Authors: Ann Mullen
She hesitated for a second, and then replied, “I’ll tell them
to prove it. They haven’t got a thing on me.”
“No,” Billy said calmly. “You don’t want to say that. You’re
the one who had the means and the motive. You already said the drugs were
yours, and you wanted a divorce. I’ve seen people convicted on a lot less
came back with. “Why would I want my husband dead? All I wanted was a divorce.
I surely wasn’t going to kill him when a divorce would be much easier and less
messy. I would say less painful, but divorces are never without hurt.”
“I don’t know about that,” Billy said. “A divorce can be
pretty messy, especially for a celebrity such as you.”
“Show me the evidence is what Billy always says,” I added.
“If you tell them to prove it, they’ll never let up. It ticks them off. Ask
“Jesse’s right,” Cole agreed. “Nothing sets off a cop more
than having someone tell them to prove it. You can think it, but don’t say it.”
“Hey, what are we talking about?” I asked, trying to lighten
the mood. “The cops can’t blame you for McCoy’s drug use. You didn’t give him
the drugs. Don’t worry about it. Like you said, it’s time to move on with your
“I still have to deal with Andrea’s death. The cops think I
planned the whole thing. I have to defend myself in court. How am I going to
get through it? I can’t do it. My anxiety won’t let me. They have to understand
I have a medical condition.”
“Sorry, girl, but the law doesn’t care. I know that sounds
harsh, but the prisons are filled with mentally deficient people. You’re just
going to have to stand up for yourself and get the job done. Be brave.”
“Easier said than done.”
“As soon as Jonathan examines those emails, I’m sure you’ll
be vindicated,” Billy said. “You only corresponded with her a couple of times.
It wasn’t as if you egged her on, or planned the whole thing. I wouldn’t worry
“I do worry. I know how things can get all turned around. I’m
the victim here, but I’m the one who has to defend herself. It’s not right.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said, looking over at Billy. “We need to
have a talk with Jonathan to see when he’s going to examine Andrea’s computer.”
Someone’s cell phone started playing a nifty little tune.
said as she reached into the back
pocket of her shorts and pulled out her phone. She looked at the screen and
then excused herself, walking off to the other side of the porch. After a short
conversation, she closed up her phone, and walked back over to the table. She
had a big smile on her face. “You won’t have to bother Jonathan. That was
Sheriff Hudson. All charges against me have been dropped. It seems that a
police tech expert in Fancy Gap examined Andrea’s computer and determined that
she faked all the emails, except the ones I said I sent to her. I don’t know
how he did it, but I’m sure glad that computer guy knows his stuff. It doesn’t
matter! I’m free!” She danced around.
Cole stood up, walked over to her, and put his arms around
her. “See, you were worried for nothing. I knew you were innocent!” He kissed
her, long and passionately.
Cole’s declaration of
innocence seemed off to me—as if he had his doubts before—but I didn’t make a
remark. I looked at both of them and said, “I’m so glad it’s all over. Now you
don’t have to worry about going to jail. You can move along with your plans to
adopt Kaleb. That’s going to be exciting. Having a child changes everything for
the better. You’ll be happier than you’ve ever imagined possible.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,”
responded. “Jeanette’s trying to
extort money from me. She wants me to pay for Kaleb. Can you believe it? I
offer to take the child off her hands, and now she wants money—a lot of money.
I told her to forget it.”
“You can’t give up!” I exclaimed. I got up from the table and
walked over to her. “You can fight her. Get your lawyer to threaten to take her
to court. If she’s as ill as you say, she won’t be able to go up against you.”
“Jesse, I just don’t have any fight left in me,” she replied.
“After all I’ve been through, I don’t think I could stand to battle it out with
that woman. She’s not the easiest person with which to deal. Plus, she still
has all that money her daughter stole from my husband. She could hold out for a
long time, while I spend every dime I have in court. I’m just beginning to get
my life back together.”
Why was I not surprised? I knew
wasn’t serious about adopting Kaleb
right from the beginning. The only reason she even came up with such a
preposterous notion was to save her image. Her career meant more to her than
anything. She didn’t care about the child’s welfare. And now she was a free
woman. Why bother?
I stepped back and said, “Do you have any idea what’s going
to happen to that child now that both of his parents are dead? The state’s
going to step in and take him from Jeanette. She’s old, she’s sick, and she
can’t take care of him. They’ll put Kaleb in foster care. That’s what they do
with kids nobody wants. Can you imagine what his life’s going to be like? He’ll
grow up knowing that his family didn’t want him.”
didn’t say anything. She seemed to be mulling it over.
Billy got up from the table and walked over. “If you’re
afraid to take this on by yourself, don’t be. Jesse and I will help you. We’ll
do whatever we can to make this happen for you and Kaleb. We’ll be by your side
the whole way.”
“I’ll help, too,” Cole added. “I’d do anything to make you
happy.” He kissed her again.
A smile came to her face as she said, “I can’t believe y’all
would do this for me.” She looked over at Billy. “Okay, tell me what to do. I
want to adopt Kaleb. He needs a good home, and I can give him one. I don’t want
some stranger raising my husband’s son. If I can just get past the fact that
his mother is Andrea, I’ll be okay. I’ll have to work on that.”
Stunned is the only word that came to mind. I couldn’t
believe my ears.
was actually sincere about raising
Kaleb as her own. Nobody can fake the look she had on her face. Every time I
turn around, she does something that takes me by surprise. I hated to admit it
to myself, but perhaps I had been wrong about her.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “Because if you are, you’re going
to be taking on a big responsibility. Kids are a lot of work. They’re not like
a puppy. You can’t put food down for them, and let them out a couple of times a
day. You have to take care of them, and they’ll consume you. You’ll spend more
time on your child than you do on yourself. Everything you do from now on will
be based on what’s good for your child.”
“I don’t understand, Jesse,”
interrupted. “You try to talk me into it, and now you’re
trying to talk me out of it. What do you want from me?”
“I want you to do what’s right in your heart. If you can love
this child, give him a home. If you can’t, walk away. It’s up to you. Kaleb
comes with a lot of emotional baggage.”
“I made up my mind the day McCoy died,” she said, teary-eyed.
“I just didn’t know how to handle the situation. Now that I have friends to
help me out, I’m not so scared anymore.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let the process begin.”
“I’ll call a friend of mine,” Billy offered. “He can tell us
what to do. He’s an attorney who specializes in family law and adoptions.
You’ll get custody of Kaleb in no time.”
“Will you call him right now?”
asked, shocking me with her eagerness. “If Jeanette’s so
sick, who’s taking care of Kaleb? Is he going hungry?”
“I’ll make the call this instant,” Billy replied, pulling out
his cell phone. “I’ll have to tell him everything.”
“I don’t care. Tell him what you have to. I have nothing to hide.”
Billy turned and walked into the house, out of earshot.
“Except for your newfound relationship with Cole,” I said to
her. “I don’t think we need to broadcast that. Folks can be ugly sometimes. I
know I have been, and I want to apologize for my behavior. I haven’t been a
very good friend.”
“Some of the things I’ve said and done lately would test
confessed. “I haven’t been the best
“Friends don’t lie to friends,” I threw in.
“Never again,” she promised, hugging me.
The only problem with promises is that people have a hard
time keeping them. Would
hold true to her word, and be the
friend she once was, or would she revert back to her lying ways? I guess only
time would tell, and I was willing to give her that time.
The three of us walked back over and sat down at the table.
Cole ate his food and
and I drank beer while we waited for
Billy to return. After what seemed like an eternity, and a whole beer later,
Billy walked back out on the porch and asked
, “Are you willing to give Jeanette any money?”
“Not a cent,”
replied, sternly. “Let her live off the money her daughter stole from my
husband. There should be plenty of it left.”
Billy spoke into his cell phone. “Did you hear that? Okay…
I’ll tell her. No… that won’t be a problem.” Billy closed up his cell phone as
he walked over. He sat down at the table, picked up his beer, and then turned
his face up to the sun as if to take in the warm rays.
“Don’t make me wait,”
demanded, anxiously. “What did he say? Is he going to help me get custody of
“He’s going to call Jeanette today,” Billy said, lowering his
face to eye level. “He said he’d get back with me after he talks with her.”
“I hope he has better luck than I did. She can be a most
difficult person. Talking to her is like talking to a brick... you get the
“Luck has nothing to do with it. The man’s a tiger. He’ll get
your child for you. And he works fast. He doesn’t play around.”
“My child. That sounds strange. I’ve never had a child
“I wouldn’t go out and start buying any toys just yet,” Billy
added. “But if Ollie Atwater is your lawyer, you stand a pretty good chance of
getting what you want. He’s the best there is when it comes to family law. He’s
never lost a case, and I’m confident he’s not going to start with yours. Put
your faith in him. He won’t let you down.”
“I sure hope so. I don’t want to the first case he lost.”
“You won’t be,” Cole interjected. “I’ve heard of him. He’s
ruthless and he’s not above using intimidation. They call him the crying lawyer
because he’s been known to make an opponent cry if it serves his purpose. He’s
a jackal. He’d do almost anything for his client.”
“When will we know anything?”
looked back at Billy.
“He said he’d call me as soon as he’s had a chance to talk
with Jeanette, so I’m guessing it will be soon.” Billy’s cell phone started
ringing. “I’ll bet that’s Ollie,” Billy said, pulling out his phone.
“That was quick!”
said with joy. “He sure works fast!”
Billy looked at the screen, and then said, “Sorry. It’s
Jonathan. Will you excuse me? I have to take this.” He got up from the table
and walked away. A minute later, he was back. “We have to go,” he said,
looking at me. “We have something urgent we have to attend to. Come on, Jesse.”
The two of us said goodbye as we headed to the front door.
“I’ll call you on your cell phone the minute I hear from
Ollie,” Billy told
. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to
As soon as we got into the truck, I asked Billy what was
going on. His reply caught me off-guard. “The gun was the same one used in the
drive-by shooting of Bruno’s wife. The striations on the bullet are a match to
the bullet they dug out of Francine Michaels. Jonathan said he’d tell us the
rest when we get home. We’re meeting him there.”
“Does that mean we’re not stopping at my mother’s house?”
“We can’t. We have a plan to put into action. He won’t get
away with his wife’s murder. We have to make sure of it.”
We were off to correct a wrong, and there would be more of
this tale to come.
Jonathan was waiting for us when we got home. His face was
flushed, and he seemed to be distracted. He reeked of perfume, the smell
floating through the air as he paced the floor. He had a glass of bourbon in
his hand. The dogs barked and circled him as he made his way back over to the
counter for another drink. The house smelled of spaghetti sauce mixed with
perfume. The gun was in a plastic bag sitting on the counter.
“Where’s Helene?” I asked, walking over to the stove. I
lifted the lid of the large pot, and took a whiff. “Yum… yum. This is going to
“She took the kids to Crumpler’s Market to get some French
bread. I offered to watch them while she ran out, but I guess she thought I was
too distracted. She should be back any minute.”
I stepped closer to him and took a whiff. “Is that White
Shoulders you’re wearing?”
“I’m such an idiot,” he replied. “I can’t believe I could be
so stupid.” He downed the glass of bourbon. “I should’ve known better.”
“You do,” I said without emotion.
“What’s the problem, brother,” Billy asked as he walked over
to him. “Calm down. It can’t be that bad. Whatever it is, we can fix it.”
The dog’s barking was starting to get on my nerves, so I walked
to the laundry room, opened the back door, and then called them. They took off
into the yard like the wild dogs they were. When I got back to the kitchen,
Jonathan and Billy stopped talking.
“You don’t have to stop because of me. I know what you did. You
had sex with that woman. Where did you do it? In the lab?” I was guessing.
Jonathan hung his head.
“Oh, no, you didn’t!” I came back.
“How could you do that to Lu Ann? If she finds out, it’s
over. She’ll never marry you.”
“Are you going to tell her?”
“Are you nuts? I’m not going to be the bearer of that kind of
bad news. That’s your job. If she learns of your indiscretion, it won’t be from
“I can’t tell her. She’ll dump me. I love her.”
“You should’ve thought of that before you dropped your
“So... that’s why you suggested…” Billy stopped.
“Suggested what?” I asked him, and then looked at Jonathan.
“What’s he talking about?”
“I was the one who convinced him to have a ballistics test
run on the gun before he turned it in. I just wanted to see Deanna one more
time. I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
I looked over at Billy. “I knew something was amiss when you
told me you had made a mistake by not turning the gun over to the cops
immediately. You rarely, if ever, make mistakes when it comes to your work.” I
looked at Jonathan. “He made me think it was his idea, but it was yours… all
because you wanted one last roll in the hay.”
“I didn’t plan it,” Jonathan said, coming to his own defense.
“I just wanted to see her.” He looked at Billy and said, “I promise I’ll never
do that to you again.”
“Promises,” I mocked. “I’ve heard that one today already.”
“You couldn’t help yourself,” Billy replied. “When it comes
to women you have no control. You made a mistake. It won’t happen again, will
“Bull!” I said. “Stop making excuses for him. Men always do
that. They say they can’t help themselves—because they’re men. That’s malarkey.
I’m a woman, but I don’t use that as an excuse to shop until I drop. Get over
yourself, and take your punishment.”
“You have no idea how much I wanted to slap myself in the
head for what I did, but it was a little late for that.”
“Not so,” I said as I raised my hand back and slapped him as
hard as I could across the face. “That was for Lu Ann. I feel much better now.
How about you?”
Billy and Jonathan were stunned into silence. Neither one of
them expected anything like that out of me. I even surprised myself. I never
use violence to solve a problem, but if there ever was a time it was warranted,
this was it. “You’ve been punished,” I said. “Now move on, and fix this
problem. Do what you have to do to make it right.”
“Thanks,” Jonathan said with a smile. “I needed that.”
“If you weren’t a head taller than me, I could’ve delivered a
more painful blow.”
“You did just fine,” Jonathan replied, rubbing the side of
his face. “I made a terrible mistake, and I don’t want to lose Lu Ann because
of my stupidity. How can I possibly fix this?”
“Just tell me that you used protection, and that Deanna’s on
“Well, that’s just dandy. Not only are you going into this
marriage with a black mark against you, but you’re also bringing the
possibility of an
with you. What’ll you do if she
turns up pregnant?”
“I never thought of that. She jumped me the minute I saw her.
She was all over me, and I couldn’t say no to her. She’s so beautiful… and
sexy. No man would turn her down.”
“I doubt that,” I said. “Is she still married?”
“No, she’s separated.” he replied.
“At least you won’t have to deal with an irate husband. What
did she say after you two did the dirty deed? Did she want to get back
“No. It was business as usual. We went back to the task at
“So… it was just sex?”
“That’s all it was. Afterwards, I didn’t feel any
differently. I still love Lu Ann. Those feelings will never change.”
“Are you going to see Deanna again?”
“No way. I don’t love her anymore.”
“Then don’t tell Lu Ann,” I demanded. “It’ll only hurt her
and ruin any chances the two of you have of ever being happy together. Bury it.
Forget it ever happened.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, yes, I am. If Billy had a fling just before we got
married, I would’ve never married him. If he told me about it now, after all
this time, I’d forgive him.”
Billy and Jonathan stared at each other.
The look on their faces made my heart sink. I glared at Billy
and ranted, “Say it isn’t so. Please tell me you didn’t sleep with someone
while you were with me.”
Their silence lasted way too long. I turned, ready to storm
out of the room when Billy said, “Wait, `ge ya.”
“Don’t `ge ya me, you cheating scumbag!”
Billy grabbed me by the arm and said, “I’ve never been with
another woman and don’t want to be with another woman. I love you. You just
caught me by surprise when you said you’d forgive me if I had. Most women aren’t
I grabbed Billy’s ponytail and yanked it. “That’s for making
Jonathan backed up.
“Oh, don’t worry, Jonathan. Your pain is yet to come if you
tell Lu Ann about your meaningless sex romp with Deanna.”
“I don’t know if I can live with myself if I don’t. I have to
tell her. It’s the right thing to do.”
“If you think it’s going to clean your slate by telling her,
you’re wrong. It’ll drive her away, and then you’ll hate yourself for ever
saying a word. You’ll lose her over a woman you don’t care about. You made a
mistake. Drop it, and don’t ever let it happen again.”
Jonathan looked at Billy.
“I agree with Jesse. If you tell her, you’ll lose her. Is it
“Okay. I’ll keep it to myself. Can I blame you if Lu Ann
“Not in this lifetime.”
“Let’s have a drink,” Jonathan said, relieved. “I need to
drown my sorrows.” He reached for the bottle, but Billy grabbed it.
“No, you don’t. Jesse and I have a job to do, and we might
need your help. No more drinks for you.”
“I think he’s helped enough,” I added. “He cheated on his
fiancé, and he got you to lie to me.”
“I didn’t lie,” Billy said. “I covered for him, and I didn’t
realize I was even doing it.”
“Well… I’m still mad about that.”
“No, you’re not,” Jonathan said as he reached over and hugged
me. “You love us too much to ever stay mad at us for long. Drop it, and get
over it.” He mocked my own words in a gentle way. “We love you, too.”
I pushed him away. “I’m still mad at you, too.”
Billy intervened. “Tell me more about the gun. Are there
other crimes connected to it?”
“Just one more,” Jonathan said. “A year ago, Donald Rhodes’
mother was killed in a home invasion by someone who used that same gun. Deanna
ran it through the national database and the bullet she test-fired matched up
to the bullet that killed Francine Michaels and the bullet that killed Donald’s
mother, Betsy. The police never recovered a gun in either case.”
“Somebody’s been a busy bee,” Billy stated.
“You have some hot evidence here, brother. That gun’s been
“Maybe Wynona and her brother are working together—a brother
and sister killing team,” I suggested.
“Nothing would surprise me,” Jonathan said.
“Donald said he bought the gun for Wynona,” I added. “She
probably gave it to Bruno so he could kill his wife, after she used it to kill
Donald’s mother. They wanted to eliminate anyone who had a stake in the money.
It’s all about the money. It always is.”
“Wynona could’ve killed Francine and Betsy all by herself,”
Jonathan guessed. “Billy said she’d do anything for the money, so she had
motive. Anyone who had a connection to Donald’s company and the money are
dead—Hank Sharp, Francine Michaels, and Betsy Rhodes. Stella Sharp’s been paid
off, so there’d be no reason to kill her.”
“Wynona didn’t kill Hank for the money, but he’s still dead,”
I added. “So… there’s no one left to come out of the woodwork?”
“Nope. Donald was an only child. His father died years ago,
long before Wynona came along. Everyone else is out of the picture, except him.
He was her last obstacle. I can’t believe she tried to kill her own husband
over his money.”
“It happens all the time,” I said. “Money—some have it, and
everybody else wants it.”
“Wynona… hmmm,” Billy said. “I didn’t give her that much
“You were too busy covering Jonathan’s butt,” I mumbled. “Men
are such pigs.”
Billy and Jonathan laughed at me.
“What about fingerprints?” Billy asked, continuing with his
questions. “Was Deanna able to lift any viable prints?”
“Three,” Jonathan replied. “Wynona, Bruno, and Donald’s
prints were on the gun. There was a partial print, but she couldn’t get a
positive ID on it.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m done being mad. What’s next? Are we
going to call Sheriff Hudson?”
“Not just yet,” Billy answered. “Not until we put the gun
back where we found it. After we do that, we’ll call the sheriff.”
The dogs started barking, and then a horn blew.
“Helene’s home,” I said, looking over at Jonathan. “Did you
“I didn’t have to. She guessed. You can’t keep anything from
that woman. She always knows when someone’s trying to hide something.”
“What did she say? I bet she raked you over the coals.”
“She told me that I should be ashamed of myself.”
“And… are you?”
“Yes. I’m a pig.”
“Come on,” Billy said to us. “Let’s go help Helene with the
The three of us walked out onto the front porch, and then
down the steps to the car. The loaf of French bread she went to buy had turned
into three bags of groceries. We grabbed the kids and the groceries, and then
“Did you stir the spaghetti sauce?” Helene asked Jonathan.
“If you didn’t…”
“I stirred it,” he replied. “Everything’s fine.”
“Except your cheating ways,” she hissed.
Helene’s comment was the last remark made about Jonathan’s
fall from grace. We put the groceries away, held the kids for a moment, and
then put our plan into action. Billy grabbed the gun off the counter, and we
headed out to catch a criminal. Jonathan went home to mend his ways and to sulk
in private… at least, that’s what he said.
“Dinner will be ready around six,” Helene yelled to us as we
were leaving. “Try not to be late. Your folks are coming over.”
“No problem,” Billy yelled back. “This won’t take long.”
“We’ll see about that,” she mumbled to no one in particular.
We jumped into Billy’s truck and were on our way. Our first
stop would be Donald Rhodes’ house to return the gun to its resting place in
the woods, and then we were going to see Bruno Michaels. The next thing to do
would be to alert the sheriff.
By the time we got to Rt. 29, Billy’s cell phone rang. It was
was going to get what she wanted.
All she had to do was pick up the paperwork from his office and then go to
Fancy Gap to pick up Kaleb. The matter had been settled without money changing
hands, except the fee she would have to pay for his service. Jeanette would get
nothing but the satisfaction of knowing that Kaleb was going to a good home.