Authors: Creston Mapes
Travis pulled his father’s shoes off and handed him the brown blanket his mother had knitted for him just before she passed. Galen was supposed to be on the portable oxygen machine, but he would have nothing to do with it. Instead, he had his old transistor radio up to his ear, tuning into WDUC, the local AM station.
“This always happens when Momma comes around.” Bo wandered into the TV room, looking over his shoulder. “Chores, chores, chores. You forget what it’s like till she shows up again.”
“Tell me about it,” LJ said. “Woman’s a slave driver.”
“You love it, both of you,” Travis said.
LJ and Bo exchanged a sheepish glance. Those boys wished they could be a family again, Travis knew, but Roxanne had proven she couldn’t be trusted. Travis never wanted to see LJ get hurt like that again.
“Bo, flick them back floodlights on, would ya?” LJ said.
Once his son was out of the room, LJ whispered to Travis, “Daddy’s shotgun’s loaded—hall closet. Just in case they decide to come back.”
Travis nodded, hoping there would be no more trouble.
“I wish Coon would hurry up and seal this deal. I don’t like this whole mess,” said LJ.
Bo returned, snatched his handheld from the end table, and dropped onto the couch.
“I just don’t get it,” LJ said. “If the guy in black didn’t have nothin’ to do with the poisoning, who did?”
“We know that for a fact?” Daddy said.
“Yessir. He was just visiting his momma,” LJ said.
“So he said,” Travis mumbled.
LJ turned on a dime. “So he said!”
“Yeah … that’s what he told me.”
“But you checked it out …”
“What do you mean?”
“You made sure that lady’s in the hospital?” LJ’s one big, blazing eye bore into Travis and read the answer in his brother’s blank face.
“Travis, you idiot!” LJ scrambled for the phone. “What the heck were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I … I … I believed the man.”
“Watch your lip.” Daddy eyeballed LJ, who was punching at his phone like a mad man.
Roxanne rushed into the room. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?”
“Would you be quiet!” LJ said. “What did the man say his momma’s name was?”
“Audrey. Audrey Jacobs,” said Travis, who felt sick as a dog.
LJ stuck the phone to his ear and darted out of the room, mumbling as he went.
“Shoot, he had to have been tellin’ the truth.” Travis was bewildered.
Bo patted Travis on the back. “Don’t worry, Uncle Travis, I know just how you feel.” Roxeanne insisted on knowing what was going on, and Bo gave her a thirty-second recap.
“Sheesh, Travis, what were you thinking?” she said.
“Shhh,” Daddy said, as they listened while LJ asked to be connected to Audrey Jacobs’s room at the hospital.
Travis heard him say, “Are you sure?” and he knew what was coming.
LJ filled the doorway looking like the creature from the black lagoon.
“Ain’t never been no Audrey Jacobs at the hospital. That was our man.”
* * *
Before the funeral, Jack grabbed his notepad and headed downstairs to find a quiet place where he could call Derrick.
Margaret approached him in the hallway, wearing a formal black dress, pearl necklace, and black high heels, which would be a challenge in the snow. She was carrying a pair of black leather gloves; she would need them today.
“You look very pretty, Margaret. Here, let me straighten your collar. It’s wanting to stand up in back.” Jack touched her shoulders gently.
“Thank you. You look handsome, Jack.”
Margaret reeked of alcohol. And it didn’t smell like her usual peppermint schnapps. This was stronger. Her red lipstick was uneven on the top lip. Jack would get Pam to help her fix it and to find some mouthwash.
Rebecca and Faye came out of the kitchen, mouths full.
“Girls, we just ate. What could you possibly be into?” Jack said.
“MawMaw has a gigantic tin of candy mint sticks dipped in chocolate,” Rebecca said.
“They are de-licious,” Faye added. “Would you like one, Daddy? MawMaw?”
Margaret laughed heartily, not feeling any pain. “They’re fine, Jack. Let them be.”
If this was any indication of what she was going to be like when she came to their house, it was going to be a challenging few weeks. St. Edward’s was full and had put Margaret on a waiting list, so whether she liked it or not, she would be returning to Trenton City with them.
“When do you think we should leave?” she asked.
That was new. Usually she
him that sort of thing. Jack looked at his watch.
“I say we go in about fifteen minutes. I need to make one quick call first.”
Margaret waved clumsily toward the back of the house. “Go in the den where you’ll have some privacy. You’ll be fine in there.”
Sheesh. She was half in the bag.
After a quiet word to Pam suggesting she give her mom a little assistance, Jack entered the den, his father-in-law’s space. It was still and silent. His dress shoes tapped loudly on the dark wood floor. How very odd that Benjamin would never again touch the books on the room’s many shelves, or scribble a note at the antique desk, or take a lazy afternoon nap on the leather couch.
Jack parted the curtains and peered out at the snowy backyard where Pam had played as a child. He bent over, lifted the cuff of his pants, and tightened the Velcro on the holster. The last thing he needed was for that thing to drop off while he was carrying the casket.
He phoned Derrick and found he had been sidetracked the day before by a train wreck Barton had sent him to cover. It turned out to be minor, just some cargo cars that tipped during a track change—no injuries.
“The big news is Spivey Brinkman’s missing,” Derrick said. “He never showed for our appointment. I met his daughters. Hung around for a while and left. I talked to Jenness today, and he never came home—been gone over a day now. He’s been known to drink but hasn’t for almost two years.”
“Of all times to fall off the wagon.”
“Jenness doesn’t think so. She called the cops. But because he used to disappear when he drank, they’re not going to consider him missing until three days go by. Jenness thinks Demler-Vargus has something to do with it.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No. Those girls know more than they’re telling.”
“Maybe Spivey just got nervous about meeting with you. Maybe he
“The girls say no way. He’s kicked the bottle. And he wouldn’t leave overnight without telling them.”
“Man. What is going on?”
“I know, right? Barton asked me last night how many hours I put in on Demler-Vargus. I told him I wanted more; he said not yet.”
“Hmm.” Jack sat on the couch and looked over his notes. He told Derrick he had phoned the Randalls and learned about the man in black who lied to Travis in the parking lot.
“So he really is the one who poisoned Galen,” Derrick said.
“Yeah, only now he knows the police are on to him—and the Randalls. LJ’s fit to be tied.”
“Dude, this thing is getting weirder by the second.”
“I know, but there’s no story yet. I’ve got an interview set up when I get back with Bendickson and his son.”
“Maybe I can go with you. Hey, I almost forgot. Amy Sheets’s mom wrote back again on Facebook, after I asked her for Amy’s last address. Let me find it … here:
Please respect our privacy and leave us alone. We have no idea where Amy is and are certain she would not want to be contacted.
“They don’t even know that we know about Amy’s baby, right?” Jack said.
“No! I just told her I wanted to talk to Amy about a story. But listen, here’s the kicker. I went to her mom’s Facebook page to dig around some more—and it’s gone. She must’ve closed her account.”
Jack dropped back on the couch. “Something’s wrong.”
“I know, right?”
“All we wanted to do was talk to Amy on the phone. Now we really need to find her.”
“I messaged the one brother again on Facebook. I’ll keep looking,” Derrick said.
“Anything new on Barb and Emmett Doyle?”
“Nada. Still searching.”
“All right. I’ve got a funeral to go to. Hope to be back tomorrow, mother-in-law in tow.”
* * *
Lake Erie was living up to the “eerie” part of its name—vast, dark, raging—water splashing over the sea wall, mocking the huddled funeralgoers whose breath hit the cold air as steam. It was thirty-three degrees with a high and lashing wind that stung Pamela’s cheeks and numbed her ears, fingers, and toes, even though she had dressed for it. The darkness made it feel more like evening than midafternoon—a typical February day in northeast Ohio.
The landscape seemed like a dream. Daddy … gone. Mother … alone. Who knew what a day would bring?
With her stylish brown wool cap pulled down over her ears, Pamela stood erect and sober, one gloved hand on her father’s casket and the other around both girls. Rebecca and Faye were holding up like troupers, more concerned about doting on their grieving mom and grandmother than about the frozen tundra beneath their shiny black shoes. The crowd was dotted with aging relatives, family, friends, and some people Pamela didn’t recognize.
Jack stood at her side, wearing a full-length black overcoat. She hadn’t seen him in a suit in such a long time—he looked dashing. When she’d slipped back into their room that morning, she’d been carrying something much bigger than a cup of coffee: a suspicion that she might be pregnant. She’d wanted to tell him, but the timing hadn’t been right. As she’d thought so many times recently, perhaps a new baby was what they needed to come together as a couple again.
She glanced down at Jack’s shoes but couldn’t tell if he was wearing the gun. It still absolutely miffed her that he had made such a monumental decision without telling her. They talked about everything, and that had always given her security. It was one way Jack showed he cared—by being patient with her and talking things through, even if he had already made up his mind.
They sat down on the row of folding chairs, and Pamela tried to focus on what the stoic, brown-haired priest was saying as he stood next to her father’s dark coffin. Clad in a black robe, purple silk stole, and brown earmuffs, the priest spoke in a monotone and rarely looked up from his notes. When he did, it was either to rub his dripping nose with a handkerchief or to extend that same hand toward Margaret with a stony look.
Margaret sat between Pamela and the girls, wrapped chin-to-toe in a brown blanket, petting the funeral program in her lap as if it were a purring kitten. Pamela had made her brush her teeth and put on fresh lipstick. With her husband gone, Margaret’s paranoia and fears would only be magnified. The next few weeks would be challenging, to say the least.
Pamela surveyed the frozen ground. She and her friends used to hang out in that cemetery on summer nights, discussing who had the latest crush on whom. She could walk home from there, it was so close. Granger’s house was close too. Of course, he was never included in anything back in school.
Pamela exchanged a solemn glance with Jack, and he gave her a sympathetic smile. She didn’t hear the priest’s closing words, but she snapped out of her daze when people started moving, shaking hands, hugging, heading for their cars.
“I’m going to get the girls to the car and get the heat on,” Jack whispered. “Stay as long as you need. When I see you’re ready, I’ll come help your mom.”
“Thank you.” She bent down and hugged the girls. “Go get warm. We’ll have cocoa when we get back.”
“Who’s that?” Margaret muttered.
Pamela took a deep breath of cold air in an attempt to clear her mind and shore herself up for this last round of embraces and condolences. The two sets of calling hours the day before had sapped her; she didn’t have much “social” left.
Her uncle Philip shuffled toward her, cane in hand, coming to say good-bye before his drive back to Michigan. Pamela headed to greet him.
Margaret stood abruptly, her blanket dropping to the ground.
“Who is that?” Her right arm was straight out, pointing. Her mouth was agape, her eyes enormous.
Pamela followed her finger but saw only the parking lot where Jack was walking hand in hand with the girls. People were getting in their cars or standing there talking.
“Get him! Stop that man!” Margaret screamed.
Everyone turned to look.
“What is it, Mom?” Pamela tried to touch Margaret, but her mother shoved her hand away.
“He was here! The whole time! Sitting in that gazebo!”
Pamela saw the white gazebo. No one was in it. “Who? Who did you see?”
“He’s gone … He’s gone …” Each word got softer, till Margaret’s voice finally trailed off. “He’s gone …”
“Who, Mom? Who did you think you saw?”