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Beautifully Damaged(124)

By:L.A. Fiore

"Ember, Trace, thanks so much for coming."

"Any time, Uncle Josh, you know that."

"Ember, Trace, I would like to introduce you to Vincent Gowan."

I recognized the name immediately as my eyes moved to my uncle's guest. He was middle-aged, late forties, but he was still wide in the shoulders and narrow in the hips. His black hair was gray at the temples and there were a few lines around his eyes but outside of that, the man could pass for ten years younger. There was a warmth to his smile and a sincerity in his eyes and I found, on first impression, that I really liked Vincent Gowan.

We sat and placed our orders and then my uncle glanced over at me before his eyes settled on Trace.

"Vincent is the detective that investigated your parents' deaths, Trace. Ember had some questions and asked that I look into it and when I tracked down Vincent he shared with me a story that I knew he needed to share with you."

Trace and I both looked at Vincent, who I noticed was looking specifically at Trace, and then he shared his tale.

"About twenty years ago, I was a rookie on the force in Bellville, Ohio. I responded to a domestic-disturbance call and that was when I met Victoria. She was terrified and the huge black bruises on her jaw and cheek explained why. Like most abused women, she didn't want to talk and wanted me gone but every time the neighbors called in a complaint, I responded with the hopes that at some point Victoria would grow comfortable enough with me to ask for help. She didn't though, not once in the dozens of times that I was called to her house."

"One night, months later, she called me and asked me to help her children. She feared for them: feared what her husband would do to them. It was a difficult situation since she had never pressed charges against the man so trying to remove his children without any legal ground was close to impossible."

"I didn't know about Amanda Walsh and what she was trying to do until after she died. Victoria felt responsible for Amanda's death and she was terrified of what would become of her and her children if she went against her husband -- so much so that she stayed."

"No further calls were made and the times that I would drive by the house to check on Victoria, I'd see her sometimes in the garden and she looked peaceful, almost serene, so I assumed everything worked out. That was a mistake, a rookie mistake, since abusers don't just stop but it was naive hope that allowed me to believe in the impossible."

"It was six years later when I actually got the call. I drove to the house and immediately knew something terrible had happened but when I heard the whole of it, I was compelled to help. The Bellville police force is very small and I wasn't much more than a rookie so the inconsistencies in my report were chalked up as inexperience. Without any hard evidence, the case eventually went cold. Most cold cases are never solved and that was what I wanted -- for this case to never be solved. I had seen her husband's handiwork and when she shared with me his sick interest in his children, I couldn't condemn her since I would have done exactly the same in her shoes."

"What the hell are you saying?" Trace demanded as his jaw clenched hard with his anger.

Vincent leaned closer before he whispered, "That night, thirteen years ago, it wasn't Victoria Michaels who died it was Darlene Moore."

My eyes flew to Trace's who was completely immobile. I reached for his hand, which was icy cold, and held it in my own as the full meaning of Vincent's words settled over me. Darlene Moore was dead which meant the woman we met, the one we believed to be Darlene Moore, was really Trace's mom alive and well. My heart went out to him and though I knew he was currently in shock, his mother was alive, and his mother did care. She did love them and in the end sacrificed her own life to save those of her children.

"I learned in the years that followed that Darlene killed Amanda to protect Douglas and vowed to Victoria that she would do the same to Victoria's children if Victoria ever told anyone. It was then that Darlene upped the dosage that Douglas had already been feeding Victoria, keeping her in a near comatose state, but even in that condition she found the strength to fight for you -- knew that you were both in danger. She didn't help you that night because she wanted you out of the house. She wanted you away and safe so that she could do what she knew she had to in order to ensure that you were both safe once and for all. The bodies were as gruesome as they were because I hadn't wanted anyone to be able to identify the female victim. And, yes, I knowingly aided and abetted but Darlene Moore was a murderer and Douglas Stanwyck was an animal. Legally I crossed a line but morally I didn't. I called in a favor with a doctor-friend to help with Victoria's withdrawal and he said it was nothing short of a medical miracle that for someone who had been drugged for as long as she had been that she wasn't brain-fried."