Authors: Ann Mullen
Sheriff Hudson looked up at me and said, “You sure have been
awfully quiet, Jesse. That’s not like you. Do you know something I don’t?”
“Not me. I’m just as shocked by this as anyone. I’m still
trying to sort it all out. I have no idea what the story is here.”
Billy shot me a glance as if he’d just realized that I was
hiding something even he didn’t know about yet, and then he looked back at
Sheriff Hudson. “Okay. We’re out of here.”
The two of us turned and walked over to Billy’s truck. Once
we were heading down
and out of
sight, I pulled out the packet of photos from my pants. “There’s more to this
story than meets the eye,” I said, holding up the packet.
“Oh, no. What’s that?” Billy asked as he let out the breath
he’d been holding. “I had a sneaky feeling you were hiding something. I don’t
know if I want to see it.”
“Yes… I was hiding something, and yes… you do need to see
“I’m almost afraid to ask. Is that evidence? Please tell me
you didn’t run off with incriminating evidence.”
“Let me pull over,” Billy said as he searched for a spot where
he could pull off the road. He parked and then turned on the interior light.
“Let’s have a look.” He took the packet, scanned the photos, and then put them
back inside. “
left out this part.”
“What else did she leave out?”
Billy handed the photos back to me, turned off the interior
light, and then pulled back onto the road. He pulled out his cell phone and
said, “I’m going to call Russell. He needs to know about the photos, and our
I listened while he explained everything. After a lengthy
conversation, Billy closed up the phone and said, “We’ll get the truth from
tomorrow. Tonight, I’m going home
and try to sleep.”
Something occurred to me. How did Andrea get to
’s house? The only car in the garage
was the Mustang. I brought this up to Billy.
“Oh, she was smart. She parked her car behind the garage, out
of sight, so no one would know she was here.”
“Did they search the car?”
“Yes, but they didn’t find anything important, at least
that’s what they said. She didn’t even have a change of clothing… just her
“That’s odd, considering the trip from Fancy Gap to here must
be at least four or five hours. Why didn’t she bring something with her?”
“It’s probably more than that. Fancy Gap’s at the far end of
“Then why would a woman who had to drive that many hours just
one way, not bring a stitch of clothing? That doesn’t make sense, unless she
has a hotel room somewhere.”
“Then why would she hide her car behind the garage, and
where’re her belongings?”
“I don’t know, but I can assure you that we’re going to find
out. Andrea might be smart, but she’s not as smart as me… or you.”
Yes, Andrea was, indeed, smart. She had thought of
everything… except the part about getting killed.
“You know what really gets my goat?”
“We have a goat?” Billy joked. “I didn’t know that.”
“Don’t be silly. You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do. It means that
lied to us. She tried to con us.”
“That’s correct. She flat-out lied to us. She didn’t trust us
enough to tell us the truth. You’d think by now she’d know we’d stand behind
“Except when it comes to murder. She knows us better. Neither
one of us would cover up a murder.”
“That’s true. Friend or no friend, we wouldn’t hide something
like that from the police.”
“Don’t hold it against her, `ge ya. Remember, she’d just been
chased around her house by a woman with a knife. She was frightened. She
“Speaking of which—where’s the knife?
was cut, so what happened to the
knife? The only weapon I saw was a shovel.”
“I can’t answer that question.”
can, and you’d better believe I’m
going to ask her about it. And I want to know the truth behind these pictures,
although they do speak for themselves.”
Billy agreed. “We will ask her many questions tomorrow.”
“You can bet on it!”
Forty minutes later, we walked into the house to see Mom and
Helene sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. They both jumped up and
ran over to us.
“Y’all are going to be up all night,” I said as I closed the
front door. “All that caffeine isn’t good for you. It keeps you awake.”
“What happened?” Mom demanded, ignoring my remark about her
beloved coffee. “You didn’t call us. We’ve been worried sick. I started to
call, but didn’t know the situation, so I didn’t.”
“I’m sorry, Mom… Helene. It was a mess over there.”
“How about some coffee?” Helene asked. She quickly turned and
walked over to the kitchen counter to the coffee pot.
“I’m going to take a quick shower and then hit the sack,”
Billy said. He kissed me lightly on the lips, kissed Mom on the cheek, and then
walked over and kissed Helene’s cheek. “Goodnight, ladies. Jesse will fill you
in on everything. I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“You go on, Billy,” Mom said, ushering him out of the room.
She swiftly returned, and then led me over to the table. “Sit down, honey, and
tell us all about it. Is
I looked over at Helene and said, “Forget the coffee. Bring
that bottle of bourbon under the sink, and three glasses.”
Mom started to object—she hasn’t had more than four or five
drinks in her whole life—but instead, she nodded her head at Helene. “Yes,
bring all of us a glass. I’m afraid I might need a drink after I hear what
Jesse has to say.”
Helene got the bottle and the glasses, walked over, and sat
down. She poured each of us a small amount of liquor, and after two shots of
bourbon, the story had been told. Mom sat there with her mouth hanging open,
while Helene remained silent. They scrutinized
“I’m stunned,” Mom said. “Poor
. Her husband cheated on her, and then had a baby with
another woman. Now she’s the one who’s going to jail. It isn’t right.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Helene retorted, finally speaking up.
“You know I adore
, but the truth is, rich and famous
people don’t go to jail. They have too much money to let that happen. They can
buy their way out of anything.”
doesn’t belong in jail!” Mom said,
“Mom,” I whispered. “You might want to tone it down a bit.”
“I’m sorry,” Mom said, lowering her voice. “But she’s
innocent! I know she is.
doesn’t have a mean bone in her
body. If she killed that woman, she had a reason. Besides, it was self-defense!
Isn’t that right, Jesse?”
“Mom’s right,” I responded, looking over at Helene. “Evidence
will prove that.
has defensive wounds on her hands.
Whatever went on at her house, one thing is for sure—she was fighting for her
“Didn’t you also say the woman chased her through the house?”
Mom asked, not waiting for an answer. “That proves she was in danger.”
“Eventually, the truth will come out,” Helene said. “You
always hear more about what really happened in the days following something
like this. The true story will be told.”
“I’ve heard the true story,” Mom stated. “I don’t need to
wait until later to find out what went on.
“You’re probably right,” Helene replied, trying to ease the
tension. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Minnie. I know how you feel about
. You think she’s an angel.”
“I’m not upset at you,” Mom said in a calmer manner this
time. “I’m angry at that woman. When this gets out, it will ruin
. You know how people are. One minute
they love you, the next they don’t. That’s how it is when you’re famous.”
“I wouldn’t worry about
I said. “She has a way about her. People will love her no matter what. Her fans
will never turn their backs on her.”
“I agree,” Helene added. “No matter how bad famous people
act, they still remain famous. Nothing’s going to change that.”
“I hope y’all are right. I’d hate to see
’s life ruined.”
“We’re right, Mom,” I said, getting up. “I’m going to look in
on my children, and then I’m going to bed.” I looked around the room. “Hey,
where’re the dogs? They didn’t even bark.”
“They’re getting old, too,” Helene said with a giggle.
I looked down at the table.
“Don’t worry about it,” Helene said as if to read my mind.
“We’ll clean up. You go get your rest.”
“Thanks. I’m going to bed.” I leaned over, kissed Mom and
then Helene, and then headed down the hallway to the kid’s rooms. I left the
packet of photos lying on the table. I knew Mom and Helene would probably sit
up for awhile talking about
. They would want to look at the
photos over and over again, and then discuss them some more.
Maisy and Ethan have separate bedrooms now. They were no
longer a toddler and an infant; they were getting almost close to kindergarten
age. Maisy is three, and Ethan is two. They are the light of our lives, and I
could go on forever about both of them.
Athena was at the foot of Maisy’s bed as I had expected, and
Thor was at the foot of Ethan’s. That meant only one thing—the cat was in my
bed! I chuckled as I walked to my room. Sure enough, Spice Cat was nestled up
close to Billy… all snug as a bug. I brushed my teeth before I stripped down
out of my clothes. Bad breath is not very sexy. I jumped in between the sheets
and cuddled up next to my man. I kissed his shoulder and rubbed his bare chest.
I pressed my body close to his.
He snored lightly.
I smiled, closed my eyes, and fell into a blissful sleep. I
was having a pleasant and erotic dream about my sexy and masculine husband…
until Andrea’s face popped up out of the middle of nowhere. Billy was gone, and
she was glaring down at me. Her menacing eyes made my skin crawl. The dream
came to an abrupt halt when she pointed her nub of a finger in my face. It
stared back at me as if it were alive. On the tip of the stump was the word…
I woke up in a cold sweat, sat up in bed, and looked around
in the dark. Everyone was still asleep. The house was quiet. I lay back down
and tried to go back to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. I kept seeing that
finger being jabbed at me. The word liar flashed in front of my eyes over and
over. Something was wrong with
’s story, and Helene was probably
right about it. More would come out of this tale. I was sure of it. The minute
I closed my eyes, I heard a beep. I recognized the sound. It was my cell phone.
I had missed a call, or someone had left me a text message. Since I hadn’t
heard the phone ring, it must have been a text. Who would send me a text
message in the middle of the night? I tried to remember what I had done with my
cell phone before I went to bed, and then it dawned on me. The phone was still
in the pocket of my jeans. I leaned over the bed, hoping I wouldn’t fall out
since I was quite naked, and grabbed my pants. I fumbled through the pockets
until I found the cell phone. I pulled it out, flipped it open, and pressed
view. Russell’s name appeared. I pressed read. The message was abbreviated so
much, I could barely make it out. In essence, it said that
had developed chest pains, and they
were keeping her overnight. The doctor was going to run some tests. Russell
would stay by her side.
The first thing that came to mind was that there was no way
could be having a heart attack. She
was only in her thirties, so it must be an anxiety attack. Then another thought
occurred to me. What if this was a ruse to buy time? Even good people are
capable of doing bad things.
“No!” I said out loud. “I have to stop thinking like that. I
have to give
a chance to come clean… to tell the
truth. Maybe she has a good reason for lying to us.”
But lying was lying, and you don’t lie to a friend, especially
when you’re asking for their help. My faith in her had been tested, and at this
point, she was losing. I was about to find out just how much I truly could
At some point, I must’ve fallen
back to sleep, because when I woke up, the smell of bacon
permeated the air. Voices echoed from the kitchen. I crawled out of bed, went
to the bathroom and washed my face. After getting dressed, I brushed my teeth
and my hair, and then moseyed on into the kitchen.
Mom, Helene and Billy were carrying on, laughing, as they
fixed breakfast. The kids were seated at the table in their booster seats,
waiting for their meal to be served. The small television setting in the corner
on the kitchen counter broadcasted the news.
Suddenly, all noise ceased. I heard the reporter on TV say
’s name, and I knew the word was out.
favorite author had been involved in the death of an unidentified woman.
“Has anyone heard whether or not
has been released from the
hospital?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen and headed to the coffee pot.
No one seemed to have much to say. They were too intent on hearing what was
being said on the television. After fixing my coffee, I kissed my husband and
the kids, and then petted the dogs. The cat was in hiding as usual. I sat down
at the table, looked up and continued, “I got a text from Russell in the middle
of the night.”
“I received the same text,” Billy added. “I called him first
thing this morning and asked him how she was doing, and he said she had an
anxiety attack. It wasn’t a heart attack.”
“That’s kind of what I thought. I’m glad to hear it wasn’t
anything real serious. Is she still in the hospital, or has she been released?”
“She should be home by now. He said they were leaving when I
called. That was an hour ago. I told him we’d be over in a couple of hours.”
“I hope she told him the real story that led up to Andrea’s
demise. She needs to get her facts straight and stop lying to us. It’s all
going to come out anyway. Why not go on record with the truth? Her readers will
stand by her as long as they think she’s being honest.”
“What makes you think she’s lying?” Mom asked as she walked
over and placed the children’s plate of food in front of them. “
doesn’t tell lies. She’s a very
“She did this time,” I replied. “Too many of the facts don’t
add up.” I hesitated for a second before saying, “I had a dream about Andrea
last night. She kept pointing her finger at me, saying that
was a liar.” I didn’t mention the
fact that the finger was her stumpy one.
“I just can’t believe that
would lie,” Mom said as she continued to dish up food.
“She’s always been so honest. She doesn’t have a deceitful bone in her body.”
Helene started to say something when Billy butted in. “Let’s
not get into this until we know for a fact what the truth is.
was upset and in such a state. I
think she told us part of the story, but I think there’s more. We’re going to
find out everything shortly.”
Mom changed the subject. She looked at me and said, “I have
to pick up Eddie at the airport, and then I’m going home. We’ll go by and check
“She might be in jail,” Helene teased.
“She will not be in jail!” Mom retorted. “You keep talking
like that and they might come and get you. They’ll throw you in jail for
“What? They don’t put people in jail for that.”
I listened to their friendly banter and thought about how
nice it was to have such a good family. I looked around and thought about how
so much else had changed… especially our house. When Billy and I first got
married, his house wasn’t as big as it is now. There was a living room on the
right, an eat-in kitchen on the left, and a utility room behind the
kitchen—with a doggie door that Billy had installed just for our pets. Between
the living room and the dining room was a hallway that led to our bedroom, and
to the upstairs. Additional bedrooms were on the second floor. Since then,
Billy has added on to accommodate my mother and other guests. We now have
several more bedrooms, more bathrooms, and a huge family room in the back. I
had hoped that Mom would sell her house in
and move in with us now that we had
so much more room, but then Eddie came into her life. That was okay. I wanted
Mom to be happy.
“Going by to see
is a good idea. She’ll need the support of her friends.” I looked at Billy.
“Has anyone told McCoy?”
“Russell called him from the hospital early this morning and
told him so he wouldn’t hear it on the news. McCoy said he would come back as
soon as he could.”
“I’d sure like to be around when he arrives,” I said. “I
wonder what he’s going to make of this. How’s he going to feel when he finds
killed his secretary?”
“He’s probably going to be in shock,” Helene said, adding her
thoughts. “Shocked that his wife killed his mistress.”
“Helene!” Mom snapped. “That’s a terrible thing to say.”
“It’s the truth,” Helene snapped back. “Your friend is a
“Ladies!” Billy jumped in. “I don’t want you two to argue
over this. We know you both have different opinions, but there’s no need to get
into a scrabble over it.”
“We’re not going to get into a fight,” Mom snickered. “We’re
just having an intelligent conversation. It’s not my fault that Helene can’t
see the truth when it’s right in front of her eyes.” Mom chuckled again.
“Helene and I don’t agree on a lot of things, but that doesn’t matter. We’ll
get over it. Right, Helene?”
“Right, Minnie. We’ll just wait and see what develops.”
“After breakfast…” Billy started to say when we heard Flo
Garner’s name mentioned on the news. “Turn it up,” he said, turning around and
pointing to the TV. “There’s something about Flo on the news.”
“Oh, no!” Mom said. “I hope she’s all right.”
Flo was all right, but it seemed that her office had been burned
down to the ground last night. Someone had broken in and doused the place with
gasoline, and then set fire to it. The building was a total loss.
The phone rang, so Billy went to answer it while the rest of
us listened to the news broadcast. The minute he said Flo’s name, everyone’s
ears perked up. We could tell from the conversation that she was extremely
upset. Billy kept telling her to calm down.
When the call was over, Mom asked, “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, but she’s in a state. She still claims that
Downer Rhodes is going to kill her. She swears that he’s the one who set fire
to her place of business. She wants us to stop him.”
“How can we do that? We don’t know for sure if he’s the one
who burned down her office. We don’t even know if he’s out to do her harm. It
might be all in her head.”
“She’s convinced he’s out to get her. I told her we’d stop by
her office, have a look at it, and then come by her house. She has a plan she
wants to discuss with us.”
“What kind of plan?”
“She didn’t say.”
“That’s strange,” Helene said. “I saw Mr. Rhodes the other
day. He doesn’t look like the kind of man who would do something so awful. They
say he killed his partner… for the money.”
“He probably did it so he could have his partner’s wife,” Mom
said in a sneaky manner. “She’s his mistress.”
“You don’t know that,” Helene gasped. “Why would he want his
partner’s wife when his wife is so beautiful? And she’s real nice.”
“My point exactly,” Mom replied. “Just like
. Why would McCoy want that woman
when he has her? It just doesn’t make sense. I know that’s not his baby in that
picture. It just can’t be. He wouldn’t do that to her, would he? No man in his
right mind would do something like that to a wonderful person like
. She’s kind, generous, and she really
cares about people.”
“Yeah, she’s a real Girl Scout,” I said, adding my two cents
worth. “People make mistakes. Maybe McCoy slipped. He might’ve been lonely
. They didn’t live together for
“That’s no excuse,” Helene said.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “That’s no excuse, but it could
very well be the reason he was messing around with that woman… if he was.”
Mom became somber. “I feel so bad for
. She doesn’t deserve to be in a mess
like this. I hope you’re wrong about McCoy. I hope this was all a big mistake.
What kind of man does that to his wife?”
“The cheating kind,” Helene whispered.
“Soap opera time is over, ladies,” Billy said with a smile.
“We have work to do, people to see, and brains to pick.”
Mom and Helene laughed like school girls. They adored Billy.
He could always put a smile on their face. He has always been the best he could
be to everyone… everyone except the bad guys. Bad guys just didn’t stand a
chance. And we all love Billy for the way he is—good and tough.
The schedule for the day had been planned out by the end of
breakfast. Mom was going to pick up Eddie from the airport, return to her home
and would not be back for an overnight stay for a few days… unless an emergency
came up… which it usually did.
Eddie has stayed overnight at our house more than once. Of
course, he sleeps in a separate bedroom than Mom. There was no way my mother
would’ve shared a bed with a man in someone else’s house unless she was married
to him. Whether or not they’ve had a sexual relationship is anybody’s guess.
She has her ways, but she’s also come into her own since the death of my
father. I guess you have to when you reach that age. Why wait? Who knows?
Helene, our nanny, was going to take the children horseback
riding with Sarah and Chief Sam, have a picnic lunch under a tree somewhere on
the property with them, and then return home for the rest of the day. She would
have her cell phone on at all times. She told us not to worry.
Our plan was to go to
house, check out Flo’s problem and then make a pit stop at Blackhawk &
Blackhawk Investigations—the detective agency that now bears both our names on
the front door. Now that we have a family, and the fact that our cases keep us
running from one place to the other, we spend very little time at the office.
So, we hired Lila Grayce on a permanent, fulltime basis. After going through a
few undesirable candidates, Lila, 48, divorced with two well-behaved teenage
children, is the best office manager/secretary (other than me) anyone could
ever hope for. And having someone so reliable allows Billy and me the freedom
to enjoy our work instead of just doing it. Other than being dangerous,
sometimes our life can be very exciting—like when we catch the bad guy… and no
one gets shot. But… as I’ve said many times before, plans don’t always go as
While we were en route to
house, Billy received a call from Russell Shank saying that McCoy had arrived,
and was in a rage. Russell was just making sure that we were on our way. He
said that the scene was not pleasant. McCoy and
had been arguing for over twenty minutes. All Russell could
do was stand back out of the way and make sure things didn’t escalate into
Billy assured him that nothing was going to happen. Married
couples argue. Their argument might be different than most, but McCoy would
. Billy was confident of that.
“I hope you’re right,” I said as Billy closed up his cell
phone and then threw it up on the dash. “Hmmm… I guess you’re not really so
sure that the tension at the Kelley household is under control. McCoy isn’t…”
“It’s not McCoy,” Billy replied. “It’s
. Russell said she wasn’t herself.
She’s been acting weird. She was out of control and saying all kinds of
“Like, she should’ve killed Andrea and McCoy… not just
“That’s not good.”
“No, it’s not. Russell doesn’t know what to make of it, and
he’s wondering if there’s something that’s not being said. He wonders if she
planned the whole thing. That’s what he told me, but I don’t think he meant
“Why does he think that? What did she tell him?”
“That the cruise to
was a last resort to save their marriage.”
“But they seemed so happy. You were there. You saw them
together. Did they strike you as a couple who were on the verge of divorce?”
“No, they didn’t, but that doesn’t mean anything. People have
been known to put up a front for the public, especially someone who’s a
has to maintain a good image. Her
readers will desert her if she doesn’t. It makes me wonder.”