To Hope Anew

Chapter Seventeen


"You're wrong on this one, Bennett. You know it, and I know it. This guy couldn't have murdered that kid like that. And his own daughter? I mean, I've been pretty upset at some of the guys my Elaine has brought home, but I've never cracked their heads open with a baseball bat. And I've only managed to ground my daughter into the next millenium, not strangle her with my bare hands."

Diana closed her eyes and attempted to keep her self control as she listened to Jimmy ridicule her conclusions. She honestly believed Joe enjoyed watching her and the homicide detective argue every point of a case out from opposing angles. He seemed to get a perverse satisfaction at pairing them up lately on cases. But, at least he was assured of a complete and thorough investigation.

Jimmy would pound the beat, corner the informants, pour over all their leads with the tried and true methods of old-fashioned, gut-wrecking police work. She would come at the cases through the murky depths of suspects' minds and motivations, reading minute traces of habit, following them into psychological patterns, and predicting her quarry's next moves with eerie certainty.

Between the two of them, very few stones were left unturned within an investigation.

This case, though, was a heart-breaker, as Joe called it.

Two high school sweethearts at a lovers' rondeveaux in a small neighborhood park had been murdered as they lay in each others' arms. Several weeks later, another couple was attacked near the same area, another two teenagers were dead.

The neighborhood was in a complete panic, fearing that their young people were being stalked by some demented serial killer fixated on young couples in compromising situations. Nothing seemed to work together on the case, nothing fit.

Until Diana had accompanied Joe to another questioning session with the first girl's father.

Joe let Diana calm down a moment or two longer before he addressed Jimmy. "I want that park surveillance to continue, all right? We are going to get this guy."

"Whoever he may be." The homicide detective couldn't resist one final dig at Diana's theory. She was about to read him down when she caught Joe's signal to let it pass. He obviously wanted to talk to her alone.

"I swear, Maxwell, this city is not paying me enough to put up with the narrow-minded, egotistical likes of . . . "

" . . . Whoa, Bennett, time out." Joe closed the door of his office himself, behind the retreating figure of the detective. "You never used to let it get to you. Come on. You know Jimmy's a good cop in his own right. He just needs to do things differently than you."

"I don't know why you insist on dragging me into these meetings with him when essentially we're just working the case on our own."

"Hey, I said he was a good cop. I didn't say he couldn't use a little bit of updating on his techniques. Maybe some of your savvy will rub off on him.""Don't hold your breath," came the conclusion Joe knew he was bound to hear.

In actuality, he'd paired the two unlikely partners more for Diana's benefit than Jimmy's updating, though he would never admit it to her. He'd been worried about her lately. It was so easy for her to completely bury herself into her caseloads. Joe had hoped that bringing her a bit more into the traditional line of police investigative procedure could balance her emotional involvement with her work.

He wasn't certain he'd been successful beyond the point of merely causing her irritation. She still looked like she wasn't sleeping much, propably not even eating well. But instead of appearing haggard and put upon, he realized that Diana was looking more and more --

fragile -- her grip on herself shaky at best, as though her spirit wasn't exactly within herself any longer but pulled transparently away from her.

Joe came back over to the enigmatic young woman and handed her a cup of coffee from the side board.

"So what do you really feel about this case, Diana? You're convinced, right? It was DeSalvo himself that killed his daughter, and those other kids."

"It's him, Joe, I know it."

"Convince me."

Diana took a long draught of the coffee. Joe could almost see her placing herself into the crime scene, literally. It was almost -- spooky -- he thought, the way she worked. But she could see things from her rather unearthly point of view that everyone else would miss.

"The first murders were obviously a crime of passion, rage. That boy's skull was fractured with one blow. It took almost more than mere human strength to do it. It took human strength fed by rage."

"I'll buy that," Joe commented. "And the girl? His own daughter? I mean, she's his flesh and blood. So she's having a teenage encounter. You'd like to think a father could get past that. I mean, any father would dread it, any father would be angry and hurt, but murder?"

"Rejection could fuel rage pretty well, Joe. Connie was rejecting her father for someone else."

Joe looked at the young police woman in complete disbelief. How could someone as honest and hopeful and beautifully featured as Diana come up with the sordid and ugly truth about whatever she was working on? But, it would seem to fit.

"You think DeSalvo was jealous, I mean really jealous? He had a thing for his own daugher?"

"Look at his history, Joe. His wife left him with a four year old to raise so she could run off with a co-worker. He never remarried. He's always been strict with his daughter about everything, dating especially, enforcing rules beyond the norm for a girl her age.

"She may have been rebelling against him for plainly simple teenage reasons, but she was in love with a young man her father detested, not only because he came from the wrong side of the tracks.

"That boy was a rival. DeSalvo was losing control of his daugher, losing her love to someone else. It made him angry. He was going to control her any way he could. He had for most of her life. Only she'd gotten used to it. But Ritchie Alavar made her realize there was more to life."

Joe pushed back in his chair and uttered a low whistle as he thought the theory through. "He does have that control type attitude, doesn't he? He's a real taskmaster at work from what his employees have said."

"Yes, and he especially needs to control women. Any threat to his superiority in anything from them . . . "

"Are you sure, Diana? I mean, this was his daughter, for God's sake. I could maybe see him killing the boy, but his daughter?"

"Joe, he was ready to teach Connie a lesson she would never forget. Maybe the rage got the better of him. Maybe he really didn't intend to kill her. But, she'd overstepped, way overstepped her boundaries. And he was going to make certain she knew she was going to have to pay. Maybe he was killing his wife, showing her the lesson he never had the chance to, making her pay at last. That's how he's dealt with the few women who have crossed him over the years, asserting his control. He let me know when we were interviewing him again today."

The DA straightened in his chair immediately at that last sentence. He'd picked up on it, too, that morning: The cool, successful businessman patiently answering questions he'd informed them were only wild conjectures he'd deal with through his pricey lawyers. Building up his own formidable defense.

All the while he was undressing Diana with a cold leering stare that threatened far worse if she had the audacity to cross him again without her companion.

"You caught it? The attitude he had towards you today?"

"It was a little hard to miss. He let me know, plain and true, that he'd like to meet me in a dark alley some night."

"God, Diana. It's a lot to swallow. But, it does fit. And the other two kids? Just a cover-up, right? The first murders could have been acts of passion, but the second couple was premeditated, pure and simple, just to run us off his tracks."

"I think so. He was in the park on both those nights. I know he has alibis, but we have to punch holes in them somehow. The man is a cold, calculating killer."

Joe held the deep green eyes of the young police woman for a long moment. He couldn't believe she could touch to such darkness and not succumb to it herself completely.

For an instant he felt supremely guilty himself. What was he doing here? Forcing an extraordinary mind, an extraordinary woman to dig within the bowels of society with her special gifts of insight. In a way, he was controlling her, too, making her use her unique gifts, exploit them, without considering the cost to her. How a soul could live day after day immersed in the quagmire of violence and madness that so much of her work dragged her through was beyond his comprehension. She had to have an inner strength of cold hard steel to survive it all.

Yet, he sensed the -- pain -- this particular case was causing her, despite her considerable defenses. It was more than simply having her work ridiculed by a close-minded co-worker. She was in this case, deeply, dangerously so. He could sense it, the pleading need to set it all to right somehow, resurrect the souls of innocents that had been profaned in their tenderest of moments together.

And even more than his fear for her emotional and psychological well-being: He'd been startled when Jimmy had shared with him a photo of DeSalvo's runaway wife. The fading, twelve year old photo found in Connie's personal album in her room was of a fair-skinned, green-eyed, redhead. The detective had off-handedly remarked that the suspect's ex "looked a lot like Bennett."

Joe hadn't thought much of it, but now it screamed out to him in his mind where all sorts of alarms were going off. Diana had remarked DeSalvo could have possibly been acting out the murder of his wife in his rage with his daughter. He'd uncharacteristically lost his detachment when Diana had questioned him this morning, making certain she'd picked up on the unvoiced threat in his unholy study of her.

"Do you want me to order an extra patrol on your street, Diana?" Joe asked, as she picked up her coat from the chair arm. She just smiled back at him, a little wearily, he thought. And so vulnerable.

Then and there, Joe resolved that Diana's unique perspectives needed to be channeled into another direction, and soon, for her own sake. The hell with all the byzantine cases that would clamor out for her expertise! Let someone else bust their guts on them. Once this case was over, he was going to recommend Diana for her lieutenant's shield and then get her assigned to the staff of the Police Academy where she could pass her special insights on to other investigators in relatively benign confines.

"I'll be fine, Joe. DeSalvo's not going to do anything stupid."

"God, I hope so," Joe whispered after Diana as she left.

 

It had taken another three weeks of work on the case before they'd managed to break wide open DeSalvo's alibis. Two girls had seen his car in the park the first night. They hadn't come forward because they were already in trouble themselves, for being out with a group of kids their parents didn't approve of.

When the drinking and the questionable pairings off started, the girls had sensibly quit the group, but had found themselves stranded and forced to walk home. They'd didn't want their parents to know they'd been out against their wishes, but Jimmy had blanketed the local high school with photos of DeSalvo and his car, and they had remembered nearly being run down by a speeding vehicle on one of the parkways the night of Connie's and Ritchie's murders.

The pieces were finally beginning to fall into place, and Diana found that she was spending more and more time pouring over blood-curdling crime scene photos, tracing and retracing the victims' movements, and the suspect's, letting every minute detail of the case filter through her mind for hours without end, hardly pausing for food or rest.

She desperately needed to break away from the monotony of pain, but for some unexplained reason, the case became more than consuming for her. There were threads of emotions in the circumstances that were painfully familiar to her, a kinship with the victims she found it hard to break away from.

Given a half-dozen opportunities to replenish her spirit in the Underworld, she'd simply refused the gentle and concerned urgings of those she loved Below. Many nights, she was simply too exhausted to quit her work, falling asleep at her computer where she read and

re-read the case journals that she kept, the bits of information she could trace with only insanely abbreviated certainty.

On some nights she didn't sleep at all. She'd find herself stairing at the photographs on her bulletin board, pictures and notations that had no right to share the same space:

Fresh-faced high schoolers in yearbook candids juxtaposed with police black & white photos of bloodied bodies in obscenely reduced positions that had begun as expressions of young love; litanies of future hopes in scholarship application essays and biographical information on future pediatricians and journalists, being crowded off her board by autopsy reports and forensics information.

Diana promised herself that when this case was resolved, she would convince Joe and her captain to give her a couple of weeks off, no strings attatched. She knew, herself, that she was close to reaching the limits of her emotional and mental endurance. Only the thought of allowing DeSalvo one more day of freedom because she couldn't keep herself together long enough to get him behind bars, held her to the brutal pace of the investigation. But, she knew she had to leave it all behind, soon.

With some time to herself, she could fill her days with the soothing warmth of candlelight and nurturing hearts Below. It would be her only source of restoration. She missed spending time with Mary, and Jacob. It had been probably more than a month that she'd seen the little boy, now an articulate and very mobile two year old.

And she missed spending time with Vincent.

Their relationship was quietly deepening, and at the same time, never uncomplicating itself. They'd spent a few hours together here and there, on her rooftop once or twice, when Vincent had unashamedly come up to check on her, though he'd always only own up to it being a collective concern for her well-being that propelled him to seek her out.

They'd spoken of quietly mundane things Below, of her stymied efforts with the case, never once touching upon what really had drawn them together those particular nights:

the overwhelming need to be sheltered in the other's presence.

Though they'd touched upon the breathless physical melding of their relationship when she'd been stranded in the Underworld, the weeks and months that had passed since then had found them sharing an unvoiced, but agreed to decision, to leave that portion of their need for one another to the realm of future risks and hopes. It was too encompassing a mystery to handle lightly or in haste, still burdened with guilt and fear, and now Diana's spirit-draining commitment to this case.

Instead, they settled ino a comforting depth of emotional and spiritual support that could easily have taken an entire lifetime to forge under less stressful circumstances. That support was blessedly in place for Diana now that she seemed to need it most, though she would rarely seek it out. Her total obsession with her case was taking more and more of her own peace of mind with it, and she knew she'd never survive having to negotiate the risk-riddled path of a more intimately elevated bonding with Vincent's heart.

She could barely keep her spirit and mind working together now. How could she ever consider even adding to the volatile mix her own unsteady heart and desires?

The thought of at least a few hours, though, of peace Below, was too bewitching to resist one day. Diana knew she simply had to make time for the visit or risk her sanity. She'd found herself at that point. So she had ventured to the softly-lit confines of the rock-chambered walls for a late lunch at the river's edge, and some soul-restoring moments with the man that held her very essence within his heart.

They'd spent time simply enjoying each other's company with the comforting murmur of the water slipping past them in the background. Jacob had infected them with his breathless wonder, and for a short interval of time, life was as it should be for all three of them.

It wasn't long before the little boy's constant activity caught up with him, along with the hearty-portioned meal, and the mysteriously radiant light that diffused itself throughout the cavern. He fell soundly asleep in Diana's arms.

Soon, she, too, felt herself sweetly drawn into the drowsy comfort of the moment, the sound of Vincent's deep, soft voice very much a sheltering lullaby as he read aloud. She left behind her bone-shattering weariness, the ache in her soul that dealing with the frightful murder case had hung around her spirit for so long. Diana just let herself drift away.

Somewhere in the soft, sweet moments, the dreamlike impressions of tender nurturing became the reality of Vincent's body gently supporting hers, his strong, protective arm cradled carefully over both her and Jacob, his breath gentle and warm in her hair. It felt so right, so welcome, so -- possible. There was nothing heartstopping about it. Life could be so sweet.

The world Above had other ideas, though. Diana could only spare those few too-short hours to remind herself that there could be a different reality to her existence. She longed for it.

But a murdered girl's spirit would not let her rest.


Continued in Chapter 18