"This is creepy," Dana said and gave a delicate shudder. "Why didn't you protest? All you'd have needed is call the judge's office, and they'd have placed the fucking asshole elsewhere."
Helen poured herself a cup of coffee, looking past her resentful secretary out into the yard. George was hosing down the company truck for her.
"He won't be in here" she said and shrugged.
"George says he doesn't want a perv either," Dana countered, her tone clipped and still straining with her anger. "He thinks he's a freak too. All the guys do that."
"I don't care," Helen said. "And quite frankly, if I notice any one of you giving him a hard time you can collect your stuff and be gone. He's done his time."
Dana guffawed. Helen knew her staff thought that three months were far too short a time for what Vincent was said to have done. Helen topped her mug once more, took it along into her own office and closed the door. The file was still on her desk. She'd read it several times, she could even understand her secretary; few women would want a sentenced sex offender working on the same premises. And while Vincent had been convicted but for the lesser offenses, due an astonishing lack of evidence and the unwillingness of any of the alleged witnesses to testify, everyone knew what really had taken place in that secluded villa, or at least everyone thought they knew.
The court had been unable to slap full charges on him, but they made sure that he did his time in the worst possible prison, and Helen had a good idea what that meant for a man that handsome without the knowledge or the brawn to defend himself and a vague sentence but lots of public speculation. Newspapers reached prisons as well. At least it had brought him into this county, where she was able to request him. Dana would have a shitfit if she knew that.
The quiet work among plants and on the fields might give him some time to process what had happened to him. Going by what she had seen and learned lately, there hadn't been much chance for that prior to what had happened either.
For all that she regularly employed ex-inmates of the state prison, she'd never actually picked one up. This time however she had called their office and arranged for a fixed date late in the afternoon. Dana would be even more freaked when she'd realised that her boss had taken the convict to live in her own house even. Helen smiled to herself while watching the gate in her rearview mirror. Oh yes, there would be more problems with the others, because no one would understand why she was doing what she would be doing.
Precisely on time, 1700 hours sharp, the door set into the huge gate swung open and a man stepped outside, looked around and then headed straight for her car. She had asked them to tell him his future employer would be taking him to where he would work and finish his time of parole. She doubted he had any idea who that would be, or who she was for that matter.
He drew nearer and she stretched and pushed the passenger door open. He folded into his seat without even looking at her first and she was shocked to see how gaunt he was. Vincent had always been slender, even during the court case he still had looked his normal slim self. But now he was so meagre it was painful to look at him, accentuated as this was by the way his clothes hung on him. Helen bit down on her instinctive reaction.
He wasn't looking at her even now, instead he had belted up, then placed his bony hands in his lap and waited patiently for her to do whatever she would do. At least that was her impression.
There was none of the former sassy fire in those light blue eyes, someone or something had extinguished a large part of what she had come to associate with him during those days watching the trial. She'd driven eighty miles down the coast daily for a week to do so. Impossible to miss his name in the headlines when it had happened.
She pulled out of the parking lot and turned left where the prison driveway joined the county road, heading back to the coast.
"Are you well, Vincent?"
"Of course, ma'am."
He wore the three-piece suit she had seen him wear during the trial, dark grey with a white shirt and a staid grey tie, yet this businesslike attire did not match his expression, nor the listlessness with which he greeted his liberty. He clearly didn't recognise her either. Not from the trial, though she had been very circumspect not to sit where he would see her too often, nor from before.
They pulled over the watershed of the mountainrange giving way to the spectacular view of the Pacific far ahead, bathed in the hues of orange, pink and cobalt blue of a clear, late summer sunset. She felt more than saw Stackman straighten, and couldn't help smiling. He had always loved the ocean.
By the time they entered her yard, driving past her fields and the smaller rows of raised beds the sun was a vague memory on the horizon. In the beam of the pickup's headlights the flat bungalow looked unassuming. She wondered what he thought about having to live at a place so far removed from what he was used to formerly. He had stayed quiet throughout the journey, not just not talking, there had been little physical movement altogether, just his regular breathing. Nothing like what she remembered.
She killed the engine, and gestured for him to get out, then walked ahead towards the house. In front of the entrance door she stopped and turned around, looking him squarely into the eyes.
"Do you know who I am?"
He gazed at her and swallowed, she watched the way he stilled the trembling of his hands, and suddenly she understood. She bridged the distance of time and space with one step and pulled the painfully thin body into a loving, much waited for embrace. His face pressed against her neck, and his arms came up in her back as he returned her welcome. Oh yes, he knew who she was alright.