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Authors: Bobbie O'Keefe

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BOOK: Family Skeletons
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Chapter Eight

In deportment, on a scale of one to ten, Jonathan
was an eleven.

When he appeared downstairs after his bath, he
seemed somewhat stilted, but Sunny had already figured out he’d been born that
way. Wearing a sea green sport shirt that very closely matched the color of his
eyes, along with dark slacks and polished black shoes, he stood in the parlor
doorway and waited to meet her eyes.

“Excuse me,” he said formally.

“Of...course,” she said.

He then entered the room and settled in the other
armchair to watch the action film Sunny had found. He sat ramrod straight,
never looked her way, and absolutely no comment, wiseass or otherwise, occurred
to her.

The image of a naked and magnificent male was
imprinted in her memory cells. Nothing either of them could do about that. But
also impressive was his instant reaction when he’d heard her scream. With no
thought for anything other than that something was wrong downstairs, down he
had come.

As she sat there and watched the few minutes of
movie in between the several minutes of commercials, her respect for him grew.
Odd, but she could think of very few men, other than Ryan, whom she respected.
And none, other than Ryan, she’d ever felt she could count on.

She swallowed hard and realized she’d lost the
thread of the movie. It was disconcerting to discover how unaccustomed she was
to thinking about issues of trust, and how accepting she’d been to having so
few people in her life worthy of it. The kind of single-mindedness that brought
a man stampeding down the stairs when someone screamed was close to
incomprehensible to her.

It was silly, if one wanted to look at it from a
clinical angle, that Jonathan had come racing to her rescue because the TV had
startled her after she’d jacked up the sound. Yet it still made her feel...funny
inside. Quivery, unsettled, wistful. Yeah, funny. The word fit.

* * *

Early the next morning they got back to work. The
trapdoor that allowed access to the attic was located in a recess off the
upstairs hall, and Jonathan carried the stepladder they’d found in the shed up
the stairs, while Sunny let Cat outside to roam. The kitten was lightning-fast,
could climb anything, and Sunny didn’t want to contend with the animal while
they explored the attic.

Nor did she want the cat to decide she liked it up
there and not want to come out.

The ladder was in place when she joined Jonathan.
Though he wasn’t exactly sloppily dressed, neither was he his usual natty self.
He wore faded, serviceable chinos she could tell he’d actually done physical
work in. Though they looked clean, they were permanently soiled. Evidently he
worked on his truck himself and had packed his workpants just in case. Her
jeans were the oldest she owned, one leg torn at the knee and the hems frayed.

She noted that the trapdoor was laid back as she
ascended the stairs, so he’d already been up there, but he was politely waiting
for her before proceeding further. As she climbed toward him, the image of him
at the bottom of the stairs in all his glory crossed her mind. She just let it
cross and took hold of the ladder.

“I should go first,” he said quickly.

She paused and looked at him. “Why?”

When he appeared not to have a ready answer, she
grinned. “Ah, chivalry. It rears its head.” That was nicer than asking him if
he really thought he was more capable than she. Because of course he did.

He frowned, but she caught a look of sheepishness
behind the frown.

“I can handle my own spiders,” she told him. She
climbed into the dark hole, waved one arm above her to search for the chain to
the light bulb, took another step up and waved again, came in contact with it
and yanked.

“Not much wattage,” Jonathan said dubiously, watching
the swinging bulb.

“We can always get a bigger bulb. Uh, stronger, I
mean? Brighter?”

“I get the idea.”

Wattage, Sunny, wattage. He already said
it.

She eased over to sit on the edge of the attic
floor, checking first for anything that might be crawling there, then
maneuvered her way off the ladder and into the attic proper. The attic was
A-shaped, perhaps six feet high in the center and tapering to about five feet
in height at the walls. Its circumference was slightly less than the size of
the house itself, and it was chock full of stuff. This was going to be a job
and a half.

She turned back. “Your turn.”

His head quickly appeared in the opening. The
initial drudgery she’d felt regarding this chore had been replaced by a sense
of adventure that he apparently shared. Possibly because they were sharing a
heretofore unexperienced experience.

The bulb was still swinging, distorting their
shadows. She could do without that part of it. It was just a little too creepy.
She stood upright and stepped back, allowing him room.

“We’ll both have to stoop to get around near the
walls,” she said. “But even you should be able to stand up straight in the
center.”

Then she turned in a slow circle, taking inventory.
“Old suitcases and trunks, boxes, lots of them, some small pieces of
furniture—” Her breath caught in a gasp.

“What?” He whirled her way.

“Ohh.” She felt deflated as the sudden shock
receded. “It’s a dressmaker’s dummy.”

He chuckled. “Headless and armless. Not too pretty,
is it, especially with that weird, swinging...” He grabbed the bulb’s chain and
held it, and the shadows stilled.

“Thank you,” she said formally.

“You’re welcome,” he said, imitating the same staid
manner she’d used. Then, making her grin, he switched to the flippant way she
usually talked. “But I remind you that you said you could take care of your own
spiders.”

“So what do we tackle first?” she wondered aloud,
gaze wandering from box to crate to piece of junk. “You want to get back down
there, and I’ll hand stuff down to you?”

“Maybe we should do that the other way around,” he
countered. “You’d have the wall and stair railing to help support the heavier
pieces.”

Yep, that handy dolly wasn’t going to help her out
up here. “Okay,” she said. “But that means you’re on your own when you get to
the spiders.”

He slanted a sideways glance at her. “Sunny, I find
it happening more and more often that I get a terrific urge to put you in your
place.”

Did that have a sexual edge to it,
Jonathan?

Don’t go there, Sunny.

“So what’s first?” she asked. “Once we get rid of
the lighter stuff, the furniture will go faster.”

“Agreed.”

Her eye caught a dismantled crib leaning against the
wall behind a dusty duffel bag. Its position indicated it was one of the last
pieces stored. “Must’ve been mine,” she murmured.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing.”

Well, that was an excellent opportunity
you just blew, Sunny. Are you a coward or an idiot, or both?

Oh, shut up.

She grabbed the duffel bag. It was surprisingly
light, so she also took the garment bag that lay over the top of a trunk and
placed both pieces next to the trapdoor. “I’m going down with these. You can
hand me down whatever comes next.”

The hall quickly became littered with boxes and
bags. They laughed over several paper bags of used Christmas wrap, folded
neatly and then stored away to disintegrate over the years.

“Sunny, I think I just found something,” he hollered
down to her. “It looks like an authentic Victrola. It’s even got the trademark
of a dog listening to a gramophone.”

“Yeah?” She grinned up at the opening.

“It’s a cabinet, covered with an old sheet. Let’s
take it down last. We’ll have to take special care—oh, there you are.”

He removed the sheet he’d just replaced. “Look. The
cabinet doors open all right. Kind of squeaky, and it needs cleaning. But it’s
quite a find.”

“Yeah.” She reached to touch it, then quickly drew
her hand back, thinking about oil from her fingers. “Mavis knows some people
who deal in antiques. We could talk to them about it. I doubt that even Roberta
knew this was up here.”

“Well, it’s been here long enough it can stay a
little longer. I doubt you and I could get it down by ourselves without
damaging it.”

The dim, cramped room was growing heavy with the
layers of dust they’d disturbed, and it was getting hard to breathe. “Let’s
call it quits,” she suggested. “And work on sorting what we’ve got. We can get
back up here tomorrow.”

He clearly wanted to keep going. But she figured
they had enough to keep them busy for the rest of the day, so she bribed him
with tomato sandwiches for lunch. She’d discovered he loved tomato and onion
sandwiches slathered in mayonnaise and covered with salt and pepper. She’d
refrained from inquiring why it was okay to mix onions with tomatoes when it
wasn’t okay to mix them with breakfast potatoes.

After lunch, they carried the stuff in the upstairs
hall down to the utility room off the kitchen and sorted it there. Though
Jonathan seemed to quickly grow bored, he didn’t grumble, and he stuck with the
job.

She was also on the bored side. Kneeling on the
floor, she blew a breath out with a weary, resigned sigh, pushed the steamer
trunk she’d just emptied away, and reached behind her for the duffel bag. It
was light, but something clattered when it hit the floor. She unzipped the bag.
It held one item, an ordinary baseball bat. She was beyond wondering why
anything had been saved. Then she looked closer, and recoiled.

“Uh, Jonathan, that’s...is that...”

He looked up from a box of old shoes. “Is what?”

“Blood,” she said, staring at the bat. “It’s got
blood on it.”

He came over and knelt next to her. “Blood and
hair,” he said, voice subdued.

* * *

Tom Fairly looked at the bat, still residing within
the duffel bag, for a long time.

“Well,” he said. “The lab will tell us for sure, but
I’m gonna be one surprised citizen with a badge if that isn’t human blood and
hair.” He looked at the two citizens who’d brought in the bag. “You didn’t
touch it?”

“Not the bat,” Sunny said. “But both Jonathan and I
handled the bag and its grip.”

“But neither of your prints should be on the weapon
itself.”

She shuddered. Weapon. That’s exactly what it was.
And that was the purpose of the bat she had under her bed as well. Defensive,
but still a weapon. She nodded to Tom, paused, then shook her head, confused as
to which response was correct. He hadn’t actually asked a question.

“That’s right,” Jonathan said. “Our prints are not
on the bat.”

“Let’s hope someone’s are.” Tom gave Sunny a look
that held concern.

“I know,” she said. “The blood and tissue type may
be the same as Franklin’s.” Then she got a thought that made her narrow her
eyes. “Do you have a blood type, anything, for him?”

The deputy sheriff gave her an absent nod as his
attention returned to the satchel and its contents. “Should be a record from
his stint in the army.”

“Army?” she echoed, surprised.

He looked back at her. “Yeah. He got caught in the
draft just a year or so before it ended if I remember right, but he got a
medical waiver. Meniere’s.” He waggled fingers near his right ear. “Something
to do with balance, the inner ear, something. Didn’t bother him much, but it
was enough to keep him out of the military. Both his prints and blood type
should be on file.”

Sunny nodded, vaguely recalling the information now
that he’d mentioned it. She asked, looking at the bat, “If the lab does find prints,
you’ll want to check them against mine, I suppose, so you might as well take
them now.”

Jonathan appeared surprised and puzzled. Then his
face cleared. “And mine, I guess. I haven’t had access to the house as long as
she has, but you’ve got to cover all the bases.”

Tom nodded. “Yep. Should.” He motioned them toward a
narrow counter beneath a wall cabinet. He took a box from the cabinet, along
with a thick set of paper with labeled boxes and instructions in large print,
and added a packet of moist wipes. “Think Roberta will also volunteer hers?”

That was a touchy question that Tom managed to ask
inoffensively and professionally, Sunny noted.

“If the blood and tissue matches Franklin’s,” Sunny
said, “prints of family members will be required, not requested. So she might
as well get it over with.” She allowed him to take her hand and firmly press
each finger into the inky pad and then onto squares on the paper.

“One more thing,” Tom said when he finished with her
other hand. He handed her a moist disposable towelette. “I’d appreciate the two
of you staying out of that attic until I can get out there and look around.”

“Sure,” Jonathan said as he exchanged places with
Sunny. “I’d expected that.”

BOOK: Family Skeletons
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