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Critical Error 33 Symptoms

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“The call I received earlier was from Joan, our secretary at the office.  The Sergeant received a fax from Port Hardy.”

“I take it, the fax pertains to us?”

“Yeah, it does.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Apparently the Managers of your apartment building, a Mr. & Mrs. Walsh, called the office yesterday.  Someone poisoned a cat and left it beside the front door for everyone to see.  They recognized it immediately as yours.”

“Oh no, Sugar!”

“My best friend (Maggie) has a key, she promised to feed him while we’re away, but no one else can get into the apartment.” By way of explanation, more, inner reflections she added, ” I recently installed a cat door for him so he could get onto the balcony.” Her fingertips automatically covered her lips in dismay.

“Someone obviously coaxed him to the edge of the balcony, caught and poisoned him.  The Walshes would have called a vet, but unfortunately, it was too late to save him.  They found food samples which he hadn’t finished and determined that is how he was killed.”

“Oh god, the kids are going to be so upset!”

“You’ll have to explain what’s been happening; I don’t see any way around it.”

After her shrug, half resignation, half frustration, he continued, “This isn’t a random act or prank, Eilea.  It’s taken an ugly turn.  They need to know what’s going on to protect themselves and watch for anything suspicious.  He’s decided to include the entire family in his sick plan.”  Paul started the truck and drove toward his house.

“Oh god!  I can’t believe it’s come to this. I seriously believed, hoped he’d lose interest and stop the insanity would stop.”  Eilea’s eyes filled with tears. “I thought I was prepared for retaliation and although I heard and understood the explanation, I’m still horrified that it’s happened.  He’s responded in a manner I hadn’t expected.  It’s direct retaliation because he can’t reach me.”

“It’s a coward’s response.”

They’d been sitting in the truck throughout the conversation and instead of taking the tour he’d planned, Paul returned to his house.  Stopping the truck in front of the entrance, he hopped out and hustled to her side inviting her inside for a drink.

“If you don’t mind, I need to be alone to think,” she responded sadness permeating her voice.

Instead, Paul unlocked the door and encouraged her to sit in the living room.  “Come, sit down for a minute.”

Eilea flopped down on the chesterfield while Paul went to pour a brandy each. “Here, drink this.”  Eilea took a sip and said, “I can’t believe this.”

Sitting down beside her, he drew her close, “I know it’s disconcerting but I’m here to help and you have the full backing of the police in Hardy and the local detachment.  We’ll get this guy, I promise you!”

Neither one of them heard the door open nor Christina enter.  Her voice startled Eilea.  “Mom, what’s wrong?”

Eileah’s head snapped up, “Christina!  I thought you were going to sunbathe.”

“We were, but I forgot my bathing suit, so we brought the horses back, the guys are rubbing them down.”

“What’s going on?” eyes the size of saucers reflecting her concern.

“I’d rather wait until everyone is here to explain so I don’t have to repeat myself.  Would you mind asking the others to come in when they’re finished?”  Eilea asked.  Her daughter nodded hurrying outside. The symptoms had been there for days, she’d known something was up.  Her mother hadn’t been herself lately.  She’d been edgy, tired, nervous and she didn’t laugh or joke nearly as much.

“I don’t know how to tell them about this without scaring them to death.”

“Be honest.  You’ll find that kids are far more resilient than adults are. They’ll probably handle it better than you think.”

Within minutes, they heard a hushed whisper heading their way and one by one, the teens entered the living room a mixture of concern and uncertainty reflected on their faces.

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