Excerpt from A Place to Call Home

Excerpt from Chapter One

The sound of the power tools above them lulled both girls to sleep.  Cassie’s dream took her back in time to a week ago when they were still living in their foster parents’ home.  The girls were playing hide and seek in the house.

Cassie counted, her eyes closed.

“One hundred.  Ready or not, here I come,” she opened her eyes and called.

Cassie looked in all of Ellie’s usual hiding places – behind the living room curtains (no, they were called draperies in this house), in the hallway powder room (she had no idea why it was called that), inside the foyer closet amid fur and cashmere coats.  Cassie nervously swallowed and peered into her foster father’s office.

“Ellie, Ellie, where are you?” she called in a hushed voice.  “I saw you go downstairs, and I’ve looked everywhere.  You’d better not be in Mr. Moore’s office.”

“Cassie,” the housekeeper hollered.  “Senor Moore es home.  I am leaving.”

“Si, Senora.  We’re just playing.  Hasta mañana.”

Cassie ran into the office as soon as she heard the servant’s door close.  She spied her sister under the desk.  Ellie giggled.

“What are you doing in here, Ellie?  Do you want to get us in trouble?  We have to get out of here.  You know we’re not allowed…”  The front door opened causing Cassie to jump.  She squeezed under the desk with Ellie.

“Do you think he’ll know we’re here?”  Ellie whispered.

“You better hope not, Ellie.  Now, shush!”

They saw the door to the office swing open, and watched as Mr. Moore’s feet came closer to the desk.  They held their breath as he stopped just inches from the front of the desk, their wide eyes looking down at the tips of his shoes staring up at them from the below the front panel of the desk.  They listened as Mr. Moore pushed the button on the answering machine.

“Alex, we’ve got problems,” said a familiar voice.  “Reynolds has gone nuts.  He’s on his way over to your place.  His wife is leaving him, and he’s blaming us.  He says he’s not covering for us any more.  Says he’s going to the press with what he knows about Cassie and Ellie and about the company.  All the money in the world won’t keep them from running with this story, Alex.  If he talks, nobody can stop this, not even your people.”

Cassie and Ellie looked at each other in alarm.  Mr. Moore started to come around the desk but was stopped by a loud pounding on the front door.

“Open up Moore,” someone yelled.  “If you don’t let me in, I’ll blow the door handle off.”

Mr. Moore hesitated for a moment then started across the room toward the front hall.  The girls huddled down so that they could peek out from under the desk.  They watched him go into the foyer and both jumped when they heard the gunshot and the sound of the front door flying open.  They saw shards of wood rain down in the office doorway.

Ellie started to cry, but Cassie put her arms around her and held her tight.  She clamped her hand over Ellie’s mouth.

“Don’t cry, Ellie, please don’t cry,” she whispered to her frightened sister.

A strange voice echoed through the house.  “Don’t move, Moore, or I’ll blow your head off.”

Mr. Moore knew him.  “Okay, Eddie, take it easy.  We can talk about this.”

The girls listened as the man yelled at their foster father.  He was using words they weren’t allowed to say or hear, and he was even crying.  He said his wife had found out something, that he should have told her, that he had ripped up some checks.  Cassie was confused by what he was saying and what it all meant.  She heard him say his wife and boys were gone.  She was trying so hard to concentrate so she could remember what he was saying.  She was trying to understand what he was talking about and what was happening.

Mr. Moore was attempting to get the man to calm down, but he only got angrier.  They listened to him threaten to go to the police, but Mr. Moore said the man would be the one in jail and his wife would be more determined than ever to leave him.

“Shut up,” the man yelled.  “Don’t you ever talk about my wife.”

Suddenly the girls saw a quick movement in the foyer, but both men were out of their line of sight through the only partially open door.  They grabbed their ears as the sound of the gun echoed through the house.  Ellie tried to scream, but Cassie slapped her hand back over her sister’s mouth.

They heard a loud scuffle in the entrance hall, another bang, and then a loud thump.  They felt the rush of air as the office door swung all the way open, listened to the sound of something being dragged across the floor, and sat frozen as the room filled with an eerie silence after the front door slammed shut.  Outside, a car started and then rolled down the gravel driveway, but Mr. Moore never came back in.

Cassie and Ellie waited under the desk for what seemed like hours.  When they ventured out, Ellie was still shaking.

“Come on, Ellie.  Let’s get out of this room before he gets back.”  Cassie led her sister to the front hall.

When they reached the doorway, Ellie screamed at the sight of the blood that fanned out across the floor running in dozens of little streams through the grooves in the marble.  Ellie fainted, just missing the red sea and its many tributaries.

“Ellie, no,” Cassie screamed as she lunged but failed to catch her.