This is the second novel in my "Midnight" series. If you loved Rachel and the ensemble cast in "Midnight at Trafalgar Square", you'll find them in this one, too, as well as Shellie and Janet who become part of Rachel's life.
Rebecca Buckley - Writer
"Till death do us part" is not Jerold Singer's pledge, it is his mantra.
Shellie Singer escapes to Paris from L.A. fleeing an abusive marriage to follow her dream of becoming a famous Jazz singer. Adrian van Allman, a gentle young man from Switzerland striving to become a successful artist, falls in love with her at first sight.
Shellie also meets Rachel O'Neill in Paris, an American writer who lives in Cornwall. Rachel's lover, flying over South America on a field trip for Cornwall's Eden Project, crashes into the Amazon Jungle.
Back in L.A., Shellie's friend Janet Corrigan - a savvy, blond and brassy Barbie doll with brains - who harbored Shellie and made it possible for her to live on a Parisian houseboat near the Eiffel Tower, is accosted by Shellie's husband. Janet shoots him in self defense. But that does not stop Jerold Singer. He escapes police custody, leaving the hospital more determined than ever to find his runaway wife.
The story is about Shellie, Rachel, and Janet - all three wanting romance, all three wary, afraid to trust, and not sure if they even want to try. All three in Paris with life decisions to make.
Swiftly Shellie used her arms to shield her face from the impending blow and figured as long as she could live through this one last onslaught of punches and could prevent cuts and bruises to her face, she would gladly take it. But this would be the end of it, there would be no more.
Jerold swung in a drunken rage at the side of her head and Shellie could swear he had broken her wrist as his iron fist smashed into it. She had become adept at dodging and averting most of his maiming violence, but on occasions like this, when he was wild and furious that she had not been home offering up his dinner the moment he had walked in the door, his level of abuse could escalate to a point of unpredictability. Sometimes he would only shove and slap her around, sometimes he would only verbally abuse her, and other times he would land into her as if she were a punching bag in a gymnasium. She never knew which way it would go whenever he was sloshed and angry, for his wrath could surface for the minutest reason or for no reason at all. She had learned long before tonight that there didn’t have to be a reason for him to lash out at her. She also knew it was all about him, not her.
So she had expected it tonight because on top of the usual afternoon after-work beers, this was the boys’-night-out in the marina. Today, like every day, Jerold and his buddy construction workers would spend a couple of hours of heavy drinking before going home to their wives and girlfriends. It was their excuse for rewarding themselves for working so hard for their “little ladies.” A macho thing to do. But Jerold didn’t treat Shellie like a lady. He treated her the only way he knew how, learned it from his father who beat the crap out of him and his brother as well as their mother. As much as Jerold hated his father for what he had done to them, he had followed suit and carried on with the violent tradition that had been handed down from father to son for four generations. So, she knew he would be raging the minute she walked through the door. One thing for certain, though, she would not be there going through another brutal attack if she had not forgotten the damn envelope. She would have been long gone by now.
Abuse wasn’t new to Shellie Singer. Before marrying Jerold, she had been physically abused by her own mother who had been a tyrannical single mother raising an only child. Her mother had been an alcoholic with boyfriends too many to count, so it was inevitable that Shellie would land in a dysfunctional relationship after she fled her mother’s ever-changing nest, for she believed that was the way people lived and she didn’t expect any better.
That is until earlier in the week when she took a sick day from work and happened to watch the Oprah television talk show. Rachel O’Neill, a guest on the show, had explained why women stay with abusers year after year. She had said that it wasn’t love that kept them there. Her very words were “No one loves being beaten and you don’t beat a person if you love them.”
The show had caught Shellie’s attention because Rachel O’Neill had been the key witness in a high profile case in California two years before. It was in all the media for weeks when a California politician was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and multiple rapes. Rachel O’Neill’s testimony helped put him behind bars; she had been one of his victims.
Shellie remembered Rachel saying, “If a man can verbally abuse a woman, he can just as easily hit her, and if he can hit her, he can just as easily kill her. All it takes is one angry punch connecting with one vulnerable spot and abusers don’t quit at one punch.”
Another guest who had made an impression on Shellie that day was one who had been beaten to the point of plastic surgery and had been literally stolen from her home by two of her closest friends to tear her away from her tormentor. Oprah’s words echoed in Shellie’s mind for hours after the show on that Tuesday morning, “If you’re watching this show and this is happening to you, get out and get help before it is too late!”
Shellie made up her mind that day that she would leave Jerold on Friday, which was pay day, which was today.
Jerold grabbed Shellie’s elbows as she held her arms close and tight covering her face and head. He lifted all of her 110 pounds and tossed her through the air towards the dining table. Her back struck the hard wooden edge of the table, right across the middle rib cage, the impact scooted the table a few inches. She crumpled on the floor into a fetal position. Pain shot in every direction - up out in and down - the kind of pain that comes from broken ribs. She had felt that pain before, oh yes; she knew what that pain was.
As she burrowed her face into her knees, with her arms still protecting her head, she began whimpering like a wounded puppy. The sounds were barely audible for she knew if she made too much noise or cried out or screamed it would make him worse. Thank God they had never had children. She had lived in fear that he would find out she was on the pill and had kept her pills in her desk drawer at work so he wouldn’t know, for he had wanted a son.
But now all she had to do was get through this one night, just one more time. Please, God. Help me.
Jerold kicked her in the back, and then stomped on her side. An involuntary muffled scream burst through her clinched teeth.
He stepped over her feet in his steel-toed boots and headed for the door, glancing back as he growled, “I’m going across the street to the fucking deli to get some take-out since you didn’t have the decency to fix my goddamned dinner. So I suggest you get your fucking self up and we’ll finish this when I get back.” With that, he walked out and slammed the door.
Shellie knew she didn’t have much time to get out of there, and she was ready. She had given notice at her job on Wednesday, two days ago. There was a part-time girl who’d wanted to work full-time and knew the job, so Shellie hadn’t left her employer in a bind. All he had to do was hire a temp until he found another part-timer. The false reason she gave for quitting was that she had been hired to tour as a singer with a band and they were leaving on Friday afternoon. Her boss knew how much she had wanted to become a professional singer, so he believed her and gave her an unexpected bonus of $500 in addition to the final paycheck earlier that afternoon.
She had hurried home and packed her belongings, taking nothing that would give a clue to Jerold that she had left. Then she spaced the remaining clothing in the closet so he wouldn’t notice anything was missing, and had done the same in the chest of drawers. She took only things she felt she really needed and packed them in borrowed suitcases and left the apartment for the last time. At least that had been the plan.
Shellie had been confiding with Janet Corrigan, one of the regular patients at work, who had already guessed Shellie’s situation. Janet had empathized with the bruises, swollen lips, and black eyes over the past year. She had been a victim herself at one time and had recognized all the telltale signs in Shellie’s behavior and demeanor even before she saw the bruises. She had told Shellie that her own injuries by an abusive husband were what led her to the chiropractic clinic and to support groups and finally to freedom.
Janet had pleaded with Shellie to get away from Jerold and had even offered her a place to stay. She lived in Glendale which was far enough away from Marina del Rey, so when Shellie made her decision, she took Janet up on the offer. He certainly wouldn’t be looking for her in Glendale, it was on the northeast side of L.A. and he knew nothing of Janet, had never even heard her name.
Earlier that day, after Shellie collected her final checks and bid farewell to her boss, she went to the bank and drew out her savings on the way home. She was on an adrenalin high as she cashed her checks and purchased travelers checks and then hurried to the apartment to pack her things in the suitcases Janet had brought to her that morning at work. It took her no more than thirty minutes to get everything she needed before she began the escape to Janet in Glendale.
At last she could breathe freedom air. As she drove the 45 minutes across town, it had felt as if a terrific weight had been lifted off her tiny being. She had felt giddy and happy. She sang. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen or how she would manage and she didn’t really care because at that very moment she felt better than she had in years.
Janet Corrigan was in her late 50s, a divorcee, had worked for Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Los Angeles for years and had made some hefty real estate investments that enabled her to live very comfortably. She was an attractive, sexy woman, blond, went to the gym every day, to the chiropractor, masseuse, and to a hair and nail salon once a week – a very self-pampered woman and a very caring one. She had welcomed Shellie with open arms that afternoon on her doorstep and had taken her inside and tried to make her feel at ease.
“Honey, you’re free now, you can stop your shaking,” Janet said as she hugged her after they had put Shellie’s things in a guest room. She took her into the kitchen and poured her a cup of coffee. “You never have to see the bastard again. You’re free.”
“I know,” Shellie said as she took the cup of coffee, spilling some in the saucer as she sipped. “I don’t know why I’m shaking. It’s just so sudden, I guess. I don’t feel like I’m totally free yet. Thank you for this coffee. I needed it.” She continued to sip while she ran the day’s events in her mind, going over a mental checklist. Suddenly she stiffened. “The envelope! I left the envelope, Janet!”
“What envelope, Hon?”
“My ticket, my money . . . I left it at the apartment on the desk! What am I going to do? I have to go back and get it!”
She stood up and began pacing frantically on the pristine kitchen floor in Janet’s upscale home on the golf course, almost crying.
“Now, Honey. Let’s take a deep breath and figure this out. Okay? Just calm down. Let’s talk about this.”
“But it’s all I have in the world. I just have a small amount of cash on me; I converted all my savings and put what was in my checking account into traveler’s checks. I have to go back and get the envelope and that’s going to put me there after Jerold gets home. I have no other choice.”
“Yes, you do. I can loan you the same amount of money you have in that envelope. And you can leave me your key and I’ll go get it when he’s at work. He’ll never know the difference. I think we need something a bit stiffer than coffee to drink.” She pulled a bottle of champagne from the refrigerator.
“No, I can’t do that. I can’t take money from you. He’ll go through my things if I don’t show up tonight. He’ll find it. He’ll see the plane ticket – when and where I’m going. I have to go back and slip out while he’s sleeping.”
“I can’t let you do that, Honey. Please! If you aren’t there before he is tonight, you know what will happen, and it’s too late now anyway. You can’t afford to go through another beating, Shellie. Sweetheart, you never know when that fatal blow will come. Listen to me. Cancel that flight, take another. Don’t go. Please don’t go back there.”
“I have to,” she said as she grabbed her purse.
“Oh, Honey. I wish you’d think some more about this.”
“I have to go, Janet.”
“Okay, wait here for a sec. Don’t leave yet.” Janet went to her office and came back with her purse. She pulled out a gun she had been carrying since she had had to protect herself from her ex-husband. At the time, he had threatened to kill her if she left him. “Here, take this with you. I’ll show you how to work it.”
“Oh no. I’m afraid of guns. I’m sorry. I can’t take that.”
“Honey, that man is dangerous. He might kill you. This might be the night.”
But Shellie didn’t heed the warning; she drove right back to Marina del Rey and right back to another beating.
Her thoughts became a painful blur as she tried to get up from the floor. She knew she had only a few minutes to get out of the apartment before Jerold returned. The horrible throbbing pain encircling her body’s ribcage was almost unbearable now, but she had to move, regardless of the pain. Blood had surfaced just under the skin on her hand and wrist where he had slammed his big fist into it. It was numb, probably broken. Still bent over and struggling against the rib pain while cradling her injured wrist against her body, she reached for her keys and purse and grabbed the envelope from the desk. She carefully peered into the corridor on the Thirteenth Floor of the apartment building. Around the bend at each end of the long corridor there was an elevator that lowered to the parking garage fourteen floors below. The one to the left – the east elevator – was the one they always used when coming to and fro. They usually parked their cars near it on that side of the garage. But she had been wise and this time parked on the street at the west end behind the complex, out of sight, just in case she needed the leverage.
After glancing to the left, making sure he wasn’t coming back down the hall, she rushed to the west elevator, the one they never used, the one at the opposite end of the hallway. She decided the stairs would be too difficult for her to manage in her condition, and would take much too long. She couldn’t envision herself going down the stairs with the worsening pain she was experiencing. At the elevator she leaned against the wall for support and winced as she pushed the down button. She closed her eyes, feeling as if she was about to pass out as the inflamed throbbing spread throughout her body. It was a total effort to move, and it seemed as if the elevator had taken the night off. Come on! Come on!
Now she was getting nauseous. She thought she might have to telephone Janet to come get her if she ever got out of the building. She could be bleeding internally and was afraid she would pass out while driving to Glendale clear across town. Maybe she should just drive to some safe spot and wait there for Janet. She could call her on her cell phone. But first she had to get away. She heard the elevator at the other end of the corridor slide open and sheer panic consumed her. She could hear children’s voices, laughing, yelling. She relaxed. They were the grandkids of one of their neighbors who had come to spend the weekend.
What is taking so long?
The elevator door opened.