The next day, Tracy brought Rita Grace home. Felice was in the kitchen happily humming no tune in particular and cooking breakfast when Darryl brought Rita Grace in.
“Humming? Are you happy or something?”
Smiling, she took the baby from Darryl, kissed him and said, “Me? Happy? Now, Mr. Thornton, what could I possibly be happy about?”
Smiling back he said, “I can think of a few things, Miss Bellicini.”
“You can? Then I suggest you share them.”
She put Rita Grace in the high chair and walked back to Darryl and kissed him and the passion started to once again ignite in him.
“If you keep kissing me that way, breakfast will be delayed. Speaking of breakfast, do I smell something burning?”
“Oh my god!”
Felice rushed to the stove and pulled off the bacon.
“Oh, no. It's ruined. I'll have to make another batch.”
“Don't go to the trouble. The kids don't eat bacon and I only like a slice or two. We don't need it.”
“Yes, we do. What you don't understand is that I could eat a pound of it by myself,” she laughed. “It'll only take a minute.”
She was putting more bacon in the pan when the twins came running in.
“What's for breakfast? I'm starved!” Glenn announced.
Darryl ruffled his hair and told him it was just about done.
She already placed orange juice, pancakes, fruit, yogurt, scrambled eggs and home-fried potatoes on the table. She wanted to make this breakfast special for the children. Before sitting, Felice poured cups of coffee for her and Darryl then joined her new family.
“Wow!” Gabriella said. “Dad, how come you don't make breakfast like this?”
“I do not have the culinary skill Felice has.”
Looking rather confused, Gabriella asked, “What is culiary skill, Dad?”
Struggling to find words she would understand, he smiled and slowly pronounced the word, “It means she knows how to cook a lot better than your daddy does.”
“That’s what I said.” Turning her attention to Felice she said, “Yeah, you got better culiary skills than my daddy. Did I say it right, Daddy?”
Felice and Darryl were careful to stifle their giggles so not to hurt her feelings.
“I’m glad you're here! Look at all this food,” Glenn said, already piling it on his plate as if he hadn't eaten in a week.
Although she ate at this table dozens of times before, she was nervous. They planned on telling the children about their engagement, but she didn't know how Glenn and Gabriella were going to take their news.
“I almost forgot the bacon again,” Felice exclaimed.
“I’ll get it,” Darryl offered.
While she fed her daughter, he drained the bacon, placed it on paper towels on top of a plate and set it on the table.
Sitting back down, he hesitantly began the conversation.
“Children, there’s something Felice and I would like to share with you.”
Glenn looked at his father with his mouth full of food and said, “What?”
“Well, I asked Felice if she would marry me and become part of our family. We really want to know how you both feel about that.”
Gabriella just stared at Felice, while Glenn continued to eat.
“Glenn? Gabriella?” Darryl asked, after getting no response.
“Cool,” Glenn said. “Does that mean we'll get breakfast like this all the time?”
Smiling, Felice said, “Maybe. I want you both to know that I am not here to replace your mom. I can be here as your friend, if you'll let me.”
Felice did not want the children to think they must accept her as their mother. She wanted to continue to form her own special bond with Darryl's children, not be a threat to them.
“I know. We used to have a mom, but Daddy said she went to Heaven,” Glenn said. Getting out of his chair, he went to Felice and asked, “So, will you be our mom now?”
Felice looked at Darryl with surprise in her eyes, then back to the kids. She took Glenn's hand in hers and turned towards Gabriella.
“Gabriella, what do you think?”
Suddenly, Gabriella jumped up from her chair and flew out of the kitchen.
Darryl started to get up and Felice stopped him.
“I'll go, honey. I think it best I talk to her, if that's all right.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am. Glenn, I'll be right back. Go ahead and finish breakfast with your dad and Rita Grace.”
“Okay,” he answered, sitting back down.
Felice mounted the stairs with trepidation. She wasn't sure how she was going to handle Gabriella. She only knew she needed to reassure her that things would be okay.
She knocked on her bedroom door and asked, “May I come in?”
“Okay, I will. Before I leave, would it be all right if I just come in for a minute? If after that you want me to leave, I will.”
Taking that as an okay to enter, Felice opened the door.
“Thank you. Can I sit down?”
“You only have one minute,” Gabriella reminded her sternly.
Because she didn't want Gabriella to feel threatened, she didn’t go too far into the room, instead sat down in the small desk chair nearest the door.
“Honey, do you want to tell me what's wrong?”
Gabriella had her back towards Felice, but she could tell she was crying as her little shoulders heaved with each tear.
“Okay. Maybe you can tell me why you ran from the kitchen.”
“Oh, I see. Well, usually you always stay and help me do dishes. When you left without helping I thought you just forgot.”
“No,” Gabriella turned her tear-stained faced towards Felice. “I didn't want to help you do dishes. I helped my mom do dishes. You're not my mom.”
“You're right, I'm not. Your mom was my best friend. Did you know that?”
“Yes, I remember my mom telling me,” she answered, wiping her eyes with the back of her balled up fists.
“Your mom loves you and I know how much you love your mom. I would never try to take your mom's place.”
“You can't!” Gabriella exclaimed.
“You're right. I think your mom would be very upset with me if I tried to.”
“What? How can my mom be mad at you when she's not here anymore?”
“Your mom is not here physically, but she's here,” Felice explained, putting her hand over her heart. “She'll always be in my heart.”
“Is Mom in my heart?”
“If you let her be, your mom will always be in your heart. She will always be a part of you and this family.”
She could feel that Gabriella was relaxing a little.
“What about Dad?”
“Your mom will always be in your dad's heart. I would not want that to ever change.”
Gabriella finally looked at Felice.
“Are you going to take all my dad's time? 'Cause we do things together and if you're here, he won't do things with me anymore.”
“How about this? How about you and I make sure that I don't? If you feel like your dad isn't doing things with you as much as you want, you can come to me and tell me.”
“You won't get mad?”
“I'll only get mad if you don't tell me. I want you to be able to be honest with me about anything. So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?”
“Well, you can be my friend and Daddy's friend, but I don't want another mom.”
“I won't be another mom. I just want you to know that I’m here if you ever need anything. Deal?”
“Can I still eat breakfast? I'm starving!”
“Only if I can eat with you.”
Gabriella stood up and took Felice's hand.
As they walked out of the room, Gabriella looked up at her and asked, “Does this mean Rita Grace is my sister now?”
“Would you like that?”
“Yeah, she’s kinda fun.”
“I think she would be honored to be your sister.”
Gabriella smiled again. They walked into the kitchen to find that Glenn finished eating and left to go to his room, Rita Grace was being fed by Darryl and the food was cold. Together, Gabriella and Felice warmed the food. Felice explained how to do it, while cautioning her that she shouldn't operate anything in the kitchen without her father or herself being present.
“I think I like this.”
“Duh!” she figured her father should know what she meant. “Eating breakfast!”
Darryl smiled at Felice and mouthed, I love you.
The next few weeks were unusually busy for them. Darryl started taking on new patients at the dental office and often stayed late doing necessary paperwork for the insurance companies. He contemplated hiring an additional secretary to do some of the menial work. Felice was busy with the children and her volunteer work. She continued to spend time at the hospital, volunteering in the maternity ward and helping with the new babies and mothers. The more time she spent with the newborns, the more she remembered when her own baby was born. She and Darryl endured a lot this past year. She was determined to make Darryl's life full again and help provide a happy home life for the children.
They set a date for their wedding. They would be married December thirty first of the following year. They wanted to start out a new year together, but Felice wanted time to plan the wedding of her dreams. She wanted the day to be special, not only for herself, but for Darryl and the children as well. She knew that most guys didn't take much of an interest in the actual details of the wedding, but Darryl insisted on being a part of it by helping with everything. Even the children wanted to help. She promised Gabriella that she could help her pick out the wedding dress and even her own dress.
Over the next few months, Felice and Gabriella started to become closer than even Felice could have hoped.
It was late March, and because it was an unseasonably warm day out, they decided to have a family outing and took a picnic to the park. Darryl and Glenn were throwing a football back and forth, while Gabriella and Felice were busy setting up the picnic table with all the food they brought. Rita Grace sat in a playpen happily playing with her toys and cooing quietly. Using the opportunity of the time alone she had with Gabriella, she asked her if she would be her flower girl, explaining what the job would entail.
“Do you mean I get to walk down the aisle before you and throw flowers?”
“Well, not throw them, but gently drop them down the aisle as you walk. Do you think you would like to do that?”
Gabriella smiled and threw her arms around Felice.
“Wanna know a secret?”
“A secret? You're holding out on me?” Felice smiled at her.
“No!” she giggled. She grabbed Felice's hand as they sat at the picnic table. “I think I love you.”
Felice eyes immediately welled up.
“Did I upset you?”
“Of course not, honey.”
“Then why are you crying?”
“Sometimes people cry when they're happy, and you, my little girl, just made me very happy. I have one question though.”
“You only think you love me?”
“No, you know what I mean,” she giggled again.
“Yes, I do. Do you want to know a secret?”
“You have a secret?”
“Well, sort of. I love you too, Gabriella.”
Gabriella threw her arms around Felice and said, “I'm glad you're my daddy's friend.”
“Me too, honey.”
While hugging her, out of the corner of her eye, Felice thought she saw a figure in the woods behind them. The picnic table they chose lay parallel to a line of trees leading into a wooded area. Felice told Gabriella to go tell the guys lunch was ready. After Gabriella ran off, Felice left her daughter in her playpen, knowing she was only a few feet away, and walked towards the trees. She didn't see anyone and thought maybe it was her imagination. She hugged her sweater closer to her body, feeling a chill not from the cold air, but from the hair that stood up on the back of her neck.
She quickly walked back to the picnic table where Darryl and the kids were already sitting, filling their plates with the food provided. She sat down next to Darryl, inching close to him as if doing so would make her feel safe.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“No. You're here. What could be wrong?”
She got up and walked around to the other side of the picnic table to the playpen.
She screamed, “Oh, my god! Darryl! Rita Grace! Where is she?”
She immediately became hysterical. She started sobbing as Darryl rushed over to her.
“Wasn't she in her playpen?”
“Yes. I left her for one minute. I just walked over by the...oh my god!”
She started running towards the trees, screaming, “Give me back my baby! Give me Rita Grace!”
Darryl raced behind her.
“Calm down and talk to me.”
Felice was shaking with worry. She was in a full blown panic.
“Felice, look at me.”
He grabbed her to stop her from running into the trees.
“Dad?” Glenn called out.
Glenn and Gabriella didn't know what was going on, only that Rita Grace was missing.
“I'm calling the police, sit down.” Darryl steered Felice toward the picnic table.
She tried to release herself from his grasp.
“You don't understand.”
She was sobbing hysterically as Darryl dialed nine-one-one from his cellular phone. Felice’s eyes darted from tree to tree and everywhere in between.
“I only left her for one minute.”
Felice took several deep breaths to get her words out, trying desperately not to hyperventilate. Gabriella came over and put her arms around her.
“I didn't do anything, honest,” she said.
“Oh, honey, I know. It's not your fault.”
“The police are on their way,” Darryl said, sitting down next to her. “Tell me what happened.”
She was still having difficulty talking.
She took another deep breath and continued, “I was here with Gabriella. I thought I saw someone in the trees. That was when I sent Gabriella to get you for lunch. I...oh, Darryl! I walked towards the trees. I wasn't gone more than a minute and I was just right there,” she pointed in the direction of the trees about twenty feet away.
“Okay, it's okay. So, you went over there. Did you see anyone?”
“No, I came right back here. Darryl...I knew something was wrong. I felt there was something wrong. Why didn't I listen to my intuition?”
She tried to stop crying, still combing the area with her eyes.
“Someone has Rita Grace! Why? If they hurt her...” she broke off.
She couldn't stand the thought of anyone hurting her daughter.
Darryl took her hand and tried to calm her.
“We'll find her. The police are on their way.”
“No, I can't wait for them. I have to find her.”
Felice stood and starting running towards the trees again. She blindly ran through them with branches whipping her face and arms, but she didn't care. She didn't even know where she was going. She only knew someone who was in these woods, took her baby. She must find her. Rita Grace was her life. This was her little girl.
She broke through the trees and found herself in a meadow. There were others there; couples lounging on blankets and families dining at picnic tables. She ran over to the nearest couple.
“Have you seen someone come through here with a child? It's my child! Have you seen anyone?”
“No. Are you okay?” the man asked.
“No, damn it! Have you seen anyone?”
The woman stood and gently put her hand on Felice’s arm.
“Mam, can we help? We haven't seen anything or anyone, but we'll help if you need us.”
“Yes, please, someone just stole my child.”
She started sobbing again as Darryl came running up to them. Darryl explained to the couple what happened. Other people started to mill about them. A man came forward and offered to help them. Soon, everyone gathered offered their assistance.
Darryl explained, “I think it's best if we let the police handle this...”
Felice cut him off, “Yes, please, anything any one of you can do, I would appreciate. She's my daughter. She's only a baby...” she started sobbing again.
“Mam, what was she wearing?”
“She was wearing a light green jacket and blue jeans....oh, god! Her little blue jeans,” she couldn't stop crying.
Suddenly, Gabriella spoke up. “My sister had a pink blanket around her. I know 'cause I wrapped her up. She looked cold.”
Felice hugged Gabriella to her.
“Thank you, honey.”
Darryl could hear the police sirens in the distance.
“I'm going to meet the police. They won't know we're here. Do you want to stay here?”
“Yes...no. I'm going to look for Rita Grace.”
Darryl was trying to handle the situation the best way he knew how. He realized it seemed to Felice that he was acting cold and uncaring, but he was trying to be rational, to think what may be the best way to get Rita Grace back. There was no way he could break down right now. He couldn’t let emotions cloud his judgment. He needed to be able to think with a clear head and be strong for Felice. She needed him right now and he wouldn’t let her down.
“Honey, please don't. Let the police handle this. I don't want anything to happen to you.”
“I can't stand here and argue. Please, Darryl, I need to do this.”
“We'll go with her,” the man who Felice spoke to a few minutes earlier stepped forward.
“Yeah,” the woman who was with him agreed.
“We will, too,” others volunteered.
Soon all those gathered around were ready and willing to help. Darryl took the hands of his twins and told Felice to let the others look while she talked to the police. She agreed, but firmly stated she was going to come back and look with the rest of them. Darryl promised he would go with her.
Felice tried to explain to the police everything that happened, but knew the facts were bare. Simply put, she took her eyes off of her daughter for one minute—just as so many other mothers whose children were kidnapped—to look at what she perceived as a threat and her daughter was taken.
“There are several people who are on the other side of the park beyond those trees that are out searching,” Darryl told the police.
“We can’t have that,” Detective Brandon Wolters told them. “They may well be destroying evidence without even realizing it. Let me call some others in and disburse a team to look.”
Felice was trying to maintain her composure. She knew she must to keep her wits about her so she could find her daughter.
“I'm going to help,” she told them.
“Mam, it’s getting dark. If we don’t find something and soon...well, there’s not much that can be done in the dark,” the detective told her.
“First of all, it’s not something, she’s my daughter! Secondly, if you can’t continue to look, I will.”
Felice couldn't believe what she was hearing. They seemed to be of no help at all, or at least not willing to help.
“That’s not what I meant, I’m sorry. I only meant that when night falls, it makes it more difficult to see. We may not realize we’re missing evidence. It’s best to wait until daybreak if we can’t find her before it gets dark.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just…” she broke off, crying again.
“I have to ask you some questions,” he said, indicating both Darryl and Felice.
“Anything, Detective,” Darryl offered.
“Do either of you have any enemies?”
“No,” Darryl answered. “None I can think of.”
“Mam?” Detective Wolters prompted when Felice didn’t respond.
“What? Oh…no. We don’t have any enemies.”
“What about a disgruntled ex-spouse?”
“No, I’ve never been married,” Felice responded.
“My wife died in an accident some time back,” Darryl answered.
“You’re the father of the missing kid…err…baby girl?”
“No, he isn’t, but the father isn’t around. He hasn’t been around since I told him I was pregnant.”
“What’s his name?”
“Do you know where he lives?”
“No, I told you he hasn’t been around. I can tell you where he used to live though.”
Felice gave him Pavel’s old address. She knew he no longer lived there because right after their daughter was born, she tried to contact him. She arrived at his address only to find a for sale sign on the vacant property. She never tried again.
“Any chance he changed his mind and decided he wanted his kid?”
“No, he never wanted children, which is why he left us.”
“As a matter of procedure, we still have to check him out. Are you sure neither of you have any enemies? Maybe a neighbor who was upset with you?”
“No, Detective. We get along with all of our neighbors,” Darryl replied.
“How about someone at your jobs?”
“I’m a dentist, and unless one of my patients didn’t like a crown I put on or something, none of them would do this.”
“What about you, Mam?”
“I volunteer at the hospital in the maternity ward. I don’t have any trouble with anyone I work with. All the patients there already have babies. That’s why they’re there.”
“All right, I need your work addresses, home and cell phone numbers and home information.”
They gave the detective what he asked for.
“I have one last question and this is the hard one. I want you to understand this is a standard question we ask everyone in this situation,” he paused, and then continued, “h
been around. I can tell you where he used to live though."e area, long after the police told her they needed to stop. She ildow are the two of you getting along?”
“What? You think one of us kidnapped our own baby?” Darryl found the question incredulous.
“As I said, it’s standard procedure to ask. Remember, I don’t know either of you and have no idea what your relationship is like.”
“To go on record,” Felice firmly stated, “I love my daughter. I would not have her kidnapped. As to Darryl, we are engaged, about to be married. He loves Rita Grace as if she were his own. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, he would do absolutely nothing to harm any of us.”
“Okay, I understand, but you haven’t actually answered my question.”
“Detective, as Felice just told you, we’re to be married. I love her and her daughter. We are a happy family.”
“Again, as standard routine, I have to check out both of you. I’m sorry, I do not mean to lay blame at anyone’s door. However, I am here to do a job and right now my job is to find the missing child.”
“We understand, do what you need to. Just find my daughter.”
“Is there anyone at your home right now?”
“I think someone should be there just in case…”
“Just in case what?” Felice asked when he stopped short.
“In case you get a ransom call.”
“A ransom call? Do you think someone stole her for money?”
“Mam, we cannot rule anything out at this point. I suggest you go home and wait.”
“Go home? Wait? How can I just sit there and wait when my baby is missing?”
“He’s right,” Darryl interjected. “We should go home.”
“She’s out there somewhere,” she cried. “I have to look.”
“Chances are whoever took your daughter is long gone from this area by now. You would be wasting your time looking here.”
“Does that mean you aren’t going to look?”
“No, Mam. The officers will look for evidence. We need you to go home.”
“What will you be doing?” asked Darryl.
“I’d like to go to your house with you and have a team set up a tap on your telephone. If anyone calls, we’ll have a good chance to do a trace.”
Detective Wolters looked at her with sad eyes. He saw too many of these cases. Each of them started out with caring parents, but some of them ended with either the father or the mother being the responsible party; some, but not all.
He always prided himself on his ability to look into a person’s eyes and know if they were telling the truth or not. As he looked in her eyes now, he saw pain, sadness and panic. He felt she was telling the truth. What he wasn’t sure was whether or not her fiancé was involved. He seemed to be acting too rationally, too distant.
“I can’t promise anything, Mam,” he continued as he turned to look at Darryl. “I can tell you though, I intend to work day and night to find the person responsible for this, and to bring your daughter home safe. I will need one more thing, a current picture. I’ll send it to all the local precincts so they can also watch out and share any information.”
Felice grabbed her purse.
“Here,” she said handing him a picture. “It was taken the other day at the house. See? She’s smiling… Oh god, please find my baby!”
The detective brought in more police officers, which broke up the civilian search party, explaining they needed to preserve any evidence that may be around. The detective and the officers began their search and promised Darryl and Felice they would cover every square inch of the park.
Felice was completely distraught. She didn’t know what to do or where to look next. She knew Detective Wolters was right. She should go home and wait by the telephone, but she wanted to keep combing the area along with the police officers.
Panic gripped her heart. She fell to the ground and bellowed a loud scream of anguish, wrapped her arms around herself and sobbed.
“My baby…my baby…”
Darryl crouched on the ground beside her and took her into his arms.
“We’ll find her, darling. Do you hear me? We will find her.”
“Oh, Honey. It’s getting dark. She’s probably cold and hungry. She has only her thin blanket.”
“I’m sure whoever took her is taking good care of her.”
“Oh, please. I pray to God that Rita Grace is all right.”
Darryl was finally able to convince Felice to go home with him, reminding her they needed to be there in case the kidnapper called. Darryl then called Tracy to ask if he could bring the children to her place. He dropped Felice off at home and told her he would be right back.
When he pulled out of the driveway, Detective Wolters pulled up and parked at the curb. Another unmarked police car followed him down the street. He dropped off the children at the babysitters, explained what was going on and thanked her for taking them. Getting back into his car, he noticed the unmarked patrol car still behind his. He sat behind the wheel of his car without starting it, staring ahead, but seeing nothing.
“I can’t believe they think I’m a suspect,” Darryl muttered to himself.
He knew the police were only doing their jobs and he would cooperate in any way he could. He had to bring Rita Grace home safely. It would kill him if something happened to her and he knew Felice would never be the same if her daughter was harmed.
He has grown to love that little girl as if she were his own. He’d be damned if he allowed some maniac to whisk her away and hurt her, but his stomach flipped-flopped at the realization that he was powerless to do anything. She had been kidnapped, right from under their noses and he prayed to God whoever took her would not harm her.
He let the tears fall, feeling helpless. He laid his head against the steering wheel and sobbed. He was scared, worried that he may never see Rita Grace again. The thought of her not being in his life, tore him apart deep down in his soul. Knowing he had no choice but to pull himself together, he straightened back up and wiped his tears away. He wouldn’t let himself fall apart like he did after Rita was killed. He just couldn’t.
God, he silently prayed, please bring her home safe.
He started the car as the urgency to get home to Felice overwhelmed him. He had to be with her. She needed him and he needed her just as much.
He walked through the door and overhead the detective speaking on his two-way radio. The officer at the other end was telling him it gets dark."until daybreak if we can'lls, it makes it more difficult to see. We may not even know we'they needed to stop searching the park due to the darkness. They did find something however, and would be bringing it by for Felice and Darryl to identify.
“What?” he asked the detective. “What did they find? Is it Rita Grace?”
Felice sat in the reclining chair in the living room, next to the small table that held the telephone. Her feet were pulled under her, she was pale and tears stained her face. When she heard what Darryl asked, she jumped up and rushed to his side. Darryl took her into his arms.
“Did they find her?” she asked frantically, afraid to hope.
“No, it’s not Rita Grace. All I know is that they found something they want to bring here, to see if you recognize it.”
Felice quietly cried on Darryl’s shoulder. He steered her back to the chair, where she flopped down. He knelt on the floor beside her, holding her as tight as he could.
“It will be okay, honey. She’ll be okay,” he reassured her.
He knew the words were hollow. He was trying to make a promise that he wasn’t even sure he could keep, let alone believe himself.
The officers showed up and handed a sealed bag to the detective. Without opening it, he examined the contents and walked over to the parents.
“Do either of you recognize this?”
Felice grabbed the bag and turned it over in her hands.
“Oh my god! This is her blanket. The one she was wrapped in.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Detective, that’s hers,” Darryl responded.
Felice started to open the bag and take the blanket out. Detective Wolters put his hand over hers.
“I’m sorry but we need to take that in as evidence. We’ll want to run it for fingerprints and possibly DNA.”
“We understand, Detective.”
Darryl took the bag from Felice and handed it to Wolters, who walked over and gave it to the other officers.
“Oh, Darryl, she’s probably cold. She doesn’t even have her blanket to keep her warm.”
She sobbed into his chest as he held her, trying to calm her as she shook with grief. He didn’t want to even think what finding the blanket could mean.
“I’m going to talk to the detective, I’ll be right back.”
Darryl walked over to him and steered him into the hallway.
“Detective, anything? Anything at all?” he heard his own desperation in his voice.
He couldn’t stand to see Felice so shattered.
“Nothing…I’m sorry. The officers combed the park area thoroughly and only came up with the blanket. They had to stop searching, as you heard when you walked in. We just finished setting up the equipment in order to tap the telephone. All calls you get will now be monitored.”
“Detective…” Darryl stopped. He couldn’t bring himself to ask the question that was on his mind. He was afraid to hear the answer.
As if Wolters knew what he was going to ask, he said, “I don’t know. I’ve seen several kidnappings in the twenty years I’ve been a detective and plenty more before that. Some have happy endings, others…well, suffice it to say, many do not.”
“Thank you for your honesty, Detective. What can I do to help? I can’t stand just waiting.”
“Just be with your fiancé. She’s going to need you. Especially if…”
He didn’t need to finish the sentence. Darryl knew what he was getting at. He bowed his head as tears began to well up in his eyes. The possibility of someone hurting Rita Grace was just too horrifying to consider.
Detective Wolters was beginning to wonder if he was wrong about Darryl, although his gut feelings were not always right. He seemed genuinely concerned. He recalled one case where two children were kidnapped. The father ordered it. Then however, there were signs, the fake concern, the quiet telephone calls from his cellular phone and anger when he was questioned. Knowing that even the most evil people could show false concern, he was going to make sure he kept his ears and eyes open. He wasn’t about to dismiss any possibility this soon in the case.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could say.
An hour later, Detective Wolters sat on the living room sofa drinking a cup of coffee that Darryl prepared for them all. He already gave Rita Grace’s picture to his officer, telling him to see that it was widely disbursed as soon as possible, including all precincts in this county and others surrounding it. Felice refused to move away from the telephone, even for a minute. She hadn’t budged from the chair where she sat. Darryl paced back and forth in front of the large window, he couldn’t keep still. He felt entirely helpless. He just didn’t know what to do.
Even though Darryl knew it would be fruitless, he was just about to offer to drive around and scour the area when the telephone rang. The detective quickly signaled the officer to start the tape and then nodded to Felice to pick up the telephone.
She snatched it up, “Hello?”
“Felice?” It was Tracy.
“Are the twins all right?” She motioned Darryl to come over. “It’s Tracy, the babysitter,” she explained to the detective.
“The twins are fine. I just wanted to know if you’ve heard anything yet. Have they found Rita Grace?”
She spoke a few minutes longer with her, asking if she could keep the twins a while longer. Tracy reassured her they could stay there for as long as they needed them to.
There were no telephone calls that night. Felice refused to move from the chair, fearing she would miss the call…if it came. Wolters eventually told them that he was going to leave, but that the officers would stay here, at their home to monitor any incoming telephone calls.
Darryl made more coffee for the officers to have during the night. At midnight, he was finally able to convince Felice to go upstairs and lie down.
“Sweetheart, we have the telephone right next to the bed. I’ll stay with you. You won’t be alone.”
Sleep didn’t come that night for Felice. After a time Darryl dozed off with Felice in his arms. When he woke, he realized Felice was not in bed. He quickly got up and left the room looking for her. After wandering the house, he finally found her in Rita Grace’s bedroom, sitting in the rocking chair, holding a stuffed teddy bear and quietly crying.
He rushed inside the room, knelt down on the floor in front of her and took her into his arms.
“Oh, darling, I am so sorry. I’m sorry I let this happen. I’m sorry I can’t find her. I’m sorry I can’t do more.”
I’m sorry, what a useless phrase, he thought. He was blaming himself now. He let her down and he knew it. He didn’t protect Rita Grace, as he should have. He professed to love Rita Grace, but he certainly wasn’t there for her when she needed him. He kept picturing her little angelic face looking up with him, eyes wide and smiling from ear to ear. He lost it.
He cried now with Felice. He cried for her pain and for Rita Grace. He cried because he failed his family. They clung to one another, each feeling the other’s pain and grief. Felice let out a howl of pain, rocking back and forth in his arms, as Darryl held her close, tears running freely down his cheeks. Her ache sliced through his heart clear down to his soul. He knew then, surely, there must be no other hurt greater than that of a mother whose child is missing. He wanted to take away that pain, he wanted to give Felice her daughter back and he wanted to kill the bastard who did this.
He fell apart the night Rita was killed and Felice was there for him the entire time. Now, holding her in his arms, he reminded himself that he must keep it together because she needed him to be there for her. Pushing his tears aside, he began to feel anger. He was furious at the person who dared to do this. He silently vowed to make the son-of-a-bitch pay, if it was the last thing he did.
The next day came and there was still no telephone call from the kidnapper, no word on the whereabouts of the baby, nor any signs or evidence as to where she could be. For Darryl, it was worse not knowing. He didn’t know what to do, what to say or where to even start looking that the police haven’t already.
He did his best to comfort Felice, but he knew his words held little hope, little peace for Felice. They were just as empty to him as they probably sounded to her. The police camped out in their living room waiting to trace a call that hasn’t yet come. Tracy called again and checked in. Darryl spoke with her and thanked her once more for keeping the twins.
He called his assistant and told her to reschedule all of his appointments for the remainder of the week. There was no way he was leaving Felice now.
They went through the motions of making morning coffee, but neither ate breakfast. The officers who were there through the night left and others took their place. Detective Wolters came by at noon and said there was nothing to report. He was still waiting for forensics, but since they were backed up, it may be days before he got the results of the fingerprint dusting they did.
For Detective Wolters, his coming by initially meant he could question Felice and Darryl again, but the minute he walked in the door and saw their faces, he knew now was not the time. He could be hard when he needed to be, but he could be compassionate as well. He felt sorry for these people, sorry he couldn’t do more for them. The job got to him sometimes, especially times like this, when it involved children.
Because he could do nothing further at the house, Wolters instructed the officers to immediately call him if anything happened. He really wanted to stay and wait with them for something to break in the case, but he knew his efforts would be well placed elsewhere. He hesitantly left the grieving family and drove back to the station, chiding himself along the way for getting too personally involved. What he needed to do was take a step back and detach himself, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. He vowed to throw himself into this case and bring the baby home where she belonged.