Here’s what comes after Chapter 11…
She sat in a booth near the large front window but far enough away that she was not on display to passers-by. Her eyes scanned the area outside and looked expectantly at the few patrons who entered.
She was nervous. Very nervous.
She tightened the roll of the brown paper sack next to her and patted it when she finished. Then she checked her watch. She estimated that she had an hour to complete this mission, stop at the market, and be cooking before she came home from work.
The cafe’s door opened, and she looked up to see him enter. As inconspicuously as she could, she flagged him down.
“How are you?” he asked her as he slid into the booth.
“I’m fine,” she reflexively answered as though to a stranger. “How are you?”
“Curious,” he admitted and then quickly ordered coffee from the waitress who appeared. When she left, he leaned across the table and whispered, “Why exactly are we sneaking around?”
“We’re not sneaking. We’re simply being discreet.”
He silently laughed and had been about to mention the splitting of hairs when the waitress returned with his steaming cup. “So tell me, Holly,” he said as he reached for a creamer. “What’s up?”
“I need a favor. The biggest favor I’ve probably asked of anyone, and I’m asking you, Peter.” She smiled in that way she knew he always found difficult to resist. A pang of guilt rippled through her, and she desperately reminded herself that what she was about to do was the right thing, the only thing there was to do. She was Watson, tasked with gathering evidence, but she couldn’t just sit idly by anymore and watch Laura suffer. She needed to be able to give her something irrefutable.
“Name it,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“I need DNA testing.”
Not once since she had summoned him had that possibility even run through his mind. He was floored, and he fumbled to make sense of the unusual request, “Your own DNA?”
His eyes grew wide. “A paternity situation? There are private labs—”
“No! Don’t be goofy.”
“Then tell me. I’m apparently not very good at guessing.”
She surveyed the place for a moment to determine whether anyone was within earshot. Although no one was, she whispered, “I need you to test someone’s DNA and then compare it to Laura’s to see if they are related.”
He was dumbfounded and did nothing but stare at her.
“It’s important, Peter. And I know you’re going to tell me you can’t do something personal like this at the Coroner’s Office, but I need you to do it, and I need it to be secret. Laura once told me you have her DNA profile to rule her out at crime scenes.”
“Here’s the other half of what you need,” she said as she seized the bag and handed it to him. “This is leftovers, a cup, and utensils from the person’s lunch today.”
He peeked inside to see plastic bags containing the items mentioned. “Whose? Why? How the hell did you get this?”
“I asked someone for a favor. They didn’t hesitate, and they wore gloves.”
“Please, Peter? Just trust me. It’s the only way I know how to make sure Laura’s okay.” She knew by the look on his face that he was still not convinced. “Just a ‘yes, they’re related’ or a ‘no, they’re not’ is all I need. I promise I won’t tell anyone you helped me.”
“Laura’s not stupid.”
“No, she’s not. So if she’s not convinced of something that seems believable, it’s either for very solid reasons … and this person is—” She decided not to finish her thought. She could not think of one good reason why someone would do that to Laura, and the very idea made her blood run cold. “Please, Peter? I really need some help here.”
Still, he balked.
She furthered, “For Laura. Not just me. For Laura. And if she finds out—or if I find I can’t live with what I did—I will take complete responsibility. I promise. If she’s mad, it’ll be at me.”
“She doesn’t get mad at you. Although, this may change that.”
She smiled as though she believed he finally understood. “And, see, I’m still willing to risk it. It’s that important.”
He began nodding, half-heartedly at first, and then resolutely. “All right. I’ll test it and call you when I know.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re sure there’s nothing else I need to know? There’s nothing wrong between you two?”
“Absolutely nothing. I’m doing this because I love her. No other reason.”
He reached across the table and squeezed her hand. “I don’t understand this, but I do know she’s very lucky to have you love her as much as you do.”
She smiled. “Let’s take care of this, and then we’ll work on you getting lucky. You’ve been alone long enough.”
His face lit up. “Actually, I’ve been seeing someone.”
“No kidding? Peter, that’s great! What’s his name?”
“Chip. His name is Chip.”
“Does Laura know? That would make her happy.”
“I was going to tell her last time I saw her, but she didn’t seem quite herself. Preoccupied or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.” He paused a moment to recollect and then nearly shouted, “There is something wrong!”
“That’s why I need your help!”
“Why the hell didn’t you say so?”
“I just did!”
“Well, what are we sitting around for?” He clutched the bag to his chest and rose. After giving her a kiss, he said, “Just hang in there. I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.”
She thanked him, and when he left, she prayed that what she had asked of him was not a mistake. There was nothing more important to her than the bond she shared with Laura. If that were to break, or even bend, she’d never forgive herself.
But, if something happened to Laura and she hadn’t done all she could have to prevent it, that would prove just as devastating.
She threw a ten-dollar bill on the table and hurried off to the market.