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Authors: Earlene Fowler

Seven Sisters (36 page)

BOOK: Seven Sisters
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On the porch I gently squeezed his forearm and said, “Detective, you have to let this one go.”

“No,” he said, his voice still hard, though I thought I caught a tinge of agony.

“Amanda’s right. There is no proof. And the Browns are too powerful. No one will ever believe us.”

“So you’re saying we should just walk away? That she’ll never have to pay for killing Giles Norton? That her mother should never have to account for those dead babies?”

I flinched at his words. “She’ll pay. And so will her mother. The babies and Giles will be given justice. Just not by us. Not in this lifetime.”

His face contorted with disgust. “You believe that crap? You really believe they will stand before some almighty God when they die and answer for this?”

“Yes,”

He slammed his fist against a wooden post. “Why? Give me one good reason why you believe that.”

I thought for a moment, knowing that nothing I would say would satisfy him right now, but gave him the only answer I had. “Because the alternative—that this is all there is, that they will get away with it—is too awful to comprehend.”

He shook his head, his face pale in the bright porch light. “That’s some fantasy world you’re living in, Benni Harper. Some pie-in-the-sky fantasy world for kids and dreamers.” He ran a hand over his face. “But I swear, there are times I wish I could join you.”

I touched his shoulder. “There’s nothing more we can do here.”

He turned back to contemplate the fancy, carved front door. “That is the only thing you’ve said in the last ten minutes I do believe.”

As we were pulling out of the driveway, the front door opened, and Cappy stepped out on the front porch. At first her face was hidden in the shadows. She moved, and for a moment I could see her full face in the hazy evening light. Her hand reached up and touched her throat. Was that despair in her expression? Sadness? Regret? I still wanted to think so. I truly wanted to believe it was. In the truck’s side mirror, I watched her standing alone, still as a granite sculpture, until we turned the corner and she disappeared.

On the way back, we were both quiet. When I opened my purse for some tissue, I spotted the small tape recorder I had bought to fool Detective Hudson. It hadn’t even occurred to me to turn it on. Then again, maybe it was illegal, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Things happened in the way they were supposed to happen. She has had to and will have to live with what she’d seen and done her entire life and, if I truly believed what I told the detective, for all eternity. I closed my purse and stared out the window.

When we hit the city limits, the detective started to say something, stopped, cleared his throat and tried again. “What I said to Mrs. Brown, I meant. I’m not giving up on this case.” His knuckles were white on the truck’s steering wheel.

“I didn’t think you would.”

He cleared his throat again, keeping his eyes on the road. “So, if I needed, say, someone to help me. Research and stuff. I mean, since no one else knows about this but you and me . . .”

“Yes, Detective, I’ll help you.”

He smiled to himself. “Good.”

“I’ve been thinking,” I said. “If I were to get a bunch of people together like the folk art museum board, the Historical Society, the Cattlewomen’s Association, maybe some children’s rights groups, and all the wineries in San Celina County, and we organize a yearly benefit ball to help abused children, would you get the Sheriff’s Department involved?”

He laughed out loud. “All the wineries so that if Seven Sisters didn’t participate, they’d look pretty bad?”

I nodded. “We’ll rub her nose in it every year. I’ll use every society connection I’ve garnered in the last few years, call in every marker Dove and I have, and make it the biggest event of the year. Bigger than the Harvest Ball that Seven Sisters sponsors for the children’s hospital wing. We’ll make it less fancy so more average people can contribute and be a part of it. We could make it three times as big as the Harvest Ball.”

“You do that, Benni, and I’ll make sure every sheriff’s deputy and police officer in the county buys a ticket.”

We smiled at each other. It wasn’t much justice, but for the time being, it was all we had.

It was dusk now, and ahead of us off the interstate we could see the flickering lights of San Celina. I hugged myself, my heart cold in my chest. Next to me, the detective’s face, one I’d grown used to seeing jovial and laughing, was still and expressionless, except for an occasional swift blinking of his eyes.

When we turned off on Lopez, he said, “I’ll take you to the museum.”

“Would you mind driving by the police station first?” I asked, suddenly wanting to see Gabe, hoping he was working late. I wanted to feel his arms around me, wanted to hear him tell me that, yes, he agreed, there would be justice for Giles... and the babies. Maybe not man’s justice, but eternal justice. My husband had his cynical moments, but on that one point we agreed.

“Sure,” Detective Hudson said, swinging his truck over one lane.

Gabe was walking out to his parking space, his briefcase in one hand, his other hand loosening his tie. The detective pulled up behind Gabe’s Corvette and said, “You gonna tell him what happened?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? Maybe he’ll feel obligated to do something, tell someone.”

“It’s up to him, but don’t underestimate my husband’s wisdom. He’ll know the right thing to do. And I know he’d never do anything that might hurt me.”

His mouth turned down, impressed. “That so?”

I nodded.

“Well, ranch girl, go tell your husband I think he’s a pretty lucky guy.”

My mouth opened in surprise. “Is that a compliment? Someone record this and save it for posterity. Detective Ford Hudson actually said something nice to Albenia Harper.”

He gave a weak smile and said, “I’ll deny it under oath.”

“You would.” I sat there for a moment, my hand on the door handle. “Are you okay?” Something in me felt like I was abandoning a friend in deep distress. Though I’d eat penny nails for breakfast before admitting it to him, I had developed a bit of a soft spot for him and his cocky Texan ways. I might even miss him. A little.

His eyes flickered, then he smiled his wide, country-boy smile. “Now don’t you worry about me. I’m gonna go downtown, buy myself a couple of long-necks, see what’s playin’ on ESPN. I believe I’ll even spring for a chili dog.” His face softened. “Then maybe I’ll go see Maisie. Read her a bedtime story. One about a kingdom where the good knight always wins. You know how kids love fantasy.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Be careful driving home.”

“That almost sounds like you care.”

“I’ll deny it under oath,” I said solemnly.

“Plagiarist.”

“A three-syllable word. I’m impressed.” I gave him a small salute. “Good-bye, Detective Hudson.”

“Not good-bye, Benni Harper. More like see you around.”

As he pulled out of the police station driveway, he hit his horn. “The Yellow Rose of Texas” blared across the parking lot, and I laughed out loud.

Gabe was staring at Detective Hudson’s truck when I walked up. It pleased me to see his expression was not entirely happy. Maybe even a little jealous. He shook his head and tossed his briefcase in the front seat of his car. “He’s watched too many
Dukes of Hazzard
shows. What were you doing with him?”

The picture of the tiny overgrown graves of the Brown babies flashed through my mind. How petty my problems seemed now. I reached up and touched his strong jaw, scratchy with five-o’clock shadow. The rough familiar feel made me swallow hard, the tears I’d been holding tight inside myself coating my eyes like mineral oil.


Querida,
” he said, cupping my shoulders with his warm hands, “what’s wrong?”

“Have you got dinner plans tonight?” I asked.

His face looked chagrined. “No, and I know I’ve been neglecting you.” He looked over my shoulder. “Why did you say you were with that guy again?”

“Yes, you have been,” I said, not answering his question.

“Got a phone call today telling me so. I swear I was coming home to apologize and talk about it tonight.”

I swallowed over the thick, salty lump in my throat. “Who called you?”

“I won’t mention any names, but I really hate it when members of the press are right about something, though it happens so rarely.”

“I know you and Lydia had a lot to discuss these last few days.”

“Yeah, well as my little Arkansas Razorback told me, maybe I was too worried about proving to my ex-wife what a success I turned out to be instead of paying attention to what my wife was going through. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I feel like a fool for not seeing it myself.”

I sighed and touched his cheek. “Forget it, Friday. You’re a fool, but you’re my fool. And I knew whose bed you were coming home to at night.”

“Until the day I die,” he said, taking my face in his hands. “Now, what’s with you and Detective Hudson? Please tell me it was business, not pleasure. Is there something going on with the Norton homicide I need to know about?”

“First, how’s Sam and Bliss?” I asked, not quite ready to begin the story I would tell him. There was one thing I was glad I’d learned from Cappy, that the family secret had not been passed down. Maybe Sam and Bliss still had a chance.

Gabe sighed deeply, his hands slipping down to my shoulders. “Bliss asked for a leave of absence today. She’s going up north with her mother and sister. I have a feeling she’s not going to come back. You know, there’s things in that family that bother me, though I can’t put my finger on them.”

“What about Sam?”

“He says they’re going to take a breather for a while. He doesn’t want to leave San Celina. That’s all he would say. At their age I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended their relationship.”

“I guess only time will tell.”

“I suppose so.” He squeezed my shoulders gently. “Now, tell me why you’re so upset.”

“I need to talk,” I said, feeling as breathless and vulnerable as a child. A mental picture of a seven-year-old girl watching her mother place a pillow over her sisters’ faces caused tears to finally flow.

“You can talk to me. You know you can always talk to me.”

I looked up at this man whose face I’d kissed so many times. This man whose cries of passion were as familiar to me as my own. This man who knew me and loved me and had promised to stay with me until the day he died. This man I trusted like no one else.

“It’s about Cappy. It’s about Giles’s murder.”

“Yes, go on.”

“The thing is,” I said, my voice hesitant, knowing what I was asking might not be possible for him. “Right now I need to talk to my husband. Not a police officer. Not a government employee. My husband.”

Still holding me by the shoulders, he looked at me a long minute. I wouldn’t ask him again. If he couldn’t, I would understand. I would still love him and I would understand.

He slowly reached into his back pocket and pulled out his leather wallet where he carried his badge. He opened the car door and threw it on the floor next to his briefcase, closed and locked the door. Then he held out his hand.

“Let’s walk,” he said.

Berkley Prime Crime Books by Earlene Fowler

THE SADDLEMAKER’S WIFE

The Benni Harper Mysteries

FOOL’S PUZZLE
IRISH CHAIN
KANSAS TROUBLES
GOOSE IN THE POND
DOVE IN THE WINDOW
MARINER’S COMPASS
SEVEN SISTERS
ARKANSAS TRAVELER
STEPS TO THE ALTAR
SUNSHINE AND SHADOW
BROKEN DISHES
DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS
TUMBLING BLOCKS

BOOK: Seven Sisters
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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