AatW – 51

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“Have you been withholding information, Alice?”

Hackett had spoken softly, but his muscles had grown tense in response to Alice’s question. Whatever she said next, he was all ears, and she felt the pressure of his expectation.

She bit her lip, staring down at her baby as she thought about how to phrase what she wanted to say. “No, not really,” she began slowly. “I just … have an impression of purple light from that night.”

“Purple light, huh?” He frowned contemplatively. “The DA office was hoping that you’d lead us to a smoking gun, and instead we get purple light.”

His words hurt Alice’s feelings. She huffed, “Well I’m sorry. If I could deliver Damon to you in handcuffs on a silver platter, then trust me, I would. But I’ve already told you the best that I can remember.”

Hackett rather rudely scooted her off his lap and onto the couch cushion, then stood and began to pace around the room. “How long have you had this impression?”

“I don’t know,” Alice replied sulkily. “I thought it was too vague to matter.”

“It’s something, Alice! It’s enough to give you the hope of getting Damon convicted.” He stopped, and looked down at her with his arms folded. “You swore that you told us everything that you could remember.”

“I did!” Alice protested. “It’s not an actual memory – just an impression. Forget I said anything, okay? Because it’s not like we’re going to accomplish anything with purple light. I want you to leave me alone.” She curled up around her baby, hugging the infant close as she squeezed her eyes shut.

With a sigh, Hackett sat down next to her, where he pulled her into an embrace and kissed her forehead. “I love you,” he whispered. “You don’t need to look so miserable.”

Alice sank against him, keeping her eyes closed. “I’m sorry that I’m so stupid,” she muttered. “I always make the wrong decisions.”

“You were a little misguided, but not stupid.” Hackett rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Are there any other unimportant impressions in that mind of yours?”

“Don’t be mean to me; this has been the worst day ever.” Alice held up a bruised hand with a plaintive downturn of her mouth.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Despite his words, he was still lost in his thoughts. Alice got the sense that he was itching to be back on his feet, crossing the room back and forth as if his body were racing his mind.

“Why are you so invested in this case?” she asked, a little frightened of what she might hear in reply.

“Hm? Oh. The officer was a good friend of mine.”

“Like Dr. Westley?”

“Maybe not quite that good, but he would have been at the barbecue for certain. Damon’s little schemes were starting to gain some attention, so he went undercover to investigate him. Next thing we knew, his body had washed up on the shore of the river.”

“That’s not enough to convict Damon?”

“I wish it was, but it’s too circumstantial.”

A sudden knock at the front door caused Alice to jump. “You don’t think they came back?” she whispered fearfully, and Hackett frowned as he stood to answer it. He couldn’t hide the relief that washed over him when he discovered Gertie on the other side.

“Warden Hackett, what is going on around here?” she asked.

“Come on in and sit down, Gertie.” He stepped back and motioned towards the couch, then added with a touch of sarcasm, “We could use your company right now.”

“I heard some banging outside, and when I looked out the window I saw Miranda over here with some strange man,” Gertie said as she sat down next to Alice and pulled her knitting out of her purse. “How are you doing, dear? My goodness, I haven’t seen much of you since Kate left, and that baby is already bigger. She’s such a sweet little thing.”

Alice felt her face grow warm. “I’m sorry. That man was my lousy ex-boyfriend; Alicia’s biological dad.”

“Really?” Gertie’s hands stopped and she let her yarn drop into her lap. “Well I’ll be! After he damaged your car, he was practically making out with Miranda right there in your driveway, and she looked like she was really enjoying it.”

“What did you say?” Hackett asked softly.

“Miranda and that man have definitely got something going on between them.”

Alice shared a look with Hackett, until he began pacing the room again. She wondered what was going through his mind, but at that point she knew him well enough to not expect him to say anything in front of Gertie.

“What happened to you, dear?” Gertie patted one of Alice’s bruised hands, her forehead wrinkled with concern.

“It’s nothing,” Alice tried to sound nonchalant. “Damon tried to put the moves on me, so I hit him. But apparently I didn’t know what I was doing.” Her voice wavered despite her best efforts to control it.

A muscle twitched in Hackett’s jaw, and Alice flushed with the realization that she had yet to tell him exactly what had transpired when she had been alone with Damon in the kitchen. From the look in his eyes, Damon would have very likely been tasered again if Hackett had known how he had been touching her.

Gertie noticed as well. “Oh, you know what? I just remembered that I left my oven on.” Her knitting disappeared back into her purse. “I hate to run like this, but I can’t leave it unattended.”

“You should stop by tomorrow,” Alice said as she gave Gertie a quick one-armed hug.

“Absolutely. Goodbye.”

Hackett walked Gertie to the front door to see her out, and after she was gone he said, “At least Gertie is observant enough to notice that we needed to be left alone. So, Alice, tell me exactly what sort of moves Damon tried to put on you.”

“The, um … aggressive kind.”

“If you had been here alone, would he have raped you?”

Alice bit her lip and looked downwards. “I don’t know.”

He clenched his fist as his jaw muscles tightened again. “I want you to tell me absolutely everything from now on. This is serious, and I need to be able to protect you.”

“I wish …” She hesitated. “I wish you would tell me more of what’s on your mind.”

Hackett considered her words carefully, then answered, “Alright, then; I’m perturbed that Damon tried to touch you, and I want to take you to bed to assert myself as your husband.”

The corners of Alice’s mouth curved irresistibly upwards. “Would it make you feel better?”

“Enormously.”

She giggled slightly. “Me too. Let me get the baby down, and we’ll remind ourselves of how thoroughly we belong to each other. It’ll be the perfect way to forget how horrible this day has been, too.”

Hackett watched quietly as Alice slowly coaxed the baby into sleeping in her crib, his mind still in turmoil. He blamed himself, more than anything else, for letting Miranda distract him when his gut had told him that it would be disastrous for Alice to be alone with Damon. He had known better, but his actions hadn’t measured up.

Miranda.

Despite himself, she still existed under his skin, and still knew how to push his buttons. He had to find a way to become impervious to her provocations, for Alice’s sake, so she wouldn’t be able to manipulate him again. He also grudgingly admitted to himself that he needed to warn her a second time to be careful of Damon, rather than passively watch her make a giant mistake that could destroy her entire life – he didn’t have it in him to hate her that much.

That moment, however, belonged to Mrs. Alice Hackett.

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