Chapter Two

Yalena sat on the uncomfortable wooden chair of Big’s office, while the entire estate underwent a large investigation. Her eyes refused to leave the blood-stained floor where Big had been eaten alive. She had been questioned vigorously and had said everything that Troy had told her to say, which at that point seemed like a blur. Her eyes floated to the bookshelf. Nobody had looked there, and she had not spoken a word about what she had found. Before she could decide on a plan, Troy entered the office, holding a yellow envelope. He knelt beside her. “How are you doing?”
 “I don’t know. I guess I’m relieved. Maybe shocked. How’s Maria?”
“Maria was beaten pretty badly, so she’s currently at the hospital undergoing medical treatment. What I’d like to know is were they really zombies?”
 “Those were people who went missing and were never found. When they were alive, he dosed them up on drugs and lent them out to the highest bidder. So, call them whatever you want. But they were still people who deserved better.” 
“Drugs can make people do some serious things.”
 “What’ll happen to the others?”
 Troy shook his head slowly. “They were still  prostitutes, so that’s for the court to decide. But I’ve mentioned in my report they were kidnapped and held against their will.” Troy handed her the yellow envelope. “I believe this is for you. I’ll leave you to read it.” 

Troy left Yalena in a world of silence. She opened the envelope and pulled out a single paged document, with an in-depth report and a black and white image of a woman setting a bundle down by a dumpster. Yalena read over the report. The woman was unnamed, but the bundle was a small child with a crescent moon necklace. Yalena thumbed her own necklace and read on.  The person who captured the photo was the same person who had retrieved the bundle… the baby... and took her to the Chicago Police Station. The woman's name was Lorraine Kerbridge.
Yalena gasped. Her eyes were drawn back to the woman in the picture. The quality of the print made it impossible to get a facial recognition, but just maybe someone in Chicago might be able to give her the answers she sought. 

“I was going to head over to the hospital to check in on Maria. Are you coming?” Declan’s voice made her jump as he entered the office.
 “Go on without me. I’ll be there in a little while.”
“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing to the paper in her hands. She handed it over and he read it through. “Wow, this is… This could be everything you've ever wanted.”
“Yeah. And more. We have to go, Deck. We need to.”
 Declan sealed his lips closed. “You know I’d help. Hell, I just jumped a six-foot fence and tranquilized four guard dogs to get to you. But we were going to go to New York, open a cafe and start over.”
“So, what? You’re going to leave me to do this alone? We do everything together.”
 Declan wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the head. “Yeah, but maybe this is where we go our separate ways. If only for a little while. Think about it, this will be the first time you’ll be out on your own. You won’t need to answer to anybody. You can go wherever the road takes you.” He was right. But there was a bitterness inside her that resented him for it. “You’re right. You should go now before I knock you out and lock you in the boot of my car.”
Declan laughed at her poor attempt at a joke. “Or you could just kill me, and I’ll haunt you like the rest of them.”
Yalena shrugged. “That works too.”
 “I’ll meet you at the hospital.” Declan leaned down to hug her, before leaving. 

Yalena’s eyes flew back to the bookshelf. She hurried at the chance and began pulling each book, one by one and pouring the cash into the yellow envelope as quickly as she could. When she had fit in as much money as she could, she made her way out of the office, out of the estate and to her blue Mazda on the street. It was getting dark and the place was swarming with officers and patrol cars, so she shouldn’t have been surprised when Troy approached her again. “Leaving already? You don’t want to celebrate first?”
Yalena shook her head. “No, I’m just excited to get the hell out of here.” That wasn’t a lie. Troy examined the bulky envelope, which she was cradling close to her, before looking back up at her face. “So, the officers are trying to determine where Big might’ve kept his money from his business deals. Would you know anything about that?”
“No.”
 “Is that so? Where are you headed, maybe I could give you a ride?”
 “The hospital, to check on Maria. But I’m good. My car’s right here.” 
 Before she could stop him, Troy slipped the envelope from her hands. “Let me insist.”
 She had no choice but to follow.

#

“I can’t believe you stole money from a crime scene, Yalena!” Troy snapped as the two sat in his car in the hospital parking lot. “There has to be almost five hundred thousand, right here.”
“I really need the money, Troy. There was more in the office, I only took as much as I could carry without getting caught.”
“Well you got caught, so what now?”
“I didn’t think that far through.”
“No you didn’t. What did you plan to do with it?” 
 Yalena shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”
“You were going to share it with Maria, weren’t you?”
She sealed her lips tightly. Troy shook his head and looked down at the money in his hands, forcing her to wonder just what he was thinking. He was silent for what felt like an eternity, until he finally looked back up at her. “I remember when we were together, you told me something about my mother. But now it all makes sense. Were you really seeing her?”
 Yalena nodded. “Yeah, I was. Despite what we had going on, she was so proud of you.”
“I once thought you were just telling me what you thought I needed to hear, but now…”
 Yalena shrugged. “You only thought that because that’s what I led you to believe.”
 “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”
Yalena thought back to their past. The answer was simple. She knew that despite her feelings for him at the time, that opening up was against her best interest. He was set to marry another woman. “You know the answer to that.”
 “It might not have gone that way if you had just been…” Yalena brought her hand to his mouth. “Don’t say that. You knew we couldn’t be together, just as much as I did. But you’re a good cop now, and you’re married. So, there’s no point opening old wounds.”
He pulled her hand away from his mouth. There was a silent tension building, but neither said anything. He was still holding her hand, he brushed it with his thumb. “I’ve seen a lot in my career. But I’d like to believe that what I saw today was a bunch of drug addicts in an act of cannibalism. That you were lucky that I had come to your rescue, or you would’ve been next.”
“You still don’t believe me.”
 “Oh, I believe you. But the cannibalism is what I’m writing in my report. The thing is, Today was the first time you have ever been that honest with me. It’s been two long years since you left, and I still can’t get you out of my head.” 
Yalena glanced down at her hand still in his, and at the ring on his finger. “You’re married.”
 “You think I don’t know that? But all I want…” 
 Yalena knew exactly what he wanted, because it was on her mind as well. Before he could finish his sentence, she kissed him. Troy slid the envelope to the side of his seat between the door and pulled her onto his lap. Their kisses were hot and heavy as she straddled him on the seat. But then he stopped, pulled back and surprised her. “God, what am I doing? We can’t do this. Not again.”
“Why?”
 “Why do you think?” 
 Frustrated, Yalena climbed off his lap and crawled back into the seat beside him. “After tonight you won’t see me again. I don’t plan on coming back.”
“If that’s blackmail…”
 “It’s not blackmail. The truth is, I only came back to save Maria. You were never apart of my original plan, but then things got a little hard to handle and…”
 “…You got desperate. I get it.” Troy picked the envelope back up from beside his chair and studied it. “You know I can’t let you have this. I’m assuming you read the document inside.”
 Yalena nodded. “But if you could at least give some to Maria to start anew. She deserves a new life after all she’s gone through. Not to mention her hospital bills.”
He turned to her, his blue eyes soft and sad. “I’ll wait here for you, then I'll give you a ride back to your car. But then I’m taking this envelope to the precinct.” Yalena nodded. She opened the door and climbed out, making her way towards the hospital entrance, not looking back.

#

Maria had been given a private room, which forced Yalena to question just how those bills would be paid. The extent of her damages was severe. Far more severe than how Big had left Yalena and Declan earlier. Maria was covered in bandages and unconscious. The rhythmic beeping of the machines sounded at her bedside. Yalena entered the hauntingly quiet room and approached the bed. With a soft kiss on Maria’s forehead, she spoke in barely a whisper. “Hey girl. We did it. We stopped him. I promised we would.”
Maria looked peaceful, just as peaceful as she had that morning. That contentment was unsettling. If Yalena had learned one thing it was that no moment of tranquility was sure to last. That a peaceful moment was nothing more than the eye of the storm of Yalena’s life. There would always be something that needed to go wrong to disrupt the balance. There would never be a moment of rest, or where she didn’t need to look over her shoulder. She was reminded of this fact by the haunting voice of Big, standing right beside her. “My two girls in one room again.”  Yalena turned quickly on her heels. He was standing right beside her. His wounds had healed. He looked just like he did before he had died. 
“Leave us alone!”
 He chuckled eerily. “You know I can’t do that. I’m dead and now I understand why.”
“No, whatever it is, you’re wrong.”
“You killed me, Yalena. Now, I’m going to return the favor.”
“You can’t kill me.”    
The beeping of the heart monitor beside Maria’s bed continued at its soft rhythmic pace. It garnered both their attention. She knew what he was thinking. “You stay away from her. You’ve done enough.” But Big wouldn’t listen. He approached her bedside. 
But before he could make contact with Maria, the rhythm of her heart monitor changed to a gut-wrenchingly long tone. Big grinned, then disappeared. Yalena approached Maria’s bedside. “Maria, no. Don’t die. I’ll fix this. I promise, I’ll fix it!”

Yalena ran out into the hallway and called out to whoever could hear her. “Somebody! Anybody! Please!” A group of medical staff in scrubs and coats raced past her and into the room, followed by a very concerned Declan. He held on tightly to Yalena. 
“Is she okay? What happened?” But Yalena couldn’t speak. The doctors closed the door, shutting she and Declan out. A curtain was pulled, but Yalena could still hear the deafening tone of the heart monitor and the occasional “clear” before shocks were administered. None of which gave the outcome she was hoping on. 
“Everything’s going to be fine,” Declan told her as he hugged her tight. “She’ll be okay. She’s in the right place.” Yalena was ready and desperate to believe him until she felt a soft cold hand on her back. She turned away from Declan to see who the hand belonged to and her heart sank. “Maria.” 
Maria stood with a bittersweet smile. “You did it. You saved us.”   
Yalena shook her head. Tears flooded her eyes. “No, I didn’t. You’re dead.”
Declan stared at Yalena then at the space in front of her. “Are you… Are you speaking with her?” Yalena nodded. Declan stared down at the ground. They had failed in saving the one girl they had promised to help. But Maria shook her head, adamant. “No, you did. He can no longer come after us. Thank you, Yalena.”
Yalena nodded and pushed back her tears. From Maria’s room, they could hear the doctor announcing the girl’s time of death. Maria peered in and then turned back to Yalena with a look of amazement. “You’re glowing.”
“What do you mean?” Yalena looked to Declan who shrugged and then back to Maria who offered an understanding smile and an answer. “You’re the light.”
 “No, I’m…” Maria gave her a quick kiss on the mouth and disappeared before her eyes. 
 Yalena looked around. “Maria? Maria?”

The door to Maria’s room opened, grasping both Yalena and Declan’s attention. The doctor in the doorway shook her head solemnly. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we could do.”
Yalena’s heart broke. She crumbled to her knees and sobbed.

#

A solemn mood filled Yalena and Declan’s motel room where they both sat on the bed. Declan had already packed his suitcase ready to leave but Yalena wasn’t ready to go. And thanks to Troy, who had given both she and Declan a ride back to her car, she had no money.
 “So, that’s it,” Declan said, staring at his suitcase.
 “Yeah. This is where we part ways. I’m seriously going to miss you.” 
 Declan nodded and put his arm around her shoulder. “Same. But it’s not the end. You’re gonna head to Chicago, locate your mother and figure out why the hell you can control the dead. Maybe she was a witch.”
“It’s possible. I mean, look at me.”
 “I think I’d class you as a word that rhymes with witch.”
 “Shut up.”
They both laughed. But then Declan added, “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but we did a good thing here. We brought down Big. Maria might’ve died, but we saved the others.” In the distance, they heard a car pull up in the parking lot. “I guess, that’s my ride. Do I at least get a hug?” Yalena nudged her head into him and he hugged her for what felt like an eternity, before kissing her on the cheek and leaving. Yalena was left in the dim light of the motel room alone. She stopped as she felt the rough touch of a hand on her back. “There, there, Yalena. You still have me.”
Yalena shot up to see Big sitting on the bed. “Get away from me! You need to pass over now and leave me alone. I don’t need you following me.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna happen. You see, I’m angry at you for killing me. Like I said, I’m drawn to you and what better way to take out my vengeance, but by watching you every minute, of every hour, of every day.”
“Shut up, will you? If you haven’t noticed, you aren’t the only ghost following me. I can tune you out like I can them. You’re not here.”
Then Big was gone, just as there was a soft knock at the door. “What?” Yalena snapped. She thrust the door open, to her surprise, Troy was standing there holding the yellow envelope. It was still bulky. “What do you want?”
Troy peered into the room. “Is Declan here?”
 “No, he left already.”
 “Good.” Without another word, Troy kissed her. She pulled him into the room, as he dropped the envelope to the floor, and she closed the door behind them. They undressed quickly as she led him to the bed. He sat down, peering up at her, ready to give into her.  
 “What about your wife?” Yalena asked.
“I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it. Let’s not think. Let’s just enjoy tonight.” 
 Yalena smiled as she kissed him. He pulled her onto him and leaned back into the bed, both of them surrendering to the heat of passion. Their moans of pleasure carried on throughout the night, until Yalena finally drifted off to sleep, leaving Troy alone with his regret. 
He stroked the hair from her face as she slept, then kissed her on the forehead, before crawling out of bed and dressing quickly. He spotted the yellow envelope on the floor and picked it up. He looked back at Yalena as he heard her cry out in her sleep, clearly battling the demons within her mind. He looked back down at the envelope and looked inside. The money would surely be enough to ensure she got the life she needed. He placed the envelope onto the nightstand and wrote a message on the notepad by the phone. Without another word, he left.

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