Ben Pullman discovers eight-year-old Timmy Conway's drawing at the annual Forest Hill cookout.
Mark and Pam Conway are dead, as gruesomely depicted in their son's picture. Josh Topas botched his career as paparazzi when going after Chief Commissioner Mirack. Now, Topas
faces bogus criminal charges. Assistant D.A. Melanie Collins needs Josh to stay clean and refrain from
seeking revenge... if they hope to nail Mirack for fraud, embezzlement, and murder. Josh takes on the name
Jack Moon and relocates to the Underbelly, the undesirable south of Forest Hill. Sheriff Volger's inundated with the Conways' murder investigation, and Detective Barry arrives from Houston
to assist. Clues lead Volger and Barry to Topas' pregnant fiancee and the hunt's on for Jack Moon, who
discovers that Barry isn't quite the man everyone believes him to be.
FREE EXCERPT BELOW THE VIDEO:
I was nearly finished when I noticed eight-year-old Timmy Conway. It was something I saw out of the corner of my eye, over neighbors laughing and clapping after my rendition of “Year of the Cat” on the tuba. Anyhow, whatever the boy was doing behind the picket fence didn’t make any of the guys think twice, just me.
I should’ve done something then.
It started on a July afternoon in my small town, the day the neighborhood housing committee sponsored the Forest Hills annual barbecue, and I was looking forward to hanging out with the guys.
A good amount of smoke flowed up from the blackened steel drum in the Herons’ driveway. The right smoke would do just fine for an ordinary Saturday cookout; but, for Jack and Susan Heron, the smoke had to be perfect. It meant they had the ideal heat and flames high enough for cooking pounds of meat without adding more coal. That keeps the food coming, and for neighbors and friends, good food means good times. Moreover, it had been a great time, for hours already.
Jack made every effort to impress with the food and Susan spared no expense for the vegetarians, preparing garbanzo beans with seasoned tofu instead of pork. Besides the chuck hamburgers, Kobe steaks, and rib-eye, there were grilled tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and chunks of green and red chili peppers… The smell alone took me back to those stolen moments in Mom’s kitchen on a Texas afternoon.
Party lanterns hung from the driveway, white linen covered the tables with fresh bouquets in between the platters, and every drink had a colorful paper umbrella: mojito, cuba de libre, and daiquiris leveled at the rims of the glasses, sugar crystals and ice cubes glimmering in the sun.
The Herons made sure their appearances were as immaculate as the presentation of their barbecue. Jack wore a gray-and-white striped polo and beige Bermudas by Dockers. His short blond hair glistened and his Rolex shined. Susan was looking exceptionally well with a matching pearl earring, necklace, and bracelet set. Hairdos sprayed in place, they were the Ken and Barbie of the town.
The women on the committee were all wearing those lovely flimsy dresses, margaritas in hand, lounging on patio chairs. The men were standing around, talking, drinking beers, and the kids were taking full advantage of the one-time opportunity to run across Jack and Susan’s manicured lawn.
Everything seemed normal. So, I guess that was the next odd thing I noticed about Timmy. He wasn’t playing with the others; in fact, he’d been sitting alone on a picnic bench all afternoon. He kept his head down on the table and his arms folded. Occasionally, a kid would stop by and every single one would then shoot off, as if he’d chased them away.
Now, Timmy wasn’t a puny kid; he wasn’t fat, but he also wasn’t the type whose body needed to catch up with the size of his head. He was average height for his age, had porcelain skin dotted with freckles, a scab here and there on the knees and elbows, and that day he wore a sky-blue T-shirt and denim shorts. He was hardly the schoolyard bully. After the others would run off, Timmy’s curly puff of red hair would lower again.
Then, there was the thing he was doing at the back of the yard during my performance. I would see a flash and I’d glance in that direction. Sunlight was bouncing off something shiny. It would brighten and dull, brighten and dull, and I had figured Timmy was swinging something up and down. Every time I looked, it blinded me.
I just went on to finish the last refrain of the song and took my bow then I set my tuba beside Lucy DeWitt. Her soft, bony fingers tickled the hairs of my forearm. “Listen, I’ve got to tell you,” she started. “That was pretty awful.”
“Yeah, I know.” I laughed along with her. She didn’t offend me; after all, I’d agreed to be the afternoon entertainment. “Tuba is an acquired taste.”
“I bet!” She grinned with a gleam in her eye. “I guess one of these days you’re going to have to show me all your tubing.”
I chuckled and winked at her. I hear those corny lines a lot, being a plumber. I’m probably the only bachelor in town, so I’m fine with being hit on by the older women; usually, they were the ones who traded in their day at the chapel for a career when they were younger. But, even with the budding wrinkles and age spots, Lucy was still an attractive woman. Moreover, the blonde ponytail made her even cuter.
I sat on the grass beside her lounge chair. “Easy, Lucy, you’ll make the others jealous.” She giggled and her body swayed. Just then, a breeze carried a flowery scent from her direction, and I asked her, “What’s that perfume you’re wearing?”
“It’s new. Jasmine Jazz,” she said and explained she bought it a couple weeks ago from some lady selling cosmetics. She leaned forward, so I could get a better whiff, and my nose slightly touched her neck. Her dress sloped and my eyes followed the tiny brown dots on her skin, from her chest to the crevice between her bronzed breasts.
The very little space between us was warming up; I stood and offered to get her a plate of food, and her blue eyes twinkled like the waters of our Asper Lake at sunrise.
“Well, I’m not one for all that carcass,” she said with an almost apologetic smile.
“No problem,” I told her and promised to return shortly with pasta salad and garlic bread.
Sad to say, I had forgotten all about the boy, sidetracked by a gentle touch. He was just not the type of kid someone would think about twice.
As I walked away, I saw Debbie Taylor, Lucy’s best friend and the Conways’ next-door neighbor coming toward me. She was a petite, curvaceous brunette with long curly hair, richly tanned skin, and hazel eyes. She had a Mediterranean look to her with her shapely legs showing beneath a ruffled-bottom dress and sandals that strapped around her calves.
“Hey, Tuba,” she said in passing then rushed over to Lucy’s side and sat next to her on the same lounge chair. She turned to Lucy’s ear and flashed a devilish grin; her lips began to move quickly. Their periodic glances let me know they were talking about me and in a good way. At thirty-three years old, I did have the smallest beer belly in Forest Hill and a full head of hair, brown, neatly cut at ear length, the longer section on top slicked back.
I was standing in queue by a buffet of pasta salad, bean salad, and any other kind of salad known to man when I caught Lucy checking out my backside. I tightened the muscles to give her a good show of my rear tucked snugly in my blue jeans. While flirting, I noticed I was clearing my throat a lot from the clouds of smoke coming from the meat on the grill.
Big Frank was closer to the fire and urged the others to hurry it up. Frank Cleveland hangs out with us guys some nights. He’s pretty cool—the casual, no-worry type originally from Alabama. He and his wife Sharonda moved to Texas nearly a year ago. He’s six-foot-four and built like a tank, hence the nickname.
Soon, we could move forward and away from the smoke. Just then, Big Frank yelled and jumped to the side as if he were on Tuskegee’s football team again. A rack of steaks had flipped up and crashed down; sizzling grease had covered the grill and gone up in a flash fire.
Jack must’ve seen it from the kitchen window. He raced through the patio doors with a mini fire extinguisher and yelling, “Is anybody hurt?”
I was fine and Big Frank inspected himself then gave a thumbs-up. Funny enough, as Jack was rushing outside, I saw Timmy making a dash through some hedges toward the front of the house.
The perfect barbecue was a pile of slush in a matter of minutes. Those nearby voiced their disappointment and I noticed Deb and Lucy looking around. I didn’t think any further on it and called out to Jack. When he faced me, I pointed past him. “Timmy,” I said. “He took off that way.”
Jack didn’t say a word. I moved closer to him and Susan trotted up alongside me. We stood by as Jack picked up charred remains and removed some of the white foam from it. He faced us, all slack-jawed and dumbfounded, with the lump dangling from his fingertips.
“What’s that?” Susan and I asked almost simultaneously.
Jack’s eyes narrowed and his head shook. “Tuba, you’re saying Timmy did this?”
“Um, I’m not sure,” I answered, “but he flew like a bat out of hell, there, behind the shrubs.”
Susan bent forward for a closer inspection at Jack’s hand. “Well, luckily he got out of the way.” She sprang back as if the thing had bit her and squealed, “Oh, my God!” Her morsel of nose crinkled up. “Is that I what I think it is?”
“I’m afraid so,” Jack answered and spun the lump around for me to see. He was holding a pigeon by its tail wing, the other parts of it soldered to its body.
“Timmy wouldn’t do that,” I said.
“No…” they both replied. At that point, I’m pretty sure we were all contemplating the same thing—which kid in our neighborhood would?
Big Frank had been standing behind us and overheard everything. “It probably had a broken wing,” he suggested then sipped his beer. “Got spooked by the smoke and tried to get away.”
That was it. It was settled. The bird fell to its demise and nothing more. My pinpointing Timmy was a bad call, considering the icy glances Susan threw at me from the corner of her eyes. I started to feel guilty for mentioning the boy, but I thought back, hindsight and all. I tried to figure out why my gut was still telling me I was right, yet something was so wrong.
That’s when it hit me—the reflection, the light. I didn’t say another word and went across the lawn to where I saw Timmy earlier. Along the way, I stopped by Lucy and apologized for not bringing her food.
“That’s all right, sugar,” she said.
I interrupted her chatting with Debbie. “Deb, have you seen Mark or Pam at all today?”
She gazed up at me with a confused look. “Ben, you know, I don’t think I have.”
I thanked her and continued on to the back of the yard. I marched through the rear gate and barely missed stepping on a hammer lying on the sidewalk. When I knelt and picked it up, I saw a red spot on the pavement. I rubbed the hammer’s head and pulled away some kind of wet string with tiny hard pieces. My fingers were stained with blood. I ran off, letting the tool hit the concrete with a loud clang.
I made my way to the others and wondered if it was a good idea having left it there it on the ground. I had dropped it on impulse, but realized I sure as hell hadn’t wanted to carry that nasty thing past everybody. Jack was cleaning the grill when I came up to him, and he saw the expression on my face.
I demanded to know where Timmy was.
Big Frank asked, “What did he do?”
I told them what I’d found behind the gate and how I had suspected Timmy of throwing the pigeon on the grill. While speaking to them, Susan was leaving the house with a bucket of soapy water and rags. When she returned to the driveway, her husband asked if she’d seen Timmy. She replied she hadn’t.
“I know where he is,” Lucy said, coming up from behind me, and we looked at her. “He’s back at the picnic table with the other kids, passing some kind of paper around.”
“Well, is he okay?” Susan asked.
Lucy told us it seemed as if he was having a grand ol’ time. “Whatever he’s showing them has got them yucking and eeuwing all over the place.” She closed with a smile that was indicative of her nature as an elementary school psychologist, one of sheer enjoyment of children.
“Right.” Jack handed the task of cleaning the grill over to his wife. “You stay here and finish this up for me. I’m going to find out what he has to say for himself.”
I couldn’t get sidetracked from the boy again at this point. “Lucy, I’m sorry I didn’t get—”
“That’s okay.” She held up a filled plate. “I got it.”
I asked her if she wanted to meet up in a bit, maybe share a drink. She accepted, and I took off.
Big Frank, Jack, and I headed for the space marked with fallen baseball gloves, jump ropes, and balls…but strangely, no kids. I got a gripping feeling in the pit of my stomach and spots floated before my eyes. I usually get those dots when I’m anxious or upset about something.
The guys stopped and skimmed the area. “There they are,” Jack yelled. Big Frank and I turned toward the picket fence, and I mentioned the bloody hammer. The guys immediately ran for the gate, where the kids were playing, and I went to the picnic table, determined to find out what Timmy had shown them that was so disgusting according to Lucy. The closer I got it became apparent that he had been drawing; a large piece of paper with red splattering and black lines lay on the table. Before I could make heads or tails of what the picture was, I heard whimpering coming from the Herons’ big oak.
“Hey, who’s that? It’s okay. Come on out.” I didn’t know what to expect. There were more sobs, so I crouched and waddled into the bushes.
Timmy sat on the ground. He lifted his eyes at me and stretched out his hand. I felt as if I swallowed my heart at that moment, and any judgments I previously had about the boy went out the window. I gave him a gentle tug and led him into the open. “What’s wrong with you today, Timmy? You were flashing light in my face on purpose, and you threw that bird on the grill, didn’t you?”
Instead of answering, he grabbed the picture from the table and hid it behind his back. I straightened like a drill sergeant and held my palm out in front of him. “Give it to me, or we can give it to your parents.”
The paper flew at me so fast I almost didn’t see the terror wash across his face, almost. I looked at the page then at him then again at the drawing. His crying got worse and, by that time, the guys returned.
“What’s wrong, now?” Jack asked, a bit harsher than he probably meant.
In the very few seconds it took to grab Timmy to stop him from running away, I shoved the drawing into Big Frank’s hand. I admit our gathering around a bawling little boy wasn’t a pleasant scene to witness from afar, especially to a child psychologist.
“What are you doing to him?” Lucy shouted and stepped closest to me.
Timmy instantly latched onto her waist. Before answering her, I was thinking about Timmy’s behavior at that moment. I didn’t remember ever being able to grab on to a woman like that at eight years old, even though I would have wanted to. More importantly, why did he crumble like that when we didn’t do anything to him?
Jack asked Lucy where Timmy’s parents were.
“Well, how should I know where Mark and Pam are?” she answered sharply and rubbed the boy’s head.
“Listen,” I said, “I was helping him out from hiding. He was crying—”
“No wonder,” she replied with a force quite unlike her. “He’s surrounded by three grown men, one who’s grabbing on him.” She walked off, taking Timmy to Susan.
“Well, guys,” Big Frank said and sighed. “What now?”
Jack asked me if I knew for a fact that Timmy drew what was on the paper.
I took the picture. “I’m showing this to his folks. That’s how sure I am.”
“Yeah, you should, and while you’re there, find out why they sent him by himself, anyway. So many people here, I can’t be expected to keep an eye on every kid. I was sure they were going to show up.”
“Will do, man.” I headed for the driveway and walked up to Lucy. With as much tact as I could muster up, my earlier handling of Timmy not being the best example, I told her I needed to speak to the Conways and thought it would be best if Timmy came along.
I stalled for a moment. “All right, maybe you should see for yourself.” I showed her the picture. “Now, you know why?”
With that concerned daze on her face, I was sure then something was seriously wrong with the Conways’ son. She lightened her expression and leaned forward to lock eyes with Timmy. “Honey, we’re going to talk to your mom and dad and find out what’s bothering you. Okay?”
I anticipated his attempt to run off and clamped onto his arm before he got away.
Lucy assured him he wasn’t in any kind of trouble. “Not at all! We just want to know what or who has been making you angry. You’re angry, aren’t you?”
For the first time that day, I heard him speak: “Yes, Miss DeWitt.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“They took them from me.”
Lucy glanced up at me and I shrugged. For all I knew, Mark and Pam could have grounded him and locked up his Xbox, so he was pissed about it. But, then, why would they let him go to the barbecue, if he was on punishment? Moreover, what did Timmy’s glob of crayon scribble mean exactly?
She smiled and said, “Let’s go.”
“Whoa! Lucy, I know some things that have been going on today, things you don’t.”
“No offense, Tuba, but I doubt you can steer your way through a delicate situation like this, seeing how you and the others ganged up on a boy.”
“True, I should have given more thought to getting the guys involved, but consider your position. If you show up, Mark and Pam could get, well, defensive like you’re criticizing their parenting, don’t you think?”
I knew I had her. Her eyes started to drift.
At first she said, “This is more my expertise,” and I agreed. After a few more seconds, she put on a soft grin. “Okay, but at the first sign of trouble, you come and get me. I’ll be right here. Deal?”
At the first sign of trouble, I should’ve taken her offer to heart, but I was scared, confused. How was I supposed to know what laid in store for me—for all of us, really. The Forest Hills Community Annual Barbecue should have been a memorable event for a very different reason from what we were about to discover.
Tuba kept a grip on Timmy as he led him home. They walked down Hedden Terrace, a one-way street with blossoming maple trees alongside the curb and extending to the end of the block. They passed a few homes, identical in layout and all lined up with front gardens.
A man and woman were packing suitcases into a station wagon while a little girl skipped rope next to the car. A young couple with their arms locked around each other giggled and went by in the opposite direction. Other than that, the area was desolate. Residents were either vacationing or attending the barbecue.
Timmy muttered a single refrain in song, breaking the silence between him and Tuba. “Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack, get off your back, go into town, don’t let them down, oh no, oh no.”
Tuba snickered. “What?” Then he shook his head. “What are you going on about, kid?”
Tears began to fall from Timmy’s pudgy flushed cheeks, and his voice trembled as he sang the strange verse again. “Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack—”
“Okay, quiet, that’s enough.” Tuba pulled him farther along.
“Don’t let them down—”
“Oh no, oh no.”
“Hey!” Tuba stopped and blocked Timmy. “What is that and what does it mean? Are you talking about Mister Heron?”
He whispered, “Without you, Jack, the town can’t eat.”
Tuba searched the boy’s eyes swimming in fear and it sent a shiver through his body. He rubbed Timmy’s head then smeared a tear from his cheek and said with a delicate tone, “Come on.”
They arrived at the intersection of Hedden Terrace and kept straight until, moments later, they stood in front of Timmy’s house. Tuba wondered if it would be proper to greet the Conways at the door rather than the informal patio entrance into the kitchen. While thinking about it, however, he was losing his grip on Timmy. “Stand still,” he demanded with a slight growl in his voice. “Why are you scared? Ow!” He rubbed his shins where Timmy kicked him. His nose flared and he glared at the trembling youngster.
Softly, Timmy sang, “Mommy says you won’t come back.” A silent plea, he stared at Tuba for a brief moment before fleeing.
The drawing lay on the doorstep, upward, and opposite the direction Tuba and the others had been viewing it that day. He stared at it, long after the boy was out of sight, finally seeing the whole picture for the first time…for what it really was.
He’d never been one for art interpretation, but this one he’d figured out on his own.
What he construed in the meaning of Timmy’s drawing and the boy’s peculiar behavior made his gut churn until he felt nauseous. Tuba simply knew he was in for something bad.
* * *
If you show up, Mark and Pam could get, well, defensive like you’re criticizing their parenting, don’t you think?Lucille De Witt tried to ignore Tuba's earlier statement but simply couldn't, even after Debbie Taylor told her to ignore the remark.
“Look, Luce, you aren't still harboring on that, are you?” Debbie watched her friend stare into oblivion, a plate of salad and garlic bread balanced on her lap, untouched. She already knew the answer. “How would he even know?”
Lucy faced her, the right corner of her mouth in an upward twist and her eyes squinted. “Deb, in this town, who wouldn't know what happened at the school?”
Debbie's brown eyes softened and a slow, forgiving blink came with a gentle shake of her head. “You and I both know, if people had to choose, they'd say Pam started that fight.”
Lucy huffed with a snorting chuckle. “It doesn't matter who started it, Deb. Susan's station broadcasted my sanction all over Texas.” She imitated a marquee with her hands. “Board of Ed Gives Shrink a Time-Out. Details tonight at six.” Despite the grin creeping upon her friend's lips, she continued, “What happened to the confidentiality? Where was the administrative support when I needed it? It's not funny!”
Debbie straightened and choked her laughter off by clearing her throat. “Listen, I'm not laughing at you, honey. I only think you're overreacting. Besides, Timmy isn't your patient.”
Lucy made a sucking noise with her teeth and looked away.
Debbie made her turn in her direction again with a firm grip on her shoulder. “Number one: you had every right to call Pam in about his misbehaving. I hear the way they go at it in that house, and I can tell you…it was only a matter of time before that boy started showing out in class.”
Lucy sighed audibly for a couple seconds then nodded.
“Number two: if the principal had to pick, of course he was going to side with the board of education. Put yourself in his position—with the vacation coming up, if he hadn't, he probably wouldn't have a job in September.”
Lucy said, “Yeah, well my position is wondering if I still have a job after the break.”
“Of course you do! And that brings me to number three: I got your back, no matter what.”
“Deb, I whacked her in the head with a book!”
She leaned her shoulder against hers and snickered. “I'm surprised no one smacked her before,” she said and they chuckled for a moment.
“I mean, there I was, trying to explain to her that Timmy'll be in a whole heap of trouble next school year, and she starts telling me I don't know what I'm talking about.” Her wide and sparkling eyes emphasized her shock. “Then, when she saw I wasn't going to back down, she comes after me like a wild dog!”
Debbie pressed her palm above her eyebrows, and they shared a bout of wheezing laughter.
Lucy inhaled sharply through her mouth and said, “I kid you not, Deb, I thought that woman was going to choke me to death. She jumps up, leans over my desk and grabs my shirt.”
“Oh my God…” Debbie quieted for a moment then added, “Well, like I said, you got caught up in politics with this board of ed thing. You had to defend yourself, even if it was only Pam.”
“Nearly a month on, and I still haven't figured out what the hell her problem was.”
Debra shrugged and answered, “Maybe that's why she didn't show up today.”
“Great, so now she fears for her life!”
“No, that's not what I meant. She's probably embarrassed. Mark's there, right now, convincing her that no one even remembers.”
“I should've gone with Tuba. Who knows what could trigger Pam to snap again, and I haven't spoken to her since then.”
Lucy spaced out again and Debbie bent forward to see her face. She nudged her gently, and Lucy picked up her plate.
“I'm going to check up on them.” She stood and set her plate on her friend's lap.
“If anything, it'll give me a chance to apologize.”
Debbie watched her flatten the rear of her dress then step away. “What about your food?”
Lucy turned her head while walking off. “Cover it for me. I shouldn't be too long.”
* * *
Tuba rang the doorbell, but didn’t get an answer. He then glanced at the windows, where the curtains inside were closed. He banged on the door a couple of times and decided to check the driveway.
He walked toward the rear of the house and squeezed past the parked Volvo wagon. It didn’t make sense. Someone was home but not responding. Maybe the Conways wanted some time alone, a bit of privacy for an intimate moment, and that’s why the curtains were drawn and no one was answering—but sending their child out on his own didn’t seem like something they’d do.
Tuba moved onward, to the concrete patio and farther alongside the lawn, where he could see that the sliding doors weren’t closed at all. A track of red spots along the walkway caught his eye. He appeared to have been coming across red spots a lot, he thought, and his hands shook. He called for Mark and Pam from outside the opened door—no one replied— then he eased in, yelled again, and inched sideways through the kitchen.
One of the hanging cupboards above the counter was ajar and blocked his view of the living room. He had to keep going until he could peek around the corner. He stepped near the dishwasher, where he heard a ting and glanced down. He figured he must’ve knocked the nail lying on the floor up against the metal leg of the table.
However, there on the tiles were drops of blood leading back the way he came in.
Tuba feared what he’d gotten himself into and didn't want to go any farther; he felt his eyes grow wet, stinging, and a lump form in his throat. He screamed for the Conways several times.
He swallowed hard, breathed in fast and fierce a few times. On the last inhale, he jetted around the kitchen counter and into the living room. His greatest fears were confirmed in that art had indeed imitated life.
Pam was the morbid flower blooming in Timmy’s picture. She was on her knees, her body held upright and balanced by her arms hanging to the floor. Her corpse had fallen down but not over. What remained of her head was splayed open like the petals her son had drawn. Red goo and tiny bits of gray clumps clung to the brick wall and fireplace partially encasing the stairwell behind her. Parts of the splatter had already darkened to brown.
Mark lay on his stomach a short distance from Pam, near the stained sofa and a broken table. His body leaked blood onto the plush ivory carpet underneath him in a wash of crimson like the hostile strokes scribbled across the paper. He faced his wife with eyes wide open, staring in timeless fear. His right hand clutched a large knife so tightly his knuckles almost broke through his skin.
Tuba had one cohesive thought: Get out! He clamped his mouth shut long enough to escape through the kitchen and reach the grass. He tumbled forward onto his hands and knees, spewing what little barbecue he had eaten before his performance. He stood and staggered to the street. Anytime he parted his lips to scream, he gurgled from the stomach acid foaming up in his throat.
Legs moving nowhere: Tuba ran, but it felt like he wasn’t getting any farther away. The Conways’ living room was everywhere he turned.
Where was he going? He didn’t know. At least now, he was able to ask himself questions, able to think. Where was Timmy? Did he do that? No, of course not! Who could Tuba tell? Next of kin…family…whose family? He knew. He had to get to Priscilla Miller, Pam’s sister. There, he could call the police.
It took him fifteen minutes to reach the Millers’, having traveled to the end of Jacob’s Avenue and around the corner onto Lincoln Street.
He peeked into the house through the front living room window and saw Pam’s sister coming his way with her baby in her arms. As he waited for Priscilla to answer the door, he had a moment to gather what he was going to say.
Soon, the door opened. “Hey, Tuba.” Priscilla’s hair was as distressed as the expression on her face. Four-month-old Sophia was crying relentlessly, and her mother was bouncing her gently to quiet her. Priscilla seemed as if she couldn’t take a pin falling at that moment, let alone hearing her sister lay murdered down the street.
“Uh, hey, er…Priscilla. I’m, I’m, sorry to bother you, but can I use your phone?”
Tuba pushed his way in as politely as he could and explained there was an emergency. He homed in on the cordless lying on a side table. “I wouldn’t have bothered you with it, but you were the closest person—everybody else being at the barbecue and all.”
“Oh, don’t rub it in.” She smiled then tried to hush her baby. “She’s in some kind of rotten mood today, boy, I tell ya.” When there was no reaction from him, she flashed him a curious look. “Nothing bad has happened, has it?”
He didn’t reply right away, couldn’t, and instead walked into the kitchen, where he realized how much he hated the fact that Forest Hill homes share identical layout. His gut wrenched when he stared out at the living room. “I have to make an important call.”
Priscilla became more occupied with Sophia and sat on the couch; Tuba turned his back to her and dialed while hunching his shoulders to hide his face. Listening to the other line ring, he convinced himself that Sheriff Volger hadn’t been at the barbecue.
“Sheriff,” he answered too loudly then softened his voice. “It’s Ben Pullman. Yeah, me, Tuba. You got get to the Conways, now.” The anxiety spots taunted him, floating around the countertop as he spoke. He rubbed his eyes a couple of times and wiped his face to rid them. “They’ve been murdered,” he whispered.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Tuba repeated his statement then said, “Listen, I’m at Priscilla’s place, but I can’t tell her. You get over there, now.”
Just as he hung up, Priscilla came in with an empty bottle and a much quieter Sophia on her chest. She gave him a glance, scanning him up and down.
Before she could say anything, Tuba asked, “Did you see Timmy around?”
She thought for a moment. “No, why? Isn’t he at the barbecue with Pam?”
“He was, at the barbecue I mean. He ran off, wasn’t getting along too hot with some of the other kids.”
“Oh, that’s Timmy. That boy is one of the most selfish kids I’ve ever known, and I told Pam she spoiled him rotten. Did she or Mark go after him?”
“Never mind, it’s okay. He pulls a disappearing act whenever he doesn’t get his way. When he’s like that, he usually comes here and works Dave’s nerves for a while, before I finally send him home. Afterward, all’s back to normal.” She smiled and patted Sophia’s back.
“Well, he could be showing up any minute,” Tuba replied and rushed to the door. “I’ll stand out here for a little bit. Check if I see him anywhere.”
He welcomed the fresh air outside the Millers’ house. It was a chance to stop talking and invigorating the putrid taste in his mouth. He closed his eyes and let the sun warm them, hoping the fading sunlight still had enough heat to burn the bloody image of the Conways from his lids.
Timmy, he thought; what in the world was he going to do when, if, he showed up? What if he’s crying and Priscilla asks what’s wrong? How would he stop her nephew from blurting out what happened? Should he stop him? Timmy kept this secret practically all day—why would he say anything now?
Furthermore, how would Tuba tell the others, still at the barbecue, who had no idea what was going on.
No comments available.
Joan Hall Hovey
Therapist Melanie Snow is driving to her office when her Honda is struck by a dark-colored van and sent spinning into a ditch, where it catches fire. The driver never stops. A passerby pulls Melanie from the car just seconds before it explodes.&nb...
Book five in the League of Love Series
When love is not enough to heal the scars, both physical and mental, of the one you thought you would spend your life with…what else is there?
It’s such a cliché—country boy...
Margaret J Tanner
Jo Saunders, a fiery American beauty, arrives in frontier Australia to save her debt- ridden brother’s farm. She clashes with her wealthy neighbor, Luke Campton, but neither of them can deny the attraction sizzling between them.
War-N-Wit, Inc. - The Coven
Daytona Bike Week. Biker’s paradise. The perfect place for Chad and Ariel Garrett to take a few days off and relax with Chad’s buddy Spike and Ariel’s little sister Stacy. But nothing ever goes as planned with that magical duo. T...
Whispers From Hell: An Anthology Of Horror & The Supernatural
No blurb available.
Sugar On Top
Some people have got to get real…
Lydia Tompkins isn’t looking for love. She’s annoyed. A dating site matching gold diggers with men willing to pay for their time? Thinking it will be a dash of reality in their pipe dr...
Lara Calladine is haunted by childhood memories of being held prisoner in an ice cave and kept sane by the whispered stories told to her by her imprisoned aunts. They instilled mage and Carpathian magic deep within her and then helped her escape. She...
Torrid, intense, passionate – a ménage à trois that is truly inescapable.
When Lily Howard agrees to meet the man she is having a powerfully erotic online affair with, she subsequently walks into a crime scene. Sexy police offi...
He was the love of her life. The father of her child. Now he was missing and presumed dead behind enemy lines.
Two For Hire
Ian James was raised in the lap of luxury, but he was also raised knowing that nothing worth having comes without working for it. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the law firm one day, Ian works as an errand boy during the s...