Halfway to my Heart
by Brigid Doyle
Copyright - July 1999
Reagan's plaintive scream for help was drown by the whipping autumn wind and the sounds of the working harbor, but Payton had seen the small form at the stern of the salvage craft. She watched helplessly as Teschner advanced behind her younger sister, snatching her savagely away from the railing. She screamed a warning to the girl with a voice so intense it made her throat raw at once. The same wind carried that warning to the sea and was lost on the child. Payton stopped for a fraction of a second refusing to believe what her eyes told her then resumed her advance with renewed intensity. Teschner and Reagan had disappeared from her view behind the hull of the ship. She blocked the possibility of what that bitch might be doing out of her mind and continued.
Colin had watched the same scene play out and damned himself for slowing their progress with his own self-doubts. He raced ahead of Payton; now charged with the fact that he would have to protect not only the child but also the woman he called boss. He shook off his earlier doubts realizing he might be the only chance any of them had.
Payton matched his stride immediately as they approached the barrier of tossed barrels in tandem. They moved through the tangle of cylindrical barriers as if their movements had been choreographed. Barrels rolled in both directions as they kicked or shoved them out of their path. Once clear they raced across the wide expanse of clear deck to the water's edge.
"DAMN!" Payton spat as she stopped, glaring up the ship. "DAMN HER!!" She bellowed, turning to Colin and frantically searching the deck with her eyes.
Colin took long deep breaths and nodded twice. Teschner had tossed the gangplank into the ten-foot chasm that separated the ship from the dock. Only the long wide ropes linked the vessel to the giant iron anvil-like connections on shore. He stared at them for a moment pondering the possibility of straddling one and inching his way aboard. He shook his head. Even if he could make it all the way to the ship it would take much too long. Time was not on their side.
They both saw it at the same time. The crane. It was used to hoist heavy machinery and salvage to and from the ship. They were across the deck and inside a half second later. Payton quickly thanked the stupidity of whatever worker had left the keys in the ignition. She would have that man in her office first thing in the morning. She looked to Colin and shot orders before he had a chance to utter a sound or voice an opinion.
"You get this thing working! Bring that hook over here and GET ME ON THAT SHIP!" She barked as she slipped off the flat bumper on the side of the crane and walked toward the point where the giant hook should drop.
"PAYTON, don't be ridiculous!" Colin charged. "I can't work this thing! And I'll never get you there alive!"
Payton retraced her steps. "You can work that hot little foreign sports car of yours, can't you?" She sneered. "How hard can it be?" She reached inside and turned the key. The machine roared to life, sputtering and splurting diesel exhaust into the sea air. "UP " She threw a lever forward and the giant hook lurched toward the machine's long arm. "DOWN " The hook dropped suddenly, stopping abruptly as she released the shift. "Just follow the little arrows, Colin. It isn't hard." She immediately regretted her tone. He was there to help and she was treating him like an imbecile. She watched the hook swing in the air and realized how right he had been. Did she expect to just latch onto that piece of metal and be gently dropped on deck? Dropped by a Harvard graduate who had never been within five feet of any piece of equipment that didn't have a shiny new finish and reached eighty miles per hour in less than sixty seconds? She didn't want to admit he was right. She would not admit defeat. She was too close.
Precious seconds ticked away as the young woman stood with her hands on her hips desperately trying to find another solution. She jumped from the bumper and retrieved a coil of rope from the deck. "Bring it over here, Colin. NOW!"
The lawyer shook his head. This was insane.
"NOW, COLIN!" She commanded then turned slowly toward him. "Please, Colin trust me." Her tone softened, as did the fury in her eyes. She was desperate and he knew it.
Colin wrapped his hand around the lever and turned the huge crane toward the deck. "I know I'm gonna regret this." He grumbled to himself as the machine ground in a slow arch in his direction.
"STOP!" Payton called from below. "Right there, Colin. STOP!"
He released the clutch and the machine stalled. He looked out the grimy glass at the hook's location, still at least ten feet from the spot Payton had been standing. He turned to ask but she was already mounting a tower of box car sized crates with the coil of rope over her shoulder. "P " He started.
"Come on Colin! I need you!" She ordered between breaths.
He looked quickly to the top of the pile. The hook of the crane would be within her reach when she made it to the top. His mind quickly put together her plan. "She couldn't she wouldn't " He spoke to himself as he scrambled out of the cab and headed in the same direction.
By the time Colin reached the summit of the metal mountain, Payton had thrown one end of the rope over the crane and executed an iron tight slipknot. She was using all of her weight to pull the two foot wide hook attached to the crane's cable toward herself.
"Help me!" She shot at him as he stepped to her side.
"Payton this is crazy! You're crazy!" He shot back. In the distance a new nautical claxon sounded above the moans of the harbor tugs. "Do you hear that? PAYTON! Do you hear it?" He shouted motioning for her to stop and listen. She paused. "That's the Harbor Patrol. Donnie must have told Larzy where we were headed. They'll be here in minutes!"
She looked at him angrily then began pulling the rope again. "We don't have minutes, Colin!"
He let out an exasperated sigh and grabbed the rope just above her hands. Putting all of his strength, anger and frustration into one massive tug he brought the hook swinging toward them. In a quick and unexpected move, Payton wrapped one arm around his waist and pushed her legs against the surface of the crate. That push combined with the pendulum swing of the crane launched the pair forward. They swung out and across the expanse of water between the ship and the pier. Colin let out a strangled yell that never would have passed for anything Tarzan like.
"LET GO!" Payton commanded from her position against his chest. The deck was just below them at the apex of the swing. It would disappear fast as they swung back toward the dock. "COLIN! LET GO!"
The lawyer's grasp loosened and the rope slipped away, swinging like a giant tail as it sailed back to its base and then forward again in smaller and smaller arcs. The pair landed with a thud on the deck of the Caomhnoir. Both went down, immediately rolling to a stop against a tarp covered hill of equipment. Payton was on her feet in a breath and headed toward the bow. "Colin " She began, turning back to him. The man lay still where he landed. "Colin?" She stepped toward the man, quickly stooping down and rolling him onto his back. She touched the golf ball sized lump on his forehead that was already turning a pretty shade of robin's egg blue. A small gash trickled blood across the lump. "Colin!" She dropped her face close to his, turning her cheek to his nose and lips. A faint wisp of air fell across her ear and she watched his chest rise and fall in a normal rhythm. She turned and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. "Thank you." She whispered close to his ear, then rose quickly and resumed her route to the ship's bow. Colin would be fine. Reagan would not.
L'sandra ignored the frenzied activity on the dock below. She had seen to it that they would not board this vessel. That would give her the time she needed. She dragged the child across the upper deck and around the captain's cabin. Reagan did her best to keep up with the long strides of her captor but exhaustion, fear and pain were wearing the child to a stop. She stumbled and fell yelping in pain as the woman pulled her restrained hands forward yanking her shoulders nearly from their sockets.
"Get up, brat!" L'sandra growled, her voice hoarse from overuse. She pulled the leather belt again dragging the child a few inches across the rough deck.
"I I c-can't " Reagan stammered between sobs.
L'sandra grabbed the top of the child's head, hauling her to her feet. She thrust the small body against the side rail forcing her to tip forward over its edge. "We can end this right here, little girl!" She snarled pushing Reagan's stomach hard against the unforgiving steel.
Reagan watched, as the tide seemed to loom up and then back into focus below. She wanted to close her eyes but they froze, locked on the scene beneath her. The girl struggled against the woman's weight in an effort to relieve the pressure on her middle. Cutting strikes against the back of her legs forced her to exhale a shrill scream then inhale just as quickly.
"You're defiance sickens me, McAllister!" L'sandra spat as she pulled the girl from the railing and pushed her ahead. She kept a tight hold on the strap just incase the little brat tried to escape again. She would not fall for that twice.
Reagan stumbled again almost falling, before the quick hand of L'sandra Teschner grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back. She shoved her again forcing her forward. Toward the bow. Toward the ultimate end of this plan.
"TECSHNER!" A bold arrogant voice boomed behind her. She froze, pulling the child in front of her to a dead stop. How dare someone interrupt her plan? HOW dare Payton McAllister get past every obstacle she had thrown in her path? L'sandra Teschner stood motionless, her sharp fingernails digging into the child's shoulder.
Payton stopped as well. She remained at the end of the cabin waiting for L'sandra's move. Payton realized how close Teschner was to the side of the ship and how easy it would be for her to simply toss the child over. Could she make it over the side and to the water in time to save her sister? She would have to jump from her present perch and run the short distance before climbing over the rail and diving into the water below. The harbor was deep and dark with years of sludge from hundreds of ships. She could not take that chance. In the distance a wail of police sirens announced the arrival of the authorities. Everything now depended on timing, timing and Payton's ability to overcome this maniac and take back what she had stolen.
"Do you hear that?" Payton asked calmly. "The police will be here in a few minutes. The Harbor Patrol isn't far away either. You won't get away."
A low chuckle rumbled from the woman's chest that soon broke into hysterical laughter. "Do you really think that matters?" She asked through the laughter. She quickly jerked the child against her chest and wrapped a bony hand around her neck pushing her nails into the soft flesh just under the girl's ear. Reagan quickly brought her fettered hands up to grasp the one around her throat. She winced in pain as L'sandra slowly turned both of them to face Payton.
Payton forced herself not to look at the child. If she did she would either crumble under the weight of the girl's plight or fly into a rage that might cost both of them their lives. She stared into the deep black dead eyes of the woman who held her sister's fate.
"I have no intention of getting away, Payton McAllister. I never did." She stated simply, staring back into her opponent's eyes - the eyes that now betrayed her conviction. "You're being here just makes it easier. You see I planned to take care of you next, but now " She looked down at the child whose face was contorted by the pressure of her hand. "Now, I won't have to. Little Miss Reagan here will be all I need." She began stepping backward slowly. Reagan's sobs came in short quick gasps as she stumbled in the same direction. "You see all I have to do is apply a little more pressure " She squeezed the girl's throat tighter and Reagan's eye's shot open. The girl's hands tugged frantically at the woman's and she rose up on her tiptoes in an effort to draw a breath.
"NO! No don't." Payton took a step toward them holding out her hand in supplication.
L'sandra relaxed her grip and Reagan drew a deep breath followed by an explosion of coughing. Teschner kept her hand against the child's throat. She smiled at Payton. "You see? I'll take this little maggot with me, and you? Well you can spend the rest of your life knowing you were this close." She let loose another string of maniacal laughter then stopped abruptly and looked deep into Payton's eyes. "Do you want to beg, McAllister? Do you want to fall on your knees and beg for your sister's life? DO YOU?"
Part of Payton wanted to say yes, to fall down to the deck and plead, promise, or offer any deal to the crazed woman before her. Somehow she knew it would mean very little to the heartless hag. Reagan sobbed pitifully.
"Payton help m-m-me." The child's voice was weak. It pulled at Payton's soul, but still she would not look at her sister.
Teschner laughed again. "She can't help you." She spoke close to the child's ear. "She can't do a damn thing except stand there and watch, just like I did all those years ago. I pleaded with my father, begged him to stop but he just let me stand there and watch. And do you know why, little one?" She waited for the child to answer. "I SAID DO YOU KNOW WHY?" She shook the girl's head violently.
"Uh mmm." Reagan whimpered.
"She wasn't a part of that, Teschner. She doesn't even know what you're talking about." Payton tried to reason with the woman. "You're asking her to pay for something that happened before she was born."
"DON'T TELL ME WHAT I AM DOING!" She shot back at Payton. "I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I'M DOING!" She took a deep breath as she continued to back slowly toward the bow. "After all, your father saw to it that I had all those years to plan it." She purred softly.
Payton continued advancing, closing the distance between them while she listened to Teschner's litany. Occasionally her eyes darted from side to side searching for something, anything to help her free Reagan.
"You see, sweetie, your daddy was a very bad man." She crooned to the child. "He killed my daddy and took all of his fortune just to make an empire for himself. Isn't that right, Payton?" She snapped, turning back toward the woman that moved toward her.
"I I don't know." Payton struggled with memories. She had never paid much attention to anything her father had done. To her he had been a criminal. He had stolen her childhood, stolen her emotion and stifled her affection. She had no answer.
"I do." She sang to Reagan. "I know what kind of man he was and what my own daddy was as well. He took everything, EVERYTHING and left me with nothing but a soiled reputation. And now? Now I will pay him back, pay him back in full." She smiled again with a look so threatening it sent a cold shiver down Payton's spine.
"Payton?" A groggy voice called from the opposite side of the ship just ahead of L'sandra. She spun toward the sound, unaware there was a second person aboard. Caught off guard L'sandra relaxed her grip on the girl and prepared to meet this new adversary.
Payton took the opportunity in a heartbeat, reaching across the last few feet of the distance between them to grab the trailing end of the belt that bound Reagan's wrists. She pulled the child away from her captor pushing her quickly to the deck behind them. Reagan scrambled across the floor and under the short metal staircase that led back to the upper deck.
Colin blinked twice and staggered to keep his balance. He raised his handkerchief to his head then brought it back down to examine how much blood was still oozing from his wound. The slow rocking of the ship on the water did nothing to help. He swayed a few times then sat down hard on the deck still holding the rag to his head. The world was spinning away again. He needed to just sit still until it came back.
"FOOL!" L'sandra screeched raising clenched fists in front of her.
Payton grabbed a long pole that rested against the forward winch. It was thick and held a small hook at the end. She knew it was used to reach out and pull in nets or cables that hung over the edge of the ship. She wrapped both hands around it and braced herself for what was to come. L'sandra Teschner had the strength and stamina of insanity. Payton hoped to defeat that. She no longer feared for the safety of her sister. No fear was not what drove her now. It was blind fury. An anger so powerful it turned the world white then crimson behind her eyes. This crazy bitch had put her and Reagan through hell and she was not about to let her get away with any of it.
Teschner moved quickly widening the space between them. She grabbed a large grappling hook from the deck and swung it at Payton. Payton easily knocked it aside with the pole backing L'sandra closer and closer to the bow of the ship. Again the hook crashed down. Again it was deflected.
Behind the incensed women four police cars arrived on the pier spilling a wave of blue uniforms across the area. A large police boat chugged to a stop on the port side of the ship. Bullhorns and deep masculine voices shouted orders as the men in blue scattered to follow them.
L'sandra took the metal claw in both hands and raised it high over her head. She let out a high pitched growl as she brought it down with terrific force. Payton quickly braced the wooden rod in front of her, taking the blow hard. The hook imbedded itself in the wood as it took the weapon from Payton's grasp. Teschner lunged forward with a scream of rage, catching the dark haired executive by the throat and throwing her to the deck.
The Police ship quickly set a ladder against the side of the Caomhnoir and its crew scrambled to the top, spilling onto the deck and spreading out in all directions. On shore several officers retrieved a second ladder and threw it against the ship making a temporary gangplank. Those officers hurried aboard from the opposite side. Inspector Larzy stood next to one of the squad cars with Donnie at his side. He paced back and forth like a caged beast unable to exert his authority outside his jurisdiction. The NYPD had warned him when he insisted that he go along. At the last minute he grabbed the young elevator operator and pulled him into the cruiser as well. Donnie stood against the side of the car staring up at the large salvage ship.
Payton was taken back by the strength of the thin woman on top of her. She grabbed the emaciated wrists and pushed with all of her raging strength but to no avail. She felt herself slipping away as the pressure on her throat increased. She clawed at the woman's face but L'sandra Teschner only tossed her head aside and pressed harder. Little explosions of color erupted behind Payton's eyes as the darkness closed in around her. She reached out again in one last drastic effort. Her hand closed around something hard, something round. She brought it up, quickly striking L'sandra in the temple. The woman took the blow and rolled off of her captive misjudging the distance between herself and the open railing at the bow. She slipped over the edge slowly, managing to cling to the slightly raised lip of the deck with her fingertips.
Payton's hands went to her throat immediately. She rolled to her knees gasping for air and expelling deep hollow coughs. She gulped in precious oxygen as she crawled across the short distance to the edge of the deck. Behind her several uniformed officers skidded to a halt, bewildered by the scene before them. She turned to see two of them helping a still dazed Colin to his feet then dropped to her stomach and placed her hands on top of the hands that clung to the deck. She wasn't sure if she meant to yank them away and let the bitch drop or to pull her aboard to face the punishment she deserved. Either choice did not seem drastic enough to repay her for her hellish actions. Payton McAllister glared over the edge into the black eyes of L'sandra Teschner.
"Don't." The crazed woman stated without emotion. "I will not owe my life to you."
"Don't be a fool." Payton croaked hoarsely, tightening her grip.
L'sandra wriggled violently, straining against Payton's hold.
"Hurry!" Payton shouted to the four police officers that cautiously approached. They sprang back into action as if her words had wound them up like mechanical soldiers, but it was too late. L'sandra's squirming had weakened Payton's grip. The determined crone pulled her hands free and dropped to the black ocean below, her demented laughter echoing even after she disappeared in its wake. Payton reached again, already knowing the woman was lost. She watched the water return to its rhythm as if it had not even noticed the woman's plunge. Two men on the Police ship at the Caomhnoir's side dove into the water in an effort to save the psychotic diver.
One of the officers pulled Payton to her feet and for a moment she could not take her eyes from the sea. She watched as the divers came up empty then dove again and again each time shaking their heads as they surfaced. In the end the cold water was too much and both men returned to the small boat moored next to the large ship.
"Are you hurt?" The voice came through a haze, bringing Payton back to the present. "Are you hurt?" It asked again. She blinked a response and shook the man's hands from her arms.
"Reagan." She whispered, taking a step away from him. "Reagan!" She said out loud passing a second officer. "REAGAN!!" She shouted as she pushed the third out of her path. The officers each stepped aside allowing the woman to pass. They looked at each other, and then back at her, shaking their heads. Perhaps it was shock.
Payton broke into a jog, frantically searching under each tarp, behind every piece of machinery and crate while calling the child's name over and over. She stopped and spun to the left then right running her fingers through both sides of her hair. She chewed her bottom lip in an uncharacteristic lapse into hopelessness. She looked to the side rail refusing to believe the child had fallen. A soft whimpering sound filtered through her moment of panic. Payton stood still, her hands still resting on her temples. The sound called her to its source. She bent to one side peering between the open grate steps into the dim area just under the forward cabin deck. It was little more than a crawlspace, but the child had squeezed into it seeking safety.
"Reagan " The name came out in a soft sob of relief as Payton dropped her hands to her sides and rushed to small nook. She fell to her knees reaching under the metal platform to extract the shaken child.
"NO!" Reagan squealed in renewed hysterics as she kicked frantically and tried to pull herself even farther into the niche. Payton pulled her hand back quickly.
"Reagan, Reagan, it's me, Reagan. Look." Payton prodded gently, but the child would not hear over her own delirium. Again Payton reached under the platform snagging the hem of the girl's jumper. She tugged gently but only succeeded in causing a second round of furious kicking as the child battled for freedom. Reagan had gone beyond the point of words, her protest came only in frenzied squeals and loud sobs. Payton put up a hand to protect herself from her sister's effort and managed to capture a small foot. Although the girl fought valiantly, Payton gently slid her from her sanctuary all the while whispering soft words of comfort she could only hope the child would eventually hear.
Reagan grabbed at anything she could wrap her still tied hands around. She glanced at the woman dragging from her hiding place and, blinded by tears of panic, she recognized nothing but the fact that she had been found and caught. The girl kicked again only to have her free foot snatched as well. Her hands found the base of the staircase and closed around it tightly.
Payton felt the girl's body stop and the tension increase. She stopped pulling but did not release her sister's still struggling feet. "Reagan " she whispered again.
Reagan tried to kick, tried to hold on but her strength was expended. Her hands slid from the pipe. Payton felt the change and pulled again, this time bringing the girl out onto the deck. She threw an arm over the child preventing her from crawling back inside once released. With the other hand she brushed the damp hair away from the girl's face.
"Shhh, shhh you're safe now I'm here."She repeated over and over to the whimpering child, who refused to open her eyes. Reagan did not want to look into those black eyes again. She did not want to see the evil face or watch the blow that would end her life. This gentle petting would soon turn into yet another beating and now the crazy woman was on top of her. Unable to protect herself, she pulled her hands to her face trying to cover as much as possible with the belt still wrapped around her wrists.
Payton pushed herself up and sat on the deck next to her exhausted and still terrified sister. Reaching up, she took the girl's small hands in her own and eased the entwined leather lash away from the damaged wrists. She winced at the bruises left behind. Tears fell freely from the once stone cold executive as more than once she drew a shaky breath. She tossed the belt aside and held the child's hands to her cheek gently placing a soft kiss against the back of one.
"Reagan." She called again, softly repeating the girl's name.
Reagan's chest heaved as she drew the deep ragged breaths, each punctuated by more pitiful sobbing, but somewhere between those she heard the sound that was a familiar voice. She opened her eyes just enough to peek through tiny slits. Inside her mind she screamed 'PAYTON!!' though her voice refused to cooperate. The girl used the last of her energy to pull her hands away from sister and pushed herself forward wrapping her arms around Payton's neck. She buried her head against her sister's neck, as her tears of panic became tears of relief, tears of joy and safety.
Payton pulled the girl closer, involuntarily rocking back and forth in a motion that seemed to comfort them both. She kissed the top of her little sister's head and then kissed her cheek between murmuring sounds of that same comfort and expressing her own relief. Payton smoothed the girl's hair gently and kissed her over and over as her own tears fell.
"Never again." Payton whispered between the soft kisses she placed on the child's damp hair. Never, never again would they be separated. She made a solemn oath, a promise to a father gone before she could make any other amends. "No one will ever take you away, Reagan. I promise I will protect you as long as I live. I promise." Payton's voice cracked with the emotion she could no long contain. "I am so sorry, Reagan oh God, forgive me, forgive me for being such a fool " Payton pulled her sister closer, lifting her from the deck and onto her lap.
Reagan, still overcome with the terrors she had survived, clung to the safety that was her big sister, unable to quell her tears. Her crying came with such force it threatened to take away her breath. In her mind the scenes played over and over and she expected Miss Thorne or L'sandra Teschner to leap at them from behind some pile of machinery or step around a corner. The witch would tear her from her sister's embrace and the torture would continue. It would never stop, never stop, never, stop . Panic drove the words, like nails, into her mind and she gritted her tear as a long shrill scream came through them then died down into unending sobs. She gripped her sister's neck tighter and pulled herself even closer to Payton.
Payton laid her head against the child's allowing her to expel the fear that had engulfed her for most of the day. In the distance more sirens screamed as they sped across the wharf toward the large salvage ship. Tugs in the harbor echoed their haunting toots as they pushed the giant cargo ships out to sea. Payton watched through her tears, her cheek resting atop her sister's head. She alternated rubbing and patting the girl's back until her breathing slowed and the continuous sobbing became shaky staggered puffs of emotion. Slowly she moved a hand to the deck in an effort to stand. Immediately, Reagan tensed, tightening her grip and emitting small squeaky unspoken pleas.
Two officers who had been standing a few feet from the scene moved to help the woman to her feet. One offered to take the child, holding out his arms in a wordless gesture.
"NO!" She barked. "No." She softened her tone as Reagan jumped and sobbed again. Payton whispered comforting words close to the girl's ear.
The officer nodded, understanding the woman's reaction. He stepped back as his partner wrapped a large dark blanket over Payton's shoulders and around the small shaking child she held close to her breast. They walked beside the sisters as they left the deck of the ship and the horror of L'sandra Teschner behind.
One ambulance pulled away from the waiting group. Payton was sure it carried her lawyer her friend, Colin. They would need to talk. So much had happened so quickly. She saw something in him today she had not seen before. He was willing to put himself in danger to help Reagan to help her, despite what he thought was the right thing to do. Colin Masters had put this whole thing into motion when he brought Reagan home from that hellhole, Brisbey. He had known the right thing to do all along.
A second rescue vehicle waited. Two white-uniformed attendants approached her, pushing a stretcher between them. She held out a hand, halting them a few feet from her and her precious cargo. "We don't need that." She nodded toward the litter. "I'll take her." The men looked at each other. The taller man nodded and cocked his head back toward the waiting ambulance.
Nick Larzy watched as Payton made her way across the pier, never loosing her hold on the child that now seemed to be a part of her. He smiled in spite of his dislike for the woman. Donnie watched as well, quickly wiping a tear from his cheek while making sure no one was watching. Payton stopped in front of the rotund detective, resisting the urge to tell him just how wrong he had been. The words caught in her throat, but the feeling expressed itself in her gaze.
"Walter's should be fine." Larzy informed the woman, throwing a hitchhiker's thumb motion toward the ambulance that had just left. She nodded. For a moment a loud silence fell between them. He stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and felt a small object. He pulled it out and turned his hand so the small chain dangled from it. "I guess I should have listened to you back there." He sounded humble as he addressed the necklace rather than look Payton McAllister in the eye. He had certainly misjudged her. Carefully he opened the delicate chain and held it out with both hands, motioning toward the child in her arms. "You said something about me putting this back around her neck?"
Payton nodded again, this time almost allowing a smile to play across her weary face. She urged her little sister to allow the man access, but Reagan refused to pull her head away from her sister's shoulder. She was safe, after everything the nightmare was over, but she would not let go, not for a long time. Payton moved her own head allowing the detective to slip his hand between Reagan's cheek and her neck. He slid the chain around the girl's neck and clasped it quickly.
He gently patted the child's back. "You keep a hold on that, little one. I think it may be charmed. In any case it has one powerful message engraved on it. Must mean something." He shrugged his shoulders starting to turn away.
Reagan moved one hand to the charm while never letting go of Payton with the other. She squeezed the disk one time then moved her arm back around her sister's neck. "You know what it says?" Her voice was small and weak, muffled under her arms and Payton's embrace. Payton smiled as tears once again ran over her cheeks, her heart leapt as her sister's small voice rang in her ears. She had seen what trauma and terror could do to a person and the fear that Teschner had succeeded in killing the child's spirit had held her in its icy grip since she pulled Reagan from beneath the stairs. She hugged Reagan a bit tighter and again kissed the top of her head, holding her lips there a bit longer and closing her eyes tightly. Payton McAllister rarely prayed and never thanked God for anything but now, with the chance for unconditional love clinging to her for its very life, she made a silent supplication to the Heavens and a solemn vow to never let it go.
The detective stopped and turned, also surprised to hear the small trembling voice. "It's Greek." He stated. "My grandmother made sure we all knew the mother tongue." He snorted a bit, recalling how he once thought that knowledge would do him no good in this line of work. He moved back to the child, again placing a hand on her back. She peeked, with one eye, over her arm. "Don't think it would do you any good to hear the Grecian expression but roughly translated it says, 'Separatehearts, connected forever'. Sounds pretty important to me." He smiled at the girl, then at Payton.
"Very important." Payton nodded and smiled back.
Larzy stepped aside as an officer opened the door of the squad car and motioned for Payton to enter. She slid into the seat with her sister in her arms. Reagan pulled herself against Payton resting her cheek against her sister's chest. She closed her eyes again, still overcome with the events of her ordeal. Her grip relaxed as she fell into a restless exhausted sleep. Her breath still came in short quick pants and even in sleep she sobbed occasionally. But sleep was an escape, escape from the pain and the memories that would haunt her dreams for most of her life a life that would include her big sister always at her side, forever connected.
Payton looked back at the detective standing outside the car. "Coming?" She smiled.
He shook his head. "I'll catch the next one. You both need some time." He slammed the door and tapped lightly against the roof of the car, signaling the driver that it was safe to leave. He watched the car until it rounded the corner at the end of the pier then turned back to the band of officers collecting evidence at the scene. He would wait until they brought the body of L'sandra Teschner out of the bay. There was still an investigation in Connecticut and a lot of people at that school waiting for an explanation.
Donnie watched the events play out as each participant moved off to collect the strands of their day. He looked across the bay at the ships that slid slowly over the water, then turned and stared at the Bhaird building looming behind him. A gust of wind blew across the pier sending papers and loose debris skittering in all directions. Suddenly he remembered why he hated the cold. He pulled his uniform jacket up around his ears and began the trek back to the building. He would certainly have quite a story to tell.
Reagan stood in silence staring at the large black stone that seemed to shine in the autumn sun. The name McAllister stood out starkly in deeply engraved letters across the center of the massive piece of granite. Above the name was the round symbol that formed the logo of their shipping company, a larger and more detailed version of her small gold medallion. Below it in smaller neat letters were the names of her parents marking their final resting-place. Large silver vases adorned the far corners of the stone.
Payton rested her hands on her sister's shoulders, standing behind her while gazing at the same stone. She too traced her father's name with her eyes then looked to the left of that to see her own mother's name etched on the same stone. Carefully she stepped around Reagan and placed the bouquet of pink roses she had been holding in the vase on the left of the stone. Payton stood back and stared at the name imagining what her mother must have been like and for the first time since she could remember, actually missing her.
Reagan stood quietly watching and holding a second bouquet of deep red and white roses. The girl had recovered from her ordeal at the hands of L'sandra Teschner, but the woman's body had not been recovered. Reagan's bruises had healed, the scrapes and cuts left no scars, but was at least three times a week that she woke screaming from the same nightmares. Payton had learned quickly to comfort and reassure her little sister on those nights, softly singing ballads she had learned as a child or by telling some story from her checkered past or sometimes just by hugging the trembling child until sleep reclaimed her. Something about giving that compassion filled a need in the stoic woman. Something in her sister's need for love and guidance, in her need for compassion and family filled the same needs in Payton. In giving the woman had learned to receive and in letting herself be loved she had learned to love in return. They were both healing, but the healing would take a lifetime.
Now, Payton turned and smiled at the innocence of the youngster who was taking slow steps toward the vase at the right side of the stone. Carefully, Reagan placed her flowers in the container and stepped back, mimicking her sister's moves exactly. Payton moved to her side and placed her arm around the girl's shoulders, giving a small squeeze.
"Ready?" She asked the child.
Reagan nodded as they turned together and began walking toward the limousine on the road a few yards away.
"Think Pamela will be surprised to see you?" Payton attempted to lighten the solemn mood. Again the girl nodded as she slipped her hand into her sister's palm and squeezed it tightly. "Still scared, huh?"
"Just a little." Reagan lied. Payton tugged at her hand. "Well, more than a little " She smiled at her sister.
"We don't have to go." Payton offered. Reagan thought for a moment about the offer as Payton continued. "But Pam and Mrs. Carson are looking forward to seeing you."
The girl sighed heavily. "They really made Nancy Feeney the new head mistress?"
"Ah huh," Payton nodded, "They thought a younger woman might be more suited to the ever changing world of education." Payton elaborated and Reagan giggled at her sister's antics. She knew that Colin had spent hours with the school's board of directors convincing them that Miss Feeney was the person they needed.
Payton thought for a moment as they walked in silence. Nancy Feeney deserved that much. She had been instrumental in rescuing Reagan from not one monster, but two the witch that pretended to be Alexis Thorne and the beast that was Payton McAllister. In essence this woman had saved them both.
At the car Reagan stopped and turned back toward the headstone that marked their parents' graves. "Do you think it's true now?" She looked up at Payton.
Payton looked back as well, attempting to see what brought on this question. There were very few cues. "Think what's true, Reagan?"
Henry stepped to the door and opened it for the sister's to enter the vehicle.
"That when two daughters are born of separate lines the circle shall be closed? That's what it said in the library at Mac an Bhaird. Do you think it meant us?" Reagan turned and stepped into the car. "Do you think it has something to do with the saying on the necklace about being separate hearts and being connected forever? Do you think we will be connected forever?"
Payton smiled at the ramblings of her sister. They would have plenty to discuss on their way to Connecticut. Reagan would testify in an inquest, finally putting all of the insanity at Brisbey to rest. They would visit with old friends and close that chapter of their lives for good. Inside the car Reagan was still rambling on. Payton turned back, looking at the McAllister marker one last time.
"Thank you, daddy." She smiled as she wiped the lone tear from the corner of her eye, knowing in her heart that yes, they would be forever connected.
Payton McAllister had wanted nothing of her father except his love.
Reagan McAllister was that love.
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