Halfway to my Heart
by Brigid Doyle
Copyright - July 1999
Reagan had become too anxious in the seat near the door and began pacing again, this time in wider arcs that brought her to and from the inner office. She found it distracting to stand in front of the huge window glancing at the cityscape below. It was her third pass by the window and this time she stopped to take in the view. She was sure she could see central park and from there if she followed the skyline to the west she was almost just as sure she could see the top of the apartment building she had lived in until the end of last summer. She wondered who might be living there now and if in someway they knew what had happened to the tenants before them. It was a silly thought, she knew, but she thought it anyway. Her greatest fear was that she would forget her parents and all of the things they had done, all of the things they had planned to do. She wondered if it would be all right with Payton to have a picture of her mom and dad in her room at the estate. She would remember to ask. The soft sound of the door closing brought a bit of relief, either Connie or Payton had returned! She turned quickly, heading for the outer office. "You're ba " She stopped at the edge of Payton's desk recognizing the cleaning woman that had left the room just a few minutes ago. "Oh, sorry." She sighed. "I thought you were someone else."
"Did you?" The woman's voice sounded almost pleased.
Something about this woman was familiar, frighteningly familiar. Reagan could feel her skin prickling under her long sleeves and the hairs on the back of her neck felt as if it had been electrified. She stepped backed without turning away from the eyes that seemed to pierce her veil of bravery and placed the large executive desk between herself and the woman. She glanced at the desktop noting quickly the position of the telephone and almost wincing when she realized her arms were too short to cover the distance across the large desk to the dial. She remembered the time a larger girl had bullied her at school. She remembered the fear, felt it spread over her like a cold shower. Mother had told her to talk talk her way out of it. Mother had laughed and told her to use her Old Irish gift of gab and to throw so much 'blarney' at the bully that she'd be bedazzled. Once that happened she had two choices make friends or run. The child swallowed hard and forced the fear out of her higher than usual pitched voice.
"Did you forget something?" Reagan asked. "I can help you look for it." She offered, trying to be polite, trying desperately to hide her terror. The woman simply stood in the doorway and stared, her deafening silence worse than any spoken answer.
"If you need something Connie will be right back, and so will Payton and Colin." Reagan tried again to keep her voice from shaking but her fear seemed to win.
"Really? Do you think so?" The woman's voice was more of a purr, familiar and kind, but with a hint of menace. She stepped into the room and slid her hand around to the back of her head pulling the band from her ponytail and shook the long blonde hair free until it fell in long tendrils around her head. She ran both hands through it making it look as presentable as possible.
Reagan stared. Inside her mind her voice was screaming "PAYTON!" but somehow the thought never reached her lips. She merely stood wide-eyed, staring at the personage before her. She was glad the large desk separated them, but the woman blocked her passage to the door and escape into the hallway.
"Did you really think I would just forget?" She asked with a maniacal grin as she reached up and yanked the buttons on the front of her steel gray uniform open. She slipped the heavy padded garment off revealing a much more slender figure underneath. She tossed the uniform aside and ran her hands down the dark blue silk dress she wore beneath it. "Much more convincing don't you think?" She remarked without looking at the frightened child.
Reagan fought her terror. "What " she swallowed hard, "what do you want?"
"What do I want?" She repeated in a baby talk tone. "Why I want what is rightfully mine to take little girl?!" The baby talk slowly transformed into a growl as she spoke. "I intend to finish what I started." She advanced toward the desk standing opposite the child.
"I I d-don't know what you're talking about." Reagan tried not to cry as she moved away from the woman, keeping the desk between them.
"Oh, I think you do McAllister. I think you do." Her voice remained calm, but threatening as she stepped to the right never taking her eyes off her target.
Reagan matched the woman's movements stepping to her right as they each slid around the perimeter of the large marble topped desk. The girl glanced toward the open door knowing that in just a few steps she would have a clear path to it and this strange woman would be on the opposite side of the desk in front of the large window. But the woman changed direction and moved swiftly to her left nearly snatching Reagan's arm before she too jerked to the left.
The woman narrowed her eyes, somewhat impressed with the child's reaction. "You can't get away brat! Not this time." She hedged to the right then to the left and back to the right teasing the child, pushing her in the direction she needed her to go.
Reagan again moved in the direction that matched the woman's. Left took her closer to the heavy black phone, right would lead to the exit. She was confident she could reach one or the other. The woman moved left, then left again and Reagan lunged for the telephone knowing the company operator would answer Payton's line immediately. Her hand closed around the receiver. A larger hand slammed it down hard then tore it away dragging the small child closer and closer. Reagan struggled, pulling against the iron grip. She struck at the hand hitting what appeared to be an open wound. The woman gasped then grabbed the child's hair at the base of her skull effectively stopping the struggle. She shook the pain from her right hand and held it up for inspection.
"You are very lucky it is almost healed." She sneered as she shook the child again. "You just refuse to learn your lesson don't you, McAllister. Well this time, this lesson will be the last you will have to worry about." She tightened her grip on the child's hair digging her nails into the girl's scalp as well.
Reagan opened her mouth in a silent scream terrified that sound would bring more pain. She reached back with both hands to grasp the hand that held her prisoner. The woman's words trickled into her conscious and took her back to the punishment she had withstood at the hands of Alexis Thorne. She opened her eyes and looked directly into the deep gray pools that were the eyes of the woman before her. She had looked into those lifeless eyes before. She always thought Miss Thorne had dead eyes. Yes, she had eyes that never smiled no matter how much her mouth did. The child stopped struggling and drew a quick strangled breath.
"So you finally know don't you." The voice pierced Reagan's shield of courage. Miss Thorne had found her. This person, this strange person before her wore a very different face, but Miss Thorne's eyes bore holes in her soul and Miss Thorne's voice ripped into her heart. "Now, you come with me McAllister and I will show you exactly what you and I deserve." She relaxed her grip slowly with one warning whispered so close to Reagan's ear she could feel the fire in the woman's breath. "Run and I'll break both your legs. It doesn't matter to me if I have to carry you out of here or you walk on your own, but we are leaving." She stood back from the child almost daring her to try to escape. She gently brushed the back of her hand against the yellowish bruise on the girl's cheek. "Almost healed is it?" She crooned and turned slowly away. Then without warning snapped back landing the back of the same hand across the girl's jaw. Reagan teetered sidelong with the force of the blow, immediately reaching for her ear as the pain returned with a vengeance. Miss Thorne caught her by the front of her dress and pulled her close. "We have a lot of catching up to do, don't we?" She tore her hand away throwing the child toward the door in front of her. "MOVE!" She commanded.
Reagan stumbled forward, too stunned to cry for help, too terrified even to allow the tears to flow. She moved out the door a few feet ahead of the woman she did and did not recognize. They exited the office and moved to the end of the hall through a door that read 'Employees Only'. The hall beyond was uncarpeted and dimly lit. At the end of it was a service elevator. Miss Thorne pulled a key from her pocket and turned it in a keyhole that resembled an elevator button. "Helps to have the right connections." She grinned evilly. The doors opened immediately and she pushed the child inside. The elevator lurched on its bumpy descent.
Reagan felt her stomach do the same, the smell of cleaning solvent and day old cigarette ashes did nothing to help. She made a silent prayer that this time she could control her stomach's reaction to her fears. It was a large building there was still time. She backed into a corner of the large stuffy car in a vain effort to keep some distance between herself and her tormentor. Her hand went instinctively to her neck reaching for her small medallion. It found nothing. She patted the front of her dress and frantically felt for the thin gold chain.
And with it all of her hope.
Payton exited the boardroom a few paces ahead of the two men who continued to discuss the possible scenarios this investigation might take. Her head swam with the information Inspector Larzy had offered. All this time some insane woman had been stalking her family and she had been totally unaware of it. The thought made her shudder, made her lose what little faith she had in any belief that might still linger in her own dark mind. Her insecurities, her jealousy had put a child directly in the path of this lunatic and for that she was quickly developing a strong self-hatred. Her pace quickened as she neared the glass doors that would lead to her office. She pushed both sides of the entrance open to admit herself into the room, taking out a bit of her anger on the inanimate object.
The sound of the empty office set off alarms that only added to her already dangerously explosive anger. It was a strange ominous silence, the kind that follows a catastrophe or an explosion. That moment when everything and everyone freezes, waiting for time to start moving again. She stood in the center of the office, listening to the ticking of the clock, something she had never even noticed before. The doors opened behind her and the soft muffled men's voices fell away as they too recognized the uneasy stillness of the room. All three jumped as the phone on Connie's desk issued a loud ring.
Payton snatched it from its cradle before it could ring a second time. "Connie?" Her voice strained with anger. Both men waited for an answer moving to the opposite side of the desk. Colin scanned the room quickly and caught site of Reagan's dark blue dress coat lying across the arm of one of the large wing backed chairs. He felt a bit of relief. Perhaps they just took a little trip down the hall, seemed to make sense.
"This is legal." An unfamiliar voice answered Payton. "Miss Taylor needed a copy of the original contract for Westbridge Antiquities. I have a Michael Westbridge and a William Westbridge. Do you know which she meant? I'm sorry this is taking so long, but we are a bit shorthanded down here and since she wants it brought up I have to find someone " The woman's voice trailed off as Payton stopped listening. She struggled to contain herself.
"Send them both!" She barked into the receiver than slammed it back in place without waiting for a reply. She turned quickly toward her office door, briefly meeting the gazes of the two men before her. Panic was not akin to Payton McAllister and should she fall victim to it, she would certainly not have an audience. Had she closed that door? Her common sense strove to calm her logic. Connie and Reagan could be on the other side, oblivious to the scene in this office. After all the room was built to keep the noisy goings on of the outer area apart from the privacy of the inner room. Wasn't that what executive privilege was anyway? She almost smiled when panic threw another thought into the mix. Why hadn't Connie answered the phone? Why hadn't she stuck her head out to see who did?
Payton, Colin and Nick moved toward the inner office door at the same time.
This time the police officer reached it first, holding out a hand to stop the others and reaching inside of his jacket with the other. He pulled a small service revolver out and motioned for them to stay back. Colin stepped in front of Payton, half in an effort to protect her and half in an effort to protect the inspector. Payton's eyes flashed with a look Colin had never known. She stepped from behind him ready to face whatever lay beyond. Again the inspector slammed his hand against the air in a motion that meant stay put. She nodded and stepped back alongside the lawyer.
Nick Larzy turned the knob and slowly pushed open the door keeping to the right of it as he did. He held his revolver outstretched and stepped slowly into the doorway, pushing the door open until it bumped the wall behind. He glanced left then right, stepping slowly into the room then stopped and listened to the same eerie silence that had met them in the anterior office.
"Its okay." He called over his shoulder replacing his gun in its holster. "It's empty."
Payton entered the room, immediately taking in the scene before her. The items on the right side of her desk were pushed aside as if someone had needed to make room for a large object. The telephone was turned at an odd angle away from the area that it had set since Jack McAllister had first occupied the office. They were small discrepancies and perhaps not perceivable to just anyone, but Payton kept her things in a certain order, an order that had been disturbed.
"Inspector." Colin's strained voice called from the other side of the office. He was looking down at a large bundle tossed near the wall. Nick moved closer. Payton's heart skipped a beat. She forced it to be calm as she stepped around the desk.
The bundle was Reagan's size. Payton swallowed hard to quell the tears that threatened to spill. Defenses that just a week ago could have strengthened her against such an onslaught were frantically racing to pull themselves back into place. She would not allow herself to break down, but if lifting that dark gray cover revealed she could not force herself to even imagine what part of her mind pushed away.
Larzy squatted on his haunches closer to the mass and prodded it gently. Colin bent forward in an effort to block Payton's view and secure a better one for himself. He was close enough to hear the soft sigh of relief come from the inspector as the man pulled the cloth away and revealed only the carpet beneath. Larzy and Colin stood in unison, the policeman holding the heavy garment in front of him. Payton relaxed her jaw muscles allowing the tense pain of holding them for so long to flow across and around her head. Even that pain was welcome. She wrinkled her brow at the item Larzy carried to her desk. He laid it out and straightened it back into its intended shape.
"It's only a woman's dress." Colin stated with relief. Although the thought remained unspoken he was sure that Payton had imagined the same horror he had.
"Yes." Larzy replied still examining the item.
"Looks like most of her is still in it." Colin noted staring at the garment as it took shape. The dress lay across Payton's desk and if he had only just entered the room he would have sworn there was a person inside of it. The bumps and curves were all in the right places, a little more bumpy than curvy, but still it could be a person.
Larzy turned the garment opened revealing the heavy cotton padding sewn inside. He stepped back and scratched his chin. Payton turned the garment back and ran her hand across the McAllister logo on the right chest pocket. She drew her brows together as her mind quickly put together what could have happened.
"It's not just a dress." She said to no one. "It's a service uniform, the kind our cleaning people wear."
Before anyone had a chance to reply the group was interrupted by an insistent cry from the outer office.
"MISS McALLISTER!!" Donnie Fleischman's voice held a hint of panic. "ANYBODY! I NEED HELP HERE."
The trio moved to the outer office quickly. Donnie stood in the open doorway, a large white envelope stuffed was under one arm and the other was holding up a half conscious Connie. He struggled to move into the office without harming the woman. She moved slowly, dragging her shoeless feet across the carpet. She held one hand to a towel placed against the back of her head.
"My god! Connie!" Payton hurried to help the young elevator operator. She wrapped an arm around her secretary's waist just as Colin moved to help as well. Together they took the injured woman from the younger man and helped her to her desk.
"Payton Payton I Reagan " Connie tried to speak struggling to compose her frantic thoughts into sensible words.
"Shh, don't try to talk just yet." Payton comforted her, despite her desire to shake Reagan's whereabouts out of her. She wanted answers, but it was not in anyone's best interest to press the woman in this condition. She lifted the towel from the back of Connie's head as the secretary bent forward on the desk resting on her own arms. Payton winced and drew a quick breath at the sight of the deep gash across her friend's head. "Get some more towels!" She commanded to no one in particular. "GET SECURITY UP HERE AND TELL THEM NOBODY LEAVES THE BUILDING! Call the police and get an ambulance." She turned back to the task at hand, gently placing the towel back against Connie's head. The secretary moaned softly. Colin picked up the phone making the necessary calls.
Larzy moved toward the young man still standing in the doorway. The man's face was drained of color and he seemed shock still. "What's your part in this?" The policeman asked in a voice a bit too gruff for Payton's patience.
"Watch it, Larzy! Lay off him, he's harmless!" She shot at the man. Her defense both surprised and encouraged the young elevator operator.
Donnie took a tentative step toward the desk. He took the large envelope into his hand, holding out toward his employer. "Um," he swallowed hard, "I I was just bringing this up to y a Miss Taylor " He stepped closer and placed the envelope on the desk.
"How did you come across this woman?" Larzy demanded, still a bit brusque.
"THIS woman is my secretary. Her name is Connie and I told you to lay off, Larzy. Just in case you've forgotten you have no authority here." Payton's voice was much more feral than the gentle touch she applied to her secretary's wound. She turned back to Donnie asking the question no one had dared approach. "Where's Reagan, Donnie? Was she with Connie?"
The young man looked confused for a second. "No, no Miss McAllister Miss Taylor was locked in the washroom. I heard her knocking when I passed." He looked at the inspector who was listening intently.
"How'd you get the door opened?" The inspector asked, raising an eyebrow.
Donnie blushed and swallowed again. "I have a key." He looked at the CEO and quickly explained. "Mr. McAllister gave it to me a while back on this key ring." He fished into his pocket and withdrew a jingling set of keys. "He said it was in case of emergency. I guessed it was an emergency. I never used them before." He shook his head. "I didn't see anyone else Miss McAllister."
Connie raised a hand and lifted her head. She reached back taking control of the compress on her head and signaling Payton aside. "It was the new charwoman." Her voice was weak, but clear. "She was here then in the washroom. I left Reagan here in the office Payton I'm sorry I didnt I should have taken her with me." She squeezed her eyes shut to stop the room from spinning. "Oh god, Payton "
"How long?" Larzy asked the woman, keeping his voice as gentle as possible.
Connie blinked a few times trying to focus on the wall clock. It seemed like hours had passed, but it couldn't have been more than ten minutes. "Not long." She managed to say. "Ten, maybe fifteen minutes."
"This cleaning lady, what did she look like." Larzy prodded.
Connie took a breath and tried to ignore the throbbing pain behind her eyes. Colin had left the room and returned with a few more towels. "I think this can wait, Larzy. She's in no condition "
"I don't think we have time, Walters." Larzy shot back. "If my hunch is correct, we're almost out of time." He turned back to Connie. "I'm sorry Miss Taylor, it's important." Larzy again tried to be more compassionate.
"She was just a cleaning lady. My height, light hair pulled back, a bit on the heavy side " She described the woman. "I didn't pay much attention until it was too late. Guess I should have." A tear made its way over the secretary's cheek.
Two McAllister security guards rushed into the office and listened as Payton barked orders to them. They were to stay with Connie until the ambulance arrived. NO ONE was to go into the interior office until the police arrived. Nothing was to be touched and they were to report anything suspicious to her and her alone! Both men nodded and stepped toward the paling secretary.
Payton turned to Donnie. "Did anyone come up here since we arrived?" She snapped, moving toward the doors.
"No one Miss McAllister. I haven't been to this floor since I dropped you and your sister off this morning." He answered, quickly following her into the hall. Larzy and Colin had stepped out seconds before and were examining the washroom.
"Better keep this locked until the blues get here." Larzy commented as he stepped into the hall. "Any prints on the knob are worthless now." He frowned at the young man.
"I'm sorry I didn't " Donnie apologized. Payton shook her head.
"Is there any other exit?" Larzy continued.
"There's the stairs." Donnie suggested trying to be more helpful.
"I doubt they'd be racing down twenty-eight flights." Colin shook his head.
"How did the security officers get up here if you're the only elevator operator?" Larzy frowned at Donnie.
"Service elevator, I suppose." Donnie shrugged his shoulders.
Payton was already on her way toward the 'Employees Only' door at the end of the hall. The others followed. She pushed it open and entered the long dim hallway that opened into a small foyer. The large service elevator doors were opened clearing meaning the security officers had, in fact, used this car. "Where does this stop?" She asked looking at Donnie.
"It goes all the way to the basement, but it also has a stop at the loading docks out back." Donnie pointed at the opposite side of the car noting that it too had large doors that opened up and down rather than left to right.
Payton ran her hands through her hair pushing it back behind her ears. She brought her palms together with her thumbs against her chin and pressed them together beneath her nose. She almost looked as though she was praying, until she expelled a long breath. She closed her eyes and tried to push away the visions of what Reagan could be experiencing at the hands of this maniacal bitch.
Colin realized his employer's plight, he moved closer placing an arm around her shoulders. He expected to be brushed off. Payton was not a woman who needed comfort or support. "Come on, the police should be here any minute. We can't do a thing from here."
Payton allowed herself to be lead away. She had failed. She had made a promise to an innocent child who trusted her and she had failed. She moved slowly back through the dim hall leaning on the tall man for support. She stopped suddenly staring at a small shiny object against the wall. Colin stopped a step later and turned to her. "Payton?" She shook herself free and bent down to retrieve the small object. Immediately her hand went to her chest and felt the small disk beneath her blouse. She held the fine gold chain between her fingers allowing the gold disk to dangle before her.
"It's hers." She whispered to Colin. Her father's voice came from nowhere, it echoed in her mind. 'Never take it off.' It said. 'Never' she thought as she clutched her sister's medallion in one hand and her own in the other. "NEVER!" She exclaimed as she spun back toward the men behind her. "Donnie! Get me to the lobby!" She grabbed the young man by his sleeve and yanked him toward the door.
"What are you doing?!" Colin shouted after her. "Payton wait, you can't just "
"McAllister this isn't something you can take on yourself. It isn't something you can fix!" Larzy agreed as they stepped back into the main hallway and continued toward the elevator. "Do you think you can find them yourself??"
Payton turned and faced the policeman. "I don't think it, Larzy, but I know it's something I have to do. If you think I am just going to sit here while some crazed psychopath drags my sister across Manhattan you better think again!"
"And what makes you think you can find her?!" Larzy sneered.
Payton grabbed the man's hand and slammed the small necklace into it. "THIS! It's called faith, Inspector Larzy. Something my sister has in me. I can't, for all that's holy, imagine why she does. But that kid is counting on ME and I dont intend to let her down again!" She closed the man's fingers over the medallion. " You hold on to this. It belongs to Reagan. You can have the honor of putting back on her neck when I find her. Now either get in or GET OUT!" She pushed the man's hand away and waited for him to react. He stepped back and shook his head as Colin stepped into the car. Payton nodded at Donnie and the doors closed.
Inspector Larzy watched the numbers on the wall above the red double elevator doors as the car made its descent. He opened his hand slowly and examined the small object, rubbing his callused thumb across the four blue stones on its surface. He turned it over in his hand and noticed the etching on the reverse side. He looked closer. 'χωριστό εξάρτημα που έχουν άπειρη διαιρετότητα' He nodded slowly and tucked the small necklace into his inside pocket. Something told him he would indeed place it back on the child's neck. He sincerely hoped she would be alive when he did. He turned and headed back toward the emergency staircase exit. With any luck he could catch up to Payton and the lawyer in the lobby.
To be continued 27 & 28
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