Chapter XXXV – Monique Rodriguez
When Mr. Xavier left her to help the man Monique didn’t like, what little sense of security she had gained, vanished. She clung to Mr. Pickles, curled up on the edge of the booth, quite forgotten it seemed by the adults in the room.
After Mr. Xavier put the needle into the man’s arm, his cousin sat across from her in the booth again. It took what she thought was a minute before he noticed her. When he did, he tried to smile in her direction, but he didn’t really succeed. He mouthed the words, “It will be all right,” but Monique just held her bunny closer.
I don’t remember his name, Mr. Pickles. I lost it somehow. It’s Mr. Xavier’s cousin. Mr. Xavier said he trusted him though.
The child watched everyone in the room as if her life depended on it. She knew where everyone stood, sat, or lay in relation to herself, and wished that Mr. Xavier would come back. When he did eventually stand beside her again, she didn’t relax. She couldn’t explain what was wrong, but she knew that something in the room had switched the wrong direction.
She didn’t understand talk of syringes, insulin, or blood sugar, but she understood the mood and tension in the room. And it scared her.
Stay brave, Mr. Pickles. We must stay brave, whatever happens.
When Mary Dill started yelling and Miss Kimberly leapt to stop her, Monique started shaking. Mr. Xavier had already left her again, and not much scared the girl as much as Mary’s screams. She bit her lip, trying to keep herself good and brave. Mary Dill shrieked yet again.
Dropping from her side of the booth, Monique bolted to the other, jumping into the lap of Mr. Xavier’s cousin. She started to slip, but he caught her, and wrapping one arm around his neck, she buried her face into his shoulder.
Mr. Xavier said he trusted his cousin, so I’ll trust him, Mr. Pickles. I don’t want to be alone.
She couldn’t stop shaking, despite feeling safer, and listening to the others in the café made it worse.
We have to be brave, Mr. Pickles, but I’m scared.
She started when the man holding her made a suggestion, his voice loud to match everyone else. He didn’t sound angry though. Some of them did sound angry. He noticed her jump and made her sit back to look at him.
“Are you scared?” He spoke in a gentle, quiet voice, pushing back a strand of hair from her eyes.
She nodded, feeling her chin quiver.
I have to be brave. I already cried before.
The man glanced toward the others when Miss Renee said something about insulin in her purse. Monique shuddered again.
Insulin must be a bad thing, Mr. Pickles.
She watched the face of the man in front of her. He looked very tired, but still didn’t look angry, as he watched the people across the room.
“What do you do when you’re scared?”
He started at her question, looking back down at her. “What was that?”
“What do you do when you get scared?” She held tighter to her bunny as her voice dropped. “Or don’t you get scared?”
He blinked at her. “I pray. I ask the Lord to help me to trust Him.”
She pulled on Mr. Pickles ear. “Does it work?”
Her voice dropped even lower. “Always?”
“Every time.” He moved the hair out of her yes again. “Though sometimes, it might take awhile.”
The café grew quiet and Monique twisted her head to find out why. After a moment, Mr. Xavier looked up from the purse he had been searching and Monique frowned at the expression on his face.
“Mrs. Allen, there is no insulin or syringes in your purse. I have to ask you, however… Why do you have a photograph of Gary Bradshaw in your purse?”
The silence that followed hurt Monique’s ears. Miss Renee stared at Mr. Xavier and the photograph wordlessly with the rest.
“She did it…” Mary Dill didn’t shriek, but her voice still managed to be jarring. She actually began rather quiet, but her tone rose like a cascade. “I can see it in her face… Guilt poured all over her expression. She killed him!”
“Oh, for goodness sake. You probably killed him yourself!” Miss Kimberly did not give Miss Renee a chance to speak. “Maybe we should check your precious face for clues!”
“I-I only stabbed Eddie!”
“And an awful lot of good you did there.” Anna shook her head. “We have an injured man on our hands and no way to help him. If he dies, it’s your fault.”
“If everyone would attempt to remain calm…” Mr. Xavier didn’t get far.
“Maybe Renee paid Eddie to kill Gary Bradshaw for her. Maybe she’s really his wife and Eddie’s her henchman!”
“Of all the ridiculous, absurd ideas, Mary Dill, that one has to be near the top!” Miss Ginger glared from her place on the ground. “Still, I shouldn’t expect much better from a woman who thought it was a good idea to stab someone she foolishly suspected of murder.”
“We know. ‘Protecting us.’ Worst protection ever!”
Monique looked back up into Mr. Adrian’s face.
I remembered his name, Mr. Pickles. I remembered his name.
He looked tired. So tired.
“Aren’t you going to stop them?”
He looked down at her again. “They don’t listen to me, Monique. Not really.”
“They do for a little while.”
Mary Dill had begun to raise her voice, and Monique turned toward her again. “Someone in here is a killer! I don’t want to be the next target!”
“You should be the next target, so we can all have some peace!” Miss Ginger had risen on her knees. “I don’t trust Fabian Smith, but there’s no reason to kill him. You, on the other hand…”
“For all we know, Fabian did it to himself to avert suspicion.” Miss Anna gestured with her arm, but winced before pulling it back. “That would mean that no one actually tried to kill a second time!”
“What about Eddie?” Mr. Fabian laughed hoarsely from his seat on the floor. “Do you think I hired dear Miss Dill or am I exonerated from that crime?”
“I’m not saying you are guilty…”
“I’m just your top suspect.”
“Or maybe Eddie is guilty.” Miss Kimberly’s cold tones cut in again. “If he’s the killer, maybe Fabian’s an idiot, who is just afraid of being blamed!”
“With Renee’s insulin?” Miss Ginger raised an eyebrow.
Monique turned back to Mr. Adrian again. “I wish that I could go somewhere else.”
“I know.” He made another attempt at a smile. “God willing, we’ll get out of here before long and we can get you home.”
“If we could just calm down-” Mr. Xavier raised his voice to be heard.
Mary Dill cut him off. “You keep hushing people, but it’s getting us nowhere!”
Monique shuddered. “Do you and Mr. Xavier have a home?”
The man seemed surprised by the question. “Yes. Why?”
Monique stared at him for a long moment. She wasn’t sure she should talk or not, but she hadn’t been told not to.
They never said don’t talk, Mr. Pickles. Just… to be good.
She shrugged. “We don’t have a home anymore. Me and Aaron. Not a real home.”
Mr. Adrian stared at her. She thought he meant to ask her something else, but Mary Dill’s voice arrested his attention again.
“We need to get out of here! I need to get out of here!” She heaved heavy breaths, her face beginning to change shades. “I need… I can’t…”
Monique’s eyes widened as the woman clawed at her throat. Miss Anna took a step forward and Mr. Timothy half stood up, as if unsure whether he needed to do anything. Mary Dill looked at Miss Renee with a horrified expression.
“What… What did you do to me?”
Miss Renee only stared in shock.
“I can’t…” Mary clawed at her throat. “Breathe…”
If she had more she tried to say, it dissolved into a squeak as she collapsed to the ground.
With a sob, Monique buried her face into Mr. Adrian’s shoulder again.
Mr. Pickles… Mr. Pickles, I’m so scared… Who’s going to fall down next?
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