P.S.I. Part III -- Without Betsy . . .And Others

Chapter 8 -- Kentucky Christmas

Chapter 1 -- Stomping, Snorting Buck
Chapter 2 -- Pele or Meowzie?
Chapter 3 -- "High Tide"
Chapter 4 -- Three Phone Calls
Chapter 5 -- The Fire Pole
Chapter 6 -- "She's Got You Spoiled, Doesn't She?"
Chapter 7 -- Heartbreak Hotel
Chapter 8 -- Kentucky Christmas
Chapter 9 -- Betsy's Estate
Chapter 10 -- Alone With a Madwoman
Chapter 11 -- "Why, Ettie, why?"
Chapter 12 -- Three Starbursts
Chapter 13 -- Weep No More, My Lady
Chapter 14 -- 'Betsy's Revenge'
Chapter 15 -- The Geoff Papers
Chapter 16 -- The "Wedding Portrait"
Chapter 17 -- Silence Requested

"Why not come to Kentucky with me?" Mike asked Cap, again.
"You go on.  I'll work."
"I still don't think it's a good idea," Mike offered.
"You go on," Cap insisted.

When Mike and Elizabeth walked in the back door of the Stanley house from the airport on Christmas Eve, Meowzie started meowing.  She'd been quiet the entire trip.
"We've kept her litter box fixed, so she can go if she needs to," said Elizabeth.
Mike put the pet carrier down and opened the door.  Meowzie shot out like a racehorse from the gate and started rubbing against Elizabeth's legs.  "There's my grandbaby," she said, scooping the cat up into her arms.
Mike got a lump in his throat, and his eyes teared.
"Oh, forgive me, Mike, I had always called her my grandchild because she was Betsy's cat."
Mike waved her off.  "That's okay.  Where do I put these?" he asked regarding his luggage.
"You wouldn't mind being on the couch again, would you?  You can put your bags at the far end, like you did last time you were here."
"Of course not," he said, not believing how "spaced out" he was feeling.  Perhaps he was just tired.  A part of him was still on the plane in the air.  Oh, yeah, now he knew: he was on Eastern time now, not Pacific, like at home.
"Chief and Barbara are both on duty until 5pm.  I go in to work at four.  Bobby gets off at six.  Then he picks me up at midnight from the P.D."
"Nothing like your own personal security detail," Mike blurted with a chuckle.  His eyes burned with tears.  He looked up at Elizabeth, who was experiencing the same.  Before they knew it, they were in a teary embrace.

"Our first Christmas without her,"  Elizabeth wept.  "I keep fighting to keep my head above water, but sometimes it's almost impossible."
"I understand," was all Mike could say.  He thought his heart would burst with grief.  Elizabeth's careless comment about Meowzie had actually hurt worse than he'd let on.
"Sorry about that stupid comment about Meowzie.  It just about killed me after the words left my mouth."
"It's okay, it's okay," he said, patting her on the back.
He didn't know how long they'd stood and wept in each other's arms, but he remembered the scene from the dream which was similar to their present situation, and realized he was getting hungry.  He heard scratching, and knew Meowzie had found the litter box.
"I'm glad I let her go when I did," Elizabeth chuckled.

Their hug was disrupted by the phone.  The dispatcher on duty needed to leave to pick up a sick child being sent home from school.  Could Elizabeth come in to relieve her?  Of course.
"I'm so sorry, Mike.  I was about to feed you, but there are restaurants all over town.  Since we have the tourism industry, there are about fifty to choose from," she said as she dug into her purse. 
Fifty!? he thought.  "That's not a problem.  And thank you," he said as he accepted some money from her.  He had been planning to pay his own way with a credit card.
"Just turn off all the lights, and leave the back door unlocked," she requested as she left through the same.

Mike couldn't help but feel grateful when everyone was out of the house.  He was ashamed of himself for feeling that way, but he could get his emotions out only when he and Meowzie were alone.  He could still tell what everyone was doing, though, because the residential radio console was the same as the one seen in the dream. 
Mike's stomach growled.  Without really paying attention to where he was going, he ended up a block from the Gothic Revival courthouse, a couple of doors up from Joe's Place.  Mike felt forced to stop in front of a store with a shiny black tile facade and display windows.  The Louisville Store was spelled out in Old English lettering over the expandable awning.
He didn't know if he was getting nauseous because of hunger, or from being so close to Joe's Place or what, but he couldn't move from in front of this particular store.  Mike saw a streak of fire go down the main aisle of the store, but when he moved to respond, it disappeared.  He finally felt released to move on. 

Something made him stop in at Joe's Place.  The "main" dining room was small and didn't have the Stephen Foster mural along the wall.  "I'm looking for the mural," he said to the older, bespectacled lady behind the lunch bar.  She pointed in front of her.  "In there," she said.  When he crossed into the larger room to his right, he was astounded to find that everything corresponded with the dream.

 "You hungry?" the older lady asked.
"Yes, ma'am, I am," he said.
She grabbed a menu from the wall holder and seated him in the same two-seater as the women who had discussed "Harold's girl" in the dream.
After lunch, he wandered around town more, and two blocks west of the courthouse, he found the Stanleys' church--where Betsy had spoken of their getting married.  Behind the church were two very old three-story structures, well set back from the road with a huge expanse of yard before them, and next to them was the single-story City Hall.  The police department was on the far side of the building, and the fire department took up the building's entire right half.

 The Stanley house was one block toward town from the fire department.  Now he was reoriented.  Chief had showed him a side street he could take to get him to their back door more quickly.  Nearly every house on this particular street was historic, and had wrought-iron "Circa" signs next to their front doors stating the approximate year of build.   The large Georgian mansion on the corner had a garage which was flush with the sidewalk.  Over the two doors were "Shadow" and "Lawn."


Meowzie greeted him when he walked in the back door.  He picked her up and put her on his shoulders.  

The Christmas tree was in the front window, but there was no picture of Betsy on an easel.  He became restless again, and decided to visit his beloved's room.  He sat down in the doorway, leaning against the frame.

He knew it would be too cold to sleep on the floor of Betsy's room, despite the fact that it was on the second floor, but he sat and took in the surroundings.  He had more time to do so now than he did on his first trip there.  By simply touching the rug on the floor of her room, he could see strongly on his mind's eye a racing oval of -- where was this?  He could tell that the sport had demanded unconditional love from her.  Cold days were made more depressing by the lack of work.

Betsy never seemed to let that get her down -- or perhaps that was the reason she had spent so much time with the disabled riders.  His thoughts flashed back to their house in the dream, and his experiencing overwhelming grief and lonliness.   Presently,  the Stanley house was like a double exposure photo with the dream.

He changed positions to the top of the steps, and regarded Betsy's room from across the hallway.  Meowzie came trotting up the stairs, and rubbed up against him, almost forcing her way into his lap.  He hugged and nuzzled her.  "Mama's not here," he whispered, then started crying.  In some ways, Betsy still seemed like a dream, but he had his healed injuries to attest to the fact that she had, indeed, been real.

He had to keep that in mind.  He'd be walking with a frame right now if Betsy hadn't been taken from them.  Still so many unanswered questions, though.  If he'd had everything taken from him, including the use of both his arms and legs, he would've consented to it in order to be with her.

At times like this, he almost couldn't see any point in going on with life.  But what did Brin say in the dream?  If you take your own life, we will never be together, again.  Well, okay, if you say so.  He wanted to live and he wanted to fight fires.  Speaking of which, he wondered what Chief was up to.

The monitor tone went off, as did an awful two-tone noise that filled the air outside.  Elizabeth had changed her voice slightly--she now almost sounded like a robot.  The fact that he'd never heard her over the radio dawned on him.  Too late now to try to visit Chief--or catch a ride to the fire.

"Mike, you've got one minute to meet me outside the house," he heard Chief say over the radio.  Meowzie trotted down the stairs.

"I'M THERE!" he shouted, bounding down the stairs, and out the back door.  How'd Chief know he was home?

The red car with flashing lights was already out front.  Mike jumped in, and Chief drove on.  "Christmas lights are the culprit," he explained.  When they arrived on-scene, a single story home's guttering was on fire, and the flames were crawling the roof.  Mike got a pit in his stomach--this thing was going to go.  Well, maybe not.  Perhaps they'd gotten there in time to keep the whole thing from going up.  Also depended on what kind of roofing shingles the builder had used.

The volunteer firefighters moved without Chief having to give orders.  He sat and watched from the car with the radio mic in his right hand.

Once home, Chief and Mike moved the couch he was using for a bed so they could get to the fireplace.  A white van with the words "chimney sweep" pulled up outside the house.
"We're going to have a real fire in the fireplace on Christmas," Chief declared.
"Far out," Mike said.  "When was the last time you had a fire in there?" he asked with a slight point at the fireplace.
Chief's eyes misted.  "Not since we called Betsy, 'Beanie.'"
"Sorry," Mike said, putting his hands to his face.
"Not a problem," Chief said, waving him off.  "We guys grieve differently than the womenfolk.  Her prayers healed you, now I don't see why her prayers can't bring her perps to justice."

A few hours later, the Stanleys knew they had to get to church early, or they wouldn't get a seat.  Since Chief was on the pager, they preferred to sit in the "bullpen"--a set of 10 pews at the back of the church between a side door, and a side front door.  The Christmas carols started at 11:30 p.m.  As midnight approached, the choir started "Silent Night."  Everything was fine until they sang,  "Sleep in heavenly peace."
Elizabeth put a hand to her mouth, and dashed out the side door.  Chief took off after her.  He signaled for everyone else to stay put to keep their seats from being taken.  They returned within five minutes, but Elizabeth still wept through Midnight Mass.  The other three Stanleys dabbed at their eyes.
Mike could sense nothing but compassion from the parishioners surrounding them.  The tall, bespectacled usher he'd seen in the dream was on duty, and Chief seemed to know him.  He'd held their seats for them when Elizabeth dashed out the door.

As they walked back to the house after Mass, Mike didn't seem to realize just how cold it could get in Kentucky.  It'd been years since he'd seen his breath in the air.

"What's the deal about "Shadow" and "Lawn?" he asked as they walked the same street he'd taken the day before.

"That used to be a stable," Chief explained, "And the horses' names were 'Shadow' and 'Lawn.'  The estate is now known as "Shadowlawn."

"And what's that?" Mike asked, pointing to a huge, rectangular slab of weathered limestone on legs with three steps at one end on the grassy curb next to the street.

"Mounting block for the family," Chief said, pointing at the Shadowlawn house.  "The carriage would pull up, and the family would climb the stairs, then get into the carriage."

More notes to the Manfriend. . .