Chapter 14 : Going Home
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He saw Buford step out on his back loading dock, his large frame outlined in the light spilling out from the open door behind him. He stood, for a moment, his hands on the railing of the small metal platform that opened onto a loading ramp for the deliveries. Then he turned and went back inside. Benning appeared to be unsteady on his feet. Nathan had watched him long enough to know that he had spent the night before in the pub up the street.
Nathan knew he had to act now, before the deliveryman came. He maneuvered his crutches, their tips well-wrapped in rags and duct tape to muffle the sound, toward the back of the building and up the metal ramp. He passed through a back storage room that held cleaning supplies and rolls of butcher paper and moved down the hall.
He noted the stairs that led to the Benning flat above the shop and entered the storefront with its large walk-in freezer and refrigerator. The door to the freezer was ajar. He saw Buford in the freezer, lifting boxes, moving them to make room for the delivery. Nathan, his hands gloved, felt for the gun in his pocket, but then he spied something better, something more...appropriate. Buford Benning's collection of knives, newly sharpened and sparkling clean, lay on the meat-cutting counter on a fresh length of white butcher paper.
Foregoing the pistol, Nathan picked up the large, serrated knife. Buford was stooped over a box in the freezer. He was using a small razor blade he had removed from his pocket to slit it open. Nathan silently crept up behind him. He steadied himself on his crutches and raised the knife over his head. Then, using all his might, he brought it down, into the back of Benning's neck, twisting it, as Buford made a gutteral noise of surprise. It was the last noise he would ever make. The force of the plunge caused Nathan to fall on top of Buford, his crutches clattering to the floor.
Nathan flipped over, grabbed his crutches and raised himself. He prodded the dead man with one of his crutches as a dark red puddle appeared on the floor under him, spreading quickly. A surge of glee ran through him as he thought about how The Beast would never be able to hurt Kira again. He then bent over and pulled the knife out of Buford's neck. He pivoted and left Buford lying in his freezer, carefully shutting the freezer door behind him. The knife in his hand dripping blood, Nathan painstakingly maneuvered his way up the stairs to the door of the flat where Mrs. Benning lay, sleeping, in her bed.
For a moment, Nathan worried the door might be locked, but it opened easily. He stepped inside the living room, stopping in the dark apartment to give his eyes time to adjust. He made out a short hallway that was illuminated by the faint glow of a small night light in the bathroom. He walked down it to where a bedroom door stood ajar.
Looking in, he saw Kira's mother on the bed, sleeping on her side, her back to the door. He looked down at the knife in his hand and realized that he didn't have to kill Kira's mother. If she were alive, Kira would have more reason to stay in Ottery St. Catchpole. Nathan carefully sneaked over to her and placed the bloody knife on the pillow that still held the indentation of The Beast's head. Then, he turned and left, going back down the stairs and out the back door, leaving it open.
Nathan walked down the deserted sidewalk. He noticed the headlights of an oncoming vehicle coming up the street and ducked into the darkened doorway of a paper shop. He giggled as he saw it was the delivery truck, headed toward the Benning Butcher Shop.
Nathan continued on to the library, using his key to let himself in. He kept the lights off and stood in the lobby, waiting silently in the dark. Within minutes came the sound of sirens as an ambulance and police cars went racing down the street toward the butcher shop. Nathan sat on the stairs leading up into the library from lobby and began to calmly and methodically remove the duct tape and rags from the tips of his crutches, whistling as the flashing red lights from the next block up played across his face.
Then he went down to Shelter, where he had a clean set of clothes waiting. He undressed, noting that he had splatters of blood on his clothes. He walked into the bathroom and saw a few splatters on his face in the mirror. He stepped into the shower he had made for Kira and washed, shampooing his hair. Then, he dressed in the fresh outfit, gathering the other clothes in a bag. He made his way to the old-fashioned furnace that heated the library where he burned the clothes. He stood and stared into the furnace a few moments. The flames emitted tiny embers that flew out the door. He was reminded of the sparks that Kira’s hair made in the sunlight.
Then, he left the library through the back delivery bay and made his way home. He stood in his yard a moment, looking up at the dark early morning sky. He jumped when a voice suddenly called out from behind him.
"Mr. Lockslip, you're certainly up early!"
Nathan turned. It was his neighbor, who was letting his dog outside. "Oh, Mr. Gurning," he said. "Good morning. I got up early to rake up some leaves."
"Old Duke here needed to go out, but I was awake anyway. Did you hear those sirens? Something must have happened in town. "
"Yes, yes, I did. Maybe there was a fire, or an accident or something."
"Well, I'm sure we'll find out pretty quick. You can't keep anything secret in a town this size, can you?" As Mr. Gurning walked toward his back door and his waiting pot of coffee, he glanced at Nathan's lawn. If he had done any raking, he hadn't made much of a dent. The yard was covered with fallen leaves. Ah well, he thought, the poor chap, he probably couldn't do too much on them crutches. One nice thing about living next door to a librarian was that at least he was a quiet neighbor, even if he was a little weird.
Kira headed down Diagon Alley, toward Market Lane. George had told her that it used to be called Knockturn Alley, but immediately after defeating the Dark Wizards, Kingsley Shacklebolt and his team had gone down there and arrested all the witches and wizards who had colluded with Tom Riddle and his Death Eaters.
Then, they had sent in crews to tear down the old shops that had been dedicated to the Dark Arts and built new stores. She smiled as she passed the bright white building that housed the main office of House-Elves R' Us.
Right next door, in the spot that used to hold a Dark Arts store called Borgin and Burkes, was a bright magenta building that now had a sign that read, 'Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes Owl-Order Fulfillment Centre.' Over fifty witches and wizards were employed there, filling orders that poured in from six of the seven continents. She looked up to see a huge bald eagle swoop down and into the open window where orders were received.
She shook her head, smiling. That's the Yanks for you, she thought, they always have to be different.
A centerpiece of Market Lane was an open square where witches and wizards who grew and raised their own fruits, vegetables, and livestock came to sell their wares. The late-October sunlight shone brightly on the happy scene, and small witches and wizards ran happily among the stands, laughing and playing in the brisk air.
Many passersby called out greetings to her as she passed. Many witches with young children in tow stopped to regale her with stories of how much they loved their Household Helping Hands. She was happy to see that so many carried packages from Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. The success of the business had greatly helped the entire Weasley Family. In fact, George’s father had announced his intention to retire after the babies were born.
Mum and Dad were going to move into Kira and George’s new Hogsmeade house after the babies were born. Mum was looking forward to helping Kira with the housework and babies while Dad was going to help George in the Hogsmeade store. Percy and Penny would be taking over ownership of the Burrow with their beautiful baby boy, Simon.
Tears came to Kira’s eyes as she said a small prayer of gratitude for how wonderful her life had turned out.
They had so much gold now that they didn't know what to do with it. The Hogsmeade store had been open only three weeks and business was booming. With Kira's nineteenth birthday fast approaching, George kept asking what she wanted as a gift. She couldn't answer. There was nothing she wanted or needed. She and George had gone shopping in the Muggle stores and had purchased new furniture for their home. They'd had it delivered to a rented Muggle storage unit where George had portkeyed it all to the new house. The contractors were putting the final touches on the top floor, and George and Kira would be moving in this upcoming weekend. She would be in her beautiful new home on her birthday. Who needed anything else?
After shopping for the things she needed to make dinner, Kira headed back to the flat. One of the store's employees told her that George's father had come in and he, George, and Ron had gone upstairs to the flat. Smiling, Kira headed upstairs to find out why Dad had made this unexpected visit.
She knew something was wrong the moment she opened the door. Dad sat on the couch while Ron stood stiffly, his arm on the fireplace mantle, staring out the window. George was pacing back and forth nervously. He rushed to her and hugged her.
"Is there something wrong?" she asked, dread growing in her stomach.
"Kira," said George. "Something happened in Ottery St. Catchpole, something terrible. My dad came here to tell us."
"Mum is all right, isn't she?" she asked.
"Molly? Oh yes, Molly is fine, Kira," said Arthur. "Maybe you should sit down."
George led Kira over to the couch and she sat next to Arthur. George sat on the arm next to her, his hand on her shoulder.
Arthur placed his had on hers on her lap. "Kira," he said, "this morning, the delivery man came to bring your father's shipment and...well, your father didn't meet him in the back. So, the driver went inside and he...he found your father in the freezer. He was dead. He'd been killed, Kira, stabbed in the back with one of his own knives."
Kira felt the blood drain from her face. "My father?" she asked dumbly, looking at Mr. Weasley, who nodded sadly. Kira felt her eyes fill with tears. Although her father had treated her ill, he had still been her father, and suddenly, Kira's mind was filled with the occasions, over the years, when he had shown her moments of kindness or approbation. For a moment, she was eight, standing next to him as he taught her how to trim fat off steaks. When he'd given her a few of her own to do, he'd said that she'd done it like a pro.
Then, her mind went to her mother, "My mother, is she all right? She...she wasn't...?"
"Your mother is safe, Kira," said George. "But, they've arrested her. They're saying that she killed your father. The delivery man called the police, and they went upstairs and found your mother. She was in the bed, sitting up as if she'd just woken. She had the bloody knife in her hand."
"My mother wouldn't do it," said Kira. "There's no way. She never fought back. She just took it, no matter what he did to her, she just took it." She fell silent for several seconds as she tried to fit this insanity into her schema of all she knew to be true and false.
"George," she said, "We have to go there. I have to see my mother. Please, believe me, she would never do this. And even if she did, after all the years of beatings and abuse, maybe she snapped. George, we need to help her. Please?"
"Of course, Kira," he said. "If you say she didn't do it, she didn't. Before coming here, Dad rented a Muggle car. He figured we'd want to get to Ottery St. Catchpole right away. We both know how to drive. We even have Muggle drivers’ licenses."
"I have a license," said Kira. "I can drive."
"You're too upset," said George. "We'll just let Dad drive, okay?"
Kira nodded. Suddenly, it all came crashing in on her, and she collapsed into George's arms, crying.
After a few minutes, George and Kira went into their room to pack. Kira changed from the set of black everyday Madam Malkin's robes into a long, midnight blue maternity skirt she'd made and a long, loose light blue sweater with a large letter K on it, embroidered in light pink. George's mother had knitted it for her. George got out of his magenta Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes robes and changed into a pair of jeans and his letter G sweater.
Back in the parlor, George said, "Ron, I won't be able to apparate to the Hogsmeade store for a while. Send Verity there to keep an eye on things. Tell her to take a room at the Three Broomsticks and to tell Madam Rosmerta to send us the bill for her room and meals."
"Sure, George," said Ron. "Kira, I'm sorry all this happened. I really am."
Kira reached out and squeezed Ron’s hand as they left the flat. George, Kira, and Arthur Weasley made their way to Charing Cross Road, where Arthur had parked the rental car.
Five hours later, Arthur pulled into the front yard of the Burrow. The trip could have been done in a shorter time, but George had kept insisting that they stop to eat so that Kira could stretch her legs and use a restroom. He realized that she was too upset and preoccupied to take care of herself, so he had to do it.
Molly came rushing out and hugged Kira fiercely, leading the sobbing girl into the house. After forcing her to eat some dinner, they all piled back into the car and drove to the Ottery St. Catchpole police station.
As they entered the police station, the officer at the main desk was reading the local newspaper. Because he was turned to the sports page, Kira could plainly read the headline of the Ottery Observer's late edition. 'Local Butcher Killed, Wife Arrested,' it blared.
"Excuse me," Kira said softly.
The officer put down the paper and looked at them. "Yes, what can I do for you?" he asked.
"I'm Kira Weasley," said Kira, "and this is my husband and his parents. I'm the daughter of Buford and Madelaine Benning."
"We've been wondering where you were," he said, standing. "The detective wants to talk to you."
"Can I see my mother?" she asked.
"I think Detective Townsend will want to talk to you first," he said.
"But is my mother all right?" she asked.
"She's a might better off than your pa," he said sarcastically. He picked up the phone on his desk, punched a few buttons and said, "Jack? I got the Benning daughter down here." There was a pause. Then he said, "No, she just walked in off the street with her husband and in-laws." After another pause, he said, "Sure thing."
Soon, a door opened off the side of the main reception area. A man came out wearing a brown tweed suit coat over black slacks. He looked at the four of them and came toward them. "I'm Detective Townsend," he said. "I take it that you're Kira Benning?"
"Kira Weasley now," said George. "We were married last August."
"And the two of you live where?" asked Jack Townsend.
"We've been living in London since our marriage," said Kira. "I am employed by Yvonne's Sewing and Craft Supplies on Charing Cross Road."
"Please, would you come into my office so we can try to get to the bottom of what happened here?"
"Can my husband come too?"
Jack looked at the girl's tear-streaked face and then down at her obviously pregnant stomach. He wasn't too thrilled with the idea of being alone with a distraught pregnant woman. What if she went into labor or something? If the husband's presence would help keep her calm, all the better.
"Sure," he said. "That will be fine." He led them to his office and got them seated in front of his desk.
"Mrs. Weasley," he began, "when was the last time you saw your parents?"
"Not since the morning of August twenty-first," said Kira.
"Sam Wells, the baker next door, said that the last time he saw you, that you and your father were at odds over something. He said your father had dragged you off someplace and he never saw you again."
"Yes, that was on August twenty-first. My father, he'd figured out I was pregnant and he took me to my husband's parents' house to confront them. He left me there, saying he didn't want anything to do with me anymore."
Detective Townsend was writing down everything she said.
"And your mother, what did she do?"
"Nothing. She never did anything when my father got violent."
"Sam Wells also said that your father pushed you out of the butcher shop and that you were bleeding from the mouth. Did your parents beat you, Mrs. Weasley?"
"My father beat me. He has always hurt me and my mum. He would go after her more than me though."
"Why didn't you or your mother call the police?"
"My mum used to call the police when I was little, but my dad would get arrested and then he’d be out in a couple hours. He’d be so mad and only go after her even worse for causing him the trouble. So, she stopped bothering to call. Is my mum all right?"
"She is not speaking to us. She just remains silent."
"That's how she is," said Kira. "She seldom speaks, and when she does, it's in a tone so low you have to strain to hear her. Listen, I can't see her doing this. Someone else must have come in and killed my father. The back door is left open on Thursday mornings, for the delivery. Maybe it was a robbery."
"But nothing was missing, Mrs. Weasley," said Jack. "The register was full. Your father had written a big check to cover the delivery. No stock seems to be missing. And the only fingerprints on the murder weapon were your mother's. She went downstairs, killed him by stabbing him in the back of the neck, then walked back upstairs with the knife, leaving a trail of drops of blood, and went back to bed with the bloody knife. We sent the murder weapon, the bedclothes, and her nightgown to the crime lab in Exeter."
"Maybe the real killers went upstairs and put the knife in the bed with my mother. Maybe they wanted to frame her for it."
"It is a possibility. We thought of it too. But, as far as we have been able to discern, your parents kept to themselves; they had no friends. Even at the pub up the street, your father sat at the end of the bar and drank alone. I’ve even seen him there. He didn't play darts or billiards, he didn't talk to people, just sat and drank, threw his money down when he was done and left, walking back toward his shop. Do you know of any enemies, any other person who might want him dead?"
"No," Kira answered miserably.
"Listen," said Detective Townsend, throwing down his pen. "Your neighbors told me that your father was an evil-tempered, violent man. The baker, the tailor across the street, even some of your father's customers have told us about seeing him hit both you and your mother. If your mother snapped, if she did it in self-defense, well, it'd go a lot easier on her. But she's just staring off, not talking, almost like she can't even hear us. We have a psychiatrist coming in tomorrow, from Exeter, to do an evaluation on her."
"Maybe if I can talk to her," she said.
"We can take you to the visitation room, but you have to be aware that anything the two of you talk about is not considered confidential. It can be used in court against her. Confidentiality only exists between her and her lawyer. That's another thing. You might want to engage a lawyer for her. She hasn't asked for one, so our hands are tied."
He led Kira and George into a different room, one that had a glass window between them and a chair facing them on the other side. George stood while Kira was seated in the solitary chair. Soon, the door to the room on the other side of the glass opened and her mother came through. She looked back, as if confused, as the female officer closed the door. Then, she sat in the chair facing Kira, not making eye contact.
Kira reached out and turned on the microphone so that her mother could hear her through the glass. "Mum," she said. "I know you didn't do this. Please, talk to me."
After a few seconds, her mother looked at George. "You're one of the ones who came for her things that night."
"Yes," said George. "I'm George Weasley. Kira and I are married."
Madelaine Benning looked back at her daughter. "Is he...are you safe with him?"
"Yes, Mum, George is wonderful. We love each other. We're having twins, Mum, probably the end of January." When her mother kept silent, she continued, "George owns a store in London with his brother. That's where we live now, but we're moving to a new house soon, to be close to the new store he recently opened in the north. I'm going to get you a lawyer, first thing tomorrow. Mum, please, talk to the lawyer when he comes."
"I don't need a lawyer," said Madelaine. "I don't care what happens to me. It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does matter, Mum. Please. Don't you want to see my babies? Don't you want to hold them, play with them?"
"I don't deserve to. They, and you, are better off without me."
"Mum, don't say that. Of course you deserve to be with my babies."
"I don't. I failed you. In every way possible, I failed you. I couldn't keep you safe."
"You couldn't keep yourself safe," said Kira.
"I feel freer in here than I ever felt in that flat,” she said. "It’s ironic, isn't it?"
"Mum, please," said Kira. "I need you."
"No Kira, you don't need me," Madelaine said, standing. "Just go on with your life. Pretend I'm dead. I've been pretending I've been dead for years. It gets easy, after a while, pretending." Madelaine Benning walked over to the door and pounded on it. "I'm done here. Take me back to my cell," she called out. The jail matron opened the door and led Kira's mother away.
Kira and George left the visiting room and walked back out to the hall where Detective Townsend waited with George’s parents.
Nathan stood across the street from the town's jail. He watched as Kira, that red-haired boy, and his parents got into a car and drove off. He smiled as he felt his tension fade. At last, Kira had come home to him. Soon, she would belong to him completely.
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