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In A Doll’s Eyes

Charlie Hudson

Jessica sat on the couch, her gaze idly roaming from window to door, unable to concentrate on passing the time with any other activities — memories demanded her attention. If the detectives were prompt — and weren’t they usually? — they would not arrive for nearly half an hour. The coffee maker beeped its readiness from the small galley kitchen and she vaguely considered getting a cup. Detectives took coffee in the afternoon, didn’t they? She had Coke if they preferred something cold. Not likely that they would be tea drinkers, although that was probably a stereotype. Even though she could use a glass of wine or something stronger, it would be better to wait. The last thing she needed was for them to think she was an afternoon boozer.

“We’re doing some follow-up at the request of the Porterdale Police Department,” a man who identified himself as Detective Fleming explained on the telephone when she said that yes, she could meet them this afternoon at her apartment.

“No ma’am, it will be easier to discuss in person,” he’d said noncommittally when she’d pressed him for detail. Of course it was about her father. It couldn’t be anything else even though it was three years, seven months, one week and five days since his murder. His accidental death by fire as she’d been repeatedly told. The police, the Fire Marshall, the coroner, the media reflecting the majority opinion despite the flurry of speculation when Jessica loudly accused the woman who had married her father — stepmother, her ass. Tiffany’s lawyer unctuously declaring total innocence of the grief-stricken widow and contemptuous dismissal of an estranged daughter cut from inheritance.  Quiet respect from her father’s lawyer who, when asked point blank said that yes, Mr. Cutter had made an appointment with him and no, he hadn’t revealed the reason.  Yes, his sudden death prevented their meeting and no, it would not be prudent for him to speculate. Not about the appointment, not about the state of his marriage at the time of his unfortunate death.

“You know damn good and well she was responsible,” Jessica had shouted in what she realized was too easily interpreted as borderline hysteria. “She found out he had asked me to come back and was going to divorce her. I don’t care if she had an alibi; she’s guilty, guilty, guilty. It was that bodybuilder boyfriend, or she hired someone.”

Martin Sanderson had tried to calm her. “Jessica, I was your father’s attorney since he opened his first business. Your mother was a wonderful woman and I can’t say I approved of Tiffany. What went on between you and your father was not entirely unexpected and even though he didn’t tell me and you have nothing to back it up, I can believe he was ready to reconcile with you and quite possibly divorce her.” He’d held up his hand and stared her into silence. “And none of that holds up from a legal point of view.  An alarm failure is not unheard of, a man sleeping soundly and overcome by smoke is not unusual, a daughter who regrets her impulsive actions and seeks to be re-instated into her father’s good graces is commonplace.”

She’d whirled on him then, in his precisely decorated office, impeccably groomed in his fashionable blue-grey suit, his elongated face softened by a closely trimmed beard, his voice perfectly modulated.  All that stopped her furied frustration was the unwavering affection in his deep set grey eyes.

“You agree with me, don’t you?” She controlled her voice and unclenched her fists.

“Your father was a man of strong passions, too quick with his temper, too stubborn, although he could harness it when it came to business. Women like Tiffany are easy to read and I have no idea why your father couldn’t see it, but it happens.  Was I aware of her behavior? No, I avoid that kind of gossip and it’s not a small town. Were there rumors? So I was told later. I do know the prenuptial was solid and while Tiffany wouldn’t have been on the street, she certainly wouldn’t have been able to continue in the style to which she had become accustomed. I do know your father regretted your departure, but he didn’t give me details. I did not know you were coming back to see him. I do know that when he called and made the appointment he chuckled and said he was going to shake things up. His death two days later may very well be nothing more than coincidence.” He spread his hands. “Jessica, unless the police uncover something, I have no recourse except to execute the will as written.”

The police. Right, the police who were willing to listen, understandably on alert when an older man married to a considerably younger woman died in other than normal circumstances. Millions of dollars to go to the widow whom it was discovered was not entirely discreet in her affair with the manager of an exclusive fitness club. The accusing daughter, however, had her own issues. Ah, a six year old quarrel with her father that left her in dire financial straits; cut from his fortune, both present and future. In fact, she had been stunned when the police began pointed questioning of her whereabouts on the tragic night. Martin had ultimately intervened to keep her out of trouble. The police, with clearly defined crimes to attend to, accepted the ruling of accidental death and eventually advised Miss Cutter that badgering them to re-open the case was not a productive use of her time.

The sound of a large truck rumbled down the street and Jessica shifted to look out the window.  A furniture delivery truck moved slowly between scattered parked cars on either side, her green Honda Civic among them, her red BMW convertible long gone to help pay bills. Jessica checked her watch, the minutes seeming to crawl as past scenes flooded through her as they had done since receiving the telephone call earlier that morning.  Sixteen, a girl shouldn’t lose her mother at sixteen. Yes, her parents had been older when she was born, yet it wasn’t as if they were ancient or in poor health.

“Aneurism, what in the hell do you mean, aneurism?” Her father’s voice had carried from the corner in the hospital where a doctor was trying to explain what could have happened — how her mother, a woman who was remarkable cool for a mom, could have been doing something as simple as pruning her favorite rose bushes and collapsed, never so much as to regain consciousness.

“Don’t be so hard on your father,” Maria, the woman who had helped raise her, said a mere five months later.  “It was too much a shock. A man like him, he is easy to fall for a woman like her now. Your father, he is sensible, he will see her for what she is.”

But her father hadn’t seen Tiffany as they did, not as anyone with any sense did. Okay, yes, she was pretty and okay yes, as her father’s new assistant administrative assistant, maybe she did have to help with his business, but it wasn’t hard to recognize that her constant attention to him had nothing to do with caring about her job.

“I can’t stop work just because we’re going on vacation,” he’d told Jessica as way of explaining her presence when they went skiing in Sun Valley. “Tiffany has been a big help and if you’d give her a chance, you two might be friends.”

Friends?  Befriending Jessica was not what Tiffany had in mind.

“Stop being so dramatic,” came next. “I loved your mother, you know that. She wouldn’t expect me to live the rest of my life alone.”

Tiffany’s ambition had been matched by efficiency; a small, intimate wedding in the Bahamas, barely a pause before completely redecorating the house, transparent attempts to draw Jessica to her, then a steady campaign pointing out Jessica’s petulance when she would not duped as her father had been.

More nights away with her sympathetic friends as virtually every trace of her mother was removed and Jessica plunged into the role of resentful, rebellious teenager. Not completely destructive; she didn’t succumb to binge drinking or drugs, but tension with her father never seemed to ease. Maria pleading with her to be more understanding, to be patient and not react to Tiffany’s sly, unrelenting criticisms.  Maria, the one who actually ran the house since Tiffany was far too busy with her fitness regimen, her shopping, her own circle of friends who appeared for lavish parties literally every time her father left for business trips.

“She may have taken over your life, but she will not plan my eighteenth birthday party as some social highlight that she gets to star in,” had been the line from which neither she nor her father would retreat. “She may be the woman you married, but I will never call her my stepmother,” she’d flared, adding fuel to the coming explosion.  “I will not have her making these decisions as if I am ten.”

His, “As long as you live in this house…” had been followed with a, “I’m eighteen and that’s practically an adult.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” escalated into Jessica’s angry demand that he choose between them, right there, right then.

“I don’t need your damn money like she does,” was her parting shout, as his was, of, “If you walk out of this house….”

And walk she had, her anger driving her with no particular plan, a searing stubbornness to not return until her father begged her to.

Jessica rose from the couch and her eyes drifted around the room as if seeing it for the first time. A modest apartment, the price paying for the decent neighborhood rather than amenities that she’d more or less taken for granted until she came to the realization that her father’s money was indeed gone, withdrawn from her as she had withdrawn form him. A short stay with her only uncle and his family in distant St Louis, their puzzled acceptance of her visit quickly changing into pleas to acknowledge her impetuous decision and apologize.

The tuition to be paid at the expensive university was yanked back, another reminder of Jessica’s short-sightedness. Fine, she had over twenty thousand dollars in her checking account and maybe she wasn’t some financial genius, but she would figure this out. She’d be damned if she would go crawling back.

Jessica wandered the very short distance to the entrance of her bedroom, still taking stock of the place as she was certain the detectives would, out of habit if nothing else. A one-bedroom apartment, clean, plain white walls, sparse artwork, no family photographs, beige carpet with fresh vacuum cleaner tracks, no plants, decent light from windows, white metal mini blinds, inexpensive beige fabric valances, no balcony. No pets. Furniture from a discount store, maybe thrift shop; nothing of particular value.  Small bath, single sink, white, freshly scrubbed and a small woven basket with potpourri — citrus scent — sitting on the top of the toilet tank.  Luxuriously fluffy pale yellow and teal towels thanks to a great sale at one of the better stores.

No doubt they would register her appearance first, assessing her for the reputation that had probably been passed on. “Pretty little thing — yeah, a hottie” — depending on the age of the one describing her — “Medium height, nice body, good ass, light brown hair in one of those short cuts, green eyes, not married. Been a real pain about the father. Could be true, but no evidence — you know how that is.”

Jessica heard the muffled sound of two car doors slamming in quick succession and she reached the door as Detective Fleming called over the intercom system. She buzzed them into the building and stood in her open doorway while they climbed to the second floor.

It was difficult to distinguish Detective Fleming from the ones she’d met in the Porterdale police station.  Middle-aged, worn around the mouth, brown suit, white shirt, brown paisley tie, brown shoes. Gray was overtaking the brown of what was left of his hair and all the signs of a heavy smoker showed in this teeth and fingers.  The younger man with him didn’t have the ingrained look of skepticism that she’d raged against.  She invited them in, performed the ritual of proper identification, served coffee and kept from trembling when it was time to reveal the purpose of their visit. Oddly enough, Detective Mitchell took the lead, an unexpected trace of sympathy in his hazel eyes.

“Are you okay if I ask about some of the relationships in the house with your father?”

“I guess so. I mean I’m not really sure what this is about. You want to know what happened between my father and me or how things were with Tiffany?” What would be a good starting point?

Detective Mitchell gave a tiny smile of encouragement.  Should she think of him as Dennis? Was he called Denny? Maybe Mitch? Was it odd of her to notice how cute he was? Not handsome exactly, but definitely a face you would notice in a crowd. Good shoulders and athletic-looking, probably jogged or something like that. Not much tan, although why would he have if he worked mostly behind a desk? Hair was awfully short.   Jessica realized he was talking again.

“We did go over background from the Porterdale police.  We understand that your mother died unexpectedly when you were a teenager. That must have been difficult for you.”

Jessica inhaled deeply.  “Yes, yes it was. Look, I loved my father, I mean he was busy all the time — he started the business from nothing and built it up with multiple stores, then bought some warehouses, added a fleet of trucks, things that kept him on the go. My mother had problems getting pregnant and two miscarriages before me and so they were older when I was born.  She and I were close and okay, I was spoiled. I doubt I understood that then, but I do now.”

Detective Mitchell — she was going to think of him as Denny — smiled more encouragement and she realized that Detective Fleming — no first name for him — was observing her. Didn’t they always?

“I recognize that I had a privileged life — country club and all of that. My father was around for the important stuff and he tried to get away once a year to take us on vacation, but he mostly paid the bills and gave us whatever we wanted.  We had this really great lady, Maria Hernandez, who helped raise me and took care of a lot of the household stuff. My mother was involved in a number of charities and societies. She had a very active schedule.”

Jessica sensed a reaction to Maria’s name, although neither man stopped her.  She faltered for a moment remembering the package she’d gotten from one of Maria’s daughters when they told her about Maria’s loss to cancer. A barely legible note — I’m so sorry, so sorry. Your Papa loved you.

“Uh yes, where was I? Oh, right. After my mother died was when we became a soap opera, I guess is the best way to describe it.  I don’t remember exactly, but Tiffany hadn’t been working in my father’s office for long and it was no time, no time at all before she was stuck to my father like with glue. It was as good as if she’d won the lottery.”  Jessica was sure her voice was rising and she struggled to regain calm. “It was like right out of some cheesy movie — devastated older widower, beautiful gold digging younger woman and an angry teenaged daughter in the middle.  You don’t mind if I don’t go into detail, do you?”

Denny barely shook his head. “We understand. Did you know about Tiffany’s affair?”

Jessica dropped her eyes to her cup, startled to see it was empty.  She looked up again and sighed. “Know? I’m not sure how to answer that. Did I ever catch her in the act at the house? No, she had more sense than that. Was it obvious to everyone except my father what was going on? Yes.” She frowned.  “They were each others’ alibi for that night. A little too convenient, don’t you think? Christ, she didn’t even seem embarrassed about admitting that she was with another man and couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with the fire.”

“Miss Cutter, as you said, we don’t need a lot of detail, but if you could briefly explain the estrangement and reconciliation with your father.”

Jessica tilted her head, aware that she was probably broadcasting her surprise. Reconciliation? Not alleged reconciliation?  “The final scene with my father when I left home was ugly, I admit and we both said things we later regretted. I stormed out of the house and it was over a year before we spoke again on the telephone and that didn’t go particularly well either.  We let another year go by, then another.” She faltered, and forced back tears that she didn’t want, both men waiting silently.  She inhaled a shaky breath and exhaled.  “Sorry. Anyway, my birthday was when we would make these rather feeble attempts, only it finally happened that my father opened with an apology and an offer to meet me anywhere of my choosing. I was stunned and when he flew in, I don’t know, it was easier in some ways than I expected and harder in others. We met for drinks close to my office and then I invited him here for dinner. We talked for hours and he said that we could have whatever kind of relationship I wanted, that he understood I wouldn’t want to come to the house and be around Tiffany.”

“He didn’t initially tell you he was having doubts about her?”  The gently worded question was slipped in softly.

Jessica shook her head.  “No, and in the beginning, nothing about her mattered to me. We mostly talked about how I was doing, how I managed in spite of everything to make a way for myself — not in the financial security that I’d been raised in, but on a decent career path. He was proud of me for managing.  But I’m not answering what I assume is the rest of the question. I had an out-of-town project I had volunteered for and I was gone for about three months. When I returned, he came back to see me again. He told me that he’d been a fool to marry Tiffany, that he was going to begin divorce proceedings and make everything right between us. That’s the last time I talked to him.”

Denny nodded, sympathy still showing in his eyes that had those incredibly full lashes women never seem to have naturally.  “All right, thank you. By the way, do the names Clay Mercer or Paul Stilton mean anything to you?”

“Mercer, no, and if you’re talking Paul Stilton, IV, he was a friend or at least a business acquaintance of my father.  His wife and my mother were on committees and they would come to the house for holiday parties, nothing intimate. I read in the paper last year that she, Catherine, I think her name was, died in a private plane crash. I sent a card, I’m sure. Why?”

Detective Fleming cleared his throat.  “You aren’t aware that your former stepmother married Mr. Stilton a month ago?”

Jessica stared as if he had spoken in a foreign language and then blurted without thinking.  “Are you shitting me?”

Neither man seemed offended. Well, they’d certainly heard worse. “No ma’am, we’re not.” Detective Fleming said drily.

Jessica pressed a hand to her forehead, feeling a small throb. “Is there no justice in the whole damn world? Dear God, how is that even possible?”

“Miss Cutter, if you could bear with us, please,” Denny interjected quietly, an strange note in his voice.  “You mentioned a woman, Maria, earlier. When did you last hear from her?”

Jessica tried to regain control, a surge of guilt now thrown into the mix of other emotions that were beginning to stretch her limit. “What? Oh, Maria. Well, we exchanged Christmas cards every year for a long time and then, well, I suppose I let that lapse after my father’s death. I shouldn’t have and I had no idea she was ill or I would have, I mean if I had known, I….”

Denny made a movement with his hand that stopped her flow, not an abrupt movement, more of a, sure I understand soothing motion.  “It happens to us all. Did you happen to receive a package from her family?”

Jessica jumped up at this, unable to sit longer with this odd range of questions. She scuttled to the end of the couch and steadied herself with her hand on the arm.  “Okay, what is going on? This is too bizarre. Why are you here?”

Detective Fleming followed her with his eyes as Denny rose slowly, facing her.  “Miss Cutter, we will explain in a moment, but could you answer the question, please?”

She sighed, shuddering with tension that had built during the questioning. Too many images flashed through her mind competing for her attention.  “Yes, yes, Maria’s oldest daughter sent me a package with an old doll in it — a special doll. The note she enclosed said her mother was in and out of a coma, not completely coherent and wanted me to have the doll. The note from Maria was hard to read and short; it just said that she was sorry, sorry, and to remember the doll was from my Papa. That was, I don’t know, maybe a week before Maria died. I was out of town and didn’t receive the package until a few days ago. I called and made a contribution to Maria’s church in her name. That was what the family wanted.” Why did she add that detail?  She moved back to a sitting position, perched on the edge of the couch, hands clasped in her lap.  Something in Denny’s inclined head made her think he was going to finally reveal their true purpose.

He took his seat, leaning forward almost across the coffee table, more intimate than before.  “Why was this doll important? You must have had lots of dolls.”

Jessica felt the bittersweet smile, the pressure of tears again.  “It was a Princess Julia doll that my father gave me for my seventh birthday. He was on a business trip, saw it and realized it looked almost exactly like me. The color of her hair and her eyes were the same as mine and his little Princess J was what he called me sometimes. He had promised to be back for my birthday and we thought he wasn’t going to make it. He came rushing home in a limousine in time for me to blow out the candles and he had this beautiful hand-painted doll. It was sort of a joke between us after that about how my birthday would always be special for him.”  Jessica drew in a breath.  “I think Maria knew what it really meant to me and she must have kept it as, I don’t know, a sign of hope or something. I admit when I opened the package and saw it, I couldn’t help but remember the really good things about my father.” She didn’t try to stop the tear that trickled, didn’t feel like apologizing for it. She took the handkerchief Denny offered, wiped her eyes and looked at him as firmly as she could.  “I think I’ve held up my part of the bargain. I am going to the bathroom and I would like some answers when I come out. Help yourself to more coffee or anything in the fridge.”  Both men stood this time when she did and she wondered if that was a glimmer in Denny’s eyes.

She grabbed a tissue and blew her nose the moment she closed the bathroom door, beginning a count to one hundred to steady herself. She wanted whatever this was over with. 

“I took the liberty of fixing another cup of coffee for you,” Denny said surprisingly, standing with papers held against his leg.  Detective Fleming nodded as if giving permission to proceed.

“Thank you,” Jessica said, projecting what she hoped was quiet assurance. What do you have for me?

“Miss Cutter, as we’re sure you have guessed, we are here with new information about your father’s death, that the investigation is being re-opened.”  If Denny heard her indrawn breath, he didn’t react.  “The Porterdale Police recently received what amounted to a deathbed confession from Maria Hernandez with adequate information to bring into question the ruling of accidental death.”

“Maria, a confession? I don’t believe it.”

Denny held up the papers, which were obviously copies.  “Not the best choice of words, my apologies.  The letter, handwritten from Mrs. Hernandez explains that she overheard a conversation between your former stepmother and Mr. Clay Mercer less than a week before your father died. They thought they were alone and Mrs. Hernandez felt there was something ‘too familiar’ in the way they spoke. Your former stepmother was assuring Mr. Mercer that no one would be home on a particular night — the night of the fire.  Mr. Mercer worked in the company that had installed the security system.”

Jessica’s eyes widened. “Oh my God, he could have had the code and known how to disable the system.”

“Indeed.  The man your former stepmother was having an affair with, the one who provided her alibi, opened his own fitness center, quite a nice one, six months after your father died. The prime “investor” was your former stepmother.  It was also recently discovered that she was having an affair with Mr. Mercer as well as with the other man, perhaps even simultaneously.  Several months ago, Mr. Mercer opened his own business, quite a nice one, and your former stepmother was once again, the “prime investor”. A few weeks after that, she was openly seen socially with Mr. Stilton, recently widowed.”

“But if Maria knew something about my father’s death, why didn’t she come forward?”  Maria wouldn’t have hidden something like this, she wouldn’t.

“According to her letter, she was ashamed to admit that she desperately needed money for one of her grandchildren who had a serious medical condition. She had planned to ask your father for the money, but of course, she never had the opportunity to do that.  Even though he left her a decent bequest, it wasn’t nearly enough. She rationalized that the police might not believe her anyway, that maybe she had misunderstood.”

“She blackmailed Tiffany?”

“This was what she was confessing.  Two other things were that she had heard your father and stepmother arguing frequently in the month before the fire and when she helped gather your father’s clothes to give them to charity, she found a note in the pocket of a suit in the closet.”  Denny passed a photocopied sheet to her.

The note had obviously been written on a bar napkin as was her father’s habit, the ink smugged and a line where the napkin had been folded in half. Cl M. Fr opn. Tk cr Jess. Spd dvrc.  His own version of shorthand — minimal letters that would jog his memory. 

“Call Martin. Friday is open. Take care of Jessie. Speed the divorce.”

They didn’t dispute her interpretation. “The appointment that your father made with Mr. Sanderson was for a Friday and your father died before he kept the appointment.”

“Tiffany must have found out — she was always checking his calendar. Even though she might not have known for sure what he was doing, she must have suspected.”

Jessica paused, painfully remembering sharp rejections of her accusations. “Look, I’ve always known she’s guilty, but isn’t what you’re telling me more circumstantial evidence? It’s clear to me that the note supports my version of what my father was planning and her involvement with this Mercer guy should cast suspicion, but what does it prove?”

“Nothing that couldn’t be explained as a wealthy woman rewarding ex-lovers as she moved on to another lucrative marriage.” Denny held up one hand. “Except that we have had significant increases in populating criminal data bases in this country over the past few years. When someone in the Porterdale Police Department decided to run information about Mr. Mercer through a relatively new system, they got a hit on a Calvin Miller, who was a suspect in an arson-related death in Arizona more than a decade ago.  It seems he was involved with the wife of a partner in a struggling business.  The partner’s body was found in the office that burned to the ground because he allegedly fell asleep on a couch while smoking a cigarette. The wife inherited a bundle of insurance money, but was apparently not very discreet when she got drunk and mouthed off around a local bar. Miller’s name was tossed out pretty quickly and the police started asking more questions. After about one session that didn’t go very well for the wife, she washed down too many sleeping pills with vodka and Miller disappeared along with most of the money that had been in her checking account.”

Jessica stared, hearing his words, grasping them in what felt like slow motion, not certain of the expression on her face.  “So, the intent is to pressure him about Tiffany’s involvement or does she get to be some unknowing victim of a ruthless man?”

“I imagine that will be the position that her attorney takes,” Detective Fleming interjected flatly. “Not much we can do about that. The Porterdale Police wanted us to apprise you of the new situation and check in case Mrs. Hernandez had sent you anything that could be of use. I’d say we’ve accomplished that and can be on our way.” He unfolded from the chair and cut his eyes toward Denny.  “I’m going down to the car to make a call, so how about make sure you have everything you need. I can see myself out, Miss Cutter.” He nodded without emotion as Jessica found herself halfway to her feet, Denny giving Detective Fleming a casual hand flip to acknowledge his departure.

“Are you okay, Miss Cutter? This is a lot to throw at you at one time.” His voice was soothing, eyes inviting unless it was her imagination.

He stepped around the coffee table and was standing closer to her than was perhaps strictly necessary.  She tilted her head back a little and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. “I.., it is almost overwhelming. I…, it was never about the money,” she said, not certain why.

His lips curved into a supportive smile. “Miss Cutter, I read up on the case and it was easy for me to accept your point of view.”

“Really? You really thought that?” Brilliant repartee.

He nodded, reached into his jacket, brought out a business card and held it between his fingers. “Truly, I did. Look, you might have other questions, or I don’t know, just maybe need to talk sometimes. I’d be glad to give you my personal numbers in case you’d like to call.”  

Jessica hesitated, not wanting to give him the wrong impression, her mind echoing with jangling thoughts. “I…, yes, I would like that. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.”

Denny took a pen, crossed to the breakfast bar of the kitchen and wrote on the card. “I would suggest you call your father’s attorney. He’s probably the best one to advise you and I doubt the Porterdale Police have notified him of anything.”

Jessica moved toward him as he stretched out his hand.  “That’s a good idea — Martin will want to know and he’s always been a friend. I really, really can’t thank you enough…”, she paused, blinking rapidly. She could weep later.  Joy?  Relief?  A degree of closure?

“I’m supposed to say that we’re just doing our job, but I’d also like to say that I mean it about calling and oh, I go by Denny to my friends.”

Jessica almost giggled in spite of herself, her fingertips lingering briefly against his.  “I think in a day or two I’ll be better. Perhaps we could get together then.”

“I’ll clear my calendar,” he said backing toward the door. “Got to go before Fleming buzzes me.”

Jessica stood with the door ajar until he disappeared down the stairs after he threw her one last grin that wasn’t the least bit official. She withdrew inside and shook her head sharply to dislodge the image — or rather to store the image into an accessible spot in her head for quick retrieval. Denny, and she would call, could wait. Right now she needed to contact Martin and then do no telling what else.

She walked past the telephone though and into her bedroom where the doll was propped against the pillows. She lifted it for a spontaneous hug, remembering the love radiating from her father’s face when he’d placed it into her arms. “Welcome home, Princess J,” she murmured into the silken hair. “Welcome home.”

The End