Why kidnap the old man when you and your husband have already killed his daughter? UNSETTLE THE SCORE tracks what happens to Maureen Jasper after husband Tom runs down a naked girl with his car, an event that turns Maureen’s world upside down even forcing her to take criminal action against the dead girls’ father in order to save her own daughter
Chapter THE FIRST
THREE WEEKS LATER/EARLIER
THREE WEEKS LATER
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2009
Maureen tried steering into the swerve, the way she’d been taught, but the old Electra was so heavy in the ass that when it came around again it just kept going into a full spin-out on the wet pavement. Her only choice was to hold on until the giant car came to a loud lurching halt against the curb where it gyrated on loose springs for several more seconds.
She leapt out and raced to the middle of the empty intersection where, hands on knees, she gulped for air. It was then, bent over, that she saw she had wet herself. She watched in fascination the drop of urine that fell from her soaked jogging shorts, but before it reached the blacktop, she was in a rage. She raced back to the car where she slammed her fists on the trunk lid.
“You bastard!” she screamed. “How dare you do this to us?”
She pounded again and again until her arms burned and the outside of her wrists ached. She fell forward onto the trunk, crying—or not crying, she couldn’t tell—until she heard the car make a little noise, and she sprang back, arms out, as if she had just realized she’d been face down in dog shit.
“Yech!” she muttered as she walked back to the open driver’s door.
Before starting the car, she opened her phone.
“Kay?” she whispered, “I’m on my way over, don’t go anywhere. I’m not far away. Open your garage, I have to be able to drive in.” She listened. “Take it out and put it in the street. I’ll explain when I get there.”
She clicked off and pulled the door shut, but before starting, she said out loud to herself, “Easy, Maureen. Slow, steady, slow, steady.”
THREE WEEKS EARLIER
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2009
Cecelia pulled Anthony’s beer can to her lips because the tequila burned her tongue, but he held on and beer sloshed onto his arm.
“What the fuck, CC, just ask,” he shouted, but her wild giggle was infectious, and he, too, began to laugh as he wiped his arm.
“Listen to you,” she slurred. “You never ask when you want to see these,” and she lifted her sweater to expose large pendulous breasts.
“My footballs,” Anthony shrieked lunging at her across the coffee table.
But he only caught sleeve because, twisting sideways, she slipped out of her sweater, and he ended up holding an empty garment. She scooted behind the sofa to begin skipping back and forth. Anthony sat back to watch, the sweater in his lap.
“Whatcha hidin’ under my sweater, Anthony? A big old woody?”
“You keep jumpin’ like that and I’ll be able to glue your sweater to the wall.”
She stopped to glare at him, hands on hips. “If you cum in my sweater, Anthony, I’ll—”
“Then stop all that jumping around and get over here.”
“So you can take advantage of this?” She unzipped her jeans and let them fall out of sight behind the couch.
Anthony’s eyes widened, but he made his response as casual as possible. “I don’t see nothing’—just little girl’s cotton undies. Nothing’ to get excited—”
Cecelia kicked out of her panties leaving her triangle of hair just visible above the cushions. She stood there, head down, eyes looking at him from under her lids.
“Hey, you, come over here.”
She just stared at him across the couch.
“You c’mere,” she whispered.
“I’m real comfortable here.”
“Guess you don’t want me, then,” she murmured turning her back.
He stood and moved around the coffee table, but when he reached out to touch her, she threw her head back and screamed and leapt away into the darkened hallway.
Anthony followed slowly, on his lips a smile of lust and annoyance. “CC, where you going?” He crossed into the dining room. He stopped to listen but couldn’t hear footsteps or breathing. He looked for a light switch. He had never been in her father’s house, didn’t know its lay-out. He peaked around a corner into the living room. Maybe behind that chair, he thought. As he began to move, he heard a tiny tapping from behind him, a fingernail on glass. He looked back at the dining room window, and there she was, outside in the shrubs. She signaled with her finger to come closer. Anthony knelt so his face was on her level. She was beautiful in the light from the walkway lamp.
“How did you get out there?”
“Be careful, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
“I already did. See,” and she lifted her arm to show him a great raw scratch across the back of her arm and shoulder. “I’m so drunk, I can hardly feel it. Come outside, fuck me in the moonlight.” She smiled a little girl smile at him through the glass.
“Stay there,” he said and went back through the house to the kitchen door then out and around the garage to the dining room window. But she was gone.
“CC, where are you?” he called in a low voice.
He heard a laugh and turned to see her flying up the vast lawn to the bushes screening the road. He sprinted after her, but she disappeared into the rhododendrons and azaleas that grew thickly between the lawn and street. He plowed in, now feeling not just lust and the attendant frustration from its putting off, but concern because he didn’t know how she could get through tightly woven branches without cutting herself badly—even fully clothed, he was getting scratched. At one point, the branches stopped his progress, but he pushed harder until they let go, and he fell forward into a large open space, like a room under a canopy of rhododendrons, almost thirty feet across. It was dark, but he could make out Cecelia’s white body at the far side.
“Goddamnit, CC, knock this shit off!”
“Ooooo! Big man angwy. Big man embawassed that he can’t catch wee wittle girl. Big man faw down, wook wike fool—” and then she screamed because Anthony launched himself at her full force. Just as he reached her spot, she side-stepped into an opening he hadn’t seen, but he saw and followed. The path twisted through the bushes, taking a hard left at the end onto the street.
As he emerged, Anthony wondered suddenly if he hadn’t entered a dream. There was the street, reflective minerals in the blacktop glinting in the light of a gas street lamp. There were the dark trees. There were the silvery lawn and gray bushes of the house across the street. There was that house itself, some windows lit. There was a car moving silently to the left on the pavement. And there was the naked Cecelia, flying slowly in somersault patterns high above the car. His first thought was, How did she do that?
But then the car drove out from under her, and she hit the street, her body twisting in ways Anthony didn’t think possible. He watched her twirl along the pavement then up onto the opposite lawn to stop abruptly against a large oak on which hung several bird feeders. At the moment her body ceased, he heard the sound of screaming tires.
“Boy, I really didn’t expect the evening to turn out the way it did,” Tom Jasper said as he maneuvered his Wagoneer out of the lot at the Blue Goose Inn.
“What did you expect?” Maureen asked. “Look at all the money you’ve raised. I think they owe you even more. Look at what you’ve done for the Kiwanis Club. No, for the entire town.”
“Well, it was a big enough reward when we were able to buy the new ambulance.”
“Excuse me if I say, ‘Bullshit, Thomas Hart Jasper!’ You loved every second tonight. I saw the look on your face. That false modesty might work on your Kiwanian brothers, but it ain’t gonna work on me.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Tom laughed. “Yeah, I have to admit I did enjoy the proceedings.” He clucked in self-satisfaction. “What do you think Sherry would have thought?”
“She would have been very proud of you.”
“What did she call the Kiwanis Club? Powerful people doing good works so they can try to sleep at night?”
“Sherry says a lot of things about a lot of things, but deep down, she knows the work you’ve done for this town has not been predicated on some plot to cover up greed.”
“Hope so,” Tom said with a grimace.
Maureen considered how peaceful their lives had become since their only child had gone off to Baisley College. They loved her—deeply—but when she was home, the weather could best be described as turbulent. During her last two years of high school, Sherry fought them on everything, something Tom and Maureen had tried to understand as “developmental,” but, from what other parents told them, Sherry was particularly tough.
As a pre-teen, Sherry had been Maureen’s shadow. They played tennis together, ran together, went to the mall, the movies, the beach together. They had gone camping in the Adirondacks, just the two of them, and Maureen still recalled cooking over a campfire and thinking how much she valued the friendship of her daughter.
The shift into open rebellion during high school had been difficult for Maureen. Even frightening. Sherry had actually left for two days, explaining on her return that she was, “Oh, just over at Jodi’s,” a claim Maureen knew was a lie because she had checked with all of Sherry’s friends. Tom’s insurance brokerage seemed to be going through continuous expansions during this time, so it was Maureen who had to handle the brunt of the misbehavior. She challenged Sherry, but her daughter remained mum. Maureen grounded her, a consequence Sherry accepted with a shrug.
But then during this past summer before leaving for college, Sherry reverted to her old self again…sort of. Still independent, still capable of biting…or ignoring…but somewhat cooperative now, somewhat obliging. Maureen wondered if Sherry had, indeed, fully passed through her rebellious phase. It felt more like a truce, a pretty easy one for sure, but still more a ceasefire than an out and out peace agreement. Then she was gone, and the Jasper house settled into quieter routines.
As he did so often, Tom took the long way home so they could drive through the middle of the village. In the twenty years they had lived here, this had become one of their little rituals. Both came from lower middle class families. Through hard work and luck, Tom and his partner had built a successful insurance agency that qualified the Jaspers as “rich” by any standard. The salary Maureen earned as a teacher almost felt unnecessary, cash they used to make donations to causes they believed in. Often when returning home, they went out of their way to drive on Franklin Street to experience the nocturnal beauty of the village once again. They still couldn’t believe they lived in a place as beautiful as Seaside Harbor. Neither spoke for a while as they drove down the main street, full of authentic yellow gas light, but totally empty of cars and people at this time of night.
As he turned the corner onto the boulevard along the shore, Tom said, “Remember what Gill said?”
Maureen shook her head. “Refresh my memory.”
“That I was the kind of guy who found answers when none seemed apparent. He was talking about the brick patio.”
“I must have missed that.”
“That was the best thing anyone said.”
“Sorry,” Maureen said. “I do remember talk about the patio, but—‘
“Gill was saying that many clubs had been trying to raise money through small, traditional ways…those were his words…you know, bake sales and such.”
“I remember. Then he said…” She faltered.
Tom shook his head in mock-disgust. “You weren’t even listening.”
“Are you kidding? There were so many speakers, and they were all saying great things about you. I can’t recall all the details.”
Tom turned off the shore road and drove the Jeep up the winding hill into their section. Like the main street through the village, the streets here were lit with gas lamps, and the homes were large and set well back from the road. The minimum size of a lot was two acres, but most people owned even larger plots. Tom and Maureen owned four acres themselves, but they laughingly called themselves “poor” because they had neighbors who possessed six or more. Linda Weathers, an octogenarian widow, their closest neighbor, lived on twelve. All the land was crisscrossed by bridle paths that predated the division into lots, and homeowners treated the trails as “common.” Some families still owned and rode horses, but others walked or jogged on the horse paths. Part of the treasure of owning a house in this area was that a person could walk or run or ride miles across all this land without being called a trespasser.
Tom turned onto White Post Lane, their street. Maureen’s eye automatically followed the line of lamps as they curved slightly right then disappeared around the sharper curve to the left.
“Gill was saying that there was skepticism that anyone would spend a hundred bucks on a memorial brick.”
“Well, you bought five yourself, you big sucker,” Maureen teased.
“All for a good cause, my dear, all for a—”
When the beautiful naked girl dashed from left to right in front of the car, Maureen thought she was hallucinating, but the jolt that thundered through the car convinced her that something very real had happened. Involuntarily, she screamed as Tom slammed on his brakes. As soon as the car came to a halt, they threw open their doors and jumped out.
“My god, what was that?” Tom shouted as he began looking around the wheels. He knelt then lay down to look underneath. Nothing. He stood. Maureen was on the other side, and he moved around to her. “Was that a person?”
“I think so, yes, a person. A girl, I think.”
“My god,” Tom said stooping to look under the car again. “I don’t see anything.”
It was at this moment that Maureen saw the boy standing in the bushes. He was wearing a football jersey with the number 12 in white numbers on the front. She touched Tom’s arm and pointed.
“Son,” Tom called, “Son, did you see—”
The boy disappeared. Tom ran up the street to where the boy had stood, but there was nothing but bushes. He heard crashing in the brush, and he tried to find his way in but failing that, ran down the street to find his way around. They were a continuous wall. He came back to listen where the boy had stood, but the crashing had ceased. He returned to the car.
“Did you recognize him?”
Maureen ignored his question and pointed up the lawn on the other side of the street. “What’s that?”
“Over there, against that tree.”
“Would you mind telling the lieutenant what you told me, Mr. Jasper?” the young police officer asked indicating a tall man with graying hair who’d just returned from examining Cecelia’s body under the tree. Except that he had a large gut, the lieutenant looked very strong. Maureen and Tom were standing at the rear of their car.
“God, this is so strange,” Tom said.
“It must feel that way,” the lieutenant said. “Take a minute. It’s not every day that you hit a naked girl with your car. I’m Mort Hankin, county homicide, Mr. Jasper.”
“Homicide?” Maureen cut in. “This isn’t a murder, it was an accident.”
“I know that,” Lieutenant Hankin said. “I was in the area when I heard the call. Doesn’t sound like your everyday kind of accident.”
“Whatever, it was an accident, lieutenant,” Maureen said. “We live right down the street, and that girl ran right out in front of us. We were returning from the Blue Goose Inn where my husband was being given the Man of the Year Award for his service to this community. I don’t know what that girl was doing with no clothes on, but she ran out in front of our car.”
The young officer said, “Congratulations on your award, Mr. Jasper, but, if you don’t mind my asking, were you drinking tonight?”
Tom shook his head, “No. Well, I had a draft at the start of the night, but that was hours ago. You can give me a breathalyzer.”
“Tom, stop being so cooperative,” Maureen said. “You don’t have to do anything. We should probably get a lawyer.”
“Well, Ma’am,” the young officer volunteered, “If he refuses a breathalyser test, I have to put him under arrest.”
“Maureen,” Tom said, “I have nothing to worry about. I’m not under the influence of anything. I’ll take the test.”
“Forget the test, Russ,” the lieutenant said, “I can tell this gentleman has not been drinking. But that girl sure was. She reeks.”
The young officer said, “From all I can see here, this was an accident. Tire marks show you weren’t speeding, even though the front of your car is pretty smashed up.”
“It is?” Tom and Maureen followed by the two policemen went around to the front of the Jeep. The grill was bent, the left headlight was smashed, and there was a dent on the hood. “Shit! And my windshield is cracked. Her body did this?”
The lieutenant nodded. “Hard to believe a soft body can bend metal. We see it all the time.”
“Please tell the lieutenant what you told me,” the officer said, “You know, about the look on her face.”
Tom looked at the lieutenant. “She was laughing.”
“For how long did you see her?”
“A fraction of a second. We were driving along and then she was there in my headlights, laughing, then she was gone. I thought I was seeing a ghost. She was clearly laughing. Oh, and there was a boy, a teenager I think, standing over there. I tried to talk to him, but he ran away.”
“Well, that’s something,” Lieutenant Hankin said taking a notepad out of his back pocket. “Can you describe him?”
“I didn’t get a very good look. I saw him for only a second. Oh, he was wearing a football jersey, the number twelve on it. I think the shirt was green, like a Jets shirt. But it might have been black. It was dark.”
“Well, that’s something,” Hankin repeated. “Maybe when I speak to her father, he’ll know who the boy was.”
Maureen asked, “Do you know who her father is?”
The lieutenant nodded. “Uhuh. I recognize her. She’s Cecelia Mason. Her father lives over there.” He pointed toward the bushes through which the boy had disappeared.
“Mason?” the young officer asked, “Dmitri Mason?”
“Uhuh,” the lieutenant said.
“Oh, that’s bad. That’s not good.”
“What does that mean?” Maureen asked.
“Shut up, Russ,” Lieutenant Hankin said. “Get in your car and start writing your report.”
The young officer was wide-eyed. “Yeah. OK.”