Prologue: A TRUE STORY …  I wish to God that it weren't





By Janet Bailey McQuaid Copyright June 2001

I always thought there would be some sort of sign, a warning of impending danger, a bird stealing its way into the house, a picture falling off the wall. I thought people were supposed to have some sort of a sign. A couple of days before my father died, my mother got her sign. For several nights there was a knock at the door leading from her basement. It would awaken her from her sleep, and she would always answer the knock of the phantom visitor.

The only warning I got that my son Tod was in grave trouble was a phone call from Tammy Wilson, the woman Tod had hired to work at his alarm and security business. I met her shortly after Tod hired her. He brought her to New York for a trade show, and we met for dinner at our favorite restaurant. I had suggested to Tod that I make dinner, but he declined. This was a subtle clue to me that he wasn't that interested in their relationship. It was strictly employer-employee.

My husband Rog and I arrived early at the restaurant. It was crowded with people chattering over the loud music. The hostess escorted us to a table, and we ordered a glass of wine while we waited for Tod's arrival. We discussed how proud we were of Tod's growing security business, TEMAC. We had originally thought Tod was taking a big risk when he sold his security business in Springfield, New Jersey, and started fresh in Lewisburg, West Virginia, a city that had one of the nation's lowest crime rates. Not a good place, we thought, for a business that depended upon people's need for security. Tod believed in himself and, as always, made things work. More importantly, Tod was happy.

"There's Tod," I said waving my red napkin in the air. "Doesn't he look handsome without that awful beard?" As was his habit, he had shaved off his beard for the summer. I watched with pride as he walked toward us. He was neatly dressed in a navy blue suit, white shirt, vest, and tie. His dark brown hair was combed neatly. He flashed a radiant smile when he saw us, and his blue eyes twinkled. I looked at the girl beside him, expecting someone tiny and petite, and was surprised to see that she was a husky girl of about five feet six or seven. She wore heavy, dark blue eye shadow with contrasting white up to her eyebrows, like a teenager experimenting with makeup. Her eyelashes were caked with mascara and her lips were bright red. Her clothes, in keeping with her taste in makeup, were overstated. A red top, several sizes too small, partially exposed her small breasts, and her skirt was so tight that it made her rounded hips look out of proportion to her body. Her heels made a loud, clopping noise as she walked toward us. She was talking softly to Tod, and I could tell from the expression on her face she wasn't happy. I continued to smile as I whispered to Rog, "Where did he find her?"

"Hi, Mom," Tod said, giving me a hug. He gently kissed my cheek.

Rog gave Tod the ritual hug. It was never too long or too close and always ended with a pat on the back. "This is Tammy Wilson," Tod said. "She works for TEMAC in the office."

"Welcome to New Jersey, Tammy." I extended my hand to her. Barely making contact, she shook my hand with her limp fingers.

"I thought it would be a good idea to bring her to the trade show to give her the chance to meet with some of our alarm vendors and learn about the business, Tod said. "After all she is going to be ordering equipment for TEMAC."

During dinner Tammy didn't talk much, and what she did say didn't tell me much about her. I didn't ask any of the typical questions I reserved for Tod's "lady friends" because I had the feeling that she was not going to play a major role in his life. I couldn't help but wonder why she seemed so unhappy, quietly listening while Tod caught us up on the latest news about his business. I tried to include Tammy in friendly conversation, asking her general questions. She answered me somewhat reluctantly, then reverted to her sullen expression. I had the impression she resented Tod for being with us, almost as if she were jealous of him. I felt Tammy Wilson wasn't Tod's type. He was attracted to women who were friendly and fun loving, and Tammy was proving to be neither.

When our waitress brought our dinners, I had lost interest in my food and barely tasted it. Something about Tammy Wilson bothered me, and I sat trying to figure out what it could be. "Do you want to stop by the trade show for a couple of hours?" Tod asked, taking a sip of wine to wash down his last bite of steak. Before I could decline, Rog said we would go. Reminding Rog that I had to baby-sit our two grandchildren, Elizabeth and Heather. "You go." I said. "We'll meet up at the house later. The girls will be waiting for you, Tod, so don't be too late."

Elizabeth and Heather were Tod's two girls from his first marriage. Tod and Rose dated five years before marrying. Rog and I thought for sure they were a match made in heaven. We were sad when they separated and hoped they would patch up their problems, but after an extended separation they divorced. However, lately they seemed to be growing close again, and were spending more time together during his visits home. Elizabeth had said Tod had told her that he and Mommy might be getting back together. This thrilled us all.

I particularly loved Rose. She was a loving and caring person. Before the separation was final, Rog and I discussed with Tod the possibility of Rose and Elizabeth moving in with us. Tod was in agreement, since Rose was going back to work, and I could care for Elizabeth. They came to live with us temporarily, but the arrangement worked out so well they never moved out. Rose became my daughter. She was company for me when Rog had to travel on company business, and having my little granddaughter close at hand was pure joy.

"I'll drop you off at the motel," Tod said to Tammy as he and Rog played tug-of war over the bill. Rog lost.

"You don't want me to go to the exhibit hall with you?" Tammy asked, sounding a little annoyed.

"No, I'd like to spend a little guy time with my dad."

"Why don't you come back to the house with me?" I offered.

"No, Mom," Tod said, nearly cutting off my words. "She'll be fine at the motel. Besides, there's some paperwork she needs to do."

"I'll do it later," Tammy said, taking her purse from the back of the chair. "I'll take you up on your offer, Mrs. McQuaid, if you don't mind."

I gave Tod a quick glance and could tell that he was a little upset. I wasn't sure whether he really wanted her to get some work done or if he did not want her involved that closely in his life. My guess was the latter.

On the drive back to the house Tammy remained quiet. I broke the silence by explaining the excitement that would occur as we entered the house. It didn't matter where we went or how long we were gone, Elizabeth and Heather always greeted us with hugs and kisses. True to form the girls greeted at the door. "Daddy, Nanny, Poppy!" They hollered. I hugged and kissed the excited girls as they glanced at the stranger standing in the foyer. Ignoring Tammy, Elizabeth grabbed Heather's hand as they ran to the front door. Not seeing Tod or Rog, Elizabeth turned to me, "Where's Daddy and Poppy?"

"Daddy had some business to take care of, and Poppy went along," I explained. "They'll be here in a little while." The girls turned away from the door and faced Tammy. Heather immediately hid behind me. I reached for her hand and wrapped my arms around her as I stood her in front of me. Elizabeth grabbed my skirt and clung close to my side.

"This is Tammy Wilson. She works in Daddy's office."

"Hello," the girls said quietly, in unison. Elizabeth looked at me with an expression that told me she was happy that the ordeal was over and asked if she and her sister could wait up for Daddy and Poppy.

"Only if Mom says okay, and you promise to be quiet so Tammy and I can visit."

The girls promised that they would be quiet as mice. "Mommy's upstairs getting ready for her appointment," Elizabeth replied, as they scurried up the stairs to get her approval. I knew it was only a matter of time before Rose came down the stairs. I began to feel tension building in my body. I had forewarned Rose about Tod bringing a female employee to the trade show. I didn't think Rose would feel threatened by Tammy but thought she might feel a little jealous. Perhaps Tod was right, Tammy should have gone back to the motel. It was too late to think about that now, so I had to make the best of it.

The girls returned with Mom's approval and proceeded to the end of the living room, where they had left their dolls. Tammy walked over to observe them as they began changing the clothes on their dolls. "What is your doll's name?" she asked Elizabeth.

Never taking her eyes off her doll, Elizabeth answered, "Jean Pierre."

"That's a nice name. Isn't that French?"

"Yes, Nanny brought him back from France for me."

Elizabeth was shy but never failed to give a friendly smile. Her cool behavior made it obvious that she didn't want to be bothered by Tammy. I couldn't understand what her problem might be, and suddenly it came to me. Tod had told Elizabeth that he and Rose might be getting back together again, and Tammy, in Elizabeth's eyes, posed a threat to that plan.

I heard Rose coming down the stairs and mentally began preparing myself for the introduction. Rose walked into the living room and made immediate eye contact with Tammy. "Hi, you must be Tammy. I'm Rose."

"She works for our daddy," Heather chimed in.

"Yes, I know" Rose said, smiling.

I sighed in relief as I watched Rose and Tammy give each other the once-over. Rose turned and rolled her eyes so only I could see her true feelings. “Excuse me, ladies, but I have an appointment with a client. I have all the necessary insurance papers ready for him to sign and should be finished in about an hour and a half," she said. "Nice meeting you Tammy."

"You too," Tammy responded.

Rose hugged and kissed the girls, ordering them to behave as she left, closing the door behind her. I was so relieved when that moment of introduction was over. My tense muscles began to unclench as I watched Tammy make her way to the sofa, sit down, and appear to relax. I sat down across from her on the antique love seat that Tammy was eyeing with great interest.

An awkward silence hung in the air as I searched my mind for something to talk to this woman about. Finally my manners resurfaced. "Would you care for something to drink?" I asked.

"Perhaps later. I can't get over how beautiful Tod's daughters are," she said, picking up a photo of the girls from the end table. "Tod's forever talking about them. They're the same age as my daughters."

"How many children do you have?" A sense of relief washed over me, knowing she was married.

"Two girls, and a little boy two-and-a-half," she sighed as a faraway look crossed over her face.

"How lucky you were to be able to get away," I offered. "Is your husband watching the children?" I was hoping she answered yes.

"No, I'm divorced. My mother has my little boy." She paused, a flash of anger glaring in her eyes. She explained that she was in a custody battle for her little girls because the court had awarded them to her ex-husband, and now she was fighting to get them back.

There was never a question between Tod and Rose where the children should remain. They put the girls first. It's always unfortunate when divorcing parents aren't able to work things out quietly for the sake of their children.

"Oh, Mrs. McQuaid," she blurted catching me off guard. "You don't know what I've been going through." Tears began to well up in her eyes. She searched her purse for a few seconds, than produced a tissue and carefully dabbed her eyes as she vowed to continue to fight until she got her girls back. I was surprised that her ex-husband had custody of her girls when the court usually favored the mother. I had a feeling there had to be a good reason why Tammy didn't have her children. Tammy surprised me further by telling me her ex-husband had an affair with a married woman who had his child. According to her, the mother didn't want the child and Tammy had adopted her. Because her ex-husband was the biological father of both girls, the court felt they should stay together and granted him custody.

"The woman gave you the rights to her child?" I asked incredulously.

"I know this doesn't make sense, but it's true," Tammy replied. "Those girls should be with me, and I'm going to keep fighting until I get them back," she vowed.

I was curious about her little boy. Why didn't her ex-husband have custody of him? The answer sounded like the plot of a soap opera, as Tammy explained that her son was born out of wedlock when she served one year in the army and his father was somewhere in California.

"The United States Army?" I questioned. I had never heard of anyone serving one year in the armed service and thought this hard to believe. I found her position oddly intriguing but wondered if she was really telling me the truth "What exactly did you do in the army?" I probed.

"I was put into nursing but due to a bad back was transferred into security. I did so well there they transferred me into the FBI where I did undercover work."

My jaw dropped. "How could you do that in one year? I was certain she could detect the sound of disbelief in my voice.

Completely unruffled, she replied, "Well I did. I’m a hard worker."

"What did you do with your children?" I asked, continuing my interrogation.

"I hired someone to take care of them," she said sincerely, but I still had my doubts.

Elizabeth, who had sidled up next to one arm of the sofa, joined in the questioning. "Did you wear a uniform?"

Elizabeth was very astute, and I shouldn't have been surprised she was listening to our conversation. Tammy glanced over the arm of the sofa. "Oh, how cute. Yes, I did."

"I'm going to be a doctor when I grow up," Elizabeth offered.

Heather, not wanting to be left out, hurried over. "Me too," she chimed in.

"You sure are sweet girls." Tammy cooed. "I'd love you to meet my two girls."

Suddenly, Tammy tugged at her tight skirt to straighten it out and moved to the edge of the sofa. "I have a wonderful idea," she said, raising her voice and clasping her hands together. "Why don't you bring the girls to Lewisburg for Thanksgiving? I should have my girls back by then. I know it's three months away, but it's good to prepare ahead. I'm renting a house from my dad, and have plenty of sleeping space."

I politely declined her offer, explaining that we had our own family gathering. It didn't matter what I had said, though; I could tell Tammy had her mind made up. I can't wait for Tod to return so we can make plans." She paused a moment, then bluntly asked, “Say, do you know if Rose still loves Tod?”

I was shocked to think she would ask such a question. My instant response would have been to say, "Yes." I decided not to go down that road with her. "Tammy, that's a question I don't care to answer."

"Well then, do you know if Tod still loves Rose?" She was determined to get an answer one way or another.

"Whatever feeling Tod and Rose may have for each other is strictly between them, and personally, it's no one else's business. Not mine or yours."

"I'm asking because I love Tod very much."

Surprisingly her confession didn't startle me. I figured even if Tammy did love Tod, which I doubted, I was certain that Tod did not have the same affection for her. He kept asking Rose to move back to West Virginia. I wasn't sure where Tammy's conversation was headed, but I knew Elizabeth and Heather couldn't help listening. I suggested they go into the family room and play while I would put on one of their favorite movies.

Once the girls were settled I returned to the living room where Tammy was waiting with more questions. "Don't you find it awkward having Rose and the girls living with you?"

I resented this stranger asking such rude questions. I tried to think of a subtle way to tell her that Tod and Rose still had feelings for each other. I realized that an elephant doesn't notice when you hit him with a fly swatter. "No, I don't. Tod wanted Rose to live with us. Rose is a gem and the girls are delightful."

"How did Heather come about?" Tammy asked next.

I thought that was a rather stupid question and began to laugh. "Tod and Rose spent a weekend together. They weren't divorced when Heather was born." I decided to hit the nail on the head in hope it would end this third degree. "Even after Tod and Rose divorced and he came home for weekends they dated, if you want to call it that. Sometimes after a divorce, love is still there, and some couples continue a relationship. I've actually known couples that divorced and got along better afterward."

Tammy sat in silence with her eyes downcast. I thought she was mulling over what I had said. Suddenly, she raised her head and stared at me. "Say, did Tod tell you the TEMAC office was robbed?" she said calmly.

Now she startled me. Tod hadn't mentioned this to me. "When did that take place?"

"Last month." Tammy claimed that Evelyn Gettman, a girl that Tod had dated, and her two brothers rammed knives in the kitchen walls, broke mirrors, stole money and some of Tod's jewelry, cut up Tod and Rose's wedding pictures, and, before leaving, ripped up the plants in his garden.

"Where was Tod when this took place?" I asked, not even trying to hide my concern.

"Doing a guard check," she replied casually.

I knew Tod would never leave his office without turning on his alarm system, so I was having a hard time believing Tammy and told her so.

"Tod had his alarm on, but she knew the code," she explained. "I even saw them leaving the house"

"That's funny, Tammy because Tod changes his code from time to time."

This surprised her, and she paused for a moment. "Yes, I know he does," she continued, "but somehow Evelyn got the code. Another thing you should know," she continued, "Evelyn threatened to kill Tod. She said if she couldn't have Tod, no one would."

I wasn't sure how to react to her comment. I questioned her about the threat, thinking she might have misunderstood something.

"Oh, I'm not mistaken. I'm very sure," she said, nodding her head She uncrossed her legs, letting her pantyhose line show. "He swore out a warrant for her arrest on the break-in, and, as usual, the Lewisburg police just ignored it. Every time Tod talked to them about it, they gave him a big runaround." Tammy leaned forward, and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Mrs. McQuaid, please don't tell Tod about this. He'll be angry if he knew I told you. I know how you worry about your sons." She leaned against the back of the sofa and smiled.

I was upset. My son's life had been threatened and, strange I wasn't supposed to talk to ham about it. Tammy said, still smiling, "I'm sorry I upset you. I just thought you should know."

Just then the front door opened and Rose appeared. The girls ran to greet her. "Mommy, Tammy wants to know if Daddy and you love each other," Heather said, giving her mother a hug. "You love Daddy, don't you?" Rose gave me an immediate frown followed by a puzzled look.

I quickly shook my head as a signal to ignore the question for the time being. Rose took my cue and she and girls went into the kitchen.

Curiosity was killing me, and I finally asked, "Tammy, how did you and Tod happen to meet?" She perked up and explained the event without hesitation She had returned to West Virginia after being released from the Army and saw the TEMAC advertisement in the yellow pages. Since she was looking for a job she called them. Tod explained that he had two positions open, a security guard and operations manager. She felt qualified for both positions. After an interview, Tod hired her, and for two nights worked as a security guard, since the company was shorthanded She then took over the position of operation's manager.

"You certainly are a Jack-of-all-trades, aren't you?" I said. "Being able to run an office, and everything else you've done, too."

"Sort of," she answered, sounding doubtful.

Sort of, was a strange answer. Either she could run an office or she couldn't. "When did you say you started working for TEMAC?"

"The end of July."

"That's less than a month ago."

"Yes, but it seems longer than that."

As I listened to her I tried to determine her ethnic heritage. She might be of Italian, Mexican, or even American Indian decent with her long, straight, dark black hair, brown eyes, and olive complexion. When we made eye contact an eerie feeling washed over me, I saw nothing in her eyes but shadows and emptiness. She was different, and strange. And I knew there was something very wrong about her.

_  _  _  _  _

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