Speaking those things that be not, as the bible directed, had surely worked in Etta’s favor. She couldn’t help but smile, and nearly did an in-your-face-dance as she listened to Vanessa Wong and her newly assigned entourage of Ayo Adeyemi and Claus Einberger, give their press conference.
Sure they made her sound like an idiot in so many words, but they had fulfilled their purpose, making Oliver Taubmen and Clive Meeks the pariahs of Greenwich Pass, and Etta somewhat of an afterthought.
“That is a flat out lie.” Vanessa stared down the reporter with a steely gaze that could have made the most vicious of creatures turn tail and run for cover. “What do you people think? Do you actually believe she has some kind of super powers or something? She is flesh and blood just like the rest of us. The people of Greenwich Pass need a reality check. So let me make myself abundantly clear, I am not a fan of Etta Castle Teague. She is rude and she has proved a nuisance, but then so has Oliver Taubman, who instead of working to make our township a better environment while I was away, has done nothing but kick up dust like a two year old turned loose without proper super vision.
“He has reinvented Etta in such a way to make her out to be a demi-goddess who has the power to put people in and out of comas. Really people? No one with any sense would buy into such tom foolery. And who fed you this hog wash? Oliver Taubmen? He has done nothing but breed fear and cause tension to swarm in our streets, polluting the once peaceful place we all call home. He has used my medical condition, those of my colleagues, and the discord surrounding the ascension for his own political gain.
“He has used fear and smear campaigning against a woman who isn’t even running for office to build himself a platform. He has been reckless and irresponsible, not to mention, committed libel against Mrs. Castle-Teague.
“Election season will come again, folks. But I want you all to keep this in mind, if Oliver Taubmen is this bad as a self appointed interim leader of Greenwich Pass, imagine the chaos he would cause if he were ever voted into office.”
A quick-lipped reporter tossed out a question before Vanessa could finish taking a breath. “You say Taubmen has lied on Mrs. Castle-Teague, but what about Paster Clive Meeks? He has been in Mr. Taubmen’s corner supporting his claims against her. Both men believe that she is a murderer. Isn’t in true that the whole town was convinced of this several years ago when Mr. Baldwin Falk was first reported missing?”
Vanessa huffed. “Several years ago, as you stated, Mrs. Castle-Teague was cleared of any an all charges that were being filed against her. Why? Because there was no evidence of foul play. In fact no has proven that Mr. Falk was indeed murdered or even died. What is fact is that he at that time was a flighty twenty something, who swooped into town out of nowhere, just like he most likely has swooped out again, once his teenage love fell apart. It happens all the time. So why are we all assuming murder again?”
“So you do not believe that he is indeed back and working with Etta against the sequence?”
“I haven’t seen him, nor do I care to. Honestly, he is not even a bleep on my radar. Getting Greenwich Pass back in order is. That means silencing rabble-rousers and exposing them for what they really are.”
“It is clear that you and Mr. Taubmen have not been on good terms, both politically and now it seems personally, but what about Pastor Meeks? Both of you came out as Seat holders for our Junction and were on the same page up until the last scheduled ascension. He stands firm with Taubmen against Mrs. Castle-Teague and is just as certain that she is indeed a murderer. What do you have to say about that?”
Ayo was the one to take lead on answering that question. “Unfortunately your Pastor Meeks is not a very liable source or witness of character.”
-“Care to clarify?” Another reporter hollered.
Vanessa sighed and took control of the microphone again. “It grieves me to have to say, but our beloved Pastor has succumbed to an old addiction which has completely clouded his judgment and puts his credibility into question—”
A cacophony of questions and flashing lights from cameras filled the room once again. It was already a news worthy occasion to have the once comatose mayor giving a press conference with two other suspected coma victims of Etta’s, but to hear all three of them exonerate her of all alleged charges and then down the two men who had accused her was huge. At least it was for a township like Greenwich Pass.
Vanessa held up her hands, commanding order. “Pastor Meeks, has had a relapse into alcohol use, a heavy use that has clouded his judgment and most likely ended his marriage. It is for that reason that my colleagues even came into town a few weeks ago, to address his problem and relieve him of his place with the Council until he got the proper medical treatment and help.
“As far as his credibility goes, we are all aware of Pastor Meeks’ history in this town especially when it comes to substance abuse and exaggerated imaginings. This man believed that he was abducted by aliens when he was a child and held firm to that belief up until recently. His unfortunate battle with alcohol is common knowledge, but something that has come to haunt him again.
“The disruption of the sequence and Mrs. Meeks leaving him, has been extremely hard on the man. Understandably. But that does not excuse anything that Taubmen has done to him and through him within the last few weeks, especially as it pertains to Etta Castle-Teague who through her misplaced zeal against the sequence has made herself a target for political bashing.
“Pastor Meeks, in his fragile condition, has been taken advantage of, and viciously manipulated, by Oliver Taubmen. All of you have. My condition, which Taubmen has accredited to Mrs. Castle-Teague, was a result of a head injury I incurred a week before the last scheduled ascension.”
“How do you explain the comas of Ms. Adeyemi and Mr. Einberger? That doesn’t seem suspicious to you given that Mrs. Castle-Teague was present for all three?”
“Was she present for all three?” A rhetorical question that no one dared to touch. “She is not Typhoid Mary, giving everyone the bug without contracting it herself. And if you are thinking about her to that degree, does everyone who manages to not catch a cold during cold and flu season seem suspicious to you? Is their immunity some result of superhuman activity, or cause for a smear campaign? I will say it again; Etta Castle Teague is a Liberal nuisance, with a loud mouth and an even louder megaphone, but a magical being who can put people into comas at whim, she is not. The foolishness has to stop, people.”
“Then how do you explain Mrs. Adeyemi’s and Mr. Einberger’s comas?”
Vanessa scowled. “I don’t because I am not a doctor and I am not abreast to their past medical histories, nor do I ascribe to being a science fiction fanatic. What I am is a realist and the Mayor of Greenwich Pass. A mayor who is not given to witch hunts.”
“But Etta has been reported as having control over Lotus. What are your thoughts there?”
Vanessa took her time in answering. The room had gone so quiet you could have heard a mouse peeing on cotton. “I don’t have an answer for that, just like I don’t have an answer for how the sequence was disrupted. Not a real one even though Mrs. Castle-Teague would have you all believing she was indeed responsible.”
“So you don’t believe she was responsible even though you were seen arguing with her about having stopped it in the name of Baldwin Falk?”
Vanessa sneered. “In all truth, I can neither confirm nor deny that she was responsible for interrupting the ascension, although she has made claim of doing so and there is nothing to refute that. I could do like others and weave a fantastic tale if you would like, place blame on a target and spread fear if I thought that would do some good, help people sleep better at night. But then I am not one for ruining the lives of the citizens who reside here, even the ones I find less than palatable.” Her face contorted as if she had tasted something awful. Several chuckles rang throughout the room.
“So, it is safe to say you are not friends with Mrs. Castle-Teague?”
“A chicken would make a better friend with a fox than I would Mrs. Castle-Teague. No further questions.”
Etta turned off the television in her office and slurped down the last noodle from last night’s beef lo mien. She let the chopsticks in her mouth, chewing in them as she processed what Vanessa Wong had said. The woman was harsh but by the strange buzz of the frequency in the atmosphere she had done a good enough job of getting the hanks off of Etta’s back.
She glanced at her cell phone. It was just after five in the evening. The store clerk formally known as Kyle, was manning the store. He had been there since that afternoon but Etta was going to send him home before closing.
Opening and closing the store was definitely out for the Towes possessed child. There was too much at stake as it was. She didn’t need him snooping about. It would not do her a bit of good to put the young man in a coma after Vanessa had argued that she was innocent of such wrong doing.
Etta smiled listening to the agitation ringing in the foreign frequency that had overtaken Kyle. The Towes was livid. She grabbed her bag, coat and keys, hoping to visit Mr. Albert for an hour before coming back to close the store up for the night. “Gosh I wish you could here this.” She whispered to Baldwin, who had appeared out of nowhere, his hips perched on the edge of her desk.
“I don’t need to hear it to see it. Kyle’s face says it all. That and the glare he keeps shooting into the office when he thinks you are not looking.”
Etta smiled. “That was an excellent idea by the way, bringing Ayo and Claus in to discredit Meeks and Taubmen. I can already feel the town turning on its ear. I mean they may start looking at me like I am some revolutionary hippie, but there won’t be so much of that other stuff from back then.” Her voice lost most of its levity as her mind slipped to the year that Baldwin had been transformed. It had been tough then. Now it was more of a nuisance, one she would have been better able to ignore if she wasn’t so emotionally raw over Jørn.
A knot formed at the back of her throat, one she had to concentrate to release. Baldwin must have noticed before she turned away from him, swinging on her coat. “You aren’t carrying this alone, you know,” He looked down at his hands. “I mean I wish I could be more of a present help if you get what I mean, but that is what Jesus is for, right?” He smiled. “And there is Jørn,”
Etta’s eyebrow was cocked when she met his gaze.
“I don’t know what is going on exactly. I just know that once he hears this, he won’t have a choice but to cut you some slack. Support you at least a little.”
Etta snorted. “I am not so sure about that, Baldwin, but I assure you I am not going to get my hopes up.”
* * *
“Did you hear that vibora?” Graciela slapped Jørn’s arm with the back of her hand. “In one breath she is saying sweet Etta is not guilty of doing her harm, even though we all know that if she did harm her, Wong most likely deserved it. And then in the next breath she is calling your wife an idiot. Vieja bruja!” She clucked her teeth and shook her head. “At least she told the truth about Taubmen and Pastor Meeks. I told you all he was a drunk and none of you listened. I should have put money on it, and then I would be rich right now.”
Jørn felt as if his feet had been cemented to the floor. He ignored the din behind him and forced his legs to move. He needed to stay the course, keep his mind on track and not let the opinions of others cause him to second guess himself.
He loved Etta. He wanted her to be innocent of everything she was being accused of, everything he felt like she was guilty of, but more than anything he wanted the solid truth. The only unbiased person he could think of who was capable of helping him gain that truth was right there in the hospital.
He didn’t know why he hadn’t gone to check on Arnold sooner, but there was not time like the present to rectify that problem.
“You look a lot better, Arnold.” Jørn said, taking a seat next to Arnold’s bed.
“I would imagine this is a great improvement to me having my head in a waste basket the last time you saw me. Suffice it to say, I feel like a new man.”
“Glad to hear it. Did you, did you watch the news?” Jørn’s knee bobbed nervously. He didn’t know what he wanted to man to say to him if he had watched the news.
Arnold nodded, before getting tangled in the cords of his oxygen line. Grunting a few unsavory words, he snatched the nozzles from beneath his nose and tossed the thing behind his head. “I don’t know why in the world they have me on oxygen. I assure you I can breath fine on my own.”
“You won’t get an argument from me. Now your doctor is another thing.”
“I can handle him. Anyhow, the news and the suddenly healed, and fiery as ever Mayor Wong. Yep, I watched it.”
“What do you think?”
“It doesn’t change anything if that is what you are asking me. Wong’s incident has nothing to do with what happened to your cousin. So Etta didn’t put her in a coma. Truth is I never even considered that she had in the first place. But a coma and murder are two different things, son.”
Jørn let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he had been holding. This was what he needed to hear, wasn’t it? He just needed to stay focused, look at the facts, for Baldwin, for Heidi. “You are right, absolutely right, I just…” His brow knotted together.
“Did you actually think she had the ability to put peoples in comas?”
Jørn’s eyes flickered away from his gaze. The telling expression on his face made Arnold consider him more closely. Jørn had been playing his cards close to his chest, this he already knew. But he clearly had a few more aces up his sleeve. “Those must be some powerful cards you have hidden there.”
“What’s that?” Jørn pulled out of his trance. He had so suddenly began to ruminate on what he had witnessed Etta do in the woods, the way she had manipulated the Lotus as if they were puppets on strings. If anything, Jørn was more convinced that Etta had indeed put Vanessa Wong in a coma, along with the others. Maybe they were just too afraid to say anything. Any person in their right mind would be, especially if no one would believe them.
“I said, you are hiding something, something you know about your wife that you have not cared to share.”
Jørn leaned back in his chair. “There are a lot of things about her that I have not cared to share, and even more that I wish I didn’t know.”
“True.” Silence danced between them for several moments before Arnold spoke again. “Jørn, I am here to help you. I fully intend to do just that. But you tie my hands and make my work harder by keeping your mouth shut, hiding information that could make or break this investigation. In the end, you are not protecting her, and you certainly are not helping your cousin or yourself for that matter.”
“Good. Just as long as we are clear.”
“I just need to get my bearings is all, get a grip on what it is that…” He sighed, resigning not to say anything else.
Arnold narrowed an eye and pointed at him. “My gut, even with as busted as it has been the last week or so, tells me that there is something big, something vital that you know about your wife that you are not ready to bring to the light. But you are going to have to do so, and soon. If she suspects that you know about her whatever it is that has your jaw clamped like that, you can kiss this investigation goodbye.
“I may not know her like you do, but I know how to smell rain when it is coming. If she realizes that you know whatever it is that you know, she will run. Mark my words. They always do.”
Jørn stared hard at the man before standing up. Wong had said Etta had no power, but Jørn knew otherwise. He was probably the only one who knew for certain. He headed for the door. “Thanks for your time, Arnold. I am glad you are feeling better.”
“She will run, Jørn. Don’t hold this too long.” He warned with the authoritative tone of a father.
Jørn shook his head. “No, she won’t. Let me know when you get out. We still have a conversation to finish from before.”
Arnold dipped his head. “You are the first person I intend to call. I share, you share. Deal?”
Jørn dipped his head.
* * *
Etta stood out of view, watching as Jørn walked out of the patient’s room. Usually she would not have watched and listened so intensely, but since she was avoiding her husband it was best to stay out of his line of vision.
It hurt much less being the one who was doing the avoiding of the other.
What nipped at her curiosity was the strained vibrations that were coming from Jørn. She could hear them clear outside of the room and the sight of them was more volatile than she had expected. Who in the world had he been talking too that had him all tied up in knots? The light refracting off of him was not that of a physician concerned for a patient. No, that light had become common place whenever he looked at her lately; a suspicious, angry, secretive light that made her stomach turn.
She waited until she heard the familiar ding of the elevator and felt his vibration lessen as he descended to the lower level of the hospital before she went to find out. She peered down the hallway where Mr. Albert lay. She was there to see him after all. She would visit him shortly.
Focusing her attention on the door before her she fixed her expression and knocked, right before letting herself in.
Stunned dark eyes, washed in light of guarded, surprise, stared back at her. A hint of fear filled the air in a way that was far too curious for Etta to ignore.
Smiling, she closed the door behind her.