Words forum: Story #5 by Melissa and Sharon: Backstage
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A short story by Melissa Brown and Sharon Brown
ⓒ Winter 2011-12
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Angie raced up the back steps to her classroom. She was late for class but she knew the kids would have started working anyway. Sometimes when they had a collaborative project like sets for plays, they were so creative they went ahead without her. She hoped today was no exception.
She loved teaching, she loved the kids, and even though she seemed to never have a free minute, she loved working with the theater group. The high school where she taught was unique in that it had a separate building for Fine and Creative Arts. Her art classroom was connected to the stage of the 1000 seat auditorium, so it was often that her students were responsible for building the stage sets. Close proximity allowed her to rush quickly from the stage back to her classroom.
“Good thing I’m in decent shape,” she thought, grabbing the scarf that threatened to fly off her jacket. She wore comfortable clothes, but with her small stature she had to be careful how she dressed, she didn’t want to be mistaken for a student. Sometimes scarves were the only thing that set her apart. High school girls rarely wore silk scarves and certainly they never wore blazers.
Angie Lark was only 25, this was her third year of teaching. She wasn’t much older than her high school students, but by now she had their respect and cooperation. That wasn’t true of some of the teachers she worked with. They treated art as if it were a worthless subject until it came time when they needed posters or help with a display. Then they felt free to walk right into her classroom and demand her help or her supplies. She’d learned to deal with them too, because supplies were hard to come by for any department. With her quiet smile and gentle words, she usually won the teachers over just as she had won her students.
Actually that’s why she was running up the steps to class. She’d had a strange encounter with the English teacher, Jayne Kinser. Jayne wasn’t much older than Angie, but it seemed that more experience played a part in Jayne’s superior attitude. Angie was still trying to figure that out. Usually Angie was the only one working onstage during her planning period. She had not expected to see Jayne just now.
The entire Fine Arts department was collaborating to produce the high school version of the stage play ‘Grease’. The cast was made up of students, teachers and those from the community who had auditioned and received roles in the production. Since it was a musical, it seemed the entire community was involved in the chorus, the band or the onstage actors.
Angie and her students were in charge of the stage set, the lighting and the costumes. It was an awesome task, but she knew they could handle it by working together. She’d been down in the costume room frantically sewing another poodle on a black felt skirt when she heard a sound in the dressing room next door. No one was supposed to be on stage or in the theatre at that hour, so she quietly went to the back door of the dressing room, expecting to find students where they shouldn't be. She listened.
“Ron, honey, I need to get back to class, please . . .” a woman’s voice pleaded.
“I’m free tonight. Meet me at the pharmacy at 8 and we’ll go from there.”
“Ron, I can’t get away tonight, you know Jake has soccer practice and I promised I’d stay and watch. He’s only 8, I can’t disappoint him. Steve has to work late . . . ”
“Your choice, I’ll be there if you change your mind.” The door at the other end of the dressing room slammed, and peeking around the corner, Angie saw the back of Ron Banks, the security guard at the high school. His uniform was unmistakable. So was the masculine build. He was a hunk of a man, but oh boy, Angie knew he was married. Happily, she’d thought. Weird. He was also a former State Policeman. Retiring early, he’d accepted the role of security guard at the high school.
Just as she was turning to go to her classroom, the door where she had been listening opened, and Jayne Kinser walked out, smoothing her hair, straightening her clothes and looking at Angie with her mouth open in surprise.
“What are you doing here? What?”
“I was just finishing the poodle on the last skirt, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, I thought I left my key here after rehearsal, I guess I must have left it in my classroom. That’s all. Just looking for my key.” She started walking away.
“I’ll look for your key, Jayne.”
“You do that, Miss Lark, you do that,” she said rather harshly, and walked quickly down the hall in her very high heels, still straightening her short skirt.
Angie had shook her head and rushed to the back steps. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen Ron Banks hanging around backstage. Usually he was with some of the senior girls, casually saying he was making sure they got to their cars safely after a late rehearsal. It was the first time she’d seen him with Jayne.
So now, as she approached her classroom, she noticed two of the girls whispering at the top of the steps.
“Shhhhhhhhhhh, Maddie, we don’t know it’s her. Maybe it isn’t, maybe it isn’t anybody we know. Shhhhhhhhhhh. . ."
“Madison, are you OK? Are you sick? What’s wrong,” Angie asked.
Madison moaned and her shoulders shook, her hands covered her face, tears streaming through her fingers.
“Oh Miss Lark”, whispered Alli who was holding Madison. “Haven’t you heard? They found another body down by the lake this morning. We are so afraid it’s Holly. Nobody’s seen her for 3 days. Oh God, what if it’s Holly? Miss Lark, we’re so scared, we are so s-s-scared,” she wailed and Maddie cried harder.
Angie’s heart dropped, her hand covered her mouth. She placed her arms around both girls. If it was Holly, it would be the third death of a high school girl in the past three months. It was a large high school, nearly 1500 students, but no school was large enough to lose a student and not feel the effect. But three students? Three of Angie’s brightest students? It was unthinkable!
Angie held tight to the girls even as she glanced into her classroom at the rest of her unusually quiet students. They were all looking white faced right back at her.
|John Cooper shook his head as he walked away from scene. He wanted to vomit, why would anyone do such a thing to such a beautiful young girl? He had to face facts, he most likely had a serial killer on his hands. He couldn't believe it. His town. The town he had been born in, and could not return to fast enough after going to West Point and then serving his time in the military. The town and county he thought about and missed the entire time he was in Iraq. All he ever wanted to be was the guardian, the protector of his town—his county, and in less than two years on the job, he had failed at his duty, miserably.
As he approached his patrol car with the word "Sheriff" emblazoned on the side, something he was normally so proud to be driving, Mike Cullom approached him, recorder in hand. "Coop, give me something for the paper, we go to press in less than an hour for tomorrow's edition."
"Not now Mike."
"C'mon Coop, for old times sake buddy, give me something. We got a serial killer living amongst us? Can you confirm the body is that of Holly Harper, who according to my sources was reported missing Saturday when she didn't return home from a party? Is there any evidence to connect her to the other two girls who have been murdered in the past three months? Seems funny to me that all three bodies were found here at the lake, almost in the same location."
John shook his head. Same ole Mike, he hadn't changed in the 30 years he'd known him, since they'd been in the toddler class together in Sunday School. Mike always knew what was going on, it seemed long before anyone else did. All through elementary and then high school, Mike always had his nose in the middle of everything. He was like a bloodhound when it came to sniffing out dirt. He had put that particular skill to good use when he decided to go into journalism. Now it seemed more to him that Mike was always on the lookout for that one story that would propel him into the national spotlight, but John assumed that Mike was no different than every other reporter in the nation in that aspect.
"Mike, give me a break, the coroner isn't even here yet. Let me do my job. I promise, as soon as I have notified the family, you will be the first person I call, and the Harper girl was reported missing Sunday, not Saturday."
Mike sighed, "Give me something to put in the paper Coop, please? Is it the Harper girl?"
Coop relented, but only a little. "The body is that of a white female, under 30."
Mike started to protest, but Coop held up a hand to stop him, "That's really all I can give you right now Mike, I swear, as soon as I have more information, I will let you know. Now, let me get back to town so I can do my job."
He started to turn away and turned back to Mike. "Mike, that part about the location of the body?"
Mike looked like a scolded child, "Yeah?"
"Keep that fact out of the media please. OFF the record, I don't know if this is the same person or not, but, if it is not, I don't want the other killer or killers to know they all have the same dumping ground, okay?"
Mike nodded, "Okay Coop, no problem."
The drive back to town was entirely too quick. The coroner was on his way, was probably there already, and John had left his best detectives and his Chief Deputy at the scene to process it. He had absolute faith in their ability. What remained for John to do was notify Holly Harper's parents that Holly had been found, but, unfortunately, not alive. Even though John had known Holly since she was born and could have identified her himself, her purse was found near her body with identification in it, and she was wearing the class ring that her mother had described in minute detail to him Sunday morning; there was absolutely no doubt it was Holly.
"Dammit!" John swore as he hit the steering wheel with his open palm. Who could do something like this and why? He decided after talking with Holly's parents he would head over to the high school to see what he could find out; who was she friends with, had anyone noticed any changes in her behavior recently? Did she have a boyfriend, and where was he now where was he Saturday? Was there any type of connection with the other two girls? All these questions ran through his mind as he walked into his office, he planned to pull himself together a bit, perhaps jot down a few questions to ask, then drive over to the Harper house.
Mandy, his receptionist, he mentally corrected himself, his office manager and part time dispatcher sat at her desk looking anything but her usual sunny self. John nodded to her as he walked past her pristine work area.
Mandy stood, "Coop, hang on, Holly's parents are in the back conference room."
He took off his 8-point hat and ran a hand through his dark hair that he still kept in a military regulation cut, realizing his plans had just been changed drastically. "Who called them in?"
Mandy shook her head as she pulled him into the dispatcher's room adjacent to her reception area. "It might not be such a small town anymore, but it still has that small town mentality, Coop. They probably heard there was a body found before we did this morning."
Cooper shook his head, "I've at least got to have a cup of coffee before I face them."
Estle Edwards, long time dispatcher, stood and handed him a steaming mug. "Here you go Coop, I don't envy you this morning, not one little bit. Why, I've been the dispatcher here for more than forty years, and I don't ever remember three murders in the same year, much less three months."
Cooper let the warmth of the liquid soothe him as it traveled toward his otherwise empty stomach and he smiled as he listened to Estle remind him, yet again, that he had been the dispatcher for the Sheriff's office at least ten years longer than John Cooper had been alive—something Estle made sure he did at least once a day without fail.
"1961." He said as he took another gulp of the delicious brew. He wasn't sure what Estle put in his coffee, but it rivaled any coffee shop in town.
Estle and Mandy both looked at him, questions on their faces. Estle looked completely confused, "Come again?"
Cooper took another healthy gulp, and handed the mug back to Estle. "Thanks Estle, that is exactly what I needed. In 1961 we had two young men murdered on the same night in July, and another murdered in September. That is the last time this county had more than one murder in a year's time."
Estle, for once, was silent. Mandy held her hand out, "Want me to put your hat in your office?"
Cooper smiled at her, "Thanks Mandy. I'll drop it off as I go past. It will get me a little more time, I am not looking forward to this."
John Cooper had been trained as a military officer, trained to lead men into battle, to make quick decisions that potentially affected the lives of hundreds of men. All his education and military training had done nothing to prepare him to face a seventeen year old girl's parents and tell them she had been brutally murdered in a place where her biggest fear should have been watching for a deer to jump out in front of her Civic as she drove home that night. His own training told him, and he was sure the coroner would confirm, that she had been dead for at least thirty-six hours. What had happened to her in the few hours time from when she left her girlfriend's house to her body being dumped at the lake was what he needed to figure out.
He was very conscious of himself as he walked down the hallway toward the conference room. He knew that at 6'4 he intimidated some people. Combine his height with the 240 pounds he carried on his muscular frame, he intimidated even more people. Put all that in a sheriff's uniform with a gun holstered on his side, and most people, criminal or not, shrank from him when he approached. He didn't want the Harper's to feel more uncomfortable than he knew they already were, so he unlatched his gun belt, and put it on his desk with his hat as he passed by his office. He couldn't change anything else right now to make them feel more at ease with him, but he could do that much. He took a deep breath before turning down the short aisle that led to the conference room and Mr. and Mrs. Harper.
They made his job in this situation as easy as it probably could have been. Mr. Harper stood and greeted him as he entered with an outstretched hand.
"John, I'm sorry we just barged down here, but, when we heard there had been another body found, we just couldn't sit at home."
Cooper shook the man's hand firmly, "Mr. Harper, that is no problem at all."
Mrs. Harper stood and came around the table to where the two men stood, "It was Holly you found, wasn't it?"
John lowered his head, "Mr. Harper, Mrs. Harper, I'm very sorry, but yes it was Holly."
Mrs. Harper didn't collapse as Cooper had expected, instead she straightened and grabbed her husband's arm. "When can we see her?"
"As soon as the coroner gets her back to his office and cleaned up."
Mrs. Harper shook her head, "No, I want to see her before he does anything to her."
John didn't think that was a good idea, "Mrs. Harper, we need to allow the coroner to do his job. If there is any evidence on Holly's body, you could taint it, please, I will personally come and drive you and Mr. Harper to his office as soon as he gives me the go ahead."
Mr. Harper spoke up then, "Of course John, we weren't thinking about potential evidence. Joan dear, we have to let them do their jobs. John, just please let us know as soon as you know, and if you need anything else from us, we will be at home."
John nodded, "Can I have one of my deputies drive you folks home? I'll have someone drive your car, and send another car to pick him up."
Mr. Harper nodded, "That would be a good idea I think. Thank you."
"Just have a seat, and I'll send someone right back. I am going to head over to the high school now and talk to some of Holly's friends, do you think you could make a quick list for me, who her closest friends were, was she dating anyone?"
Mrs. Harper had already sat down and pulled the yellow legal pad that was always on the table closer to her. "No boyfriend, not serious anyway. Holly is popular, she has a lot of friends, but I'll list the ones she calls her 'BFF's' I can also give you the password to her Facebook account if you want that."
John nodded, "That would be great Mrs. Harper, and hopefully helpful."
Mr. Harper smiled at his wife. "Joan wouldn't let her have a Facebook page without knowing the password, not that she ever checked it, but Holly didn't know that."
John nodded as he left the room. If Holly's mom had her password, he doubted he would find anything useful on her Facebook, but you never knew, sometimes clues came from unexpected places. After the deputies left with Mr. and Mrs. Harper, he took the list she had compiled for him, and headed back to his car and to the high school.
The last class ended. The last bell rang. The last car exited the school parking lot. Angie locked her classroom and headed down the back stairs and back to the dressing room where she needed to spend a little time finishing the poodle on the skirt. She knew she was the last person in the building, there was no rehearsal tonight. She also knew that the security guard, Mr. Banks, would be by to see that the building was secure, but that would be later. She had an hour to work before he made his rounds.
Her heart was heavy, her mind was muddled, and the tears threatened even now. How she’d managed to get through her last class of the day, she didn’t know, but just like always, she’d managed. It was a class of seniors, and contrary to normal, they were all unusually quiet. There had been no mention of the body. The office had not notified her of anything unusual, so perhaps the body had not been that of Holly.
So her students had worked, their art projects were good therapy, but instead of the usual constant chatter while they worked, the last class had been nearly silent. She’d heard an occasional whisper. And Liz had quietly asked her once if she’d heard anything. And when her office phone rang and she’d answered, her heart flipped fearing what she’d hear. But it was only Leah’s mother calling about the costume she’d been working on. No mention of anything else.
Angie thought if she sewed for a little while, she might be better able to pull her scattered mind and frightened heart back together again.
Three of her girls. Her best seniors, beautiful girls who looked forward to a future, looked forward to college. Just last week Holly had heard from the college she so desperately wanted to attend. She’d been accepted. And all three of the girls were on the stage crew. All three of them were Angie’s prized art students. Was there really a serial killer in this small community? Angie shuddered at the thought. But somebody had killed the girls. Her girls. She felt like she needed to do something, but what?
Her students had barely survived the emotional turmoil from the first two deaths, barely managed when they lost Sammi and Jody. Both murdered. Both found near the lake. The funerals had been anguishing. Kids didn’t know how to deal with loss. Adults barely made it through an expected death, and some just could not accept death in any form, but murder? How did a small community, a group of students, even a group of hardened experienced adults deal with the murder of three young girls? Three, she wasn’t even sure yet that Holly was anything more than missing. But her heart knew. Her heart really knew.
Angie tried to rein in her thoughts, tried to control where they were going. She needed strength to make it through the next few days. She needed to be strong for her students. She clicked on the sewing machine, the light shining on the poodle she’d been stitching earlier.
The noise from the sewing machine was soothing, so soothing she jumped when she heard the click of the door opening. Without thinking she grabbed the long dressmaking shears, pushed her chair away from the sewing machine and stood as if in self defense.
The huge man who entered from the shadowed door stopped suddenly when he saw her, his shadow looming on the wall behind him.
“Angie, it’s me, Coop. I’m sorry if I scared you. You OK?”
Angie dropped the shears.
“Oh Coop! Oh goodness, Coop! You scared me to death! What are you doing here? What’s happened, is it about the body? You did find a body, didn’t you? Was it Holly, Coop? Oh God, tell me it wasn’t another one of my students. Please, Coop, tell me it wasn’t!”
The words rushed out of her mouth and Coop reached out an arm to steady her.
Instead of just steadying her, Coop put his arm across Angie’s shoulder, pulled her close to him, the little sister of his best friend in high school, the one whose picture he’d taken with him when he went to West Point. The one who hardly knew he existed.
His other arm went around her back.
“So tiny,” he thought, “she’s always been so tiny”
“Shhhhhhhhh, it’s OK, Angie. You’re OK. Go ahead and cry, it’s OK.”
Soft words coming from such a big guy. Angie raised her head and looked up at the face of this old friend. She’d known him forever, a gentle giant. She felt safe with him.
But Angie guarded her heart. And she stepped back.
“I’m fine, Coop. I just wasn’t expecting anyone. What are you doing here?”
“It’s part of the investigation, Angie. We did find Holly this morning. Same MO as the other two. I’m hoping I can get the connection. Three teenaged girls, three seniors, same town, same school . . .”
“. . . same friends, same class, same interest in art and drama and on the same stage crew right here. Oh God, Coop, they were my best students, they were good friends, and they hung out right here in this building. What’s going on? Our world has gone mad!”
“That’s what I’m hoping to find out, what’s going on in our world,” said Coop, pulling his notebook out and holding out the chair for Holly to sit.
“Is this OK? I’m going to need to ask some questions, maybe fill in some blanks. Is this a good place or would you feel better going back to your office, Angie? I know this is tough for you. I had no idea you had these girls in your class. I’ve been in the office, talking with the administrators. We looked at the girls’ schedules and your principal told me that the three of them were in your class, that they worked with you on the stage set. He told me I’d find you here. I thought you were the best place to start.”
“It’s fine here, Coop. I’m finished with this skirt anyway, and I already locked my office. I was going to leave by the side door soon, so this is fine. What can I do to help?” She wiped the tears that still threatened to fall.
“First of all I need to know a little about the girls, what they did for fun, were they into drugs, who they hung out with, how were their grades, things like that. I’m trying to get a feel for who they were. I’m at a loss, Angie, I need your help, any help you can give me.”
“NO DRUGS, COOP!! No drugs with those girls, they were the cream of the crop!” Angie was almost yelling. She caught herself and wiped her eyes again. “Sorry Coop, it’s just that I loved them.”
So they sat beside the sewing machine and Angie described each of the girls to Coop. He took notes as she talked.
“I’ll start with Sammi. Sweet Sammi. She was just a little bit of a thing but oh boy she had a mouth on her. Just let anybody say a wrong word against one of her friends and she was like a Mama Bear fighting for her cub. She was tiny, but she fought with words. And Coop, she always won. She never let anybody say a bad word against anybody else. She was such a strong person. And talented, oh she painted, beautiful scenes, gorgeous backgrounds, She saw color where there was none. Would you like to see some of her paintings? I have them up in the classroom, her parents have never asked for them.”
“Not right now, Angie, just keep talking, telling me about them. We’ll see their paintings later. Did you know Sammi’s parents?”
“No, I didn’t, Coop, she seemed to be so self sufficient and I’ve never seen a parent here, not even when she participated in the art show last year. I did see her mother at the funeral, and spoke to her, but I don’t know about her dad.”
“We talked with her parents. They didn’t know about any of her friends. We didn’t get much from them, only saw their grief. Her dad works out of town, drives a truck, I think. But what about Jody, can you tell me about Jody?”
“Same thing, Coop, she was a treasure.” Tears streamed from the corners of Angie’s eyes as she talked. “Jody was the peacemaker. She soothed everybody. I don’t think she had an enemy. One day she told me that she wanted to study art, but that she wanted to be an art therapist and work with troubled young people. She had the talent and she had the intelligence to be anything she wanted to be. She was so beautiful.”
Coop interrupted, “What about boyfriends? Did either of the girls date steadily? What about Holly, did she have a boyfriend?”
“Not that I know of, Coop. They kind of hung out together here at school, but I don’t recall that I ever saw either of them . . .”
They both stiffened at the slight noise they heard coming from the closed door. Angie looked at Coop with a question on her face. Coop shook his head and carefully eased his body out of the chair. With a hand on his gun belt, he quietly walked to the door and suddenly jerked it open.
The man who nearly fell into the room quickly regained his balance and with his hand on his own gun, he gave Coop a look that could have killed.
“Whoa there, Banks, you should have let us know you were there. You have a problem here?”
Ron Banks, shoulders straight, hand held away from his gun, looked Coop straight in the eye and said, “Sheriff, this is my territory. Guess I have a right to see that the building is secure. Is there any way I can help you? I came here to make sure Miss Lark was safe and to see her to her car. I guess you are here about the deaths. Too bad about Holly, she was a real cute girl, just like the others. Real cute girls. What can I do for you, Sheriff? I'd a thought you'd want to talk to me first instead of Miss Lark here. I'm the one who knows what goes on with the kids and the teachers at this school."
His eyes shifted sideways toward Angie.
|Cooper straightened. "Actually Mr. Banks, this is my territory. Would you mind telling me why exactly you are carrying a gun when I know you know that side arms, even with a permit, are not allowed on any school premises in this state unless you are a sworn police officer?"
Ron Banks shrunk, just a little right before their eyes, "Er... well, uh, it's a pellet gun Sheriff, I don't suppose those are illegal are they?"
"Actually, Ron, they are. Weapons of that nature are supposed to be identifiable by an orange tip at the end of the barrel. Yours certainly looks like a real fire arm, and as Sheriff, I'm giving you fair warning; I catch you carrying anything that looks remotely like a fire arm on these premises again, there will be consequences." Banks stiffened, "Now Sheriff Cooper, no need to go gettin' all in an uproar over my...."
Cooper was finished with Banks. He never had liked the guy, he always sensed something not quite right about him, so he held up his hand and cut him off. "As far as my investigation goes, I will eventually speak to you, or one of my Deputies will. If you don't mind, I would like to continue my interview with Miss Lark, privately. I will make sure the building is secure when we leave, and I will personally escort Miss Lark to her car."
Ron Banks didn't say another word, he simply turned and left the room. He quickly made his final round before heading home to shower and be at the pharmacy by eight. He knew Jayne would be there. She always was.
"Thanks Coop." Angie sighed as she returned to her seat. "He gives me the willies sometimes."
Cooper laughed, "He gives me the willies, always has."
Angie smiled and started to speak when Cooper's phone buzzed on his side.
As Cooper took the phone call, Angie watched Coop and remembered all of the times growing up she had done the very same thing, sat and watched John Cooper. She smiled at the first memory she had of him. He and her brother Aaron were in their back yard playing football. Angie guessed she had been three, maybe four years old and wanting to play with them too. She ventured to the backyard with her barbie dolls in tow asking the boys if they wanted to play with her. Her brother, normally a good sport about playing with her told her to get lost and she immediately started crying–but Johnny as he was known then, dropped the football he was tossing with Aaron, walked over to her and told her not to cry, he'd play with her.
That had been typical of Johnny Cooper, even though he and her brother were more than five years older than she, Johnny always made sure she did not feel excluded. As they grew up, Johnny had become like a second brother to her even though somewhere along the line she had fallen in love with him. Bus she in her heart of hearts that Johnny saw her as nothing more than a little sister.
Johnny and her brother had been relentless practicing football. They starred on their pee-wee team as youngsters, and it continued through Jr. High and High School. Johnny, by then known as only 'Cooper' or 'Coop' and Aaron constantly practiced drills and plays, Coop the quarterback and Aaron his receiver. By the time the two were in high school it seemed like every college scout in the country was visiting to see them play, and making them offers to play for their school. While her brother, Aaron, had signed with Stanford, then the best team in the country, Coop had stuck to his plan and went to West Point. His dad went to West Point, and his grandfather before him. Cooper told everyone from the time Angie could remember that he, too, was going to West Point. He wanted to serve his country more than anything else, even football, though he had had a stellar career as West Point's quarter back. When Cooper's enlistment time after West Point was over, everyone, including Angie had expected him to remain in the service and become a career officer—he had after all risen quickly through the ranks and seemed on the track to become a General or something. No one had been more surprised than Angie when Cooper returned home after serving the minimum six years and ran for Sheriff, winning the office by a landslide.
Aaron on the other hand, had never returned home to live. After graduating from college, he went on to play professional football for three years until a knee injury ended his career. He returned to Stanford as an assistant coach, and then moved on to a smaller college as head coach where he remained. Though he came home for Christmas and most holidays, he seemed very content with his life on the west coast.
Coop interrupted her thoughts, "Did you hear me Angie, you looked like you were in another world there for a minute."
"I'm sorry Coop, I think I was. What did you say?"
Cooper smiled, "I said, I'm sorry, but I need to run. I promised the Harper's that I would take them to see Holly as soon as the coroner said I could. That was him on the phone. If you're finished here, let me walk you out to your car. I don't like knowing Banks is skulking around here somewhere while you're here. Do you do this every day? Stay here past six like this?"
Angie nodded, "Usually, but especially now while I'm working on the play."
A frown crossed Cooper's face. "I'll make sure my deputies start being more visible here after school hours. I'll personally come by whenever I get a chance as well."
Now it was Angie's turn to frown. She wrung her hands, then realizing what she was doing, smoothed an invisible crease in her blouse, "Do you think I'm in danger?"
Cooper shook his head, "No, but I don't want to take any chances until I figure out exactly what is going on around here. I do need to continue this conversation with you though, would it be a problem if I came by your place after I've finished with the Harpers?"
Angie smiled, "Not at all Cooper. Actually, Mom is making lasagna tonight, she already sent me a text to let me know, why don't you just come on over to Mom and Dad's when you're finished, let Mom feed you, I know they would love to see you."
Cooper's stomach growled in response. "Your mom's lasagna is amazing, I can't turn down a chance like that. I will be there as soon as I can. You guys still eat at 7:30?"
"Like clockwork." Angie smiled. "Let me just grab my bag from the other room, and I'm ready."
Ron Banks was fuming. He’d told her to meet him at the pharmacy at 8. It was 8:15 when her car parked in the darkest corner of the lot. He waited.
Let her come to him. He knew she would.
They always did.
He’d left his wife just after dinner, saying he had to keep watch on the high school grounds tonight, common practice following another death of a student. Good thing his children were elementary school boys or he might be worried himself.
“Ha!” he thought, “Me worried? Fat chance.”
Finally he saw the interior light switch on in Jayne’s car, just like always. He watched it switch off, knowing she’d closed the door and was on her way to his own car. He was ready.
He flicked the lock button. Let her beg him to open his door. Let her beg.
She gently tapped on his passenger side door. He ignored her. She tapped again, this time a little louder. He ignored her.
For once, Jayne wised up. With one final tap, and with Ron ignoring her again, she jerked around and walked quickly into the pharmacy, where several people were doing some last minute shopping. She thought she saw a friend inside and too, she could always pick up a few things while she was there. She hid her disappointment behind her anger, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake with Ron. He’d played the pouting game one time too many with her. She didn’t need an affair with a pouting man. There were others out there who weren’t so temperamental, she told herself.
At about the same time, Coop was just finishing up a great lasagna dinner with Angie and her parents. They hadn’t visited in awhile and it was good to catch up with this family in the house where he’d spent so much time when he and Aaron were in high school. Not much had changed that he could see. The good natured bantering still went on around the table, the only difference was that Angie participated now. When he was in high school, she’d been very quiet at these family gatherings. Little did he know that she was speechless back then, puppy love had done that to her.
After dinner, and after helping clear the dining table and kitchen, both Coop and Angie began to gather their things to leave. Neither of them had mentioned the recent deaths during dinner. They’d both needed time away from the horror.
As Coop walked Angie to her car, he glanced around the neighborhood. The evening was cool; the streets were quiet. There was a slight breeze.
“I’m going to follow you home, Angie, just to make sure things are quiet there, just so I don’t worry.”
“Oh you don’t have to do that, Coop. I’ll be fine. I’m just going straight home to work on lesson plans for next week, no need for you to go out of your way.”
“Hey Angie, what about taking an after dinner walk? It’s a nice night. I need to walk off some of this fabulous lasagna. Not that you need to walk off anything, but it’s a nice night and . . .”
“Coop, I’d love to.”
“. . . we still need to talk about . . . OH, you would? OK. Well. Then. Uhhhhh, I’ll just follow you to your house and we can go from there. How’s that?”
Angie smiled at Coop’s stumbling words. She wondered if he was dating anyone. She wondered if he’d ever been in love.
She led the way in her little red Mustang, and Coop followed in his patrol car. They were both smiling as they drove toward town.
“That b#*ch”, Ron thought, as his clock showed 9:12. “She’s been in there for an hour. The pharmacy closes at 10. She thinks I won’t wait her out. She’s got another think coming. Nobody ignores me and gets away with it. I’ll give that little s#*t something to take home to show her sweet Steve. See how she likes that!”
He drove his car over and parked it next to hers. He waited.
The parking lot emptied. Still, he waited.
They parked near the curb in front of Angie’s quaint little home, the house she’d bought during her first year of teaching. The home she had decorated with finds she discovered at estate sales, consignment shops and some things she’d brought from her mom’s attic.
“Let me just take my purse in, Coop, I’ll be right back out.”
“I’ll walk in with you, Angie. Your house is lovely. I’ve always wanted to see it from the inside. I used to deliver papers to the old couple here, never been inside though.”
“Well then, Coop, I’ll give you the nickel tour. It’s not much, but it’s mine and I love it! I’m still working on the second floor. It was just an attic, but I’m making it my office space. I’ve already done the flooring, did that by myself. It’s easy enough when you have the guys at Lowe’s telling you what to do. Now I just have to get the walls painted and curtains up. Next paycheck, though!”
“You should have called me, Angie, I’m the king of flooring. Helped my dad when my folks redid their floors. Seems to me a big job for a little bitty girl like you.”
“Coop, I’m not that little bitty kid sister anymore.”
“Ummmmmmm, Angie, I can see that,” Coop said as Angie unlocked her front door.
She’d left a lamp on in the entry, otherwise, the house was dark and quiet. She flipped lights on as she walked toward the kitchen.
“You want coffee, Coop? I could make some in just a minute. I don’t usually drink coffee this late, but since we’re here, it might . . . “
Angie’s voice trailed off; the kitchen light revealed glass all over the floor.
Angie stopped, Coop coming up against her, both seeing the broken glass at the same time. They both felt the breeze coming from the broken window. They both saw the rock with the crumpled paper around it laying on the floor in all the glass.
“Wait! Don’t touch it, Angie! “ Coop grabbed her arm and pulled her into the living room with him.
“You stand here, let me make sure the house is secure, then we’ll worry about the glass.”
“No Coop,” Angie whispered. “I need to go with you.”
Nothing else seemed out of place as they walked from room to room. Coop had checked the back door first thing, it was as secure as Angie had left it. The only difference was the broken window over the sink and the rock on the floor in the broken glass.
They returned to the kitchen. Coop pulled the latex gloves he always carried from his pocket.
“Just part of the job,” he said, when Angie glanced at him with a question on her face. “I never know when I might need them.”
“Are you OK, Sweetheart? You need to sit down? Need some water?”
Angie shook her head. Her heart was pounding, she’d never had an invasion of any kind before; she wasn’t sure what she was feeling.
“Just read what’s on the paper, Coop. It’s probably a kid’s prank, I do have those mischievous boys in class, it’s probably nothing.”
Coop picked up the rock, placed it carefully on the table, untied the string that held the note in place. He unfolded the paper, opened it, with Angie looking over his arm.
He couldn’t hide the words; she saw them.
Written in a childish scrawl: “Your next.”
She reached for it but Coop was quicker.
“Don’t touch it! Fingerprints.”
“It’s just one of the kids, Coop, see? He didn’t even use correct grammar. He wrote ‘your’ when it should have been ‘you’re’. Just the kids.
Coop couldn’t believe she saw the grammatical error before she caught the warning of the words. He wasn’t going to mention that to her. She was already white, and her gorgeous eyes were round in her face. Let her be the teacher, let her see the grammar. He saw much more.
He made the call, then with their walk forgotten, he led Angie to her sofa where they sat until one of Coop’s men arrived at the door.
Steve glanced at the clock. It was nearly 10. Jayne had said she was going shopping for a few things when she’d dropped Jake off following his game. He’d seen that Jake was fed and put to bed, then he’d watched the end of the game on TV. He wasn’t worried, Jayne often met up with her buddies when she shopped and usually was home by 10. He knew his wife worked hard, knew she was a good teacher, a good mother; he wasn’t worried. But he did catch himself wondering how she walked around in those high heels she wore all the time. Perfect Jayne, picture perfect. He was one lucky man to have such a gorgeous wife.
Oh, he’d seen the looks she got from perfect strangers when they walked into a restaurant. He’d been proud as punch to have her on his arm and not theirs. One lucky man. He smiled to himself.
A little after 10 he checked the clock again. Jayne still wasn’t home.
|Steve tried Jayne's cell, it went directly to voicemail. Steve was starting to get worried when he heard her key in the lock.
"Jayne! Where have you been, I was starting to get worried."
Jayne smiled, "Sorry honey, my cell is as dead as my car battery. I was at the drugstore picking up a few things, and when I went to leave it wouldn't start. Luckily Susan Shultz was there too, and she offered to give me a ride home, but she was meeting some friends for a drink, and I didn't want to make her late, so I rode along. I didn't figure you'd mind, I simply did not think to call while we were in Sebastian's Pub, we were having too much fun."
Steve sighed, "Of course I don't mind, I was just worried, what with all this killing going on around here. I couldn't bear it if something happened to you."
Jayne smiled, he'd bought it again. No matter what she told him, he believed her. One of these days she was going to tell him she was abducted by aliens just to see his reaction. Such a schmuk she was married to. "Oh nothing is going to happen to me honey, don't worry."
Steve kissed her on top of her head and retired to the bedroom. Jayne was a little put out that she would have to have Steve drive her to school tomorrow while she called the auto club to tell them her battery had left her stranded. Of course they wouldn't find anything wrong with the car, but they would bring it to her at work, and that was a bonus. What she couldn't wait for was to see the face of Ron Banks tomorrow. She wondered how long he had sat in the parking lot waiting for her to come out? She had originally planned to stay in the drugstore twenty minutes, just enough time to make him stew, but, when she'd ran in to Bud Moore, she couldn't resist going for a ride with him in his new convertible when he asked. Luckily he'd been parked on the street side, so they were able to leave without Ron ever seeing her.
She sighed, she'd forgotten how much fun she used to have with Bud and oh my, but was that man good looking; far better looking than Ron, in her opinion, and not so darn controlling. She might just drop Ron completely and start seeing Bud again. He had given her his new number and told her to call anytime. Yes, she thought as she started up the stairs to shower and get ready for bed, she would do just that.
Coop pulled in to his own driveway a little past one in the morning. He was still rattled, had the entire county gone mad? Why and who would be killing these girls, and who in the world had thrown the rock through Angie's window? As far as he knew, Angie was the same as ever, nice to everyone without an enemy in the world. She didn't deserve this, and it was his job to make sure she was protected.
As he stripped out of his clothes he noticed the red light on his machine blinking. He laid his uniform over the back of the overstuffed leather chair in his bedroom, and then sank down in it himself, letting the buttery leather soothe his body while he hit the play button on the machine.
The first voice that filled the room was his mother's "Dear, I'm worried, give me a call and let me know what is going on. Has the world gone mad?"
Coop smiled at his Mother's choice of words and shook his head, "I don't know, Mom, I just don't know."
The next message was from Mike thanking him for the call this afternoon and asking him to keep him updated on the story. Cooper reached over and hit delete.
The next voice made him sit up straighter in his chair as the voice of his Chief Deputy boomed through the room. "Hey Coop, it's me, we just got a call. I tried your cell—check it, it must be dead. We got another girl missing. Parents called it in about 12:30 tonight, she was supposed to be leaving a friends house at 10:30, by 11 she wasn't home, and the dad went out to trace her path thinking that she had a flat and was trying to change it herself. He found her car at the corner of Locust Valley Road and Cade's Crossing. Car was still running, kid was gone. I've got a team headed that way now, but Coop, she's a senior just like the other girls, and from what little I got from the parents, she was friends with the other three, no boyfriend, no reason to suspect anyone would want to hurt her. Figured you'd want to know, I'll keep trying your cell, the name is Madison Richards"
Cooper threw his arms up in the air; he was convinced the world had gone mad now. Something must have agitated the perp for him to abduct someone else so soon after the last murder. Coop sighed, that was, if he only had one murderer on his hands. He wasn't even sure of that anymore.
Cooper stood up and looked longingly at his big four poster bed. His cat, Rascal, slept soundly right in the middle of the down comforter that covered it. As he put his uniform back on, he said to Rascal, "It's all yours tonight, buddy, enjoy it."
Coop checked his cell phone when he got in his car. Battery dead, dead as a doornail. He plugged it into the car charger before he turned the key. It was going to be a long night, he might need that cell phone. He headed toward the corner where he’d been told Maddie’s car was found. He knew Maddie Richards, knew her father. This was going to be a long night.
He couldn’t figure out why her car had been left running. That was a popular intersection, Cade’s Crossing led to the north end of the lake and what used to be a spot where teens went when they wanted to hang out at night during summer and on warm weekends. It wasn’t all that far from the school, not far at all from town, but what was Maddie doing there at that hour? All the kids knew that it was now heavily patrolled because of the murders.
He could see the swirling lights even before he neared the intersection. Good. His men were on the job. What he hadn’t expected to see was the long blond hair of a young girl standing in the arms of an older man. He parked quickly and joined the group around the girl. Maddie Richards was crying in her father’s arms.
“Folks, what happened? Maddie, are you all right? Mr. Richards??”
“It’s OK, Sheriff. Maddie just showed up, came from that direction over there in the trees. She’s upset and I don’t know what happened, but she just now walked up. Maddie, honey, it’s OK now. We were just worried about you. Calm down now, honey, you’re fine. Did somebody scare you? Are you hurt? The sheriff’s here, we need to know what happened.”
“Daddeeeeeeeeee,” wailed Maddie.
“Let’s get her to a seat,” suggested Coop, “and a bottle of water. Maddie, I have water here in my car. How about you and your dad stepping over here and let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this. Maddie, if there’s someone who’s stalking you, you need to tell me now. I need a direction if I’m to help you. Here, have a seat, both of you. Maddie, can you tell your dad and me what happened?”
He handed her a tissue, a handful of tissues and a bottle of water, and as he consoled Maddie, Coop looked around the area. Nothing seemed out of place, only the weeping girl. A couple of his men were there as well.
Maddie blew her nose, wiped her eyes and shuddered visibly.
“Yessir,” whispered Maddie.
“Take your time, Maddie, take your time, but we need to know what’s frightened you. Is there someone else here?”
Maddie’s voice was little more than a whisper, she shook her head from side to side, then quickly up and down.
“Yes. I was at Alli’s and the kids down the street from her house were having a party. They called and invited us, so we walked down there for a little while.”
“Who were the kids, Maddie, did you know them?”
“Yessir, we knew them, they were from school. They’re all in the play and they’d been rehearsing but were taking a break. So we talked awhile about the play, about the costumes, then one of the girls, Jan Stewart, said that it was ten thirty and she was supposed to meet someone. I knew I was supposed to be home so Alli and I left too. Alli went back into her house and I got in my car to come home.”
She shuddered and sniffed and wiped her nose with another tissue.
“Keep talking, Maddie. What happened when you got to your car?”
“I fumbled around with my cell phone trying to call my parents so they knew I was on my way home. I glanced up and I saw a white car coming up toward me and I thought I saw Jan sitting in the passenger seat. Some man had hold of her head, like he was pulling her hair, but he was driving and the car swerved. It scraped my rearview mirror but he kept on going. I followed it, trying to see who it was. I could see that he was holding Jan’s head and I was scared but I kept following. I was trying to get the license number because of my mirror and I knew Dad would want to know and I could see he was heading for the lake and suddenly I thought maybe it might be the killer. I don’t know what I thought but I was so scared. Then I remembered the short cut down through these trees, so I thought I’d get there first and maybe keep something bad from happening, maybe get the license number, I don't know. . . . But I forgot to take my cell phone with me and once I got down there, I was too afraid to move.”
Her voice became high pitched, her breath tightened. Her fear was visible in her eyes, in her white face.
“Maddie, where’s the girl now? And the car. Are they still down by the lake? Talk, Maddie, you are doing fine. Just tell us where the girl is.”
“She’s down there, sir. She’s down there. The man just left and I was afraid to come out until he left. But I saw his car lights leaving. I-I-I uhhhhh – I waited till he was out of sight, then I walked over to where I could see Jan. She was just lying there, her bra was around her n-n-n-neck and her jeans were over in the water and her head was in the water and her eyes were open and her face Oh God I didn’t know what to do and I ran and ran and I think he might know I was there and what if he comes after me next and I didn’t know what to do . . .”
Coop's radio was in his hands as soon as she said 'She's down there, sir.'
Maddie slumped down into the seat of Coop’s car, her hands covering her face.
“That’s enough, Sheriff, let me take her home, please. She can’t handle anymore.”
“Maddie, you did the right thing, hold on just a minute, Mr. Richards. Let me get my men in place.”
He did just that, sending the men down to the lake, sending Maddie and her father home, telling them that he would be there shortly as soon as his men had the scene secured. He also had one of his men drive Maddie’s car to her home, she was in no shape to drive. Coop could pick him up as soon as he saw what was going on at the lake. He felt the tired take over, but he had to see Jan Stewart for himself. Coop shook his head as if to wake himself from a bad dream.
Jan Stewart was dead. Paramedics were called but it was too late. The coroner came. Consensus was she was most likely killed before she was molested. Coop had to get back to Maddie before she forgot important details. He also needed to place a patrol near the Richards’ home. He left his men in charge of the scene.
It was a long night for all of them, but in the warmth of her family’s kitchen, Maddie gained strength and told all she remembered. It was difficult for her to relive what she’d seen, and it wasn’t a memory she wanted to have. But Maddie stepped right into adulthood that night.
“The man looked familiar, but I don’t know who he was. He was older, built heavier, than our school friends. He had really short hair. He looked like he worked out, but not like our school friends. He just seemed older and he reminded me of somebody, I just can’t say who.”
“That’s OK, Maddie, just tell us what you saw. You say the car was white?” Coop had already secured her vehicle, having one of his men testing the mirror for white paint.
“Yes, white. He led her down to the beach. They were holding hands, but it was more like he was pulling her. He jerked her when they got to the sand, jerked her and she fell. I was hiding behind the big rocks, but I could see through the crack between them. The lights on the bridge shine right down on the beach. It’s not like daylight, but more like I could see their silhouettes, you know? She didn’t get up, and everything was so quiet, I was afraid to move. The lights were behind them, but I was afraid the lights would shine on me, so I stayed still behind the rocks. I thought at first they were . . . ummmmmm. . . having sex, but it seemed like his arms kept hitting her head, like he was pushing her hair back with one hand. He was on top of her, his hand kept hitting her head, I thought he was leaning on his other arm. “
Her words were rushed, breathless, her eyes were wide, sightless, looking inward. Watching it happen all over again.
“She never cried, she didn’t say anything, I could only see him moving, I couldn’t see her move. It lasted so long and she never moved she never cried and then they were still and I thought they were sleeping but the water was around them and I didn’t know how they could sleep in the lake water. I was too afraid to move, but then he got up, leaned over and she never moved and he shoved her head back. She never moved. She didn’t cry. She never moved. Then he left. Oh God she’s dead and I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know and she never moved and I didn’t have my cell phone and I didn’t know, oh God. . . “
“It’s OK, Maddie. Sheriff Cooper, she needs to rest, can we let this go now?” asked Maddie’s dad, holding his daughter close.
“Maddie, thank you. You did all you could do and you’re safe now. Can you bring her down to the station tomorrow, Mr. Richards? I’ll have her statement typed up and she can add to it if she remembers anything else, and then sign it. But Maddie, you did all you could do and stay safe yourself, don’t ever think you didn’t. You get some rest now. It’s been a rough night for all of us.”
Maddie nodded her head, then looked at Coop with swollen eyes, “But I was too afraid to stop him, too afraid to try to help Jan.”
“Maddie, you have helped us much more than you know. There was nothing you could do for Jan, but I promise you with the information you give us, we will get her killer. Thank you both. I’ll see you at the station tomorrow afternoon. Let’s try for about 2, but you might want to call before you come, just to make sure I’m there.”
It was nearing daylight. Coop made his tired way on down to the station. It was a fine way to spend an early Saturday morning, he thought.
Waiting for his men to return, waiting for the coroners report, waiting to talk with Jan Stewart’s parents, Coop felt that it was all a waiting game. Jan’s parents were out of town and at the moment no one had any information as to where they were, nor had his men gotten any response when they went to the home. Coop shook his head at the idea of leaving teenagers home alone even for a weekend in a town where young girls were being murdered.
He turned as JR, the youngest member of his team knocked softly on his door.
“Come in, JR, what did you find?”
JR had been assigned the task of finding fingerprints on the note and the rock that came flying through the window at Angie’s.
“I’ve just come from the lab, they’re trying to lift the prints, Coop, but they said they seemed smudged. They’ll get with us as soon as they know something. Till then we just have to wait. They guys said it’s hard to lift prints from rocks, something about the dust on the surface. But they seemed to think the paper might be a sure thing. I heard about the Stewart girl. Do we have any leads?”
Shaking his head, Coop said, “I’ve called a meeting for 8 this morning. We’ll see what we have then. We do have the closest thing to an eye witness in the Richards girl. Lucky for us, tough for her. She and her parents will be coming in at 2. She was a good help already, but couldn’t identify the killer, only that he was older, well built, and drove a white car. Strong girl, but scared to death. Dammit, JR, we’ve got to get to the bottom of this before we have to shut the school down and issue a 6 o’clock curfew for every girl under the age of 20.”
Angie had taken Coop’s advice and called her parents before he left her house the night before. She’d also taken his advice about staying alone in the house, so after covering the broken window with plywood, after his men had left, Coop had walked her to her car and watched her head in the direction they’d just driven, right back to the house she’d grown up in. She’d promised him she wouldn’t go back into her house until he could go with her.
It was nearing 10 a.m. when she entered the station and asked if Coop were around. Mandy told her that Coop was in a meeting, had been since 8 and if Angie didn’t mind waiting she’d let her know when the meeting was over. Angie didn’t mind waiting, she had no desire to go back into her house alone. Her dad had offered to go with her, but he had a meeting himself and he didn’t want her to be alone in that house either. He’d made her promise to go inside the house only with Cooper. Angie turned to find a chair and nearly bumped right into Estle Edwards who was somehow right behind her, offering a fresh cup of coffee.
Angie had known Edwards for years, he was a family acquaintance and had always treated Angie like the little girl he had known since she was born.
“Here ya go, Angie. I reckon you could use a pick me up this morning what with all the happenings around you last night. I’ll bet you didn’t sleep a wink after that rock broke your window. Why I told Coop this morning that he’d a better stayed . . .”
“You haven’t even seen Coop this morning, Estle, don’t be spreading tales now.” Interrupted Mandy.
“Then how did you know about the rock, Estle?” asked Coop as he suddenly appeared, coming down the hall behind Edwards.
|Estle laughed, "Coop, I think you need some sleep boy. You know I monitor everything from my scanner at home when I'm not here."
Mandy snorted, "You and everyone else in town."
"What did you say?" Coop seemed to be directing the question to both Estle and Mandy. They both looked at him, not sure which one should answer.
"Estle, what did you say?" Coop repeated the question.
"The part about you needing some sleep or the part about the scanner?" Estle asked.
"The part about the scanner."
"I said you know that I monitor what is going on here from my scanner at home when I'm not here." Estle repeated.
Cooper nodded, "Now, what did you say, Mandy?"
Mandy thought Cooper really did need some sleep. "Coop, I said that was no different than every other yahoo in this town. Everyone has a scanner and listens to it. You know this Coop."
Cooper nodded his head, and turned away. As he left he spoke over his shoulder, "Angie, can you come back to my office please?"
Angie really had no choice but to follow Cooper across the tiled floor, the sound of her heels falling into time with the click of his boot heels as they crossed the building. Cooper stepped inside his office and held the door for Angie. Once she was inside, he shut the door and pulled the blind that hung on the inside of the heavy door.
"Have a seat, Angie." Cooper said as he motioned to one of the two seats in front of his desk. Angie sat, and instead of Cooper taking the seat behind his desk as she expected him to, he took the seat beside of Angie. Angie immediately went on alert. She knew Cooper was preparing to tell her something, something important. "Just tell me Coop." Angie begged, a crack forming in her voice.
Coop ran his hand through his hair, something he'd been doing as long as Angie had known him. Any time Cooper was nervous or worried about something, his hand went through what ever hair he had at the time. Even the summer he and Aaron had shaved their heads completely bald as a sign of team unity, Coop had still made the gesture of running his hand through the top of his hair, or where the hair would have been whenever he got nervous.
"Cooper, tell me." Angie demanded. "I'm not a fragile little girl, I'm a grown woman. I can handle it Coop."
Cooper leaned back in the chair and let his hands drop to his lap. "I'm not sure I can." He said as he bowed his head.
Angie sat and waited, she knew whatever he was about to say was painful for him. After a few moments he composed himself. "Thanks. You're the only person I can be me around right now. I needed that breather. I know you can handle it, Angie, but like I said, I'm not sure I can. Jan Stewart was killed last night."
Angie shrunk in her chair. "Another one?"
Cooper nodded, "And the worst part of it is, Maddy Richards saw it happen."
Angie stood and began pacing Cooper's generously sized office, her heels clicking as she walked. The sound soothed her, always had, it was the reason she wore heels. It wasn't that they made her seem taller, they did that too, but she so loved the sound they made as she walked–they reminded her of her Grandma Lark who had never worn anything but heels in her entire life, and whom Angie had adored like no other.
"Why is this happening Cooper?" Angie asked as she paced.
Cooper shook his head. "I have no idea, and I have no clue where to start. I need your help Ang, I really do. I need you to walk me through the last few weeks of school. Anything you've seen or heard that you might not have thought important at the time, or even think important now, I need to know it. Even if whatever you've heard you dismissed as heresay, I need to hear it, all of it. Heck, go back more than a few weeks, months if you can."
This time Angie ran her hands through her hair, both hands at the same time. "Cooper, do you have any idea how much goes on in a high school on any given day, much less week?"
Cooper shook his head, "No, Angie, I don't. That's why I need you to tell me."
"It's not that easy Cooper. I mean, I have kids telling me things, I have other teachers telling me things, and I have parents telling me things when I'm in the grocery. When you're a teacher, you're not just a teacher when you're in the building. Twenty-four-seven teachers are fair game for students, parents or other staff members."
Cooper shrugged, "Not so different from being a cop."
Angie nodded, she hadn't really considered that, "Some of my most productive staff meetings have been at a Friday night football game during pre-game warmups. Some of my most revealing parent teacher conferences have been in the frozen food isle at Kroger."
"So that's why all the teachers stand at the fence, I thought it was because you didn't want to sit in the stands with the students."
"It's not that we don't want to sit with the kids, but the kids sitting in the stands are usually the kids we don't have to worry about. The ones hanging around in groups around the stadium are the ones who are going to cause trouble. That's why so few teachers go to the games, they tell us if we are on school property, we are to police the kids."
"That's why I need you, Ang."
Angie nodded, "I will do what I can do, but it would be a lot easier for me if I wrote it down. I write a lot of things down anyway, in my planner, just as a precaution, you know, a cover your butt thing, if something happens, I make a note on the date with the time, and if something comes up later on, I can go back and refer to it."
Cooper brightened, "Have you been doing that since you've been teaching?"
Angie nodded, "Yes, it was one of the things they suggested to us in undergrad."
"Do you still have all of them?"
Angie laughed, "You know I rarely throw anything away. I've got them, they're at home in my office."
Cooper stood, "Let's go."
As they rode to Angie's house they made light conversation, not directly related to the events that had transpired over the past few days. Both of them needed a break from reality for the brief time it took to get from the Sheriff's Headquarters to Angie's home. When they arrived, nothing seemed to be out of place or look any different than it did any other time Cooper had driven by, but nonetheless, he got out of the car and fell into step beside Angie as they walked up to her front door.
As she unlocked it, she looked back at Cooper, "Make yourself at home, Coop, I've got some leftover Vegetable soup in the fridge, would you like some?"
Cooper's stomach growled in response. "Sounds amazing, your mom's lasagna was the last thing I ate."
Angie busied herself in her now dark kitchen with the large piece of plywood covering what once was her beloved beveled glass window. She sighed as she glanced at the dark wood. That window was the reason she fell in love with this house in the first place. As the sun changed position every day, it came in through that window and filled the kitchen with dancing speckles of sunlight. She doubted she would ever find anyone to restore it to it's original beauty, and if she did find someone, she doubted she could afford it on her salary.
While the soup warmed on the stove, she pulled two bottles of ice cold diet Coke from the fridge, cut some cheese slices, and pulled some of the cornbread muffins out of the tupperware container on the counter. Sweet, sweet Cornbread, just like her mother had always made to the angst of her father and her mother's friends. She put the muffins on a plate, and threw them in the microwave for a few seconds to warm while she took some crackers from the pantry. She assembled everything on her large wooden tray and carried it to the coffee table in front of her overstuffed sofa. Cooper was lost in thought as she entered the room, and he started when she sat down beside of him.
"Wow, Ang, this looks fabulous, you didn't have to go to all this trouble for me."
Angie smiled, "No trouble, everything was already made, I just had to warm it up. This was my dinner Thursday night."
Cooper bit in to one of the cornbread muffins. "Mmmmm, he said in between bites, these are just like your mom's. I love them like this! My mom always made hers... I don't know, different."
Angie smiled, Cooper had been saying the same thing as long as she could remember, only not about her muffins, about her mother's. "My mom taught me to make them sweet, and she doesn't add bacon grease, which is what a lot of people do, I think, that or they cook it in a skillet that had bacon in it. I don't know, this is the only way I know."
Cooper reached for a second muffin, "Don't change a thing, they're perfect."
Angie laughed, "You're funny, Coop. I'm going to go grab my planners, I'll be right back."
"Aren't you going to eat anything?" He asked.
Angie shook her head, "Mom made me eat breakfast this morning, I'm still full. Eat as much as you want, Coop. You always could pack the food away, though I never knew where you put it."
Cooper tapped his thigh, "Hollow leg."
Angie laughed, "That's what you've always said."
Cooper just nodded as he bit into the muffin.
When Angie returned, she had several planners, and was leafing through the one on the top. "Found them. I figured I'd just go through, and then note anything I think is useful on a separate sheet of paper for you."
Cooper nodded, "That sounds great, but even if something doesn't seem useful to you, if it was not normal or unusual, please, write that down too." Angie nodded as she continued to read through the first planner. Cooper looked at Angie, then at the stack she had on her lap, "Ang, how long do you think it's going to take you to go through these?"
Angie shrugged, "I don't know, Coop, a few hours, anyway."
Coop, sufficiently fed and satisfied shook his head, "I can't stay here with you that long, Angie. Can I take you to your mom's so you can look at them there?"
Angie groaned, "Cooper, I'm in my own house, I promise I'll keep the door locked. I love my Mom to death, but, she'll want to help, then she'll want to talk, and I will get nothing done! That's the reason I bought this place in the first place. I originally planned to live with my parents three years, and save every dime I didn't use to pay back student loans for a down payment on a house. I made it a year, and knew I couldn't go through another year waiting until Mom went to bed every night to get my lesson plans and grading done! It was impossible to work with her hovering over me. She means well, and she was trying to help, but it was really distracting. I took to practically living at school...."
She stopped, Cooper looked at her, "What?" He asked.
She smiled, "I'll just do that."
"Go through these at school. No one will be there, no one will know I'm there if you drop me off, I will hide in my office, I can probably get these done in just a few hours."
Cooper thought about it, she was right, no one would know she was there. No one could get in to the building without a key or keycard, he'd step up patrols while she was there, so if a car was spotted in the parking lot, one of his deputies could check it out immediately. He nodded his head, "I guess you could do that, but make sure your cell phone is fully charged, on your person at all times, and make sure my number is in it. If you so much as think you hear something, you call or text me, and I'll be there in three minutes or less."
Angie laughed, "Cooper, I'll be fine. I've spent many Sunday afternoons at school, and believe me, there won't be a soul around!"
"You really need to get out more, Ang."
Angie laughed as she carried the tray back to the kitchen. "Yeah, I know I do. I'll throw these dishes in the sink, and I'll be ready."
Once at the school, Cooper entered before Angie, and made sure nothing was lurking, and everything was secure. He walked her to her office and made sure she was settled before taking another look around the building and checking on her again before he left. Angie laughed at his extra precautions, but secretly she was glad he was making such a fuss over her safety. As she read, she was surprised at some of the things she had written down her first year of teaching.
As she read, and noted things for Cooper, her memory was sparked, and she remembered other little details that she also wrote down for Cooper. She had just opened a soda from her mini fridge, when she heard voices, and she stopped and listened. Yes, it was definitely voices, a man's and a woman's. Angie turned off her light, and stepped up on her three step ladder and slid open the vent above her door. Not only would it allow sounds to come more clearly in to her office, it was there to keep the office from becoming too stuffy.
"Are you sure this is the best place?" The man's voice asked. "We could go up to the main building, and my office. I think I would feel better."
Angie knew she should know the voice, she'd heard it many times, she just couldn't place it. When the woman spoke, however, she knew exactly who that voice belonged to.
"Oh, Bud, honey, your office is cramped and stuffy. We've got a nice setup backstage here. See this big nice comfy sofa." Jayne giggled, "I think it's stuffed with real feathers. It's everso comfy."
Angie's face heated as she realized what Jayne, and who she now realized was Bud Moore, the Chemistry teacher, must be doing out there on her props. Eeewwww, she'd caught kids making out on that sofa more than once, but, Jayne! Gross. What happened to Ron? A few days ago
Angie had overheard that conversation between Jayne and Ron. She stifled a giggle as she thought about the look on Jayne's face if one of Coop's men busted into the building thinking she and Bud were intruders.
After a bit, Angie heard voices again. Jayne was laughing about something Bud had said, and then she said, "Honey, as much as I'd like to take another ride in that beautiful car of yours, I really do need to get home. I told Steve I was just going to grade a few papers, and then I'd be right back. I hope you understand."
Angie heard Jayne's heels clicking against the wood of the stage area, and realized Jayne must be straightening up the backstage area. "Ewwww." Angie thought again.
Angie decided to wait just a few more moments before turning on her light again. She was afraid Jayne might forget something, as she tended to do and come back and see her light. That was drama Angie just did not need right now.
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind, she heard Jayne's heels clicking back across the stage again. "Typical Jayne." Thought Angie. "She'd forget her head if it wasn't attached." Jayne's voice, this time in a cooing sound echoed through the backstage area and into Angie's ears.
"Ron honey, I've told you, I'm so sorry, but it couldn't be helped. I ran into Steve's mother in the pharmacy, and she insisted I walk her home. By the time I got back you were gone and my car battery was dead. Don't make me beg you now, Darlin'. Just be a good boy and come on down here and play with me backstage."
Angie thought she might vomit. Not only had Jayne just desecrated her prop sofa with Bud Moore, now she was inviting Ron Banks to come down and "play" with her backstage? Again, gross!
It seemed like just a few moments had passed when Angie heard Ron Bank's voice booming through the building. "You sure nobody's here?"
Jayne laughed, "I've been here more than an hour, no one is here, believe me."
"Why you been here so long?" Angie heard the accusing tone in Ron's voice, she knew Jayne had to hear it too.
"I told you on the phone, I had a bit of grading to do. Now, are we going to waste time discussing what I've been doing this afternoon or are we going to do something more productive?"
Ron didn't sound convinced to Angie, "Whose Ford is that out there?"
Angie knew that Jayne was going to loose patience pretty quickly. Jayne didn't disappoint. Jayne responded in the clipped tone Angie had heard all too often when Jayne was disgusted with one of her students. "It belongs to my husband, Ron. He took my car down to Sears to have the battery replaced and have the fluids topped off. Not that it is really any of your business."
If Ron noticed the tone of her voice, it didn't affect him, he continued in the same accusatory tone he had been using since he had entered the backstage area. Angie thought about that a moment, it was really interesting to notice the different tones and inflections people had in their voices when you couldn't see them, only hear them.
"Did you see Bud Moore around the building?" Ron asked, same accusatory voice.
Angie would have liked to have been able to see Jayne's reaction to that one.
"No, but he's a teacher here, he likely had grading to do as well. But, as you well know, he works on the other side of the campus, so I wouldn't see him if he had been here. He could have also just been driving around Ron, you know, people do drive past the school on their way here or there."
"He's just out showing off."
Jayne laughed, "What in the world does Bud have to show off about?"
"You ain't seen that fancy new white car he's got? I think it's a Cadillac, though it might be a Chrysler, I really didn't pay that close attention to it. It's just pretty fancy looking for a teacher."
Just then, Angie heard the door slam open, and Cooper's voice boom through the room. "What in the world are you two doing back here?"
Ron's voice got defensive, "I don't see how that is any of your business Sheriff, we do work here you know. A better question might be how did you get in here."
Cooper's voice sounded much calmer than it had originally. "Do we really need to go through this territorial thing again Ron? I have a key and you know that. Now, I asked you a question, answer it please."
Jayne spoke up, her voice smooth as honey. "Well hello there, John Cooper, I've not seen you in ages. I'm sorry if our being here caused someone to call you. Normally, no one ever notices when we're here on the weekends."
Cooper said, "You still haven't answered my question folks. What are you doing here?"
Jayne laughed, that same fake laugh Angie had heard so many times, "Well nothing illegal, I can assure you of that John. I had to move some props around on the stage, and Ron graciously offered to come and help me. I just got here about an hour ago, had some grading to do, and when I finished, I called Ron to come down. He's only been here a few minutes."
"Props huh?" Cooper repeated. "So, are the two white cars in the parking lot your private vehicles then?" He questioned.
"Why is what car I'm driving any of your business Sheriff?"
Angie was amazed that Ron didn't sound like he was the least bit intimidated by Cooper. She knew she would be if she were in his shoes.
Jayne interrupted him, at least she had the good sense to know that when the Sheriff was asking you a question, you needed to answer it. "John, the Ford is my husband's car. He took mine down to be serviced. I'm assuming if there is another white car in the lot, Ron must have driven his son's Chevy today. Am I right Ron?"
Angie didn't hear anything coming from Ron Banks. Finally Cooper spoke again. "Well, did you get your props taken care of?" He asked.
Jayne laughed, "Why yes we did, John, in fact, we were just getting ready to leave when you got here, weren't we Ron?"
Again, Banks remained silent. Angie assumed he must be nodding or shrugging or doing some other kind of non-verbal body language in response.
She heard Cooper again, "You folks go ahead and leave, I'm going to take a walk around the building and make sure it is secure."
After a few moments, Angie heard Cooper walking toward her office door. "Angie?" He whispered. "Are you still in there?"
Angie laughed as she stood and flipped the light switch back on. "I'm here Coop." She said as she opened the door. "It's been rather busy backstage today." She said smiling.
Cooper frowned, "I imagine backstage has always been rather busy, you just didn't know about it. C'mon, let's get out of here, we'll go back to your place, and you can fill me in."
Four murders in three months. That thought rumbled around in Coop’s mind until it became a dull roar: “Four murders four murders four murders” as he drove Angie home. They neared her home and he shook his head a little when Angie’s voice broke through his thoughts. He’d barely heard her over the toneless repetition of the voice in his mind.
“Say that again, Angie.”
“Coop, I just said that it seems strange that all the victims have a part in the performance. Three of them were my students, but Jan, bless her heart, Jan is the only one who wasn’t. She was a dancer, she didn’t work on the props. She didn’t have a speaking role. She was only in the chorus. But she did hang out in the Fine Arts building, and she was friends with the other three. Of course she was here for every rehearsal.”
“When did you start rehearsals, Angie?”
“The auditions came first, we had a couple weeks of auditions and they started in early February after school, then after the entire cast was in place we started rehearsals, also after school. The play is scheduled for the end of school, the first week in June, just two weeks away. We haven’t lost any cast members who had speaking roles, only those who worked onstage or were part of the musical crew.”
“What’s your official title, Angie?” Coop asked as they pulled up in front of her house.
“My title? Well, officially I’m co-director. You see, it takes two of us to do a really good job and the other director is the drama teacher. She works with those who have speaking parts and I direct all the rest: the stage props, the choreography, the costumes and make up, the music. We have one of the community guys who does sound and lights and one of the elementary teachers comes in to work with the chorus and instrumentals, but that’s about it. I’m in charge of everything except the speaking roles, but I have a lot of help. It’s fun and I love it, and we all work really well together. Why do you ask?”
They were walking up to her front door.
“Let’s get inside and then we’ll talk,” said Coop.
When Coop was settled at the dinner table with Angie’s notes laid out around him, she excused herself and from the kitchen she dialed the local pizza parlor. Coop looked a little peaked and Angie realized he might not have slept in days. She ordered an extra large pizza loaded with all the things that she knew he and Aaron always liked years ago. Even as a little girl she was always in on their pizza nights, so she knew. She thought it might be a long night ahead; their overloaded pizza was comfort food.
As she pressed end after ordering the pizza, her phone immediately came to life in her hands. She answered, recognizing her school number. The message was recorded, much like those she received on late nights or early mornings when school was suddenly cancelled due to snow or ice.
“Classes are cancelled for Monday, May 20th. Teachers are to report to the auditorium at 10 a.m. promptly for announcements to be followed by training.”
“Followed by training,” she thought, words used when the administration needed to get the teachers together when there was a massive problem, usually that meant an hour after school, not an entire day. The students would also be receiving the same message via emails, TV announcements and the local radio station whose music was geared to the teenagers. They would probably also know it was all about the murders. These impromptu meetings only happened when there was an emergency; not very often. Facebook would spread the news faster than any other method, she knew.
“No lesson plans for tomorrow,” she mumbled as she walked back to the table where Coop sat, bottles of Diet Cokes in her hands.
Coop’s phone rang.
“Yes, yes I can. Thanks for including me.”
“I’ll clear my schedule. This is top priority. I’ll be there.”
He cleared his phone.
“What were you saying about lesson plans, Angie?”
“Only that there would be none for tomorrow. School’s cancelled but the faculty is meeting at 10.”
“I got the same message. Your principal and superintendent asked me to come to the meeting but I’m to be there at 9 in an official capacity. Let’s go over these note of yours, see if we can reach some conclusions by 9 a.m.”
“That doesn’t give us much time, Coop.”
“You’ve got good notes and we’ve got all night, Angie,” said a very weary John Cooper.
Jayne got the same message, as did every other person who was in any way connected to the school. Her first thoughts were exciting, ‘A day to play!” But then she heard the words “meeting at 10 a.m.” and the excitement faded into oblivion. No way was she going to be cooped up in that auditorium with a bunch of dreary boring teachers. She’d take a sick day. She started to dial the phone.
Changed her mind. She knew Ron would be in that meeting. So would Bud. If she timed it just right she could manage to sit beside at least one of them, didn’t matter which one. Maybe both, now that would be a hoot. And since it was a day without students, she could dress casually. She had just the thing, a new outfit she’d found at Buckle: a skin tight black scoop necked tee, trimmed in sequins and metallic threads along with the black straight legged sequined jeans that had rips in just the right places. She had to lie flat on the bed to get those jeans on and had real problems getting them off again, but for a meeting at school, they would be perfect, toned as she was. Steve hadn’t seen those jeans, didn’t even know she bought them, but it was her own money so he couldn’t complain. But Jake would be out of school too, what to do with him? She’d drop him off at Steve’s mother’s house. Grandma loved a day with Jake.
She wondered what the meeting was about. Old man Sparks would probably tell them to be extra careful, to be sure to have their cell phones with them, to be sure to watch out for anything unusual going on in class. Sparks, a silly name for a dull and boring principal, but she’d seen the way he looked at her, maybe there was a spark or two left in him. Just wait till tomorrow when she wore that black outfit, she couldn’t wait to see the sparks in his eyes. The jeans were just right with her high heeled black cowboy boots. If only she had an excuse to wear her wide brimmed black felt hat. She’d have to think about that, it was May and felt didn’t work well in warm weather. Maybe she’d just wear her hair in a high ponytail like she did when she was a young teen. Yes! She could pull that off, the look of the 50s, it just fit the minor role she played in ‘Grease’.
Thinking about it, she still couldn’t believe she had such a minor role. She’d known for sure she’d get the lead when she auditioned for Sandy. She’d rehearsed ‘You’re the One I Want’ for hours along with a dance routine that showed off her athletic prowess. It drove her nearly crazy when that little tart Amanda Duncan got the lead. Amanda was a senior, not a thing going for her except her voice.
But that was OK, she knew all the lines, all the songs for the part of Sandy and if something should happen to Amanda, then Jayne could easily take her place. Now if only something would happen to Amanda, she thought, something like laryngitis, something like a fall and a broken bone. Jayne’s eyes closed, she could see herself dancing, singing, starring in that role.
“What are you dreaming about with that smile on your pretty face, Love,” asked Steve.
“Dammit, Steve! You scared me! I wasn’t dreaming about anything, only that I don’t have to work on lesson plans for tomorrow. We have meetings, no classes! How’s that for a Monday?”
“Meetings for what? That was unexpected, wasn’t it?”
“Meetings about the murders, I guess. I don’t really know, but the kids don’t have class so I’m dropping Jake off at your Mothers. Or maybe you could do that on your way to work.”
“I’ll be on the road tomorrow, Jayne, have to leave early, best for you to drop him off. And by the way I’ll be very late getting home. I have to be in New Castle until 6, then there’s a dinner meeting after that. Got to get that bid, you know. So it will be late. You’ll have to take care of dropping Jake off and getting him home.”
Jayne hated when Steve came in late. It cut her evening activities to a bare minimum, usually just whispered phone calls.
The pizza arrived just as Angie and Coop had reached a conclusion.
“Looks as if the targets are all connected to your play, Angie. They are all a part of the production in some way. We’ve got to find the common connection. “
“Coop, could it be someone that I work with?” Angie asked quietly, her voice breaking a little.
“Don’t know, Angie. I’m still looking through these notes. But you can’t worry about it. That’s why you have me, I’ll do the worrying, you only have to play it safe! Now let’s take a break and eat this pizza. Sure reminds me of old times with Aaron! Nothing better than Pasquale’s Pizza on a Sunday night!”
They spent hours going over the notes, nibbling pizza as they went.
“I don’t see a mention of many of your male students, Angie. Nothing disturbing, I mean. What I do see is several mentions of Ron Banks and female students. Here take a look at this. On February 18th , you wrote that you were finished with the stage, checked the dressing room and standing at the end of the hall you saw Banks talking with Jan Stewart, holding her arm, you said. And here again, you saw Banks driving off campus after rehearsal on March 1st , following a black Mustang. Who drives a black Mustang?”
“I don’t remember, Coop, but Mustangs are usually girly cars at this school, so probably one of the senior girls. Most of the guys drive pick ups anyway.”
“Try to remember, Angie, it could be important. Now, here’s another one. You say here that as you left the parking lot right here in March, you noticed that Bud Moore was just entering. Why would he be using the back parking lot? Isn’t his office in the front of the building? Wouldn’t he park there?”
“I hadn’t thought about it, Coop, but you’re right. The only ones who use our lot are those that are in the Fine Arts building most of the time. I never park in the front lot because when I leave for the day, my car is closer in the back lot.”
“Angie, who has a key to the Fine Arts building?”
Angie thought for awhile.
“That’s a hard one to answer, Coop. They are issued to the teachers who work in the building. Then there’s the president of the band parents’ group, he has one; the custodians, Ron Banks, the principal, so there are a few keys out there.”
“Back up, Angie, you said the keys are issued to the teachers who work in the building, right?”
They looked at each other at the same time.
And at the same time, they both said, “Jayne Kinser.”
“Her classroom is in the main building, she wouldn’t need a key to your building, Angie. She’s only there when you have rehearsal. And another thing, she told me she was working on props today. Does she help you with props? Did you give her a key?”
“No Coop, she has nothing to do with props. She has a minor role in the production. I think she wanted a bigger role, but the main characters are played by the students. We wanted to get the adults involved, especially those in the community because it increases our audience. But we didn’t give the adults the main roles. And no, I gave no one a key. I have a master key to this building, and I have a regular door key to the main building, but she should only have keys to the main building and her classroom there. I hadn’t even thought about keys before. I don’t know how or why she has a key to the Fine Arts building.”
Coop was taking notes.
“She shows up a lot in your notes, Ang,” Coop said with a yawn. Suddenly but slowly he raised his legs and stretched out on the sofa they’d moved to when the dining chairs became a little uncomfortable. His long feet resting close to her knees, his head resting in the corner of the arm at the end.
“Here Coop, stretch out. You haven’t slept in days.”
Angie bounced off the sofa just as Coop slid down and took up the rest of its length. She looked at him, he was already sound asleep.
“Coop,” she whispered, “Coop?”
Angie walked to the hallway and grabbed a pillow and a light blanket from the linen closet. The pillow she tucked under his head, he didn’t even wake. He didn’t wake either, when she slipped off his shoes and placed the blanket over his legs.
Angie checked the locks, brushed her teeth, changed into lightweight sweats, dimmed the lights then climbed into the recliner that sat beside her sofa. She set her phone alarm for seven. Two hours would give Coop plenty of time before his 9 a.m. meeting. She was asleep in minutes, smiling at Coop who slept soundly on the sofa beside her.
The soft noise crept into Coop’s dream. It was a breathy noise, not unlike a puppy snorting. In his dream he looked around for the puppy. He didn’t have a puppy. His mother never allowed pets inside. Aaron had a puppy, he must be spending the night with Aaron. He heard the little soft snort again along with the rustle of clothing. He woke himself trying to tell Aaron the puppy might need to go out.
Looked around and there she was, sweet Angie, gently snoring in the recliner. Oh lord, his car was parked in her driveway and it was daylight, but barely. Maybe he could get up and out before anybody noticed. He’d passed out on her sofa from only the fumes of a Diet Coke. He must have been dead tired!
He sat up and stretched, felt good, rested, and there was that little sound again. He glanced at Angie just as she kicked the blanket off the recliner and opened one eye.
“Coop,” she whispered, then closed her eye again.
“Might as well let her sleep,” he thought, then leaned over and kissed her gently on her forehead. She smelled lightly of roses, a sleepy woman scent.
Oh lord, Coop felt that ache start somewhere around his heart and stomach, the same ache he had when he was 18 and she was barely in her teens. The same ache he had every time he ever looked at her. His lips brushed the lobe of her ear, the one closest to him, then on down to the curve of her jaw.
He saw the little goose pimples pop up on her arm, but she never moved, not even a flick of her eyelids. His hand stroked down her arm, reached her fingers and softly possessed them. His lips made their way to the corner of hers. This time it was a whimper he heard as she turned toward him and lifted her mouth to his. He picked her up, arms, legs, blanket and all, lifted her, then took her place in the recliner and held her in his lap and close to his heart.
Their lips barely touching, their bodies resting against each other, they dozed, knowing they were both right where they belonged.
His car never got moved. He didn’t care. He was where he needed to be. He thought maybe she was too. They slept until her alarm sounded at 7.
|When Angie arrived at the high school less than an hour later, still managing to look well groomed and professional even for a non-student day. She wasn't expecting her first visitor to be Jayne.
"Can I talk to you, please?" Jayne asked.
Angie looked up from her desk and started to rise, "Sure Jayne, what's up?"
Jayne walked further into the room, "I wasn't expecting you to be here this early."
Angie smiled, "Best time to get work done, when no one else is here."
Jayne laughed, "Yes, I suppose it is."
"Why are you here so early Jayne?"
Jayne fidgeted with the hem of her blouse, "I didn't sleep well last night, and well, I just think that, well...."
Angie was surprised, normally Jayne was never at a loss for words.
"It's okay Jayne, whatever it is can be worked out, I'm sure." Angie almost choked on the words. She really hoped Jayne wasn't going to use her as her confessional for her extra-marital activities.
Jayne came toward Angie's desk and slid into the student desk that Angie had butted up to the side of her own. Her "best friend's desk" that she used to seat students who were a little too social on any given day.
Jayne sighed, "It might come as a surprise to you, but I don't have any friends."
Angie started to wave off that statement, but Jayne continued, "I'm not the nicest person in the world, I know that. I've always been insecure about myself. When I was in high school, I was the girl everyone felt sorry for. My family was poor, so my clothes weren't very nice, and often weren't very clean because we didn't have a washer at home, and could only afford to do laundry at the laundry mat once a month. I was skinny as a rail and had really thick glasses, the kind that make your eyes look huge to everyone else, my teeth were twisted and crooked, and of course there wasn't money for braces."
Angie was surprised, "I'm sorry Jayne, I had no idea."
Jayne laughed, "That was the point, I didn't want anyone to know. I got a scholarship to Berea College in Kentucky. It's a school that only admits the poorest kids, and charges no tuition."
Angie nodded, she was familiar with Berea, she had recommended it to a few of her own students in the last few years.
"So, after I graduated, I started working, saving every dime I could to afford eye surgery to get rid of the glasses." Jayne laughed, "I thought that would make me feel better. It didn't."
Jayne laughed again, Angie wasn't sure what she was laughing at, but she sensed that Jayne just needed someone to listen to her right now.
"After the glasses were gone, I started noticing my other glaring defects, and started correcting them as I could afford to. I shopped thrift stores for only the best clothes, hoping that having nice things would make me feel better, then, I had braces put on to fix my teeth, and finally breast augmentation so that I wouldn't be confused as a man any longer."
Jayne shook her head, "None of it made me feel any better. Sure I had plenty of attention from men, then but I could never help but wonder if they would be asking me out if they had met me five years earlier. I have no doubt they would not have. Then I met Steve, and he was so kind, and so nice, and treated me like a queen. I knew he would be a good father, and good provider, so I married him."
Angie looked at Jayne, wondering if she was supposed to say something; she wasn't sure.
Jayne continued, "I always thought I would 'grow' to love him. You know how people say that, you grow to love someone... well, I didn't. I like Steve, don't get me wrong, but I don't love him, not really."
Angie was confused, she wasn't sure why Jayne was telling her all of this, she wasn't sure if she was supposed to comment or remain silent. She certainly had not asked to become Jayne's confessional this morning.
"Jayne, why are you telling me this?" Angie asked as sweetly as she could. "I'm confused. Are you getting a divorce?"
Jayne shrugged, "I don't know why I'm telling you, other than I felt like if I didn't talk to someone I was going to explode. Divorce? I really had not thought of divorcing Steve. He's a good dad, and a good husband, it's not his fault that I don't love him."
Angie shrugged, "But is it fair to him to stay with him? There might be someone out there who will love him."
"I don't know what to do, Angie, but all of that isn't what I wanted to talk to you about."
Angie was really confused, "It's not?"
Jayne shook her head, "No, it's not. I was just giving you some background information on why I am the way I am. I hope you don't judge me too harshly."
Angie shook her head, "I'm not one to judge anyone, Jayne. If you didn't want to talk to me about Steve, what did you want to talk about?"
Jayne shrugged, "Ron."
Angie knew she wasn't in a position to be giving advice over lovers and husbands and the like, and was about to tell Jayne that when she started talking again.
"I think you've figured out that he and I kind of have a 'thing' going on."
Angie nodded, "I suspected."
Jayne laughed, "I haven't exactly been careful about it, I know that. But, recently I also started seeing someone else, and I'm actually afraid to break it off with Ron. That's what I wanted to talk to you about."
Angie held up her hands, "I'm not going to break up with Ron for you, if that is what you're wanting to ask me."
Jayne laughed, but to Angie, the laugh seemed hollow, sad. "No, I will take care of that myself, but I need someone to know what has been going on, and what my intentions are incase anything happens."
"What do you mean? In case anything happens?" Angie asked, her voice rising just a bit.
A tear rolled down Jayne's cheek, then another. "If anything happens to me, anything like the girls, will you please let Sheriff Cooper know what I told you."
Angie gasped, "Jayne, do you think Ron is the one who is doing this to the girls?"
More tears as Jayne nodded silently.
Angie stood, "Jayne, you have to tell Coop, you have to."
Cooper's voice rang out behind them, startling both of the women. "Tell Coop what Jayne?"
|Jayne jumped up, nearly knocking over the chair she was seated in. She shrieked as she turned to face John Cooper.
“You scared me, John. I didn’t know you were listening!”
She covered her face with her hands, sobbing, seeming to be near hysteria.
Coop placed his hands on her shoulders to guide her back to the chair she’d been in, but she turned suddenly and leaned her face into his arm. Coop’s hands released her shoulders immediately and he took a step back as if to avoid her.
Angie, realizing the awkwardness of the entire scene grabbed her box of tissues and led Jayne back to the chair.
“Here, Jayne, you’ll be fine. Sit down now. But you need to talk to the Sheriff, he’s the best one to advise you and he needs to know. Just tell him everything you told me.”
Jayne regained a little of her composure, daintily wiping her face with the tissue she pulled from the box Angie was holding. Coop was watching every move she made. He noticed she never blew her nose, she merely wiped her eyes and her face.
Jayne told her story, elaborating a little more with this telling. There was mention of Ron’s demands, his anger, his physical force to restrain her. She told them she left him angry many times and he would stalk off in a rage. She was hesitant in the telling, seeming to think over each word before she said it. She repeatedly reached for the tissues, Her eyes darted around the room, as if searching for words. Agitation showed in the wringing of her hands and the quiver of her voice.
She looked at Coop. “Can you stop him, John?” she asked in a shaky voice.
“Stop him from what, Jayne? Has he hurt you physically? Has he made a threat? Is he stalking you? You’ve only complained of his actions toward you but you haven’t given me any proof. Do you have photos of injuries? Do you have bruises? You can get a restraining order against him but without proof, I have no reason to lock him up. Do you understand?”
Jayne looked at Coop, dry eyed with her mouth open as if she couldn’t believe what he said.
Not waiting for an answer, Coop asked, “Can you tell me the last time you saw him in a rage, Jayne?”
“It was the night of Jan’s murder,” she whispered into another tissue, eyes downcast again. “I was late meeting him and he locked the car door and wouldn’t let me in. I went on into the pharmacy, and I left by another door. I don’t know how long he waited but he was angry.”
“Is that all?” asked Coop?
“What do you mean, is that all?”
“I mean did he come after you, call you with threats, come to your home? What else did he do?”
“Uh nothing. But you have to help me, I know he’s the killer. You haven’t seen the rage like I have, you haven’t seen his anger.”
“Anger is one thing, evidence is another, M’am. I can’t arrest him, but you can take precautions. You can file a restraining order, which would be very difficult since you work in the same vicinity as he does. You can tell your husband, you can . . . “
“I can’t tell Steve!! I can’t tell him. I don’t understand why you can’t just arrest him and get him off the streets. What he did to those girls is merciless! Nobody should die like that. Those poor little beautiful babies . . . you saw their bodies, John!”
"I’ll make a report, Jayne. That’s all I can do unless you file a complaint and get a restraining order. Neither you nor we have any evidence of any crime he’s committed. I can only advise you to take necessary precautions. Tell your husband and don’t go out alone particularly after school. Now it’s time for me to go to the meeting.”
Coop turned on his heel and walked out, but not before his eyes met Angie’s.
At 9:55 the principal announced that the meeting would start in five minutes. In the hour since Coop had left them, Angie and Jayne had talked very little, and finally Jayne left, telling Angie she had a lot of thinking to do. As she walked out of Angie’s classroom, she turned back and said, “Not a word to anybody about this, Angie. You understand?”
Then the door slammed behind her and Angie jumped.
Briefly she thought about asking Jayne where she got her key to the auditorium, but on second thought, she decided to keep quiet. But her thoughts were all over the place wondering how Jayne could be crying one minute and slamming doors the next.
Jayne had exhibited two, no, three sides, Angie thought. She confided in Angie, she tried to flirt with Coop when she leaned into him and he stepped away, and she was vehement when explaining that Ron was violent with her, yet she had no evidence. So what was going on with her? Angie had no clue. At least Coop had heard most every word, except for the confidences she’d shared before he came in.
And Coop, even he’d been a little cold to Jayne.
Angie worked through some lesson plans but got very little done before time to report to the auditorium.
The meeting lasted an hour; the principal, Ron Banks and John Cooper on stage. The topic was of course the murders, and how teachers could be on the alert, how they could contribute information, how they could help keep the students from panicking, how they could help them protect themselves. Then the meeting was turned over to Coop for questions. Angie noticed that Ron Banks was only a figure and contributed very little to the meeting.
Following the meeting, the teachers split into groups. It was easier to discuss these issues in smaller groups than with the entire faculty. They would meet as a whole again later in the afternoon.
It was a day without answers, Angie was thinking to herself when they were dismissed at the end of the day. She gathered her things from her office, turned to lock it and as she was leaving her room Ron Banks was standing in her doorway.
“Officer?” Angie asked with a question in her voice.
“Ms. Lark. I’m just checking that the building is secure and if you’re ready to leave I’ll walk you to your car.”
“Oh I’ll be fine, but thanks. I do this every day and check the outer doors on my way to the car. But thanks so much for your concern. I’m sure you have the main building to secure as well, and actually since the students aren’t here today I’m sure there’ll be little worry about the building and the parking lot is all but empty back here anyway, besides it’s only a little after 3 and certainly not dark out. . . “
“You sound a little nervous, Angie. Did something frighten you?”
Ron stepped closer into the room and Angie took a little step backward.
“Oh no, just my usual concerns, nothing else. Thanks, I’ll be on my way now.”
His big body blocked her way to the door.
“Actually, I’d like to talk with you, Angie,” his tone softened. “I couldn’t help but notice that Jayne was here with you this morning. I know you aren’t close friends with her so what was that all about?”
Angie just looked at him, her mouth opened slightly, her eyes opened wide. She could feel her heartbeat in her throat.
“Oh don’t worry. I don’t mean to scare you, but you see, Jayne and I are very close friends and I know she has an unhappy marriage but she hasn’t been answering my phone calls and I’m a little worried about her. That husband of hers is no good and from what she tells me, he’s abusive to her as well. I’m just concerned for her, out of friendship, you know?”
He seemed to be almost pleading, Angie thought.
“Uh no, Jayne said nothing like that to me, she mostly was talking about where she went to college and she was suggesting that I encourage some of my students to go there, since it does have a very strong art department. No. no, she didn’t mention her husband at all.” Angie was thinking as fast as she could.
Ron took another step toward her, raising his voice as he said, “Are you sure that’s all she told you, Angie? Are you sure she didn’t mention . . .”
“Didn’t mention what, Banks? Who didn’t mention what?” boomed Coop’s loud baritone.
“Nothing much, Sheriff,” Ron answered in a quiet voice, then continued eyes a little downcast, “Folks, I’m sorry. I’m outta line here. But Jayne Kinser has been acting in a very strange way almost since these murders started. I’ll be honest, we’ve had a little thing going on for several months, even before these murders began. A little something on the side, ya know?” He chuckled while Coop and Angie stared at him. “She’s an emotional wreck, but she does have an interesting ummmmmm. . . appearance and it was just one of those things. But more recently, it’s like she’s on a mission. Now I’m not looking for anything long term here and neither is she, so it isn’t that. But there’s something there that just doesn’t set right. She asks me to meet her and I do then she takes off and disappears for hours at a time, with no word or warning. Seems like it happens every time there’s been a murder. Now I’m not saying. . .”
“What are you saying, Banks? Are you accusing her of something? Something any more sinister than meeting you on the sly? Or maybe standing you up one time too many?”
Banks glared at Coop, turned and quickly walked away.
Angie and Coop just looked at each other, both shaking their heads, then without a word, Cooper walked her to her car and followed her home. As they sat eating a light snack again in the living room, just as if it were something they did every day, Coop turned again to Angie.
“Angie, what do you know about Jayne Kinser?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Coop. I only know her at school. And what she told me today. That’s about it.”
“Do you know her maiden name?”
“No, but that’s easy enough to find. And we know she attended Berea College. We can look through yearbooks. Our library carries yearbooks from all regional colleges so the students can take a look if they are interested. But then again, we’d have to know her maiden name because from what she said we couldn’t identify her by her photo in the yearbook.”
Angie told Coop a little about their conversation before he'd walked in on them.
Coop picked up his phone and called his office.
“Mandy, it’s Coop. Can you run a background check on Jayne Kinser? Just see what you can find. We know she’s married to Steve Kinser and you can get the address from records, but what I need is information before she moved here. The only thing I can give you is that she said she went to Berea College. Yeah, Mandy, get right on it. Thanks!”
Coop shut his phone and resumed munching the cheese and crackers. Thoughtful. Removed, Angie thought.
Finally she interrupted his thoughts.
“Coop, you might get some information from the office at school. Records of the entire faculty are kept there.”
“I’d like to keep this out of school for now, Angie. The fewer people we involve, the better it will be.”
“Then what about Ron Banks,” Angie asked.
“Good old Ron was born and raised here, Angie, and he’s been Ron Banks all his life. His wild ways and wild days are well known in this town, though I will say except for his womanizing, he’s pure as snow. I don’t think we’d find a thing we didn’t already know about him. I need to make one more phone call then let’s put this day away and go on to better discussions, how’s that?”
Angie nodded, but Coop was already on the phone.
“JR? Coop here. You get that report back on the fingerprints yet?”
He listened for a minute and Angie leaned closer. She could hear JR’s voice.
“Nada, Coop, the lab sent it on to state, it’ll be a day or two. They got the edge of one thumb print, but state has some kinda instrument that will lift even the dustiest prints right off rocks, so it’s on its way there now.”
“Good job, JR. Anything else I need to know? OK, then, I’ll see you in the morning. Thanks.”
He turned to Angie.
“Were you fingerprinted when you were hired to teach here?”
“Yes, Coop, we all were.”
“Good to know,” said Coop. “Very good to know.”
Then he took her hand and led her back to the recliner they’d left only a few hours earlier.
|The days turned into weeks; the good news, there had not been any more murders. The bad news; though Coop had followed every lead, though his men had scoured every inch of every crime scene, though every fingerprint had been analyzed and then analyzed again, they were no further along than they were when the crimes had happened. The case had went cold.
For Angie and Cooper, well, that had went cold as well, Coop had withdrawn from her. He was so disappointed in himself over his perceived inability to solve the crimes, that he worked harder than ever, if possible. He occasionally came over to Angie's mostly to vent his frustration at what he saw as his own personal failure.
"Angie, I have let so many people down." He said one evening as he ate a meal she practically had to force down him. Angie was worried about him, not just his emotional state at not solving the crime, but his physical appearance scared her. He had lost weight, he was drawn, and she couldn't remember a time now that the dark circles under his eyes weren't there. He was losing himself in this case, and she felt helpless; she didn't know what to do.
She confided as much in her brother one evening when they were talking on the phone. At first, when Angie mentioned how worried she was about Cooper, Aaron dismissed her, but in their weekly conversations as Angie repeatedly relayed her worry over Cooper, Aaron began to take her seriously.
Angie and Aaron had always been close. Aaron knew her better than even her parents, and even when Aaron and his parents went weeks sometimes without talking, he and Angie talked at least once a week, usually more. It was Angie that Aaron had confided in when he grew restless a few years ago, tired of the grind of coaching football full time. He had sworn Angie to secrecy, he didn't want anyone to know that his life wasn't perfect. Typical of Aaron. He had also sworn her to secrecy when he had applied to law school, it had taken him longer than most to complete, nearly five years because he had kept coaching full time, but when he finished, and then passed the bar, it had been Angie he had called in excitement, and Angie he called when he found a firm willing to work with his coaching schedule and allow him to work part time with them, mostly during the winter and spring months when football wasn't so demanding.
Aaron was faced with a dilemma, one he had not shared with his parents or even his sister. His coaching contract with the University was completed, they were pressing him to sign a new contract, but he had refused and given them a letter of resignation. The President of the University had refused to accept his resignation, and had come back with another offer because they thought he wanted more money, or that he had an offer from another university, or even professional team, when he told them for what felt like the millionth time it wasn't that, that he wanted to practice law full time, they had come back with another offer, even more money. They were relentless in trying to get him to continue coaching.
They didn't understand, he didn't need the money, he had been wise with his earnings from the National Football League, he could live quite comfortably without a job for many years. He didn't need the fame, he had three national championships on his resume, he had had all the glory he needed on the gridiron.
Aaron knew he was going to practice law full time, he just wasn't sure where. Here, in California or home, he had completed all the necessary paperwork to practice law in either state when he first passed the bar. Even then, it was if subconciously he knew eventually he would go back. He had just always assumed it would be much later in his life, he loved the west coast, and did not think a few years ago that he would ever leave. But, in the last few years, home had been weighing heavily on his mind. With the troubles that had plagued his hometown over the last year, it was even heavier on his mind and in his heart, he felt like an invisible force was tugging at him.
He knew he was finished coaching, of that there was no doubt, the law fulfilled him like nothing ever had, not even playing professional football. He enjoyed helping people, helping them solve problems they saw as insurmountable, but he had been away from home for so many years without even an inkling of a desire to return. Why now? That was what Aaron wrestled with, and this he kept to himself, or so he thought. He had not directly told Angie he was thinking of coming home, though he had hinted on several occasions that if she needed him, he would be there in an instant.
Angie did not want to be the one to tell Aaron he needed to come home, though she was almost certain it was want he wanted, even though he had never said it directly. She let Aaron work everything out on his own, as he had always done. She wanted Aaron to come to the decision on his own, hoping that when he did, it would be a permanent move, and hoping it would be sooner rather than later for her sake, as well as Coop's.
The morning in late May when she read in the paper that Oliver Haines, the county's long time legal guru was planning to retire, but hoping he could find someone to take over his practice, Angie knew this was the answer. She dialed Aaron's number glancing at the clock hoping it wasn't too early, his time. He answered groggily, so she knew she had interrupted his sleep, but she knew this was too important to wait. When she felt like the idle chatter had him fully awake, she casually mentioned there had been an article in the paper about Oliver Haines retiring. She could almost see Aaron sitting up straighter through the phone line.
"When is he retiring?" Aaron asked.
Angie smiled, she had is full attention now. She paused for a moment, "I don't know, it said something about him wanting to find someone to take over his practice, I didn't really read it closely" she lied, "I think that the purpose of the article was to let people know what his plans were. I don't think a specific time line was mentioned."
Aaron quickly said he needed to get off of the phone mumbling something about a shower, Angie knew the wheels in his brain were churning, so she told him she loved him, and said goodbye. After replacing the receiver, she smiled, she knew it was going to be just a matter of time before her brother told her he was moving back home.
Angie rushed around getting ready. She was so excited, it was the last day of school, finally this awful year was over. She knew all of her colleagues were as ready as she for the final bell to ring today. The students were ready after the second week of the year. She wondered to herself if the students realized that their teachers were probably more excited than they were for the end of the year. Teaching was an emotionally and mentally draining job, and what all those people who smirked about having the summer off didn't realize was that most teachers needed that time to re-charge, to relax, because once the school year started, it wasn't just an eight hour day, it was a twenty-four hour seven day a week job that drained just about everything from a person. Not to mention all the work that occurred over the summer months preparing for the coming year. She shook her head, no, most people just did not understand that. As she was turning the coffee pot off, her doorbell rang. She instantly knew it was Cooper, she hoped and prayed as she ran to the door that something hadn't happened. Another murder? She swung the door open, prepared for the worst, and then screamed as she was enveloped in her brother's arms.
"What are you doing?!" she yelled into his chest as he embraced her. "You scared me to death, no one would be ringing my doorbell this early with good news!"
Aaron laughed, "I wanted to surprise you."
Angie wiped the tears from her eyes as she leaned back to look up at Aaron, "Well, you did you big oaf!" She slapped his chest, then hugged him again, "Oh my gosh it is so good to see you! I have missed you more than you know."
Aaron rubbed her back as he embraced her, "No more than I've missed you. Can you handle a room mate for a while?"
Angie drew back again, hoping against hope that she had heard him correctly. "Of course I can, how long are you planning on staying?" She asked, holding her breath.
He smiled, "Well, until old man Haines decides to hand me the reigns full time, and moves out of the house."
"What?!" Angie was screaming again.
Aaron nodded, "I've met with him twice and talked extensively with him many times. I've offered to buy his practice. I think you know that his offices are located in that big old house on Scarberry Street, but what isn't known by most is that he also lives there. So, as soon as he feels like I can handle everything on my own, he's moving to a house he bought in Florida, and I will take possession of the practice and the house. Permanently."
Angie was at a loss for words, "Oh my gosh Aaron, you have no idea how happy I am!"
Aaron smiled, "Well, we'll see how happy you are if Haines hangs around for a year, he may, he really treats that practice like his child. He wants to make sure I'm going to give his clients the same attention he does. He won't sign the final contract until he is sure." Aaron laughed, "He actually said it might take him a year, but he has a good feeling about me or he wouldn't have entered into the preliminary contract with me."
Angie just laughed, "I don't care if it's five years, Aaron, you're here, you're home where you belong. Oh my gosh, do Mom and Dad know?"
Aaron grinned sheepishly. "Not yet, I haven't mentioned anything to them, I didn't want them to get their hopes up."
Angie shook her head, "You really should have. The haven't forgiven you yet for not telling them about law school. Mom still fusses about missing that graduation."
Aaron laughed, "I know, even though I keep reminding her that I didn't even go to the ceremony, I had a game. They mailed me my degree."
Angie looked at her watch, "I've got to go or I'm going to be late. There's an extra key in the cabinet to the right of the fridge, under the blue bowls. Aaron, this is going to be good for Cooper too, I just know it is."
Aaron's smile faded just a little, "I hope so, Angie, I'm worried about him. I know you are too."
Angie nodded, "We can catch up later, I'll be home about three. Just put anything from the spare room you don't need in the basement or my room. I've got part of the basement set up as an office, but there's plenty of room down there."
Aaron nodded, and walked Angie to her car. "I'll probably go in and call Coop." he said, "I figure someone will see me around here and call him anyway. Better it come from me than him worrying that someone is breaking in."
Angie nodded, "Probably a really good idea. Your next call should be to mom and dad."
Aaron shook his head, "No, I want to go over tonight and surprise them."
Angie laughed, "Alright, I'll ask Mom if she'll make fried chicken for dinner, tell her I'm craving it."
Aaron sighed, "My favorite. That will be perfect."
Angie smiled all the way to work. She knew now that everything was going to be alright, at least in her world, she only hoped that Aaron being home would in some way help Cooper too.
Fried chicken was everybody’s favorite. The kitchen was cleared and the family was enjoying banana pudding with Coop around the dining table.
Her mom was still in shock, but as Angie looked at her she realized her mom looked happier than she had seen her in a very long time. When they'd arrived, she gave Angie her usual hug, then turned to who she thought was Coop. When she realized it was Aaron, her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened in surprise, then she let out a little scream, which, of course, brought Angie’s dad running.
“Aaron! Son! What are you doing here?”
“Come in, come in, what a surprise!”
“Is everything all right? You haven’t been home in so long!”
“You should have let us know, we’d have your room ready!”
“Come in, come on in, you must be tired! Did you just get in town?”
“Angie, why didn’t you tell us?”
By the time the dust settled and Aaron told them of his big life change, the opportunity to buy the law firm, the desire to live and work in his home town, dinner was ready and the rest of the conversation took place between bites of fried chicken. It was only as they were clearing the table and there was a knock at the door that Angie remembered Coop had said he’d stop by for dessert.
“So here we all are”, said Mrs. Lark, “Just like years ago, the only difference is that you two big lugs would have been outside by now tearing up the lawn with one of your practice moves. It’s so good to have you all together again. Aaron, what a stroke of luck! You bought the practice and the house to go with it. Coop, isn’t it good to have him home?”
“It’s good, real good,” said Coop with a smile. Angie caught herself before she leaned over with her napkin to wipe a crumb of vanilla wafer off Coop’s upper lip.
He looked a little better, she thought, more relaxed, not as many shadows in his eyes. Yes, Aaron would be good for Coop.
Though the Larks kept insisting that Aaron stay in his old room until his house was ready, Aaron gently reminded them that he had a schedule to keep and it was much easier if he stayed with Angie closer to town. After a few rounds of Scrabble, all of which Angie won; after some gentle teasing of Aaron and his lack of a love life, all of which he said he was ready to rectify, the young people said goodnight with hugs and thanks and promises of more family gatherings soon.
“Hey Coop, you want to show me where all the action is tonight?”
“Sure, big guy, you been gone so long you’ve forgotten?”
“I haven’t forgotten, Coop, but I’m just afraid everybody has forgotten me!”
Coop turned to Angie, “How about it, Little One, you want to join a couple of old men for a night on the town? School’s out, it’s Friday night, might be fun?”
“You two go ahead, have fun, enjoy! I’ve got a great new Patterson book just waiting for me at home. You have your key, don’t you, Aaron? I don’t have to wait up for you, now do I? Coop, his car’s at my house so don’t leave him stranded. I also don’t want to have drive around looking for him in the middle of the night.”
She climbed into her car.
Those guys! After all, it was their reunion too, Angie thought. And she did have the new James Patterson novel. Let them have their fun. She smiled thinking it was the first time she’d seen Coop relaxed in a long time. And she giggled when she thought of Aaron’s nonexistent love life. She wondered where that might lead.
Aaron piled into Coop’s car and Angie laughed as she watched them tear down the street burning rubber just like they used to do. Not for long, though, just long enough for her to know that Coop might be letting go of some of his worries, at least for this night. She took her time driving home.
Her house was quiet. Seemed the entire town had been quiet the past few weeks. She changed into comfy yoga pants and tank, looking forward to a weekend of no worries, no grades to post, no lesson plans, and no performances for an entire summer. Oh she’d work on next year’s curriculum, and she’d research some new ideas, grab a studio class here and there, but with Aaron home, she knew a lot of her time would be spent with him. And maybe Coop. Tonight was not a night to think about the murders.
“What do you have in mind, Aaron? The town hasn’t changed much. We can grab a beer at Starsky’s if you want, it should be fairly quiet tonight.”
“Beer? You mean you drink beer in public, Coop?” teased Aaron.
“Not much and not often,” growled Coop, “but I’m off duty for the weekend, and besides, not much going on in the last few weeks.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard. Sorry about the murders, Coop. You got any leads?”
“You talked to Angie? Did she tell you I’ve let everybody down? Yeah, we’ve got leads, just no proof; nothing tangible, and in your line of work you know it has to be hard evidence in a case like this.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“Not much to talk about, Aaron, and not tonight. Tonight’s ours. But let’s schedule an afternoon, tomorrow, next week? Whenever. There are some things about the murders that I’d like your ideas about. And evidence. If you can come to my office, well, you might shed some new light on what we do have. We have a serial killer who’s either lost interest, which is highly unlikely, or he’s moved on. But my contacts tell me there’s been nothing even remotely like what hit us in any area near here. And to tell you the truth, this town is so small I’d know if anybody had moved away. Nobody has. That tells me it’s somebody right here among us, and whoever it is, he’s a hell of a lot smarter than I am. ”
“Or she? Did you ever think about that, Coop? Not too many female serial killers that I know of, but history has given us a few. Sure, I’ll be glad to stop by, tomorrow’s good. I need to spend some time at the practice on Monday. But Tuesday ‘s good too if you want to wait that long. Angie knows about this, right? You want to meet me there?”
“Angie knows most of it, but there are some things I’d prefer to keep between the two of us. And speaking of, male, female, all I know is that the killer is one smart cookie. And I don’t have a clue. Maybe you’ll see what I’m missing. We’ll go over it tomorrow, I’ll meet you at my office around 1, should be a quiet time. Well, here’s Starsky’s, not much going on that I can see. How about it, you game for a couple of brews?”
“Sure. They still have that pool table in the back room?”
“Nah, turned it into a dining room a few years back. For parties, small reunions, that sort of thing. They have pretty good food here. You’re not still hungry, man, surely not?”
“Nope, I was just thinking I could beat you at pool. Been a long time.”
Coop parked the car, grabbed his cell phone off the charger and he and Aaron headed for the door to Starsky’s.
As they approached the door, they heard the slam of a car door very nearly beside them then the click that only high heels on asphalt can make.
They turned, gentlemen both, to hold the door for the lady who approached them.
She was slim, they could see very well in Starsky’s exterior lights. Slight, though tall and broad shouldered. She wore black, slim black jeans with what Aaron later described as ‘bling’ up and down the sides of the legs. Her jacket was white leather, opened down the front showing a glimpse of black lace barely covering exposed cleavage. The white cowboy hat sported more bling on its band.
She tilted her head upward, causing the hat to slide back slightly. No hair was visible, Coop knew it was tucked up inside the hat. But her mouth flew open and her eyes grew wide when they focused on Coop.
“Oh,” she exclaimed. Her hand grabbing the place where her heart would be.
“If she had a heart,” thought Coop, though he only said, “Hello, Jayne.”
“Oh,” she repeated, then shook her head causing her hat to fall onto the sidewalk.
Aaron, ever the gentleman, leaned down to grab her hat, dusted it off and handed it back to her. Coop never took his eyes off Jayne.
“Oh,” she said again, sounding a little breathless, shaking her head as if to clear it.
She reached for her hat and Coop noticed that her hair was wound tightly on top of her head. It was so tight, he noticed, that it gave her eyes a bit of an Oriental cast.
“Well, thank you, Handsome Cowboy,” she said in what Coop thought was a well practiced whiskey voice. She by now had regained some composure. Her hand rested lightly on Aaron’s arm. She looked at Coop expectantly.
“Jayne, meet my friend Aaron. Aaron, this is Jayne.”
“It’s so nice to know you, Aaron, I don’t believe I’ve seen you around town. Are you visiting?”
Aaron smiled and reached to shake her hand.
“No, I just moved into town recently. It’s nice meeting you as well.”
They held the door for her and she entered Starsky’s ahead of them.
“Meeting someone, Jayne?” asked Coop?
“Oh no, nobody, I . . . uh. . . just stopped by to grab a beer, trying to unwind, you know how it is on a Friday night, Coop.”
“Yes, I surely do. Aaron, seats at the bar?” He looked at Aaron with a slight shake of his head, thinking all the time, don’t do it, buddy, don’t ask her to join us.
Aaron somehow got the message, looked around and saw the two stools at the end of the bar. He walked toward them with Coop right behind him. Jayne was left standing just inside the door.
They grabbed the barstools.
“What was that all about, Coop?” Aaron whispered.
“Later, “ answered Coop.
“She’s a good looker, I’ll say that.”
“Cool it, Aaron. Not now.”
But Jayne wasn’t to be deterred. Aaron felt her at his elbow right beside Coop before he heard her voice. She leaned slightly into his arm, even as she was addressing Coop.
“John, how’s the case going? Do you have any leads?”
“We have plenty of leads, Ms. Kinser. We just can’t talk about them. You surely understand that. When an arrest is made, you’ll know.”
“But it’s been so long, and those poor girls. What makes a guy turn into a killer? We could be passing right by him every day on the street and never even know. It just scares me to death to even live in this town.”
“Then why are you out alone this late at night, Jayne, if you’re so scared?”
“Well, John Cooper, you don’t have to be so rude. I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy and thought I’d stop here for one little drink. It’s a busy place and nothing is going to happen to me in a big group. Besides the killer is probably miles away by now. “
Coop took it a step further when he said, “You never filed the complaint, did you, Jayne? You never took the advice I gave you. It was only a few short weeks ago when you were making accusations. What changed your mind?”
Coop kept his voice low; the group in Starsky’s was noisy but he didn’t know where this conversation was going so he was very careful what he was saying. His eyes roved over the other customers. No one was paying attention to them.
Jayne ignored Coop and turned to Aaron leaning a little more closely on his arm.
“Just ignore Coop, he’s had a bad time recently, not finding the killer, you know. Now tell me about you, Aaron, where did you come from and what brings you here to this no life little town?”
Just then the bartender asked the gentlemen what he could get them, placing small bowls of nuts in front of them. The two men turned to the bar, effectively pushing Jayne to the back, as if not to include her when ordering. The bartender took the hint. So did Jayne.
She turned, shoulders back and chin up, and clicked her way back out the door.
Bud had said he’d meet her at ten in the parking lot at Starsky’s. After Coop’s obvious rude behavior, she needed Bud’s attention. She wasn’t interested in Coop, she knew he only had eyes for that sweet little phony, Angie, but she could be very interested in the good looking hunk he was with tonight.
She glanced around the parking lot. No sign of Bud. She might wait, she might not. It was already a little after 10. She walked to her car. Steve’s car, actually, tonight she was driving Steve’s car.
She climbed into the driver’s seat, slid low and leaned back. Her hat slid forward. She didn’t care. As always when she felt she’d been rejected that dark shadow came over her. Her thoughts darkened as well.
Angie. Coop’s little Angie. Everybody knew they were involved. Not that it was obvious unless you watched them together. It was the little things that were telling. The way they looked at each other. The way they leaned toward each other. The way Coop’s arm was always holding Angie’s. She’d driven by Angie’s house several times during the wee morning hours and had seen Coop’s car parked there.
Sweet, perfect Angie. Looking like one of the students with that wide eyed innocence that was as fake as Angie was. Pretending to be her friend. Pretending to care. All phony, all false, all of it. She knew it was Angie’s fault she had to return the key to the Fine Arts Building. Of course everybody had to turn keys in at the end of the year except department chairmen. Angie thought she was somebody, chairing that department. People like Angie had all the luck. Just like those hot little students that thought they were so special.
Suddenly Jayne grew tired of waiting. She turned the key in the ignition and quickly pulled out of the parking lot. She drove down by the river, thought about Ron. She drove past the school, thought about Bud. There was little traffic. She hardly passed another vehicle. She found herself driving down the street where Angie lived. She slowed the car as she drove past the house. There seemed to be nobody home, though she thought she saw a light in the back. Angie’s car was parked in its usual place, but Jayne couldn’t see the extra vehicle parked behind the house. She had no way of knowing it was Aaron’s.
She drove slowly, circled the block, drove past Angie’s house again. It had been awhile since she’d been there on the street where Angie lived. It had been dark then too, but Jayne knew the house; had been there many times, both in daylight and darkness. She knew the outside of the house very well, though she’d never been inside.
And again she circled, slowing this time to a stop right in front of the house. Her hand hit the car lights, her thoughts jumping incoherently from one thing to another in the darkness of the night.
“Let her know, let that little slut know who’s in control. Goody two shoes. Thinks she’s so cute. She saw what happened to cute little girls. Saw them dead. Saw them buried. “
She tossed her white cowboy hat into the back seat. Her jacket landed on top of it. She glared at the house as she sat like a dark shadow in Steve’s car.
Stuck as she was in the darkened corner of her mind she didn’t notice the car that pulled in behind her. Its lights were off too and the car had been silent. She didn’t even notice the man who slipped from the car into the darkness behind hers.
She was caught tight in the dark corner of her own mind.
|Jayne quietly closed her car door. The man, holding his position, watched. He did not even dare move afraid she would hear the gravel crunch beneath his feet. Across the street, movement caught his eye. In the shadows, someone else stood watching the house, or Jayne, which he couldn't be sure. He took a chance and quietly crouched behind his own car while the person in the shadows moved behind the trees as Jayne moved toward Angie's house.
Jayne stumbled toward Angie's house, Angie was the root cause of all her problems, she knew it. Angie had everything, Jayne had nothing and intended to make Angie pay. Just then a car turned the corner toward Jayne, moving up the street it's headlights blinding her. The car turned in to Angie's driveway and stopped. Jayne could hear the engine ticking as it cooled, and then she heard the hum of the window motor as a window was lowered. Jayne stopped, she did not think the person in the car had seen her. She stepped back toward the boxwood shrubs that lined the sidewalk, willing herself to become one with the shrubs.
The interior light came on in the car, and Jayne could see there were two people inside the car, she could faintly make out voices. Sure now that they did not see her as they approached, Jayne quietly made her way to the end of the driveway, where she could hear the conversation more clearly.
"Man, you've just got to step back from the situation and not take it so personally, that's all." Jayne recognized the voice of the good looking man with John Cooper earlier in the evening.
Jayne strained to hear Cooper's response. "It's not that easy. All my life all I've wanted to do is protect this county, this town, and I've failed. So, yeah, I do take it very personally. Hey, this was supposed to be your homecoming celebration, let's not talk anymore about this. Are you really sticking around?"
Jayne was confused, she thought she knew everyone, who was this man and had Angie already gotten her claws into him as well? Just then the light on the porch of Angie's house came on, and she stepped in to view. Jayne wanted to gag. Angie stood on the porch in the light, her hands shading her eyes straining to see who was in her driveway. She was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and Jayne was jealous that even dressed so simply, she was stunning. Jayne heard Angie call out.
"Coop, are you going to keep my brother in your car all night, or are you two coming in?"
Brother? Her brother? Jayne searched through the files of her memory... ah yes, she did recall Angie mentioning her big brother a time or two, so this gorgeous hunk of man was Angie's brother? Interesting, that Jayne had not noticed any resemblance at all. Jayne sighed, and started to slip back toward her car. She would wait a few minutes until they were in the house, and she would leave. She had not noticed the man across the street quietly slip away into the darkness, but the man behind Jayne had.
The man held his position, just watching Jayne, waiting to see what was going to happen next.
"So, did y'all have a good time tonight?" Angie asked as Coop and Aaron made themselves comfortable on the sofa.
Aaron grinned as Coop laughed, "Aaron met Jayne tonight."
Angie tilted her head slightly, "Oh?"
Coop laughed again, "I think she's sweet on him."
Aaron blushed red. "I think she's a little weird, no offense Ang, if she's a friend of yours. But, that lady gave me the heebie jeebies. I never thought I would mind the attention of a woman, especially a good looking woman like her, but she just has a weird vibe about her."
Coop nodded, "That she does."
The three sat talking, not paying any mind to the clock on the wall, it didn't really matter, it was Friday night and the three of them were just enjoying each other, it had been so long. Coop had missed this, this idle chatter about everything and nothing, just the comfort of being with the people who knew him best in the world. Coop felt more relaxed than he had in months and months. Of course, nothing lasts forever, and Coop was reminded of that when his cell went off, he knew this couldn't be good. He glanced at the clock, it was nearly four in the morning they had been talking for over four hours. He hit the button and held the phone to his ear, while Angie and Aaron stared, waiting to hear what news came at this hour.
"Damn it to hell."
It was Aaron who asked first, "What is it Coop?"
Coop was silent.
Angie stood, "Coop, what happened?"
Coop ran his hand through his hair and sighed. "A deputy out on routine patrol noticed a car sitting in the parking lot of the school. He made a few more rounds, and finally approached the car."
Angie gasped, "Oh no, there's been another murder?"
Aaron asked, "Have they identified the victim?"
Coop nodded, "Yeah. Jayne Kinser is dead. She was slumped over the steering wheel of her husband's car, her neck slit from ear to ear."
Angie felt faint.
It was almost more than Angie’s mind could absorb.
Coop left quickly after a quick and whispered word with Aaron as he walked with Coop to the door.
“This is bad, Aaron. I don’t know when I’ll get back to you. Take care of Angie, don’t let her go anywhere alone. Oh, and Aaron, don’t leave her alone here either, not till I get some answers.”
And before Aaron could respond, Coop was gone. Aaron locked the door behind him. He turned to see Angie sitting in the corner of the sofa, her head in her hands.
Aaron slid his arm around his sister’s slender shoulders and she buried her face in the softness of his old tee shirt. She couldn’t stop the shudders nor the sobs.
“It’s OK, honey, Coop will get to the bottom of this. You know he will. I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this; there are . . . “
“No, Aaron, don’t be sorry for me, be sorry for those poor little dead girls and Jayne, I can’t believe it’s Jayne. And Aaron, I didn’t dislike her, I . . I . . I just d-d-didn’t really l- l-like her much. But I didn’t want her dead. Oh my god, Aaron, it’s happening to teachers now. What does this mean?”
“I don’t know, Angie, but you know and I know that it will be resolved. We just have to be careful, watchful, and prepared for anything. Listen to me, Angie, we both need some sleep. Let’s check the locks now . . .”
“Aaron, can we sleep here, the recliner’s good, and the couch, do you think you could stay in here with me?”
“Sure, little one. Just like when you got scared years ago. Your big brother is right here taking care of you.” He yanked a tear soaked strand of her hair.
They didn’t sleep much; their voices could be heard quietly speaking even as the morning birds chirped their day awake.
It was 8 a.m. before Coop allowed the body to be moved to the medical examiner’s office.
There weren’t a lot of obvious clues. Jayne’s throat was slit from one ear to the other, very nearly decapitating her. She had fallen forward, or perhaps her head had been pushed forward from behind, if the killer had been in the back seat of her car, it could have happened. He could have held her head by gripping the hair with one hand, slitting her throat with the other. One hand pushing, one hand pulling, well planned, fast motion, Coop had thought about it. Her hands were gripping the steering wheel; the same wheel that kept her head from separating completely from her body.
The cop who’d found her thought she was sleeping, her head leaning against the wheel. He knocked on her window, a quiet tap, then a little louder. When he saw no response from the lady sleeping with her forehead against the wheel, he gently opened the door.
“Mam? Mam, can you hear me, are you sick?”
He tapped her shoulder and when there was still no response, he reached inside and gently pushing against her shoulder, her body toward him. The head stayed where it was as the body turned. His hand jerked away as dark blood poured from the now open wound. She had not been dead long; the blood was still wet and it fell warm on his hand.
Coop reached the scene just in time to notice the greenish cast to the young cop’s face in the early morning light.
The precinct was nearly silent when Coop reached his office. He took a quick shower in the tiny bathroom just to the left of his desk. He didn’t take time to shave, but grabbed the freshly laundered shirt from the hanger and the sports coat he kept there just for times like these. He had to make the trip to Steve Kinser’s home. It was his case. It was his fault that it had dragged on as long as it had. Jayne’s murder was his fault. He remembered what she’d told him. After Kinser, it was Ron Banks he’d be having a conversation with.
The MO was not the same as with the teenage girls who’d been murdered, but Coop knew there was a connection. He knew that perhaps it had been Jayne who was at the center of the entire case. He would find that connection and he would make an arrest. Coop’s back was a little straighter, his chin a little higher when he headed out toward the Kinser residence. Firm determination , combined with the anger he felt when he saw the nearly decapitated body of one he knew, had strengthened him.
As he pulled into the driveway of the neat small brick home, he saw a young boy dribbling a basketball ahead of him. He remembered Jayne had a son. Sometimes Coop didn’t like his job a bit.
“Hello there, young man. I’m Chief Cooper and I wondered if your Dad’s at home?”
“Hi Chief! I’m Jake Kinser, remember me? You spoke at my school back in the winter. You talked about safety and how we could protect ourselves. And you let me sound the siren when you showed us your patrol car. Remember?”
Jake’s enthusiasm nearly broke Coop’s heart. He had a job to do, he couldn’t let his heart get in his way.
“I do remember you, Jake! I remember you told me that you wanted to be a policeman when you grew up! Of course I remember you. Do you think you could get your dad for me, I really need to talk with him this morning.”
“Sure Chief. I’ll have to see if he’s up yet. He had a late night last night, didn’t pick me up from my Gramma’s till almost daylight. He works out of town, you know, and forgot he was supposed to pick me up till Gramma called him. I guess Mom must have forgot too, cause she didn’t pick me up either, but I like being at Gramma’s and I don’t mind at all when they forget and leave me there.”
Little Jake took a breath just as Coop’s heart cracked a little bit more.
“Son, I need to see your Dad for a few minutes. Would you mind getting him for me?”
“Oh sure, Sir. I’ll get him. I was just going inside to fix myself some Rice Krispies. I’ll send Dad right out. Good to see you again, Sir.”
Something about that friendly little boy grabbed Coop and wouldn’t let go. He took a deep breath and looked around. There was Jayne’s car, parked beside the garage, not inside it he noted, but beside it. He walked over and glanced inside the vehicle. Nothing noticeable in view. He walked around it and was on the far side when an obviously sleepy and disheveled Steve Kinser stepped out of the house and looked toward him.
“Mr. Kinser, I’m Chief Cooper, I . . .”
“I know who you are, Chief, is this about my wife? She had a meeting last night and didn’t return. I wasn’t too concerned because sometimes she meets her friends and they go for a drink after meetings. Celebrating summer break you know. There hasn’t been an accident, has there? I was late getting Jake and tired from my trip; I must have over slept, so is it about Jayne? Is that why you’re here? Is something wrong, is she hurt? Was it an accident?”
Coop had been watching Steve closely. Other than being a little talkative, he had the same friendly demeanor as his son, a likeable young man, Coop thought. He looked at him, a nice looking man in his mid 30s, he guessed. Wearing navy sweats and a white t-shirt. His hair was mussed, just as Coop expected if the man had been sleeping. He was barefoot. Coop glanced around for Jake, he wasn’t in sight, happily munching his Rice Krispies, Coop hoped.
“Mr. Kinser, I . . . “
“It’s Steve, Chief, everybody calls me Steve. Is this about Jayne? I’ve cautioned her about driving after she’s had a few. Did she have an accident, do I need . . .”
“Mr. Kinser, please, could we sit on the porch for a few minutes.’
“Oh sure, “ said Steve as he turned toward the porch.
He stopped, his shoulders tightened, he reached for the porch rail, stepped one foot up.
“It’s bad, isn’t it, Chief? Jayne’s hurt bad?”
Coop grasped the younger man’s shoulder, looked him in the eye.
“She won’t be coming home, Steve, I’m so sorry to tell you this. She won’t be coming home.”
“What? She’s in the hospital? Which one, Chief? Where is she? How bad is it?”
Steve seemed to not understand a word Coop said.
“She’s gone, Steve. She was killed last night, we think early this morning. Come on, let’s sit down. You need to be strong for your son. Is there anyone I can call for you? A friend, your pastor? I realize this isn’t what you . . .”
Steve dropped to the top step, limp, his eyes on Coop’s.
“Gone? Jayne’s gone? She’s dead?”
Coop let the silence fall over them.
Steve’s reaction wasn’t completely unlike others Coop had witnessed. Unusual, but people react differently to shock. He watched Steve very closely. Some very strong men had fallen to their knees at a time like this. Steve just sat there staring at some point beyond Coop’s left shoulder, his face solid, frozen, no expression at all. He sat there for what seemed to Coop a very long time. Then his expression changed, he met Coop’s eyes then dropped his head to his hands.
Coop didn’t know what to expect, some men raged, some cried, some stoic men took a deep breath and drew from inner strength. Steve Kinser did nothing. He just sat there with his head in his hands.
“Hey Dad, where’s Mom? I went to get her up and she’s not there. Where is she? Oh, Chief, sorry. I didn’t know you were still here. Uhhhhhh . . . Dad? Is something wrong with Mom? Chief . . . ?”
Jake stood at the door, his face changing from a smile, to a quizzical look, and then to one of fright.
Steve didn’t react to his son at all, until Coop stood and reached a hand toward Jake.
Only then did Steve react: “Jake, son, it’s your mom. She was in an accident, s-s-s-she won’t be coming home.”
Coop noticed that Steve didn’t reach for his son, didn’t step toward him, he merely stated a fact with no more emotion than if he’d said, “It’s raining.”
Jake’s head turned from one to the other, his eyes wide, his mouth turning downward.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo . . .” he turned and ran back into the house.
“Steve,” said Coop, alarmed for the child, ‘can I get someone to help you with Jake? Who can I call? Your son needs you and you need someone to be with you.”
“He’s not my son!” Steve said, in a tone much louder than Coop had heard from him.
“What? What did you say?”
Steve lowered his voice. “He’s not my son. Jayne was pregnant with him when we married. But he doesn’t know, nobody knows. But I’ve always known. He’s not my son.
I’m sorry, Chief, this is a lot to absorb. I’ll take care of Jake, I’ve raised him as my own child, he’ll never know. I just need to be alone right now, but I will take care of Jake. I’ll call my mother. She just lives a few minutes away. I’ll call her right now.”
“I’ll stay with you until she gets here,” said Coop.
Twenty minutes later he was shaking hands with a tearful older woman who bore a strong resemblance to Steve Kinser. She looked capable, matter of fact, and after a brief hug for her son, she went toward Jake’s room. Coop knew she’d be strong for both of them.
“Steve, I’ll need to talk with you, you need to understand what has happened. I can stay and we can talk now, or you can come to my office later today and we can talk there. Tell me a time and I’ll send someone to pick you up.”
They settled on three in the afternoon and then Coop left, knowing the worst was yet to come. He still had not told Steve how Jayne had died.
Visitation was to be Tuesday evening, with funeral services on Wednesday at eleven. Aaron and Coop both decided that Angie would only go to visitation, a time when both Aaron and Coop could be there as well. Of course Coop would be there in an official capacity, but Aaron could accompany Angie.
The evening was damp, foggy, leftover from a warm afternoon rain. Angie dressed in a navy blue dress, both softly feminine and conservative. Her hands were shaking as she gripped Aaron’s arm. They walked slowly from the parking lot into the reception area of the funeral home. The lights were low and soft music could be heard coming from a room on the left. Angie’s fingers clutched tightly to Aaron’s arm. This was almost a repeat of the funerals for the girls she’d lost.
They walked into the room that held Jayne’s body. Surprisingly, it was an open casket and Angie could see Jayne’s face in profile. She stopped, still gripping Aaron’s arm. Surprised, though she should have known Jayne would want to be as striking in death as she was in life. Little thoughts crept through her mind, unwanted thoughts. She had heard snippets of conversations between Coop and Aaron. She knew Jayne’s head had to be reattached to her body. She knew Steve insisted that Jayne’s own makeup be used, her own hair stylist had fashioned her hair. Even knowing, Angie shuddered as she walked closer to the casket. She’d just give her condolences to Steve and move on. She could not bear to linger near Jayne’s body.
It was the little boy standing beside Steve that stopped her. He looked right in her eyes and said, “You were my mom’s friend. She showed me your picture in the yearbook. She said you were her best friend at school. I’ve been waiting to meet you.”
Angie knelt beside him, her heart drew her right down to those bright eyes, “And you are Jake, aren’t you? Your Mom talked about you all the time.”
That wasn’t true, Angie knew, but she was so glad she had remembered the child’s name. She smiled at him and told him how sorry she was about his mother.
“Yeah. I miss my Mom. She told me you were the best teacher in the whole school. She promised me she’d take me to your school when she went later to decorate her room. She told me she’d take me to your art room. She said you’d show me all the paintings she said you’d show me how to play with clay on the potter’s wheel, she said you were the best art teacher, will you do that, will you show me how to work the clay on the wheel? Oh, I won’t be going, she won’t be taking me . . .”
Angie watched as tears crept down Jake’s cheeks. Broke her heart.
She raised her arms just as Jake fell into them. She caught him and held him in a tight hug. He was such a little boy.
“That’s enough, Jake,” Angie heard the gruffness in Steve’s voice. She kept her arm around Jake as she stood to greet his father.
“I’m Angie Lark, Mr. Kinser, I taught at the high school with Jayne. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Oh, yes, Angie, the art teacher. She spoke of you often. Seems you were her best friend. Were you with her the night this happened? She said she often met you for drinks and then coffee when she went out at night. Were you with her?”
Steve was almost in Angie’s face with the questions, but his voice was low. She was so surprised at his words she couldn’t answer. Best friend? Out for drinks? What was he talking about? What had Jayne told her family?
Aaron pulled lightly back on Angie’s arm, stepping slightly in front of her, protective big brother that he was.
“I’m Aaron Lark, Angie’s brother. And Angie was with me the night in question; we were both with the Chief that night enjoying our long friendship.”
“Oh, Jayne talked so often about Angie, I thought maybe they had been together. Sorry, man. This is just all a bad dream.”
Little Jake had been watching and listening. Angie looked down at his little upturned face.
“Tell you what, Jake, when I go back to school to get my room ready for students, I’ll let you know and maybe your dad will let you go with me. I can teach you how to throw a pot on the wheel and you can help me work on my bulletin board. How would that be?”
Jake smiled but his eyes glistened with tears in spite of the smile that showed in them.
Coop had spent some time interviewing possible connections that afternoon following Jayne’s death. Ron Banks had been first and Coop reached him on the first ring of the phone.
Their brief phone conversation prompted Banks to agree to an immediate meeting in Coop’s office and very nearly before Coop could hang up, Banks was standing in front of him.
“Now see here, Chief, Jayne’s death is as surprising to me as it was to you. I don’t know what she told you, but the truth is we were on the outs, I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks. You can’t think that just because we had a short fling going . . . “
“I don’t ‘think’ anything, Banks. You’re here to answer questions. Where were you on Friday night? Early Saturday morning?”
Coop learned a lot from Ron Banks. Banks had followed Jayne, followed her to the joint where she first met up with Coop and Aaron, followed her when she circled than sat in front of Angie’s house. Then he said she drove to her own street. Banks stated that he never drove down the street where Jayne lived, he was always afraid Kinser would recognize his car. So he drove on home thinking that Jayne was safely tucked into her own bed for the night.
But he did tell Coop one more thing. Jayne had had another stalker that night, one who had remained in the shadows just as both Jayne and he had done when Aaron and Coop came home.
“Why were you following her, Banks? You know how this looks, don’t you? Seems like kids’ play to me, you following Jayne around, stalking her. You got a reason for being out tailing her at that hour?”
“I don’t know, Coop, it was just something we did. I followed her sometimes, she followed me. Truth is I thought she was seeing somebody else, Bud Moore had been eyeing her lately. She had a thing for Bud a year or two ago; I thought it had picked back up again. She was a funny one. I was only in it for the chase, the game, the sex. She seemed to be looking for something, seemed to want more than I could give her. I thought she’d found it with Moore. She was a hard act, Chief, if you get what I mean. But it wasn’t me who killed her. What would I gain, Chief? I never wanted her dead. She was a toy to me, something to play with. I had no reason to kill her.
When she got to Angie’s house that night I was afraid she would do something stupid. I didn’t know if she’d been drinking and the thought crossed my mind that she might have been the one who threw the rock through Angie’s window. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it seemed that I was thinking I could keep her from doing something like that again. Save her from herself, you know? She could get a bit psycho sometimes, always thinking people looked down on her, always in competition for something. It was just the way she was.”
“Did you recognize anything about the other person who was watching that night?” Coop asked.
“No. At first I thought it was someone who lived on that street, someone who was just casually looking around, but then he stopped and ducked back behind a tree himself when he saw Jayne get out of the car. I could barely see his shadow, but I did see that it was a male figure. When Jayne drove away, I followed her. I never thought anymore about that guy. Could it have been Bud Moore?”
Somehow Coop believed this man in front of him, believed him in spite of his own personal feelings toward Banks. At this moment he felt a little sorry for him, a man who had made some bad choices.
“You can go now, Banks. Thanks for coming in. If I need you again, I’ll know where to find you, “ Coop said.
“If I can be of help, Chief . . .”
“Thanks, Banks, I have a well trained crew. I believe I have it covered, but if I have more questions I’ll be seeing you again.”
Humbled, Ron Banks left Coop’s office, head down, shoulders sagging.
“Perhaps he was mourning, too,” thought Coop.
Coop grabbed the phone, doing a routine search for Bud Moore. A call to his home number yielded nothing, but with a few more calls Coop found that Bud Moore was on a 2 week cruise to the Bahamas, scheduled to return the following Friday. He was out of town when Jayne’s death occurred. Scratch that one off the list, thought Coop.
With the death of the girls, and now Jayne’s death, Coop felt the killer had an agenda. He didn’t feel that they were random kills. His gut instinct told him that it was much closer than random.
The old phrase, “A killer walks amongst us” kept running through his mind. He needed to look closer to home.
He entered the funeral home just as Aaron and Angie were leaving. He gave Angie a light hug and his eyes met those of Aaron.
Reading Coop’s silent face, Aaron shook his head but Angie held on to Coop’s arm.
“Coop, she told her family that I was her best friend. How can that be, Coop? I barely talked with her. I don’t understand.”
“We’ll figure it out, Angie. We’ll figure it all out.”
Coop gently leaned over and placed a light kiss on her forehead. He didn’t care who was watching.
|It was Wednesday and Angie was really sick of murders and sadness and everything else going on in town. She needed to get away. Summer was nearly half over, and she was spending most of it alone. Aaron was so busy with his new practice and Coop was so busy chasing leads and they were so busy with each other that Angie ended up alone for days at a time without hearing from either one, and she didn't like it. It had been weeks since Jayne's funeral, and she hadn't seen much of her brother or Coop since.
She opened up her laptop and Google appeared. She typed in "best vacation spots" and hit enter. USA Today offered the top vacation spots in the US, she glanced at the list, Yellowstone, she didn't want to go there, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, she didn't want to go to the city, not her thing. She hit back and looked again, an article titled "Top 10 Spots You May Not Know About" interested her. Top on the list, Charleston, South Carolina. Angie thought for a minute, yes, she'd always been interested in seeing Charleston, but what else was on the list?
Orange Beach, Alabama she'd never been there, it sounded interesting as did Tybee Island, Georgia. Virginia Beach or Carolina Beach sounded too crowded, but the idea of being on the Ocean sounded like a good getaway to her.
She remembered there were some islands off of Charleston, and returned to Google to find there were several; Isle of Palms sounded nice, and when she searched, she found a company that had rentals. On the website was a flashing "specials" icon, and she clicked it. The page opened up to "Cancellation half price for week beginning this Saturday. Click here!" She clicked the link, and looked at the few pictures of the home that had had the last minute cancellation. It was gorgeous, and more than she had even hoped to find. It was called the SeaCabin, and sounded like heaven to her. "Beautiful oceanfront bungalow, steps to the sand on a secluded beach. Relax on the Oceanfront porch with a panoramic view, fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher, hardwood floors, Flat screen televisions with HD service and Blueray DVD players, washer and dryer, hot tub, swimming pool and private fishing pier. Linens included." She read aloud.
Before she could change her mind, she hit the "book it" button, and entered her credit card information. There, that was settled, she was leaving Friday night for South Carolina. She looked at her watch, it was past lunch, no wonder her stomach was protesting. She decided to make a quick list of what she'd need at the beach, then head out to go shopping and grab a bite to eat on the way.
She felt better than she had in months, maybe because she had decided to do something just for herself without consulting anyone else. She smiled to herself as she grabbed her list and keys and headed to the car. She ran through the local Wendy's and grabbed a Chicken Sandwich. As she pulled away from the drive through, she thought what the heck, and instead of heading to the local strip of shops with their limited selections, she headed to the interstate and the city. She'd more easily find everything she needed in one trip if she headed to the mall anyway, it was only a little over an hour drive, it would be fun.
Angie did have fun going to different stores and finding the perfect bathing suits for her trip, as well as some great bargains for school the next year. As she took the last of her bags to her car, she decided she'd just find somewhere to eat in the city, it was getting late, and that chicken sandwich from earlier had long worn off.
As she was walking to her car, she decided to call her old college room mate, and best friend Emily, to see if she was up for getting together. Angie really didn't want to eat alone, and she knew if Emily was free, she'd love to get together at the last minute like this. As she was walking, she dug her cell out of her pocket and dialed.
"Emily, hey girl. What's new with you?"
"Hey Ang! Not a thing new here, enjoying the summer so far, sleeping in, reading trashy novels, you know, the usual. What about you?"
Angie laughed, "I've been doing the same thing. I got bored this morning that I got online and found a place I could afford on Isle of Palms for a week, I booked it. I check in Saturday, but in the mean time, I realized I needed beach clothes, so I've been in town shopping all afternoon, now I'm starved."
Emily laughed, "I'm glad to see you're finally doing something spur of the moment, you should have called earlier I would have booked with you!"
"It's never too late! Go with me! If not, at least come have dinner with me, I've been wanting to try that new steak house that opened up over by the campus."
Emily paused for just a moment, and Angie was afraid she was busy. "I was supposed to go over to my Mom's tonight, but I'll call her and tell her you're in town. I can meet you over there in about an hour?"
Angie smiled, "Sounds great, I'll see you there!"
Satisfied, Angie put her phone away, dug out her keys and put her purchases in the trunk then headed to the steakhouse to wait for Emily.
Angie checked in with the Maitre d' then waited at the bar for Emily. When the bartender asked for her order, she mentally calculated how much time she had before she had to drive again. Satisfied that she would be fine to drive home, she ordered a fruity drink, light on the alcohol please, and sat back on her seat to people watch and wait for Emily.
She didn't have to wait long, Emily was there less than thirty minutes later, and joined Angie at the bar to wait for their table to be ready. Emily ordered the same thing Angie had, and they enjoyed catching up in person. Emily was teaching elementary art to first through fourth graders, and they enjoyed comparing notes on the differences between Elementary and High School students.
Emily knew most of what had been going on in Angie's high school, and they had talked about how scared Angie was a few times over the last several months in their frequent telephone conversations. Emily knew her friend was deeply troubled and afraid, so she decided she wouldn't bring it up unless Angie did.
"So...." Emily began when a lull in the conversation presented itself. "How is it going with the Sheriff?"
Angie sighed, and Emily knew that wasn't a good sign. "I don't know Ems, I really don't know. One minute he acts like he can't stand to be away from me, and the next minute he acts like I don't exist."
"Well, I'm sure he's had a lot on his mind with work." Emily offered.
"That's just it, he had a lot on his mind before, but he still hung out a lot."
"So, what's different?"
Angie sighed again. "Aaron."
"Your brother?" Emily asked, bewildered. "I don't understand?"
Angie shrugged, "It just seems like ever since Aaron moved back, he and Coop spend all their free time together. They either go shoot pool, they work on Aaron's office, or they're over at Coop's house doing one thing or another. Aaron rarely stays with me anymore, he usually stays with Coop, and not that that really bothers me, but, I miss him too, and would like to spend a little more time with him!"
Emily wasn't sure who she was talking about, so she asked. "Cooper or Aaron?"
Angie didn't get a chance to answer, as they were taken to their table, and their server was taking their order, and bringing their soft drinks.
Emily was the first to speak, "Angie, which one do you want to spend more time with, Cooper or Aaron?"
Angie laughed, "Both of them, I guess. I feel like I did when we were growing up, like I'm the annoying kid sister. Last week my dishwasher sprung a leak. I called Aaron, and he said he'd be over in a few hours. When a few hours passed, I called his cell. He was at Coop's, and apologized, but he had forgotten me. Then he promised they would both be over to fix it the next morning. When they hadn't showed up by 3 o'clock, I called the repairman."
Emily knew that Aaron had hurt Angie's feelings deeply, and she knew there was nothing she could say to take the hurt away from her friend so she changed the subject. "Okay, so tell me about this spur of the moment vacation you're taking! That is so unlike you to just decide one minute you're going to do something. Usually you plan everything down to the last detail."
Angie blushed, "I know, it's really not like me at all is it?"
Emily shook her head, "No, it's not like you, but that's okay, it's fun to be spontaneous sometimes!"
Angie smiled at her friend, "Then be spontaneous, come with me!"
Emily had been joking earlier, she knew she really couldn't afford to go on vacation for a week, and she hated to let Angie down, she looked so excited. "I wish I could." She began. "But."
Angie cut her off. "But nothing. It's already paid for. I used my Drama Club money, and it cost me the same whether I'm there by myself, or there with my best friend, there are two queen bedrooms so you may as well go with me!"
Emily blushed, "Angie, I couldn't let you do that. I wouldn't feel right."
Angie waved her hand in the air. "Seriously, you'd be the one doing me a favor. I really wasn't looking forward to driving down there alone, and then spending the entire week... alone. I could stay home and do the same thing." Angie laughed. "Seriously Em, come with me. It will be fun, it will be like the old days only we won't have to worry about project deadlines or exams!"
Emily knew she wasn't going to change Angie's mind. "Let me pay for the gas to get down there, and I'll buy the groceries when we get there."
Angie grinned from ear to ear. "Deal."
The rest of the meal passed far too quickly as the two friends made plans for their upcoming trip. Before Angie knew it, she was driving home, feeling good for the first time in a long time. As she drove, her thoughts returned to Coop, and then to Aaron. The more she thought about how much time the two were spending together, and excluding her, the madder she got. She really thought Coop was interested in her as more than a friend, but she guessed not, since as soon as his "best" friend got back to town, he'd dropped Angie like an old sneaker. But, it was her brother that had really hurt her feelings. Aaron had said repeatedly that he wanted to spend as much time as possible with Angie this summer. He talked about how much he missed her, and how much fun they were going to have together. Hmmph. She guessed he didn't miss her that much after all, and that stung.
Since Angie would have to drive through the city on the way to South Carolina, Angie and Emily had decided that Angie would just come to Emily's home Friday afternoon, they'd get Emily's things loaded and leave from there. Angie realized when she went to call her mother, that she hadn't heard from her in over a week. That was rare. Usually her mother called her at least every few days. Angie figured she must be busy with her garden, and her bridge club and hadn't had time to call. When her mother answered on the fifth ring, she was laughing.
"Oh, Hi Angie, how are you dear?" She asked.
"I'm good Mom, I just realized I've not talked to you for a while, so I figured I better call before you send a posse after me."
She laughed. "Oh. Has it been that long? I'm sorry dear, I hadn't realized. The boys offered to strip the wallpaper in the front living room for me, then it needed new drywall, and Aaron convinced me to paint instead of paper, so I've been buried in paint chips. Then your father suggested we replace the carpet in there, so the boys wanted to get the painting done before they put the new floor down... you know how that goes. One thing leads to another, so I'm sorry dear. They both took the day off today, and have been here since five this morning."
Angie was stunned. While her mother did not have to consult her on her decorating ideas, she was surprised that she had not. Usually her mother consulted her about anything and everything, and here she was redecorating and not even mentioning it to Angie. Now, Angie really was hurt. Angie was stunned, she didn't know what to say. She realized her mother must have asked her a question because she was asking if she was still there.
"I'm here Mom. I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I said, you're welcome to come on over if you haven't had lunch yet, I made a big batch of lasagna, and I don't think these boys can eat it all, though I think my grocery bill has doubled in the last couple of weeks." She was laughing, and Angie still felt hurt.
"Thanks for the offer, Mom, but I've already eaten." She lied.
"Well alright then dear, I hate to cut you short, but I need to check the oven."
"Okay Mom. If you need me, call my cell."
Her mother seemed distracted now, no doubt worrying about her lasagna. "Okay dear, have a good day." And with that, she was gone.
Angie stared at the receiver she still had in her hand. What was with her family? Had Aaron moving back home made an invisibility shroud come down around Angie? Angie shook her head, she was totally and completely shocked. It was like everyone had forgotten she existed. "Crap." She said aloud. She realized that she had not even gotten the chance to tell her mother she was leaving for a week. She started to call her back, but then didn't want to interrupt her if she was taking her pans out of the oven. Heck, her Mother hadn't been worried about her this past week or more, and wouldn't have known if she was in town or in Africa. She wasn't going to call her back.
She wondered if anyone would even notice she was gone. A tear snaked its way down Angie's cheek, and she angrily wiped it away with the back of her hand. She glanced at her watch, it was only 10:30, much earlier than she had originally planned to leave, but Emily wouldn't care if she was early. They'd just get an early start. They were driving the majority of the miles tonight, then stopping at a hotel for the night, then finishing the drive on Saturday morning. Check in time on Isle of Palms was anytime after twelve on Saturday, so they had plenty of time, and neither one of them really wanted to drive the whole way at once.
Emily's dad traveled a lot for his job, and offered them his rewards points if they stayed at a Marriott or Hilton-- there were several along the way, so that had been settled and it helped Emily feel like she was contributing more to their trip. Angie didn't mind, she knew Emily had been struggling, and she really was doing her a favor by coming with her. What started as Angie just wanting to get away, had turned in to a trip she was really looking forward to with Emily.
Emily was thrilled that Angie had decided to come early. Angie realized that Emily must be more excited about the trip than she was as she was completely packed and ready to go when Angie got there. It took them just a few minutes to put Emily's luggage in the car, and when everything was safely stored in the trunk, and the cooler Emily had packed with snacks and drinks was within easy reach on the back seat, they looked at each other and started giggling.
Angie threw her arms out to her sides, "We may as well go. We can take in the sights while we drive."
Emily laughed, "Sounds great to me." She closed the few steps between them and enveloped Angie in a hug. "Thank you so much for this Angie, I really can't thank you enough."
Angie hugged her back. "No, thank you for coming with me. It's going to be a hundred times better with you than if I went alone."
The drive was certainly more pleasant, Angie thought as they entered North Carolina. The time driving had just flown as she and Emily chatted about everything they were seeing as they drove, reminisced about college days, and regaled each other with stories about their students, colleagues and former classmates. Before they knew it, they were in Charlotte and the GPS they had jokingly named "Karen" when the trip started was telling them to take the next exit to their hotel.
They checked in, and decided to check out the restaurant next door for dinner. When they arrived, they found they had an hour wait, so they each ordered a drink, and sat outside on the veranda to wait to be seated. They had been there about a half hour, when Angie heard a familiar voice behind her.
She turned to see Steve Kinser pulling out a chair for a woman with long dark hair, but it wasn't Steve she had heard speak, it had been the woman. A chill ran down Angie's spine. She looked at Emily, and Emily noticed that Angie was now pale. "You look like you just saw a ghost."
Angie picked up her drink and swallowed hard. "I think I did. Or at least I heard one."
She turned back around, and this time, Steve saw her and visibly paled. Angie took that as her cue to find out exactly what was going on. She stood and put on a smile as she stepped to the table. "Steve, wow. Imagine coming all this way and running in to someone you know. How are you."
Steve Kinser stammered, "Uh, er, uh, I'm good. Are you on vacation?"
Angie kept her smile on, "Yes, I am, headed to the beach for a week. You?"
"Uh, er, uh, well, uh, my sister in law, here, asked me to come down to get away for a few days, you know, to take a break."
Angie nodded, "Well, after everything that you've been through, I think that is a good idea. She stepped sideways to get a look at the woman who's voice sounded so familiar, and held out her hand."
She stopped cold. It was Jayne. Angie felt like she was going to pass out. "Jayne?" She looked from Jayne to Steve. The woman stood. "Hi, I'm Janice, Jayne's twin."
Angie stammered, completely floored at the resemblance between the two women. She realized she was still holding the woman's hand, and released it. Stammering, "It's nice to meet you."
"Identical." Steve said.
Angie was confused. "Identical?" She asked.
Steve smiled, "Jayne and Janice were identical twins."
Angie nodded, "Oh, yes, of course. Well, the resemblance is certainly amazing."
Janice smiled, "We used to have a lot of fun fooling people when we were kids."
Angie nodded, "Oh, I bet. Well, I won't bother you any longer, I need to get back to my friend. I just wanted to say hello. Steve, it was nice to see you." She looked at Janice, "It was nice to meet you too, Janice."
Janice smiled. "It was nice to meet you too, Angie."
Angie turned and went back to join Emily. They soon were seated at their table, Angie glad that the hour wait had turned in to less than half an hour. They enjoyed the meal, but Angie seemed preoccupied. Emily asked her what was wrong, and Angie told her she didn't know. "It's nothing I can put my finger on, Em. But, something just wasn't right."
Emily shrugged, "I'm sure it was a shock to your system seeing someone you thought was dead. Especially not knowing they had a twin."
Angie shrugged, "Yes, I suppose you're right. I never thought Jayne had much family. You would have thought she would have mentioned being a twin. Oh well, maybe she did, and I just don't remember." She sighed, "Enough about them. Let's talk about something else."
And they did. Dinner continued, and they chatted as they had all day, until both of them were stuffed, tired and ready to return to the hotel and go to bed. Angie had looked around through dinner, and had not seen neither Steve or Janice since they had been seated. Angie didn't even know if they were even still at the restaurant. She shook herself, and told herself to just put it out of her mind. She was on vacation. They paid their bill, and walked the short distance to their hotel. When they got to the room, they changed, turned on the T.V. and lay in their respective beds. Neither of them were even awake to see the news at eleven.
The night's sleep did Angie a world of good. She awoke at seven the next morning feeling completely refreshed and eager to drive the next few hours to Isle of Palms. She showered, and while Emily was showering she walked down to the main lobby to take advantage of the Continental breakfast that the hotel offered all of the guests. Angie was pleased to see they offered fresh fruit along with Orange Juice, coffee and muffins, along with the little bowls of cereal that you tore the seal off of and poured milk in. Angie knew Emily wouldn't want the cereal, so she loaded a plate high with fruit, and balanced two blueberry muffins between the plate and her chest so she could carry it all back to the room. She hit the elevator up button, and waited.
As she rode the elevator up to the tenth floor, it seemed like it was stopping on every floor, but few people got on, they all were going down, just as Angie had been. When they stopped on the 8th floor, the doors swung open to reveal a man and woman locked in an intimate embrace. They broke apart as the doors opened, but Angie still saw them, it was Steve and Janice, and it certainly looked like there was more than just comforting going on. They told the folks at the front of the elevator they were going down, and the doors closed without them seeing Angie. She shrugged it off. It was certainly no business of hers what Steve Kinser did or didn't do. She took the food back to their room, and she and Emily feasted before they set out for the Isle of Palms.
The drive only took a few hours, and when Angie saw the blue of the ocean, she sighed. She couldn't wait to get her toes in the sand, and feel the ocean breeze blowing through her hair. For a week, anyway, she wasn't going to worry about anything. She was going to relax if it killed her! She decided then, that she was also going to turn her cell phone off. If her family wanted to talk to her, they could leave a message, and she would check them Saturday when she got home. Though the way they'd been acting lately, like she was invisible, she doubted that any of them would call her. They were too busy with their own lives to worry about Angie. Aaron was back, so all was right with their worlds.
They easily found the real estate office where Angie was to pick up the keys to her house, and then it was a nice drive down Palm Boulevard to Beechwood to the house that would be their home for the week. The house itself was everything she had imagined and more. The few photographs really had not done it justice. To say the view was breathtaking was a huge understatement. They could see the ocean from the living room and kitchen, and the porch that went the entire length of the house had various seats that invited you to sit down and enjoy the view. Each of the women had a beautifully decorated bedroom with plush king sized beds and more pillows than they would ever need to sleep comfortably.
Emily gasped as they stood on the front porch together. "Oh Angie, I could so get used to this view."
Angie agreed, "I could too, I think I could move to the beach permanently if the opportunity ever presented itself, I really do."
Emily nodded in agreement. "Me too. Let's forget about unpacking everything except our suits and go swimming!"
Angie laughed, "What a fabulous idea!"
And so they did. They spent the rest of the afternoon splashing in the surf, and playing in the water. They were like teenagers, and their spirits felt like it too. Both of them had needed this trip more than either would have admitted, each for their own reasons.
The fruit and muffins were long gone, so Angie suggested they get showered and find one of the local restaurants then come back and get settled. Emily agreed.
Angie had a short list of restaurants she wanted to try while she was there, she looked at it, and thought the Acme Lowcountry Cantina sounded good. Most of the week they would be cooking at the house themselves, but they had decided on the way that they would treat themselves their first night there, and the Cantina did not disappoint. The food was excellent, and the atmosphere was fun and friendly. They realized as they were eating, that they could have ordered one entrée and split it, there was so much food. They ate as much as they could hold, then took the massive amounts of leftovers back to the house in take out containers.
The following morning, they ate leftovers for breakfast, and then drove to the grocery where they stocked up on things they thought they would enjoy through the week, but at dinner they had decided that they were going to eat out a little more than they had originally planned, their experience at the Cantina had convinced them they needed to experience more of the local flavor, even if it meant it was a little more costly than they had originally planned for. To ease the burden on Emily, Angie paid for the groceries before she had a chance to. Emily protested, but Angie just shrugged, "Next year, you can buy the groceries. This year, it's my turn."
When they got back to their house and started unloading the groceries, they noticed that the house next door now looked to be occupied. "I guess we've got neighbors." Emily commented.
Angie glanced over at the house, "Well, I guess there goes having the beach entirely to ourselves. I didn't think the website was serious when it said secluded beach, but, this is pretty close to it."
Emily agreed, "I love it here. It is way less crowded than Myrtle Beach, or any of the Florida beaches."
Angie agreed, "I think most of the houses on this stretch of beach are owned by people who live here most of the time. I don't blame them, if I owned a house on this beach, they'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to get away."
Emily laughed, "Well, the sooner we get this stuff in the house and put away, the sooner we can get to the beach and pretend for a little while longer that it's all ours."
A little while later, they were dressed for the beach, had the cooler packed with drinks, their beach umbrella, towels and beach blanket sitting on the top. They made their way to the water's edge, and Angie began twisting the sand screw that would hold their umbrella into the sand while Emily was spreading out the beach blanket. Angie was struggling a little bit with it when she heard a deep voice behind her.
"Here Ma'am, let me help you."
Angie looked up and into a set of deep blue eyes framed by dark curly hair and an infectious smile. "Oh, well, thank you, but I think I've got it." Angie returned the smile as she placed the umbrella into the screw, and it promptly fell and nearly hit the handsome stranger.
He laughed as he reached out to keep the umbrella from falling. "Really, it's no trouble at all. I'm Ty by the way." He said as he held out his hand to Angie.
Angie took his outstretched hand and blushed. "I'm Angie, this is my friend Emily. Thank you, and it's nice to meet you.
Ty smiled a million megawatt smile, "The pleasure is all mine ladies."
He looked toward the house they had just left. "I take it we're neighbors?" He asked as he went to work twisting the sand screw down into a different location in the sand, then guiding the umbrella with one hand into the opening, and then securing it with a screw on the side. He shook it back and forth once or twice, then packed sand around the umbrella where it entered the base. "There you go ladies, it should be find unless a gust of wind catches it."
Angie smiled, "Thank you so much Ty."
Ty returned with a smile that lit his entire face, "If it falls over, just give a yell, we'll be right over there." Ty pointed to a spot nearby on the beach they hadn't noticed when they were coming down where a couple of boogie boards and towels were carefully placed in the sand.
Ty turned to go back toward the house next door, he stopped, and turned back to Angie, hand outstretched again. "It was really nice to meet you, Angie. I'm going to go see what is keeping my brother."
Angie found herself blushing again in the span of three minutes. "It was nice to meet you too, Ty." She said as she took his hand.
When he had disappeared into the house, Emily grabbed Angie's arm. "He likes you, Angie!"
Angie waved Emily away, "Oh, you're silly, he does not, he was just being nice."
Emily shook her head. "Oh no, Angie, he likes you. Yes, he was being nice, but he likes you too." She laughed.
Now it was Angie's turn to shake her head. "How in the world can you tell that with a three minute encounter?"
Emily was still grinning, "Trust me, I know. When he and his brother come back, he will bring his brother straight here. He's in there now telling him about the gorgeous pixie he just met on the beach."
"You've been reading too many trashy novels this summer." Angie informed her.
"Just you wait and see." Emily laughed, "Just wait and see."
Angie didn't have to wait long. Emily and Angie were standing in the water letting the waves splash against them when Angie felt someone beside her. She turned to see Ty standing with a slightly taller version of himself. They were both grinning at her.
Ty spoke, "Angie, this is my brother, Joe. Joe, this is Angie and her friend Emily."
Joe reached out to shake Angie's hand. "It's nice to meet you." He shook Angie's hand firmly, then Emily's. "It's nice to meet you too."
Then it was Ty who spoke again. "So, what brings you ladies to the beach this week?"
Angie noticed Joe elbow him out of the corner of her eye.
Emily giggled, "We're just here to soak up the sun, what about you two?"
Joe smiled, "The same, we're off for a couple of weeks, so decided to head down here. Is this your first trip to the island?" He asked.
Emily and Angie both nodded, but Angie seemed to have lost her voice, so Emily spoke up.
"Yes, this is our first time here. Angie decided spur of the moment she was spending a week at the beach and drug me along for company."
Joe laughed, "She didn't have to twist your arm too hard, I hope?"
Emily shook her head, "Nope, not at all. We've decided we could stay here forever. It's beautiful."
Joe nodded his agreement. "That it is. We haven't had a chance to get down here at all this summer, so we've been looking forward to this break for a while."
And so, the afternoon continued. The brothers never far from Angie and Emily, and Angie and Emily not minding the attention a bit. They learned that the brothers were from outside Winston Salem, and they worked in business together in some capacity, but Angie wasn't really clear what they did.
When their stomachs told them it was time to grab some lunch, the brothers said they would see them that afternoon they hoped. As they were walking to the house, Angie realized she hadn't thought of her family or of Coop all morning, and though she was surprised, she liked it.
True to their word, the brothers were still on the beach when Angie and Emily returned a few hours later. Angie wasn't sure if they had stayed on the beach or if they had taken a break like they had, but it didn't matter, Angie found herself looking forward to spending more time with them, particularly Ty. They taught Angie and Emily how to body surf, and how to use the boogie boards to ride the waves to the sand, and Angie was having more fun and felt more care free than she had felt in a long time. As the afternoon wore on, Angie was sitting on the blanket watching Emily try to master the waves with the boogie board. Ty came towards her toweling himself off.
"Do you mind if I sit with you?" He asked.
Angie shook her head, "Not at all, please do."
Ty placed his towel beside her blanket and easily dropped down beside of her. They fell into an easy conversation. Angie learned that Joe was the older of the two brothers, but only by two years. They were close, and always had been, it seemed since they were born. Joe was Ty's best friend, and Ty couldn't imagine it being any other way. Angie found herself telling Ty about her brother, his football career, and his move back home this spring. Ty found himself telling Angie about his life, and family. She learned that the house they were staying in belonged to their Grandfather, and that Isle of Palms had been Ty's favorite place to come since he was a little boy. Their conversations went on and on, they never seemed to run out of things to talk about, so when Emily announced that she was starving, Angie was surprised to see that she and Ty had been talking for over five hours. It felt like just minutes had passed. When Ty suggested they take the ladies out for dinner, Angie quickly agreed, hoping Emily didn't mind. She didn't, and they all had a lovely time laughing and talking like they had known each other for years. Ty and Joe were just so fun and easy to be around.
So the days continued, intertwined with the brothers, and Angie realized on Wednesday, she hadn't even considered anything going on at home. They had spent their days playing in the sand and surf, their evenings had been spent at different restaurants around the island. Ty and Joe knew all the best places, and knew the people who owned them as well, so they rarely had to wait to be seated. The vacation had turned out to be so much better than Angie could have ever dreamed, and she was really surprised at how much she enjoyed spending time with Ty. She had never spent that much time unbroken with anyone before. Ty was different. Angie felt like when she was with him, she was a different person, a better version of herself. A version that laughed easier, smiled easier and was more relaxed than she had ever been in her life.
They had spent nearly every hour of the last four days together, the only time they were separated was when they each returned to their respective homes at night to sleep. Angie found herself getting up before sunrise every morning, so she could see the sun waken over the Atlantic, and every morning, Ty was right there with her, marveling with her at the beauty in each Sunrise.
Thursday morning, Ty asked Angie if there was any pressing reason she needed to return home on Saturday. Angie didn't understand what he was asking, and laughed, "Yes, I need to get back as quickly as possible so my brother and his best friend can continue to ignore me, and my parents can continue to forget they have two children instead of one perfect son."
Ty laughed, "Angie, I doubt very seriously if they've forgotten you. I know I wouldn't."
Angie smiled, Ty made her feel so good about herself. He was always complimenting her, and saying such kind things about her. It made the decision difficult when Ty asked her to stay on the Island another week. Angie didn't want to say no, she realized, and explained to Ty that she had only rented the house for a week, and she really couldn't afford to stay another week. She was embarrassed when she found Ty laughing at her. That didn't seem like him at all, to laugh at someone who didn't have Grandparents who owned a beach house, but Ty quickly put her at ease.
"You're misunderstanding me Angie. I was inviting you, and Emily if she would like, to stay with us for another week. Look, the house has six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, there's plenty of room for everyone, and besides, all any of us are doing in the houses is showering and sleeping. We're always out here. So, you may as well stay another week, and enjoy it with us."
Angie smiled at this man who she realized she liked a lot more than she had been willing to admit to herself. "I will have to talk to Emily, as you know, we brought my car down, so she can't just leave if she wants to, but I would love to stay another week with you Ty." As Angie said the words she found herself hoping Emily wouldn't mind.
Ty took her hand and turned toward her, "You just made my year, Angie, you really did."
Angie couldn't answer him. She just stood there, looking into his eyes, mesmerized, and she realized with a smile she couldn't stop, and wouldn't want to. When Ty leaned forward and kissed her for the first time as the sun was peeking over the horizon, she understood all of those sappy songs and novels. For the first time in her life, she realized she was right at the brink of falling in love. John Cooper was the furthest thought from her mind as Ty deepened the kiss, and put his arms around her, and Angie felt like she was right where she belonged.
Angie didn't know, but Joe had already said something to Emily the night before at dinner, and Emily had been more than happy to agree to stay another week with the brothers. Ty and Angie were inseparable, so Joe and Emily had also spent a lot of time talking that week. Joe marveled at Ty, who, as he explained to Emily, had never shown so much interest in a woman. Joe had laughed to Emily that he thought his little brother was finally falling in love, and nothing would make him or especially their mother any happier.
Emily hadn't shared any of that with Angie, she had a feeling that Angie was going to discover that on her own just fine. Angie was happier than Emily had ever seen her since she had known her. She didn't light up like this when she was around anyone like she lit up when she was near Ty. Emily was happy for her friend, and she really enjoyed Joe's company as well. He was an interesting person to talk to, and made her laugh more than she had in ages. Though she didn't think there was an attraction there that would move in to something else, that was fine with Emily. This whole trip had been for Angie, and if Angie happened to find the love of her life while they were there, Emily was all the more happier for her.
When Angie approached Emily later that morning, she didn't let on that she already knew what Angie was going to say. Angie hemmed and hedged a bit, then she finally blurted out, "Ty asked if we would like to spend another week here, with them, in their house, but it's okay because they have a lot of bedrooms and bathrooms, we'd have our own, what do you think?"
Emily laughed, "Did you really just say all that without even taking a breath?"
Angie nodded, "I think I did." She sighed, waiting to hear Emily's answer.
Emily hugged her friend, "You really like him, don't you?"
Angie nodded into Emily's hair, "I've never felt like this before, I'd like to stay and see where the next week takes us."
Emily smiled, "Then we'll stay and see what happens. It will be fun, I love hanging out with them, they're really nice guys."
And so it was settled, on Saturday, the men helped Angie and Emily move their bags next door as well as the food they had left in the fridge. Angie checked the house twice, and returned the keys to the real estate office on the island. Angie had turned on her phone that morning to see if she had any missed calls. There was only one, from Aaron. He had called on Thursday just to say hi, and he'd see her soon. Her mother hadn't called and Cooper hadn't called. Angie turned her phone back off, it stung, but not as much as she thought it might. She decided she'd check at the beginning of the week and see if anyone had missed her yet, but not until.
That evening, they returned to The Cantina for dinner. Emily and Angie enjoyed that meal as much as the first. Afterward, they returned to the house where Ty and Joe built a fire in the fire pit on the patio, and they all sat around the fire, sharing stories and admiring the stars.
They watched a few people walking on the beach, when a woman on the beach laughed, suddenly, a thought occurred to Angie and she sat up straight in her chair. "I never said my name."
All eyes were on Angie. Emily was the first to speak, "What are you talking about Angie?" She asked.
Angie looked at her, "In Charlotte when Steve Kinser introduced me to his Sister in Law, she said 'It was nice to meet you, Angie.' I never mentioned my name, and neither did Steve... so how did she know my name was Angie?" She wondered as she looked at her friends.
Emily shrugged, but Ty spoke up, "It doesn't sound right, maybe you should call your friend who is the sheriff and let him know what happened. Couldn't hurt."
Emily chimed in, "Yes, I think Ty is right Ang. You should call and let Coop know, just in case that information is critical or something. I think it's weird that that woman had a twin sister that no one ever mentioned to begin with."
Angie could see their point. She looked at her watch, it was just a little past 10, Coop would still be up. "I need to go get my phone." she said as she started to rise.
Ty jumped up holding out his phone, "Here use mine if you know the number."
Angie thanked him and punched in the number. Coop answered on the third ring, and Angie could tell he was somewhere crowded, she could hear the din of people in the background.
"Hello?" Angie realized Cooper was repeating his greeting.
"Hey Coop, it's Angie."
"Uh, hey Angie, I didn't recognize the number."
"I'm using a friends phone." Angie said before he could question her further.
"It's a North Carolina number?" Coop questioned.
Angie laughed, "Well, that's where my friend is from, Coop."
"Where are you Angie?" He asked.
Angie thought, oh, now he wonders where I am. "I'm at the beach Coop, but that's not why I called." Angie could hear Aaron laughing in the background, and it sounded to her like a woman or women laughing too.
Coop was surprised, and it showed in his voice. "At the beach? I didn't know you were going to the beach."
"You didn't ask Coop, but again, the reason I'm calling is, I ran into Steve Kinser in Charlotte last week."
Cooper was shocked, and this time Angie clearly heard her brother in the background asking if that was Angie on the phone, and she clearly heard a woman asking "Who's Angie, and another woman saying, "Aaron's little sister." The other woman saying, "Oh. Why is she calling Johnny?"
Cooper must of realized that Angie could hear everything being said around him must have moved away from his friends, and to a more quiet place.
"Angie, how long have you been at the beach?" Coop questioned.
Angie frowned, they really had not realized she was gone. Now she knew why, it sounded like in between remodeling for her mother, solving the crimes of the county, John Cooper had also found time to take a woman out. Surprised that she was a little hurt, but not really angry, she went on. "I left a week ago Friday, Coop. Emily and I stopped in Charlotte Friday night, at the Marriott on Rexford Road, and ate at the restaurant next door. That's where I saw Steve."
"Oh." Was all Coop said. He was mentally counting back the number of days since he had actually seen or talked to Angie. He realized it had been a while, so much that he couldn't remember, and a wave of guilt washed over him. "Well, he's allowed to go to North Carolina, just like you are." Coop said a little more sharply than he had intended.
Angie sensed a bit of irritation in his voice, and really, she thought, he had no right to be irritated with her. He was the one who had ignored her since her brother had been back, and obviously, Angie was the furthest thought from his mind while he was out with her brother and other women, and she realized that his actions irritated her. So, when she spoke, she was calm and business like. "If you'd let me finish, Cooper, I'll explain why I'm telling you this." As she talked, she explained that it had just come to her, a few moments ago, that she hadn't been introduced as "Angie" but yet the "twin" knew her name, and for that reason, she felt like she needed to let Cooper know.
Cooper listened, not really understanding the connection, so Steve Kinser had hooked up with his dead wife's twin sister, that wasn't illegal. Questionable to some, he was sure, but definitely not illegal. "Maybe he saw you before you saw him, Ang, and he told her who you were? I'm sure it was embarrassing for him to be seen less than two months after his wife's death with her sister no less in another state. I'm sure he wasn't expecting to see you any more than you were expecting to see him. Remember, he thinks you were his wife's best friend."
Angie sighed, "You're right. I didn't think about it that way, I guess he probably was embarrassed, and you're right, he probably did see me before I saw him. Okay, well, I guess it wasn't the big tip I thought it was. I'll let you get back to your friends. Have a good night."
"No Angie, thanks, it's a good tip, and I will look into the sister. It's odd that no one ever mentioned she was a twin. It might be helpful information, you never know."
"Okay, well, goodnight Coop. Tell Aaron I said hi." Angie said and clicked the phone off. She handed the phone back to Ty. "Well, I did my duty, he doesn't think it's anything out of the ordinary, so I won't worry about it anymore." Regardless of what Coop had said, Angie still had that niggling feeling that something wasn't right with Steve and Janice, but, as she had just told her friends, she wasn't going to worry about it anymore.
Coop walked back to the table he was sharing with Aaron and their dates. He had felt a little guilty the first time he had doubled with Aaron, and the lady he had been seeing a lot of, Mary, but he had pushed the guilt aside. He really liked Mary's friend, Susan, and had found himself out with her every night for the last two weeks. The guilt from hearing Angie's voice though, now, was almost suffocating him. He argued with himself. He and Angie had only shared a few kisses, there was no commitment there, and she hadn't acted like she was interested in him, either, so he decided, he really had nothing to feel guilty about, but why did he have a sinking feeling that he was doing something wrong?
Aaron interrupted his thoughts, "Did I hear you ask Angie how long she had been gone? Where is she?"
Coop shrugged, "She's at the beach with Emily."
Aaron was surprised Angie hadn't at least let him know she was going. "Oh. I'm surprised she didn't tell me, but, she's a big girl, she doesn't have to check in with her big brother I suppose.
Coop shrugged, "Yea, I suppose."
Angie and Ty had left Joe and Emily at the patio and were walking along the beach. Ty squeezed her hand, "I'm really glad you decided to stay, Angie."
She smiled up at Ty into those eyes she thought she could gaze in to forever. "So am I, Ty. So am I."
Contrary to what Angie thought, Cooper and Aaron had not been idly playing while the summer waxed and then began to wane. Their foray into the social scene had been precipitated by Coop’s compelling need to listen and learn everything he could find about the murders from those in his community. Aaron had told him that in his own experience, answers are often found in people who didn’t know they held them. So they hit the social scene about town, listening, always listening to conversations around them. Inadvertent words, sometimes whispers, caught their ears. Aaron had also told Coop that the best way to socialize was with women on their arms.
Mary Chandler came with Aaron’s new office. She had been Oliver Haines’ office manager and though she was a youngster to him, she wasn’t much older than Aaron or Coop. An attractive woman, she seemed to know everybody in town and Aaron knew she’d be his greatest asset in a town he had once known well but no longer did. He’d explained to her his need to help Coop get to the bottom of the murders as soon as he realized what a jewel she was proving to be in his office. He’d also explained to her his idea about picking up bits and pieces of information from the locals. Mary had agreed and being a hometown girl who’d always placed greater value on her commitment to the work force than to getting married and settling down; helping to unearth the murderer became a challenge for her.
She turned to her friend, Susan, also a professional but in the banking business, and together they met with Coop and Aaron and planned their strategy just as if they were plotting a court case. Their social calendar was soon filled.
They’d wined and dined in every place in town and had even frequented the after dinner bars most Friday nights. They’d been to church socials, to a few funerals, and had had a few beers around the local pool table, talking with everybody they met. Aaron felt now that he was finally back in his old home town; he’d made friends with so many people. But they had found few leads concerning the murders. The foursome got along well, always keeping in mind the goal in front of them. Though they enjoyed each other’s company and appreciated the work ethics each presented, the four of them had become close friends. The fact that they paired off in most events made it even better and concealed their real purpose from the general public. Most people simply saw what they wanted to see and thought the foursome were dating regularly; exactly what Aaron and Coop wanted. Enjoying the company of each other was a bonus.
It was the middle of August and Coop and Aaron were in the kitchen of Coop’s house, a night free of social obligations. Aaron was leafing through the pages of a case he was considering when Coop said: “We haven’t made a lot of progress, Aaron, are we headed in the wrong direction? Susan said few people mention the Kinsers anymore, other than to say that the little Kinser boy is still with his grandmother. Nobody has seen Steve and according to Angie, he’s been elsewhere. I think my focus on him has been wasted. I haven’t heard a word about the other murders either. I was a little surprised to find that very few people even knew Jayne Kinser, and even fewer know Steve.”
“Nothing’s wasted, Coop, not at all. You just have to be patient. No more murders to solve, that’s one good thing. The only thing of substance I’ve heard about Jayne Kinser is that other women thought she was unreal, no depth, phony as a three dollar bill and the center of her own attention. And speaking of school, it’s time for Angie . . . “
“The murders were only committed during the school year, Aaron. And only people who were connected to the school were killed. I’m well aware of when school starts. I’d hoped by now we would have some leads. I haven’t made any headway with Berea College where Jayne went to school either. I can’t get it out of my head that the Kinsers are at the center of this entire mess. And I can’t tell you why I feel that way. Gut instinct, maybe, but there’s just something not quite right about them.”
Without warning, as sometimes happens in cases like this, Coop and Aaron suddenly had help, but from an unexpected source. Ron Banks, in order to keep his job as security officer for the County Board of Education, was enrolled in a refresher course at the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern State University in Richmond, Kentucky, a small town not far from Berea. Banks wasn’t always the playboy that he pretended to be. There were times when the professional in him took center stage.
The refresher course lasted two weeks, but the first Friday was a free day for the enrollees. Ron had the entire weekend ahead of him and he planned for once to use it wisely. He drove the short distance to Berea College.
He started in the library, finding first the shelves where he saw row after row of old yearbooks. He had a plan. He knew when Jayne should have graduated, so he started in the book dated four years prior to her graduation year. He couldn’t have explained why he felt compelled to look into the life of Jayne Kinser; their fling had been just that, a fling. But even his hardened playboy heart had been shaken by her murder.
The librarian, a tall, stout woman who looked to be older than the library itself, stopped by the table where Ron had a stack of four yearbooks.
“Can I help you find anything, sir?” she asked in a loud whisper.
Ron thought he might as well put forth a little more professionalism so he smiled and introduced himself.
“M’am, I’m Chief Security Officer Ron Banks, with the Board of Education in Owsley County and I’m doing a background check on a murder victim. Our records show that she was enrolled in Berea College during these years so I thought I’d start there,” he said, indicating the yearbooks.
“Well, Officer Banks,” she said, a little louder and standing a little straighter, “I’m starting my fortieth year here and I might be a little help to you. I was here during those years, look, you’ll see my picture right here on page 28. See here, Elsie Scaggs. I’ve been here all this time and not many passed through this campus that I didn’t know. Who’d you say you were looking for?”
“I didn’t say, M’am,” Banks answered, “but about all I can tell you is that her first name was Jayne and she became an English teacher.”
“Let’s start then with the freshman class, Jayne, you said? No last name?”
“We only have her married name, Ms. Scaggs, and that was Kinser, Jayne Kinser. She was about 5’7” and was ummmmmmmm . . . well built, athletic, even. But I have no idea of her looks in college.”
They paged through each section of the first yearbook. There were no Jaynes and no one that resembled the Jayne that Ron was looking for. Ron reached for the next book on the stack.
“Here, I’ll take this last book while you look at what would have been her sophomore year. It could be that she didn’t enroll here until her junior year. We get students quite often from the junior or community colleges. They come here to finish a degree after getting their basics from their local communities. I’ll start with what could have been her senior year.”
“Fine with me, thank you, M’am.”
Ron scrutinized every face, but not a one was familiar. He double checked names, but did not see a single Jayne.
“Could it have been Janice Elaine Jones? Or Jane Ellen Jones?”
Her voice startled Ron; he looked at the page she was pointing to.
Two identical faces stared back at him from the page in the book. One all angles and glasses and awkward expression, but the other one was smiling and prettier somehow. Neither of them looked much like the Jayne he had known, but there was a vague resemblance in the one with a scowl. Aside from the smile, there was little difference between the two, but he noticed the one who was smiling did so with what he called ‘smiling eyes’. The eyes of the one with a scowl were not ‘smiling’ but were very similar to Jayne’s eyes. Somehow he felt them staring right into him.
Ms. Scaggs was talking and Ron dragged his eyes away from the pictures to better understand what she was saying.
“ . . . she transferred here sometime after that reform school for children up in Pike County. I can’t remember the name of it but she’d had some trouble and since they were orphans, and each with a different foster family we weren’t sure, no, that wasn’t true. Jan was with a foster family, the other one was in the school for troubled children, but . . . you say she was murdered?“
“What? What did you say, M’am? They were twins? These two were twins?”
“Well, yes. They were twins, I’m trying to remember. Janice came to us her freshman year, a sweet girl, a good student. She’d had a rough life I remember. Parents were killed by a house fire, I think, when the girls were about nine or ten. I don’t remember how the girls escaped. There was no money, and I believe no relatives. So they became wards of the state. Yes, that’s it; I do remember Janice. She worked in the library, everybody works here at the college, you know and she had such hopes for her sister, so many concerns. Seems to me she was more concerned for her sister than she was for herself since she sent every extra dime she earned to her those first two years. Good girl, that Janice. A really good girl. Always had a smile, and the prettiest eyes, she made everyone around her happy. She worked here with me all those years and I got to know her pretty well. Of course I’ve learned over the years to not get too attached, you realize. But I’ve always wondered what she did with her life. Now the other one . . . but wait. You said something about murder?”
Ms. Scaggs paused.
“What about the other one, Ms. Scaggs? And is she anywhere else in this book? What else do you know? You said reform school, isn’t that a place for youngsters who are incarcerated for breaking the law?” Banks asked as if he didn’t already know.
“I don’t remember the other one, Officer Banks, only that she was here. I don’t think there was much about her that got attention, and yes, she’d been in some trouble when she was young. That was another reason her sister Janice was so concerned about her. Let’s look in the back of the book and let my memory see what it can come up with. There are bios for each graduating senior listed in the back. Most of this is all public knowledge, you see, so it isn’t as if I’m speaking out of turn.” Her nose tilted a little higher.
The bios were there, side by side. It was a small graduating class and each student had as much space as needed to list their accomplishments and any other information they wished to share.
Jane Ellen Jones: Hometown, Pine Creek, KY; Major, English
Janice Elaine Jones: Hometown, Pine Creek, KY: Major, English; English Club 1,2,3,4, pres. 4; Music Club 1,2,3,4, v. pres. 4; Drama Club 3, 4; NHS, 4; Most Likely to Succeed, 4; Most Reliable, 4; Dean’s list 1,2,3,4.
And at the end of the book on facing pages covered in candid shots of seniors, there was a picture of Jane and Janice on graduation day. The caption beneath stated: Jane, left, and Janice Jones, ready for the world!
He looked closely. Jane, he found himself staring into eyes that he knew well. The twins both looked more mature, and though very similar, there was a striking difference. Janice, on the right, was much prettier. It was her smile, her smiling eyes, and the happiness that showed in her face. Jane’s teeth were badly out of alignment and the smile was a scowl. He noticed that Janice had a beautiful smile and perfect teeth. And Jane did not have the smiling eyes. The faces were mirror images, but in the same way that the icons of theatre are, Comedy and Tragedy, one smiling and one scowling. Ron’s hardened heart was beating so rapidly he thought he couldn’t breathe.
“Ms. Scaggs, can I check out this book? And is there a source for more information? Do you have follow ups on your students here at Berea?”
“So you found who you were looking for, Officer? As I mentioned before, this is all public knowledge and since this is the library’s only copy of the book the best I can do is give you copies of the pages you want. It’s only 10 cents per copy or 25 cents if you want a color copy. The expense of ink and paper, you know.”
“Oh yes, m’am, I’ll need several copies in color. Now about more information . . .”
“Well sir, my computer is interfaced with everything else around here. I’m not busy this morning, I’ll do a search and see what I can find. Now mind you, I can’t share test scores or grades or anything of a more personal nature, but I can see if we have information on jobs or locations if they have been updated. I know the girls haven’t been back to any of our reunions or our college gatherings. I pride myself on my memory and I never miss a college function. I have not seen them since graduation day. Can you tell me about the murder?”
“You’ve been more than helpful, Ms. Scaggs. I’d appreciate the copies as well as updates. You’ll have to forgive me for not sharing more information, it’s all confidential, you understand. Lead on, M’am, I’m right behind you.”
Ron wasn’t sure where this was leading, but for the first time in a long time he felt that he was doing something right.
By the end of the afternoon, Ron had purchased copies of the yearbook pictures and had satisfied himself that there was no other information on the Jones twins. It was as if after graduation, they had disappeared and never resurfaced. He bought a brown legal sized envelope in the college bookstore, wrote Jones on the outside along with the date, and carefully placed the copies inside. Even if he didn’t learn a thing in his refresher course, he’d made more progress in one afternoon than John Cooper had made in months on the life of Jane Jones Kinser.
He’d been disappointed that his credentials had earned him no information about Jayne’s years in a Pike County reform school, but with all the progress he’d made and with expenditures of less than five dollars, he felt that it was Coop’s turn to do a little research. Coop, with all the powers of his office, could pursue a subpoena for old records. If the twins had been wards of the state, and if Jayne had been in legal trouble, both should be on record somewhere.
“Job well done, old boy,” he grinned to himself on his way back to Richmond and a week of more classes.
Angie and Emily were on their way home. It had been a surprisingly delightful two weeks, filled with sun and fun and a lot of much needed male attention. The second week spent with Joe and Ty had been as enjoyable as the first, though in a much different way than had been expected.
The women were quiet during the first lap of the trip, each deep into her own thoughts, her own memories. The second week had been . . . Angie was thinking . . . it had been insightful. On Sunday, the ladies had moved their luggage into the Grandfather House, as they named it. Joe and Ty had helped them make the short move and had given them their choice of rooms in the stately old home. While the girls were getting settled the men decided to treat them to a home cooked evening meal and had spent some time at the grocery gathering ingredients for their specialty, ‘low country boil’. They’d bought potatoes, corn on the cob, smoked sausage, and five pounds of large fresh shrimp. Along with salad makings they grabbed a few more hot spices and a case of their favorite beer.
It was an easy casual dinner to prepare and they had bought enough items to feed a small army. They returned to the Grandfather House just as the girls were making their way to the beach. The meal was to be cooked on the beach anyway, in a special fire pit the guys had built years ago, so as the men iced down the beer and gathered a huge pot that would hold all the ingredients, the girls tossed the salad ingredients and ziplocked them to be placed beside the beer in the cooler. They all made their way down to the beach, each carrying all they could hold for the meal.
The water was boiling, the potatoes and corn were already bubbling with the boil and just as Joe added enough hot spices to make their eyes water in the fumes, they turned in the direction of the female voices they heard. Two women were making their way from the far side of the Grandfather House, shouting their ‘Hellos and Hey Yous’ as they ran. With long hair streaming behind them and with the setting sun glistening on incredibly long golden legs, they made a beautiful picture. Emily and Angie watched as Joe and Ty both broke into a run to meet them. Arms went around shoulders and each girl was picked up and swung around in a delightful friendship that Angie realized must have been years in the making.
Sure enough when they were introduced, Ty explained:
“Ladies, let me introduce you to the two other women in our lives. Angie and Emily, I’d like you to meet Charlotte, Charley to her friends, and Harper, our oldest and best friends. Their grandmother owns the house next door and we all grew up together right here on this beach. Our parents were best friends and so were our grandparents. Old friends, meet new friends!”
Charley, the blond with gorgeous green eyes and a tan to die for, said with a laugh, “You left out the part about playing naked together in the sand, Ty. Don’t leave out the most important part.”
“And showering together in the outside shower to get the sand off before we were allowed to eat,” added Harper, the darker haired woman whose golden eyes glowed in the setting sun.
“And getting caught playing doctor when we were six . . .”
And so it went the rest of the vacation week. Everything they did was shared with Charley and Harper. It was a way of life with the men. They met at the beach houses as often as possible during summer then parted ways again as they went about their work. Charley and Harper lived near enough that Angie realized they were always a big part of Ty and Joe’s lives. And always would be.
It had played a huge part in changing her feelings about the relationship that had seemed to be developing between her and Ty. The men were used to summer flings and all that went with them, Angie and Emily hadn’t been the first. They were also loyal to their friends and with every summer made new ones. Angie understood and had been glad for the extra week that helped her put her feelings into perspective.
“Well, what do you think,” Emily suddenly asked. Angie had thought she was sleeping as quiet as she had been.
“About what?” Angie asked innocently.
“You know about what, Angie, don’t act naïve.”
“It was a beautiful summer vacation. I made wonderful memories. I met delightful new friends. And it’s over.”
“It is over, isn’t it?” whispered Emily.
“Yes it is, but it ended in a good way,” said Angie, “and I suspect we’ll always stay in touch with the four of them. They are our beach buddies, and though I’ll admit I thought for awhile that things might go in a different direction, the friendships we made formed a very strong bond.”
“No regrets, Angie?” asked Emily.
“None at all,” said Angie, “none at all.”
Angie had already filed the summer away, placed it in the cherished ‘fondest memories’ part of her heart. And she knew she had made lifelong friends. Uncomplicated friendships were often hard to find. Treasures to be cherished. And lessons learned.
It was nearly time for school to start again. Angie could feel the pull of home and work.
They neared Emily’s home late in the evening and Angie decided to spend the night with her before heading home the next morning. It gave the women time to wind down, time to reminisce, time to focus on the weeks ahead. While there they had calls from both Ty and Joe, who were making sure their trip home had been safe. They were long and friendly calls, leaving Angie and Emily with smiles and plans for future summers with their new found friends.
“Ron Banks is here to see you, Coop, can I send him in?”
Coop was in his office pouring over notes he’d made through the summer. He hadn’t seen Ron Banks in weeks, and was surprised to see him in his office. Normally Banks didn’t have much to say to him.
He stood and reached an arm over his desk to shake the man’s hand. Banks was carrying a large brown envelope.
“What can I do for you, Banks?” Coop asked.
“John, you’ve known me for a long time and I don’t want to overstep bounds here. You might not think much of me personally, but you know I was a good State officer and you know I do take my job seriously. I spent the past two weeks in that refresher course at Eastern. I hope you don’t mind that I let my own personal curiosity wander while I was there. It took me to Berea College and this is what I found. “
He handed Coop the brown envelope.
Banks went on, “I was curious about her, John. I really liked her and I wouldn’t admit that to a lot of people, but she was different, you know, different in that she had no conscience, was always up for a good time, she didn’t play by the rules, didn’t worry much about what others thought. I just liked her, really liked her. I didn’t know she had a twin. I thought this might be something you should look into.”
He stopped talking as abruptly as he’d started, and Coop felt his eyes drawn to the photographs he pulled from the envelope.
“Whoa. Identical, Angie might have been right.”
“Angie, you mean Ms. Lark? What does she have to do with it, Chief?”
Instead of answering, Coop asked, “What else did you find, Banks? Surely a sleuth like you could have unearthed more information.”
“I know you don’t like me, Coop, but . . . “
“It’s your ways I don’t like, Banks. It’s your personal habits and your attitude that I frown upon. That has nothing to do with your job as an officer of the law. Now what else did you find?”
“Nothing. I found nothing else, but I thought with your credentials you might be able to trace her reform school days, find out why she was there, maybe find out about the foster homes, the fire that killed the family, find out why she was in trouble when she was just a little girl.”
Coop looked then at the notes that were included on a separate page that was attached to the copies of photos. His mind started swirling. He grabbed his phone.
Angie couldn’t believe it. The news was all over school and as she went to the office to pick up supplies and check her summer mail, even the receptionist and the office workers were whispering. One walked up to her, “Have you heard, Ms. Lark? They hired Ms. Kinser’s twin sister to take her place. It’s just eerie, that’s what it is, like a ghost will be walking our halls. It just isn’t right.”
Angie simply could not believe it. Jayne’s twin would be teaching in her school? She wasn’t sure how to respond to the clerical worker who had stopped her as she made her way back to the teachers’ mail room. She took a deep shaky breath.
“I hadn’t heard, Harriet, but thanks so much for telling me. Yes, it will be strange, won’t it?”
Harriet headed toward the front of the office and a shocked Angie turned into the mailroom. It was the week before school started and the teachers were coming in to work on their rooms and to accept their new schedules, preparing for a new school year. Keys were being assigned and lesson plans were being prepared, but it seemed like Jayne was the subject of every conversation.
Angie was alone in the mailroom, and reaching into her overstuffed mailbox was awkward since it was on the top row. She heard a sound behind her and nearly dropped her armload of papers when a familiar voice said, “Hello again, Angie,” from behind her.
“Jayne,” Angie said without thought.
“No, not Jayne, Janice. How could you forget Angie, you were at my sister’s funeral and now here we are again. How was your vacation?”
It was Jayne, Angie knew it was, but was there a subtle difference? Janice’s hair was streaked a little blonder and was parted on a different side, and it seemed a little longer, Jayne never wore her hair down, Janice's hair was streaming around her shoulders; she looked different somehow, but the same. Three months could have made that difference. Everything else was the same, even to the bright coral nail polish that Jayne always wore, ‘O.P.I.’s Come to Poppy’, Jayne had mentioned the name of that polish as if it mattered but Angie remembered.
Angie could hardly gather her wits, could hardly speak. Suddenly there was no need to speak, Mr. Sparks, the principal walked into the mailroom, his face abruptly draining of color.
“Miss Jones,” he said, “you look so much like your sister you startle me when I see you. I guess it’s going to be a while for us to get used to your being with us. Have you met Ms. Lark, she’s the chair of the fine arts department and worked closely with your sister. I’m sure she can help you find your way around our campus when you want a tour.”
“Oh thank you, Mr. Sparks, and yes, I met Angie. I’ve heard so much about her since she was Jayne’s good friend. I’m sure we’ll be fast friends as well.”
Mr. Sparks turned to Angie, “Ms. Lark, good to see you. Did you have a nice vacation. You are looking well, must have spent some time in the sun! Glad to have you back. Ladies, I have much to do this week, but if you need me, my door’s always open.”
He walked back toward his office.
Janice seemed to have a smirk on her face and Angie realized it was the same smirk she’d seen on Jayne. Many times. She gathered her mail and the schedule that she’d found in a binder that had her name on it. She turned to Janice.
“If you need me to give you a tour, I’ll be available anytime this afternoon. The phones in our offices or rooms have a list of each of our individual numbers; just give me a call and I’ll meet you back here. My classroom and office are in a different building, but I’m easy to find.”
“Oh I’ll find you, Angie, if I decide I need a tour guide.” Janice turned and walked out of the mailroom, her tight jeans outlining every contour of her behind. Angie recognized the jeans as Jayne’s. They were covered with glitz and glitter that Angie remembered. Buckle jeans, Jayne had said, as if it mattered.
“Oh, where are you living, Janice? I forgot to ask?”
“I’m living with Steve, helping him to care for Jake. Didn’t you know? It’s much easier this way, and much less expensive than maintaining separate residences. We are very close, the three of us, and much closer since Jayne’s death. And it’s made life so much easier on Jake. He’s accepted me as his mother, you know.”
Janice turned and with a familiar swish of her behind, she walked out of the mailroom.
The chill remained on Angie’s arms even as she walked into the hot end-of-August sunlight on her way to her building.
Cooper had been busy. He and Aaron were huddled inside his office. The door was closed and they had both been on separate phones and separate computers all morning. Coop had reached the proper authorities and had accessed records from the no-longer-in-existence reform school. Aaron had scoured old newspapers until he found the story of a fire that took the lives of two people and left twin girls orphans in a little town called Pine Creek, Kentucky. It was not a pretty story.
The fire had been discovered in the early morning hours of near daylight in a house that sat far back from the main road. At first it was believed the twins had also died in the fire, since the smoldering remains of the house were all that was left of it. But the twins were found later in the barn that was several hundred feet and quite a distance from the house, asleep in the hayloft, one on one side and one on the other side of the old loft.
One was covered in smoke and soot and had a box of nearly empty matches clutched in her hand. The other was in her nightgown and as clean as if she had just stepped from a bath. Upon questioning, the reports said, the twin in the nightgown stated that her sister told her they were going to camp out in the hayloft, sneaking out of the house after their baths and after their parents were asleep. She seemed surprised to see her twin sister in sooty jeans and smoky sweat shirt on the other side of the loft. She was also surprised to learn there had been a fire. She immediately asked for her Mama.
The other twin had said, “Mama’s dead now. And so’s Daddy. They burned up with the house.” But she said nothing more. That twin was Jayne. No one had told the girls about the fire nor about the deaths of their parents, yet Jayne had known, the official records indicated. The girls were nine years old.
Aaron continued to share what he had found with Coop.
“There were only the matches and the smoky sooty clothes to hold as evidence that Jayne had started the fire, but with Janice not knowing a thing and having obviously slept through the night, it was nothing but circumstantial. Jayne did not speak another word for over two years, and by that time the state had separated them and Janice went into a foster home. Jayne, however, had not been a successful candidate for fostering, though the state and several foster parents had tried; she was taken to the school for troubled children, without charges, but with enough emotional issues and disruptive behavior as well as suspicion to keep her there until she turned 18. It had not been a good situation for Jayne, being in a reform school with older children who had been sent there by the state for crimes committed or for emotional instabilities. But there had been no choice. With the suspected arson charges, and with no family who would take responsibility for caring for her, the reform school was the best the state could do. It provided a roof over her head, in house schooling, and food to eat. Murder charges were not considered because there was not sufficient evidence and there had been no witnesses.”
Coop chimed in:
“And Janice was well cared for with no emotional issues and she bonded well with her foster family. There is evidence in this state report that she flourished in high school, was valedictorian in her class and received a work scholarship to Berea. Her medical records were faxed, even her dental reports. She was active in sports and was a talented pianist, a beautiful flawless child by all indications.”
“What do we have on them after Berea?”
“Nothing, Aaron. It’s like they disappeared. I did find where Janice went on to get her Master’s degree in American Lit from the University of Kentucky, but nothing else. She’s a certified teacher as well and then we lose the trail. That could mean she went out of state to work. Most states accept other certification, some require more courses, but I haven’t found anything to substantiate that on either of them.”
“And now she’s been hired to take Jayne’s place here. Living in the Kinser residence. Something is just not right, Coop. Something.”
“What about the music. Janice plays piano, but there’s no indication that Jayne played any instrument.”
“Right. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Coop?”
The phone on Coop’s desk rang.
“This might be the call I’ve been waiting for, then I’ll let you know what I'm thinking. This is Chief Cooper, how can I help you?”
And on the other end of the line a voice said:
“Chief, this is Ann Johnson, I was foster mother of Janice Jones. I understand you wanted to talk with me. I do hope you have some news about Janice, I’ve been so worried. ”
“Janice? What do you mean you are so worried, Ms. Johnson? Have you spoken with her recently? ”
“Oh, I thought you knew. I thought that’s why you were calling. We haven’t heard from Janice since spring, sometime in late May. She was going to visit us this summer just as she always did, the first few weeks of June. But she never came and we haven’t heard a word. We’ve been so worried. We talked with our local sheriff’s office but they told us she was a grown adult and that she really had no obligation to us. We never adopted her, you know, though we wanted to. She was our foster child for years. She’s grown up now and is a teacher. She travels a lot in summer, but I am so worried about this. It isn’t like her to go this long without checking up on us. My husband isn’t well you know.”
“What about Janice’s sister, M’am, did you keep in touch with her as well?”
“That no good Jane. NO. We did not keep up with her. She came to visit Janice once she turned 18, tried to get her to move into an apartment with her, but Janice had the scholarship by then and was all set to move on to college. And you know the worst thing, she stole things from us while she was here. She took clothes that belonged to Janice but worse than that she took jewelry that we had given Jan, special pieces that we’d had made for her. Jan was like our own daughter, Chief, and we loved her as much as if she were our own flesh and blood. It scared us so when that little thief was around. Scared Jan too because they were so different. And while she was here she threatened Jan. I know she did. Jan never admitted it. She is the peacemaker, Jan is. And she kept saying how Jane was her twin and she tried so hard to help her be happy. But it was all or nothing with Jane. She wanted the life that Jan had, the looks that Jan had, the talent that Jan had, she was never happy just to be herself. Tell me, can you help us find Jan?”
“I don’t know, M’am, but we can try,” Coop lied. He wasn’t going to give the woman hope until he knew exactly what was going on in the Kinser house. Coop had his doubts about hope anyway.
“Tell me, Ms. Johnson, how were the sisters different. How could you tell one from the other when they got to college. You are aware that they both went to Berea at the same time, aren’t you?”
“That was the other thing, Chief. She followed Jan to Berea. I never did know how she did that and it was a horrible time. We think she forged college records. She was smart enough to do that, you know. Smart as a tack, was Jane. But not in a good way like Jan. Jane was street smart. Sneaky. If there was a way to do something that she wanted to do, she’d find it, legal or not. But you asked about looks. They looked nothing alike to us, but to others, yes. If they had on similar clothes it was hard to tell them apart. Jan’s teeth were perfect and beautiful, but Jayne never had the braces that she obviously needed. Jan had a dark birthmark behind her left ear. She was self conscious about it and never wore her hair up, always afraid somebody would see that birthmark. Jane wore her hair piled on top of her head all the time. So there were little differences. Is that what you meant? Oh and the piano. Jan was a beautiful pianist, she played at church all during high school. When Jane visited here all she could manage to learn was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and then she made a mess of playing it. But she tried so hard to be just like Jan. I always felt she wanted to BE Jan. Of course that has nothing to do with her looks.”
“M’am, one more question. Did Janice ever tell you that she visited Jayne?”
He heard a deep breath through the phone. Then Ms. Johnson answered his question.
“Chief, we never knew where Jane lived all these years that Jan was teaching in North Carolina. We knew nothing about her. But about a month ago I called Jan’s landlord in Charlotte and asked him to check her apartment. He told us that Jan had left there on her way to visit her sister and then to visit us. He said she asked him to collect her mail for her and that he had been doing that, but he also told us that she had told him she’d be home by the first of July. This is nearly September, Chief, and we haven’t heard a word. That landlord is still collecting her mail and her rent is automatically deducted from her bank account, so the apartment is still hers.”
“You have been a big help, Ms. Johnson. We’ll get right on this and we’ll let you know what we find. Thank you for calling. You call anytime you have a question, my line will always be open to you. And I promise you I’ll get right back to you as soon as I know anything.”
He hung up and turned to Aaron. “I think we might have a problem Aaron, right here in our little town. But if things are as they seem, we might have solved some even bigger problems.”
The two friends talked until long into the night, weighing options, discussing possible strategies. The question that hovered like a boulder ready to drop was which twin was living in their town. Right along with that question was one more. What did Steve Kinser know?
Coop’s thoughts turned to Angie at about the same time Aaron said, “Have you talked with Angie? Coop, do we need to be concerned for her?”
Coop pulled himself from deep thought. Instead of answering, he said:
“Let’s look at it like this. Think, Aaron. We have identical twins, though one is prettier, smarter and more talented than the second one. Let’s say the second one thinks from childhood that she should have as much attention as her identical but more beautiful and more talented sister. But let’s say that her personality is different; she might not be as friendly, might feel slighted by her parents from a very early age. Let’s say she blames her sister for getting more of the parental attention, more love. Let’s even say she got rid of the parents.”
“Coop, they were nine years old at the time of the fire.”
“Bear with me, Aaron. Now let’s say that resentment toward others remained with the bad twin for all those years she was in that school for troubled children while her twin lived a life of luxury with foster parents. She was silent for a few of those years. She stood by and watched others squabbling and fighting around her. Getting rid of the enemy was reinforced in her mind. The strongest fighter always won. So years pass and she seeks out her sister only to find that she is indeed living a life of luxury with the Johnsons, so she tries to take that away from her by stealing when she couldn’t get her to leave and move in with her. So she waits, and bides her time, she learned patience in the reform school. When the time was right she made her way to Berea to be with her sister, we don’t know how she got there, there are no other college records that we’ve found, but she got there somehow. Still she couldn’t achieve all that her sister did. Notice there is no list of honors following her name in the yearbook. So the resentment remained. We don’t know how the good sister managed to get away from the bad sister but she did. And while apart, the bad sister transforms herself. She becomes a replica of her good sister.
She grew up. She used her English degree. She taught school, the students looked up to her. But when one of them received more attention than she did, she got rid of that student. It would be easy enough to lure a teen aged girl away from a group. Girls admire their teachers, look up to them, believe them. So let’s say she began to weed away those she saw as competition, one by one. After the first one it would have been easy. Hell, it would have been easy anyway if she actually offed her parents when she was nine. And look at us. We were looking for a man, we never gave thought to a woman. She rid herself of those high school girls who had what she wanted. The talented ones, the pretty ones, the popular ones. She got rid of them one by one by one because they had what she wanted for herself, talent, beauty, and popularity.”
“Whoa, wait, Coop. We have no evidence to believe this. You are assuming and we can’t try a case on assumption, you know that.”
“Think about it, Aaron, and think hard and fast. If Janice drove here to visit Jayne, it would have been about the same time that Jayne was killed. Do we have any proof that the dead woman was actually Jayne? No, we don’t, not if they were identical and not if Jayne had had augmentations and braces and contacts to look more like her perfect twin. We didn’t know there was a twin. We ID’ed her based on what we saw, and we saw the only one we knew, Jayne.”
“What about Steve Kinser?”
“I don’t know but I’m about to find out. First though, think about this. Let’s say my assumptions are close to right. Who will be next? Who at the high school will be the next to die? She’s killed her parents because she felt they loved Janice more, she’s killed girls who had something she wanted, she’s killed her own twin, and who knows how many others along the way. Who’s next, Aaron?”
“Angie.” Aaron’s face was as white as a sheet as he whispered his sister’s name.
Early the next morning Coop got on the phone, asked Steve Kinser to come to the station, telling him they needed to go over some details of his wife’s murder again. Kinser willingly showed up and seemed eager to talk with the chief. He told John Cooper that he had known Janice through the years of their marriage, told him that they’d visited her in North Carolina several times taking Jake with them. He told them that’s why he’d turned to Janice after Jayne died, because she loved Jake so much. He volunteered the information that Jan had decided to move into his home just as soon as she’d been hired to take Jayne’s place at school, and that it was working out well for both him and Jake. He emphasized the fact that Jake loved having her room next door to his own, indicating that there was no relationship between her and Steve.
Kinser seemed innocent enough, but Coop wasn’t through with his questions. He asked Steve if she and Jayne were close like twins normally are and Steve volunteered the information that they had not been close at all, but that Jayne felt an obligation to Jan, since Jan wanted a close relationship and since the sisters had no other living relatives. Coop asked why Jan hadn’t come to Jayne’s funeral and Steve answered that he hadn’t thought to contact her, but that he had done so when he realized he needed help with Jake. Coop asked him if Jan had moved her furniture as well and Steve told him that he’d gone to North Carolina a couple weeks ago to help her sell her furniture and resign from her teaching job there. That had been the sole purpose of that trip, he said, not mentioning that he had seen Angie while there, Coop noticed.
Of course Coop had not yet talked with the landlord in Charlotte and he didn’t know how recently Ms. Johnson had talked with the landlord, so he didn’t know how much of this story was true, but it would be easy enough to find out. Just as it would be easy to find whether or not Jan had resigned her teaching job. It would have been easy enough for Jayne to disappear and get to Charlotte after killing her sister. It would have been easy to become Jan in Charlotte. There were so many unknowns, but Coop was going to find answers. He had to!
Steve seemed so innocent, Coop couldn’t quite figure him out. Either he was as dumb as a box of rocks and didn’t recognize his own wife, or he was in on some kind of plan with Jayne. Not for a minute did Coop believe Jayne was dead. What he did believe was that she had somehow managed to kill her twin sister and assume her identity. Angie had been dead right. A chill ran through Coop at the thought of Angie working in the same school with a murderer who hated beautiful successful women. Hated them enough to kill them. He remembered then that Jayne had claimed Angie as her best friend. He shuddered.
He let Kinser go, having no grounds to hold him, then he looked at the time. Four in the afternoon. Angie should be home by now.
Angie had little to say to them, not even when they carried take out Chinese to share with her for dinner that night. Not much was said about the Kinsers either because Coop wasn’t sure how much she should know. She told them about her vacation with Emily on the beach and she told them about meeting new friends who had showered them with attention. And she told them that she had met Janice Jones at school. When Aaron announced that he was sleeping over at her house that night and when Coop announced that he’d see them the next day, Angie only thought they were trying to make amends. She said little and they told her less. She had no idea they’d spent the entire weeks of summer working on the case.
The next morning she got up early and was showered and dressed and on her way to school before Aaron realized she was gone. It was another day of school prep work for her. She had an auditorium to tend to.
She had not seen Janice Jones since that first day, nor had she sought her out. She’d been busy in her own classroom and no doubt the one who claimed to be Jan was busy in hers as well.
Angie left her classroom to go to work in the auditorium. It was a large auditorium and in the back, on a level three floors up, was the control room. She needed to check both the light and sound boards. The boards were located in a small separate room at the top of narrow stairs in the very top center of the back of the auditorium. It was a tiny glass fronted room, the kind of glass that could be seen through from the inside, but could not be seen into from the outside; it faced the stage, giving the technical director a view of the entire width of the stage and the orchestra pit located in front of and below the front of the stage. It also kept the control panel and the technical director out of sight of everyone else. From it, all lights and all sounds were controlled. No expense had been spared when it came to providing for the auditorium. Angie had taken classes to learn how to work both sound and light boards, and it was her job to make sure they were in good repair, ready for the new year. She was very good at her job.
She had turned only a very dim light on the stage before she walked up the steps. She didn’t need much stage light to test the light board, the darker the stage was the better she could see the directional lighting. In the control booth, there was no light, but the boards were well lit by tiny individual lights when the main lighting system was in use. She needed no overhead lights in the control booth either. Her fingers knew where every slide was located. From the stage, no one could see into it anyway, and Angie could test each light much better in darkness. She used a small flashlight to make her way up the steps.
She had tested the overheads and was getting ready to test the side spots when she heard a sound coming from the very dimly lit stage. The master switch to both the light and sound boards was on, but she touched none of the controls. She watched silently from the dark booth three floors above the stage.
Someone in black pants and shirt was creeping from behind the curtain. Angie was quiet, still, but her heart was beating loudly. Her cell phone had been left on her desk in the office; she glanced at the door to her side and reached to make sure it was locked.
The person on the stage crept toward the large sofa that sat just in front of the back curtain. Angie watched as the slim dark figure seemed to search beneath the cushions until it grasped in its hand what it was looking for. The dim light reflected off the object in the dark hand. Was the figure wearing gloves? Angie couldn’t tell but she crouched lower slightly behind the light board. She knew she couldn’t be seen from down below but she didn’t know what the figure was holding. She didn’t want to be a target for anything, but she wanted to be able to manipulate the light board as well.
The dim light reflected off the object again, and Angie could tell the figure was holding it straight out in front, turning slightly from right to left. It occurred to Angie that she could gently and very quietly slide the light control so that the lights very slowly got brighter. She might be able to identify the figure if she could see a little better. She reached her hand toward the slide that controlled the side lights, the lights that were used during intermission to dim the auditorium gradually, signifying that the second half of the show was ready to begin. Angie’s fingers trembled on the slide. The lights brightened only slightly, just as a hushed voice called, ‘Angie.’
Angie stiffened, Jayne’s voice. It had to be Jayne on that stage. She peeked over the light board and saw the figure swing her extended arms first to the right then to the left.
“Angie! I know you are in here. I just want to talk.” Still hushed, but sound carried in the auditorium and Angie could hear the words as clear as a bell. She never moved. The figure turned suddenly to the right, arms extended, and just as suddenly a shot rang out followed by a bright streak of light that looked to be coming from the hands of the figure.
“Gun!!!” thought Angie, ‘She has a gun!” Angie crouched, barely able to see the small figure on the distant stage, too scared to breathe. The figure swung and shot once more toward the curtains on the other side of the stage. Then she turned, and the gun was pointed straight toward Angie in the control booth.
Angie’s quick as lightning hand hit the light board hard and as it did, the strobe started up with its flashing quickly revolving painful shoots of bright white light blinding the eyes and the mind of the figure on stage and anyone else whose eyes were open. With the sudden lights flashing and twirling and turning from every direction the figure on the stage began shooting just as wildly right back, turning, twirling and wildly screaming with every shot; twirling with the strobe, shooting at the strobe, screaming in time to the flash of the strobe. Perfect rhythm, DIE, shoot, strobe, DIE, shoot, strobe, DIE, shoot, strobe, Diiiiiii . . .
And just as suddenly the shooting stopped, and with a crash the long shrill scream echoed and bounced off the sound panels all around the walls of the auditorium. Then silence. Nothing but pounding silence.
Angie was barely breathing and she realized she had her eyes closed.
She dared not open her eyes. She dared not. Breathe. She couldn’t breathe. Silence. Dead silence. Pounding silence.
“Angie!!” The loud male voice shouted. And again, “Angie!! Angie, answer me,” yelled Coop from somewhere down below.
She tried to answer, she really did, but nothing came out except a whisper, “Coop . . “
Suddenly she could see bright light and finally realized her eyes were open and the lights were on center stage. She raised her head and could see Coop and Mr. Sparks along with several other men entering the door stage left. She held on to the control table and slowly raised herself upright. She leaned forward over the boards and slid open the glass panel that separated her booth from the rest of the auditorium. The strobe was still on, and so was the overhead stage light.
“I’m here, Coop. I’m right here.”
“Angie!! Are you hurt? Sweetheart, turn off the strobe lights, Angie, we can’t see down here. Are you all right, Angie? Are you hurt? I’m on my way!”
No one caught the endearment. No one but Angie.
Angie reached a trembling hand toward the panel, turning off the strobe and turning all the overhead lights on full force. She looked down in the direction of the stage. She could see nothing except the men gathering into the doorway. Where was Jayne?
“Coop, she has a gun, she was firing a gun, Coop, y’all need to leave she has a gun!!! Coop, get out now, it’s Jayne and she has a gun!” Angie screamed.
But just as her scream echoed, bounced around the depths of the large room, she glanced down to the full width of the stage. There, directly below where Angie stood, twelve feet below stage level and eight feet below floor level, deep in the bowels of the orchestra pit, lay the black clad broken body of Jayne, mangled around the bent metal bars of the wrought iron music stands.
“Coop,” she wailed, “Oh Coop, the pit!!! Look into the pit. Look into the pit!”
With guns ready, the men slowly walked over to the open edge of the orchestra pit whose metal fence had been bent downward from Jayne’s fall. They stared down, guns aimed, but not needed. Jayne’s twisted body never moved, impaled as it was on the upturned leg of a mangled music stand.
There were no more murders.
It was established by experts that exposure to strobe lighting can trigger affects on electrical impulses in the brain in some people. It would never be known if Jayne was actually firing the gun hoping to kill Angie, or if the rapid firing and incessant body twirling that had flung her off the stage and into the open orchestra pit was in fact the result of affected electrical brain impulses. Angie held no guilt for the light that led to Jayne's gruesome death. She was forever thankful for the unseen hand that had flung her own hand on the button that activated the strobe.
The broken bloody body of the dead dark clad woman lying impaled among wrought iron music stands was identified as Jayne Kinser. She had no dark identifying mark behind her ear. Her fingerprints matched those in the superintendent’s office taken when Jayne had been hired to teach English at the high school. Young Jake mentioned that the only thing she could play on the piano was Twinkle Twinkle. Her body was cremated. No one ever knew what became of her ashes.
The body of Jan Jones was exhumed and reburied in the family plot alongside that of her foster parents, Ann and Earnest Johnson.
Steve Kinser was questioned but never charged. His naivete’ might have been what saved him from the wrath of his murdering wife. He had indeed gone with her when she resigned as Jan Jones from the school system in North Carolina, though he had remained waiting in the parking lot. He had never stepped foot in the apartment building where Jan had lived, so he had no idea who Jayne could have spoken with when she was in the building. The landlord swore under oath that he had seen neither of them. The Johnsons had cleared Jan’s apartment and had taken care of those details that came with a sudden death, just as soon as Coop had given the go ahead to the authorities in Charlotte. Steve Kinser and young Jake moved on the next year, but not before Angie got to teach Jake how to throw pots on the potter’s wheel. He proved to be a natural. Angie smiled often at the memory.
Aaron moved up to become the District Attorney, following the rapid growth of his private practice. Oliver Haines passed away, leaving all his legal accumulations to Aaron. Aaron married Emily, his sister’s best friend, and they had two little ones in rapid succession.
And Coop. Coop was Chief of Police, just where he wanted to be, doing work that he loved. Nothing changed for him. Nothing that is, except the white picket fence that he built around the home that he and Angie purchased the week before their wedding, and every evening he came home to open the gate of the white picket fence and to be greeted by the woman who had loved him forever.
Some summers the four of them, Coop and Angie and Aaron and Emily, sneaked away for a week on the beach, enjoying the forever friendship of Ty and Joe and their wives, Charlie and Harper.
It was a good and happy life.
BACKSTAGE ⓒ August 2012
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