Authors: Creston Mapes
“Will you sit down—so we can talk?” she said.
“Yeah. Let me get my pajamas on real quick. I’m bushed.”
She wasn’t ready for bed yet. Surely he’d noticed that.
“Jack … now. My gosh! I think you owe me that much.”
“Okay.” He went to her, sat down in the free chair, and began taking his shoes and socks off.
“Are you just going to act like nothing happened?”
“No.” He looked up. “I’ve been in these clothes all day. I’m ready to change.”
“Well, go ahead and change then!” She shot up, crossed to the door, and looked back at him. “I can’t believe you.” She burst into tears.
He stood. “Okay, let’s talk.”
“You bought a gun—without telling me?”
He sighed. “When I heard he was getting out, I went to Amiel’s.” That was their friend’s gun range in Trenton City. “I didn’t intend to buy one—”
“Oh, no,” she said sarcastically.
“No. I shot some different guns. I didn’t buy one.”
“So there’s one big thing you did that you didn’t tell me about. Keep going.”
“I was going to tell you about it that night. I was leaning toward getting one. I’d been up at night thinking about it—that we needed protection. But I knew you wouldn’t go for it.”
“So you got one anyway.”
“Yes.” He approached her. “Because I knew he’d come back!”
“To say he was sorry!”
“Oh, right. You believe that?”
“Stick to the topic.” She was unraveling. “You lied to me. More than once! And you would have kept lying—”
His head dropped back so he was looking at the ceiling.
“What else have you lied to me about?”
“Nothing!” He evened his gaze with her. “And I didn’t consider the gun a lie.”
“Well, I do.” All the emotion in her gut came rushing to her eyes. “It’s like you cheated on me, Jack. Don’t you see?”
He reached for her elbows, but she shoved his hands away.
“I’m sorry, Pam. I am. I’m sorry for keeping it from you. It was wrong.”
“Where did you keep it?”
“In my sock drawer. But I kept the magazine separate. It was no threat to the girls.”
“Where is it now?”
He bent down and pulled up the cuff of his pants, revealing a black ankle holster, the gun in it.
She shook her head. “I can’t believe you,” she said again.
“But he did come back, didn’t he?”
“This is about
You should have talked to me! It makes me feel betrayed.”
“I understand. It won’t happen again. It was for your good, and the girls.”
She shook her head vehemently. “No, Jack! We discuss things. It was not your decision to make alone. And you’re not sorry. You still think you were right. You’re apologizing to get through this so you can go to bed.”
His mouth closed, and he frowned.
“I think we should see a counselor,” she said.
“This whole thing.”
“This whole thing—with Granger?”
“Look.” He put his hands on his waist. “You’re tired, I’m tired—”
“No.” She shook off the tears and spoke evenly, firmly. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. We need guidance. Someone who can hear us both out and give some good, biblical advice.”
“About what?” He was turning sour. “The gun thing? I told you—”
“It’s more than that.”
“Oh, great. Now we’re going to get into all the things I do wrong that you haven’t told me.”
“You’re such a smart aleck. No one can tell you anything anymore.”
“So it’s all about me and my problems.”
! Your problems are my problems. Mine are yours—”
The phone on the nightstand rang. She didn’t want it to wake the girls.
Jack got to it quickly. “Hello.”
Is it more about Granger?
“This is he.”
“Oh … How are you? Is something wrong?”
Jack was standing with his back to Pamela. Staring down at the floor. Phone to his ear.
“Oh my,” he said quietly. “When did this happen?”
He put his shoulders back, turned slowly, and stared at Pamela with a solemn face.
Her heart sank for what seemed like the hundredth time that day.
Jack reached his hand out. “Come here,” he whispered.
She went and took his hand. He sat them down close on the edge of the bed and covered the phone. “It’s your dad.”
She hadn’t even thought of her folks.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Jack’s eyes and mouth turned down.
She knew that look. This was bad.
Jack shook his head. “He’s gone.”
Jack opened his eyes the next morning in the bright bedroom where Pam had grown up in Cleveland Heights. He was alone in the bed beneath a snow-white down comforter and felt unfortably hot in the stifling old house, even with his shirt off. He folded the comforter down to his waist and wondered how Pam’s mom was holding up. A terribly heavy feeling came over him as he recalled the previous night’s events.
They had thrown some suitcases together, packed Pam’s car, and awakened Rebecca and Faye just long enough to get them into the vehicle. The girls slept the entire three-hour drive and were delighted to see three inches of snow covering everything when they arrived.
Jack and Pam had driven in silence most of the trip. The friction from their argument was fresh. But her dad’s death had brought a sorrow they both shared, which seemed to make other things not quite so important—at least for a time.
Pam had said her mother would be completely distraught, and she was right. When they arrived well after midnight, Margaret was not ready to let the funeral home take Benjamin’s body. The men in black suits waited in their van outside, trying to stay warm. They got out every now and then, lit smokes, and tossed snowballs; they’d even built a leaning four-foot snowman.
When Pam finally convinced her it was time to let Benjamin go, and the men rolled and bumped the stretcher to the waiting vehicle, Margaret tripped over them every step of the way, wailing and talking to Benjamin as if he were still alive.
Jack closed his eyes for one last quiet moment before starting the day. He heard Rebecca and Faye running about downstairs. Pam was probably helping Margaret write the obituary, make plans for the service, determine who they needed to call.
His eyes fell to a gold crucifix above the closet. He hadn’t prayed in days. He knew he’d wandered, knew he was ignoring sins. To fire a gun in the middle of the neighborhood? To even
a gun without Pam’s consent? Pam insisted he was angry and impatient. His unwillingness to forgive Granger was clearly wrong. He was failing on so many fronts.
He shook away the memory of Granger pleading for forgiveness, sat up on the edge of the bed, and scrolled through his email. He had called Cecil on the way to Cleveland to let him know about Pam’s dad. Now he found an email from his boss letting him know he had successfully divvied out Jack’s pressing assignments to other reporters.
Jack had held off telling him more about the Demler-Vargus story but planned to do so that day. First, he dialed LJ. After explaining where he was, Jack inquired about Galen’s health and was glad to hear that he was fine and getting stronger and would be going home that afternoon.
“We talked to Ralston Coon a good while after you left last night,” LJ said.
“Anything I should know about?”
“No. That’s just it, Jack. Me and Daddy and Travis is convinced old Coon has a good plan cooking.”
“What is it, exactly? Did he tell you how he’s approaching it?”
“See, Jack, he wants us to keep things on the hush-hush. You get me? So I really can’t say no more. Now, them’s Coons’ instructions. Nothin’ personal, you understand. It’s just how lawyers do things.”
“Oh … okay.” In his boxers, Jack crossed to a small desk and took a seat where he’d put his notepad the night before. “Look, LJ, I understand what you guys are trying to do. I would probably be doing the same thing. But I’m concerned.”
“Well … your dad.”
“Oh, he’s gonna be fine, Jack. The doctor said—”
“No, I’m talking about his safety. After the poisoning and the break-in? I mean, do you guys really want to be negotiating with the very people who might be responsible?”
“Look, thank you and all that, Jack, but Coon guaranteed us he’s close to striking a deal with some top dogs at Demler-Vargus. Dang it, there I go, openin’ my big trap. Anyhoo … we decided last night to keep our mouths shut and let him move forward real quick-like to see if we can’t make this thing happen. By the way, I’m gonna have your Jetta ready real soon—should be done by the time you get back.”
Jack hung up with LJ and was glad to reach Cecil at his desk. He explained all that was happening with the Randalls and Demler-Vargus and encouraged Cecil to at least put Derrick on the story full time. Cecil said he would consider it.
“By the way, I need Amy Sheets’s contact info,” Jack said.
“Amy? I’m not sure I have it,” Cecil said.
“Can you check? She interviewed a couple that was going after Demler-Vargus.”
“Emmett and Barb Doyle.”
“I thought we agreed if she had found anything newsworthy, she would have told us.”
“I know. But she also interviewed Galen Randall and who knows who else? She was onto something. I just want to ask her about it—you know, find out why it fizzled.”
There was a long pause.
“Jack, you can’t contact Sheets.”
“Just drop it, will you, Jack? Trust me.”
“What’s going on, Cecil?”
Another long pause. “I know you won’t let this rest. You’re that kind of a
reporter. Okay … here it is. She was pregnant, and she was embarrassed. She decided to have the baby and raise it, with her parents’ help.”
“Whoa.” Jack never even knew there was a man in Amy’s life.
“In Columbus?” Jack said.
“Last I heard, yeah. But this is for your ears only.”
“But listen, Cecil … she wouldn’t even have to know that I know about the baby. I could just tell her the only reason you gave me her number was because of this story.”
“Look, Jack, I’m going to make an executive decision here. Amy was a star reporter and a good friend. I promised her I would keep her secret, and I don’t want to take any chances on messing that up. If she’d found anything, we would have known about it. That’s gonna have to be the end of it, as far as she’s concerned.”
There were more ways than one to find a person. “Okay. I understand.”
“Good. I’ll see what I can do about getting Whittaker more hours on the D-V thing.”
One more quick call and Jack would get downstairs. He reviewed the items he wanted to discuss with Derrick and called his cell.
There was a soft knock at the bedroom door. It opened, and Pam shuffled in, cradling a cup in both hands. “I come bearing coffee.”
Jack set the phone down. “Ahh, what incredible timing. Thank you.”
He set the cup down and put his arms out. They embraced lightly, but she quickly backed away a foot or two.
“How are you holding up?” he said.
She nodded. “I’m okay. Numb, but okay. Glad we came last night. Mom needed me. Thanks.”
“Good. I’m glad we did too.”
“Mom wants to have the funeral tomorrow.”
“Wow, that fast?”
Pam nodded. “Calling hours this afternoon and tonight.”
“Man. Why so soon?”
She shrugged. “You know her; she wants to get it over with. She’d already called a Realtor before I got up this morning. She wants to sell the house and move into St. Edwards, the assisted-living place I told you about, like ASAP.”
“It’s too soon.”
“I told her that. She’s convinced herself she can’t be alone. It’s her worst fear.”
He paused. “And when she’s afraid, she drinks … more.”
Pam was silent. Jack thought she purposefully ignored her mom’s drinking at times.
He knew what they needed to do. He didn’t want to do it, didn’t think it would be good for their marriage—especially now—or for the girls. But he knew it was the right thing.
“She needs to come stay with us,” he said. “At least for a week or two. Just get out of here, away from the house and memories. It’ll give her time to think, be with the girls, you …”
Pam’s eyes filled with tears. She hugged him. “Thank you.” She held him for a moment.