Authors: Ann Mullen
“Before you say anything, I just want you to know that I
thought this whole thing was a bad idea right from the start. Unfortunately, I
have rules to abide by and a job to do. I think Billy and his brothers made a
mistake by going after Mr. Benson, but they did get results. I don’t know what’s
going on with that guy Trainum, unless Carl Benson has a few friends in high
“Oh, Carl’s well-connected; trust me.”
“Maybe Trainum’s trying to look good to his superiors. He did
manage to get a search warrant based on some mighty flimsy evidence. I just
don’t believe a few drops of blood are enough to make an arrest, especially
since the tests haven’t come back. An eyewitness puts Billy at the scene, but
eyewitness accounts aren’t always reliable. Sometimes you can solve a case a
lot quicker if you take the time to put the pieces of the puzzle together
first. I tried to explain that to Detective Trainum. I told him that I know
Billy and I know he’s not going anywhere. If he wanted to make a case against
him, he would need more than what he has now… which isn’t much since now they
don’t even have the bloody shirt. I’m not ruling anything out, but I just don’t
think that Billy would leave a shirt lying around if the blood on it was Mr.
Benson’s. No, I think the blood on that shirt is probably from an animal. Billy
could have hit a deer. Maybe Jonathan was with him when it happened. Besides,
we don’t even know if Carl Benson is dead, or if he’s just run off. He could be
off somewhere in the
with a woman. We don’t have a body.
Try convicting someone without a body. It’s almost impossible. You need hard
evidence, something they don’t have, yet. They need that shirt.”
I smiled at Sheriff Hudson.
“What are you smiling about?” he asked.
“Here all this time I thought you were a hard-core jerk, no
offense sheriff. I can see now that you aren’t. I’m sorry for all the trouble
I’ve caused you in the past, but like you said, I had a job to do, too.”
The sound of someone talking echoed from the side of the
house and then two police officers appeared. They were two of Detective
Trainum’s men. They politely waved to the sheriff, got in their car, and sped
Sheriff Hudson turned to me and said, “It’s my guess that
they’re going to call in the hounds. That would be the next logical step.”
“What should I do?” I asked him. I was confident that we now
had an ally in Sheriff Wake Hudson and he would help us as long as what we did
was within the law. We both had a common purpose: he wanted to see justice
done, and I wanted to keep Billy out of jail—something we both felt went
hand-in-hand. I was sure of this.
“Try to get Thor to show you where he hid the shirt. If you
find it, give me a call immediately.”
“I sure will,” I said. “Thanks, sheriff.”
The sheriff got close to my face and said, “Don’t get me
wrong, Mrs. Blackhawk, I don’t like what’s going on here, but I will follow the
letter of the law. My comments to you about Detective Trainum are my concerns,
and I’m not violating any statue by voicing those concerns.”
“I get it,” I said. “Our conversation is strictly
confidential. We’re just one friend talking to another and sharing information.
“Oh, we’re friends now, huh?”
“I think so.”
“Don’t let this new friendship get in the way of doing what’s
right. I’m serious about the shirt. Call me the minute you find it.”
“Do you think I’m going to find it?”
“I think Thor will lead you right to it.”
“Then why don’t you make me send Thor out while you’re here?”
“I’ll have to inform Detective Trainum about Thor’s return
and then it’ll be up to him as to what he wants to do next. It’s his
investigation. I’m just here as a courtesy. He’s the one in charge. When I talk
to him, I’ll suggest it, but until I talk to him…”
“What happens next if I actually do find the shirt?”
“You can either turn it in to the Greene County Sheriff’s
Office or the Charlottesville Police Department. Either way, the evidence will
be processed through the proper channels.”
“I understand,” I said.
“You need to go inside and call Billy’s lawyer. Even though
he went in voluntarily, he should have a lawyer present.”
“Thanks, sheriff,” I said. “And if I come up with anything,
I’ll give you a call. Oh, and by the way, you took Billy before he had a chance
to eat dinner. I assume you’ll take care of that.”
“I’ll see that he gets something to eat if we have to keep
him for a while,” he responded as he stepped down off the porch and headed to
his car. He stood by his car door for a second looking at me as if he wanted to
say something else, but instead, he crawled in and left.
In the back of my mind I wondered what he might have been
thinking as he stood there staring back at me. I walked back inside the house
and realized that it really didn’t matter. I had my mind made up as to what I
was going to do long before he had given me a head’s up on the situation, or
ideas of what I should do. The first thing I needed to do was call Russ Shank.
“Honey, dinner’s ready,” Mom said. “I set you a place, but I
think you need to call Billy’s lawyer right now. He needs a lawyer present.”
I walked over to the computer table in the living room,
picked up the portable phone, and then headed to the bedroom where I could have
a private conversation. Regardless of what was going on with Billy and me, we
still had the little girl to deal with. Billy promised his cousin that he would
take care of his child, and that’s exactly what I planned to do.
“What have I gotten myself into?” I said out loud as I dialed
Russ’s number. The phone rang once.
“Hello,” a voice said.
“Is this Russ Shank?” I asked.
“Yes, it is, Jesse. I’ve been waiting for Billy’s call.
What’s the verdict?”
“Could you bring Maisy over here? I have something I have to
do, or I’d come pick her up.”
“I’m so glad to hear…”
“Billy’s been taken in for questioning and he needs you.”
“Okay,” he said. “Maisy can stay with my mother until I go to
the sheriff’s office, and then I’ll head over to your house.”
“Bring Maisy here first. You’ll have to come to
because that’s where Billy is.”
He didn’t ask any questions. He said thanks and added that he
would be there as soon as he could, and then he hung up the phone.
I stood in the middle of my bedroom and looked around, the
phone still in my hand. What a mess, and it was all because of that idiot
brother-in-law of mine. Wait until I get my hands on him!
“I hope you are dead Carl, because if you aren’t, you’re sure
going to wish you were when I see you,” I mumbled to myself. “I always knew
that you were a useless…”
Mom knocked on the bedroom door and called my name.
“I’ll be right out,” I said as I walked to the door and
“Is everything okay, honey?”
“Other than the fact that my husband is probably going to
jail over that stinking rat of a brother-in-law…”
“Jesse,” Mom said as she touched my shoulder, “I know you’re
angry, but think about the kids. It’s their father you’re talking about.”
“You’re right, Mom. I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep my hatred to
“Come on in and have some dinner. You need to keep up your
strength especially with what’s going on with Billy. I know it’s terribly
distressing to you and that could cause stress to the baby. Remember what Dr.
Bryant said. You need to get some rest. You’ve been through a terrible accident
and you haven’t fully recovered.”
I walked over to the kitchen table and sat down.
“Mom, you don’t know the half of it,” I said. I picked up a
fork, cut into the meatloaf and then stuffed a piece into my mouth. When I
finished chewing the food, I stood to leave, but hesitated long enough to tell
everyone what was about to happen. “Russ Shank will be here in about forty
minutes with Maisy Cherry. She’s the infant daughter of Brian Cherry and she’s
going to stay with us for a while. In the meantime, until he gets here, I’m
taking Thor outside and we’re going to look for that shirt.”
Claire dropped her fork on her plate; Mom’s mouth fell open,
and Cole stood, walked over to me and then grabbed me by the arm.
“Wait a minute, Jesse,” he said. “You can’t interfere with
“Are you going to try to stop me?”
Claire jumped up from the table and came over to me. “Isn’t that
Cherry guy the one who’s in jail for killing his wife?”
“Calm down everyone,” Mom said as she rose from the table.
“Let Jesse speak. I’m sure she has a good explanation for what she’s about to
do, don’t you, honey?”
“Brian Cherry is Billy’s cousin and he didn’t kill his wife,”
I said with tears in my eyes. “His wife has been murdered and now he has to
worry about his little girl, so please, have some compassion.”
“He’s related to Billy?” Mom asked.
“Yes, he is, Mom,” I replied. “He’s family and you know how
Billy feels about that. I agree.”
“How do you know he didn’t kill his wife?” Claire asked.
“Because Billy told me he didn’t.”
“You always believe everything Billy says.”
“And why shouldn’t I? He doesn’t lie. He’s never lied to me.
Besides, that’s not the point. Maisy needs us. That’s what matters.”
Cole let go of my arm and walked over to Claire. “I know
Brian. I haven’t seen him since his wedding to Vicki many years ago, but I can
tell you that he loved Vicki dearly. It took them all this time to have a baby
and I’m sure he was as happy as any man could be. This is what he’d been
waiting for his whole life. He wanted a woman who loved him and a baby for the
two of them to cherish. He told me that at his wedding. That’s the kind of man
he is. He’s not a killer, and he surely didn’t kill his wife.” Cole looked at
me. “What can I do to help?”
“What can we all do to help?” Mom asked.
“I guess you can count me in,” Claire replied as she went
over to Benny and Carrie. She wiped Carrie’s chin and cut another chunk of
meatloaf for Benny.
“I wanna help, too, Ant Jess,” Benny said after he swallowed
the food he had in his mouth. “I can baby-sit.”
“Thanks, Benny,” I said. “I don’t think it’ll come to that.”
I looked at Mom and Claire. “If I’m not back by the time Russ gets here, I want
the two of you to take care of the baby. I’ll take my cell phone just in case.”
“I’m coming with you,” Cole said.
“Okay, but don’t try to get in my way.”
“Why would I do that? What do you have planned?”
“Just get your coat and let’s go. It’s cold, it’s been
snowing, and it’ll be dark soon.” I grabbed my coat off the coat rack and
rummaged through my purse looking for my cell phone. “Ah, Billy you’re such a
good man!” I turned and said to my captive audience. “He always puts things back
where they belong.”
I struggled to get my coat on over the cast on my arm, but
finally managed to accomplish it. I walked over to where Thor was lying on the
floor and said, “Come on Thor. Show me where you hid that bag.”
Thor jumped up without hesitation and headed toward the
utility room door. Cole and I followed. The minute we were outside, Cole
“Just what do you plan on doing if you find that shirt?”
“What do you think?” I said. “I’m going to burn it!”
The temperature outside was twenty-six degrees according to
the thermometer hanging on the side of the garage, and the snow that had been
coming down like a soft rain earlier was now showing signs of a snowstorm in
the making. Visibility was minimal. I was bundled up from head to toe and
should have been warm, but the cold in my heart gave me the shakes. I was
worried… worried that I would find the shirt and Cole would force me to turn it
over to the sheriff. He didn’t say anything when I said I would burn it. He
probably thought I wasn’t serious, but I was. I had already decided that I was
going to get rid of the evidence if I found it, no matter what. My mind raced
as the thought of what was to come haunted me. I was determined that Billy
would not pay for something he didn’t do. I looked over at Cole and the sight
of him made me laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“You look like an Eskimo with that furry hood covering your
“Hey, I know what it’s like out here in the winter. You have
to be prepared for everything. This is my cold weather clothing. Once the
winter sets in, I carry a duffel bag in my Jeep filled with insulated
coveralls, gloves, boots, and a heavy coat. Everybody should. What would happen
if you got caught in a snowstorm and your car broke down? You could freeze to
death. It’s been known to happen. I also have a couple of candles in that bag.”
“Why would you carry candles?”
“If your car broke down or if you got stuck in the snow, you
could light the candles and keep a little warmth inside the car, and then hope
for a quick rescue.” He let out a little chuckle. “I know it sounds silly, but
you’d be surprised at how many times a candle has come in handy in situations
just like I said.”
Cole and I were making small talk as we followed Thor into
the woods. It was obvious that Thor wasn’t in a hurry as he walked ahead of us,
but he did appear to be on a mission. We kept up with his pace and didn’t try
to rush him. Occasionally, he’d stop and look back at us as if he wanted to
make sure we were still there, and then he would continue. I had no idea how
long this journey was going to take, so I decided that now would be a good time
to have that serious talk with Cole. I had put it off long enough.
“What’s really going on with you and Claire?”
“I was wondering when you’d get around to asking me that,” he
said as he stopped in his tracks. He turned to me and smiled. “You still care
about me, don’t you?”
“I care about my sister, and yes, I do care about you, but
not in the way you think. Cole, it’s been over between us for a while. We had
an intense relationship that fizzled out quickly. What does that tell you?”
“It tells me that I made a terrible mistake.” He reached out
to touch me.
“Don’t,” I said as I backed up. “Cole, you don’t want me. I
know you don’t, so why do you do things like this? Are you angry that I fell in
love with Billy, or is it that you just don’t like to lose? I know the two of
you had this competitive thing going on about women, but it’s time to grow up
and get over it. It’s time to stop playing games. I don’t understand you. You
seem like a reasonable man, but sometimes I wonder. I think that bullet did
something to your sense of reason.”
“That bullet did more than just mess with my sense of reason;
it made me realize that life is too short to just stand back and let it pass
you by,” he said. He turned and started walking. “Come on, let’s catch up with
I wiped the snow from my face and caught up with Cole. “You
never did answer my question about Claire.”
“Claire is a wonderful person and maybe one day I’ll fall in
love with her, but right now I have to get over you. You broke my heart, Jesse,
and I can’t seem to get past that.”
I grabbed him by the sleeve and said, “Please try, Cole, for
all our sakes. It would make life a lot easier. I don’t want my sister hurt;
she got enough of that from Carl. She loved him and he turned around and
treated her like dirt. He cheated on her. When she found out, they argued and
she fell down the stairs. She had a miscarriage. I’ll always hate him for
“You didn’t kill him, did you?”
“I wish I had the nerve.”
We looked at each other and then laughed.
Thor let out a bark and then took off running. We followed
him until he came to a spot in the woods under a fallen tree. He started
digging and then all of a sudden he backed off. A putrid smell filled the air.
Cole and I stepped back.
“What’s that smell?” I asked, covering my nose.
Cole tried to cover his nose as he bent down to look at what
Thor had discovered. “Jesus,” he said, backing away.
“What is it?”
“It’s just a deer,” Cole answered as he pulled me by the arm.
“He’s half-buried. He probably was injured and tried to find cover under the
leaves and dirt. Once Thor started digging him out, the odor was released.
Let’s get out of here. That smell is awful.”
“Come on, Thor,” I yelled. I felt sick to my stomach and had
to get away from that smell, or I was sure to throw up. Once we got far enough
away from the smell so that I could breathe fresh air again, I bent down and
held Thor’s head. “Come on, buddy,” I whispered. “Show me where you buried your
treasure. I don’t have all day. The cops will be coming back soon and if they
find the shirt, Billy’s going to jail.”
Thor took off running in the opposite direction. He slowed
down and then turned around to look at us. Cole and I stared at each other and
then took off after Thor again.
“What you just said back there—does that mean you think
“No, I don’t think he’s guilty, but the cops do, and that’s
Silence filled the air.
We continued to follow Thor on what seemed to be an endless
journey. I was beginning to wonder if maybe we were wasting our time. Either
Thor was giving us the run around or he had forgotten where he had hidden the
shirt. I was getting frustrated.
“Thor!” I yelled and then stomped my feet. “I’m getting tired
of playing around. Go find that shirt before I kick…”
Off he went again. I looked at Cole.
“What do you think? Is he pulling our chain?” Cole asked.
“I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m not going to give up
until he drags his tired old butt home.”
We were still following Thor in and out of the woods, looking
under every bush, when Cole stopped and looked at his watch. “We’ve been
walking around in circles for twenty minutes, Jesse. We’re not getting
anywhere. Aren’t you getting cold?”
“I’m freezing, but…”
“Let’s go back to the house and get warm. If you want to come
back out again, I’ll come with you.”
I looked around and realized that we were deep into the
woods. “You didn’t happen to bring a flashlight with you, did you?”
“Of course, I did.” He reached into the pocket of his bulky
coat and pulled out a flashlight. “I never go anywhere without one.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Let’s head back.”
We turned around and headed out of the woods. By the time we
had reached the edge, darkness had descended upon us. It felt like the
temperature had dropped twenty degrees. I could see the glow from the light on
the back porch.
“Ah, there’s the house,” I said. “I was afraid we’d gotten
“I hate to say it, but I’m afraid your buddy let us down.”
We both looked at Thor.
He must have understood what we said, because he stopped, lay
down and then rolled over onto his back. He made goofy noises as he wiggled and
wagged his tail. He reminded me of a child making a snow angel in the snow.
“Thor, you’re such a putz!”
Cole laughed at me. “Where on earth did you pick up that
“Get with the program, pal. That word’s been around for a
“Heaven help us all,” he said as he rolled his eyes. He
clicked on the flashlight and we started back to the house. The snow continued
to beat us in the face.
“I have one question for you, and I want the honest truth,” I
said. I looked directly at Cole and waited for his reply.
“Okay,” he said. “You can ask one if I can ask one.”
“Fair enough,” I replied. “Have you ever hit, pushed, or in
any way physically hurt Claire?”
“I most certainly have not,” he immediately replied. “I’m
hurt at the idea that you would even suggest such a thing. I’ve never hit a
woman in my entire life and never would, unless it was in the line of duty. Why
do you ask?”
“Because she’s got some strange bruises on her shoulder, and
when I asked her about them, she gave the standard answer that someone would
give if they had been abused.”
“How would you know what an abused person would say?”
“I once had a friend who was constantly being beat up by her
husband. I’ve heard all the lies and excuses.”
“Claire fell down the steps, I swear, Jesse.” He was quiet
for a second then he said, “I’ve been meaning to say something to someone, but
just never got a chance. I think there’s something wrong with her… medically, I
mean. She falls down constantly.”
“What are you saying?”
“I think she needs to go to a doctor. I think there’s really
“Don’t be making up stuff, Cole.”
“I’m not, I swear!”
The look in his eyes seemed sincere. Maybe I should say
something to Mom about this, I thought.
“I’ll ask Claire about it in front of Mom, that way I know
she won’t try to cover up anything. She’d never lie to Mom.”
“Please do,” he said. “I’ve been worried about her. When I
said something to her about her problem, she just brushed me off.”
“She won’t brush me off; I can promise you that.”
“All right, now it’s time for my question.”
I stopped in mid-stride and turned to look at him. “Go ahead,
but you’d better make it good, because you only get one,” I replied.
“Actually, I don’t have a question. It’s more like a request.
I want you to have a paternity test done. I really do think you’re carrying my
“You’re out of your mind! Absolutely not! No way am I going
to do that. What kind of message would that send to Billy? He’d think that I
had doubts about our baby, and I don’t! Get away from me... you pig.”
“Jesse, I think you’re wrong. Please listen to me!”
I started running toward the house. All I wanted to do was
get away from Cole. His head was screwed up and I didn’t want to hear another
word from him. I made it to the back door and pushed it open. Thor came
barreling past me. Maybe he didn’t want to be around Cole anymore than I did.
We were both inside warming up by the fire by the time Cole walked in the
“Here, let me take your coat, Cole,” Mom said as she went up
to him. “Jesse said that y’all didn’t have any luck. I guess the cops and their
dogs will find it. Too bad; I was hoping Thor would lead you to it.” She went
to hang the coat on the rack by the front door, but stopped halfway there. She
turned to look at me. “What were you going to do, Jesse, if you had found the
“Don’t ask,” I replied.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” she said as she hung up the
coat and then walked over to the fireplace. “I believe the blood on that shirt
is probably animal blood. Someone probably hit a deer and Billy helped get the
deer off the road. If Billy had a chance, he would tell us this himself. I’m
sure it can’t be Carl’s blood. If you destroy the shirt, you destroy any proof
of Billy’s innocence.”
“I guess I never thought of it that way,” I said. I wanted to
believe Mom’s words, but I just didn’t want to take a chance that she could be
wrong. I had to do something. Maybe, if I took Thor outside by myself, I’d
stand a better chance. But how could I pull that off?
“That lawyer, Russ, just called,” Mom said as she sat down on
the sofa. “He’ll be here any minute.”
I looked around and noticed that Claire, the kids, and Athena
were missing. “Where’s everybody?”
“Claire and I had a little talk while you were gone.”
“And we’ve decided to stay here tonight and help you out.
We’ll stay longer if you need us. You’re going to need help. Billy’s gone and
that little baby is coming to stay. The kids are upstairs asleep in the guest
room they stayed in when they slept over the other times, and Athena’s on your
bed. I didn’t make her get off because…”
“It’s all right, Mom. That’s the least of my worries.”
“Claire took the van and went back home to get some things. I
told her to bring back some food, too. Your refrigerator is sorely lacking in
provisions. It was all I could do to fix a decent meal.”
“You sound just like Billy.” A tear slid down my face at the
thought of my beloved husband being locked up in a stinking jail cell. He
hasn’t been arrested, but that could change. Just the mention of his name made
me even more determined to find that evidence before the cops did, but to do
that, I had to get rid of Cole. He was standing in my way. Thor made it
perfectly clear that he wasn’t going to lead me to that bag as long as Cole was
around. Why else would he casually lead us a on a wild goose chase? It didn’t
take me long to figure that one out. Cole was the hold up. He had to go. I had
to make a move and do it quickly.