Authors: Cynthia Racette
Table of Contents
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Ramona Lockwood
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
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This is for my husband, Richard,
for all his patience and support
over all my years of writing.
He’s been laid back when I was tense,
comforting when I needed it,
and always, always there for me.
He is my hero!
I’d like to acknowledge my daughter, Cassandra Carr (pen name) and Helen Jones, both of whom read the manuscript at different times and offered much-needed advice. I’d also like to thank the ladies of the Western NY RWA for their support and encouragement--they’re great, every last one of them.
Mike was inordinately late and Anna Lamoreaux was getting more worried by the minute.
Why doesn’t he call?
She'd paced across the carpet for what seemed like hours. She looked out the front window for his car a thousand times.
Since the kids were starting to sense her nervousness, she fed them. Dinner was getting cold, anyway. After they’d picked at their meals for long enough, she talked Brian and Mallory into going up to their rooms to do their homework by passing Mike's tardiness off as an unexpected stop for a drink with his buddies. That was doubtless what he’d done, in any case.
It was a relief to have them gone because she was getting exhausted pretending nothing was wrong. Now she could wring her hands and pace without hiding it.
After four hours, she'd called his office and found out he left at the usual time. The night receptionist hadn't heard Mike or his co-workers talking about going out for a drink or anything on their way home. Then she'd made a dozen more calls to friends and the hospital. Nothing.
Where could he be? Anna pictured his car crashed on the highway, his limp body lying on the shoulder of the road, and then chastised herself for letting her imagination get away with her. She prayed again and again that he hadn't been in an accident.
Without Brian or Mallory to worry about, she could look out the front window nonstop, her heart pounding and her fingers cold as she willed his car to appear around the corner. Instead, an unfamiliar car turned into the driveway and two men got out. She ran to the door and threw it open, watching them come up the porch steps. They were wearing uniforms.
Her heart thundered and her stomach fell and she
. She'd seen this kind of thing on television. Her imagination was about to become an appalling reality. She could feel it in her bones, her heart, her soul. Her prayers turned to, “Jesus, let him be alive. Let him be alive." She repeated the mantra over and over. Even as she did, she knew it was a useless exercise. The men's faces were grave and their lips grim.
Then she was certain. A prayer for safety wouldn't do him any good.
Anna backed up, away from the door. "Oh no. Oh no. Please. No. Please." As her tears fell they came forward, and she motioned them in, briefly entertaining the notion that if she didn't let them into the house that it would somehow magically reverse fortune and her husband would arrive hale and whole and laughing at her imagination. She shut the door behind them and collapsed against the wall, her arms wrapped around her middle.
"Mrs. Lamoreaux," the taller one began. "I'm Patrolman Eddy and this is Patrolman Stuart. May we sit down for a moment? We need to talk to you."
Somehow she found the edge of the chair opposite the sofa and sank onto it as she fought against hyperventilating. "He's dead, isn't he?" Her voice shook uncontrollably.
Patrolman Eddy's nod was almost imperceptible.
"Was he in a car accident?" Anna tried not to break into tears. She needed to know what had happened to her husband more than she needed her next breath.
Pay attention, Anna. This is about Mike.
Her poor Mike was gone
. Oh, Mike. I need to know how you died.
It couldn't be happening, yet it was
"Yes, Ma'am," Eddy said. "Apparently, your husband witnessed a robbery and shooting at a convenience store. The perpetrator realized your husband had seen the crime and could identify him. Mr. Lamoreaux fled the scene in his car and the alleged robber went after him. A high speed chase ensued and the perpetrator forced your husband's car off the road and into a tree. The accident killed him instantly. He likely never suffered, Mrs. Lamoreaux."
As Anna attempted to follow what he was saying, her imagination filled in and intensified the details. A haze of black spots swirled before her eyes and everything went dark. She slid off the chair, banging her head on the small table nearby.
When her vision started to clear, the patrolman was holding her up and trying to get her to drink a sip of water. She turned her face away, sobbing into the sleeve of her sweater.
Struggling to sit up by herself, she gripped the cushion and then got shakily to her feet. Eventually, she was able to sit on the edge of the chair again and take a sip of the water the policeman still held for her.
Several deep breaths later, she managed to stand and get herself under control. Her head hurt where she’d hit the table but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that Mike was gone and was never coming home, ever again. It wouldn't do anyone any good if she just fell apart. It was what she always did.
Anna realized Patrolman Eddy still hovered next to her, as if afraid she'd keel over again. The younger one looked uncomfortable with her grief. "You men can go now. I'll be all right."
Patrolman Eddy shook his head. "No, ma'am. I don't want to leave until you have someone with you. Is there anyone you can call?"
"My next door neighbor, Rose, can come over. And I'll call my mother. She's only about twenty minutes away."
Eddy addressed the other policeman. "Stu, can you go fetch the neighbor and have her come over? I'll stay here while Mrs. Lamoreaux calls her mother."
As Anna made the call, Eddy stood by, probably to catch her if she fainted again. Rose arrived in two minutes and held her in her soft, gentle arms. Anna’s mother would be there in about fifteen minutes. The two policemen left.
Rose made some herbal tea in the kitchen while Anna went upstairs to tell the kids. She dreaded it. She brought Brian into Mallory's room so she wouldn't have to suffer through the explanation twice.
"Did either of you hear the men that were here for a while?"
Both shook their heads, and Mallory pointed to the ear buds that were hanging around her neck. "I didn't hear anything," she said.
"No, I'm sure. A third world war could have started over our house and you wouldn't know it," Anna said, trying to summon up a smile but failing.
"So what's up?"
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Anna told them, as gently as she could, that their father had been in a bad accident and had been killed. She left out the information about the robber for the time being. The kids had enough to concern them with the death of their father.
They both looked at her for a few minutes, incomprehension in their young eyes.
"Daddy is dead?" Brian asked. "He can't be. We have to finish Mallory's present."
Anna held out her arms and her kids ran to her. They all hugged and cried some more and Mallory kept mumbling, "It can't be Daddy. He can't be gone. He's gotta come home."
A short time later Anna's mother arrived and, in her own inimical manner, took over the house and started making decisions about everything. She decided arbitrarily, that everyone should look at the photo album to remember Mike. Unable to stomach seeing Mike in a happy family picture so soon, Anna made more tea because what Rose had brewed was cold. Her neighbor had left a few minutes ago, not wishing to intrude on a family moment. She made Anna promise to call her tomorrow.
Soon, Anna’s mother was calling the church to notify them of Mike's death. Then she used the hymnal in the desk drawer to decide which hymns should be sung. The kids looked upset, beyond what they should have been even after such horrific news.
It dawned on Anna that she’d been thinking too much of herself and Mike, and hadn't realized her mother’s actions had become more than her children’s ears and psyches could handle. Sometimes, her mother was a real piece of work.
Anna let her mother get away with it for a while, but finally she'd had enough. Mike had only been gone a few hours, and nothing of this sort had to be decided right away. This was her husband and, whether she was right or wrong about which hymns to sing or how many hams to order for the reception after the funeral, they were Anna’s decisions to make. And none of them had to be made that night.
Her mother looked hurt that Anna was taking over but for once in her life Anna was going to do what she wanted to do and not let her mother decide what was best for her.
Anna put the kids to bed and turned in herself, too overwrought to think about anything tonight. Mike had just died, for Pete's sake. Hymns could wait.
It was a familiar problem between her and her mother. She remembered one day when they were discussing where she would go to college. Anna's heart was set on Cornell but her mother wanted her to live at home and attend the State University of New York. She remembered it well.
Her boyfriend, Stefan, who was a foreign exchange student, been accepted at Colgate University for the fall. He'd said he would drive down to Ithaca to visit her at Cornell whenever he had a free weekend.
Her mother was hurt. "I thought you were going to SUNY so you could live at home?"
thought I should go there and live here at home. I want to go to Cornell."
"There's plenty of time to discuss it later." By the end of a week of campaigning by her mother, Anna had sent in her acceptance to SUNY.
Her mother treated her with kid gloves but there was an iron fist inside the soft leather.
The morning after Mike’s death, her doorbell rang. The kids were still in bed and Anna, bleary-eyed after a nearly sleepless night, still wore her Mickey Mouse pajamas, a souvenir from last years’ Magic Kingdom trip. She didn't want anyone to see her in pjs but, when the bell rang a second time, she dragged herself to the door.
A tall man wearing a gray suit stood on her stoop. "Good morning, Mrs. Lamoreaux. I apologize for disturbing you at such an early hour. I know you must have had a difficult night. I'm Detective Jeff Thomas from the city PD. I need to ask you some questions."
Anna stood there staring at him for a moment, trying to make sense of what he said. The police department? Why would another policeman be here after last night? Her mind was muddled. "I'm sorry, what is it you wanted?"
"I need to ask you some questions about the incidents surrounding your husband's accident last night. May I come in?"
"Oh. Yes, sure. Come in." She led him to the matched set of chairs on either side of the fireplace and sat in one while he took the other. For some reason she didn't want him on the sofa where the two patrolmen sat last night.
Call me superstitious
Or just plain paranoid
"I apologize for still being in my pajamas. No one got much rest last night and we all slept in a little.”
“No problem. I understand and wish I didn’t have to disturb you on such a difficult morning.”
“What is it you need to ask me? I can't imagine what else there would be to say."
"Bear with me, okay?" He got out a small notebook and a pen. "My officers explained last night that your husband interrupted a crime scene and was chased by the alleged perp, who forced his car off the road, resulting in your husband’s death."
"Yes. It doesn't make much sense to me but that's pretty much what they said."
"Just a couple of things to clear up about the crime. The convenience store is located on the corner of Main and Young Street. Do you know if you or your husband or family frequents that particular store so that you or your children might know some of the people who come in often?"
"No, I have no idea," she said. "That's not a store I recall ever being in, or Mike either."
"You don't frequent that location?"
"Not really. I can't imagine why Mike would have been there. It's not on his way home from work, not by a long shot."
"So you wouldn’t know why he would have been there last night?"
"Had your husband mentioned anyone new he'd recently met? Someone who'd have given him a reason to be there?"
"How would I know something like that?"
"Mrs. Lamoreaux, I have to ask you an important question, and again I ask you to bear with me. I'm not trying to pry into your family's personal affairs, just to find out why he was targeted by this perpetrator. Do you think there's any possibility your husband was into drugs?"
"What?" Anna stood, angry. "No, there's no possibility Mike was involved with drugs."
Detective Thomas stood, too. "I believe you. But I had to ask. For some reason, he was in a store he never frequented, interrupted a crime, and ended up being killed by happenstance. I'm merely trying to shed some light on what may have transpired. If we can get some answers, maybe it could help give you closure about what happened."
"I see. I wish I could help you, but I can't."
"I understand. This is a lot to think about right on the heels of your husband's death. But we have to catch this man and I'm looking for clues as to why the crime was committed at this store."
Anna's heart almost stopped. "You haven't caught him?"
"No, Mrs. Lamoreaux, I'm sorry to say the suspect is still at large."
"Oh, my God. This man as much as killed Mike and he's still out there. What are the chances he'd come here?"
"Slim to none, I would think. Unless your husband did have some sort of connection to him and, from what you’ve told me, that isn't likely to be the case here. I think Michael was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Anna wrapped her arms around herself and sank onto the chair again. "I can't do this. On top of his death last night, it’s too much. I’m sorry. I can't."
Thomas crouched until he was eye-level with her chair and looked at her more closely. "Mrs. Lamoreaux, I want to stress that chances are this was all a tragic mistake. I'm not here to point fingers. I'm here to find answers. I'd hoped you might be able to shine some light on the subject, but I can see you don't have any idea what happened. I do thank you for talking to me this morning, because your help will enable me to start looking elsewhere. And that might lead us to the man who killed your husband." He stood again. "You sit there awhile and try to relax. I'll let myself out."
Before long, she heard his car engine fade away, and she turned her mind to whether to let the kids sleep or get them up for school. Children and their routines were often just what one needed to get grounded again, although she knew all too well that it would be a long, long time before real day-to-day normality settled over them. After all, Brian was only eight and still looked at things as how they would affect his world. She was really worried about how Mallory, on the cusp of being a teenager at fourteen, would react once reality set in.