued my "sugarbritches". Finding out that soldier was Jules...he died...confessed everything...the conspiracy...Esmeralda...Jules burned the Court of Miracles...Solange...a shootout...

I had finished that esposé, detailing the plot against Claude Frollo. From his reports, the book was the topic of conversation all over Paris, and beyond. On one of his last visits, Claude presented, to me, a letter from the King, written in His Majesty's own hand, thanking me personally for a job well done. Of course, the book was a smash; and, since all the proceeds went to that orphans' school built by Dwayne and Fern, I began to feel that the whole project was worth it.
However, I had told Claude that I nearly deep-sixed the project, because of the painful memories: Claude's rescue from his own dungeon; the missing gun from Jacki's closet; the shootout at the Court of Miracles.

Come on! It wasn't because of the memories...I haven't been well...not since Christmas...but I never told anyone...

I had been in considerable discomfort ever since the holidays. Even that surprise performance at the Feast of Fools took its toll on me, although I wasn't too incapacitated to indulge Claude in wacky love. I grinned when I recalled my Claude, my "sugarbritches", bumping and grinding to some old Prince song. Baby, if you ever get tired playing judge....there's always Funky Freddy's....Nah...

I laughed out loud, then grew serious. That's it! I'm telling him! I've got to make that time trip, no matter what...now...please...let me get some rest.

It must have been close to four, or five, when I finally drifted off to sleep; I had no idea of the time when I woke up. When the phone rang, the book I was reading was still lying beside me. Reading some uplifting poetry gave no solace. Not even busywork like crocheting or cross-stitch brought comfort. I still had the hook in my hand when the phone went off in my ear.

"Hello?" My voice was groggy, barely audible.

"Hey!" Immediately, I recognized that southern Hoosier twang --- Fern.

I forgot most of the details of our conversation. All I could remember was Fern telling me to "Switch on Channel 6; something went down last night." And that was it.
Come on, Nisha...get up...turn on the TV...whatever happened...must be really important...Oh no...something's happened..at school...one of the kids...

I pulled on my old terry robe, and slipped socks onto my feet. It's a little nippy this morning...
I stumbled out of bed, and made my way to the kitchen. There I started the coffee pot, then looked out the window. Gee...the weather seems to cooperate with my mood...rainy..cold...miserable.
I braved the damp, blustery March air as I opened my front door and brought in the morning paper. I paid no attention to the screaming headline; I flicked on the TV and watched the usual stuff. There was the prerequisite traffic update --- I-465 South was backed up. Look at the wrecks...it's this weather. I poured myself a cup of coffee, sat down at the table, then flipped the morning paper to the back. I've always done this...don't know why...It's just me, I guess... But something made me turn back to the front page, for my ears caught the serious tone of the reporter's voice.

My eyes focused on Sy Jenkins' full, florid face flickering across the screen; his booming voice described, in detail what had happened the night before. Murder...down in Douglas Park...what's so different about that? Gangs...drugs...it's not as bad as it used to be, but...

But this was different -- very different.

My eyes then shifted from the small screen to the newspaper. I nearly choked on my coffee when I read the bold, blaring headline. Oh no...not...
The tears came quickly, dropping onto the paper, smearing the ink. I continued to read every detail, every horrid detail.
"It's all my fault!", I heard myself murmur over and over. "If only I hadn't been so secretive", I now said aloud, "If only I had gone with my instincts, none of this would've happened!" I don't know how long I cried, or how hard I cried. All I could feel at that moment was total despair, a bottomless pit of guilt. I knew, deep down, that this wasn't my fault. But why was I beating myself with this? It's the secrets...You've got to come clean, girlfriend...now or never...

Then I felt a pain, a pain like nothing I'd ever before experienced. It was a gripping, wrenching pain overtaking my entire body. I tried to ride it out, hoping it was just some minor indigestion, but this was no stomachache. I tried to stand up, but the pain would not subside. I cried out his name, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he would miraculously appear, wrap me in his arms, and protect me, love me.
I clutched my body, trying to hug away the pain, but it was of no use. I then fell to the floor, crying and contorting in agony. In desperation, I knocked the phone to the floor, and dialed 911.

"911 Emergency", a female voice responded.

"I need an ambulance." My voice was weak, my mind went in and out. "I think I'm dying. The pain...can't describe it."

"Ma'am, are you at 435 Blue Ridge Road?"

"Ma'am, I've already dispatched the paramedics. I want you to stay on the line. Don't hang up, OK?"

How comforting was her voice, those reassuring words helped to ease the pain, somewhat. But even as I talked to the 911 Operator, I couldn't help but think how all the secrecy has led to this...what I just read...what I was experiencing right now...

"It's OK, honey. Everything'll be all right", came the warm words from the other end. Did I hear sirens? I wasn't sure, because I must've swooned away.

"Ma 'am? Are you still there?" I must've dropped the phone; I must've fainted dead away. I don't know what happened next, for all I heard was the doorbell, then a key unlock my door, then a scream. I think it was Jacki


Where am I? Why do I feel so weak, so drained, so empty?

Through blurred vision, I managed to make out my current environs. It was a hospital bed. Several tubes were imbedded in my arms, a breathing was tube taped to my nose. Even in my dazed state, I could tell it was dark. My God! How long have I been out? Why am I so weak? Am I dying? Just then, I heard a voice, a familar, loving voice.

"It's all right, baby. Momma's here, Danisha."

"Momma?", I began in a feeble voice, "what happened?"

My mother, Geraldine Wood, sat in a chair next to my bed; her smooth, bronze complexion belied the fact she was nearing seventy. She was dresssed stylishly, just as always. I could hear the clanking of her over-sized bangles as her hand caressed my face. "You'll be all right, Nisha. The doctors said you lost a lot of blood; that's why you feel so weak."

"Momma?", I asked, "Are you and Daddy mad at me? I mean...I never told you..."

"Shhh. Honey, it's all right. Momma understands."

I then saw my mother reach into her purse; she pulled out a newspaper clipping. "I don't know why I brought this", she said with heavy heart. "But...", Momma paused, then, "Oscar Grundy has the bodies; he's handling the arrangements. The funeral's to be at Mt. Paran. I just thought you'd want to know."
I took a deep breath. My eyes still failed to focus; my entire body felt drained. I tried to change the subject. "Momma? How's Jacki?"

Somehow, Momma knew I wasn't referring to just Jacki. She reached into her purse again, and pulled out something else. It was the pager! That sterling silver pager!

"Momma! How did you get that? How did you know?" I was too overcome with shock and disbelief. How did Momma know? Only a few of us know! Jacki, Fern, Tony, me...and Claude.

My mother smiled reassuredly, and sat down in the chair next to my bed. She then held my hand and tenderly said, "Danisha, you know you can't hide everything from your Momma. Jacki told me everything, after they brought you here."

Momma then went on to explain how Jacki found me, lying on my kitchen floor, partially conscious. She had the wisdom to summon Claude on the pager. Jacki had hoped he would drop everything, and come see about me. Momma then said that I was babbling deliriously. "You kept saying 'Claude. I want Claude.' I had no idea who were talking about. When I asked Jacki...well....that's when she told me."

I couldn't say a thing; I was that shocked. "Momma. How? I mean...You believed everything she told you?"

Momma smiled and laughed. "Baby, I had a feeling something like this was going on. Why, we all wondered what was up, with you and Jacki away, together, for long periods of time. Only to come back and tell me and your father that you went to see 'a friend'."
Momma smiled again, drew herself closer to me, and said, "Danisha. You know your daddy and I sacrificed so much for you girls. We wanted you to have the best -- all the things we didn't have at your age. The education, the trips, the good life. All those things -- plus finding a good man. "

"But Momma..."

She stopped me with a kiss to the forehead. "Momma knows you really love that man, and I want you to be happy, Nisha. "

"I thought for sure you wouldn't approve..."

"Shush, child. Get some rest; get your strength back." Momma kissed me, then grinned when she added, "Honey, I don't care if he's over five hundred years old, or that he's white. He loves you, and he's good to you. That's all that matters."
She grinned again, and said before I drifted back to sleep. "Jacki's Aunt Margie should've said something sooner. I could kill her, and her husband, for not telling me they saw you two together."

"And Barb and Ted, too?", I drowsily asked; I could feel my mouth curve into a slight smile.

Momma laughed again. "Especially Ted", came the reply.

I had forgotten that. It was that Friday, about two weeks after that snowstorm...and Claude paid me a surprise visit. Seemed he wanted a favor of me. Then I treated him to dinner; then we had to run into some of my friends.

Then...Everything started to fall apart...

Chapter Two!

©Copyright FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998

Fanfic Collection #1
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