“Do you ever think maybe the criminals are just messing with you?” Captain Taylor was talking with Captain Springwater. They hadn’t worked together since leading a joint task force during the early days of The Joining and were spending a little time catching up.
“Umm…” Deidre paused, not really sure how to answer her old colleague. She liked Captain Taylor, despite their age difference and difference in leadership styles they had worked together well. But sometimes she wasn’t sure if he was teasing her or not.
“There is a case right now where bakeries are begin robbed over night. Every night a different bakery. And we can’t catch the guy.”
“Just bakeries? How much are they taking? Is there enough money left in the store every night to make that worth the risk?”
“No, see that’s what I am saying, the guy isn’t taking money. He’s not taking equipment, he’s taking cake. And cookies. Once a fancy show cake from the window, you know those types they do to display decorations? It’s like maybe he’s starting his own day old shop with things he’s taking from other stores. But never anything else. Just the baked goods that are left.”
“The Great Cookie Caper?”
Captain Taylor smirked at Deidre, “Now you are messing with me as well, Captain Springwater.”
Deidre smiled, “Maybe a little, and please, again, call me Deidre.”
“Right, I’ll call you Deidre when you remember to call me John.”
“Fair enough. John. Okay, to be serious, do you have any leads? Any crumbs to follow?”
“Stop it…and no. None of the shops have security footage. There have been no witnesses. The thefts have all happened in the middle of the night, that brief window after closing before the bakers come in to start for the next day. It seems ridiculous but it’s still theft.”
“No matter what is being taken it’s serious to the person who loses it, right?”
“Exactly. We had one last week where three birthday cakes were taken. They discovered the loss first thing in the morning and had to remake them right away before their customers came in to pick them up. For the business owners it wasn’t just the cakes that would have been missing but their reputations that would have been damaged. It’s important to them. But try telling that to my guys who are getting teased for working the muffin mystery.”
Deidre laughed out loud before she could stop herself, “Oh, sorry.” But she couldn’t stifle the giggle that broke through again. “I’m sorry, John, I know it’s serious, I really do, but…”
He held out his hands and shrugged, “What are you going to do right? It’s all part of the job. It’s not always car chases and bank robbers no matter what you watch on TV.”
Deidre laughed again, “I know what you mean, I really do. I had to arrest someone last year for stealing dirt from his neighbors yard. Yes, dirt. They had competed in a local fair for one of those who grows the biggest pumpkin things, do you have those?” Captain Taylor nodded, “Okay, well, it seems that one neighbor was a better gardener than the other. The dirt thief swore that his neighbor must have been using magic to get his garden to grow that way. Which is completely against the rules. You are not allowed to call on any extra growing magic. Any way, the neighbor kept saying that he wasn’t, he was just a better gardener. So finally our dirt thief has had enough of being bested in the gardening department and sneaks over in to his neighbors yard and steals a handful of dirt. He’s going to exam it, cast a spell over it, see what he can find and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not a lousy gardener but that his neighbor cheats. But he got caught by the neighbor’s wife and we had to arrest him for trespassing and stealing dirt.”
“Dirt thieves and cake thieves I don’t know which is worse. So did it turn out the neighbor was cheating or did he not ever find out?”
“Oh he was cheating all right. During the questioning the Prophet who had to listen in for lies kept getting this really loud thought from the better gardener. Finally he asked out loud, ‘What is miracle grow?’”
Captain Taylor started laughing out loud. “He was using OUR magic instead of yours!”
Aska was singing again. Sound asleep and singing in her bed. That made the third time this week. Deidre and Jocelyn had stopped checking on her when they heard it, they knew she was sleeping but they did take note when they heard her. She hadn’t talked in her sleep before this that they had noticed but for the last few weeks a few times a week she would sing a lullaby. Just one.
“Do you think this is tied to talking more about Cal? Some sort of self soothing thing?” Deidre wasn’t sure if she should be worried, it was just singing, but anything out of the ordinary like this made her extra cautious. “You know the first night she sang I woke her and she told me that ‘she’s lonely and only wants friends’ but it was just sleep talking. I wonder if she’s worried about starting a new school next year?”
“I don’t know. She doesn’t know what she dreams about when she is singing, she’s not having odd or vivid dreams. No nightmares. I don’t know that it’s anything we really need to worry about at all. We can talk to Aunt Dot and see if she sees anything? She doesn’t have a lot of compunction about taking a peek when she wants to know something.”
Deidre laughed, that was completely true. Though she would never do it with people she worked with or in court she had always felt that family was different. They had learned at a very young age that trying to hide something from their aunt was a waste of time. “No, I don’t want to have Aunt Dot do something we aren’t willing to have you do. If it starts to affect her sleep then we can say something. Let’s just chalk it up to stress right now. Besides it’s kind of nice to listen to. She has a lovely voice.”
“She does. She must have gotten that from Cal.”
Deidre smiled at her sister, “I would get mad at you but it’s true and I know it.”
The sisters sat and listened as Aska finished her song.
“Well, now that I’ve had my lullaby I think I’ll head to bed.”
“Night, Joy, sleep well. I’m going to stay up for a little while longer I think.”
Deidre didn’t want to tell her sister that though Aska’s dreams seemed peaceful, if melodic, hers had not been. She had dreamed of Cal every night for the past few weeks. But they hadn’t been happy dreams. Over and over each night she had lost Cal in a different way. The Earth opening and swallowing him up. Watching him walk in to the barn where he was killed and not being able to stop him. Having him leave for work and just never come home. And every time she would have a dream like this she would have a moment when she woke up where she was relieved it was only a dream. Only to remember that it wasn’t. Not really. She wasn’t sure when it was going to go away. To be easier. Sometimes she thought she was close. Life was calm again. It wasn’t pure pain everyday. But then a dream would hit. Or she would find something in a drawer that had been Cal’s. Or she would see someone or something that reminded her of him and it would all come crashing back.
Part of her resented that she was still upset. She was a Warrior. It’s not like other people in her life hadn’t died before. She had lost friends over the years. Colleagues. Mentors. But losing Cal had been unlike anything she had ever experienced. They had been together for so long she hadn’t really paid attention to how much she depended on him for day to day things. Not just as her husband and as the father of her child but her true partner. No one understood work struggles like he did. No one understood the feeling of facing down the unknown and being triumphant. It was unseemly to brag about your accomplishments but she and Cal had both been extraordinarily successful. She was the daughter of the Commander of the Guard and had gone in to service determined to make people forget that. Cal was the son-in-law of the Commander of the Guard and he was determined to make sure that Commander Keeper was always aware what a good match he was for Deidre.
They had competed against and with each other for so long that it was only natural that it carry over at work. Each bringing out the best in the other. Working together had been the most fun Deidre had ever had at work. Once when they were still new to the Guard they had to track a family pet that had gotten in the way of a growing spell and then gotten loose. They were in the woods stalking a 200 pound gerbil. Who else would understand the absurdity of that? And the fear when they came face to face with what that spell had done to his teeth. She remembered the strange looks they got at the pet store years later when Aska asked for a gerbil and they both shouted NO! At the same time and then both broke out in to mad laughter.
Even when they stopped sharing shifts after Aska was born Deidre never really thought that it was more than a precaution. It made sense to be double safe and not have them both at work at once. But the thought that anything would ever happen to either of them? It just wasn’t going to happen. There was no way that something could ever be better than her or Cal. Pride can sometimes be the problem with too much confidence. But confidence was important for a Warrior to have. So you dealt with the pride. But that one touch of common sense had kept her alive when Cal had died. And sometimes she resented it.
Not for long. Not once she thought of what it would have done to Aska to lose both of her parents on one night. Not when she thought about missing a moment of Aska’s life. Then she was grateful they were smart and safe. But for a moment here and there she would let herself wallow. Let herself miss her husband with all of her being. And then she would shake it off and move forward. The one thing she couldn’t really decide was if she wanted the day to come when she didn’t feel like giving in to the grief of missing him or if she never wanted to get over it. At least missing him meant she still had a little bit of him with her.
Deidre heard a noise and looked up to see her daughter standing in the hallway looking at her, “Mom? Are you okay?”
“I am having a little bit of a pity party tonight. But I will be fine. What woke you? Are you okay?”
Aska walked over and sat next to her mother on the couch, “I was thirsty and when I got up to get water and I saw the light on out here so I decided to check.”
“Did you get your drink?”
“I’m fine now.” And with that Aska lay down and put her head in her mother’s lap like she had done as a young child, “I miss him a lot too sometimes. Grandma says that it means he was worth a lot to be missed so much.”
Deidre smoothed Aska’s hair, “Yes, yes he was worth a lot. And you have his best qualities. Do you know how proud he would be of you? Of the young lady you are becoming? Especially making up a dumb excuse about being thirsty when your dear old mom woke you up with her pouting?” Deidre could feel Aska’s cheek move as she smiled.
“Okay, maybe you were a little sad and it woke me up. But I didn’t want you to feel badly for being sad. It’s okay to be sad.”
“Now you sound like Aunt Joy.”
“I might have heard it from her. A time or two.”
Deidre kept smoothing Aska’s hair back, “we are lucky to have her. And luckier still to have each other.”
As Deidre brushed Aska’s hair with her fingers she felt her breathing slow and become regular. It had been years since her daughter had fallen asleep in her lap. She decided to let her stay for a bit before she would carry her back to bed. But for now she would just sit on the couch with her sleeping daughter and take in all of the good things that were still in her life.
And this is where Jocelyn found them in the morning.