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Tumbleweeds, p.38
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       Tumbleweeds, p.38

           Leila Meacham
 

  “The peace of Christ be with you, Sheriff.”

  Shaken a bit, Deke said, “And also with you, Father.” The look in John’s eyes made him think of Judas at the Last Supper. “Is it I, Lord?”

  “You have spoken.”

  Finally, the mass drew to a close and Father John gave the blessing from the center of the chancel, then followed the altar boys down the aisle to greet his parishioners at the door. While they filed out, Deke waited by his pew until he was alone at the front of the church. No one saw the former sheriff of Kersey County quickly take the two steps to the altar, remove Father John’s drinking glass, then as quickly let himself out the side door.

  It was the next morning when the Women of the Altar Society came to clean the church that they noticed Father John’s monogrammed glass was missing.

  Chapter Fifty-Eight

  Will arrived first. At his insistence, Cathy kept the doors locked, even when she was home. Since he was a child, Will had shown a somewhat irrational fear of something happening to her—natural, Cathy supposed, to a boy growing up with only one parent. His eventual wife might view his vigilance of his mother as an annoyance, but she would deal with that problem when it arose. She had poured a glass of wine and was trying to relax when he sat on the doorbell, sending the Westminster chimes into a furious jangling.

  “Coming! Coming!” she called, going to the door on legs still shaky from the afternoon’s trauma. Her heartbeat had gradually slowed, but it started to race again when she saw her son’s face. His cheeks were flushed, and he looked as if he’d been crying. “Goodness, darling, what’s the matter?”

  “Mama—”

  He hadn’t called her Mama since kindergarten.

  “What is it, Son? Tell me.”

  He scrutinized her with a look of anguish. “Where were you this afternoon? Bebe said you’d left the café around one o’clock.”

  “Why, here at the house, preparing dinner.” She gestured toward the dining room where the table was set with her best china and a centerpiece of flowers from her garden. The aroma of bubbling lasagna filled the house. “We’re having your favorites,” she said. “Lasagna and cheesecake.”

  “Did you go anywhere else?”

  Cathy felt herself go cold. It was as if he knew! “Why do you ask?”

  “I called you here, and you didn’t answer.”

  “Why, I—I suppose I was outside cutting flowers.”

  He squinted at her. “You didn’t hear the phone ring?”

  “How could I? I was in the far backyard.”

  “I left a message on the answering machine.”

  His tone implied that if she’d been home, she would have noticed. What was going on here?

  “I wasn’t expecting a call so I paid no attention.”

  “You always check your messages when you come in.”

  Her patience was at an end. It was true she listened to her messages first thing when she got home, but today they were the last habit on her mind. “Well, today I didn’t,” she said, her tone sharp. “Why all these questions, Will? What’s got you so upset?”

  Will pushed a hand through his hair—not for the first time, from the disheveled look of it. “I was afraid… you might have gone to Harbison House to see… my father,” he said. “I thought—Oh, Mama, you didn’t drive out there, did you?

  He’d left the front door wide open. Closing it gave Cathy a second’s opportunity to compose an answer. She had never outright lied to her son. Small fibs, yes, to avoid hurtful truths when he was a child, but never a deliberate lie. “Well, Son, you’ve caught me out,” she said, turning to him. “Yes, I did, but before I got to Harbison House I lost my nerve and turned around and came back. I was reluctant to tell you because I… didn’t want you thinking your mother was a fool.”

  She could see relief flood his face, and he reached out and hugged her roughly to him. “I would never think you were a fool,” he said. “I was just afraid that…”

  “I know what you were afraid of,” Cathy said, smothered against the blue denim. “I was, too. That’s why I turned around and came home. I couldn’t trust my feelings. I didn’t know but that Trey could still throw his charm around like lightning bolts.” She extricated herself. “Now let’s have some wine.”

  “Don’t mind me,” he said. “I’m just having a problem with knowing my father has… left us without saying good-bye. It’s got me crazier than I’d like to admit.”

  She brushed his curly forelock in place. “Well, I think Father John and I can make you feel better about that.”

  Cathy was relieved that Will preferred not to watch television while they waited for John. The local network had no qualms about interrupting a program to bring breaking news to its viewers. But they were both nervous as neurotic cats, neither able to sit still. Cathy unnecessarily busied herself in the kitchen and Will roamed about with his hands in his pockets, often peering out the big front window into the night. Cathy wondered with a skipped heartbeat if he was still looking for Trey to drive up. Conversation lulled between them, and Cathy constantly checked her watch. What was keeping Father John? To calm her anxiety, she concentrated on the wonderful moment Will would learn that John was his father.

  Finally, she heard the Silverado and hurried to the front door. What she wouldn’t give to crawl between the sheets with John tonight, if only to be held and comforted against the horrors tomorrow was sure to bring. As it was, she could not resist throwing herself into his arms as she’d never done. Will, too, seemed unusually glad to see him, hugging him rather than shaking his hand, and they clung to one another in the foyer like a family reunited after a disaster.

  “Well, that was quite a welcome,” John said as they broke apart to adjourn to the living room and the wine carafe.

  Cathy slipped her arm through her son’s. She could wait no longer. They all needed relief from the tensions twisting their nerves into corkscrews—John from what he feared he’d face later tonight; she the dread of a police investigation tomorrow; and Will, his angry disappointment in being deserted once again by the man he thought was his father.

  “Will is distraught tonight over Trey leaving without trying to contact him, Father John,” she said. “Shall we put his mind to rest about that before we have dinner?”

  “I think that would be a good idea,” John said, grinning at Will.

  Will glanced from John to his mother. “What are you guys talking about?”

  “Maybe you’d better sit down, Son, and we’ll tell you,” John said.

  “I’VE GOT BAD NEWS FOR YOU, Deke,” Charles informed the former sheriff of Kersey County when he opened the door to let him into the Crime Laboratory Service of Amarillo.

  “What’s that?”

  “Randy Wallace was on his way here with the evidence bag when he got called to a crime scene in his county. He’d have called you, but he didn’t have your cell number.”

  Deke let out a tired sigh. “Damn. Now I’ll have to wait until Monday morning for you to compare the prints on the glass in this sack to those in the evidence bag.”

  “I’m afraid so, and maybe not even then. Randy’s going to be tied up investigating his homicide.”

  “Homicide?”

  “Yep. Somebody got himself murdered. He didn’t say who.”

  “Probably some victim of a barroom fight.”

  It was a few minutes till nine. Walking to his car from the crime lab, Deke felt he’d lived a lifetime since meeting with Trey Don Hall at eleven that morning. He was tired to the marrow of his bones, and his heart had never felt heavier. It didn’t matter that he’d been unable to get the prints on the glass compared to the ones on the cord. He knew they would match, and the weekend would give him time to come to terms with what he had to do. His only regret was that TD Hall would be back in San Diego when Randy confronted John with the evidence—maybe arrested him—and Deke hadn’t wanted him to face the music alone.

  He had not let Paula know he was back in Amarillo
because he’d expected to return to Delton to be with Randy when he approached John and Trey tonight. He expected a cool reception and no supper when he got home, but he longed for the solace of Paula’s presence and a good night’s sleep beside her in his own bed.

  He rang the bell rather than startle her when he walked in unexpected, and she surprised him with a big hug and expressions of concern over his obvious fatigue. “Your daughter called to warn me that you’ve gone temporarily bonkers,” she said.

  “And what did you reply?” he asked, looking tenderly into her face, reminded once again why he loved her.

  She laughed. “I said I considered myself warned.”

  She made him toast and an omelet while he drank a beer. She did not ask what he’d been up to since depositing her at the house in the early afternoon. Deke knew she recognized his behavior from the days of his police work and that he’d tell her in good time what it was all about and if he did not that was fine, too. She’d never been curious about or interested in the dark side of his work, not from indifference but from fear she would never let him out of the house if she were aware of the evil and danger he faced. It was her job to provide a haven when he returned home, which she did without being sure of exactly what she was sheltering him from.

  So, after his supper, she sent him on ahead to take a hot shower while she tidied the kitchen and listened to the ten o’clock news. Deke had just lathered himself with soap when, for the first time since leaving their youth, his wife threw open the shower door and stared at her husband naked and streaming under the showerhead.

  “Well, for goodness’ sakes, Paula!” Deke exclaimed in astonishment.

  “Not what you think,” she said. “It’s Trey Don Hall. He’s been found murdered.”

  Chapter Fifty-Nine

  Cathy poured herself a cup of coffee and waited for calls from Will and Father John. It was ten o’clock, and she expected the phone to ring any minute. She’d kept the television turned off until John left a few minutes ago, right before Betty called from Harbison House looking for him. Will had gone shortly before that to stop by his girlfriend’s.

  “Trey Hall has been murdered,” Betty said. “Turn on your TV. It’s all over the news.”

  She’d clicked on the remote and all major channels were covering the story. Tapes were being shown of the crime scene shot earlier when the EMS and a sheriff’s deputy had responded to a call from Lou Harbison, who’d discovered the body when he was returning to Harbison House after mass with a busload of children. Viewers were informed that the NFL quarterback’s body had been taken to the medical examiner’s office in Lubbock, Texas. Later footage showed a team of forensics personnel out of Amarillo with DPS (Department of Public Safety) written on their vests photographing tire tracks on the shoulders of the road where Trey’s BMW was parked. She had been judicious in wiping out those of the Lexus. Will would hear the news at Misty’s, John—unless he heard it on his truck radio—not until he came upon the police tape and the remaining investigative crew on the road to Harbison House. Cathy could imagine their initial shock. At least Will would suffer no grief. John would mourn, but after his son’s jubilant and moving reaction to their announcement tonight he must surely be relieved that his secret was forever safe. He would rather endure his conscience—and those shadows he had never outrun—than sully the image of the father Will had finally found.

  They had not been able to get fully into the evening. Will’s joy at their news on what should have been the happiest night of his life had been clouded. Some inner turmoil still dragged at him through dinner and the champagne, tingeing the loving banter between father and son.

  “What do you want me to call you?”

  “Anything as long as it’s not Daddy-o.”

  “Pa?”

  “No.”

  “How about Papa?”

  “How about not?”

  “Daddy?”

  “No.”

  “Dad?”

  “That sounds about right.”

  An awkward moment had come when they discussed when, how, and where to make Will’s paternity public—or if they should. Cathy knew that for the time being John was troubled by the possibility of his exposure and how the scandal would affect Will. Will had balked, too. “I don’t want people thinking my mother hopped from one best friend’s bed to another,” he said, reddening. “Let’s wait.”

  They’d tabled their decision for a later time. “I’m happy enough,” Will said, looking with unabashed love at John, “to know that John Caldwell is my father.”

  They were cutting into their cheesecake when Will asked, “What time did you learn that Trey Hall was dying, Mom?”

  Surprised, she’d said, “Your father told me early this afternoon. Why?”

  “Before you drove out to see Trey?”

  John pinned her with a startled look. “You saw Trey this afternoon?”

  “No. I drove out to have a talk with him, but changed my mind and came home.”

  “Did anybody see you on the road?” Will asked.

  All forks were suspended. Will and John were staring at her. Her flesh prickled between her shoulder blades. Once again, she had the distinct feeling her son knew something of the murder. But how could he? And now John had learned she’d been on the road to Harbison House this afternoon.

  “What a curious question,” she said. “I don’t recall seeing anyone. Why do you ask?”

  Will took a bite of cheesecake. “I… wouldn’t want anyone to have seen you who knew Trey was staying at Harbison House. They might get the idea he was the reason you were going there.”

  It was a lame explanation, but she believed him. Her son was very protective of her reputation.

  “Actually, as far as I know, Son, no one in town but your mother and Deke Tyson knew Trey was staying with me,” John said.

  John’s remark had not seemed to appease Will, and when they learned of Trey’s murder both would be deeply disturbed she’d been in the vicinity. They would have to believe she’d be suspected of the murder.

  As the phone shrilled beside her she jumped and lifted the receiver immediately. “John?”

  “You’ve heard.”

  “I’m listening to a news report now.”

  “Randy is downstairs. He hung around to question me. I’m grabbing a few minutes in my study to call you. I found a note from Trey that I’ll turn over to him. He had changed his mind, Cathy. Trey wasn’t going to go through with it.”

  Her cheeks stung. “Really?”

  “Really. He endorsed Deke’s check for Mabel’s home over to the orphanage and simply left the house. Betty says she didn’t know he had gone. I’m guessing he was on his way to the airport when… somebody shot him.”

  So John would have been safe in any event. “Did he explain why he changed his mind?”

  “No.”

  But they both knew. She massaged her tightened throat. “Does Randy have any idea who killed him?” she asked.

  “Trey was shot outside his BMW. Randy thinks he got out to meet somebody in another vehicle—a friend or someone Trey knew or recognized he would have stopped his car for.”

  Somebody like her. “I’m so sorry it had to happen this way, John, but from the news report, death was instant, and now he won’t suffer as he was likely to if he’d lived. Perhaps it’s a blessing.”

  “Not to the person who killed him. Cathy… I have an idea Randy will want to question you.”

  “Because I’m their chief suspect? What’s my motive? From the news reports, Trey was killed between six and seven. You’d already told me he was dying hours before. What would have been the point of killing him?”

  She paused, expecting to be reminded that she had another motive unknown to the police.

  “When did Will get to your house, Cathy?”

  She stiffened in her chair. “Why do you ask?”

  “I overheard Randy tell his deputy that the crime lab people had successfully lifted a clear set of Jeep t
racks they found across the road from Trey’s car.”

  Going cold, Cathy tried to recall who drove Jeeps in town. None with a motive to kill Trey Hall. The owners didn’t even know him. Her terror building, she knew in her bones those tracks belonged to Will. She recalled Will’s distraught face, his agitation all evening, the odd looks he’d thrown her, the questions he’d asked. “Where were you this afternoon? What time did you learn that Trey Hall was dying, Mom?”

  Good lord! She’d misinterpreted Will’s concern. It wasn’t that he feared for her reputation if she was seen on the road to Harbison House this afternoon but that she had no alibi for the time of Trey’s murder. But how could he have known she’d need one…

  “Cathy? Answer me. I have only a minute before I have to talk to Randy.”

  “Oh no…,” she whispered, rigid as the stone garden sculpture bathed in moonlight outside her window.

  “Cathy—”

  She replaced the receiver.

  Her legs were too unsteady to stand. Will had parked over the wiped-out treads of her Lexus, the reason for the Jeep’s clear impressions. He must have left his office early to go to Harbison House to confront Trey. He came along after her and found the body. Cathy pressed her fingers to her mouth. Did her son suspect her of murdering Trey Don Hall!

  But the police would think he could have done it. If he signed out early, the log sheet and the Jeep tracks would be enough for Randy to suspect him, and she knew her son was innocent.

  If they charged him, she would confess to the crime. She had blood on her sweater sleeve as proof she did it, and her motive to kill Trey was stronger than Will’s. Her son was not aware that Trey wasn’t his father until after he’d been killed, but she had known, and she’d murdered him out of an uncontrollable rage. Father John could confirm her fury. The authorities would have no choice but to believe her, but first, she must get rid of the gun. Its disappearance would be further proof of her guilt. She’d get rid of it so that if she was suspected of killing Trey, the murder weapon wouldn’t be found.

 
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