About the book
Lawyer Megan Corver never expected her traitor father to make an appearance.
When his request for help turns her life upside down, she’s forced to investigate the most traumatizing case of her career: her own mother’s cold-case murder. Her conviction that there's nothing new to be found is shattered when an anonymous package changes everything; the murder weapon with her father’s fingerprints on it.
Torn between their familial bond and the staggering proof against him, she must fight to get to the truth. A truth that might prove too much even for her to handle. Buried in unmarked graves, her past is tainted with the blood of a vengeful fiend that is back with the promise to kill...
Westby, California – 1 Year Later
Dappled sunlight filters through the blinds of the coffee shop, casting early morning light over the table. I sit across from Aiden for what has become our weekly Monday morning breakfast. I wouldn’t call what we’ve been doing dating exactly, but it’s been nice to share the time together, really getting to know each other. Not that we haven’t kissed or fooled around a little, but it’s been slow and he’s been so very patient with me.
“You’ve got that far away look,” Aiden comments over his cup of black coffee. Its contents are a shade or two darker than his brown hair. His eyes catch the light from the window, making them shine as he studies me.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be somewhere else. I was just thinking about how far we’ve come.” I study the dark contents of my own mug as I realize I can’t look him in the eye. And how far we’ve yet to go.
“I knew what I signed up for, Megan. I am a patient man, and I will wait as long as it takes. I know that pushing you too fast will only make you leave, and I don’t want that to happen.”
“I don’t either. I promise, I’m trying.” Even a decade after the fact, I still find it hard to trust my heart to other people.
The waiter comes by to refill our cups and lingers, eying us for the fact we never order food when we come. We drink a pot of coffee between us, but we never order food.
“Before you go, could I get a plate of eggs, scrambled, and some rye toast?” I say.
Both Aiden and the waiter blink at me in confusion and surprise. The waiter recovers first. “Of course. I’ll put your order right in!”
He races off, coffee pot perched on the edge of the table. He sprints back moments later with a sheepish grin, snatching it up again before making an excited beeline for the kitchen.
“Ordering food. That’s bold,” Aiden says and sets his mug down. “You’re going to make me feel like a slacker here.”
I gesture to our waiter at the other end of the diner. “There’s still time to make his day.”
He shakes his head. “I’ve never been much of a breakfast guy. I know they say it’s the most important meal of the day but, something about starting my day with something heavy in my stomach makes me uncomfortable. It weighs me down.”
I laugh as he gestures to his stomach as he talks. “Maybe you just haven’t found the right morning fuel for you.”
We sit in silence, eying each other over our mugs of coffee for a few minutes. Our waiter returns with the plate of food and sets it down in front of me. “Can I get you anything else?” He eyes Aiden who just shakes his head.
“We’re good for now. Thanks.”
I dig into the eggs after applying a light coating of ketchup and pepper. They taste almost the way my dad’s scrambled eggs did when I was a little girl. I swallow the mouthful of food as a new realization hits me: it’s been months since I thought about my father.
So much had changed in my life since he’d disappeared into the ether, leaving not only my family but the rest of Westby to wonder whether he’d been responsible for murdering my mother. Over the years I’ve convinced myself that one day she’ll get justice, but I’ve stopped pinning my hopes on his return. Some other piece of information would come to light, revealing the truth.
“Megan, is something wrong with the food?” Aiden’s voice pulls me back from the edge of a dark spiral.
I blink, his face coming into focus. “No, it’s fine. Sorry, I just realized these taste like my dad used to make. I’m used to memories of my mom hitting me at unexpected times, but it’s been years since it happened with him.”
Aiden sets his mug aside and starts to reach across the table for my hand. He stops partway over and retracts it. “I can’t imagine what it’s like going through that trauma. I really wish I could help.”
I wave the fork in the air, trying to dismiss his concern. “I’ll be fine.”
He reaches across the table and gives my hand a squeeze this time. “I’m here if you ever need to talk it out.” He returns his attention to his coffee and smiles at me. “So, do you have any exciting cases you’re working on?”
His smile is infectious, and I can’t help mirroring the expression. I’m grateful for the subject change. I want to live my life looking for the bright moments, not dwelling in the past. “You know I can’t talk about it, just like you can’t. But, no, work has actually been pretty slow lately. I’ve actually been helping out in housing court, doing some mediations for residents in Mercy Heights.”
Until recently, I’d avoided Mercy Heights whenever possible. It held such painful memories for my sister, Cathy, and my nephew, Lucas. But I realized the residents of that area of Westby weren’t all bad and didn’t deserve to be lumped into the negativity I associated with one particular person: Rocco Lantieri. My sister’s former drug dealer and the father of her only child.
“That’s a noble thing to do. I know that housing cases can get pretty emotional.”
I nod. “No one likes to face losing the safety of a roof over their head, and so many people are just trying to make ends meet.”
His pointed stare across the table asks the question I know he won’t put words to: has my work made me cross paths with Rocco. I shake my head in answer. “At least most of the landlords I’ve been dealing with have been understanding and willing to give their tenants more time to come up with rent or negotiate other conditions that allow them to find new housing before asking them to move out.”
“I’m glad. Then again, I would expect nothing less of the great Megan Corver, Esquire,” he compliments.
Color warms my cheeks as I try to hide my face. Knowing that I am a skilled attorney and having other people point it out, especially those whose opinion a value, makes me embarrassed outside of the courtroom. Inside, I somehow find the ability to leave those insecurities at the door and focus solely on the task at hand, defending whatever client has come to me looking for help. I pride myself on defending those who would see justice denied or at least applied unfairly.
“You don’t have to say that,” I mumble.
“I’m not saying anything that other people aren’t thinking. You have great skill, Megan. I’ve seen you in action and that passion for justice is part of what drew me to you.”
My phone beeps with an incoming text. We have a rule about keeping our phones out of sight during our time together but it’s nearly eight thirty, which means I’m due at the office anyway.
“Sorry, I should get this. It could be work,” I say and reach for my bag. As I dip my hand into the front flap, my fingers brush a sleek bit of paper and I shiver. I don’t have to look to know my hand grazes the photo of my mother lying dead on the kitchen floor with a taunting message from her murderer printed on the back: Have you seen him or has he abandoned his pretty little girls? A pity he’s too much of a coward to face what he’s done. His debt is far from paid. If you aren’t careful, it might just become yours.
It’s been months and still I can’t bring myself to share it with anyone or look into it. I know it’s irrational. I want answers to my mother’s death, but I fear even this scrap of hope will be just another dead end.
Forcing the thought from my mind, I fumble my phone out of the front pocket of the bag to find a waiting text from Jasmine, my paralegal: I know you won’t be in for another half hour but there’s someone who insists they meet with you.
I turn my attention back to Aiden. “I’m really sorry but it sounds like there’s an emergency at work.”
“I understand. Go.” He gestures to the partially eaten food and coffee mugs. “I’ll take care of this.”
I flash him a grateful smile and shoulder my bag, heading out to the car. He gives a wave through the window as I slide behind the wheel and make the short trip across town to my firm’s offices.
Stepping into the office, I can feel the tension as if it were a tangible force, pressing against me. It’s thick and stifling. I expect to find Jasmine sitting at her desk outside my office, but her chair is empty. Low voices from the office next to mine draw my attention and I knock once before walking in to find Taylor and Jasmine with their heads pressed together, whispering conspiratorially.
“What are you two up to?” My voice makes them jump and spin at the same time.
“You got my text!” Jasmine says, her voice high and nasally. A clear sign she’s anxious.
“Yep. So, who is insisting on seeing me?” I had a few clients on my housing case I could think of that were extra pushy and liked to drop in unannounced, demanding I drop everything and tend to their needs. But if it had been one of them, Jasmine would have given me a heads up on who I’d be dealing with.
“Didn’t give a name but the guy looks like he’s in rough shape. I thought he might have just been homeless and wandered in out of confusion, but then he named dropped you,” Jasmine responded.
I eyed Taylor. “And how do you fit in with all of this?”
“I’m just nosy. You know that,” he answers with a smirk and a single shoulder shrug. “And given that we’ve had some creepy people come after you in the past, I wanted to see what we could do to make sure you don’t have some crazed stalker.”
“I appreciate you both looking out for me, I really do but I’m a big girl and in case you forgot, I have several friends in law enforcement who would be more than happy to throw any stalkers out the door.” I glance over my shoulder. “So, where is this mystery man?”
“I told him he could wait in your office,” Jasmine answered in a soft tone.
“Scream if it’s a stalker,” Taylor chimes in as I pull the door shut.
Taylor is an acquired taste, especially his brand of humor, but he’s a damn good lawyer and one of the most thorough researchers I know. He would be doing as much digging on this mystery man as he could, and I appreciated him for it.
Given Jasmine’s description of the man as potentially homeless, I brace myself for the typical disheveled clothing and off-putting odor as I open the door and walk in. The man who sits before me, facing the wall, doesn’t look overly shabby. From what I can see, his beard is a little long and his clothes could do with some ironing, but nothing that would signal homeless. And he certainly doesn’t smell.
“Excuse me, Sir? I’m Attorney Megan Corver, is there something I can help you with?”
The man turns at the sound of my voice and my heart stops. I blink, hoping the image my eyes are sending to my brain is wrong. He’s over a decade older and the facial hair is disconcerting, but I could swear the man sitting in my office is my father.
The world tilts off its axis as I make eye contact with him. His voice is exactly the same and all I can hear is the man who’d raised me, who’d loved me and supported me, telling me to never call him again. He doesn’t move as I struggle to breathe. His presence sucks out all of the oxygen and I’m floundering.
“No. No, you’re not here,” I finally squeak out.
“I know it’s been a while,” he says, looking at his hands.
The casual way he speaks, like we aren’t estranged, like he’s not wanted for a brutal crime, spurs me to action. I slam the door to the office and round the desk. For a fleeting moment, I consider going back and opening the door, but I don’t need my friends to hear this conversation. I dig my fingers into the edge of my desk, grateful for the stability and the distance it affords me.
“How dare you show your face here? This is my work. Those are my friends. You have no right to be in my life,” I rail.
“I know. And I won’t be for long. I just need some help.”
“What makes you think in any reality I would offer you help? You abandoned me and Cathy when we needed you most. You refused to protect your daughters from the loss of their mother.”
“I know. I had no choice. I had to leave.”
“Because you killed her?” I snarled. My eyes water with unshed tears, burning against the backs of my eyes as nausea bubbles in my stomach. The few bites of eggs threatening to make a repeat appearance. My neck flushes warm as anger courses through my body.
“No, I’d never hurt your mother. I loved her,” he answers, shaking his head.
“You expect me to believe that after what you did? You can’t possibly think I would help you.”
“I was there the day you graduated, Megan.”
“I know,” I ground out.
“I couldn’t miss my baby girl getting her diploma. But it wasn’t safe for me.”
“Why? You’d already made it clear that you wanted nothing to do with us. You stayed away for a decade.”
“You were in danger and leaving was the only way I could ensure you were safe. At least, that’s what I thought. But I … I was wrong. Look, I understand why you wouldn’t want me to be around after all this time, but I just need a little help and I’ll be gone again. I just need some money.”
I give him a pointed look. “You don’t really expect me to let you walk out that door, do you?” I release my grip on the desk, my fingers throbbing from the exertion and cross my arms over my chest. “Uncle Jim is Chief of Police and I have other friends in the department. No matter what you say, you’re still a person of interest in her murder. They’re going to want to talk to you.”
“You won’t turn me in, Megan,” he scoffs.
I reach for the phone on my desk, going so far as to pick up the receiver. “You want to bet?”
He reaches forward, slamming it back into the cradle. I shuffle back out of his range. This is not the man I grew up with. That man died the same day as my mother. I don’t know who the man is sitting before me, but he bears no resemblance to my father. There’s no warmth, no kindness in his expression. Only a haunted hunger.
“You want to know the truth about your mother’s death and so do I,” he continues, lowering his hands as he studies me.
I shake my head. “You don’t get to walk in here after a decade of being an absent father and tell me that it’s just a big misunderstanding. You’re going to turn yourself in to the police and face justice.”
“If you won’t help me, I’ll just have to ask your sister,” he sighs and stands.
“You stay away from her. What you did broke her in ways you can’t imagine. She’s putting her life back together and she doesn’t need you barging in and ruining it. And in case you missed it, neither of us have mountains of money.”
He gestures around the office. “You’re an attorney.”
I laugh. “Not all attorneys make millions. I barely make mid-five figures. Besides, I didn’t get into this line of work for the money.”
“No, you did it to help people who can’t help themselves,” he says. The edge to his voice makes me shiver. “I may not have been in your life Megan, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t check in on you from time to time from a distance.”
“You are going to the station right now,” I repeat.
He shakes his head. “No, I’m not and you aren’t going to stop me. But maybe you’ll come to your senses and help me. You won’t be safe, neither of you, until you do.”
He pushes the chair back and sprints out of the office, the door slamming against the wall behind him as he goes. The door to Taylor’s office opens and both he and Jasmine poke their heads out.
“So, I’m guessing we don’t have another client to add to the list of people who can’t pay us?” Taylor asks.
I work my jaw, trying to form words amid the anger and the hurt warring in my mind when Jasmine smacks him on the arm. “She’s upset. Stop being a smart ass.”
“My father,” I finally manage to get out.
“What about him?” she responds.
I point to the open door to the office suite. “That was my father.”
“Oh, shit,” Taylor hisses.
Jasmine is at my side instantly, wrapping an arm around my shoulders in silent solidarity. I let the weight of her arm ground me, focusing my thoughts.
“I need to let the police know he’s back in Westby. If he won’t turn himself in, they’ll have to bring him in by force.”
“Megan, I know you don’t exactly love the man, but he’s still your dad. Couldn’t it get kind of messy to involve the police?” Taylor questions.
By messy, he means deadly. There was every possibility an overzealous officer could go charging in to make a name for themselves, but that wasn’t going to happen. I know no matter how furious Uncle Jim might be at what Dad did to us, he would still act rationally. And I trust Aiden to do things by the book and in a way that avoids escalation of conflict.
“He’s going to find Cathy,” I say, rather than addressing his question.
“You need to warn her,” Jasmine says and turns me around back toward my office.
My phone sits in my bag still and I scoop it out, hitting the second speed dial on my phone.
“Hey, this is Cathy, leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” her voicemail message says, followed by the long tone to begin recording.
“Cath, it’s Megan. If a man approaches you asking for money, do not listen. Do not engage. Call me back when you get this.”
I try to recall my sister’s schedule for the day. Lucas has a day off school for some reason. A teacher training day perhaps? I recall Cathy talking about spending the day out and about for some needed mother-son bonding. But I don’t remember where they were planning to go or if they would have even left the house yet.
Standing there wondering is wasting too much time as I rush back out in the reception area of the office.
“I’m going to see if I can find her. I need to tell Jim and Aiden what’s going on,” I announce before running out the door, leaving my colleagues to wonder what the hell was really going on.
* * *
The tires squeal as I peel off the street and up the driveway to our house. The sight of it riles up memories I’ve been successful in keeping locked away for months now. I can see my teenage self walking up to the house, front door ajar, unaware of what was about to happen. Cathy’s car is missing from its usual spot in front of the garage which probably means she and Lucas have already left for their outing. Still, I leave the engine running, entering the house to double check.
Maybe it’s the fact my father literally stumbled back into my life less than ten minute ago, but I can’t make the image of my mother lying on the floor go away. No matter how fast I blink or how long I close my eyes, it’s still there.
“Cath, you here?” I call when I finally manage to banish the grotesque afterimage.
I check the spot on the kitchen counter where she leaves her keys and find them missing. She’s definitely out and about. Maybe that means Dad won’t be able to find her. He got lucky coming to the office. There was a high probability I would be there at this time of day.
Retreating to the car, I slam the seatbelt into the buckle and put the car in reverse. I connect my Bluetooth headset and dial Uncle Jim’s cell phone.
“Megan? Everything okay?” He sounds surprised by my call.
I take a moment to respond as I pick up the sounds of voices in the background. “Are you at work?”
“Helping out with some training of some new officers so we’re on the beat. Why?”
“I need your help.” I’m impressed by the fact I can keep the panic and disdain from my voice as I speak. “I need to report a sighting of a missing person of interest.”
The line crackles and I can picture him putting his hand over the phone. It doesn’t stifle his words like it might have on an older phone, but I pretend not to listen as he tells whoever he’s with the give him some space for a private call.
“I’m listening,” he says. “Who are you looking to report?”
The sigh that infuses his words tells me he already suspects the answer. Did he go see Uncle Jim first? “My father.”
My mouth goes dry as I wait for his response. I fear he won’t believe me, that he’ll assume I was seeing things or imagining a reunion that would never happen.
“Where is he?”
My voice catches in my throat at his response. There is no hint of doubt like I’d imagined. “He was at my office. He left to find Cathy.”
“Where are you now?’
“I’m at the house. I’m going to go to the park, maybe see if she and Lucas are there.” I can’t bring myself to say the words “I’m worried he’ll hurt them.” Part of me insists it’s an irrational fear. He insists he is innocent of my mother’s murder and I had never personally witnessed him take any sort of threatening action against anyone. But I couldn’t shake that his presence was putting my family in the crosshairs of whoever had killed her.
“I will find her. I want you to go to the station, make a formal report. Go to Aiden. He’ll make sure you get a fair shake.”
The line goes dead and my hands tremble against the steering wheel. This is not at all how I envisioned my day going. I send up a silent prayer that Uncle Jim gets to Cathy to find her unvisited by this specter from our past.
My bag with the photograph in it feels as if it weighs a ton when I walk into the police station. The desk sergeant glances up at me as I bypass him and head straight for Aiden’s desk at the back of the bullpen. He looks up as I approach and his forehead wrinkles with concern.
“I need to talk to you privately.”
“Of course.” He leads me down the hall to the first interview room, easing the door shut behind him.
I sit before he can offer me a chair and balance my bag on the edge of the table. Despite wanting, no needing, to share this secret with him, I can’t make myself speak.
“Megan, what’s going on? You were fine when you left the diner and now you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Talk to me, please.”
He reaches for my hand, but I pull away. Knowing what I’m about to tell him, I can’t stomach the idea of him showing me any sort of affection. Not when I’ve been keeping this from him for a year.
“I saw my father,” I finally whisper.
“What do you mean?’
“I mean, that text I got from Jasmine, it was him. He showed up at the office and he was just sitting there like it was normal.”
“You’re sure it was him? It’s been over a decade since you saw him.”
“It was him. He looked … older and yet the same. He was asking me for money, and he’s gone looking for Cathy.” I bury my head in my hands, pressing my forehead against the metal clasp of my bag.
“Do you know where your sister is?’
“Uncle Jim is looking for her.” I reach into the front flap of my bag and grip the photograph. “There’s more.”
I pass the photograph across the table to him. Aiden doesn’t touch it, but I can see him visibly shift away from the image. Maybe I’ve become somewhat immune to the graphic nature of it after all these years along with the fact I carry it burned into my memory.
“He gave you this?” He produces a pair of gloves from his pocket and delicately turns the photo over, reading the message on the back.
Anxiety crashes over me like a punishing wave, making me sweat despite there being no heat and my vision pops with little black dots. The furious rush of blood to my ears disrupts my hearing momentarily. I can still see Aiden’s mouth moving but his words don’t compute in my brain.
“Megan.” His voice is sharp, authoritative.
“No, it wasn’t from him,” I finally say, my throat sore.
“Where’d it come from?”
“I found it in my glove box the day I picked up my car from police impound,” I admit.
“I’m sorry, what?”
I hang my head in shame. “I know.”
“You’ve had this for a year and you’re just showing it to me now? I thought we had more trust than that.”
My head whips up and I look at him. His usually soft features harden with disapproval and hurt. “It’s not that. Of course I trust you. I just thought, maybe if I didn’t share it with anyone, it would sort of go away and I wouldn’t have to think about it.”
“You were hiding evidence, Megan. You know how bad that looks.”
“I know. I really am sorry.” The irony isn’t lost on me. A year ago, I spent so much time chasing down my sister’s secrets to try and defend her from bogus arson charges, we’d promised one another we wouldn’t keep secrets anymore. Yet here I was doing just that not only to her, but to my friends. To people who could actually help put my mother’s case to rest for good. That’s what I had wanted all along, wasn’t it?
“You said you found it in the glove box?” Aiden redirects the conversation.
“Yes. I was checking over the car and when I got in, I saw the glove box was partially open and I found it in there. I have to believe whoever is responsible for my mother’s murder put it there.”
“You haven’t showed it to anyone else? No one but you has touched it?”
I nod. “Just me. It’s been in my bag ever since.”
Aiden sighs and stands up. “Wait here.”
He leaves and I fail to repress a shiver that dances down my spine as the wheels start to spin. I’d been kidding myself for a year that I could just forget about getting justice for my mother. I don’t believe in coincidences. My father coming back now has to mean something.
Aiden returns with a clear evidence bag in one hand. He slides the photograph into it and sits back down across from me. “We may get lucky and be able to pull some fingerprints off of this.”
“My father insists he didn’t kill my mom. The message on the photo would seem to support that theory. Why would he write about himself in the third person?”
“I’ll be happy to ask him when we find him. Is there anything else you can tell me about your interaction with your father?’
I set my bag on the floor by my feet and clasp my hands together in front of me on the table. “It caught me off guard. He said he just needed money and he’d leave me alone and disappear again. I tried to call you, but he stopped me.”
“What else did he say about the murder? Anything?”
“Only that he insists he didn’t do it and that him leaving us was to protect us because we were all in danger.”
He abandons his seat and rounds the table, pulling me into an impromptu hug. He’s no longer Aiden the cop. He’s Aiden my sort-of boyfriend. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that alone.”
“I couldn’t decide if I wanted to throw myself into his arms because he’s my dad and I miss him, or if I wanted to beat him because of what he did to us.”
“We’re going to get through this, Megan. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we will find the truth. Together.”
My phone buzzes with an incoming call. Aiden releases his hold on me, and I see Uncle Jim’s name flashing across the screen. Aiden picks up the photo now safely secured in the evidence bag and gives me a cute little bow before leaving me to my call in private.
“I found her. Meet me at my house when you’re done at the station,” Uncle Jim says curtly. He doesn’t give me time to reply before ending the call.
He’s not usually so short, even when he’s angry. I try not to let my mind concoct worst-case scenarios as I leave the interview room and retreat to my car.
* * *
Approaching the driveway of Uncle Jim’s house brings back even more memories I didn’t expect to have to tackle today. I’m eighteen again, sitting in the front seat of the car as Uncle Jim spirits me away from the scene of my mother’s murder. Cathy is MIA and I’m numb from the experience. I didn’t know then just how much this seismic shift would shape me.
I pull in behind Cathy’s car and breathe a small sigh of relief. At least she was able to arrive under her own power. I slam the driver side door closed and race to the front door. I can hear laughter coming from within the house. Lucas’s high-pitched giggles draw me to the living room where he sits on the floor watching something on Cathy’s phone.
I make eye contact with my sister. The paleness of her cheeks and haunted expression that lingers tells me all I need to know.
“Lucas, sweetie, can you watch that upstairs. The grown-ups need to have a talk,” I say.
My nephew rolls over onto his back, phone still clutched in his hands. “I don’t want to.”
“Lucas, honey, you need to go upstairs,” Cathy says more forcefully than me.
As he gives an exaggerated sigh and scrambles to his feet, I reflect on how far Cathy’s come in the last year. She’s been clean and sober for that long and has blossomed as a mom. Lucas has settled into life with us, although I know Cathy worries about him. Sometimes he seems younger than he actually is, and he’s been struggling with school. But she’s been there every step of the way.
Once Lucas’s footsteps recede on the stairs I whirl to face Cathy. “He found you?”
Cathy rushes over and throws her arms around me. Her tears soak the collar of my blouse. Neither of us speak as she sobs into my shoulder. She’s been much more open with her emotions in the last year, something I wish I could do more freely myself. But no matter how hard I try, I seem to always default to keeping them closed off.
I finally guide her to sit beside me on the love seat. She keeps her hands wrapped around me, like she’s afraid to break contact with me. “We were at the park and he was just there. He stood off watching us for a while. I went to tell him to get lost because he was creepy and then he said my name. God, Megs, it’s him. It’s Dad.”
“I know. I don’t know how he found it, but he came to my office. He wanted money.”
“He didn’t say much before Uncle Jim showed up and he just took off, but he said he was innocent, and you were going to prove it.”
“If the evidence points to someone else, then I’ll pursue it as far as I can. But I can’t promise I won’t help the prosecution put him behind bars if he’s the one responsible for tearing this family apart.”
“How did he know where to find you, Megan?” Uncle Jim’s voice is calmer now, softer as he stands in the doorway to the living room. He’s lost some more weight in the last year, but he’s been cancer free by some miracle for the last three months.
“He apparently has been keeping tabs on me. Maybe on all of us. He said that he had to leave because we were all in danger and it was the only way to protect us.” I take a breath, trying to gather myself. I know I need to share the news about the photograph with them, but the thought terrifies me. I fear it will set Cathy and I back months of work on regaining each other’s trust. “As much as I’m angry at him for leaving, and for showing up now out of the blue. I can’t say definitively I think he did it.”
“Why not?” Cathy retorts.
“Because I found something in my car that points to someone else being responsible.”
“What did you find?” Uncle Jim’s posture shifts and if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect he was interrogating me. The fact he’s still wearing his holster adds to the image and my discomfort.
“A photograph of Mom in the kitchen. Whoever killed her took it before they fled the scene. It had a note on the back about Dad not paying his debt and maybe I’d have to pay it.”
“When did this happen?” Cathy jumps on the interrogation band wagon.
I force myself to keep my hands where they are. “Last year, when I got my car back from the police.”
“But you gave it to the police back then, right?” Uncle Jim’s gaze narrows.
“No.” My voice is small. I can’t keep contact with Cathy anymore. I pull away, shrinking into the other side of the love seat beneath Uncle Jim’s gaze.
“What the hell, Megan?” Cathy shouts, slapping at my arms.
“I’m sorry. It freaked me out and given everything that happened with the arson case and Aisha and her brother I was scared to say anything. But the police have it now. They’re looking to see if they can get fingerprints from the photograph.”
“And what happens if they’re Dad’s?” Cathy demands.
“Then they arrest him for murder,” I reply. I push myself out of the corner of the love seat and turn to face Cathy. She’s taking it better than I thought she would be. “I hope you know I was only trying to protect you from having to relive everything again. Especially with how great you’ve been doing the last year.”
Cathy rolls her eyes. “Megan I’m a big girl. I’m a grown-ass woman in fact. I know you’ve always felt it was your solemn duty to protect me from all the nasty things in the world but let’s face it, you kinda failed with the whole me turning to drugs and alcohol thing.”
I open my mouth to protest but she cuts me off. “I’m not saying you’re to blame for my bad decisions, because that’s all on me. My point is you don’t need to carry all of this trauma about Mom by yourself. So, next time you think you’re keeping me safe by not telling me something, just remember that keeping secrets in this family never ends well.”
“I promise, I won’t keep any more secrets.”
The doorbell resounds through the first floor and both Cathy and I are on our feet in seconds, racing each other to the front door. Uncle Jim lumbers behind us. I’m first to the door and wrench it open to find Dad standing on the threshold.
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