Darryl picked up the twins from the babysitter’s, figuring it might be a little easier having the children around to take Felice’s mind off of Rita Grace.
To put it bluntly, it had been hell the last two days for both Felice and Darryl. There was no telephone call from the kidnapper. The cops were still there taking shifts while monitoring telephone calls.
They tried their best to entertain the twins, but Felice’s heart wasn’t in it. Darryl tried getting her to look at catalogs full of wedding ideas, but she couldn’t concentrate. All she could think of was her baby. Where was she? Who had her? Why had they taken her? What did they want? No one had the answers she was seeking.
Using his computer, Darryl printed up posters with pictures of Rita Grace. He included a police tip hot line number they were given. He also added in their home telephone number for anyone to anonymously call if they saw anything. Along with the request for information, he posted a ten thousand dollar reward. That morning, Darryl drove around tacking up the flyers everywhere he could think of near the park, in the city and near their neighborhood.
Felice still refused to leave the house. She couldn’t even bring herself to shower for fear she would not hear the telephone ring. She dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt, looking as haggard as she felt. She didn’t care. All she wanted was to get her baby back.
Darryl’s parents called and said they would be happy to fly there to take care of the twins. Darryl thought it was a good idea as other people in the house might help, but Felice insisted they stay home because she didn’t want company right now.
She didn’t sleep and it showed in her sunken eyes. She only ate when Darryl forced her to. She was lifeless and beyond consolation. Darryl felt like a failure, not knowing what to do. He desperately wanted to go out and look for her himself, but was concerned about leaving Felice alone. She couldn’t take care of herself right now, let alone the children.
Darryl finally insisted she shower and get dressed, telling her that it would revive her. She got in the shower and let the hot water pour over her. She began to wash her hair when another wave of panic overcame her. She sank down to her knees, the water spraying across her back. She knelt there, her own arms wrapped tightly around herself and cried until she felt numb inside. Shampoo from her hair began to drip into her eyes, making her cry harder. Falling against the shower doors when she tried to stand up, she realized how weak she was from not eating or sleeping. Struggling to find just a little energy, she finished her shower, stepped out of the tub and dried herself off.
She walked over to the mirror and was startled at what she saw. Swollen eyes stared back at her. Her skin was pale, deathly pale, even though her complexion was normally a deep tan. It was then she made a decision.
“I’m coming, baby. Mommy is going to find you. I’ve wasted three days sitting here feeling sorry for myself while you’re out there needing me to find you.”
She quickly got dressed and rushed into the bedroom.
“I’m here, dear.”
“Out. I need to find my baby and I can’t do it sitting here wallowing in self pity.”
Darryl just stared at her. It was like a new woman emerged from the shower.
When he didn’t move, Felice asked, “Are you coming?”
He moved into action and followed Felice through the hall and down the stairs. He stopped her when they reached the living room.
“Sweetheart, I can’t leave the children alone.”
“I know that. I’m going to call Tracy to see if she can come and sit with them.”
“What about the police?”
“What about them? They don’t need babysitters. They can sit there on their collective asses and wait for a call that’s not coming, if they want. I’ve had enough. I’m going to find my baby.”
She called Tracy, who agreed she would come right over.
“Do you have any posters left from this morning?”
“Yes. They’re in the hall by the front door.”
“Good. We’re going to put more up. Then I plan on talking to as many people as I can near the park. I don’t care if I have to go door-to-door, but I will find someone who knows something.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, the doorbell rang. Darryl went to answer the door just as the telephone rang.
Felice waited until she was given the signal from the police and then answered.
“Yes? Tracy? Aren’t you coming over?”
“It’s Rita Grace.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What?” Felice thought she heard wrong.
“She’s here, Felice. Someone dropped her off.”
Darryl was showing Detective Wolters in when Felice yelled, “Darryl! Rita Grace! She’s at Tracy’s.”
Darryl quickly picked up the extension phone in the hallway.
“Tracy? She’s there?”
“Oh my god! I’ll be right over.”
Darryl hung up the telephone and reached for his jacket.
“Wait,” the detective said. “I need to go with you…”
Felice interrupted him as she grabbed her jacket, “I’m the one who’s going.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, this is still a police investigation,” the detective told her.
“I honestly don’t care what you have to say. I’m going to get my daughter and that’s all there is to it.”
“Listen, it could be a trick of some sort,” the detective said.
“Trick? What are you talking about?” Darryl asked.
“It’s possible that your daughter wasn’t the one they wanted. Maybe whoever took her was just trying to get to you.”
“Me? Who could possibly want to get to me? And why?”
“Mam, we don’t know anything. We just can’t take chances. The officer is going to stay here with you while Mr. Thornton and I pick up your little girl.”
“This is ridiculous!” she yelled. “I’m not going to stand here and waste time arguing with you.”
She started toward the door, but Darryl stopped her.
“Sweetheart,” Darryl told her, “someone needs to stay with the twins.”
In her excitement, she forgot about them. Although she was feeling guilty about not remembering the twins, she insisted she be allowed to go.
“She is my daughter and I will be the one who picks her up. You stay!” she exclaimed as she turned to Darryl. “I’m going.”
She began walking towards the door again when this time, the detective stopped her.
“I understand your desire to see your daughter. However, I believe that if it is a ruse, it would be easier for them to get to you if you were somewhere other than here in your home. You’d be safer here with the officers. Mam, I know she is your daughter and I understand that you want to be the one to go get her. However, what if someone is there at your babysitter’s home trying to lure you there? Think about it? Why would someone take your child then simply drop her off at the babysitter’s? There has to be something more. In any case, do we know anything for sure?”
“Please,” Darryl pleaded with her, “I need you to be safe.”
Looking at the anguish on Darryl’s face, she finally gave in. It was the last thing she wanted to do, but she knew Darryl would not be able to handle it if something happened to her right now. He hurt through this entire ordeal just as much as she did.
“I don’t agree with this, but I will stay. Let me say this for the record though, I am not happy about this. Please, Darryl, bring my baby home as quick as you can.”
“I will, honey. I promise.”
The detective drove Darryl to the babysitter’s house. During the drive, Darryl couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I’m so thankful, so grateful that she’s okay.”
“You love her, don’t you?” Wolters asked.
“As if she were my own. That little girl is precious. One day when I came home from work, Felice had her in the playpen in the den. I walked in and she held up her arms wanting me to pick her up. She’s so young yet, but she knows who I am. She wanted her daddy.”
He couldn’t stop smiling. He felt like he just won the lottery.
“You’re not her daddy, though.”
“Not biologically, but that’s not what makes a father. You think the man who simply donated a few sperm cells deserves to be her father when he hasn’t even set his eyes on her?”
“I happen to agree with you. I shouldn’t have said that. You appear to be more like a father to that little girl than most men are to their own biological children.”
“Thank you for saying that, Detective.”
When they pulled into the driveway, Darryl barely let the car come to a stop before he jumped out. He ran up the walk and without bothering to knock, opened the door. He was immediately greeted by crying, sounds so sweet to his ears he could barely hold back his desire to just grab her and run back to Felice. Instead, he took her from Tracy and cried along with Rita Grace.
While Darryl held onto her, afraid to let her go now that he had her back, the detective questioned Tracy.
“Mam, can you tell me what happened? Who dropped off the baby?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see the person,” Tracy explained. “I thought I heard someone outside. I was in the small bathroom near the front door getting ready to go to Darryl’s house. When I came out I looked out the door, but didn’t see anyone. I was going to head upstairs to get a jacket when I thought I heard a baby cry. I opened the front door and sweet Jesus, there was Rita Grace. She was bundled in the white hooded sweater you see her in now, with the hood pulled up around her. She was inside this,” she said pointing to an old fashioned, wooden bassinet standing on the floor.
The inside of the bassinet was softly cushioned with yellow fabric decorated with white flowers. The bassinet looked old, but the fabric was new.
“You didn’t see anyone?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Tracy…” Darryl hadn’t realized he was still crying until he choked on his words. “Thank you.”
“It’s obvious that whoever took this baby didn’t mean her any harm,” the detective observed. “Furthermore, the person knows you.”
“Why would you say that?” Darryl asked.
“For one, he or she knows your babysitter.”
Darryl stood there, holding Rita Grace and realized what those words meant. He immediately thought of his own children. Did this mean they too could be in danger? With the kidnapper knowing where Tracy lives, it stands to reason they know who Glenn and Gabriella are.
“Detective, do you think someone has been following us? Are my children in danger as well?”
“Unfortunately, anything’s possible. Perhaps it’s someone close to you. Think hard. Is there anyone, anyone at all, who would want to do something like this?”
“Honestly, Detective, no one comes to mind,” he responded emphatically. “You said, ‘for one’, what’s two?”
“Well, look at the bassinet. It looks like it’s been in someone’s family for a long time. It’s an old fashioned one. Your family’s?” he asked Darryl.
“No, I’ve never seen it before.”
“Mam?” he turned to Tracy. “Do you recognize it?”
“Are you sure someone just dropped off the baby on your doorstep?”
Jumping in to defend her, Darryl said, “Are you saying…Detective, that’s impossible. I’ve known Tracy for nearly six years. She’s been babysitting the twins for a long time.”
“Detective, I would never do this to them, or anyone else for that matter.”
“I’m sorry to have to ask these questions, just doing my job, Mam.”
He walked over to where the bassinet sat on the floor. Pulling on a pair of gloves, Detective Wolters carefully picked it up.
“I’d like to take this and have it dusted for prints. Is this hers?” he held up a small plush teddy bear.
“No,” Darryl answered.
“Did you give it to her?” the detective asked Tracy.
“Mr. Thornton, this is personal. Someone took this baby and cared for her, then left her on the doorstep of your babysitter with gifts. I can only assume it’s someone who knows you or Miss Bellicini…quite well in fact.”
“Who? Like I said, we don’t know anyone who would just take her, to say nothing of giving her back. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Since Miss Bellicini isn’t here, I’m going to ask this. What do you really know about this baby’s father?”
“The baby’s father? Like we told you, Pavel isn’t around and we don’t know where he is. He’s never made any contact with Felice after she told him she was pregnant. That bastard left her high and dry. He didn’t want the baby then and he sure as hell wouldn’t come back for her now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, well…I don’t think he would. Why would he? Besides, if he did why didn’t he just call and ask to see her?”
“Are you sure he hasn’t?”
“Called. Maybe he’s contacted Miss Bellicini and she just didn’t tell you.”
“Not a chance. Felice is nothing if not honest. She would tell me if he called. We have no secrets between us, Detective. What’s more, if she even thought Ivanovich would ever do this, she would have told you.”
“Okay, I’m going to keep this teddy bear and bassinet. I’ll return them to you once forensics has gone over them.”
The detective put the teddy bear back in the bassinet.
“This type of bassinet was common about thirty years ago. I don’t have children, but this looks pretty unique. It’s almost like a picnic basket. See here…the handles to carry it with…the way you have to carry this bassinet is almost the same as you would a picnic basket. It’s just bigger, with legs.”
“I see what you mean. Look, Detective, I promised Felice I’d get right home with Rita Grace. Can you please take us?”
“Sure. Mam?” he turned to Tracy. “I’m sure you’ll be around if I have any more questions for you.”
It was more of a statement requesting her to be available, than it was a question.
This fact was not lost on Tracy. She was very offended by his comment and made sure that he understood she knew exactly what he meant.
Shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe he could think such a thing, Tracy answered, “Of course. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been caring for Rita Grace almost since the day she was born and the twins for years before that. I want this person apprehended just as much as everyone else does.”
When Darryl walked through the front door with her daughter, it was all Felice could do not to collapse with relief. She scooped her daughter into her arms and held her so close that Rita Grace whimpered. Pulling her back, Felice kissed her daughter.
“I’m never letting you go. I promise I will never again let you out of my sight for one second. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” she cooed to her daughter.
Darryl hung up his jacket then went over and hugged both of them.
“That goes double for me,” he said. “I will always be here for you and make sure this never happens again.”
He wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure Felice or himself and he prayed to God he could always keep the promise he just made.
Glenn and Gabriella stood next to them. Felice gently placed her daughter in Darryl’s arms, knelt down and hugged the twins.
“Thank you, both,” she told them.
“For what? We didn’t do nothin’,” Gabriella said.
“Yes, you most certainly did. Gabriella, you told the officers about Rita Grace’s pink blanket. Glenn, you took good care of your sister and stayed at Tracy’s when we asked you to. You both were very helpful to Daddy and me. If she could, I’m sure Rita Grace would agree.”
Gabriella looked at Felice and asked, “If Rita Grace is okay, then why are you still crying?”
Wiping away her tears, Felice answered, “Remember when we talked the other day at the park, and I explained that sometimes people cry when they’re happy?”
“I remember. So, you’re happy, right?”
“You bet I am. I’m glad that you two are here with your father, Rita Grace and I. Most of all, I’m thrilled we’re a family.”
“Me, too! ‘Cause soon you’ll be our new mom.” Glenn said.
“Soon I will be here as your mom would have been. As I told Gabriella a while back, your mom is in heaven and she’s watching over both of you. Since she can’t be here physically, I’ll be here in her place. Just to make sure you two are taken care of as your mom wants you to be.”
“Dad?” Glenn asked.
“I am glad she’s okay.”
“So am I, son…so am I.”
The detective quietly stood by while the family was reunited with the baby. His job wasn’t over, in fact, it has only just begun. He needed to ask them more questions.
“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt a happy family moment, but I do need to see the two of you.”
Darryl gently placed Rita Grace in the playpen in the den and asked the twins to go upstairs and play, telling them they would all have hot chocolate in a little while.
When the twins left, Detective Wolters turned to Felice and said, “Ms. Bellicini, when your daughter was left at your babysitter’s house, she was left wrapped in the white sweater she’s wearing, inside a bassinet.”
“A bassinet? She doesn’t have a bassinet.”
“That’s what I understand from Mr. Thornton. I’d like you to take a look at it and tell me if it looks familiar. Please follow me out to my car.”
Felice scooped up her daughter and followed Darryl and the detective out to his car. Frowning, Felice looked at the bassinet. Detective Wolters told her not to touch it as he was going to have it dusted for fingerprints.
“Detective, this looks old. I don’t know. It doesn’t look familiar at all. Where did this teddy bear come from?” she asked, noticing it sitting in the bassinet.
“It was with her in the bassinet,” Darryl explained.
“Darryl said it doesn’t belong to her,” the detective said.
“He’s right, it doesn’t. It looks new, just like the fabric inside the bassinet. Detective, who would kidnap my daughter and return her to our babysitter’s house inside a bassinet with a teddy bear?” Felice asked.
She didn’t understand what was going on.
“That’s what I would like to know. You don’t know anyone who has a bassinet like this?”
“No, my parents put me in one when I was a baby. I can remember seeing it in their photo album. It was similar to this, but it’s not the same one.”
They walked back into the house. Felice still shaking from everything that happened. Darryl put his arm around her as they sat on the sofa with Rita Grace.
The detective stood in the middle of the living room, facing them.
“Ms. Bellicini, I’ve already asked Mr. Thornton, as he will probably tell you, but my gut instinct is telling me that the baby’s father has something to do with this. Has he called you and asked to see her?”
“No, I would have told you so and I definitely would have told Darryl.”
“Have you received any weird telephone calls? Any hang-ups, maybe?”
“No, not at all. Look, Detective, I haven’t heard from Pavel since he walked out of my life before our daughter was born. He hasn’t called and I haven’t seen him.”
“I know I keep beating this subject to death, and I’ve asked about the baby’s father over and over, but…I need you to really think about this. Mam, this appears to be very personal. Someone knows who your babysitter is since they brought the baby back there. I suspect it’s because they figured we’d be here with you and couldn’t take the chance of being seen. This wasn’t a random kidnapping, nor was it of malicious intent.”
“I know all this…and I’m sorry, but my answer is still the same. Do I need to keep answering this question? I have no idea who could possibly do this and I haven’t seen or heard from Pavel.”
“Have you seen anyone following either of you lately?”
“No,” both Felice and Darryl answered in unison.
“Okay, I appreciate your time. I will get back to you with what I find out.”
“Thank you, Detective.”
Darryl and Felice stood and walked him to the front door.
“Oh, one final thing, I need to take the sweater from your baby. It’s evidence. I’ll have it checked for fingerprints and DNA.”
Felice moved to take off the sweater when the detective stopped her.
“May I take it off of her? There’s already enough of your and Darryl’s fingerprints on it.”
He pulled on a pair of latex gloves, carefully took the sweater off and placed it inside an evidence bag.
“I’ll call you when I know anything.”
After the detective left, Felice, still holding Rita Grace, sat back on the sofa with Darryl. She took in the aroma of her natural baby scent, she missed it.
The twins clambered up on the couch with them.
Gabriella asked, “Can I hold her?”
“Of course,” Felice answered as she gently laid her daughter into Gabriella’s waiting arms.
Long ago, she taught the twins how to properly hold her. Gabriella remembered and assumed her position.
“I missed you,” she told Rita Grace as she held her.
Glenn sat next to her and lightly rubbed Rita Grace’s head, and agreed, “Yeah, I missed you, too.” Then, leaning down to whisper in her little ear, he said, “I will take care of you like I do Gabriella. Just don’t tell her I said that.”
Darryl and Felice smiled at one another. Felice wanted to capture this moment in her mind, like taking a mental snapshot. She never dreamed she would end up being this happy. People could have all the money they needed and then some, but it could never give them this memory. Her heart was full of joy.
Darryl hugged her and told the twins, “I’m sure she missed you, too.”
“How do you know, Dad?” Glenn asked.
“Well, look at her. She’s smiling. She’s happy to be home with her big brother and sister.”
“With our mommy, too,” Gabriella said, smiling at Felice.
The words were not lost on Felice. She heard them and knew what Gabriella was saying. She now considered Felice her mother too. She was on top of the world. No matter what life dealt them, nothing could ever take this moment away from them.
Felice put her arm around Gabriella and told her, “I love you, my little girl.”
“Do you mean me?” Gabriella asked.
“Yes, silly…you. I’ll say it again. I love you with all my heart, and that includes you, Glenn. Besides your father, the two of you and Rita Grace are the best things that have ever happened to me.”
“I’ll agree with that,” Darryl said. “Life has shown us an ugly side, but right here and now, I feel like the luckiest guy in the whole world.”