The entrance to the basement wasn’t in the kitchen, but rather behind a door that sat to the rear of the stairway leading down from the second floor.
Jackson headed to it, followed by the boy.
Handsome kid. Nice kid, too, so it seemed. Of course, he didn’t know him.
To his surprise, Jackson wasn’t startled by the presence of Thomas Jefferson in the parlor, seated beneath the copy of the painting of him—seated where he still liked to sit.
Something had been special about this place; he had known it. He wondered if Angela had felt it all, too, or if she had just wanted to make him happy. But Angela loved history; she believed the present always related back to history in one way or another, or even when it came to a perp they were trying to pinpoint or track down. As the philosopher George Santayana had said, “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.”
Studying people throughout history, you learned what made people tick—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Studying situations could avoid the mistakes that led to war or the abuse of one people over another. She loved studying Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, the one and only President of the Confederacy. She was quick to remind him they’d both been human, writing each other letters of condolence when each family had lost a child in their respective White Houses.
People were people. History taught how we could bring out the best and the worst in one another. “Are you angry with me? Are you sure . . . like you want me to spend the night? If they’ll let me?” Corby asked.
Jackson turned to him, startled, aware he’d been deep in thought. “I’m so sorry, Corby. I need to make
He pulled out his phone; it was one minute before midnight. He quickly dialed Deputy MarlinO’Boyle’s phone number.
O’Boyle answered, saying, “This must be Special Supervising Agent Jackson Crow—and it just turned into midnight. Come on, sir, I’m an old dude here—you couldn’t give it another minute, eh? But that’s okay. I’m crazy about that kid. I will come and get him.”
“Uh, no. I mean, yes, this is Jackson Crow. But I don’t want you to come and get Corby. He is here; he’s fine. But here’s the thing. Can you talk to Miss Victoria or whoever we need to talk to? It’s Christmas. I’d like to let the kid have a Christmas. We have plenty of room. May he just stay here tonight?”
Corby Latimer was looking at him with so much hope.
“I, yeah, I’m sure it will be okay. I mean, you are a Fed and all that. A married Fed—that seems to be important. And your wife is alive and well. Sure, I’ll call the orphanage. Miss Victoria might enjoy that kind of a break—a lot of the kids have places they get to go for Christmas. She’s a nice woman—she’s just got a lot on her plate. Oh, she has help, but . . . well, any big city. We got orphans.”
Jackson nodded toward Corby. The kid gave him such a smile.
“I was thinking. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and after that, Christmas. What say you ask her if he can stay the next couple of days,” Jackson said.
“That sounds great.”
“We’ll have friends down Christmas Day. It would be great if you could come by, too, Deputy.”
“Why, that would be mighty nice. I’ll tell Miss Victoria not to worry then,” he said, and laughed softly.
“I’ll tell her I’ve got my eyes hard on you. She’s a bit wary of Feds, but likes her law local.”
“Ah, I see,” Jackson said. “She’s welcome to come by and meet Angela and me, anytime.”
“She just might do that—curious, you know. And there will probably be paperwork. But seeing as it’s past midnight, we’ll let that paperwork go until morning. Goodnight then, Jackson Crow. And welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Goodnight, Deputy Marlin O’Boyle.”
They ended the call. Jackson grinned and shrugged at Corby, opened the door to the basement stairs and headed down.
Corby followed quickly behind him. “Really? You’re—you’re going to let me stay here through Christmas?”
“Sure. Why not?”
The kid was quiet for a minute. Jackson pulled on the string attached to the overhead light. The place became bright. The basement had been partially refurbished with a few sofas in one area on a carpeted floor. The laundry room was down here, along with water heaters and other household mechanisms and supplies, along with the old ice box, a coal chute, and a working freezer.
“Ah! The ice box,” Jackson said. “You came in through the old ice box?”
Corby shook his head.
“Coal chute? You’re awful clean.”
Corby smiled and shook his head. He walked back to the old ice box. There were bricks on the floor there, pressed against some pine siding.
He moved the bricks and lifted what had only looked like pine siding. It was actually a hard rubber flap, an old pet door, Jackson thought. Small—as if for a medium-sized dog, perhaps—but ample enough for a thin kid like Corby to make his way through. Ducking down, he saw a ramp led up to the level ground.
“How did you know it was there?” Jackson asked Corby. “I’m betting a row of hedges sits close to the house. It’s not something you would just notice.”
The kid smiled. “President Jefferson knew about it.”
“I see. How did you meet President Jefferson?”
Corby winced and looked down. “Well, I was with some of the kids after school one day about a year ago. Mr. Bickers, our driver, was hit by a car before he picked us up and so we knew he was going to be late and we were in grade school then, and we’d been released because Mr. Bickers was never late . . . anyway, the door was left open here and it was a cool old place—Jimmy Grant said it was haunted—and dared us all to go in and we did and . . .” He broke off. “We did. And something scared the others and they went out, shrieking, but I’d come down to the basement. President Jefferson was here and he told me they were all being silly, he was sure that, most of the time if not all of the time, dead people were the safest people we were ever going to meet. And I’d read about him. I had these books my mom had left on the U.S. Presidents for young readers. He was all excited I saw him and knew who he was and . . . well, you know! I was all excited that it was him. Anyway, I told him we hadn’t meant to do anything bad at all, and he told me it was cool to talk to me and that I should come back. Mr. and Mrs. Newton were nice people—who went to bed early every night and stayed there. I would sneak in when I could get away. Without getting in trouble. But . . . even Jimmy got adopted, and I—” He broke off. “Well, Mr. Jefferson is cool. He makes me feel like I . . . like I could grow up and mean something to people.”
“I’m sure you’ll be adopted. You’re a great kid.”
“Thanks, but . . . people don’t adopt people like me.”
“What do you mean—like me?”
The kid grinned awkwardly. “Come on, sir—uh, Jackson. I mean, my mom was white, and my dad was black. Black families are afraid I’d face tough times being part white. White families think I’m black. I’m not any one thing, and I guess people don’t like mixed people.”
“I’m mixed. Dad is Native American. Mom is white.”
“Yeah, I can see that. And that’s cool.” He shrugged, trying to make it appear none of it bothered him.
“I guess your parents lived.”
“You know, you must know, President Obama was mixed race.”
Corby grinned. “You bet! And I’m going to study hard. I’m going to be a lawyer first, and then I’m going to make sure I know my politics and all that, and I’m going to be a congressman or a senator one day. I’m going to fight for good insurance for people and for better drug prices! I heard Mr. Newton complaining because Mrs. Newton’s medicine for her diabetes got so expensive.”
“You’ll make a good representative for the people,” Jackson assured him. “Speaking of which, Angela must have hot chocolate by now! And we don’t want President Jefferson getting bored, waiting for us.” He indicated the stairs; Corby grinned and scurried on up before him. Jackson followed.
Angela did have the hot chocolate ready. She’d pulled chairs around the rocker in a grouping. “At last! Took you people longer to check out the basement than it did when I wrote the Declaration of Independence! Oh, that’s not true at all. It took forever and forever, getting everyone to agree. But that’s the great thing we finally got right—every man and every woman has the right to have his or her opinion and to voice that opinion. Don’t forget that! But here’s another thing, an important thing. Remember each man— and woman—has that right equal to you. We need to respect one another. Now—”
“What was General Washington like?” Corby asked.
“A good man. A military man. A great Father of this Country. We should have lost that war, you know. We were up against the most powerful armies and navies of the time. Yes, the poor man suffered many a defeat. But we had help. The French were powerful allies. Lafayette was brilliant in training our troops, and, of course, we learned from some of our Native American friends,” he said, giving a nod in Jackson’s direction. Corby was listening, but his eyes were closing, too.
Angela was on a large plush chair that easily seated two. She stood and set her arms around Corby, pulling him up and over. “Sit with me, Corby. You can lean against me. If you’re sound asleep, Jackson is a pretty big dude. He can get you upstairs and into a bed in a bit.”
Corby was tired, obviously. He looked as if he might protest in an effort to prove he was an older boy, able to handle himself.
But Angela urged him over. He leaned against her and she gently smoothed back his hair as they sat.
She had always wanted kids; she’d always been good with them.
Work, time . . .
It just hadn’t happened. And yet watching the love she could so genuinely give and the compassion and empathy that came to her so easily, he felt a greater love for her, something that caused a quivering inside him. He’d been lucky. So damned lucky. He’d had amazing parents. And he’d face his own terrible loss one time, but in Angela, he’d found life and the wonder of it all over again.
Jefferson continued to talk about those he had known during the days leading up to the American Revolution and after. Adams, one amazing writer. Benjamin Franklin, yes, he’d had his reputation, but what an amazing thinker, so ahead of his time. And he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and he also negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Heartbreak for him, though, too. His son William remained loyal to the British through it all. And it wasn’t the friendly thing after that war that it is today. Ah, the Newton family had a lovely British couple staying here one day.
“Of course, people are people everywhere, wanting warmth and a place to stay and belong, love and children and life in the pursuit of liberty and happiness! Eh, Corby?” Jefferson asked.
Corby had fallen asleep against Angela’s arm.
“Our boy is quite sound asleep,” Jefferson said softly.
“I’ll take him,” Jackson said, standing and coming to Angela to scoop the boy up and out of her arms.
“He’s staying here?” Jefferson asked.
“Yes, I guess we have to fill out a few papers for the orphanage in the morning, but he’ll stay with us through Christmas.”
“I figured you were good people,” Jefferson said.
“Well, I don’t know how good we are,” Angela said. “But no kid should be alone on Christmas. We’ll try to make sure it’s very good for him.”
“Ah, yes. Christmas through a child’s eyes. No better,” Jefferson said. “Ah, well, on to a few other haunts, a few chats with good friends, and . . . thank you for the pleasant evening.”
He faded away.
“I’ll get this one in bed,” Jackson told Angela.
She smiled at him. “Oh, Jackson. He makes my heart bleed. He’s . . . so cute! And polite. How did he manage to be so courteous?”
He shrugged. “Angela, it’s okay, right?”
“That he’s here? Of course. Jackson, I’m so grateful that maybe we can do something for him.”
“Yeah, well, I promised you a romantic Christmas Eve. And no ghosts.”
“What a ghost!” she exclaimed. “And every minute of my life with you is romantic. Love itself is far more romantic than anything else. And getting to do something for this boy, well, you asked what I wanted for Christmas—I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than getting to have him here for Christmas.”
“I love you so much,” he said.
She smiled and nodded. “Back at you—now, let’s get Corby to bed and get some sleep ourselves.” He turned and headed up the stairs. He picked one of the empty bedrooms, pulled down the sheets, and then removed Corby’s worn sneakers. Shoes; that’s what they’d get him. He could use some good shoes. They’d find out if he liked any sports. And books! He’d probably love some books. Maybe a new computer. It would be so much fun, getting a present for someone who really needed what they could get.
He pulled the covers over the boy, headed out to the hall, looking back, and then shut the door.
Angela was back in bed.
He crawled in and pulled her into his arms.
Well, so far, it wasn’t going exactly the way he’d planned.
He smiled, resting his head against his wife’s hair.
It was going better.