“One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.” Kahlil Gibran

 

PROLOGUE

January 4th

Anna shut the door of the observation room behind her and shook her head. From the way Frank and Eleni were huddled together nervously, watching their daughter through the one-way glass of the interrogation room, a person might think Marina was about to be hauled off to death row or something. Given the way things were handled in Springfield, it was unlikely the woman would ever even set foot in jail – especially considering that she was the police chief’s daughter.

She rolled her eyes and then squared her shoulders, preparing herself for the task ahead. It wasn’t the interrogation itself she was concerned about; it was the idea of trying to conduct it with the baleful eyes of her chief on her that was causing her stress.

Frank had protested the idea of bringing Marina in again for questioning – first arguing that she had been cleared as an Edmund-accomplice-cum-suspect, and then complaining that it would take time away from the work of finding Natalia. Anna hadn’t disagreed with him on either count, since he was actually correct. She’d simply pointed out that they couldn’t put aside every other case just to focus on Natalia, and reminded him that they were investigating Marina. Eleni had backed her up on that. Then Anna had brought out her trump card – even if Marina didn’t know what Edmund was up to or where he was now, she might still have some knowledge, based on what he’d done in the past, which would prove useful.

With a soft sigh, she opened the door to the interrogation room and stepped inside, closing the door behind her and then taking a seat across the table from Marina. The younger woman glared at her. Anna folded her hands on the table top and regarded her for a long moment, just waiting.

As she expected, Marina couldn’t contain an outburst. “I don’t know why you brought me here. I’ve already taken your stupid lie detector test; you already know I’m not helping Edmund. I can’t lead you to him, and I can’t tell you where Natalia Rivera is.”

Anna leaned forward slightly. “I know that. That’s not why you’re here. Marina, we know you helped DeSilva tamper with evidence on dozens of cases. That’s a very serious matter.” Watching carefully, she saw the younger woman flinch and then drop her gaze to the floor, and decided to press the point. “It’s pretty clear that you’re a dirty cop.”

She waited a heartbeat, half-expecting an outraged protest. Instead, she could see a sick look on Marina’s face. Anna gentled her voice a bit, well aware of the woman’s parents in the other room. “We need to know why you did what you did, how Edmund was tied in to that, and who else was involved. If you cooperate and tell us what we need to know, we’re prepared to go easy on you. You might get away with no jail time and just losing your badge.”

Not that she wanted the woman to walk away without consequences. But the reality was that most of the suspicious files she and Eleni had uncovered were small potatoes – cases where there was no question of the suspect’s guilt, but the evidence had been shaky at best until the tampering. The only major, serious cases that had Marina’s dirty fingerprints all over them were those directly related to Edmund Winslow. Still, they needed this all out on the table, to know just how deep the corruption went.

She shook herself out of her musings, watching with interest as Marina looked up at her. The younger woman tilted her head to the side, studying her, and Anna couldn’t quite decipher the expression in her eyes, especially since her face was completely blank. But the uncomfortable scrutiny didn’t last long, and then she could see the sudden flare of hope in Marina’s eyes, the sudden mix of fear and relief.

“I wouldn’t go to jail…I wouldn’t lose my family…my son?”

Even though Anna already knew the answer, she shrugged slightly. “I can’t make any promises. But cooperation would go a long way toward showing your good intentions.”

She watched Marina sit up straighter in her chair. For the first time in recent memory, the aura of anger that usually surrounded the younger woman was gone, and Anna marveled at it. At that moment, she could see the best pieces of Frank Cooper shining through his daughter – his slow and steady presence, his kindness.

Marina’s voice was steady. “It’s a long story. Let me start at the beginning…”

***  

 

“No, sir, I’m sorry. I don’t speak Spanish and there’s no one here right now who does. Please leave a name and number and I’ll have someone call you back. Maybe they can help you with whatever case you’re trying to get information about.”

Hector Rivera slammed down the phone and glared at his wife. She looked up at him, eyes wide and red. He wanted to yell, but it wasn’t her fault the person on the other end of the phone was a fool, even if she was the one who insisted he call. “The clerk couldn’t understand my accent and assumed I couldn’t speak English. I will not leave my name and phone number lying around for the police. Who knows how they’d decide to use it, or what hours of the day they’d call.”

He saw the glint of irritation in her eyes. “You were speaking perfectly good English.” There was no reason to reaffirm that, but he nodded anyhow. Her expression turned sad. “But how will we know if there’s news…about Natalia…or if there’s anything we can do if we don’t leave them a way to reach us?”

Hector walked across the room to sit in his favorite chair. His wife followed, sitting on the couch, Kleenex box still in hand. He sighed. “There is nothing we can do to help the police. They will ask us questions about her friends, her enemies, and all we can tell them is what they already know – she had a bastard child and is again flouting God’s law by trying to marry a woman. She’s chosen a path in life that’s led her to this end.”

He studied his wife, knowing she wanted to argue, knowing she knew better than to try. He continued, “Leyla will tell us if there’s news about what happened or if she’s been found. We don’t need the police for that.”

Carmen’s voice was quiet, but brighter than it had been. “She’s a good daughter. She will tell us what’s happening. You’re right; we don’t need to contact the police.”

Hector nodded and sat back in his chair. “Of course I’m right.”

Watching Carmen, he saw the way the tears were bubbling up in her eyes again. He didn’t like seeing her so upset. Speaking softly, he said, “We’ll call her later this evening. We can ask what is happening and ask her to keep us informed. I know you would like to talk to her.”

There was no mistaking the flash of surprise in her eyes and no disguising the note of bitterness in her tone. “I thought you told her not to bother coming back as long as she was spending time with Natalia and Olivia. She’s barely spoken to us since the two of you had that big fight months ago, right before she moved down to Springfield.”

He waved a dismissive hand in the air. “I was angry; she was angry. We are alike in that way; we understand each other.”

Despite hoping his wife would drop the subject, he wasn’t surprised when she sighed deeply and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “We’ve already alienated one daughter. What makes you think the same thing won’t happen with Leyla?”

Hector shook his head. “Natalia brought her punishments on herself by her actions. It’s different with Leyla. She has done nothing wrong.” He leaned forward slightly in his chair, meeting Carmen’s eyes. “Believe me when I say that no matter how angry we were with each other, it won’t matter at a time like this. Let’s have dinner and then we’ll call her. You’ll see that I’m right.”

While she didn’t answer in words, he could see the hope and love in her eyes at the thought of talking to Leyla again. He managed a smile and Carmen nodded in response, then got up and made her way back to the kitchen. He left her to her work and picked up his newspaper.

Natalia hadn’t been part of their lives at all for nearly twenty years; he couldn’t quite grasp how her being missing now was so much different in his wife’s eyes. He cared for his daughter, in his own way, and would never wish actual harm to come to her. At the same time, the woman who’d walked back over their threshold was a stranger to him; she wasn’t his sweet, obedient little girl.

Uncomfortable with such introspection, he shook his head and turned his attention to the sports page.

***

 

Anna settled back in her chair, running her hand through her hair. She had been talking to Marina for well over an hour now, and she had a pretty clear picture of what had been going on.

DeSilva had been a dirty cop for years and Marina had gotten mixed up with him when he helped her out on a couple of cases. She hadn’t known he was working for Edmund until her own run-in with the madman – she’d planted drugs on a social worker for blackmail purposes, fearing that baby Henry would be taken from her. Winslow had gotten wind of it and started blackmailing her to help him. By then, she was in too deep to get out. Her big fear was that if she exposed Edmund, it would lead to her losing Henry; and losing her son was the one thing she couldn’t risk. Marina and DeSilva were the only ones on the police force who’d been working for Edmund and the only ones who’d been involved in the tampering.

Closer to home, Marina didn’t seem to know who Hung Li was and didn’t know where the orderly had come from who’d helped with Winslow’s escape from the hospital. She’d agreed to help with that only after Edmund said he’d let her off the hook and finally gave her the film negatives that showed her planting the drugs in the social worker’s desk. It had seemed like her only chance to break free from him. Marina hadn’t seen or heard from him since his escape.

Anna’s instincts told her that this was, indeed, what had happened, that Marina was telling the truth. It also fit with what Eleni had uncovered in the case files, in terms of what was done and who’d signed off on it. Of course, Anna also knew better than most just how Edmund worked – he discarded underlings like so much garbage when he had no further use for them. Only ruthless, unwaveringly loyal people like her father would be around for the long haul.

Unfortunately, Marina knew little enough about Edmund’s habits and whereabouts, certainly nothing that would help them find where he might have taken Natalia.

Still, at least they’d wrapped up one of their open cases. But despite Marina’s confession and explanation, there was one thing nagging at Anna. “So why did you let DeSilva tamper with your evidence in the first place? I mean, I understand that once it happened a few times, you felt like you were in too deep to just back out. But why did it happen at all?”

She could almost feel the wall drop back into place around Marina and she realized that this was the biggest reason the other woman had been afraid of exposure, bigger even than the possibility of losing Henry. She almost didn’t press the point, not sure it really mattered. After all, they had her confession; they knew what had been done and who’d been involved. The reason why probably didn’t really matter. And yet…Anna wanted to know.

“It can be off the record if you want, Marina, but it would really help if we knew your motive. I know you’ve lost your badge before; I can’t understand why you’d risk it again by doing something like this. I mean, you were a shining star out of the police academy and your dad has always been an upstanding cop. Why mess up your record, your chance to follow in his footsteps?”

She didn’t miss the tension flooding through the woman across the table from her or the mix of fear and anger in Marina’s eyes. She opened her mouth to ask again, when the door to the room banged open. Anna glanced up, seeing Eleni and Frank burst into the room, in full-on protective parent mode.

They both spoke at once.

“She’s already told us what we wanted to know,” Eleni protested.

“You have no right to badger her like that, Detective Li!” Frank thundered.

Anna fought to keep her exasperation in check as she looked away from the parents to the daughter. She noted that Marina was halfway out of her chair and smiling at Frank and Eleni.

“Mom, Dad…I…”

But neither seemed to pay any attention to their daughter, Anna noted, since they were too busy advancing on her. She looked at them for a moment, shaking her head at the unprofessional display, and then shifted her gaze back toward Marina. Or, more accurately, where Marina had been just moments before.

Anna swore under her breath and zigzagged past Frank and Eleni to race out the door after Marina. She ran down the hallway, finally catching up to the other woman in the waiting area near the main entrance. She caught Marina by the arm and spun her around gently, aware that the room was full of people. She pitched her voice low, noting in her peripheral vision that Frank and Eleni had caught up with them. “Come on. Let’s go in the back and wrap this up.”

Marina wrestled out of her grasp, not bothering to keep her voice down. “I’m finished, Detective. I’ve answered all your questions and I’m leaving.”

Anna shook her head, mentally giving up. Apparently Marina misread her gesture, though, since the younger woman advanced on her all of a sudden, anger blazing in her eyes. “Okay, fine; I didn’t answer your last question. You want to know why I did it…why I turned into a dirty cop? It was because I was trying to live up to everybody’s expectations! My dad was so proud of having his daughter be a cop, but how could he continue to be proud of me when I couldn’t close my cases?”

Anna took a step back, filled with a sudden surge of sympathy. She murmured, “Not every case ends up being rock solid. We do the best we can with what we find.”

If anything, her attempt to be soothing had the opposite effect. Marina laughed bitterly. “Well, that wasn’t good enough for Frank Cooper’s daughter. I asked DeSilva for help and saw how he managed to have such a high close rate on his cases. I had to stand out…I had to do whatever I could to make my dad proud…to make him notice me. And if that makes me a bad person, then I guess you should probably throw me in jail, because I would do it again just to see the pride in his eyes once more.”

With that, Marina burst into tears and ran out of the police station into the snowy day beyond. Frank ran after her, while Eleni turned on her heel and practically raced back down the hallway. Anna was left standing alone, feeling like she finally had the last piece of the puzzle in place, and understanding all too well where the police chief’s daughter was coming from. She didn’t condone the choices the younger woman had made, but she could understand why she’d made them.

Anna glanced around the room again and shook her head at the hastily averted gazes and the heads bent together, whispering. Just great. She’d learned enough about Springfield to know that by this time tomorrow, everyone in town would know what had happened.

*** 

 

Olivia fought the urge to pace as she stood outside Father Ray’s office, waiting for him to finish up a session with one of his parishioners. Not for the first time, she thought about turning on her heel and leaving. Not for the first time, she reminded herself that she couldn’t.

At long last, the door to his office opened. Mrs, Elliott walked out and Olivia grimaced. The sour church lady wasn’t one of her favorite people in the universe, and she knew the feeling was mutual. She exchanged a saccharine smile with the old bat, and then squared her shoulders and approached the open door. She knocked, even though Father Ray was expecting her, and caught the jerk of his chin that invited her in.

Shutting the door behind her, she took a deep breath and approached his desk, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of it. He didn’t look too pleased to see her, but his tone was mild. “I have to admit that I didn’t expect to see you here. Given that you only come to church to please Natalia, I didn’t think you’d seek out any sort of religious guidance.”

The words raised her hackles, but she forced down the reaction. She refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing her rattled by his veiled insults. “Let’s not play games, Father. You know I’m not here for any of the ‘guidance’ you’re likely to give. I’m sure you know exactly why I’m here.”

She watched him closely and saw him frown in confusion, his response too immediate to be feigned. “Actually, Olivia, I don’t. Unless you think I had something to do with Natalia’s disappearance…”

Her question was blunt. “Did you?”

He scrubbed his hand over his face and she was struck by how tired he looked. “No, I didn’t.” He suddenly straightened up in his chair and met her eyes. “Olivia, you know I’m disappointed in the way Natalia has turned her back on the church, and you know I don’t approve of her relationship with you. But surely you know I would never do anything to hurt her.”

The words were out of her mouth before she could think about them. “I know you wouldn’t.”

It was true, though she hadn’t really thought about it before. While she disagreed with his counsel and didn’t appreciate the way he tried to meddle in her partner’s life, she did know he cared about Natalia. She sat back in her chair and reorganized her thoughts. “Listen, Father…that’s not why I’m here. I want to know if you managed to scare Natalia into having second thoughts about the ceremony.”

He shook his head and opened his mouth and she quickly interrupted before he could say a word. “I know you’re going to tell me that what you talked about with her is confidential. But that’s a bunch of bulls…bullcrap.”

She leaned forward in the chair, anger flaring along her spine, and glared at the priest, not missing the way he glared at her in return. Her tone was acid. “You already violated your whole priest-parishioner confidentiality thing by talking to the police. So don’t even try and pretend that you can’t talk to me. Frank told me what you told him…that Natalia didn’t want to hear what you had to say and that she asked you to leave. Is that the truth, or was that just to cover your own backside?”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could call them back. This whole conversation was a bad idea. He’d never tell her what she most needed to know, and she wasn’t sure she could keep from slapping his usual smirk off his face. She pushed out of the chair, getting to her feet, ready to leave the room. A simple statement stopped her.

“It is the truth. Natalia didn’t want me there, spoiling her special day.”

She sat down with a thud and stared in shock at the priest. Father Ray looked down at his hands, folded on the desk top, and shook his head. His voice was quiet. “Much as I wish she had regrets about the path she’s on, much as I wish she would listen to my counsel, I can’t let you believe a lie. I wouldn’t be much good as a man of God if I did.”

Almost unable to believe her ears, she simply sat gaping as he continued, “She had no doubts about the ceremony, and almost glowed every time she said your name. She was a little nervous, but nothing out of the ordinary for a…a bride on her…wedding day. Her only concern was what had happened to make her sister so late.”

Olivia felt a weight lift from her shoulders. It didn’t ease her worry one bit about what had happened to her partner, but it helped to know that the priest hadn’t managed to invoke any doubts and fears. At least she knew Natalia had been happy and excited in what might have been her final hours…

A chill walked down her spine at the thought and she felt the burn of tears. She would not cry in front of the priest. She fisted her hand, digging her fingernails into her palm, letting the slight pain center her. She stood again, fighting to keep her voice steady. “Thank you for being honest, Father. It…it means a lot.”

He looked up at her then and she saw the sorrow in his eyes, knew he was worried about what had happened to Natalia. At least they had one thing in common. He said, “You’re welcome.”

Then, as if it was too uncomfortable for them to have such common ground, he raised one of his ample eyebrows and a smirk appeared on his face. “You do know, of course, that I will never stop praying for her to find her way back to the path of righteousness, that I will never stop praying for her lost soul.”

Despite the situation, Olivia felt an answering smirk pull at her lips. It definitely helped to be back on familiar ground with the man. “Of course you won’t. Just like I’ll never stop giving her reasons to stay with me and choose our family as her path.” She rolled her eyes at his long-suffering sigh, but sobered up quickly. “First, Father, just pray that she comes home safely.”

He managed a small smile. “I already am.”

Not sure how to respond, she settled for a quick wave before she turned and opened the door, walking briskly down the hall. He could be a thorn in her side for the rest of her life if his prayers helped bring Natalia back to her.

*** 

 

Edmund giggled maniacally as he stood over the fire and watched the layers of snow melt off his sleeve. He heard a “harrumph” from the other room, but ignored the verbal equivalent of eye rolling in favor of watching the icy crystals shrink and die under his gaze. He liked the way it made him feel to know that he alone determined whether the snowflakes would melt or stay intact.

Before long, the snow was gone and he was too warm in his coat. He walked across the room, shrugging out of the garment and slipping it onto a hanger. Glancing into the other room, he smiled at the sight of Hung Li meticulously going over a set of plans Edmund had drawn up for the next target on his list. He knew his associate would find and eliminate whatever flaws and obstacles he’d overlooked in his enthusiasm for his task.

Edmund walked back over to the fire, smiling like the cat who’d eaten the canary. It was so good to be rid of those bumbling Springfield cops and once again be working with a professional. Granted, DeSilva and Marina had served their purpose, but they both lacked the kind of cunning and callousness he needed. He’d been all too happy to cut the final strings tying them to him once he was free from that damned hospital.

He growled under his breath at the memory of that damned bitch – Spencer’s little whore – holding a gun on him. Who knew the town saint had it in her to go all Rambo? She was clearly paying for her holier-than-thou attitude now, though. He growled even more at the reminder that his nemesis was actually the one who’d shot him. One of these days, Jeffrey O’Neill would suffer dearly for that. But Edmund had other prey in his sights right now. O’Neill was going to be his last target – the icing on his revenge cake, so to speak. The mere thought made him burst into laughter again.

As the old adage said, revenge was a dish best served cold.

***