Authors: Jaycee Ford
“Whatcha got?” I asked as I walked toward the coffee pot.
“Just bad coffee and an even worse case to solve.”
“Which case?” I lifted the coffee pot. Smelling it up close, I decided it wasn’t acceptable for human consumption. I walked around to where Parker sat, peering over his shoulder.
“That bust on Sigmon Road a few weeks back. I have a hunch that it’s not over.” He glanced up at me as he leaned back in the chair.
“What makes you say that?” I sat down in the chair next to him. He slid the folder in front of me. I looked over the photos. “Those two guys are in jail.”
“Yeah, they are. Which is why I find it weird that cars keep going up that way. It’s a dead end farm road. There shouldn’t be that much traffic going up there.”
“Maybe the bank sold the place?”
He shook his head and pulled the folder back to him. “There’re some fancy ass cars going up there, though.”
I pushed away from the table. I couldn’t get into this until I got some coffee. “Let me go get something decent to drink and then we’ll go talk to Sheriff Harmon.”
He nodded, eyes firmly planted on the contents of the file. I exited the break room and heard the holiday music again. Devon stood on a ladder to hang tinsel from the top of the tree.
“I said off, Devon.”
I pushed the door open to the outside chill. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and headed down a few storefronts to the café. As I rounded the corner, a familiar couple caught my eye holding a toddler.
“We don’t want your kind here. Go back to the city.”
The once messy haired cowboy turned around in his sport coat and slacks, holding a kid who looked almost identical to him. His beautiful wife smiled at me as I approached and kissed her cheek.
“Lance, you better hold on to this one. I might steal her away.” I gazed down at her with a huge smile. “How are you, Katherine?”
“Doing great. Tired because of this little one,” she said, stealing her son away from Lance and handing him to me. “But perfect.”
I bounced him in my arms and said, “Hey, Xander.”
“His name is Alexander,” Lance corrected.
I stared into the kid’s eyes. They were as wild as Lance’s. The kid laughed when I made a face at him.
“Nah. It’s Xander,” I said, handing him back to Katherine. “What are y’all doing in town?”
“It’s Thanksgiving. Huge feast at Tom’s house and all. You coming?” Lance asked with the proudest smile on his face.
My thoughts shifted to Angela, and I shook my head. “Can’t this year. I’ve gotta work, but maybe around Christmas or after the New Year we can catch up more.”
“Yeah, we’ll be in town all this week. We can try to meet up at Dixie’s,” Lance offered.
I knew this wasn’t going to be possible. I felt some sort of guilty obligation to watch out for Angela. And here I was, staring at the man partially responsible for her shitty life. I felt I needed to hear the other half of their story. I just had to remember to focus on the case rather than on her, but for some reason, my focus kept coming full circle. I pushed thoughts of Angela Butler out of my head.
“Bird. Bird,” Xander repeated as he looked up in the sky.
“He’s already talking?” I asked, unaware of anything involving kids.
“Yep, and you’ll never guess what his first word was,” Katherine said. I looked over at her as she shook her head and continued, “Mary.”
“Mary? As in Tom and Jordan’s Mary?”
She nodded and shook her head again.
“I smell trouble already,” I said as I scooted around them toward the door.
“Don’t say that, Caleb!” Katherine said loudly.
I laughed and waved goodbye as I entered the café. People sat around reading their morning papers, others stood in line for coffee. I was third in line when I heard, “Large black decaf.” I peered around to find the cute redhead behind the register winking at me as she placed a large coffee on the counter. I smiled and walked to the front. One guy scoffed until he realized I was a cop, and then his eyes shifted back to the menu. I neared the counter with a smile just for the cute redhead.
“Anytime, officer.” She winked again.
I smiled back. I saw Tracy here almost daily and I’d always wanted to ask her out, but I also liked free coffee. One thing was certain, if I asked her out, I’d never get free coffee again.
I made my way back out into the cold as Lance and Katherine drove by in a shiny SUV. I waved to my city banker friend and headed back to the station. Thankfully, there was no Christmas music when I entered this time. I kept a wide berth of the area underneath the mistletoe as Devon smirked from behind the desk. I was just turning to go down the hall toward the break room when Parker met me in the lobby, a file tucked under his arm. I cocked my head behind me and he nodded with understanding. Clutching my coffee, I turned and followed Parker to Sheriff Harmon’s office. I knocked.
I turned the knob, and we were instantly hit with cigar smoke followed by a chill from the open window. Sheriff Harmon sat back in his chair, fingers interlocked over his stomach with a cowboy hat resting atop his head. The smoke billowed from his mouth. Parker didn’t wait for an invitation to speak.
“Sheriff, I think there’s still some action going down on Sigmon Road.”
The sheriff leaned forward in his chair and pulled the cigar from between his lips. “Why do you think this?”
“Well, there has been a lot more traffic heading up that way lately. I thought at first, as did Caleb, that perhaps the bank sold the land, but I did a little digging and that’s not the case. The land is still owned by Roger Sigmon, as it has been for thirty years. His son, Eric, occupies the house now.”
“But he’s in jail,” the sheriff interrupted.
“Exactly my point,” Parker said. “And Roger Sigmon lives in Raleigh. The cars going up that way look a tad too fancy for these parts. I didn’t go up there too far, seeing I was by myself, but I think it’s something Caleb and I need to check out.”
“Sounds good. No door busting. Just check it out.” He placed the cigar back between his lips.
Parker nodded, “Will do, sir.”
He left the office, eager to be on the case. I lingered a moment, wanting to take the opportunity to talk to the sheriff about Angela.
“Sir, may I have another minute?”
“Sure, have a seat.” He rested his cigar in the ashtray.
I shut the door and stepped around the office chair to take a seat in front of my boss. I put my coffee down on his desk and clasped my hands together. I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “Sir, Angela Butler is back in town.”
He stared, deadpanned. “And?”
“Well, she’s staying at my house.”
“I don’t want to know about your sexual life, Harris.” He waved me off.
“No, sir. She came to me because she claims to have witnessed a murder,” I replied instantly.
His brow furrowed. “In our town?”
“No, sir. In Atlanta.”
He cocked his head and asked, “Wouldn’t that be Atlanta’s jurisdiction?”
“Sir, she says someone is trying to kill her.”
He stared at me in silence, puffing his cigar. Smoke billowed across my face as he exhaled. Being in close proximity to a smoker was hell, but I didn’t flinch. I’d grown accustomed to it.
“It’s good that you’re keeping her at your house. Do you know the whole story?”
“I feel like she’s leaving something out. I don’t really know all the details yet.” I sighed and added, “She’s pregnant, sir. I think they killed the baby’s father right in front of her.” I shook my head. “I’m out of my comfort zone. Besides the kidnapping of Jordan McCloud a few years back, and the handful of meth labs cropping up ever since, I haven’t had to deal with something this severe before.”
“Keep her at your house. Don’t bring her into town. I’ll come to your place and we’ll try to talk to her. No reason for her to feel uncomfortable.” He leaned back in his chair and sighed in deep though. “I was a good friend of her father. I still miss that bastard.”
I nodded with understanding and stood. If only Angela had as much honor in this town as her father did, I wouldn’t be her only hope.
“Thank you, sir. We’ll shoot for after Thanksgiving. Maybe the Sigmon Road situation will get cleared up by then.”
The door swung open as Devon entered. “Excuse me, sir. There’s a fire at the library.”
I ran out the door. Sigmon Road would have to wait another day.
The blinding sun hurt my eyes. I held up my arm to block its rays. A tall man stood in front of me, dark sunglasses and a buzz cut. His pants and shirt matched with funny splotches of green and brown. He crouched down before me and took off his glasses. I gasped when our eyes met; the same color! He wrapped his arms around me and lifted me up. I sat on his tan arm, dark in contrast to my pale yellow dress. He bounced me in the air until I couldn’t help but smile. It was so familiar.
“You remember me, sweetheart? You remember me, Angie?”
I looked between him and the little flag I held tightly in my hand. Momma told me to wave it with all my might once the trumpets started to play, and then she buried her face against his chest. He hugged us both. A tear rolled down his cheek as his face lit up with a smile. His smile made me smile. He gripped me tight again.
“Tell me you remember your daddy.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and breathed in his familiar scent.
“Daddy! Welcome home, daddy!”
I didn’t remember him, but he wanted me to remember him. And the way momma was crying joyful tears made me feel like I had to lie. It was only a little lie. No one would even know.
I waved my little flag to the tune of the band. Drums started banging. An eerie chill crawled over my skin as dark clouds covered the sun. My father put me down. Feet on the ground, I stared at the flag in my hand until it became smaller. My body grew bigger. My father put on a helmet and gripped a rifle in front of him. The concrete tarmac bled into a waterless beach.
“Angie. Stay home and be a good girl. Help your mother. I love you.”
He turned away as soldiers dressed just like him stormed passed me by the hundreds. Black smoke billowed in the distance. I watched my father run away from me, disappearing into the smoke.
“No! Stay here!”
I ran after him.
“Dad! Don’t go!”
I ran harder, faster. Fallen soldiers lined the desert around me.
He had to stop. He had to come home. He had to take care of my mother and me. He had his own duties, the duties of a father. Not this.
I spotted him, alone, running toward the billow of black smoke barreling into the clouds. His rifle aimed in defense of his country, of his family. I ran harder and screamed, “Dad! Dad, don’t!”
He stopped and pivoted to attention. The sky lit up like a New Year’s midnight. I came to a halt, my chest heaving for breath through the sobbing tears. I couldn’t reach him. He was alone out there. His eyes dulled as tears ran down his face. It was too late.
Black tunneled around me. I watched my father get consumed by the earth. His blood dyed the sand red, a crimson river flowing into my sight, turning everything black. Pitch black. I blinked, my eyes shifted in every direction. My body shook as I raised a hand in front of me. I couldn’t see it. I covered my mouth, concealing the weeps in the silence. A faint echo scratched my ear. I removed my hand from my mouth, taking a deep, shaky breath as I walked forward into the darkness. The sun’s warmth vanished and this new darkness chilled me to the core. The echoes grew louder, clearer.
“You tell Mateo that he’ll get his fucking money when he replaces the product.”
Oh, God. No.
“Simon! No!” I screamed as I ran into the never-ending darkness. I ran and ran to get to him. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t see, but I needed to. I needed to see Simon. If I could get to him, maybe… maybe…