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Authors: Jan Burke

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BOOK: Apprehended
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“So you're really a war widow?”

The finger stopped moving. She looked up at me. “Oh yes. And my mother is dead. John, my husband, sent home all of his pay—a little over a hundred and fifty dollars a month at first. It was up to about four hundred when he was killed. Just about everything he saved for us got spent on my mother's medical needs. But John also bought some life insurance through the service. So I had ten thousand from that.”

“That's where the seven thousand comes from?”

“Yes.” She sighed. “There was this neighbor of Aunt Lou's in Cleveland. Her daughter was about my age. Despite all my other faults, I'm not like Eldon, so I won't name her, if you don't mind. Anyway, at the end of last semester, she dropped out of school here. Looking back on it now, I think she was just really homesick.

“But what she told me was . . . well, once we got to know each other, she said the reason she left was because Eldon Naff slept with her and then told the world about it. She said she had been working as an assistant for Mr. Langworthy, or rather to someone on his staff. She said it was Mr. Langworthy who fired her, mostly based on Eldon's gossip. I don't know if that's true, but I learned a lot about Mr. Langworthy from her. Including the fact that in early September, he was going on a Mediterranean cruise.

“And I couldn't help thinking about Mr. Carnegie and Mrs. Chadwick. Especially because I never knew my dad. My mother always said my father died while she was pregnant with me, but I think she was lying. Aunt Lou all but confirmed that my parents weren't married. So I am illegitimate, just not the child of a rich man.”

After a long silence, she said, “God, I don't know how you did it, but I'm glad you figured it out. It's a relief.”

“I'm sure it is. So you were thinking about Andrew Carnegie and Cassie Chadwick—”

“Yes. And I took a gamble. Bought some clothes and a bus ticket and went west. I just couldn't be happy in Cleveland, living with Aunt Lou, hearing about this beautiful place from a neighbor girl who had no sense at all. There are some nice men in Cleveland, but I had too many bad memories associated with it, and going back to our small town—well, let's just say that wasn't an option. I couldn't stand being under the microscope as John Vynes's widow, with his mama harping on how it was my fault he'd been killed—which is just nonsense and the meanest lie, because I did
not
want him to go off to war! How we argued—” She halted, tears welling up in her eyes. She quickly brushed them away.

“So I applied to the college and got accepted,” she went on, forcing a smile. “You know the rest.”

“Not exactly. What the hell did you expect would happen when Langworthy returned?”

“I hoped for two things. I hoped that by then I'd have met some nice college guy who would marry me. The other was I'd get a chance to pay Eldon back a little. He's the only person to whom I ever told that story about Mr. Langworthy. No one else has asked me directly if I am his daughter. If they had, I was going to deny it, and swear to high heaven that I didn't have any seven thousand dollars, and that he made it all up.”

I shook my head. “He's a jerk, and he gossips, but he's not known for outright lying about his stories. People would probably be more likely to believe him than you.”

“Yes, I figured that out. I also figured a few other things out, but . . .” She swallowed hard, took a halting breath and said, “Anyway, I was hoping Mr. Langworthy's staff would back me up.”

“What actually went on inside the Langworthy residence that day?”

“Oh, nothing, really. I asked to speak to the person my neighbor reported to, and told her that she thought the world of the Langworthy staff and had asked me to stop by and wish them well. Naturally, they asked about her and how she was doing, and even said that Mr. Langworthy regretted firing her. Guess it has cost him some sleepless nights. They asked me to contact her to see if she'd come back, and I did, but she said she's happier where she is.”

“You know what, I don't give a damn about any of that. I don't even give a shit about all those stupid male gold diggers who were trying to get into your panties over the last few weeks. There are only two people I'm really concerned about here. God knows how Mr. Langworthy is going to react when he learns what's happened to his reputation. So that's one. But—”

“Mark,” she said, looking forlorn. “I know you have no reason to believe a word I say, but it's breaking my heart twice. I can't stand hurting him, but I've realized for some time now that I made a bigger trap for myself than the one I built for Eldon. I hated hurting Mark.” This time, the tears flowed unchecked.

I ignored them—her use of the past tense was another matter. “What the hell have you done now?”

She looked surprised at my anger. “Didn't he tell you? I thought you'd be the first person he called. I gave his ring back to him. I couldn't live with myself if we married, knowing I'd tricked him into it.”

“So what's the plan now, Mrs. Chadwick?”

“Don't call me that!”

“What's the plan? Do you go back to Ohio with your tail between your legs? Join a nunnery? Marry someone you don't love in some act of martyrdom?”

She looked stunned. “I thought—I thought you'd understand.”

“Here's an alternative you may not have considered: tell Mark the truth.”

“I have thought of that. Of course I have. But how could he ever trust me again?”

“If you ask me, whatever time and effort you spend earning that trust is bound to be a better penance than hurting him for the sake of your fear and guilt.”

She looked down at the tablecloth again. Her hands were shaking, but she said, “I'll do it.”

“Good. The whole truth, right?”

“Yes.”

I brought her a box of Kleenex and called Mark.

“Hi, Irene,” he said. He sounded awful. “I was just thinking of calling you.”

“Tell you what, why don't you come over instead?”

“I don't think I'd be good company. Donna gave me my ring back.” Utterly crushed. The boy had it bad.

“Bring the ring over. Maybe you can put it back on her. But my unsolicited advice is that the two of you should take things a little slower.”

“She's there?” he said, with about a thousand volts more energy than I had heard in his voice a moment before.

“Yes. Come over; I'll see to it that you aren't disturbed. But you have to be out of here by noon.”

“Irene . . . I . . . I don't know what you said to her, but—”

“Just get over here.”

“On my way.”

Next I called Lydia's mom.

•   •   •

I met Lydia on the front steps with an overnight bag already packed for her. “Come on, we're spending the night at your mom's place.”

“What?”

“An old-fashioned slumber party.”

“What are you talking about? I'm exhausted.”

“I'll tell you all about it on the way over to your mom's. I'd take you to Kellyville, but—”

She shuddered. “Barbara.”

“Exactly. My sister will drive us nuts.”

•   •   •

I found Jack Corrigan in his office late the next day.

“Thanks for the assignment,” I said. “Reading the style of those turn-of-the-century reporters was fun. How did you know about the story?”

“My mother's eldest brother—who was so much older than her, he was more a father figure than a sibling—lost all his savings when the Oberlin bank failed, thanks to Cassie Chadwick. Or at least, that was the way the story was told by my mother. Uncle Eamon pointed out that crooked though Cassie was, the bankers played a large part in elevating her from a minor con artist to a major swindler.”

“Were you close to him?”

“Oh yes. He came to live with us at one point, and eventually repaired his fortunes, which was a good lesson to me—that ruin need not be a permanent condition for anyone still breathing.” He paused. “May I ask how your friend Mark is doing?”

“Great. As your uncle might say, Donna is still breathing. They're going to wait a year to marry. In the meantime, she's moving in with Lydia and me.”

“Excellent work, Kelly.”

•   •   •

Mr. Langworthy had been informed of the rumors while on vacation with the love of his own life, who happened to be male. His lover encouraged an impish side to Mr. Langworthy that no one had seen in decades. Donna, expecting to be told that she must pay for an announcement to be printed in the paper denying any claim on him, was instead begged never to do so. “I would be delighted, my dear—provided you're not interested in making any claim on my estate?—to watch all of the people who've been eager to have a slice of the pie try to behave themselves when it looks as if the kitchen is closed.”

She assured him—as did Mark—that she had no need for his money.

So Lydia and I were bridesmaids at a wedding that was held at the Langworthy mansion. Many people in attendance thought they knew something they didn't, always a dangerous condition, but terribly amusing to Mr. Langworthy all the same.

Oh, and somehow Eldon Naff ended up falling into a koi pond, and had to go home early as a result. I am not at liberty to say how this came about, but perhaps some things are best left unacknowledged.

Why Tonight?

Why tonight?

As she lay staring up at the lazily circling blades of the ceiling fan, Kaylie asked herself the question again and again. She wasn't sure what caused her to ask herself that question more than any other, especially as there were certainly other matters she should be addressing before the sheriff arrived. But through the numbness that surrounded nearly every other line of thinking, one question occurred to her repeatedly, refused evasion by tricks of distraction: Why tonight?

Was it because of the heat? It was hot tonight. But then, it wasn't the first hot summer night in Kansas. Even her grandmother used to say that the devil couldn't be found in Kansas in August; in August he went back to hell, where he could cool off. No, the heat had not decided this night would be the night that Joseph Darren died.

She had met the man whose body hung from a rope tied to the rafters of the garage on another, long-ago August night, when she had gone down to the small, man-made lake on the edge of town, hoping it would be cool there.

She had talked Tommy Macon into driving her down there that night. She smiled, thinking of Tommy. Tommy who used to have a crush on her. Tommy, taking her out to drag Main in his big old Chrysler. Kaylie calling ‘Hey!' to Sue Halloran, just to rub it in. Sue calling back, half-heartedly, like a beaten pup.

Willowy. That's what Joseph called her that night. If his eyes had moved over her just a little more slowly, it would have been insulting. He had taken in her skinny frame, a body she dismissed with the word ‘awkward' up to that moment, that moment when Joseph asked, “Who's the willowy blonde, Tommy?”

When he introduced them, Tommy, who would never be a Thomas, whispered to her, “Don't never call him ‘Joe'.” He needn't have bothered with the warning. She knew from that first moment that Joseph would be extraordinary. He would never be “an average Joe.” Tommy was sweet and clumsy, but she was too stupid in those days to see the advantages of being with a sweet and clumsy man.

She sighed, closing her eyes. Too late to mourn the loss of Tommy, still married to Sue, and five kids and fifty pounds later would stay married to her. Kaylie couldn't even bring herself to contemplate the idea of mourning Joe. She tried it. Not mourning him—calling him Joe.

Joe
.
Joe
.
Joe
. She said it like a curse.
Joe you
. It suited him now, she decided.

He was a poet, he had told her, when he was Joseph. A poet. Tommy confirmed it. Tommy, naively bragging on a man he hadn't even realized was already his rival. Joseph's poetry had been in every issue of the
Butler County College Literary Magazine
every semester he had been there. Tommy didn't claim to understand it all, but he thought it was pretty interesting that Joseph used all small letters, like that Ogden Nash—no, hell, no, that e.e. cummings fellow. That, and did Kaylie know that Joseph could recite all of the words to “American Pie” and tell her exactly what they all meant?

Joseph never did recite “American Pie” for her or unravel its meaning. Too late now.

Kaylie shifted to her side, looking out the top half of the bedroom window. The busted air conditioner sat in the bottom half. It made her mad just to see that air conditioner, so she forced herself to look up over the top of it.

The refinery was still burning. Flames, in the distance, reflected odd colors off the clouds of smoke that billowed and rolled into the night sky. Even with the wind blowing most of it away from town, the air was filled with the stench of burning oil and gas, and doubtless would be for some hours.

Maybe it was the fire. Was that why Joseph had died this night, and not some other night? Had the stinking, burning oil made the sky so different tonight, so different that things had come to this? She turned away from the window, restless, unwilling to watch it, knowing neighbors had died there tonight. No time to think of that, not now.

Damn, it was hot.

She wondered if Joseph's students would miss him. He had always managed to have a coterie of A.Y.M.s around him. That was one of Kaylie's secrets, calling them that. An A.Y.M. was an Adoring Young Miss, and many of them had fastened their hungry, barelylost-my-innocence gazes on Professor Joseph Darren.

And why not? He could have been a Made-for-TV English Professor. He taught poetry, was a
published
poet (mostly through a small local press owned by a childhood friend). All those A.Y.M.s thought he was so
sensitive
. (Their own boyfriends were sweet but clumsy, and so
immature
, i.e., not twenty years their senior like Professor Darren.) He was handsome and tall and distinguished looking, with an air of vulnerability about him. Slender but not gaunt. Big, dark, brooding eyes. Long legs. Long lashes. Long, beautiful fingers.

His fingers. Only one of Joseph's poems had been published in the
American Poetry Review
, and it was Kaylie's favorite. For some years now, it had been the only one she could stand to read. It was a poem about something that had really happened. It was a poem about the time he righted a fallen chair, the chair beneath his mother's dangling feet, and stood upon it, then reached up and placed the fingers of one hand gently around her ribs, and pulled her to him, holding her until he could use the fingers of the other hand to free the rope from her neck.

He had shown the poem to Kaylie not long after they met, and told her that his mother had committed suicide one hot summer day. Kaylie could see at once that he was a troubled man who needed her love to overcome this tragedy. Thinking of that poem now, she held her own strong hands out before her. Had she taken him that seriously then? Well yes, at eighteen, the world was a very serious place. At forty, it was serious again.

But the poem had genuinely moved her, and after they were married, she had sent it off to the
Review
. Joseph had been unhappy with her for sending it in, told her she had no business doing so without his permission, and he was probably right. But in the end, it had been that poem in the
Review
that got him the teaching job.

Joseph's talk of his travels around the world had pulled at her imagination. He had travelled a great deal after his mother died. His father had passed away the summer before, and there was an inheritance from that side of the family that he came into upon his mother's death. Joseph told her of places he had been, of Europe and Northern Africa and India. She had pictured the two of them travelling everywhere: riding camels on the way to the Pyramids, backpacking to Machu Pichu.

But after they married, he didn't want to go anywhere. He had satisfied his wanderlust, it seemed. When she complained about it, he gave her a long lecture about how immature it was of her to want to trot all over the globe, to be the Ugly American
Turista
. Those other people didn't want us in their countries, he told her. Besides, he couldn't travel: he had to get through graduate school.

So she washed his clothes and darned his socks and typed his papers instead of riding camels. One of her friends was almost a feminist and told her she shouldn't do things like that for him. But her almost feminist friend was divorced not long after that, and, as Joseph asked Kaylie when he heard of it,
didn't that tell her something?
Soon she stopped having anything to do with the woman, because Joseph told Kaylie that the woman had been coming on to him. Now, she wondered if it was true.

There had been years of small deceptions, she knew. He had seemed so honest in the beginning. She had misunderstood the difference between baldly stating facts and being honest. On the night he told her about his mother, he also told her about his daughter, Lillian. He said he loved Lilly, but he didn't marry Lilly's mother exactly because she had tried to trick him into marrying her by getting pregnant. He might as well have said, “
Let that be a lesson to you
.”

When he finished graduate school, Joseph told Kaylie that he had decided against having any more children. He had a vasectomy not long after he made that announcement. She was twenty-one then, and didn't object very strongly; it was a disappointment, but she could understand Joseph's point of view. She told herself that they would have more time to do the things they wanted to do. And even every other weekend, Lilly was a handful.

But somewhere around thirty-five, it became more than a disappointment. It was a bruise that wouldn't heal. Every time her mind touched upon it, it hurt.

By then, their isolation was nearly complete. They were estranged from her family and most of the people she knew before her marriage. Their few friends were his friends; their hobbies, his hobbies; their goals, his goals. He reserved certain pleasures for his own enjoyment. Infidelity was one of them.

Her own private pleasures were far less complicated. Four years ago, she had planted a garden, perhaps needing to give life to
something
. Joseph never liked what she chose to plant there, but otherwise, he ignored it.

Jim Lawrence, on the other hand, had liked the garden. One day when he was driving his patrol car past the house, he had seen her trying to lug a big bag of fertilizer to the backyard. He had stopped the car and helped her. When he saw the garden, he smiled and said, “Well, Kaylie, I see Professor Darren hasn't taken all of the farmer out of you yet.” He spent time talking with her about what she had planted, complimenting her without flattery.

For a while, after he had left that afternoon, she felt a sense of loss. But as she continued to work in the garden, that passed, and she began to mentally replay those few moments with Jim Lawrence again and again. She began to think of them as a sort of infidelity. She took pleasure in that notion.

That brief, never repeated encounter made the garden all the more valuable to her. She had spent a long time in the garden late this afternoon, watering it, trying to protect it from the heat. She had gone out to it again in the early evening, after supper but before the summer sun was down, letting its colors and fragrances ease her mind, cutting flowers for her table.

•   •   •

Jim Lawrence parked the patrol car next to the curb in front of the Darren house, allowing himself the luxury of a sigh as he pocketed the keys. This had been one helluva night, the worst he had faced since becoming a sheriff's deputy, and it was far from over. He had been glad to let the high muckety-mucks take over at the refinery. He had no desire to try to juggle the demands of firefighters, OSHA, oil company men and every kind of law enforcement yahoo between here and God's forgiveness. Let the sheriff handle it himself.

The task he had been given that night was bad enough. He had spent the last four hours getting in touch with families who lived outside of town, out on farms, and bringing someone from each family to the temporary morgue at the junior high school. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands—brought them into town to help identify the bodies (“No, Mrs. Reardon, he wasn't fighting anybody. His fists are up because . . . well, that's just what happens to the muscles in a fire.” How could you say
that
gently?) For some, all they could do was give some needed information (“Who was his dentist, Mr. Abbot?”) to the harried coroners.

Emma, the woman who worked dispatch, did her best, but she was fairly new on the job and ill-prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. In the midst of the chaos that came with the refinery fire, she had managed to log a call from Kaylie Darren, asking Jim to come by, no matter how late, whenever he had a minute. It was important that he come by, but it could wait.

Emma hadn't managed to find out what Mrs. Darren had wanted. He tried to guess, figured she must be having problems with her neighbors. Maybe the Hansons' teenage sons had been causing her some trouble. They had been knocking over mailboxes, setting off firecrackers and making general nuisances of themselves this summer. Hormones and heat. Bad combination.

Still, Kaylie wasn't the type to complain about such things. He had known her back before she was Mrs. Darren. Kaylie Lindstrom. They went to high school together. She was blond, blue-eyed, skinny. Just started to fill out some when Joseph Darren had nabbed her. Have to give the son of a bitch that much—he had foresight then.

Jim mused over all he knew of Joseph Darren. Mother was a suicide. He had lived in Wichita for a while, got a girl pregnant. He gave his daughter his name, but never married her mother. Had the daughter with them every other weekend. Of course, that was when she was little. Daughter was grown by now. Hell, she must be—what, twenty-two? Older than most of the students Joseph Darren was rumored to be sleeping with. Jim remembered hearing that the daughter was married not long ago. Maybe she did better for herself than Kaylie did.

He thought of the day Kaylie had shown him the garden. He thought she had seemed starved for attention, and he had meant to come by again sometime. But maybe
because
she seemed starved for attention, he had hesitated to do so.

He got out of the patrol car and walked wearily toward the house, wondering if Kaylie knew her garage light was on.

She met him at the door, opened it and beckoned him inside before he could knock. Must have been watching for the patrol car. He stood in the front hallway, studying her for a moment. She looked good, slender and fit, but she was tense and talking too fast. Asked him to come in, thanked him for coming over, said she knew that he probably had his hands full what with the fire and all and . . . and trailed off, apparently not able to say whatever it was she had to say. His weariness left him then. He realized that something very serious was going on; she hadn't called to complain about the Hanson kids or anything like that. He already knew he wasn't going to like it.

He had seen this before, when a person had something they wanted to tell him, but couldn't lay his or her hands on the starting thread of the story. He would make the first tug, so that she could begin the unraveling.

BOOK: Apprehended
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