Authors: Ann Mullen
“What on earth are you talking about, Billy?” Mom asked.
“Brian Cherry called me from jail,” Billy said as he looked
at me. “He’s been arrested for the murder of his wife.”
“What?” I said. “Are you kidding?”
“I do not joke about such matters. I am going to
Stanardsville to meet Russ Shank.”
“I remember him,” I said and smiled at Billy. “He’s the
lawyer who helped me out. I thought he was kind of cute. I also remember that
you told me he’s gay. You just said that to keep me from…”
“At the time, you had your eye on every man in sight. I had
to tell you something to keep you from making a fool of yourself.”
“Gay? Does he know Jack?” Mom asked.
Billy and I laughed.
“Oh, Mom… never mind. Forget it.”
“What is it? Did I say something wrong?”
“There’re a lot of gay people in this world and it’s highly
unlikely that they all know Jack.”
“I’m sorry, but this is new to me. You’ll have to give me
some time to learn about these things.”
I leaned over and kissed her cheek. Bless her heart, she’s
trying, I thought to myself. A few months ago, my brother Jack came out to the
family and Mom is doing her best to understand it all.
“It’s all right, Mom. I think you’ve accepted the news pretty
well. Most parents would go ballistic to hear that their son is gay, but not
you. You accepted it and moved on. I’m proud of you.” I hugged her.
“He’s my son and I love him, regardless of his love life, or
“Back to business,” I said and looked over at Billy. “What
exactly is going on? Did Brian Cherry kill his wife? I can’t believe he would
do that; not after what you told me about him. He almost lost his wife and
child and he believed it was the doctor’s fault. He wanted to go after him and
everyone involved. This doesn’t sound like a man who would kill his wife. He
might kill the doctor. That would make more sense.”
“I don’t have all the details yet. I called Russ and we’re
going to meet at the jail.”
“Why did he call you instead of a lawyer?” Mom asked. “No
offense, Billy, but you’re a private investigator, not a lawyer.”
“I am a man of honor and he knows this,” Billy proudly
“How true!” I added.
“Hey, maybe we should call Jack.”
“No, Russ can handle the case,” Billy replied. “Besides, this
is a little out the way for Jack. Doesn’t he live in
“Yeah, you’re right,” Mom replied.
“I need to leave right now,” Billy said as he stood. “Russ
lives in Stanardsville, so he’s probably already at the sheriff’s office. I’ll
bet Wake Hudson will be surprised to see me again so soon.”
“That’s not a bit funny.” I shuddered. I couldn’t see how
Billy could joke about something so serious. There was no doubt in my mind that
our problem with Carl wasn’t over. I just knew that he’d come back into our
lives… with a vengeance.
“Didn’t I hear you say something about someone coming over?”
Mom asked Billy.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied and then looked at me. “Claire called.
She and Cole wanted to come see you. She asked if it was okay to bring the
kids—with you just getting home from the hospital and all, and I told her it
was all right. I didn’t think you would mind. I know how much you love those kids.”
“I can’t wait to see them. I’m so glad everything worked out
okay. I just get so angry when I think about Carl and that stupid trick he
tried to pull. He belongs in jail, or better yet, someone needs to take him out
back and kick his butt.”
“Don’t be so hard on the man, Jesse,” Billy said as he headed
to the bedroom. “Sometimes people do crazy things when they’re backed into a
corner. Maybe he was afraid of losing his kids because of the divorce. A
divorce brings out the worst in people.”
“Carl’s a mean person. When he gets backed into a corner, he
comes out fighting. What am I saying? Carl never gets backed into a corner, yet
he always comes out on top,” I yelled to him.
Billy walked back into the living room wearing his gun.
“What are you going to do, shoot your client out of jail?”
“Jesse, you know I always wear a gun.”
“I don’t usually see you put it on.”
“You live with the man,” Mom said. “You’re going to see a lot
of things now.” She let out a little giggle. “Sometimes I think you’re still a
child. You want to grow up, but then when you do, you still have a child’s mind
“Mom, you always rationalize everything.”
“That’s my job.”
“Ladies, I have to go.” Billy walked over and kissed me, and
then Mom. “Take care of Jesse until I get back home, please. You know how she
is. There’s no telling where her mind will go once I leave. Don’t let her out
of the house, either… regardless of what she wants to do. If you have to, lock
her in the bedroom.”
“Can I do that?” Mom asked. “Hey, what about your sandwich?
Hold on a minute.” She ran to the kitchen, picked up his sandwich and laid it
on a napkin. She grabbed a soda from the refrigerator. She handed the sandwich
and the drink to him as he was getting ready to leave. “You need to eat
Billy took the drink and sandwich, and then opened the front
door. Athena and Thor were close on his heels.
“No,” he told them. “You two stay here and protect the
women.” He looked over at us, and then walked out. I heard the lock click.
Athena and Thor, mutts that they are, obeyed his command.
They slowly walked back over to their resting place and lay down. They were
content to just be in the same room with me. I could see it in their eyes.
“They’re such good dogs,” Mom said. “And that little Spice
Cat you made us take home turned out to be the sweetest thing. Actually Spice
Cat isn’t so little anymore. He keeps getting bigger and bigger every day. I
had no idea that a cat could get that big. Claire says he’s a Maine Coon cat.
She says he’s going to get as big as a small dog. Imagine that.”
I laughed out loud. “I wish you could see the look on your
A knock at the door interrupted our conversation.
“I guess Billy must have forgotten something,” I said as I
got up from the sofa to answer the door. “He locks the door every time he goes
out. He’s done that ever since I moved in here. I guess he has this thing about
keeping me safe. That’s why I love him.” I opened the door.
“Hello!” Claire squealed. “I’m so glad you’re okay! See kids,
I told you Aunt Jesse was fine.”
“Hi, Ant Jess,” Benny said. He grabbed me by the legs and
squeezed. “Mom said you were a wreck.”
I closed the door.
Claire laughed and corrected him. “I said she was in a wreck,
Benny.” She ushered the kids inside and started removing their coats.
I bent down and hugged Benny and his little sister, Carrie.
“I’m glad you two are home. I missed you guys. I was worried.”
“Why were you worried, Ant Jess?” Benny asked.
I looked up at Claire. She winked at me—which I took as a
sign for me to say nothing about the last few days. “Oh, you know folks worry
more when they get older.” I laughed.
Benny smiled back up at me and said, “Yes, I know. My mom
worries all the time. She told me so. I don’t understand grownups sometimes.”
“Who wants hot chocolate?” Mom asked as she headed to the
kitchen. “Come on, guys. I know you want some of Grandma’s delicious, yummy hot
The kids immediately ran after their grandma. They grow up so
I turned to ask Claire if she wanted to sit by the fire with
me, but she had already walked back to the front door. She opened it, and Cole
walked in and stood by her side.
“Hello,” I said when our eyes met. “How’s everything going?”
“I’m doing fine, how about you? You look good for someone
who’s been hit by a dump truck.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “Come on in and get out of the cold.”
He bent down and started to kiss me, but I quickly backed
away. Memories of our short, but intense love affair resurfaced as it had done
many times since our breakup. I brushed those thoughts aside and gave him a
dirty look. I scanned the kitchen and then the living room to see if anyone was
looking. My own actions made me feel guilty. Fortunately, Mom and the kids were
busy with each other, and Claire had gone over by the fire and sat down on the
sofa with her back to us.
“I had hoped that you and I could get beyond our past and
move on, but you keep pushing the envelope,” I whispered to him. “You need to
put our relationship in perspective. I’m married to Billy now.”
“I have, but you haven’t,” he said, winking at me. He walked
over to Claire, sat down on the sofa beside her, and then leaned back. He
stretched out his arms and made himself comfortable.
“What an insufferable jerk,” I said under my breath.
“What did you say, dear?” Mom came up behind me and asked.
I looked over at Cole and wondered how I could have been such
a fool to let myself fall for him. At first, he was such a dream come true. He
was handsome, had power—being a
deputy and all—and he lavished me
with the attention I needed. I guess that’s what I found so exciting then, but
now he was a nightmare in the making. A bullet had changed him forever. He was
arrogant, obnoxious, and so full of himself, and he was determined to ruin my
life with Billy. Poor Claire had no idea of what she was getting herself into
by seeing him.
“Nothing, Mom,” I replied. “Let’s have some of that hot
The day grew late and it was getting close to dinnertime
as the four of us sat and chatted. The kids spent their time rolling around on
the floor with the dogs and not once did they stop to take a break. Billy still
hadn’t returned home.
“Jesse, Sheriff Hudson’s a good man,” Cole said. “If you’d
give him half a chance, you’d realize that.”
“I never said he wasn’t. The problem I have with him is that
he’s a man of power and a lot of times they forget their humble beginnings.
Once they get into that position, they use it to push people around.”
isn’t like that,” Claire joined in.
“As a matter-of-fact, I’ve had a few conversations with him since your accident
and I firmly believe he could have handled the situation with Carl, if we’d
given him the opportunity. We never should’ve gone off half-cocked like we
“Is that what he told you?” I asked.
“Yes, it is,” Claire replied. “He also said that the D.C.
Police aren’t too happy with Billy. They believed Carl when he told them it was
okay for the kids to be with him. Now the kids are back home and nobody knows
where Carl is. I guess his friends miss him.”
“The problem now,” Cole added, “is that Carl hasn’t
resurfaced. It’s been almost a week and nobody’s seen him. He’s nowhere to be
“You should care,” Cole said as he stood. He walked over to
the fire and picked up a poker. He stirred the embers in the fireplace and then
threw on another log. He sat down on the hearth. “After Sheriff Hudson called
the D.C. Police to tell them about the return of the kids, they went back to
Carl’s house, but he didn’t answer the door. At the time they didn’t see anything
that was suspicious. A couple of days later, Carl’s boss reported him missing.
He told the police that Carl always checked in regardless of where he was—even
if he was on vacation. The cops were sent back to Carl’s house armed with a
search warrant. When Carl didn’t answer the door, they went in through an
unlocked window. They said there were signs of a struggle.”
“What kind of signs?” I asked. My stomach churned at the
thought of Billy’s account of the events of that night. He said he had hit Carl
once, and Carl had hit him, but it was nothing.
“They said a lamp had been knocked over and they found blood
on the floor.”
“How much blood did they find?” I asked. I was shaking inside
and was afraid of his answer.
“It was just a few drops, but it was enough for the police to
suspect something. While the blood is being analyzed, they plan to check out
the property he owns. Sheriff Hudson said that he could be hiding out just to
throw off the police and to get back at Claire.”
“Is Billy a suspect?”
“I’m sure he will be if the police conclude that Carl has
been, well, you know.” Cole looked over in the direction of the kids and then
back. “He can be placed at the scene.”
I rose from the sofa and walked over to Cole. I looked around
the room from Mom to Claire, and then back to Cole. “Why didn’t someone tell me
about this earlier?”
“This is a first for me,” Mom said, looking my way. “I
Cole held up his hand. “The police aren’t releasing any
details until they have more evidence. They’re still not sure a crime has been
committed. They did a search of the rest of the house and everything seemed
I was shocked at Cole’s statement. Did Billy know any of
this, and why was Cole telling us about it if none of the information had been
released? He never used to give out details of a case.
“I don’t believe a word of it. You’re making this up to scare
“Why would I do that?”
I gave him an evil look and then turned and walked away. My
throat was dry and I felt sick. I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Mom and Claire followed.
“Are you okay, honey?” Mom asked. She put her hand on my
shoulder and then turned back around to look at Cole. “I hope you’re not making
this up young man, because if you are, I’m going to be real mad. If this is a
joke, I don’t find it to be the least bit funny.”
“It’s not a joke,” Cole said as he walked toward the kitchen.
“I just found out myself. I waited to say anything until I got here. I didn’t
even tell Claire. I thought Billy would be here and then I could tell everybody
at the same time. This is all one big mystery and things just don’t add up.
There’re a few other clues that Carl planned all this and the police are
investigating as to whether he’s met with foul play in the process, or whether
he’s trying to make it look like he has. He stopped delivery of his newspaper
and had his mail rerouted to a post office box. That makes it look as if he
planned to be gone for a while—like he was taking a long vacation. The lights
at his house are on a timer, so everything appears normal to the neighbors. His
car isn’t in the garage. The cops interviewed the neighbor next door and she
told them that Carl told her he was taking his kids to his place in
… with his wife.”
“His wife?” Claire said, stunned.
“That’s what the woman said,” Cole responded. “She said he
was getting back with his wife and that they were moving to
“That’s crazy! That’s never going to happen. Carl made it
“He probably planned to run off with the kids and was
covering his butt. Unfortunately, there’s that little puddle of blood on the
floor to contend with. Why would someone who’s going on a vacation leave a mess
like that? Why not clean it up first? I guess his vacation plans were changed
when Billy took the kids from him. I’m sure he was shocked.”
I was surprised at Cole. He acted as if he was a part of our
family… unlike the way he used to be. When we first started dating and even up
until the time he was shot, he would never give us the details about a case
even if it involved one of us. Now he was pouring out his heart.
“It seems to me that there once was a time when I couldn’t
get crap out of you about anything. Now you’re spilling your guts. What
happened to that man?”
“He found out how short life is,” Cole said as he walked up
to me. He turned to Claire, put his arm around her, and then smiled. “Sometimes
it just doesn’t make sense to hold things back from people… especially if it’s
your own family.”
“I thought you said that the police weren’t releasing any
“They’re not releasing anything to the press.”
“A man’s been missing for almost a week, a man who was
involved in the kidnapping of his own children and then had them forcibly taken
from him, and you’re telling me that the press hasn’t heard a word about it?”
“Look at what Billy did. He stole those kids right out from
under their noses. The police don’t like to be standing around with egg on
their face. How would it look if they built a case of murder and then Carl
showed his face? No, they’re taking their time and holding off until they’re
absolutely sure that a crime has been committed. The blood is still being
“What’s taking them so long? Billy could’ve had that blood
analyzed in a day.”
“Billy might be a super hero, but in the real world, things
take time. Forensics is so backlogged, it isn’t funny, and don’t forget that
we’re talking about
not Stanardsville. Can you even imagine what it’s like on the streets of D.C.?
Does the expression,
‘It’s a jungle out there?’
mean anything to you?
Well, it really is a jungle out there in D.C., and the cops have their hands
full. Sometimes it takes a while.”
“I’m not going to let this upset me,” I said to Cole as I
turned and walked back to the living room. “Carl’s sure to show his ugly face
soon enough.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I looked over to see
if the kids had been listening. Fortunately, they had not. I went over to the
fireplace where they were playing and sat down on the floor. Before long,
Athena had her head resting in my lap as I stroked her back, and Thor had
stretched out with his belly up as Benny patted him. Carrie rested in the crook
of my good arm. I ignored what Cole had said, and pretended not to notice the
worried look on Mom’s face. It was all a mistake, and everything was going to
be fine. I was sure of it.
Claire came over and sat down on the floor beside me. “Look,
Jesse,” she said. “I know Carl. He’s got a mean streak in him when it comes to
practical jokes. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s hiding out just to throw
a scare into us. He knows what he did was wrong and the only way he’s going to
get out of this mess unscathed is by making us so glad to see him when he
finally does appear. He’ll show up sooner or later.”
“Do you think so?”
“Sure, I do. I know him. He’s probably sitting back right
now, watching us squirm, just waiting for the opportunity to jump out and yell
Cole walked over to us and sat down on the sofa.
“I think I’ll start dinner,” Mom said as she began to rattle
around in the kitchen. “How does meatloaf sound?”
“Sounds good to me,” I answered. I looked up at her and
asked, “What do you think about this, Mom? Do you think Carl’s in hiding?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “We’d have to ask Claire.”
“Mom, you wouldn’t believe some of the things he’s pulled.
I heard a car pull up. Seconds later, the front door opened
and Billy walked in. I jumped up and ran over to him. I threw my arm around his
neck and hugged him until I cried.
“What’s the matter, Jesse?” Billy asked as he stepped back and
pulled my arm down. “What has gotten you so upset?” He glanced over to the
living room and upon noticing Cole, he said, “Need I ask?”
“Did you know that the D.C. Police think Carl might have met
with foul play?” I asked him. I tried to get myself together, but my stomach
was in knots. I know how this could play out. The police come in and arrest
someone who later turns out to be innocent. Of course, their innocence isn’t
proven until they’ve been put through the gauntlet.
Cole stood and walked over to where Billy and I were
“Look Billy, I tried to tell Jesse that they don’t have
enough evidence yet. They’re still trying to piece the facts together. There’s
really nothing to worry about. Sheriff Hudson thinks Carl’s hiding out or has
fled to avoid possible prosecution on kidnapping charges. What Carl doesn’t
realize is that Claire just wanted her kids back. Of course, I suggested that
she file charges, but she refuses. She’s afraid that he’ll use his influence to
have the charges dismissed and then retaliate against her. You know how it is
when a parent takes a child. They always say the other parent was upset and
misunderstood; they didn’t take the child; they were just late or something
stupid like that. In Carl’s case, he said it was previously arranged by the two
of them. In the end, if Claire causes him trouble, she’ll be the one to
Billy looked at me and could see the concern on my face. He
looked back at Cole and said, “Are you trying to stir up a mess?”
“Yeah,” I said as I turned to Cole. “You tried to make me
think they were coming after Billy any minute. You kept harping on that blood
thing. I was convinced that Billy was going to jail. Why did you do that?”
Claire stood and walked over to us. She put her arm around
Cole and said, “Jesse, I’m sure Cole wasn’t trying to scare you. He just wanted
you to know all the facts.” She spun around and headed back over to Benny and
Carrie. “See, I knew we should’ve let the police handle this. Now the whole
family’s in an uproar. If we’d just let the police do their job, none of this
“Excuse me,” I said, walking over to her. “I seem to remember
that you went along with the plan, and I also seem to remember that you wanted
your kids back no matter what it took.”
“That’s enough!” Mom butted in. “The kids are safe and
whatever happens with Carl, we’ll deal with it as a family. I want all of you
to settle down and let’s get ready for a nice family dinner.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” Billy added. He turned to Cole
and said, “Why don’t you and Claire make yourselves at home while Mom fixes
dinner? Jesse and I need to talk.” He looked over at the kids. “I see Benny and
Carrie are having a good time.” He walked over to them and bent down. He rubbed
Benny’s head and then planted a kiss on Carrie’s forehead.
Cole appeared to be defeated as he walked back over to the
sofa and sat down. He had nothing else to say.
Benny jumped up and held out his hand. “Hello, Uncle Billy.”
Claire almost cried at the sight of her little man acting so
grown up. When Carrie stood and hugged Billy’s leg and then whispered “I love
you,” a tear rolled down Claire’s cheek.
I reached over and put my good arm around her shoulder and
said, “It’s amazing how much you can love your kids. I know how you must have
felt at the thought of losing them. It must have been awful for you.”