Early December 2019…
Behind my closed eyes, it felt as if I was watching a highlight reel of Mrs. Batchalder’s life.
Odd memories from childhood: a fight with a neighbor girl over a red-haired doll, being sent to bed without her dinner because she refused to eat baked squash, her father’s funeral, a slap across the face from an aunt, winning a spelling bee, a treehouse, and summers at the lake. Then came the teen years: a driving lesson gone awry, her first kiss, a date with a boy whose car had a hole in the floorboard, finding a prom dress at a second-hand store, mopping floors at a local pharmacy, and a bad case of crabs after a gratuitous sexual escapade.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
I felt like I was drifting, getting pulled into her existence, falling into her dimension. The feeling frightened me, so I did my best to remain grounded, although I mostly believed Charon would not allow me to be harmed during the process. I put my trust in him and drifted again. The images slowed.
Mrs. Batchalder, in her early 20s, sitting at the table with a toddler and her husband. She wore an apron over her dress and was wringing a corner of the cotton fabric in her hands. The smell of pot roast emanated from the oven. Her husband’s mouth moved and words came out, but I could only hear a portion of what was being said.
“I’m sorry… bankrupt…lost everything…Caroline, don’t cry…I know…figure something out…believe…”
The next scene was Caroline and her son in the mortuary. Caroline stood, stoic, while her son sobbed over her husband’s lifeless body. He took the easy way out, she thought.
Caroline, five years later, working her way up in a corporate environment. From secretary to account manager, she fought for every position and pursued success. Another ten years and her son, Ken, worked alongside her. They created their own investment firm. Four years passed. Caroline took great delight in all of the money they raked in. Luxury items were in great supply. Yachts, beach homes, exotic travel, jewelry, and cars. Caroline and Ken embraced their lavish lifestyles. Bigger payouts, bigger investments, bigger risks. She took them all.
I began to pull away from Charon. He held my hands tight, squeezing them, making me stay in the visions.
Caroline realizing her finances were not as stable as she believed. Talking to Ken about the negative bottom line, he insisted they would be fine. He decided to create another investment opportunity: a retirement community for the wealthy. They took in millions of dollars. They decided to create a second retirement community, this time for the upper-middle class. Investors poured in once they saw the numbers from the first project. People also put in their hard-earned savings to buy into the community. But it was a Ponzi scheme. A virtual house of cards. And it all came tumbling down.
Caroline and Ken were indicted. She shielded herself from prosecution. Her son took the fall. He was young and would do a small amount of time in prison…or so they thought. Authorities threw the book at him.
Ken sat in the breakfast nook, Dugo, as a kitten, brushing against his shins. It was a Sunday morning when, with little fanfare, the Feds arrested him. His girlfriend cried and begged officers not to take him. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. The paparazzi were there for his walk of shame. Caroline came to court every day to be at her son’s side. Several months later, Ken was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Caroline assured him they would appeal and he would be released.
Caroline put money into his commissary account as often as she could. When the appeals fell through, Ken threatened to tell the prosecutor that Caroline had hidden money in offshore accounts. Caroline didn’t blink. She was tired and knew she could not survive behind bars. She walked out of the prison and did not look back. She knew people. People who helped her change her name and entire identity. She moved out of the States and bought a cat-friendly condo, beginning a new life while her son suffered for their sins. She only flinched slightly when she received the news that he was found hanging in his jail cell. There were, of course, rumors that he did not kill himself.
Charon released my hands. I stumbled back and nearly fell onto a gravestone before he reached out and righted me. He took a last longing look at the gold coin before sliding it into his pocket. He moaned and then turned to leave.
“Thank you, Charon,” I said.
He nodded and continued down a small path, winding his way out of the cemetery.
Feeling dizzy from my encounter Charon and all that he revealed, I sat on the nearest bench, staring at the graves. I saw a mound of dirt being shoveled onto Caroline’s grave; the two workers laughing and shooting the shit now that they believed they were alone.
She was gone. Anger filled me, chasing away my residual weakness.
Caroline capable of gouging people for their money? What a rotten life she led: selfish and uncaring. Greed was almost understandable, but betrayal of your own son? How could a mother do that?
Suddenly, a thought popped into my head. The fact that she became rattled over the tarot card reading now made sense. So many pieces now made sense.
Caroline was dirty.
She’ll be with us forever.
. . .
Not wanting to be alone, I swung by a local shopping mall on my way home. I wanted to distract myself.
At the pet store, I picked up a few containers of artisan cat food for Dugo along with a couple of catnip-infused mice. After finding out Dugo had already lost two owners, I felt he definitely needed to be spoiled rotten.
The mall was decked out in full holiday regalia. A 25-foot tree stood in center court, its decorations a wild mix of jewel tones and silver. Santa stood off behind a faux-wall, pulling a gold flask from his hip pocket and taking a swig when he thought no one was looking. Once he noticed me, he waggled his eyebrows and yelled over, “Do you want to sit on Santa’s lap, young lady?”
I glanced around to see if anyone was paying attention before I flipped him off and continued down the mall corridor. It was a mood.
I spent an hour window shopping. So many choices…how do the mortals decide? And why have they allowed it to drive their lives?
Apart from the commercialism of the holiday season, I secretly loved it all. The music, the food, joyfulness, and compassion were all things that made my heart feel full. It seemed like it was the one time of the year where everyone would try their best to put aside differences and care about one another.
In spite of my post-funeral funk, I found my spirits lift as I listened to the Christmas music being piped over the mediocre speaker system. The energy throughout the mall seemed to match the vibrant decorations, and nearly everyone seemed to have a smile.
I decided not to allow Caroline’s death and the discovery of her bad deeds sour my holiday. Instead, I felt determined to make it the best holiday ever.
I found special ornaments and decorations for my floor at the OA. I grabbed a cup of hot cider and headed home with my packages.
Stepping into the foyer of my condo, I dropped my bags and purse onto the floor, my hands red from the bag handles.
Dugo greeted me with a meow that turned into a loud purr. I picked him up and cradled him in my arms. “You magnificent beast, I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through. Let me get settled, and then I’ll give you a treat.”
He seemed a bit startled by my sudden outpouring of love, so I set him on the sofa and put things away.
I nibbled on some fruit and cheese instead of cooking. Dugo and I watched Hallmark movies and relaxed. During a commercial break, an ad for a senior community aired. It reminded me of the flyer from Caroline’s envelope. I ran to the desk and pulled everything out. I grabbed my laptop and tried to find information about Caroline Batchalder.
Unable to track her information, I thought about emailing Kamlesh, one of my contacts at NASA. His son was an expert on the dark web and should be able to find anything, but I didn’t know where to start. I read and reread every piece of paper in the envelope. Frustrated, I tossed all of the random items aside and scanned Dugo’s records.
“Do you need your shots soon, buddy?” I asked.
He ignored me.
Flipping page by page, I got to the back of the folder and something caught my eye. Ken Soames. Dugo’s original owner on the first vaccination record. Finally. Something to work with. I pulled over the laptop and shot off a quick email to Kamlesh, hoping for the best.