Authors: Ann Mullen
“I need to say something,” Claire said, becoming serious. “We
have a situation on our hands. I’ve had some time to think this out and I want
to run it by you guys. We know that the blood on Billy’s shirt was from a deer.
Anyone in their right mind would know that Billy wouldn’t do something so
terrible, but even if he did, he’s too smart to leave evidence lying around.
Give me a break! Besides, that doesn’t matter anymore, because Jesse burned the
Billy looked at me and I looked over at Mom.
“Don’t give me that look, I didn’t say a word,” Mom said.
“How did she know if you didn’t tell her?”
Billy said nothing.
“I have a terrific sense of smell, remember?” Claire said. “I
smelled burnt plastic the minute I walked in the house. I just didn’t say
anything. Now that I see you two covered it up, I only have one thing to say:
Mom I’m surprised at you. You really have been running around with the wrong
Another moment of silence filled the air until Claire let out
“Forget it. Like Jesse said earlier, let’s move on. Carl was
stupid to snatch the kids, and we were probably more stupid for going after him,
because I now firmly believe he was doing this to get me back. Before he pulled
his little caper, I got a letter from him right before Christmas and he begged
me to give our marriage another try. He pleaded with me to drop the divorce. He
also called shortly after I got the letter and tried to convince me that he
would be a perfect husband if I came back home to him. He even cried and for a
second, I almost believed him. I didn’t tell Mom about the letter or his call.
There was no need to bring it up, because, unfortunately for him, his act of
redemption was a day late and a dollar short, as Dad would’ve said if he was
It was the mention of Dad that brought tears to our eyes. The
hurt was still there and obviously still very strong. I guess you never get
over the loss of a loved one.
“Mack was a good man,” Mom said, wiping away her tears.
Billy reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a
handkerchief and handed it to Mom. She smiled a loving smile at him as she took
“If he’d been here last night, Cole would’ve gotten what he
deserved. Your father would’ve kicked his butt!”
“Grandma, you said a dirty word,” Benny yelled from the
living room. “You need to go to church!”
“You’re absolutely right, Benny; I most certainly do.”
Claire reached into her pants pocket and pulled out a letter.
She handed it to me and then turned to Billy and said in a hushed voice, “I
have an idea and before you blow me off, I want you to give it some serious
thought. It might be the solution to our dilemma. Let Jesse read the letter and
she’ll realize what I have in mind. I’ll let her explain it to you. I think
she’d be better at it than I would. We know this thing with Carl’s not over.
The police found blood at the scene and signs of a struggle. Carl’s boss
reported him missing and to top it all off, the cops found Carl’s car abandoned
at the airport. Now you tell me if you think it’s over. Do you think the police
are going to just drop their suspicions about you and your brothers? They don’t
care about not having a body; they have just enough circumstantial evidence to
keep you busy at the police station for a long, long time. They have their ways
of intimidation. Your life is only going to get worse. We have to do something,
so keep an open mind.”
I unfolded the letter and began to read. After reading all
three pages, it only took me about two seconds to figure out where Claire was
“Carl is slightly dyslexic,” I said. “Sometimes, but not
always, he gets numbers or dates mixed up. Claire told us about his problem
when she decided to marry him, because she didn’t want us to make a big deal of
it. Carl wrote this letter to Claire right before Christmas and it should have
a date of December the fifteenth, but the date on it is January the fifteenth.
He mixed up the months. Today is January the seventeenth, which makes it look
as if this letter was written a couple of days ago, at a time when he’s
supposed to be missing or dead from foul play.”
Billy’s eyebrows lifted. He glanced back and forth at us as
he pondered for what seemed like an eternity. “Oh, I get it now. According to
this letter, you think you can go back home and look the place over, maybe find
some miracle evidence that’ll lead you straight to Carl, and the police won’t
say a word about your presence there. Why would they? You have a letter in your
hand which clearly states that your husband wants you back and you’ve come to
see if he’s back home. You were considering the idea of the two of you sitting
down and discussing the possibility of getting back together. Forget it! It’s
not going to happen. They’ll lock you up in a heartbeat. Until Carl shows his
face, his house is considered a crime scene. You can’t go anywhere near it.”
Billy got up from the table and walked over to the fireplace. “
Tso `le `sti!”
“What did he say?” Claire asked.
“I have no idea. I’m only married to the guy; I don’t always
“Whatever his words were, I’m sure he was trying to tell us
that he thinks the whole idea is preposterous. I have to agree. Claire you can’t
go to Carl’s house. You two have been separated for a long time. It doesn’t
“Why? Legally, it’s still my house, too.”
Billy walked back over to the kitchen table. He looked down
at the three of us and said, “I want a solemn vow that the three of you will
have nothing to do with this crazy idea.”
We stared at each other for a minute and finally Claire said,
“It was just an idea. You don’t have to go postal on me. If you want us to drop
it, we will, but I think you’re making a mistake.”
Billy looked at me and then to Mom.
“Billy Blackhawk, you know I’m not going to go snooping
around some place I’m not supposed to be. That’s your job… and Jesse’s.” Mom
looked at me and then back to Billy. “You can count me out.”
“I am satisfied that you speak the truth,” Billy said.
“Unless you have other planned adventures you’d like to discuss, I’m going to
forget about Carl for the time being and try to help Brian. Jesse, you and I
can discuss the shirt later. What’s on the agenda for today, ladies?”
“I’m going to stay home, relax, and wait for our discussion.”
“We’ll probably hang around the house and enjoy the peace and
quiet,” Mom said. “You go do what you have to, Billy. If you need us, you know
where we’ll be.”
“I have an errand to run, but I’ll be back in about two
hours. Stay safe until I return. Thanks for a wonderful breakfast.” Billy
kissed Mom and Claire and then came over to me. “I want you to behave yourself.
I won’t be gone long.”
“Take my cell phone,” I said as I went to my purse. “Hurry
home. I’ll miss you.”
Billy kissed me and then grabbed his keys. “I have to go see
Brian, but when I get back, we’ll discuss Claire’s idea again.” He turned and
walked out the door.
Mom, Claire and I stood with our mouths agape.
“Do you think he’s reconsidering my idea?” Claire asked.
“I think so,” Mom replied.
“You two don’t know Billy. He’s stalling us. He thinks that
if he gives us a little hope that he might change his mind, we won’t go through
with our plans. Boy, have I got news for him. I think you’ve come up with a
terrific idea, Claire, but I don’t think you should go alone. I think the two
of us should do it. Mom can stay with the kids.”
“She can’t handle all three of these kids at one time,”
Claire said. “Taking care of an infant in itself is a full time job.”
“Actually, I could do it,” Mom said.
“We could enlist the help of Billy’s mom,” I added. “I’m sure
she would love to come over and spend time with the children.”
“Oh, I’m sure that would make her day,” Claire said,
“Let’s give her a call,” I said. I went to the phone and as I
picked up the receiver, Billy walked back into the house. I was snared like a
rabbit in a trap and my guilt was written all over my face.
“What have you got up your sleeve, `ge ya? Who are you
“I was about to call your mother to see if she wanted to come
over for a visit.”
“I’m sure she’d love to visit, but if you have ulterior
motives, you can put the phone down,” he said. “I’ve given Claire’s idea some
more thought and I think she might have something. We need to discuss a plan of
“We already have,” I said.
Billy looked at me with a creased eyebrow. “You were going to
sneak behind my back, weren’t you?”
“I probably would’ve called you before we carried out our
“Why don’t I believe you?” Billy asked as he walked over to
me. “Tell the truth.”
“To be honest, we haven’t had time to complete our plans, but
I swear to you that I wouldn’t do this without your approval. I was convinced
that I would be able to change your mind.”
Billy looked at the clock on the wall and said, “I really do
have to leave. I came back to tell you that I’ll be back shortly and if you
promise to wait for me, we’ll figure this out together.”
“Okay,” I said. “We’ll work on a plan while you’re gone.”
“I want a promise from you that you won’t leave until I
“Okay,” I said, hesitantly. “I promise.”
Billy kissed me, said good-bye again, and then left.
Claire walked to the window, peeked out, and then turned back
to us. “He’s gone. What’s our next move, Jesse?”
“We can make plans, but I can’t leave the house. I promised
Billy. I’m going to call Sarah,” I said as I walked back over to the phone.
“She can help Mom with the kids while you and I go to your old homestead.”
“So we’re going through with it?”
“Yes, but whatever we decide, I have to tell Billy. I figured
I could call him and tell him of our plans. If we wait for him to come home,
he’ll want to go with us. You know how he is. He’ll refuse to let us go by
ourselves and he can be mighty persuasive.”
“Maybe that’s because he knows best,” Mom said.
I looked at Mom and said, “He’s not right all the time. He
made a real blunder by leaving trace evidence at the scene.”
“What are you talking about?” Claire asked.
Me and my big mouth! The bag was untied; I might as well let
the cat out.
“Carl pulled a gun on Billy and Billy took it away from him.
You can use your deductive reasoning to figure out the rest.”
“Well, I can’t,” Mom said. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”
The three of us walked over to the sofa and sat down. After a
long, drawn out explanation, Mom and Claire were fully informed about the
events leading up to Carl’s disappearance.
Two hours later, Sarah was in the kitchen helping Mom prepare
a bottle for Maisy, lunch for two kids, two dogs, and one slightly lazy cat,
while Chief “Sam” Standing Deer was in the living room captivating his audience
of young ones. Claire had gone to Stanardsville, dropped off the minivan,
picked up her Mercedes SUV, and was standing with me in my bedroom while I
gathered my stuff. Billy called and was on his way home.
As soon as he walked in the door, Claire and I met him. We
had devised a masterful plan, had our coats on, and were ready to leave.
“Stop,” Billy said, putting the palm of his hand up to us. “I
want to hear every detail before you walk out that door.”
Claire and I were on the road, heading to the house where she
used to live when she was married to Carl. She said she couldn’t call it home
anymore, because it wasn’t. After what she’d been through with him, I could
understand how she must feel. She had been a good wife and he took advantage of
her kindness and vulnerability. He was… is a rat.
We were going to take Rt. 29 almost all the way to
but turn off before going into the heart of the city.
“I guess we won’t get to see the White House, huh?”
“Jesse, have you forgotten what it’s like there?”
“It has been a long time.”
“I don’t live anywhere near the White House… not even close,”
she said as she kept her eyes on the road. “All the neat places like the
Smithsonian Institute, the art galleries, the monuments, and even the White
House are great places to visit. They want tourism, so they keep those areas
nice, but if you venture onto the outskirts, say the southeast section, you run
into a place that you don’t want to go. That section sits amid neglect and
poverty. Their streets are filled with beggars, hookers and pimps. The slums
are so bad that the rats don’t even want to live there. It’s a dirty, filthy
place. I’ve heard people say that the best thing about D.C. is leaving it. If
you live in the northwest section where I live, it’s a different story. The
houses are fine homes and most start around four-hundred-thousand dollars and
“I remember when Mom and Dad took us to visit all those places,”
I said. “I was ten and I thought
was the greatest place in the world.
I was mesmerized by the sight of the White House and that big fence that
surrounded it to protect the President of the
“There’s a reason the White House is surrounded by a tall,
impenetrable fence, and it’s not just to protect the President. It’s to keep
out the riff raff. Besides, you were ten at the time and you didn’t know any
better. We were sight-seers and visited selected attractions. We never ventured
past the tourist route.”
“If D.C. is such a terrible place, then why did you live
“Not all of D.C. is bad. There’re a lot of nice places to
live if you know where they are. For instance, take our house… Carl’s house...
it’s located in one of the better sections of D.C., but just in case, keep your
eyes opened and your doors locked until we get there.”
“How well do you know your neighbors?” I asked. We had a long
drive ahead of us and I desperately needed information. I wanted to know all about
the situation we could be possibly walking into, and I wanted to know it before
hand. I wanted as few surprises as possible. We had saved this part of the plan
for the road trip. We threw this trip together quickly and decided we’d go over
every scenario on the road. It was time to finalize our story.
“We live in a nice community. Most houses are located on
about one acre of land, so they’re pretty close together. Now that I can stand
back and look at the place rationally, it reminds me of that movie where all
the women are programmed to be the perfect housewives.”
“I remember that movie,” I chuckled. “I wanted to slap every
one of those women, and choke all their husbands.”
“Our husbands are lawyers, doctors, judges, bankers,
senators, congressmen… you name it.”
“What exactly does Carl do for a living? You’ve always been
rather vague about his profession. You told us he’s an investor, but being an
investor can cover a wide range of things. He could be involved in drugs, or
“Oh, Jesse, don’t be silly,” Claire chided me. “Carl is an
upstanding citizen… a respected man of the community. He would never be
involved with such terrible things like drugs and pornography. That’s
“You don’t know what he does to earn money, do you?”
Claire didn’t say anything. I took her silence to mean no,
she didn’t know exactly what her husband did for a living.
“I can’t believe that you were married to this man for seven
years, and you never knew a thing about his business. Did it ever occur to you
to ask him where he got his money? He sure seems to have plenty of it.”
“He works at Baker, Fields, and Tarr. They’re a consulting
firm. They invest people’s money, and help companies find ways to increase
productivity, while at the same time, saving money. They offer other services
“That sounds like a rehearsed spiel. Is that what Carl told
you to tell people when they ask you about his job?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“How many times have you been to his workplace?”
“I’ve been a few times. He wanted people to know his family.
I’ve also been to several parties with his boss and co-workers. I’ve hosted
several parties, myself.”
“Did you make friends with any of the women at these parties,
and did you ask them about their husband’s position with the company?”
“I didn’t need to ask any of them. I already knew. Carl would
grill me about them before they came to our parties. He didn’t want me to make
an egregious error in etiquette. He believed a host and hostess should know
the names of each and everyone of their guests. He was adamant about social
protocol. If I made a blunder, I’d hear about it for a month. I really hated it
when he treated me like that. Carl was well on his way up the corporate ladder
until he had that affair, got shot, and his bad behavior made headlines in the
newspaper. He’s still with the firm, but he has to work his way back into the
good graces of the partners.”
“I bet that really gets his goat.”
“You know it does. He worked all those years only to let his
penis get in his way. You know that old expression about men being led around
by their... well, I’m sure you get the idea.”
I looked over at Claire and we both laughed.
“He’s such a dork,” she said. “I can’t figure out what I ever
saw in him.”
“You were in love, and love does strange things to a person.
It makes us do stuff we normally wouldn’t do. It clouds our judgment.”
“You can say that again. I remember once Carl asked me to
wear something sexy and flirt with that old man, Jerry Tarr. Jerry Tarr is the
oldest of the partners. He’s filthy rich and lonely. His wife died of cancer
about five years ago.”
“What did you do?”
“I told Carl he was out of his mind. I asked him if he wanted
me to sleep with the old codger, too.”
“What did he say?”
“He didn’t say anything. That’s what really upset me. After
that little incident, I should’ve known there was trouble in paradise.”
We drove for several miles in silence and then Claire said,
“I bet you think I’m a real fool.”
“No, I don’t. I think you loved Carl and wanted to make him
happy. Unfortunately, there’re some men who won’t be happy regardless of what
you do for them. I think Carl’s one of those men. How long have you two been
“About eight months, I think.”
“Has he ever tried to contact you or the kids up until now?”
“We didn’t hear anything from him after the first couple of
weeks until just before Christmas.”
“Does that sound like the actions of a man who wants his
woman back? It sure doesn’t to me.”
“I guess not.”
“If you loved someone who left you, wouldn’t you use everything
you had to get him back… even to the point of making an idiot out of yourself?”
“Maybe, my butt; sure you would. You’re willing to forgive
Cole for hitting you and you want to get him help. I’d say that says a lot
about how you feel about him. I think Carl has plans, and it doesn’t include
getting you back. Has the possibility of Carl running off with his kids and
another woman ever crossed your mind?”
“Yes, more than once.”
“I’m shocked, Claire.”
“I’m not as dumb as you might think.”
“Oh, I’ve never thought that you were dumb, just crazy for
loving a creep like Carl.”
“Let’s talk about what we’re going to do when we get there.
All this talk about Carl is depressing. Are you hungry?”
“I could use a drink. My mouth is as dry as the
. How about you? We have a cooler in the back
floorboard loaded with drinks and sandwiches. You know Mom wasn’t going to let
us leave the house without provisions.”
“She sounds more like Billy every day. I almost choked when
she said that. They sure are a pair!”
“I told her the same thing—that she sounded like Billy. I
guess if you’re around someone long enough, their personality starts to rub off
on you. You can’t help it.”
I unsnapped my seatbelt long enough to reach into the back to
grab a couple of drinks and sandwiches.
Claire went nuts. “Jesse, buckle your seatbelt!”
“Calm down,” I said as I refastened my seatbelt. “I had to
reach the cooler.” I opened her Pepsi and then handed it to her. I set her
sandwich on the center console. “What’s the big deal?”
“Never take off your seatbelt,” she demanded. “That seatbelt
is what saved your life when that crazy teenager abducted you, remember?”
“Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t mind me. Next time I’ll just break my
back trying to get to the cooler.”
“No, you won’t. The next time we stop, we’re going to set it
on top of the back seat.”
“Yes, Mom,” I said.
“You can make fun of me all you want to, but you know I’m
We rode in silence as we ate our sandwich and drank our soft
“We don’t have far to go,” Claire said. “Look in the glove
box and see if the garage door opener is still in there.”
I opened the glove box, fished around and came up with what
looked like a small remote control. “Is this it?” I asked.
“That’s it. I’m going to pull up in the driveway and when I
do, I want you to hit the button to open the door.”
“Are the batteries still good, Claire? It hasn’t been used
since you left Carl. Maybe we should stop at a 7-11, and buy new batteries,
just to be on the safe side.”
“That’s a good idea. No wonder you’re a P.I., Jesse.”
“As soon as I’m registered with DCJS and get my pictured ID,
I will be. It’s just a matter of paperwork.”
“We’re coming up on a 7-11. We’ll stop here. I don’t want to
stop at the one close to my house. Someone might recognize me.”
“The whole neighborhood’s going to see you when we pull up in
the driveway. That reminds me of what Billy said before we left. He said that
the police would probably have crime scene tape up, and if we crossed it, we’d
be breaking the law. We could get arrested. If they do, that could be a problem
for us. The only way to know for sure would be to drive by first.”
“We’ll drive by and if the tape is still up, we can wait
until dark if you want. If you don’t care, I’ll drive right through it.”
“Let’s drive by first and then decide what to do.”
“When we do get there, Jesse, if anyone confronts us, let me
do the talking. I know how to handle my neighbors. Most of them are housewives
who have nothing to do all day long but gossip. However, when it comes to the
women against the men, they stick together.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “Women talk about each other,
but pull together against the opposite sex. That’s a strange, but delightful
relationship, don’t you think?”
“Just because these women are rich, it doesn’t mean they can’t
be dysfunctional. We’ll use that to our advantage.”
“We must be getting…”
“It’s just around the corner.”
Claire made a right turn and pulled over. She stopped just
long enough to tell me that her house is the fifth one on the left.
“Keep you eyes open. Check out the scenery and let me know
what you see. We’ll turn around at the next block, and if everything’s okay,
we’ll come back and pull in my driveway.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll check the other houses while you look
at your house as we pass.”
Claire drove slowly past her house as I scoped out everything
else in sight. As we reached the next block, Claire turned left and pulled over
to the side.
“Whew!” I said. “We’re the luckiest two women. I didn’t see
anyone outside and there’s not any crime scene tape up around the yard. There
might be some on the door, but I couldn’t see any. I say we go for it.”
“Give me a minute, my hands are shaking,” Claire said. “I saw
my next door neighbor looking out of her window. Her name is Abigail Morgan.
She’s old, cantankerous, and I adore her. She’s disgustingly rich and doesn’t
give a hoot about what people say. She told me she became a hateful old bitty
after people gave her so much grief about her daughter being a lesbian. Because
of their attitude, she realized that they weren’t her friends. She’s cool. I
know you’ll like her.”