Peek A Boo I See You (Emma Frost #5), Page 2Willow Rose
"What are you doing here, Mom? Why aren't you in Spain with that Pablo-guy?"
My mother sniffled and looked at me. She was still smiling from ear to ear, which made her really creepy to look at, while another tear rolled down her cheek.
"Pedro," she corrected me. "Pedro left me."
I POURED MY MOTHER some coffee and we sat at the kitchen table while drinking it. I found some candy in a drawer and put it in a bowl. My mother didn't touch it, while I couldn't keep my fingers out of it. I felt highly uncomfortable in this situation and that always made me eat.
"So, what happened, Mom?" I asked with my mouth filled with salty fish, my favorite licorice.
"He found someone else, the bastard," she said. "Guess he finally got tired of being with someone ten years older than him."
She looked at me while I took another piece of licorice. "I don't understand how you can eat that garbage," she added, and made me feel even more uncomfortable. "The sugar and salt is horrible for your skin, sweetie. If you keep this up, you'll end up looking old by next week. Not to mention what it does for your waist. You really should think more about your health, Emma. You've gained weight since I saw you last. You're young and still look good, but that won't last, dear, and then there'll be nothing left but the extra kilos and…well, you know…You'll be old and alone. Like me."
Her comments made me feel insecure and I grabbed an extra handful candy to soothe my emotions. "I don't care," I said.
My mother sipped her coffee that she had taken black since I didn't have any of the skinny almond milk that she usually used. I stared at her, wondering how long she thought she was going to stay here. I had hardly seen her in the past four years, since she suddenly left my dad for her Spanish adventure with Pedro. I had visited her twice and felt like I was visiting a stranger. Now I had the same feeling again. This woman in my kitchen didn't resemble much of the mother I had grown up with. The mother I had known loved my dad and the life they had together. She took care of me and always made sure the house looked impeccable. Sure, she had a few extra kilos and wrinkles that showed she had lived a full life taking care of her family, but she had been happy. And I had at least been able to see it on her face if she wasn't. Now, I didn't know. She was crying, I saw tears now and then in her eyes, but her face remained the same. It was constantly smiling. To be honest, it creeped me out.
"So…," I said. "So…what are you going to do now?"
"Well, what are my options? He was the one with all the money. We aren't married so I don't get a thing, do I?"
I sipped my coffee, not liking where this was going. "Nope," I said and grabbed another licorice.
"Of course I don't. Four years I put into that relationship and then he goes off and finds someone else. A flight attendant from one of his many business trips, the pig. You should see her, Emma. She is gorgeous. I tell you the legs on that girl…I can't blame him, really. Can't say I didn't see it coming with the way my body is deteriorating."
"Well, maybe there is supposed to be more to a relationship than just one's looks," I said. "Especially when you reach a certain age."
"What is that supposed to mean? Did you just call me old?" my mother said.
I tilted my head. "Mom, you are old. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but you're almost seventy. That’s a nice age, but it's not young anymore. You're a beautiful woman, but to be frank, you’ve come to look kind of scary with all the work you’ve had done. I can hardly recognize you anymore. I really never got why you'd ever run away with that Pablo-guy anyway. I especially don't understand how you could do it to Dad, who loves you and still insists on protecting you whenever I say anything bad. That's real love, Mom. Do you have any idea how sad he was when you left? He hardly ate or slept for months. He was so confused and sad, while you were down there having a blast in the sun. Not that I don't want you to have fun, I do, but you left a man who truly loved you. There, I said it."
My mother stared at me with a smiling face, but I knew she wasn't happy. She never took the truth well. I didn't care anymore. I had been wanting to say this to her for years. Now I had.
"Do you want some candy?" I asked, and pushed the bowl closer to her. I laughed when I noticed the fear in her eyes, as if the candy was going to attack her. "Come on, Mom. How long has it been since you last had a piece of candy? Live a little."
My mom chuckled. Then she shrugged. "Guess one piece wouldn't hurt."
"There you go, Mom," I said, and watched as she picked one up, put it in her mouth and started chewing. My mother closed her eyes.
"Oh my. I had completely forgotten how wonderful licorice tastes," she said, with a deep groan.
"I know. Why would you cheat yourself out of anything good in life?" I asked. "We only get this short time on earth and I intend to enjoy it while it lasts."
My mom looked at the bowl of candy. I pushed it closer. "Have another one," I said. "I'll make us some more coffee."
I got up from my chair and put on another pot of coffee, while my mother took another piece of candy.
"So, tell me about that policeman of yours," she said with a chuckle.
"Yes, you told me about him the last time I called. In December, I think it was."
"What's to tell? He’s nice. Not very handsome, but that doesn't matter. He’s good to me. I like him."
"I can tell you like him," my mother said.
I felt slightly uncomfortable again. It felt strange to be talking to my mother like this. She hadn't seemed interested in my life at all the last several years and it was only because I told her stuff about myself and the children that she knew anything at all. Why all this interest all of a sudden? I couldn't quite grasp it or contain it. It felt strange. I didn't know if I even wanted her in my life again or to share details about my life with her.
The coffee was done and I poured us some more, then sat down and looked at my mother again. "So what are you going to do, Mom?"
She exhaled. "I guess I'll stay with you for a little while?"
I almost choked on my coffee. I kind of knew it was coming with the suitcases and all, but it still startled me. "Really?" I said with a shrill voice.
"Well you're all I’ve got now, right? You and the kids. I think it’s about time they spend some time with their grandmother. Then you can go out with that Morten-guy of yours."
I stared at my mother in disbelief. Why was she saying these things? Did she want something from me? There had to be an alternate motive or something. My mother never wanted to just hang out with my children. Especially not with Victor who could be very difficult to handle.
"Don't you want that?" she asked. "To be able to spend more time with Morten?"
"Well yes, I guess I do."
My cell phone vibrated on the kitchen table. I looked at the display, then back at my mother. "Speaking of ... " I said, and took it. "Morten? I thought you were at work all day?"
"I am," he said. His voice was very serious. My heart dropped. A million thoughts ran through my head. Had something happened to Maya at school? Or to Victor?
"What's going on?" I asked.
"We found a body outside City Hall. I need you to come down immediately."
IT WAS A NICE, warm summer Saturday and Alexandra had planned a day at the beach. She loved living on the island of Fanoe with its wide sandy beaches…especially in the summertime. They didn't have much money and couldn't afford to go on vacation, but they didn't need it since they had - in her opinion - the best beaches in the world within walking distance.
Alexandra was whistling while packing a lunch basket and finding towels and beach toys for Samuel to play with. As a teacher, Alexandra had five weeks off in the summertime, but Poul had just started his own auto repair shop, so he had to work all summer. So, it was only going to be the two of them. Up until now, it had been good. Alexandra had spent extra time with Samuel, givi
ng him the extra amount of attention that his doctor had told her he needed.
The tantrum at his four-year birthday party hadn't been his last. But Alexandra knew he didn't mean to be bad. After trashing his entire room and breaking everything inside of it that was breakable, he had been so remorseful it almost hurt Alexandra. He had told her how sorry he was and held her tightly, crying. Weeks had passed where he had been the most delightful child, helping Alexandra out with almost everything and always telling her how much he loved her and that she was the best mother in the entire world. He had been the angel that Alexandra always knew he was, up until two months later when Alexandra had told him to clean up his Legos from the living room floor. That was when he had lost it again. And this time, his tantrum seemed even stronger than the first time. Alexandra had been alone with him at the time and had not known what to do. So, she had left him alone and run up the stairs and closed the door to her bedroom while the boy destroyed their living room. The rage ended with him punching a hole in the wall, then he went quiet. When Alexandra came down, she found him sitting on the floor crying, his hand bleeding.
So, she took him to the doctor. She told the doctor about the tantrum and rage and the doctor explained to her that Samuel was a very passionate boy and maybe a little more intense and that he probably needed a lot more attention from his mother than other children.
"Tantrums are normal in a five-year old. He'll grow out of it, don't worry."
But it still hadn't gotten any better. In his preschool, they complained that Samuel pulled the girls' hair and threw stuff around when he got angry. Alexandra made all kinds of excuses and told them she would get the boy under control, but so far, she still didn't know how to handle him once he got into that zone. It was like he was unreachable. Poul didn't want to talk about it. He had enough trouble at work, he would say.
"You're his mother. You figure it out."
So now, Alexandra had decided to spend the entire summer doing nothing but giving her boy a lot of attention. She planned activities for them to do every day and, so far, she had avoided any bad confrontations and tantrums.
She exhaled deeply and closed the basket containing the sandwiches, hoping and praying that this was going to be one of the good days as well.
"Samuel?" she called. "Are you ready? I put your swim shorts out for you. Did you put them on?"
There was no answer, so Alexandra put the basket down and walked up the stairs. The door to Samuel's room was ajar and she pushed it open. She found him sitting on the carpet inside with the swim pants in his hand.
Alexandra exhaled, relieved. "Do you need help?" she asked and kneeled next to him.
He didn't react. He stared into the air without moving.
Samuel turned his head and stared at his mother with pitch-black eyes. Alexandra gasped and drew backwards.
"I told you…I…don't…like…these…SHORTS!"
Alexandra shook her head. "You never said that…but…you don't have to wear them, Samuel. We can find another pair." Alexandra got up and opened a drawer, then frantically searched for another pair and found them. She pulled them out. "See. You have these as well. They're nice, right?"
But it was too late. Samuel had that look in his eyes that Alexandra had come to know frighteningly well.
"I don't want to wear those either," he said. "I HATE swim shorts. I HATE the beach."
"No you don't, sweetie. You love the beach, remember? We’ll get to build a sandcastle and maybe play soccer?"
Samuel was breathing heavily now and Alexandra had a feeling it was too late. No words were able to calm him down now. She had seen that look in his eyes before. But to her surprise, Samuel remained calm. He didn't throw anything at her or even scream. Instead, he simply looked at her with his pitch-black eyes and said:
"Mom, I love you, and I don't want to hurt you, but some days, I have to."
With utter terror in her eyes, Alexandra drew backwards, then stormed out of the room and into her own bedroom where she stayed until Poul came home.
MY MOTHER STAYED AT the house while I drove towards City Hall with my heart pounding in my throat. Morten hadn't told me much on the phone and, to be frank, I was completely freaked out by the whole thing.
Why did he need me to come down? They found a body, but what did that have to do with me?
I turned into the parking lot in front of City Hall where the island's police car was parked. I parked mine next to it. I spotted Morten and another officer on the other side of the police tape. A small flock of people had gathered to watch. I walked past them and Morten spotted me. He ran to greet me. I followed him closer to the scene, my eyes fixated on the body on the tiles that was covered with a white blanket.
Is it someone I know since they want me down here? It couldn't be any of my children since he would have told me, wouldn't he? Or is he bracing himself right now to tell me? Is he? Oh God, don't let him be!
"You're scaring me here," I said. "Tell me right away. Is it any of my children? Is it my dad? I tried to call him all the way down here, but he didn't answer his phone."
"Sorry," Morten answered. "How insensitive of me. It's no one from your family. As a matter of fact, we haven't quite figured out who she is yet, so don't worry about that."
I exhaled, relieved, and my heart calmed slightly. "Oh good," I said. "But why am I here, then?"
"I have to show you this. That's why I couldn't tell you on the phone," Morten said and grabbed the blanket. He pulled it and I braced myself for what I was about to see.
"This woman was found here this morning when the clerk came to open up City Hall at eight. She was lying just the way you see her here in front of the main entrance, blocking it so no one could enter without seeing her."
I looked down at the body and felt nauseated.
"Her head has been decapitated," Morten continued, "and the back of her head suffered a trauma of some sort. Looks like a blow from a fall. I've seen something similar before in another case, but the forensics will clear that up for us when they arrive from Copenhagen."
"I see all that," I said, feeling confused. "But why…What does this have to do with me?"
Morten nodded slowly. He reached down and grabbed the body and turned it around, while the head remained in its place.
"We didn't know it had anything to do with you until we started examining her and found this," he said, and turned her naked body all the way around to show me the back of it.
I gasped. Carved into the skin was a series of letters spelling a message:
PEEK-A-BOO, EMMA FROST
Startled, I pulled backwards, covering my mouth with my hand. "What…what the hell is that?"
Morten shrugged with a sigh. "I don't know. It looks like someone wants your attention."
I shook my head in distrust. "But…but…What is this? I mean who would do such a horrible thing?"
Morten covered the body with the blanket, then put a hand on my shoulder. "I don't know, Emma. But it looks like you’re going to be a part of figuring that out, whether you like it or not. We're going to need your help. It might just be some psycho who likes your books or something. I mean you have become quite the name in this country and with fame comes a whole lot of stuff that you never asked for."
"I know…I know. I'm just…I don't understand. I don't know this woman. I’ve never seen her before in my life."
"Good, at least we’ve established that. That was kind of the reason I brought you down here. I thought you might know her."
"I really don't."
"Okay," Morten said. "Then you're free to go back home. I have to wait for the forensic team to come and then secure the area for anything we can use. We found a couple of shoeprints over there that I hope will give us a clue."
I was about to leave when something struck me. "Didn't the body strike you as odd," I said.
"What do you mean? She's been decapitated and a message ha
s been carved into her back, so yes, but other than that?"
"Yes," I said and walked closer. I swallowed hard before grabbing the blanket and pulling it away again. "Look," I said and pointed.
"What am I looking at?"
"The head doesn't seem to quite fit the body, does it?"
"What do you mean?"
"The body is very slim and fit, but her face is quite round and somehow seems way too big for that tiny body."
Morten nodded and touched his face. "I believe you're right," he said pensively. "It does look strange."
"If you ask me, it’s been put together like this. I think you have two dead women. The question is…where is the rest of them?"
PEEK-A-BOO EMMA FROST?
I kept repeating the message to myself in the car on my way back. Part of me wondered if this was all some stupid dream. This entire morning had been so surreal, I had no idea how to grasp it. It was all a little too much. I understood what Morten said with me being a name and all and it was true. I had written four books by now and was trying to finish my fifth about the crazy stay at Hotel Brinkloev, but it kept giving me problems because I wanted to leave all the stuff out about my daughter. I wondered if I should just kill the book and start something new, since I was tired of the story and it kept nagging me with what I had discovered up there. After all, not everything I experienced had to be a book. That was what Maya always told me, but I couldn't help it. It was my way of dealing with all that had happened to me during the last couple of years. Plus, I made a lot of money on the books, now that I had sold the rights to several other European countries. I was making enough for me to take a few years off if I wanted to.