A death in the desert only a short distance from her father’s house was not as unsettling to Moody as her father’s increasingly erratic behavior.
After she and her father finished eating their sandwiches, she could not get him to repeat what had been spewing from his mouth earlier. He would only stare blankly as he sat across from her at the kitchen table.
Fair-haired girl, smashed head, bloody face, picture—what did all this mean and was it connected to Riley’s death? Was there any connection to anything or was this simply more of the mania developing in her father’s mind?
Seth had not called the little girl’s death “murder,” but Moody recognized the difference between an investigation into a tragic death and one that was suspicious. The way Seth was probing into her confidential conversations with Riley and Jeff said a lot about the way the police were viewing the little girl’s death.
Morris rose from his seat without a word and went back to his work room. The music was cranked up just like it had been earlier. Once again, “The Sounds of Silence” were incredibly loud even through the closed door.
Usually after they ate, Moody would take a nap. Well, not really a nap, but more of a time of quiet reflection as far away from Morris as she could get in her father’s large house.
That was not going to happen today. She was still too shaken by Riley’s death, Seth’s official visit and her father’s stranger than strange behavior. There was another reason she was reluctant to lie down: she did not want to reflect on the “extra special” secrets Riley had shared with her. She was afraid she would misconstrue what the little girl had told her about the people in her life.
Moody did not doubt her ability to draw conclusions from her own observations. However, coming from a child’s mind the same observations were processed subjectively. Since Moody could not draw out more details from Riley, the things she had been told in confidence had the potential to hurt everyone involved. More than that, Riley’s secrets would bias Seth and his deputies against the innocent.
But, one of those secrets might be the key to uncovering the murderer. How was she going to filter through the childlike observations and discover the monster? Riley had given her all the answers to help find her killer. All Moody had to do was analyze the difference between true facts and the child’s perception.
On the other hand, why should she even try? It was not her job. Not anymore.
Still, it was more than Moody’s profession. Prying into human nature was part of her own nature. She was a people puzzle solver. She had Morris to thank for that since, for as long as she could remember, she had always tried to put her father’s pieces together to understand why he was the way he was.
Everyone in the world had secrets they tried to keep buried. Some, however, had darker parts of their lives they would do anything to keep from coming to light. And, now, from what she was piecing together from Riley’s clandestine childlike observations and memories, it seemed all of her neighbors were part of the dark half of the world.
Where better to start than Riley’s own parents? The child had told Moody her mother had whispered something about a dead baby brought back to life one night when she thought Riley was asleep.
Did Riley have a sibling, one who had not survived because of something one or both parents had done? Was this why Kourtney had refused to come with Riley and Jeff to Moody’s? Was Riley’s mother afraid her secret would come to light?
A sharp knock on the door startled Moody. When she saw who it was, she wondered if her thoughts had conjured the man standing on the other side.
As he stood there looking more dejected than anyone she had ever seen, he knocked a second time. She touched the doorknob, but released it and started to turn away.
It was not her concern. Not anymore. The litany repeated itself in her mind as he knocked a third time.
Openly helping him was not worth the risk. Hanging her head, Moody opened the door so she could turn Jeff gently away.
The visit was over quickly. She felt strange; not guilty, not sorrowful. Rather, she felt lighter and unchained. She had stumbled over her words and been uncharacteristically dramatic. It was almost as if another person inside her had taken over and put on the show for Jeff. It was with a sense of relief she hung back and let that other personality take the reins of an unpleasant situation.
Moody got the impression Jeff believed she was the only person he could talk to about his little Riley. His red swollen eyes had beseeched her, but she would not tempt fate or jail a second time. She would do anything to avoid losing her freedom. Anything.
Leaning back against the closed door, she breathed a little sigh of relief as she walked back to the living room and sat back down in her father’s wingback chair.
Moody hopped back on the train of interrupted thoughts and found herself immersed in the intriguing mysteries in her neighborhood.
The boy Dylan was a puzzle. Riley said she’d seen him in her house, but it was not really him. He had had blue eyes and a black leather jacket and had been rummaging through her parents’ dresser drawers. Riley told Moody “Dark Dylan comes out at night.”
Moody had dismissed this as a dream Riley had confused with reality. The Dylan that Moody knew was a little strange, but he was as far from biker-thug as fish were from the desert. If anything, he was a shy boy with an overbearing, thuggish father and no mother to soften a very apparent hard home life.
Hard was an understatement for the neighborhood’s oldest resident. There was something he was deadly serious about hiding. Moody sensed it as she watched him occasionally from afar. There was a coiled-snake ready to strike quality to him that put Moody on edge and she could not put her finger on why he did that to her.
Riley had only deepened the puzzle of Moody’s own feelings toward Eloy. When Moody asked why she was scared, Riley had only shrugged her shoulders and said she did not like him because he was always watching her. She went on to tell Moody she never talked to him and would always ride her bicycle quickly past his house.
Moody’s next-door neighbor was next on her mental checklist. Riley told Moody she had watched a shadow sliding in and out of Melanie and Andrew’s rental car in the wee hours of the morning when good little girls and boys were still asleep.
“I don’t know,” Riley had responded when Moody asked if it was a man or woman. “It was a ghost,” she’d replied in all seriousness. Moody saw no reason to believe it was an actual person; to her, it sounded more like typical night shadows playing tricks with the little girl’s eyes.
The new couple in town staying at the inn had done little to draw Moody’s attention until Riley mentioned seeing the man change his face. When Moody asked more about what Riley had seen during one of her nocturnal wanderings, the little girl told her the man had been talking to the woman with him and his face had changed from angel to demon in a second. Moody chalked Riley’s observations up to an overactive imagination.
Riley’s friendship with Cooper Dahlsing was not that unusual. Some adults felt more comfortable with children than with other adults. As long as the lines were not crossed, an adult/child friendship could be beneficial to both parties. However, the friendship was not the disturbing aspect to Cooper; his possible schizophrenia was.
Riley had told Moody about a few instances when her friend became someone else. “It looked like him, but he wasn’t there anymore,” she had replied when Moody asked her to explain. Moody recalled the time she had run into Cooper recently. He had acted totally unlike the man she had talked to a few times since coming to Rubicon Ranch. Moody began to wonder if he had a multiple-personality disorder.
She was getting a headache. The dark curtains in the living room were drawn and even with the afternoon sun shining relentlessly, the room was shadowy. As she sat in her father’s oversized lounge chair in the semi-darkness, the tomb-like stillness calmed her frayed nerves and tumultuous thoughts.
A click from the phone on a desk four feet behind her made her jump slightly as someone lifted the receiver and touch-toned a number. There was no one else in the house save Moody and her father. She kept perfectly still and knew as long as she did not move or make a sound, she would remain hidden in her father’s oversized chair.
With no preamble, Moody heard her father coherently say, “Where do you want to pick up the money?”
She had not heard her father open the door to his work room; she certainly would have heard since the music was still blaring. He must have built another door, a hidden one, some time before she moved into his house.
He had never wanted a telephone in his work area. His rules when working had always been strict: no phone, no computer, no other human being. Only the loud, thundering music.
Moody was like a statue as the one-sided conversation continued.
“Yeah, I know, but as long as it isn’t a fresh strangulation, I’m okay with it. The pictures are better when lividity sets in.”
Moody’s blood turned cold as she listened to the lucid conversation her father was having with someone. Morris sounded normal, but the content of the discussion was horrifying.
“I know it’s local, but that makes it even better. It’s like I did it myself because I’d seen the little brat right here in my house.”
Morris paused as he listened to the other person’s reply. His voice was harsh, but still very lucid, as he said, “But, you already know that, don’t you? Just do your job, sport, and remember who you really work for.”
Another pause and Morris continued, “What do you mean? You draw more attention to yourself than I do. I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about—I’ve been inside all day, even had the kid run out for food.”
Moody desperately needed to cough. She swallowed hard and made the tickle momentarily go away.
“You mind your station, sport, and I’ll mind my own. Whatever you heard is a lie; I told you, I’ve been inside all day.”
The receiver was gently replaced and Moody listened to Morris quietly muttering as he moved away from the living room. She was afraid to stir and stayed in place for what seemed an hour. When she got up the nerve to move her arm and look at her watch, only seven minutes had passed.
Morris and his feigned insanity. Morris and his feigned sanity. Spin the wheel, Moody thought, and believe whatever the arrow pointed to. Her father was incredibly sane and rational while at the same time, insane and irrational.
Or, so he seemed. Just as she and her brothers had learned during childhood, Morris hid behind layers upon layers of conflicting emotions. His horror books reflected his own personality; the monsters and monstrosities flowed up and down the river of sanity and insanity. Sometimes they were so intertwined, the reader could not tell where normal ended and abnormal began.
But, this latest was more than abnormal; it was an abomination. He was buying a child’s death picture and it sounded as if this was not the first time. The excitement in his voice made Moody sick to her stomach and scared her out of her mind because, from what she had overheard, the signs pointed very strongly toward it being a picture of dead Riley.