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Mothers and Fathers

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Mothers and Fathers

“Joanna, I need your help.” Luna’s voice sounded more agitated than I’d ever heard it when she called one Monday morning.

“What do you need?”

“My mom’s been accused of murder.”

“What? That’s ridiculous. She’d never kill anyone.” Gerrilyn and I argued but she’d never struck me as a violent woman. “Did you talk to Billy? Who do they think she killed?”

“That’s just it.” A deep breath in and out. “They say she killed our father.”

I almost dropped the phone. Instead, I took my own deep calming breath and let it out before saying, “Do they have evidence or witnesses.” I couldn’t get my brain around it. My father was dead.

“No, but they say she had a motive, the way he treated her, the way he treated me.” Her sobs reached me over the phone.

“Can’t Billy help?”

“He’s trying, but we need you. Billy does too.” Luna sounded like a little lost girl instead of the accomplished and strong young woman she was.

I thought about the cases I was working on. Could I take the time to drive to Millwood? Maybe if I gave Luna and Billy a pep talk in person it would help and I could get back to my new life, my job with Steadman Lavery.

“Let me see how much time I can arrange to take off. I haven’t been here very long.”

“Please.” Luna ended the call.

***

Right after lunch, I approached Teddie Lavery, my new boss. “Could I take a couple of days off at the end of the week?” That would give me the weekend too.

She raised an eyebrow and frowned. “You’ve only just started.”

“I know, but, well…” How do you say your half-sister’s mother is accused of killing your father and needs your help? “It’s a personal matter.” I bit my lower lip. “Family.”

“Make sure to clear your case load first and be back by Monday.”

“Thank you.” As I backed out of her office, I added, “You don’t know how much this means to me. Thank you.”

I spent the next two days settling each and every case I was working on. By Thursday morning I was ready to go, although I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I arrived.

***

I drove straight to Billy’s office. He’d kept it going, taking local cases. Luna sat at the second desk but jumped up when I opened the door. “You came.” Her grin threatened to split her face. She ran to me and put her arms around my waist. “Thank you, Joanna, thank you.”

I turned to Billy with raised eyebrows.

“Luna thinks you can work miracles after your last case here.”

I shook my head. “That was as much her doing as mine.”

Luna finally let go.

“Why do they think Gerrilyn killed my father?” I asked Billy.

“They think she hated him for leaving her and refusing to acknowledge Luna all those years ago,” Billy replied. “When she found out that he was the big winner in the steel mill case, her anger got the better of her.”

I shook my head. “But there are so many others who were just as angry.” I didn’t need to add, including me.

“They didn’t have the history of wanting vengeance.” He looked grim.

“Did they find the weapon?” I looked from Billy to Luna and back again. They both shook their heads.

“But they know from the bullet what caliber it was, right?” I asked.

“It came from a .22,” Billy said.

“My mother has one.” Luna pressed her lips together. “But she hasn’t used it, ever. I don’t think she’d remember how to, or even where she kept the gun.”

I nodded, deciding I could deal with that later. “What else do the police know?”

Billy rubbed a hand over his eyes. Wasn’t he getting any sleep? “No witnesses that we know of.”

I smiled. That was good. “Okay, let’s put together a list of other people who could have done it.”

Luna and Billy stared at each other, then Luna pulled out a whiteboard and turned to me. “Shoot.”

“We can start with everyone involved in the steel mill case.” I ticked them off on my fingers beginning with each of the girls and their parents. I soon ran out of digits. “There’s also the three of us and Alan. Whatever happened to him?”

“He left for a well-paying job in Vancouver.” Billy studied me. “I thought you were still in contact with him.”

“No. I’ve been too busy to keep in touch with anyone.” I smirk. “Even the two of you. When we clear Jerrilyn, maybe we can catch up.”

“Do you really suspect any of these people?” Luna pointed to the list. “I mean, Molly and I were together the night he was killed. And you, you were in Winnepeg.”

“What night was it?” I pulled out my phone to check my schedule. There’d been a few times I had to go out of town.

“The fifth.” Luna sat and put her head in her hands.

“I was in Ottawa.” Luna had to resent our father, but I believed her when she said she was with Molly. “Luna, we’ll figure out who really killed him. It has to be someone here in town who had a grudge.”

“But that adds so many other suspects!”

“That’s just it.” I smiled briefly. “If we prove that your mother isn’t the only one who had a motive, that takes that aspect off the table.”

“And since they don’t have the weapon and can’t prove opportunity…” Luna relaxed for the first time since I arrived.

“That doesn’t mean we should rest. We have to prove your mother was somewhere else when the murder occurred.”

“What if we can find out who did it?” she asked.

“We’d have to investigate the whereabouts of each of the people that night. That’ll take time and a staff of six or more.”

“We should start anyway.” Billy strode to the door. “I’m going to see who was out drinking that night.”

I nodded. “Good idea. I want to have a chat with Owen. He’s still here, isn’t he?”

“Yes. Diane changed her mind about moving the kids closer to their dad, so Owen had no reason to leave.” Luna bit her lip. “Maybe I should talk to him.”

“Guess that leaves me to talk to the girls, even though you’d be more appropriate with them too.”

“No, I think you should question Molly. You’ll be more objective than Billy or me.” Luna smiled.

“So what are we waiting for?”

We left the office together. “Is Molly home?”

Luna nodded. “Yes. She had her preliminary treatments, but now has a week before she starts the drug trial, so if she’s not out getting groceries, she should be home now.”

I left Billy and Luna and headed for the place she shared with her girlfriend. Molly approached the same time I did, her hands holding the handles of shopping bags. She stopped and stared at me. “Luna said you’d be here today to help. I thought she was at the office.”

“I’m here to talk to you.” I took one of the bags, the one with celery sticking out, and looked around. “Can we go inside?”

Her brow furrowed. “What’s this about?” She opened the door and we entered.

“We’re checking out everyone who had a grudge against my father. Maybe we’ll find an alternative to Gerrilyn.” I noticed the place hadn’t changed. The girls had taken good care of it.

“You don’t think I killed him, do you?” She pointed to herself. I noticed her twitch for the first time since she got there. She held out a hand to indicate the couch and I sat.

“No, Luna said you two were home together that night.”

Molly relaxed. “Yeah. We were talking about the movie we saw the night before. It had freaked me out and Luna reminded me it was just a movie.”

“Which one was it?”

She twitched. “The latest Halloween.”

“Yes, I can understand why that would scare you.”

“Can I get you something to drink?”She backed away toward the kitchen with her groceries. “I think there’s some iced tea in the refrigerator.”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

I got the feeling she wanted to escape me, but she was back soon with a tray holding two glasses and making an obvious effort to hold it steady. She let me take one, put the tray on the nearest table, took the second iced tea, and sat across from me. “How can I help?”

“Have you seen any of the other girls?”

“Besides Luna, you mean?” She took a sip and swallowed it. “Taylor left town, you know. Allie and Lisa are being treated like I am, so I saw them last week at the clinic.”

“Have any of them mentioned my father and the way he was the big winner in the case?”

“No. They seem satisfied with the settlement they got. Like I am.” She smiled. “I agree with Luna that her mother is innocent, but I don’t know how you can prove it.”

“If we can find enough other possible suspects, that creates doubt. The police don’t have the weapon or a witness. Maybe we can even get the case against Gerrilyn dismissed.”

“I hope you can. Luna and her mom don’t always get along, but she’s worried sick.”

“I could hear it in her voice when she called me. That’s why I came.” I’d finished my tea and didn’t think I could learn any more from Molly so I stood. “Thanks, Molly. I didn’t ask but I can see your preliminary treatment did some good.”

“Some. It’s just so slow, but as long as there’s improvement, I have hope.” She smiled weakly.

“You can stay with me in Winnipeg when you start the clinical trial.”

She smiled. “We’d like that.”

***

When I returned to the office, eager to find out what Luna and Billy learned, no one was there. I made notes on what Molly told me, and outlined what else we had to do.

Luna arrived with a long face and tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I walked to her and put a hand on her arm.

“Owen told me they found the gun,” she choked out. “It was my mother’s. Her fingerprints are all over it.”

“Are they sure it’s the gun that was used to kill Dad?” I asked.

All she could do was nod.

I’d caught her distress. I’d been counting on the fact that the weapon hadn’t been found. “Of course her fingerprints are all over it if it was her gun. Doesn’t prove a thing.” Who was I trying to kid? It totally countered identifying others with a motive. Next thing we’d hear is that there was a witness. With a burning feeling in my stomach, I said, “I have to talk to Gerrilyn.” I grabbed my purse and headed out, regretting that I wasn’t the type to hold Luna and comfort her.

***

I drove the short distance to the jail. Nobody had said, but it was likely that’s where they were keeping her. I found Diane with Owen, chatting and laughing together.

She started when she saw me. “Heard you were back in town.”

What could I say to her? Another person I hadn’t kept in touch with even after I promised to. Again. I faced Owen. “I’m here to see Gerrilyn. As her lawyer.”

“You heard we found the gun,” he said. “I know how hard this is on Luna, but everything’s pointing to her mother as the murderer.”

“You two may be the only ones in this town without a grudge against my father. Why pick on Gerrilyn?” I asked.

“It’s her gun, Joanna.” He grabbed the keys and led me to her cell.

I didn’t want to bring up the fact that they’d arrested her before they found the gun.

She looked surprised to see me.

“You have five minutes, and you’ll have to leave your purse out here.” Owen put the key in the lock, but didn’t turn it.

“I don’t have one.” I held my hands out for him to see.

“Empty your pockets, then.” He pointed to a small table.

I pulled out my keys, a few bucks and my driver’s license and left them.

Billy finally turned the key and let me into the cell. Millwood police station wasn’t large enough for an interrogation or visitation room. “Call when you’re done.”

“Will do.”

Gerrilyn stood crossing her arms defiantly. “Joanna, I can’t tell you anything. I was asleep when David was killed. And before you ask, I was alone.”

“That’s a problem since I expect many other possible suspects have alibis. But a bigger problem is that they found the gun. It was your .22, and had your prints all over it.”

She gasped. “No other prints?”

“I don’t know whether they found any others.” I looked through the bars and down the hall, making a mental note to ask Owen.

“Oh.”

“When did you last see the gun?” I asked.

She shook her head. “It’s been a while. I never even fired it. Owen thought I should have it for protection.”

“When you were still dating him.”

“Yeah. I don’t know if anyone else knew I had it.”

I wondered whether Owen told anyone. “Where did you keep it?”

“Uh, in the glove compartment of my car.”

I’d ask Owen to print the car and the compartment. The number of things I’d have talk to him about was mounting.

“What time did you go to bed that night?” How could I prove she was there?

“Ten. I haven’t been sleeping well lately, so I took a sleeping pill.”

“Did anyone see you just before you turned in? What did you do before then?”

She shook her head. “I was alone. Read a book and then went to sleep.”

“Have you seen my father since the trial?” I thought he’d gone back home. “Do you know why he was in Millwood?”

“I heard he came back to talk to Ben Matheson.” She shook her head. “Ben’s been in a bad way, what with Taylor leaving and the mill closing down.”

Something clicked. Who would have a bigger grudge against my father than Ben Matheson? “Did Matheson say anything to you about my father?”

She guffawed. “He told everyone who’d listen that David screwed him.” Again she shook her head. “But it was just talk, a way to express his anger.”

“And then my father returned, probably rubbed it in.” I looked down. “That was his favorite thing to do, wasn’t it?”

“At least one of them. I can see how Ben felt. David took away everything he held dear, not just the mill and his standing in the community, but also he probably thought he was somehow responsible for Taylor leaving.”

“And we have our winner,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Someone else who had motive and opportunity. Now we’ll just have to prove it.”

Jerrilyn gasped. “You think Ben killed him?”

“It makes more sense than thinking you did. And gives us another suspect.” I smiled. “Sit tight. We’ll see what we can do to get you out of here quickly.”

I called to Owen to let me out. As we both returned to the office, I couldn’t come right out and ask Owen all I wanted to know. “Thanks.”

“Are you going to represent her?” he asked.

“I promised Luna I would.”

“Do you think she’s innocent?” He said it as though he was almost sure she was guilty. “The case against her is strong.”

“Did you know where her gun was?”

“Me?” He pointed to himself. “Seriously? Why would I kill your dad?”

We’d reached the office and Diane. “I couldn’t help but hear you. Joanna, Owen was with me the night he was killed.

“No, that isn’t what I meant. I only wondered if you mentioned to anyone that Gerrilyn had a gun.”

Owen didn’t answer immediately. In fact, he tilted his head as if he was thinking back. “I’d forgotten she had it, and I certainly didn’t know where she kept it.”

“Good.” I smiled. “I don’t think she did it, but unless we can prove someone else did, we won’t have a case. It was in her car. Have you printed it?”

“We had no reason to look at her car.”

“There have to be other suspects,” I said.

Diane nodded. “There are so many people in this town who hated your father.”

“Exactly, and I’m sure word got around that he made out like a bandit from the girls’ case against the mill. Owen, were there any other prints on the gun besides Gerrilyn’s?”

“You have someone in mind, don’t you?”

I nodded. “Ben Matheson. Think about it. Ben had already lost everything but mainly the mill and Taylor. What did he have left to lose?” What else did I know? “I understand my father came back specifically to talk to Ben. We have to find out what they talked about.”

“Joanna, I hope you’re not going to take the law in your own hands,” Owen said.

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“And I can’t stop you?” Owen shook his head. “You and Billy, you make a great pair.” He pressed his lips together.

“Owen and I can’t stop you, but please be careful.” Diane put a hand on mine.

I forced a smile and hugged her. “I will.”

***

I stopped at the Riverside Grill for a cup of coffee before looking for Ben. I smiled when I spotted Billy at the counter. I told him what I’d learned. “I’m going to talk to Ben Matheson.”

“He’s at the bar.”

“Already?” It was only three o’clock.

Billy shrugged. “Seems to spend a good part of the day there.”

I remembered why Billy had gone there earlier. “Was he there the night of the murder?”

“Actually he isn’t on the list of the people who were.” He pulled a folded paper from his pocket and opened it then handed it to me.

“This isn’t very helpful. I hadn’t suspected any of these people anyway.” I read through the names again. No Gerrilyn, no Ben. Who else was missing? Owen and Diane were there. That’s good. Billy, too. “So you already knew who was there before you left?”

“I knew who I spoke to or saw, but there were others.” He tapped the paper.

I nodded. “I asked Owen if there were other prints on the gun.”

“I heard they found it.”

“And since it was Gerrilyn’s, her prints were on it.” I rubbed my nose. “I can’t fail Luna or her mother. How can we prove Ben Matheson killed my father?”

“Wow! Ben? Where did that come from? Why him? Is that why you’re looking for him?”

“He met with my father that night. Billy, he had the strongest motive.” I pressed my palms together and brought my hands to my lips then dropped my arms to my sides. “Think about it.”

It didn’t take him long to realize what I meant. “So how do we prove he did it?”

“We have to trace Ben’s movements the night my father was killed.” I tapped a pencil on the pad I was using for my notes. “He wasn’t out drinking, so where was he?”

“Your father’s body was found in the hotel. Maybe someone saw Ben near his room.”

“Do you know what room he was in?” I flipped through the notes on my pad.

“No, but I can find out.”

I sipped my coffee. “And I’m going to talk to Ben Matheson.”

“Jo, are you sure you should go alone?” Billy frowned.

“Worried about me, counselor?”

He crossed his arms. “If Ben is the murderer and he suspects why you’re there, yeah, I’m worried about what he might do to you. Especially after all it took to get you back to Millwood.”

“I’ll be fine. Meet you here at six for burgers. I’m buying.” I took off in the direction of the bar, but I could feel Billy’s stare on my back.

Halfway there, I decided to talk to Matheson’s wife before I tackled him. I drove out to the Matheson house, but it was empty with a For Sale sign planted in the front lawn. No one had mentioned where Ben and his wife were living. I drove down to the river and sat on the bank staring across the water.

I’d been so focused on Gerrilyn I’d barely noticed that the entire town was shabbier. Maybe it had been a month or so back when I was here last, but the closing of the steel mill had to hit hard. Our whistle blower had moved out of town to protect himself and his family, but the others who worked at the mill were now unemployed. Had they been hired to help with the cleanup that was still going on?

Billy said Ben was drinking when he last saw him, so I stood and headed back into town to the bar. I’d always marveled that the place didn’t smell of spilled beer. It still didn’t. Ben stood alone at the bar, downing a beer.

“Ben, I’m sorry how everything played out.” I didn’t feel any pity for him, though. He knew what he was doing. “What did you and my father talk about the day he died?”

“You have some nerve coming back here after all you did to me.” He poked me in the chest. “It was you who won the case against the mill and now it’s shut down.” Spittle shot from his mouth with every other word. “It was you who talked my daughter into leaving me and now my wife left too. I lost my job, my family, my house, all because of you.” Three more pokes to my chest, but I stood there and took it. He was right about most of it.

I felt guilty about the other men who’d lost their jobs at the mill. But not him. “All of that happened because of your actions,” I shouted. “You had no thought about who you were sickening so you could make a few more bucks.”

“Lost that too.” He stared into his empty glass then banged it on the bar. “More.”

I had to get answers before he was too drunk to talk. “Ben, what did you and my father talk about that night?”

“I told him he owed me. Why should he be the only one who profited? What about me?”

“You honestly didn’t expect him to share, did you? David Hanley never shared.” I knew that all too well, even when he brought me into his firm.

“Why are you here?” He drank his new beer then glared at me.

“You might know something that’ll clear Gerrilyn of my father’s murder.”

He tensed. “Why would I do that?”

“What did she ever do to you? Surely you don’t want an innocent woman to pay for what you did.” There, I’d laid it on the line. It was up to him how he reacted.

“Wait a minute.” He narrowed his eyes. “You think I killed Hanley?”

“Didn’t you?” I glared back at him. “And I’m going to prove it.” I turned and left, wishing I had eyes in the back of my head.

As I returned to the office, shakes overtook me. That gutsy move may not have been the smartest. Now he’d be alerted. Could he hide evidence? Or will he crumble now that he knows I think he did it?

I didn’t know Ben well enough to know what he would do.

Billy and Luna looked at me with long faces as I entered the office. “Are you okay?” Luna asked.

I collapsed in a chair and nodded. “But I think I have a target on my back.”

“You didn’t accuse Ben Matheson, did you?” Billy’s frown deepened.

“I think I did. He was crying about how Dad abused him and I couldn’t take it anymore. I basically told him that he couldn’t let an innocent woman be convicted instead of him.”

Billy shook his head. “He won’t come forward, admit the whole thing.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” I sat forward and stared at the papers on my desk. “We have to find a way to prove he did it.”

“You keep saying that, but so far we haven’t.” Billie threw his hands up in the air. “We can’t manufacture evidence.”

“No, but someone had to have seen something. Where was Dad killed?”

“They found his body in his hotel room, but you don’t think he was killed there, do you?” Billy paced the office. “If the murderer was Ben, could he have killed him at his house?”

“Possibly, but he’s not living there anymore. It’s up for sale.” What did we know about Ben’s living situation? “His wife left like Taylor did, so he’s on his own.”

“Where’s he living?” Luna asked.

“Good question.” I looked at Billie. “Who would know?”

He started to shake his head, then stopped. “Wendy might.”

“How would your sister know?” I hadn’t realized she knew Ben.

“They’ve become drinking buddies.” He stopped pacing and headed for the door. “I’ll go talk to her.”

I nodded. “We have to trace Ben’s movements between the time he talked to my father and the murder. I wonder if Gerrilyn saw him again later that evening. The alibi she gave me rang false.”

“Can I come with you to talk to her?” Luna gave me her pleading look, no doubt knowing I couldn’t resist.

“Let’s go.” I returned to the jail. One of the other cops sat in the office. He tried to refuse our request to talk to Gerrilyn, but I reminded him that her lawyer and next-of-kin were entitled to visit at any time.

Reluctantly, he took us down the hallway to Gerrilyn’s cell. A huge smile greeted Luna. “You came.” She hardly noticed me.

“I said I’d visit,” Luna said. “Jo and I have a few more questions for you.”

“Oh.” The smile disappeared. She probably thought that since we were there, it meant we’d cleared her name.

I got right to the point. No need for Luna to interrogate her mother. “You knew Ben met with my father the night he was killed. Did you see them?”

“I saw them together at the hotel, then they went to David’s room.”

“Did you see Ben again, by chance?” I wasn’t going to asked why she was at the hotel or why she told me she’d taken a sleeping pill and gone to sleep.

“Ben?” She shook her head. “Oh, wait. I saw his car driving out to the mill.” She seemed to have forgotten our previous talk.

“The mill? I thought it was closed.”

“It is.” She tilted her head. “I remember wondering why he was driving that way.”

“Mom, this is important. What time was it?”

She looked at both of us with an air of someone who felt cornered. “Um, I think it had to be about eleven.”

“Did you see him come back?” I asked.

“No.” It was a whisper, but then she repeated it louder. “No.”

“Then our next step is to find out if anyone else saw him at any time that night. Did you see anyone else who we can talk to?”

Luna added her own question. “Where were you when you saw him leave the hotel and go towards the mill?”

“What do you mean?” Gerrilyn stared at her daughter.

“I mean where were you?”

“I’d started for your place to talk to you, and then changed my mind. Went home instead.” Her gaze switched to me, suddenly remembering. “I told you what I did there.” No explanation why it was eleven, not ten.

“Were you walking? Driving?” Luna asked.

“Oh. Um, driving.”

“So you saw Ben drive in the direction of the mill.” I traced the route he’d have to take in my mind. What was along that route? Who else could have seen him go by? “He’d pass Allie’s house, wouldn’t he?”

Luna nodded. “If he was going to the mill, he would have had to. I’ll check and see whether any of the Nash family saw him.”

Gerrilyn frowned. “Just my luck they weren’t home, or if they were, they weren’t looking out the window as he went by.”

“Still, I can ask him what he was doing out that way.” I’d gotten as much from her as I thought I could. “We’ll come back tomorrow and let you know how we’re doing.”

She nodded. “Luna, thanks for coming. You don’t know how much it means to me.”

Luna smirked. “Yeah, well. Jo, can we leave now?”

I chuckled. Obviously, despite trying to help her mother, Luna’s feelings toward Gerrilyn hadn’t changed. “Yes, we have a few more people to talk to.”

We left the jail, but when we reached the street I turned to Luna. “You don’t have to come with me to talk to the Allie’s family.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. Since she and Molly have been going through the same ailment and treatment, she’s been friendlier.”

We walked back to the office to get my car, then drove to the Nash house, a typical two story. We parked out front and walked up the path to the front door. It took a while for Allie to answer our knock.

When she saw me, her eyes narrowed. “Miss Hanley, I didn’t know you were back. But I shouldn’t be surprised, after your father, well, you know.”

“I asked Joanna to investigate and prove my mother didn’t shoot our father,” Luna said.

“Of course you did.” Allie waved a hand. “Well, don’t just stand there. Come on in and tell me why you’re here.” She led them to room with a wide-screen TV, two recliners and a leather couch. “Have a seat.”

“Allie, where were you when it happened?” I chose the couch, and Luna sat next to me.

“It was a Tuesday, right? I was probably here, up in my room.”

“Did you happen to look out the window?” I asked.

Her brow furrowed. I didn’t know whether that meant she was thinking or that she wondered why I wanted to know. Slowly she shook her head. “I had my headphones on and was reading a book.”

A voice came from the entryway. “Allie, where are you? I got the sweater you wanted.”

“I’m in the family room, Mom. Luna and Miss Hanley are here,” Allie called back.

Her mother had the same puzzled look as Allie when she appeared in the doorway. Her arms were full of packages that she dumped on the unoccupied recliner. “I wasn’t sorry to hear about your father,” she told me, then seemed to wait for my reaction.

“Few people were, especially in this town.” I smiled at her.

“They’re trying to prove Luna’s mother didn’t do it.”

Mrs. Nash shrugged. “How could Allie help? She was here all night.” Her face puckered. “I hope you don’t think she had anything to do with it.”

“Oh, no, we just wondered if she saw anyone going to or from the mill that night,” I said.

She looked at Allie then rubbed her nose. “Ben Matheson drove by when I took the dog out for a walk. Can’t mistake his car.”

My smile spread into a grin. “Which way was he going?”

“Toward the mill. Couldn’t understand why he’d do that at that time of night.”

“What time was it?” Luna asked.

“Eleven. That’s the time I take Sadie out for the last time. She’s an old dog and will pee in the house during the night if I don’t.” She rubbed her nose again. “But what does that have to do with the murder?”

Instead of answering, I asked, “Was there anyone else in the car?”

“Well, yes. Now that you mention it. I do think there were two people in the car.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Nash. You’ve been a big help.” I turned to her daughter. “Good seeing you again, Allie. You seem to be better already.”

She’d only twitched twice the whole time we were there. “Yes, the treatments are helping.”

Luna and I left. “What now?” she asked.

“Now I ask Ben why he took Dad to the mill that night.”

Luna’s brows came together. “Jo, you can’t. You’ve already accused him of killing our father. And you’re certainly not going to face him again alone.”

“I want you to stay out of it.”

“Then, have Billy go with you.”

Would Billy get in the way of what I planned to do? “Maybe he can come with me to the bar, but stay in the background while I confront Ben.”

Luna scowled. “Oh, all right. Let’s go find him.” She probably thought Billy would be on her side.

“Let’s.” We drove back to the office. I wasn’t sure Billy would be there, but he was.

“What did you find out?” he asked.

“Gerrilyn said Ben drove up to the mill that night, and Mrs. Nash saw him around eleven o’clock.” I smoothed my hair. “Someone was in the car with Ben. I have a hunch it was my father, so I’m going to ask Ben about it.”

Billy glanced at Luna, who frowned. “I’m going with you. I have my own questions for him so we might as well go together.”

I sighed, but Luna was right. I shouldn’t take the chance of facing Ben alone, especially with my suspicions. I can usually keep a poker face, but this was all too close to home.

***

We took my car. Could have walked but we might need a vehicle if Ben wasn’t there. Sure enough, he wasn’t at the bar.

“Heard him say he had to go up to the mill for something.” Owen must have heard us asking for he stood from the table he shared with Diane.

“You look like you’re out for bear,” she said.

“Who me?” Guess I didn’t have my unemotional face on.

“You still think Ben did it? Poor man’s lost it all.” She shook her head.

“Including his sense of reason.” Could I share what we thought with her? And especially with Owen?

“You really think he had something to do with your father’s death?” our friendly neighborhood cop said.

“He had the strongest motive of anyone in this town,” Billy said.

“That’s actually not so far-fetched.” Diane stood. “We’re going with you.”

Billy held up a hand. “Hold on. If we approach him as a crowd, he might run.”

Owen nodded. “We’ll park down the road, someplace we can see what’s happening.”

That’s how four of us ended up heading to the mill to question Ben.

“I’m not so sure I like Diane and Owen as our backup,” I told Billy as we led the way.

“Who else would, scratch that, could do it? Listen, Owen’s smart. He’s careful and he’s always given me plenty of rope. It’ll be okay. You’ll see.”

My frown showed how skeptical I was.

I parked closer to the mill. We got out and walked to the entrance to the office. The door was unlocked. The dark and silence inside said Ben wasn’t there. We found the entrance the workers used. I shivered in the cold and dusty cavern of a room.

Beside me, Billy called out, “Ben? Are you here?”

Movement in a corner drew my attention. “Ben, is that you?”

We walked in that direction.

“Stay back. I have to do this,” Ben said, but his voice was strained and an octave higher than usual. “Leave me alone.”

“What are you planning?” I asked.

As if he hadn’t heard me, he cried, “I have nothing to live for.”

Billy and I exchanged a glance. Was Ben going to kill himself? I wanted justice for my father’s murder, but not this way.

“Ben, put the gun down,” I pleaded.

“How do you know I have a gun?”

“Ben.” I took two more steps towards him.

He focused on me, allowing Billy to circle around to his side and get closer without Ben noticing. I had to keep him talking. “Why kill my father?”

“He had to suffer the way I have. Instead, he’s richer than ever with a plush job. Traitor. That’s what he was.” Ben sobbed.

Billy was almost there.

“But why frame Gerrilyn?” I asked.

“She was – convenient. Who’d believe her if she claimed she was innocent?”

“If you want to kill yourself, all you’d have to do is admit to the crime, exonerate Gerrilyn, and be convicted yourself.” I’d given Billy enough time.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“My wife doesn’t think much of me now, but if I was convicted…”

Billy grabbed the gun from Ben’s hand. “It’s over Ben. Guess we’ll find out what your wife thinks.”

I went to the door and called for Owen, as Ben collapsed on the dusty floor, crying.

Owen must have been close because he was there in a heartbeat and cuffed Ben. “I’ll take him in. Can you two get Diane home?”

“Sure.”

***

Billy, Luna, Molly, Owen, Diane and I sat at a table in the Riverside Grill, rehashing what we knew.

“I can’t believe Ben thought killing your father would help him.” Diane played with her napkin.

“His mistake was framing Gerrilyn,” Billy said. “Because Luna wouldn’t let that go, which meant she’d bring Joanna in.”

I shook my head. “You two could have handled this without me.”

“So now you’ll leave again?” Diane asked with a note of disapproval in her voice.

“I’m not far. Hopefully no one will need my help here again anytime soon. And I’ll be able to keep my eye on these two young ladies.” I smiled at Luna and Molly.

They giggled.