The Shadows of Old Sins

A Note from the Author: While I admit part of me wants to avoid giving spoilers, in all good conscience, I have to warn you that this story deals with the brutal death of a secondary canon character. It is much, much darker than my typical writing, and I have rated it Adult for graphic violence and adult themes. Please e-mail me if you would like more information before reading.

The Shadows of Old Sins

Friday, April 4, 2003

It was a rainy night in early April, and a strong wind howled among the trees surrounding the old house. It was a different sound than the wind had made around his cabin farther back in the woods, but the old man sitting in the rocking chair by the fireplace shivered despite the heat from the flames. At eighty-five, he knew the wind could be either a friend and a foe, and tonight’s wind was most decidedly unfriendly. It was a night made for dwelling on the long shadows cast by old sins, and he had a feeling that evil was waiting for him just outside the door.

He frowned, wishing desperately that his long-time friend and current caretaker was home. Despite her own advancing age, Lies Vanderpoel was a good ten years younger than he was, and he knew that she had a will of iron. She had frightened away thieves attempting to prey on an elderly widow more than once, and he had no doubt that she could successfully face down the devil himself if he crossed her. It bothered him that he wanted to hide behind a woman’s skirts, but while he had been strong and independent once, the tremors and difficulty walking that had resulted from Parkinson’s Disease had robbed him of any hope of surviving whatever was out there waiting for him on his own.

An almost-forgotten cry sounded as the wind gusted, and Brom’s heart sank even further. It was a cry he had not heard in almost fifty years, and it was one he had hoped he would never hear again. Despite his failing memory, he could never forget the rainy spring nights filled with the wild, mournful cry now on the wind, nor could he forget the helpless animals he always found hanging from his trees the next morning. Somehow, he knew the death of rabbits or foxes wasn’t the aim after all these years, and he blanched as he heard heavy footsteps on the porch outside and saw the antique glass doorknob on the front door turn.

“It’s a coward who would come after an old and innocent man,” he said, staring into the face of Death.

The man Brom named “Death” was clad in a black cloak and hood that left only his face and a small wisp of thin white hair visible. While unbent and still robust, the face was weatherbeaten and bore the effects of decades filled with hate and malice. “Innocent? You wouldn’t know innocent if it came up and bit you. You’re a murderer, nothing more.”

Brom’s heart twisted as he finally knew for certain someone had seen him pull the trigger on his father’s hunting rifle so many years earlier. “It was justified. If you know I was there that night, you had to be there, too. You had to see I was trying to save my sister.”

“I was there, all right,” the figure said. He took the walker Brom had left beside his rocking chair and tossed it across the room, far out of Brom’s reach. “Who do you think buried the body? Annika deserved every hit, every kick she got. She threatened to leave Edgar that night. He was trying to teach her a lesson.”

“He killed her!” Brom cried in anguish. “Rachel and I tried so hard to save her, but he killed her!”

“You killed Edgar!” he spat. “My brother. He was all the family or support Ma and I had left! He married her when your Pa died and she had nowhere to go. You weren’t around to take care of her. He kept her from starving, and this is how you repaid the debt!”

“Isaac,” Brom said. He remembered that Edgar’s younger brother had often skulked around the woods near the cabin, and it made sense that he would have seen the events of that fatal night. “I was with the CCC! I was working. I sent every penny I could home to Pa and Anni. I came as soon as I could when she wrote me that Pa was dying. She had other friends she could have gone to. She was still young and didn’t know the ways of men. Your brother seduced her.”

“He loved her, and you killed him,” Issac sneered. He roughly yanked Brom to his feet. “Come on. It’s time we settle this once and for all.”

Despite his protests and his cries for help, Brom was helpless as his tormentor carelessly threw him over his shoulder. Once out in the yard, Isaac dumped him in the wheelbarrow Mrs. Vanderpoel kept in her garden shed, then he tied his hands and feet. “Yell all you want, old man. I’ve been waiting for this night for years, and you can bet I’ve made sure there’s no one around to hear you scream. I want to hear you cry and grovel. It’s all music in my ears.”

“Lies knows nothing about any of this!” Brom protested. He tried in vain to rub his aching legs. “She wasn’t even ten years old when all this happened. If you touched her….”

“Don’t worry,” Isaac snapped. “Your precious woman is stranded in town with four flat tires, because unlike you, I won’t spill innocent blood. It’s lucky for Rachel, though, that she died last summer. I went after her, too, only to find out she was already dead. It’s too bad. I’ve dreamed for so long what I would do to her once I made it back here. She would have given me what Annika wouldn’t give my brother and she would have deserved every minute of it for her interference. She was just as guilty as you are, and oh, how I would have enjoyed hearing her begging me for more.”

“He deserved it,” Brom whispered, suddenly grateful that Rachel had mercifully already passed on and wouldn’t have to endure the torture Isaac had planned. However, despite the fear of discovery he had felt over the years, he did not, he could not regret his role in his brother-in-law’s death. Aside from Rachel, who had been there with him, he had told only one other person of the tragedy of that long ago night. His young friend also had a sister whom he idolized and had completely understood. He had affirmed that no brother who loved his sister could have stood idly by and done nothing while watching her husband attacking her. Brom remembered how Rachel had run to his door, pleading for his help, and finding Edgar holding Annika to the ground as he pummeled her. Edgar had refused to stop, and so Brom had shot him to try to save her. However, she had never recovered from the massive injuries inflicted by her husband, and her death a few days later had broken his own spirit in ways he never could have imagined.

He bit his lip as the wheelbarrow bounced through the woods, jostling him with every bump on the rough trail. It was a slow and painful trek, made even more uncomfortable by the rain from which Isaac refused to shield him and the utter darkness that seemed to smother him. Eventually his captor stopped and lit a lantern. “I know these woods even better than you do,” Isaac boasted. “But I want to see your face as you beg for mercy.”

Looking around, Brom recognized the house near the old Depew place that Edgar had lived in with Annika. The years had not been kind to the abandoned home, and the two-room structure was now little more than a shell with a caved-in roof. His heart pounded as Isaac left the cart under a low-hanging limb of an oak tree near the rotten porch.

“It was only fitting to bring you back to where you killed Edgar,” Isaac spat. “I knew even back then that no jury would ever convict you. Rachel was a Martin, and no one would believe a Martin could do any wrong. Even if they had, her pa had enough money to buy the judge. Instead, I’m going to be both judge, jury, and executioner.”

Brom tried in vain to fight as Isaac slipped a noose around his neck.

“Think this might be how Edgar felt as he lay bleeding to death by your hand?” Isaac taunted. “I’ve already found you guilty, old man. You have five minutes to say your prayers. Maybe God will forgive you. I know I never will.”

“No! Let me go!” Brom pleaded as Isaac tied the other end of the rope to the limb and drew it taut. He gasped for breath. “Please!”

“Four minutes.”

Brom hoped in vain to see someone, anyone coming out of the woods to rescue him. He began to pray silently and mercifully lost consciousness as the wheelbarrow that supported his weight was taken away.

Earlier that day…

Despite the mild exhilaration she always felt when a case was solved successfully, Trixie Molinson was exhausted when she and Honey finished presenting their client with the evidence they had gathered for him, and she was relieved when the work day was finally over. Clouds had been building all day, and by the time she ran a couple of errands and picked up Erica from the after-school program at Westchester Academy, a cold rain had started to fall.

Once they were home and Erica was settled in with her homework, she checked the answering machine, and after finding no new messages, she sat down with the day’s mail. Putting the bills to one side, she tossed the junk mail in the wastebasket, then settled into her favorite armchair to read the day’s Sleepyside Sun. Nothing in the newspaper caught her interest, and it wasn’t long before her eyes closed and the paper fell to her lap. The next thing she knew, over an hour had passed and Erica was asking about dinner.

She momentarily thought about the chicken she had forgotten to take from the freezer that morning and decided that despite her nap, she still didn’t feel like cooking. “You know, we haven’t had pizza in a while. How does Domino’s sound?”

“Good,” Erica grinned. “Can we get pepperoni?”

“Of course,” Trixie agreed, grabbing the phone book. After finding the number, she picked up the cordless phone and was surprised that it didn’t have a dial tone. Despite the lack of modem noise, she glanced at Erica, who wasn’t allowed to use the computer without permission. “Not accusing you of anything, munchkin, but did you go online while I was napping?”

Erica shook her head. “No. I finished my homework, then I watched cartoons for a while. I think you were really tired, because the TV didn’t even wake you up.”

“Still tired,” she sighed. “It’s been a long week.” She pushed the button on the phone again, but there was still no dial tone. She placed it on the base to charge and tried the phone attached to the wall in the kitchen to no avail. The rain had gotten worse since they got home and the wind had picked up, but she had noticed no thunder or lightning that would explain an outage. “This is really weird. Let’s try my cell phone. Hopefully it can still pick up a signal.”

She took her cell phone from her purse, gratified to find that she had actually remembered to charge it. However, the rain was heavy enough that the signal was affected, and she quickly realized there was too much static to call out. “Sorry, munchkin. Looks like we’ll have to have pizza another night.”

“I’ll help make something,” Erica volunteered. “You don’t look like you feel too good.”

“Feel well,” Trixie corrected automatically. She chuckled wryly. “You’re right, though. I’m really tired tonight for some reason. Let’s see what we have that’s quick and easy.”

Erica opened a cabinet and took out a box of spaghetti noodles and a jar of Ragu meat sauce. “Could we make spaghetti? That never takes too long.”

“Sure.” She opened another cabinet and took out a pot to boil the water. She sat down at the table as they waited for the water to boil and tried to quash the momentary guilt she felt as she remembered helping her own mother make spaghetti when she was young. She sighed. It had been a much more intensive process, as Helen Belden had never used sauce from a jar that she hadn’t canned herself using tomatoes from her own garden.

“What’s wrong?” Erica asked.

“Just thinking about helping Grandma Belden when I was your age,” she told her. “Erica, does it ever bother you that we usually don’t have dinner that’s entirely homemade?”

“Why would it?” she asked cheerfully. “You and Daddy both have important jobs and you’re helping people. Plus, you love me and take good care of me, and that’s all that matters.” She kissed her cheek. “Besides, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have a mommy at all. Lots of kids don’t have both mommies and daddies. I’m lucky, Mom Trixie. Look at Blake. His parents are still alive, but they can’t take care of him anymore.”

Trixie squeezed the child. “You’re really smart for your age, Erica.”

She giggled. “Uncle Bobby told me I’m too smart for my own good, whatever that means.”

Trixie laughed. “It means you know more than he thinks you should. Being smart is a good thing, though.”

“I think so, too,” Erica agreed. “It looks like the water is boiling. May I put in the noodles?”

“Yes, but be careful,” she gave her permission. As she took a loaf of garlic bread from the freezer, she heard a knock at the door. “I’ll be right back.”

She took a quick peek through the window beside the door, and realized she didn’t recognize the man standing on the porch. Despite his obviously advanced age, she decided to stay on the safe side, so she put the chain lock on and opened the door only a crack. “Yes? Can I help you?”

A look of shock and dismay crossed his face, and he said, “I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am. I’m looking for Rachel Martin.”

Trixie blinked in surprise, then shook her head. “I’m sorry, but she passed away last summer. We actually bought the house from her a few months before she died.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” he asked, looking stunned. “She can’t be dead!”

“Yes, my brother was the attending physician, and we all went to her funeral,” she replied. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

He shook his head. “No, thank you. I’m just surprised. I had hoped to talk with her about something that happened when we were both pretty young, but I’m apparently too late. I’m sorry to bother you.” He turned and quickly walked through the rain towards an older model sedan.

Feeling oddly shaken, she watched as he drove away. She then closed the door and unlocked the chain so that Dell could come in when he got home from work, but she made sure the deadbolt was locked along with the regular door lock before hurrying back to the kitchen to finish the meal preparation. The wind picked up as they finished eating, and Trixie was loading the dishwasher when branches from a nearby tree scraped against the kitchen window. Between the weather and the unexpected visitor, she was on edge, and when the lights flickered as she heard the front door open, she let out an involuntary scream.

Erica looked at her in alarm. “Are you all right?”

“Just a little jumpy,” she assured her, her face red.

“Emily really is gone, you know. There’s no one here but us.” Erica turned around. “And Daddy! You’re home early!”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Trixie breathed. “I wasn’t expecting you this early and you scared me.”

“You scared me, too, with that scream,” he told her. “What happened?”

She shook her head. “The lights flickered right as you opened the door. It startled me. That’s all.”

“So you’re okay?” he asked urgently. “You’re both okay?”

“We are,” she said with a smile. With her husband home, she was able to shake off most of the uneasiness she had felt all evening, and she relaxed as she explained about the unexpected visitor. “Are you okay, though? I thought you’d be at least another hour or two.”

He nodded as he gave her a rather sodden hug, then he went in the bedroom to take off his holster and lock his revolver in their gun safe. He soon returned in dry clothing and took a can of Pepsi from the refrigerator before sitting down at the table. “Rough night. It seems weather like this always brings out the worst in people. We had three domestic violence calls, and we rounded up another….” He glanced at Erica, who was listening intently. “Er, another ‘businesswoman’ working out of Olyfant’s hotel.”

“Ugh. Isn’t that three or four now? There’s got to be someone running a ring there.”

He nodded. “Jake and Dan are working on it. If Olyfant’s involved, it may be enough to finally get him shut down for good.”

“Daddy?” Erica spoke up. “What’s so bad about being a businesswoman? Mom Trixie and Aunt Honey are businesswomen.”

Dell choked, while Trixie looked at him wide-eyed. He took a long drink of his Pepsi, then said, “Your mom and Honey are detectives, Erica, but there are different kinds of businesses. It’s good to be a detective. The women we’re arresting are running a business that’s against the law.”

“What are they doing?” she asked. “So I know that I don’t ever do it.”

“You won’t, Munchkin,” Trixie said emphatically. She met Dell’s panicked gaze and resisted the urge to giggle. She knew he would rather face a dangerous criminal any day than to have to explain the concept of prostitution to his eight year old daughter. “And we’ll explain it when you’re a little older.” She could tell by the child’s expression that she wasn’t entirely satisfied with that answer, but she didn’t want to explain it any more than Dell did. She turned back to her husband. “How did that bring you home early? I’m not complaining, by any means, but you know me and curiosity….”

He pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her waist. “I’ve been trying to call you all evening and haven’t been able to get you. I’m guessing the phone is out of order?”

She nodded. “And no cell phone coverage either, presumably due to interference from the rain.”

“I figured as much, but given the weather, I was a little concerned. Then there was a major accident out on the Sawmill River Parkway. Several cars involved. Five people taken by ambulance, and two casualties.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head against her. “Once we finished cleaning it up, Chief Gillespie said he could handle the rest of the evening and that I should come home. I didn’t argue.”

“I’m sorry,” she told him softly. She put her arms around him as it suddenly made sense. It had been a rainy night similar to this one when he and the chief had responded to another fatal accident on the Sawmill River Parkway – the accident in which Heather had died seven years earlier.

He squeezed her gently. “Admittedly, even though I knew you weren’t involved in the accident, I was starting to worry when I couldn’t get in touch with you. He understood that I needed to see that you’re safe for myself.”

She nodded. She would have felt the same way if the situation were reversed. “I’m glad he did.”

He took a breath and smiled before reaching for his own cell phone. He had gotten a new flip phone through the police department’s contract earlier in the year, and they had found that he often had service when Trixie didn’t. He pushed a button to call Chief Gillespie via the direct connect function and let him know that aside from the phone being out, all was well. Trixie smiled as she heard the chief’s response, and Dell put the phone back on his belt clip. “We really need to look into getting you a new phone, Trix. I know you like the one you have, but you really need something more reliable.”

“I know,” she admitted. “It’s not usually an issue, but it would have been really nice to have tonight.” She sighed ruefully. “We only made spaghetti because I couldn’t call out to order a pizza.”

He chuckled. “So let’s start looking around tomorrow. Maybe something like I have, or at least, something through the same company. I don’t care if we have to pay an early termination fee on yours. It will be worth it to know you have better coverage. In the meantime, I’ll call the phone company to report the outage for our home phone, then we’ll have the rest of the evening to enjoy. What do you two want to do?”

“First, you eat,” Trixie told him. “There’s plenty of spaghetti and garlic bread left.”

“Then maybe we can play a game?” Erica requested. “Mommy Trixie isn’t feeling that good, so she should rest.”

“Are you okay?” he asked, turning to his wife with fresh worry in his eyes.

She nodded. “Just really tired.”

“She fell asleep when we got home,” Erica reported. “That’s not like her at all. She’s almost always bubbling with energy!”

Trixie laughed. “Everyone gets tired, munchkin. I’m sure I’ll be okay after a good night’s sleep.”

“An early night sounds good to me, too,” Dell admitted. “Trix, if you want to go on to bed, Erica and I can clean up in here and play a game after I eat and call the phone company. Then I think I’ll join you.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse, but she saw the concern still on his face and relented. “Thank you.” She kissed both of them, then made her way to bed. Taking only enough time to change into a t-shirt and stretch pants, she sank gratefully into the bed and was soon sound asleep.

The clock radio on the nightstand read 11:30 when she was awakened some time later, and she blearily looked at Dell as he reached for his ringing cell phone. She rubbed her eyes as he answered, and the fog that surrounded her brain dissipated entirely as she heard him say, “We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“What’s going on?”

“Bobby called. Mrs. Vanderpoel’s at the Farm and says Brom has vanished. She thinks he’s been kidnapped, and he wants both of us to come over,” he told her. “Go ahead and get dressed. We need to get there as soon as we can, so I don’t think anyone will care if we leave Erica in her pajamas. I’m sure your mom will have a spare bed she can use.”

Her mind raced as she jumped out of the bed. “Kidnapped? Brom?”

“I don’t know any details,” he told her. “Bobby wasn’t very coherent, either.” He pulled on the uniform he had left on the chair beside the bed. “I need to call in to the station and give the chief a heads up.”

Trixie nodded and once she had thrown on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, she went into the bathroom to splash cold water on her face and comb her hair. It made no sense that Brom had been kidnapped, but she knew that he wasn’t really capable of wandering off on his own anymore, either. Once Dell was off the phone, he handed her the Glock that he had gotten for her when she and Honey had opened their detective agency. She looked at him with a question in her eyes.

“Look, I know you, Trixie. I’m not going to even pretend that you won’t find a way to go out looking for him, and now that Bobby’s decided to follow in your footsteps, he’s going to want to tag along. I know you’ll be careful, but I don’t have a good feeling about this, especially in light of someone coming to ask for Miss Rachel tonight. There was something not right about how he tried to argue with you, and even though it may not be related, I’m glad that you have a concealed carry permit. Do me a favor and take advantage of it tonight.”

“Thank you,” she said, making sure the safety was on and slipping on her bra holster. She gave him a hug before carefully sliding the revolver into the holster. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he told her. “Please promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I promise,” she said softly. “You, too.”

When they arrived at Crabapple Farm a few minutes later, they quickly got Erica settled in Trixie’s old bedroom, then joined the group at the kitchen table. “So tell me what’s going on,” Dell requested.

Mrs. Vanderpoel wiped her eyes with a lace-trimmed handkerchief. “I went to town tonight to visit with Elizabeth Sammons. We were in school together, and she’s not doing well these days, so I try to get out there at least once a week and make sure she has what she needs. I was there about an hour, but I didn’t want to leave Brom alone for too long. Unfortunately, and I have no idea why, all of my tires were flat when I left her house. I went back in, and Elizabeth called her son who drives a tow truck. He took it and refilled the tires for me, but by that time, it was really late. I hurried home as fast as I could, but when I got there, Brom was nowhere to be found.”

“Could he have gone somewhere on his own?” Dell asked. “He is still able to walk with a walker, isn’t he?”

“Yes, short distances, but he didn’t. His walker was on the other side of the room from where he usually sits, and I found what looks like a small wheel track in the yard. It led off into the woods, and I tried to follow it, but I soon lost it. The ground’s wet, but there are too many leaves from last fall still on the ground.”

“Any chance he went with someone of his own accord?”

“No,” she shook her head. “Aside from me, Bobby and Spider would be the only ones he would willing go anywhere with, and Spider would have left me a note so I wouldn’t worry. Besides, neither of them would have left through the woods.”

“Well, I might have,” Bobby said, trying to smile. “But from what you said earlier, it looks like he was taken in a wheelbarrow or a cart like the one Mr. Maypenny has. I know Moms has a wheelbarrow, but if I was taking him anywhere, I’d use the car. I don’t think the wheelbarrow would be too comfortable. I feel bad, but I’ve been so busy with school that I haven’t seen him in a week or two.”

“And Spider was at work all evening,” Dell interjected . “I can vouch for that, at least up until I left. Did you try to call him?”

“I tried, but my phone’s out of order,” Mrs. Vanderpoel told him. “So when I realized I couldn’t call him, I drove over here. I went off and forgot my address book, though, so I didn’t have his number. Thankfully, Bobby had yours.”

“Okay. I’m going to call the station and get another officer to meet me at your place. We’ll see what we can find there, then start looking from him.” He turned to his mother-in-law. “Helen, would it be okay if Mrs. Vanderpoel stays here for the night? If there is a kidnapper out there, she’ll be safer here.”

“I will be fine at home, young man,” Mrs. Vanderpoel said indignantly, but then she sighed. “But I really don’t want to be there alone tonight. Would you mind, Helen?”

“Of course not!” Helen exclaimed. “The guest room is yours for as long as you need it.”

Dell had already moved into another room and was speaking softly into his cell phone, and Trixie made eye-contact with Bobby. She silently warned him to remain quiet, but after Dell kissed her cheek and left to go to Mrs. Vanderpoel’s, she asked her parents, “Would it be okay if Erica stays in my old room? When we came downstairs, it looked like she was out for the night. Bobby and I want to do some looking, too.”

“Erica’s fine,” Peter said. “You know she’s always welcome here, but I don’t know about you two going out. This just went into very dangerous territory.”

“I know,” Trixie assured him. “And I’m trained for this. This is what I do. Bobby’s about to graduate and start his degree, and he has a good head on his shoulders. I want and need him with me.”

“Are you armed?” he asked, but before she could answer, he backtracked. “No, wait. I don’t want to know.”

“We’ll be careful, I promise,” she told him. “I’ve already promised Dell we would be.”

“So, did he actually say you could go, or does he just know you that well?” Peter asked, managing a small grin.

She grinned back. “He knows me that well. Would you feel better if you came with us?”

He briefly looked at his two youngest children who were obviously anxious to be out searching, then at his wife. “Will you two be all right here alone?”

“Of course we will be,” Mrs. Vanderpoel replied, ignoring Helen’s slight look of alarm. “The more people looking for him, the better.” She sighed. “I wish I could go, too.”

Trixie was sympathetic with the sentiment, but she shook her head. “Thanks, but there’s a good chance Dell will need you to answer questions for him. You need to be where he can find you.” She stood up, and both Bobby and Peter followed her lead. “We’ll check back in with you in two hours, if not before.”

“I am so glad the rain finally stopped,” Trixie said once the three of them were outside. “Bobby, you know Brom better than I do. Where do you think we should start?”

“His cabin first. I’m still hoping he somehow wandered home, even though I know it’s really unlikely.”

“Where is his cabin?” Peter asked. “You know, I’ve known about Brom all my life, but I’ve never known just where he lived. That bothers me. We should all have stepped in to do more to help him, instead of just depending on Mrs. Vanderpoel to take care of him.”

“She wants it that way, Dad,” Bobby said. “So does he. He’s too independent to ask for help, and she’s too stubborn not to give it to him anyway. If you ask me, they should have gotten married after Mr. Vanderpoel died, but I think they were both too proud to make the first move. Anyway, the cabin isn’t that far.”

“It’s near the old schoolhouse, Dad,” Trixie said. “Not far from Mr. Maypenny’s.”

“What was it like when you were young?” Bobby asked as they walked toward Brom’s cabin. “I mean, Mr. Maypenny. Brom. I know there were others, too. Was it like a whole little community in these woods?”

“Not so much when I was old enough to remember,” Peter told him. “For the most part, most of them had either moved elsewhere by then, and in a few cases, the families just died off. It wasn’t quite as wooded back then, either. Granted, it was still a forest, but a lot of land that was cleared back then has now been taken over by pine trees. Once it’s no longer used, it’s only a few years before the forest consumes it. By the time I was in school, most families either lived on established farms like we did or in town.”

“The whole area was lonely, though, wasn’t it?” Trixie asked. “I know the Martins kind of lived off to themselves, and so did the Lisgards. You know, it’s strange. We actually had someone at our house tonight looking for Miss Rachel.”

“What?” Bobby gulped, stopping to look at her with wide eyes. “Man or woman?”

“It was an old man, and he gave me the impression he’d known her when they were young. I wish I’d gotten his name, but Erica and I were home alone and I was a little spooked with our phone not working, so I admittedly wanted him gone. He gave me a weird feeling, somehow.”

“Why wasn’t your phone working?” Peter asked, motioning for them to keep walking. “I know Mrs. Vanderpoel’s wasn’t, but ours is fine. We’re between the two houses, so it makes no sense that we have service if neither of you do.”

“Okay,” Bobby said, trembling. “I don’t like this.  Brom spent decades worried that someone would come after him and Miss Rachel, and it can’t be a coincidence that he disappeared on the night someone was looking for her. I really hope they’re at his cabin. If not, I reallyhope that the phrase ‘the old Depew place’ means something to one of you.”

“Depew!” Trixie exclaimed. “That was where we found Edward Palmer’s money during the fake archaeological dig. I can get us there, but why?”

“There’s an old cabin near there. It was the scene of a tragedy when Brom was young. I have a hunch that whoever this is may have taken him back there in a skewed sense of justice. I’m sorry, Trixie. I can’t tell you more unless we find it’s absolutely necessary. I swore to Brom that I’d never tell anyone, but I know he’d understand if I have to to save his life.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Trixie said. “Come on. Let’s go.”

They raced to Brom’s cabin, but it was obvious at a glance that it was empty. After Brom had moved in with Mrs. Vanderpoel, Mr. Maypenny had boarded up the windows and doors before he himself had left for an extended overseas trip with his nephew. None of the boards had been touched and weeds grew rampant across what had been the front walk. None of those showed any sign of being disturbed by anything other than a deer or rabbit.

“I was really hoping,” Bobby whispered, his face drawn and pale. “Okay, Trixie. Depew place, but about fifty yards to the east of it.”

The uneasiness she had felt earlier increased exponentially, and it was only worsened by seeing the agony on her brother’s face. She wrapped her arm around him. “I know it’s hard, Bobby, and it never gets easier. But we do what we have to do, and there’s a chance we’ll find him.”

“No,” he shook his head. “If he’s really there, it’s too late. He’s either dead or wishing that he was. No one would taunt someone for sixty years only to kidnap them in the end. His own cabin was our last hope of finding him alive and in one piece.”

She squeezed him again, then turned away from both men. She quickly drew her gun and turned back around. “I’m sorry, Dad, but I’m not going in there unprepared.”

He shook his head. “I’m actually glad you have it. I just pray you don’t have to use it.”

“Me, too,” she whispered. The group grew silent as she led them the path, and by the time they saw a clearing in the distance, she felt like the very forest was holding its breath with them. With her gun in firing position, she crept into the clearing and as her gaze swept past the dilapidated cabin, she caught sight of a familiar figure suspended from a tree branch several feet off the ground. She automatically put the gun on safety and turned back into the woods with bile in her throat, and she barely made it off of the path before throwing up. Bobby fared no better, and Peter quickly steered him into the clearing next to his sister.

Once her stomach settled and she had put the gun back in its holster, she held to a nearby tree as she said, “I hate to say this, but one of us needs to stay here while one of us goes for help.” She took a long look at the crime scene, holding tightly to the tree. Bobby noticed and, despite his own unsteadiness, wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She smiled gratefully at him. “I don’t think anyone could possibly be in that old house, and I suspect the killer,” she swallowed hard at having to use that word, “is long gone. Dad, would you mind going? I suspect it will be quicker to just go straight to Mrs. Vanderpoel’s instead of going back to Crabapple Farm and calling from there. Do you know how to get there from here?”

He took a long look at her and nodded. “I think so, and yes, I think you’re right. Bobby, you stay here with your sister, but don’t either of you even think about going one step closer than you already are!”

“We won’t,” Trixie agreed quickly. “The last thing we need is to be accused of disturbing the crime scene, but someone needs to stay here to make sure no one else does, either.”

“Agreed. Be careful, both of you!”

“We will, Dad,” Bobby assured him. “You, too.”

With a nod, Peter vanished down the path they had so recently used. Bobby sighed. “Even if you hadn’t promised, I don’t think I could go over there.”

Trixie shook her head. “I couldn’t either. It’s true that we don’t want to risk destroying evidence, but even then, this is Brom.”

“I know,” Bobby whispered. Silent tears streaked down his face. “It’s not fair, Trixie. He didn’t deserve this.”

She reached for his hand. “You know you’re going to have to tell Dell whatever secret you know about him, Bobby. He’s not going to let us investigate on our own.”

“I know,” he repeated. “I want you with me, though.” He sobbed. “I don’t want Brom’s memory tainted. Not many people really knew him, but they saw a harmless old hermit. He was so much more than that, but if his secret gets out, they’ll look at him differently. They’ll think he’s just as guilty as his murderer.”

Trixie’s eyes widened. She knew that people had a tendency to automatically assume the worst, especially when someone was not around to defend himself, but she couldn’t imagine Brom doing anything bad enough to cause that kind of reaction. “I’m sure he will do his best, Bobby.”

He nodded. “I just hope it’s good enough. I do want this monster caught, but is it wrong that I’d almost rather let him get away if it meant Brom’s secret would stay safe?”

She put her arm around him and pulled him close. “No. I think that next to Mrs. Vanderpoel, you were his best friend. It’s only right that you want to look out for him, especially now.”

Much as he had done when he was six years old, he buried his head in her shoulder as he cried. As the reality of Brom’s death sunk in, her own tears began, and the siblings were still clinging to each other and crying when Peter and Dell arrived with several other policemen.

Peter led Dell and the police chief into the small clearing where they were standing, and Trixie told them, “We haven’t seen or heard anyone since Dad left. And no, we didn’t leave this area. Neither of us wanted to get too close.”

Chief Gillespie nodded. “Good thinking. How did you ever think to check here?”

“I had a hunch,” Bobby admitted. “We checked his own cabin first. It’s a long story, but I think both of you need to hear it. I think it’s why Brom was killed tonight.”

“Do you feel up to telling us here, or would you rather go back to Crabapple Farm?”

“Here,” he said quickly. “The thing is, Brom told me this in confidence. He didn’t want it spread all over town, and he really didn’t want Mrs. Vanderpoel to know.”

The chief looked as though a lightbulb came on, and he frowned. “You’re talking about how he killed his brother-in-law, aren’t you.”

It was a statement more than a question, but Bobby nodded. “Yes, sir. How did you know? Brom told me he had never told anyone, and Miss Martin was the only other person that knew!”

Trixie felt the forest spin around her, and she automatically clutched on to Dell’s hand to keep her balance. He looked at her in concern, with his face showing both worry and surprise.

“No, he didn’t,” the chief confirmed. “Miss Rachel told me a couple of years ago. She knew she was getting up in years, and she wanted me to know in case anything suspicious ever happened to either of them. They were both convinced that someone would come after them at some point.”

“You knew he was guilty of murder and you didn’t arrest him?” Bobby asked in wonder. “There’s no statute of limitations for that.”

“All I had to go on was hearsay,” Chief Gillespie said gently. “Even then, at most, it would have been justifiable homicide. Trust me, if I had a sister in that situation, I would have done the same thing and not batted an eye.”

“Me, too,” Bobby admitted, flushing as he glanced at his own brother-in-law.

Dell sighed. “Could someone please explain in plain English what’s going on?”

The chief nodded. “Bobby, tell us what you know. I want to see how much it matches up with Miss Rachel’s story.”

“I’m not sure how much of the background you want, but to make a long story short, Brom’s mother died in childbirth when his younger sister was born. He and his dad raised her, and since this was back during the Depression, they had a really hard time of it. Mr. Maypenny’s brother had already left home and with his parents both dead, too, they decided to join the CCC together. He worked with them for a couple of years, then had a letter from his sister that their dad was dying. Mr. Maypenny stayed on with the CCC, but Brom quit and came home. He was too late, though. By the time he got back, their dad was dead, and his sister was married to a man that had recently moved to the area.”

The chief nodded his encouragement, and Bobby took a deep breath. “Annika, his sister, was only fifteen, but I guess things were different then. She and her husband, Edgar was his name, lived in this cabin. It wasn’t long until he made her cut off contact with her brother. Brom said Miss Rachel was stubborn enough not to let Edgar interfere with her friendship with Annika, and he kept sending her messages that way. Sometimes she’d respond, sometimes she wouldn’t. But one day, Miss Rachel came running to his cabin to get him to help. She’d gone to visit Annika and found Edgar beating her up pretty badly. Brom had grabbed his hunting rifle, and when he got there, Annika was crying on the floor while Edgar was holding her by her hair and kicking her. He wouldn’t stop, and Brom shot him to try to get him off of her. Unfortunately, he had hurt her really badly, and she died a few days later.”

“And no one ever knew?” Dell asked.

“Someone must have,” Bobby confirmed. “Brom grabbed up Annika and got her settled in his cabin with Miss Rachel watching over her, then he went back to bury the body. In that short time, though, the body disappeared. He knew there was no way Edgar had survived, so someone had to have seen. Maybe Edgar’s brother, but he never knew for sure. For the next few years, except for the time he was in the Army during World War II, he would find two animals strung up in the tree outside his cabin every spring. Usually rabbits, but there were foxes once, too. He said there was always one male and one female. That stopped around 1950, but he was never able to put the feeling of doom behind him.”

Trixie’s stomach clenched, and she croaked, “I think I saw him. Someone came to the house tonight looking for Miss Rachel. Left as soon as I told him she was dead, but it can’t be a coincidence. He was probably in his late seventies, so the age would be right. I’m pretty sure it’s someone I’ve never seen before.”

“Did he look capable of doing this?” the chief asked. “I know Brom was rather feeble, but it still couldn’t have been easy doing this.”

She thought back to watching the man hurry back to his car and she nodded. “Yes, I think so. He was tall, and he still looked pretty muscular.”

“Notice what he was wearing and if he was driving or on foot?”

“Black pants and cardigan over a white button up shirt.” She shook her head. “He was driving a dark sedan that I think was about ten years old. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what kind it was. Nothing really stood out about it.”

“It’s still a lot more than we did have to go on. Let me know if you remember anything else.” He turned to Bobby. “That goes for you, too. I’ll need to see all three of you at the station at some point tomorrow, er, later today, to make an official statement, but that can wait. For now, go back home and get some rest.” He looked apologetically at Dell. “I hate to do this to you, but given their close relationship, we need to break the news to Mrs. Vanderpoel. I’m going to have you do that, then you can take your wife home. Get a few hours sleep, then report in. Once the media finds out about this, I’m going to need you at the station.”

“That works. I suspect this is going to be a media circus. Isn’t this technically part of Matt Wheeler’s game preserve? If so, we need to let him know, too.”

Trixie nodded. “I think so. The Depew place definitely is, and we’re not that far from there.”

“I’ll give him a call, too,” Dell offered.

“Give him my cell number,” the chief directed. “I need to get the coroner out here, but then I’ll call the mayor, too, and give him a heads up.”

The trip back to Crabapple Farm was mercifully uneventful, and Trixie wasn’t surprised that Mrs. Vanderpoel was sitting quietly on the porch when they arrived. She recognized her mother’s knitting bag on the porch swing beside the older woman, and tears came to her eyes.

“I needed to keep my hands busy,” Mrs. Vanderpoel explained unnecessarily, setting her needlework aside as they walked up the steps towards her. She took one look at the somber group and seemed to deflate as she noticed Dell with them. “You found him, but he’s gone,” she said flatly.

“I’m really sorry, ma’am,” he replied formally. “Mr. Vanderheidenbeck died earlier this evening.”

She clasped her hands together and drew a sharp breath. “I have to know. Did he wander away on his own, or did something happen?”

“We have evidence that someone else was involved,” he said simply.

Bobby moved the needlework, then gently drew her to him as he sat down beside her. “I’m sorry, Mrs. V. I really wanted him to be okay.”

“You found him, didn’t you?” she asked, tears welling up in her deep blue eyes. “You poor child. He would never have wanted that for you.”

“I know,” Bobby assured her. “He was a good man.”

“A very good man,” she replied.

“If there’s anything I can do….” Dell offered.

“Thank you, but no,” she shook her head. “Wait. Actually, there is one thing. He had no immediate family of his own, and I’d like to have him buried in my family plot so he won’t be alone. Could you help make sure that I’m able to do that? I would really appreciate it.”

“Of course,” he assured her. “There will have to be an autopsy first, but I’ll do all I can to have the body released to you as soon as possible.”

“Thank you,” she repeated. “Bobby, would you mind staying with me? Otherwise, I’d like to be alone now.”

As Trixie followed Peter and Dell inside, she glanced at the unlikely pair in the porch swing, and her heart went out to the two people left in the world who had loved Brom the most.  She listened as Dell broke the news to her mother, but she went upstairs before he called Mr. Wheeler. She still felt shaken by the events of the evening, and she wanted to see her daughter, needed to see for herself that she was okay. She slipped silently into the room that had been hers for so many years and stood still for a long moment, just gazing down at the child that was sound asleep in the twin bed. She was torn between waking her so that she could hug her and feel how solid and real she was or letting her sleep rather than rousing her for a second time that night. Common sense won out, and she sank down onto the other twin bed in the room. Almost without realizing it, she grabbed the doll Helen kept on the pillow and held it close so that she would have something of substance to hang on to.

Lost in thought, she barely noticed when Dell came in some time later and sat down beside her, wrapping his arms around her. “I’m sorry, baby. It’s never easy finding someone like that, especially when it’s someone you know. I wish none of this had happened.”

“Me, too,” she sighed softly, setting the doll aside. “I never knew him as well as Bobby did, but he was such a nice old man. How could anyone do that to anyone? I can’t even imagine what he went through tonight.”

Dell shook his head. “Assuming our theory about the motive is right, it’s a sad story all around. Six decades is a long time to harbor a grudge. I’m not excusing it by any means or agreeing with it, but we see Brom trying to save his sister’s life by killing her attacker. He likely sees it as getting vengeance on a murderer.”

“True,” she admitted. “I was just thinking about Erica, and how I’d do anything I could for her, even give my own life to save her if I had to.”

He kissed the top of her head. “I know. Me, too. Before we wake her, your mom said she’s welcome to stay the rest of the night. We are, too, but I’d rather head home so I can have a fresh uniform in the morning.”

Trixie hesitated. “I agree I’d rather go home to our own bed. What do you think, though? I don’t want to leave her, but I don’t want to disturb her, either.”

“Well, she’s in good hands here, and she will be an absolute bear in the morning if we wake her up again right now. Why don’t we let her stay so that we can enjoy a happy child tomorrow?”

She managed a smile. “Good point. I can bring her some clean clothes early in the morning.”

Once home, Dell put both of their guns back in the safe while Trixie took a hot shower. She knew it was irrational, but the running water seemed to help calm the maelstrom of emotions flowing through her, and she felt better than she had all evening as she stepped out of the shower. As she brushed her teeth, her eyes lit on the box she had placed in the medicine cabinet earlier that afternoon, and she sighed. In the slightly more than four months since she had stopped taking her birth control pills, she felt like her hormones had been on a roller coaster, and as her cycles began to re-regulate themselves, she had experienced so many symptoms of possible pregnancy that got her hopes up only to have them dashed when she had finally taken the test. This would be her second test, and although she had originally planned to use it first thing on Saturday morning, she knew she was emotionally not ready to handle another negative while dealing with everything else that had happened. Regretfully, she closed the door of the cabinet, and sighed as she slipped into bed with her husband. “You know I’m not taking it when we get up.”

He momentarily looked confused, but then he nodded and reached out for her. “I didn’t expect you to. Don’t worry, baby. There’s no rush. If you are, we’ll find out soon enough, and if you aren’t, well, we’ll find that out, too. In that case, we just keep trying.” He gave her a look. “I think we’re both enjoying that, don’t you?”

She blushed as she nodded. “Definitely.” She sighed and put her head on his chest. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” he replied, holding her closely. Before they knew it, they were both sound asleep.

True to her word, she was back at Crabapple Farm a few short hours later, and her stomach churned at the smell of freshly cooked sausage as she walked into the kitchen. Erica jumped up from the crowded table and ran to hug her. “Morning, Mom Trixie! I missed you this morning!”

“I missed you, too, munchkin,” she replied. “Did you have breakfast already?”

She nodded. “Sausage, scrambled eggs, and toast. Grandma Belden said I could go ahead and eat, then get dressed after you get here. Are you feeling better today?”

Aware of all the eyes in the room upon her, she tried to ignore the nausea and returned Erica’s nod. “Of course. I told you I just needed a good night’s sleep.” She handed the bag of her clothes to her. “Finish eating, then you can go take a shower. Do you know where the towels are?”

“Of course,” she told her. “And I’m done eating. You can have my chair and eat, too, while I’m upstairs.” Without waiting for an answer, she waved at everyone and left the kitchen.

Trixie inwardly groaned, but sat down at the table. “Thanks for letting her stay overnight, Moms.”

“No problem at all,” Helen assured her. “You know we love having her here. She had a good idea, though. There’s plenty of food if you haven’t had breakfast yet.”

“Thanks, but I’m really not hungry,” she said, hoping her mother wouldn’t push the issue. “I wanted to get it out of the way, so I stopped by the police station on my way over here to give my statement. Have you heard anything on the news?”

Peter shook his head. “Not yet. There was a brief statement about ‘a local man found dead’ on the local television station this morning, but that was all. It’s a good thing it’s Saturday. I suspect Ed Gaffey had a late night last night. He would have jumped all over this otherwise.”

She snorted despite herself, even as Helen looked at both of them in reproach. It was common knowledge around Sleepyside that the lead anchor’s divorce had been finalized two months earlier, and gossip had him spending most of his spare time and money at the tavern that had recently opened on the outskirts of Sleepyside. “True. Hopefully Paul Trent’s sleeping in, too, and we’ll be spared his visit as well.”

Helen gave her another sharp look, but then stood and took Erica’s empty plate, returning with a clean one to replace it. “You need to eat something, Trixie, even if it’s just a piece of toast and some juice.”

Obediently, she took a glass of orange juice and a piece of toast. She took a small bite off of the corner and asked, “How is Mrs. Vanderpoel doing?”

Bobby shook his head, and Trixie noticed his red-rimmed eyes. “You know Mrs. V. She doesn’t show emotion very easily, and she’s keeping it all inside. We sat on the porch together for about two hours before she sent me inside.  I think she stayed out there until about an hour ago when Moms finally convinced her to try to get some sleep.” He gave a wry smile. “She gave her a choice. Either go to bed on her own or she’d have Dr. Ferris come out to give her a sedative.”

She smiled. “I’d have gone to bed, too. How are you?”

“I’ve been better,” he admitted. “I need to call Bethany after breakfast and let her know, but then I need to be out doing something. Honey called a few minutes ago. I filled her in, and she’s on her way over here. Not sure what we can do, but I figured you two can think of something.”

“You are not going look for the killer!” Peter said firmly. “Last night was different, but there is no way you’re going to actively look for him.”

“No, we’re not,” she assured him. “You two still have to go by the station to give your own statements, and we should find out when Mrs. Vanderpoel will be able to return home. I’m not sure how he got in, but I want to make sure her locks are changed before she’s alone there again.”

“That’s a good idea, Trixie,” Helen complimented her. “I’m going to try to get her to stay here at least until after the funeral or memorial service.” She sighed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to his cabin, but it might be a good idea, too, if someone could find that out. I think Mr. Wheeler owns it, but I’m not sure.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Honey said softly as she came into the kitchen through the back door. She put her hand on Bobby’s shoulder. “I stopped by my parents’ on the way over here, because I wanted an answer to that very question. I know he let everyone think it was part of the game preserve, but while my dad does own most of the land around it, the cabin and the acre of land it sits on still belong to Brom.”

“Do you know if he had a will?” Helen asked. “I’d really hate to see it revert to the state.”

Honey nodded. “He actually had my dad help him get one drawn up. Dad’s agreed to be the executor, because it’s split between two unrelated people. Of course, it will have to go through probate, but with no descendants or family to contest it, I don’t think there will be any problems.”

“I hope Mrs. Vanderpoel is one of them,” Bobby said. “I would have assumed she would get everything. Who is the other heir?”

“I haven’t read it personally, but yes, he did say that Mrs. Vanderpoel will inherit something. I’m sorry, though. I really can’t tell you who the other heir is. I suspect that Brom never told this person, and it’s probably better right now if it stays that way.” She sighed. “We’re on borrowed time before the story becomes very public, and in a town this size, they could easily become a suspect if it’s determined that he or she knew of the inheritance.”

“Is there that much in the estate?” Trixie asked, surprised. “I admit I always thought he was barely getting by.”

“While the cabin itself probably isn’t worth much, and I agree that an acre of land on the edge of the game preserve wouldn’t be worth killing over, he trapped mink and foxes for at least sixty years. We all know he spent very little, so I’d imagine he has a relatively healthy savings built up somewhere. The big question will be is it in a bank or buried in his back yard?”

“Ugh. Hopefully he will have told your dad,” Bobby said. “I don’t like the thought of someone digging up his yard for buried treasure.”

“Well, it could be stuffed in a mattress, too,” Honey smiled, sharing a glance with Trixie. “Or hidden in a barrel of old bottle caps.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “It was our first case. We were entitled to wild theories back then. Besides, we were right about the money being in the mattress, weren’t we?”

“We were,” Honey agreed. “We’ve also both grown and learned a lot about being detectives since then.”

“On that note, we should probably get down to the station,” Peter said. “I’d like to get it over with, especially if there’s a chance we’ll have to deal with either Paul Trent or Ed Gaffey later this morning.”

“Give me about ten minutes, please?” Bobby asked, jumping up from the table. “I’m hoping to catch Bethany before she hears it on the news.”

“Ten minutes, then we’re leaving,” Peter told him.

Once Bobby and Peter left, Trixie collected her daughter, then Honey followed them back to the Molinsons’ home. Erica soon disappeared into her room with the Game Boy Advance Mart and Diana had given her for Christmas, and the two women went into the living room where Trixie sank down into Dell’s recliner.

Honey sat down on the end of the couch and sighed. “This is stupid, Trixie. I know we can’t get involved, but it’s killing me not to try to at least put a name to the suspect.”

“Me, too,” she admitted. “It really bothers me knowing he was here last night. He did leave pretty quickly once I convinced him Miss Rachel is dead, but if he had forced his way in, who knows what would have happened. My gun was locked in the safe, and I don’t know that I could have gotten to it in time.” Her eyes widened as she thought of something, and she sat up straighter. “Our phone wasn’t working last night, Honey. Dell called the phone company on his cell phone, but I don’t know that he ever heard back from them, and I forgot to check it this morning. Mrs. Vanderpoel’s was also out last night, but Moms and Dad never lost their service. I’m suddenly wondering if he came by and cut it before Erica and I got home yesterday.”

Honey picked up the cordless phone from its charger and turned it on. She shook her head. “No dial tone. Where does the line come into the house?”

Trixie jumped up, but a sudden wave of dizziness passed over her, and she had to grab onto the arm of the chair. “On the side by the porch. I’ll come show you.”

Honey glanced at her quizzically. “Are you okay? That’s been happening a lot over the last few days.”

“I’m fine,” she said with a sigh. “I probably should have eaten more than two bites of the toast Moms gave me this morning. I wasn’t very hungry after last night.” She felt guilty that it was only a partial truth, but she was relieved when Honey seemed satisfied. Together, they stepped outside, and soon verified that the line had been cut about an inch below the box that went into the house. They spent a few minutes looking around for other clues, but finding none, they went back inside. Grateful that she once again had cell phone coverage, she used it to call Dell to let him know.

Both Dell and Chief Gillespie arrived ten minutes later, thankful for a few minutes away from the station after having finished a press conference only moments before Trixie’s call. They looked at the cut line and agreed with Trixie’s assessment that the rain the previous night had destroyed any clues that may have been there. Dell took a few minutes to call the phone company to arrange for the repair, then Honey sighed. “This makes no sense. Assuming this was done by the killer, it means he was also planning to leave Miss Rachel unable to call for help. But if he knew where Brom was, he should have known that Miss Rachel was already dead.”

The chief nodded. “Good point, and that’s something that bothers me, too.  He may have gotten bad information from an informant, or he could have been so focused on Mr. Vanderheidenbeck that he didn’t check. I just don’t know.”

“So Miss Rachel may have been an afterthought?” Trixie asked. “It actually makes sense. I mean, Miss Rachel only had a small memorial service, so I can see someone not really realizing she’s gone.”

“It does,” the chief agreed. “However, we are still just speculating at this point.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Honey asked softly.

He shook his head. “You’ll help the most by staying out of it. Don’t get involved, well, any more than you already have been. Of course, if you do hear or see anything suspicious, let us know, but please don’t go out looking for him. He’s already killed once, so he has nothing to lose by killing again.”

Trixie shivered. “One thought I just had. We’re pretty sure there’s a connection to Brom’s past, and I know Mrs. Vanderpoel doesn’t know about it. Would it help for someone to go through his cabin to see if there are any old pictures or documents that might tell us his name, or at least, his sister’s married name? I know you could just go to the courthouse Monday morning for that, assuming the marriage licence was filed, but you might find more in an old photo album.”

“We’d need a warrant,” he told her. “I’ll see if we can get one pushed through. That’s smart thinking, but please don’t get any ideas about going out there yourself.” His face softened. “I want you two to stay out of the game preserve entirely. Regardless of the legal issues, it’s too dangerous.”

“Mom Trixie?” Erica called from the front door, causing Trixie to jump. “Your cell phone’s ringing.”

“Thanks. I’m coming,” she replied, sighing inwardly as she went back inside to answer it. “Hello?”

“Trixie?” an elderly voice asked. “I hope I’m not bothering you, but I called your office and the answering machine gave me this number. Is there any chance either you or Honey could come out this afternoon? I’d like to talk to you about something.”

“Of course,” she said immediately. She recognized Margaret De Keyser’s voice and grinned despite herself. Mrs. De Keyser was a long-time resident of Glen Road and she knew that not only would there be a potential new case, but that the older woman was a possible source of information concerning Brom’s relatives. The De Keysers had lived in the area almost as long as the Vanderheidenbecks and Vanderpoels. “Is two o’clock okay?”

“That will be perfect. Thank you, dear.”

Shortly before the appointed hour, Trixie dropped Erica off at Crabapple Farm and picked up Bobby, who had jumped at her invitation to accompany the two detectives. They met Honey in front of Mrs. De Keyser’s house and walked up to the door together.

“I’m so glad you could make it,” Mrs. De Keyser told them, ushering them inside before they could even ring the doorbell. “I think I’m being silly, but I want to talk to you about something and get your professional opinion.”

“Of course. We’ll be glad to help however we can. However, I’m not sure if you remember my younger brother, Bobby. He’s going to be doing sort of an unofficial internship with us this summer.”

Their hostess smiled at the embarrassed teen and patted his shoulder. “Good. These two ladies have helped me more than once over the years, and trust me. You’ll be learning from the best detectives there are. Now, can I get any of you anything? I baked cookies this morning.”

“No, thanks,” Trixie answered. The queasiness from the morning had never fully abated, and while she had forced herself to have half of a hamburger when she and Erica had met Dell for lunch at Wimpy’s, she desperately wanted to avoid having to eat or drink anything else until it went away.

Mrs. De Keyser led them into the living room, where she motioned for them to sit down. She gave Bobby a knowing look, then disappeared into the kitchen, only to return with a plate of chocolate chip cookies that she placed on the coffee table in front of him.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling as he and Honey both took cookies.

“Men always have room for cookies,” she told him, seating herself in an old wooden rocker. In a gesture very reminiscent of Mrs. Vanderpoel, she picked up a half-finished afghan and began to crochet. “I’m sorry, but I have to keep my hands busy. Something is bothering me, and I need to talk it over with you.”

“What is it?” Honey asked gently. “You have our word that anything you tell us will stay right here in this room, unless you want us to do otherwise.”

“Wait before you make any promises you may regret,” she told them, and Trixie’s heart sank. She suddenly had a hunch this case wasn’t going to be the distraction she had hoped for.

“I need to start at the beginning,” Mrs. De Keyser said softly. “You know the De Keyser’s have been in Sleepyside almost as long as your family, Trixie. However, I myself grew up in Tarrytown, and I didn’t move to Sleepyside until I married Hendrik right before he was sent to Korea. When I was about ten, there was a family from this area who moved into the house next to my parents’ farm. I say family, but it was really just a mother and her son. Isaac was a few years older than me, and I admit I was scared of him. It wasn’t unusual for me to get home from school and hear him yelling at his mother or see him throwing rocks at the dogs that wandered the neighborhood.”

Willy, Mrs. De Keyser’s twelve-year old dog, gave a yip from his seat in Trixie’s lap, and she gently stroked his head, reflecting that it was almost as though he had understood what had been said.

“So time passed, and unfortunately, he noticed I was growing up. I wasn’t really supposed to talk to him, but he would talk to me over the fence when I was outside and even offer to help me with the milking. I didn’t need help, of course, but I was young, and I admit I was a little flattered, but I was also scared to tell him to leave me alone. He was quite a bit bigger than me, and he would tell me stories to make me feel sorry for him. I never knew how much was true, but he told me about watching as his brother was shot to death in front of him and how he and his mother had moved to Tarrytown soon after.  When I finally told my father, he assured me that there had been no murders reported in Sleepyside and that if there had been, we would surely have heard about it. That made me feel a little better, but after Dad told Isaac to leave me alone, he found me alone in the barn one day and told me that he’d talk to me anytime he wanted and that if I told anyone, he would make sure I regretted it. He said he meant to have me as his wife one day.” She put the afghan down in her lap and grabbed a tissue from the box. “I had my first kiss that day, and my arms were black and blue for a week because I struggled in vain to get away from him.”

Tears filled Trixie’s eyes. “Did you tell…?”

“Not then,” Mrs. De Keyser admitted. “I was really frightened by that point, and he was a lot stronger than me. I wish I had. I was only fourteen, but six months later, he tried to rape me. Told me I’d be his one day anyway and he saw no need to wait until he could marry me.”

Trixie quickly handed the small dog to Bobby, then she and and Honey jumped up to put their arms around their friend. Mrs. De Keyser was silent for a few minutes, then she drew a deep breath. “My mother heard my screams and found us before Isaac could do anymore than tear my dress. He ran, and my parents took me to the hospital because he’d broken my arm in the struggle. They took me to the police to press charges, but by the time the sheriff went to talk to him, he and his mother had moved out, and no one ever found him.”

She managed a small smile. “After that, I became determined to learn how to protect myself, and my dad taught me how to shoot. He didn’t let me go to the barn by myself anymore, but if I ever had to be home alone, he made sure I had a gun with me. Thankfully, Hendrik understood when we got married, and he even took me hunting with him. I caught some flack from some of the other wives in the neighborhood, but I learned to skin a deer with the best of them.” She sighed. “I hadn’t even thought about all of this in years, but when I saw Bill Gillespie on the news talking about poor Mr. Vanderheidenbeck’s murder, I started thinking and remembered Isaac saying that one day he would get vengeance for his brother’s death. I know there’s nothing to connect the two, but when I heard he was found hanging in a tree, it just seemed like someone trying to get revenge, and it’s the kind of thing Isaac would have done. You’re not old enough to remember when there were lynchings in the news, but that’s what this reminds me of.”

Trixie sat back down on the couch and said, “I can’t give any details, but the police do seem to be thinking along those lines. Do you think there’s any possibility Isaac might be in the area?”

“I have no idea,” she admitted. “I’m hoping I’m putting two and two together to come up with five. There’s a good chance he’s not even living anymore, and if he is, he would be close to eighty now.”

“I know he’s surely changed over the years, but do you remember what he looked like?” Honey asked. “Not so much hair color or anything like that, but was he tall or short? Stocky or slim?”

“Tall and broad shouldered,” Mrs. De Keyser said. “He was always very strong, too.”

Trixie shuddered, realizing that the vague description matched the man she had seen the previous night. “What was his last name?”

“Thompson,” she replied. “Isaac Thompson.” She sighed. “You do think there’s a connection, don’t you?”

“Possibly,” Trixie said gently. “The timing seems to fit, and with your permission, I’d like to at least give Dell his name. I don’t have to tell him the rest of your story unless you want me to.”

“If it will help, go ahead.” She frowned. “Wait. If you tell him, will the media get a hold of it? It’s been sixty years, but I still don’t want it spread all over town.”

“I’m sure he would do all he could to keep it quiet,” Honey assured her. “I honestly don’t think that part of the story will have any bearing on the case at all. One question, though. Do you remember if he ever mentioned any other relatives in Sleepyside?”

“I think there may have been some cousins or something, but I’m not sure. It’s been so long and I tried to block so much of it out.”

After leaving Mrs. De Keyser’s, the trio went straight to the police station, where Trixie led the way directly to her husband’s office. She knocked on his open door, smiling as he looked up at her. “Hey, do you have a few minutes? We think we may have a lead in the case.”

He glanced at the three of them and nodded. “Absolutely. Come in and close the door.”

Trixie motioned Honey and Bobby to the visitor’s chairs, while she herself sat on top of the two-drawer filing cabinet. “How did we ever get all seven of us in here?” she asked.

Dell grinned. “Very carefully. I’m assuming that having the three of you in here together is a glimpse of the future?”

“I hope so,” Bobby said. “But between this and the whole mess with Valerie Lynch, I’m hoping to get to help on a case that doesn’t hit quite so close to home.”

“It will happen,” Dell assured him. “However, this is a small town, and the Sleepyside Detective Agency handles a lot of local cases. You’ll have to get used to dealing with people you either know or have heard of.”

The teenager nodded. “True, but knowing someone is entirely different than having my girlfriend or one of my best friends targeted.”

“I know,” Dell sighed. “Sadly, you get used to that, too. It’s unfortunately part of the job. But for now, who wants to tell me what you found out?”

“Well, you know we had a client call us for a meeting this afternoon,” Trixie began. “She had a really bad experience sixty-something years ago that she really doesn’t want the media find out about. You know how Sleepyside is, and she’d rather not be the subject of gossip all over town. She also hoped she was overreacting, so to make a long story short, that’s why she called us instead of you. We’ve done work for her in the past and she trusts us.”

He nodded. “So we’ll treat it as an anonymous tip for now. What did she tell you?”

She recapped the story Mrs. De Keyser had told them, and then looked at her partner. “You asked about local relatives. Did the name Thompson jump out at you, too?”

Honey nodded. “I know it’s a really common last name, but we can’t overlook the fact that there may be a connection. Obviously, both Snipe and Bull are too young to fit the description of the suspect, but if he is a relative, they may know his whereabouts. Either that, or Olyfant might, if he’s spent any time on Hawthorne Street. I don’t know how hard getting information out of any of them would be, though.”

“Be right back,” Dell said, standing and leaving the office. He soon returned with Chief Gillespie, Dan, and Jake. He briefly summarized for the other policemen, then said, “Dan and Jake. You’re both working yet another case on Hawthorne Street, home of Sleepyside’s infamous Thompson clan. Does the name Isaac ring any bells for you?”

The two police detectives shared a glance reminiscent of Trixie and Honey’s a few minutes earlier. “Not exactly, but there’s a Zeke Thompson living at Olyfant’s right now,” Jake said. “Haven’t seen him yet, but we overheard a woman tell someone else to stay away from him. He’s apparently getting a reputation there as a rough character.”

Dell let out a low whistle. “That says something for that neighborhood.”

The chief looked thoughtful. “It’s not common anymore, but I have heard of Zeke being used as a nickname for Isaac. It’s worth looking into, at any rate. See what you can dig up on him. In the meantime,” he turned to Trixie, Honey, and Bobby, “good work, you three. Trixie, if we bring him in for questioning, we may see if you can pick him out of a lineup.”

“Of course,” she nodded. “Just let me know.”

The conference soon broke up and while Honey went home to salvage the rest of her afternoon with Brian, Bobby went to talk to Dan and Jake while Trixie grabbed a few minutes with Dell. After leaving the police station, she drove Bobby home and picked up Erica, but as she was still not feeling well, she was grateful to spend the remainder of her day quietly at home.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear, but after waking up queasy yet again, Trixie decided that she had had enough of feeling sick and tired for no discernible reason. She slipped out of bed and spent a few minutes glaring at the offending box before opening it and reading the paper insert with the directions she had memorized two months earlier. When it was ready, she set the stick on the edge of the sink and propped against the door to wait for the test to work.

Despite being two weeks late, she was certain that she was setting herself up for another disappointment, and so she refused to think about the possibility that it might actually be positive. She also didn’t want to think of the investigation so early in the morning, and so she wound up staring at Dell’s stop watch for the entire five minutes she had to wait.

Eventually, the waiting time ended. She closed her eyes and picked up the plastic stick. After another moment, she forced herself to look. She blinked, not believing her eyes, then she looked again. Her nausea was forgotten as she ran back into the bedroom and almost pounced Dell while  she shoved the test into his hands. He was still half asleep, but once he realized he was looking at a very bright pink plus sign, he pulled her back into bed with him and kissed her soundly. He put the test in the top drawer of the night stand beside the bed, then snuggled in to hold her close. As they talked and made tentative plans, the snuggling soon turned into more, and they were both glad for the locked door once they heard Erica start to stir.

While the tests claimed to be extremely accurate, both had heard stories of incorrect results, and so they agreed not to tell Erica until the pregnancy had been confirmed by Trixie’s doctor. They tried to spend the day as normally as possible, revelling in a rare day in which neither Trixie nor Dell were working. After a leisurely morning, they headed to the mall to upgrade Trixie’s cell phone as they had originally planned to do the day before. In the end, she decided to switch to Dell’s provider, and chose a flip phone very similar to his. Given that her cell number was printed on her business cards, she agreed to wait the few days to have it switched to the new phone rather than taking a new number.

A relaxing Sunday with news she had been wanting for several months did a lot to rejuvenate her, and she actually felt rested when she went into the office Monday morning. As soon as she got settled in, she called her doctor’s office for an appointment, barely hanging up the phone before Honey walked in.

“So, anything new happen yesterday?” Honey asked. “Brian and I went over to the Farm for a while yesterday morning, but it didn’t sound like anyone had heard anything else.”

Trixie shook her head. “No. Dell called the chief for an update last night, and according to Dan, no one has seen Zeke Thompson at Olyfant’s since Friday afternoon. While that certainly makes it more likely he’s our suspect, it’s frustrating. They’re out searching for him and I think they were planning to comb the game preserve this morning. They seem to think he may be holed up in one of the buildings there. Dell said Dan’s corralled Regan into helping them since Mr. Maypenny is out of the country. He knows the preserve almost as well as they do.”

“We could help, too, if they’d let us,” Honey said. “It’s too bad the chief made us promise to stay out of it. Do you think they’ll ever realize we actually know what we’re doing?”

“I really don’t think that’s it,” she answered honestly. “I don’t know if you heard about the fatal accident on the Saw Mill River Parkway on Friday night. They were both on the scene, and it brought back a lot of bad memories for both of them, so the chief sent Dell home early. They were both worried because he couldn’t get in touch with me. Yes, part of me wants to be out there and it’s been really hard for me not to go investigate on my own, but even ignoring the whole court and legal aspects of it, I think they’re truly concerned with our safety.” She took a deep breath. “You know they were the first officers on the scene when Heather was killed, and Dell’s whole world crumbled in a matter of minutes. I really think the chief doesn’t want to risk having Dell lose another wife, let alone a wife and child.”

Honey’s eyes widened. “Are you saying…?”

“Well, Chief Gillespie, and it seems like half of Sleepyside, knows we’re trying. But it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I finally got a positive test. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much just in case it’s wrong, but I called and made an appointment with Dr. Barnes for later this morning so we can find out for certain.”

“That’s wonderful!” Honey squealed. “Is Dell going with you? If not, I’ll be glad to go with you so you don’t have to go by yourself.”

It had never occurred to her to mind going alone, but as she shook her head, she realized she truly would appreciate Honey’s company. “He asked if I wanted him to, and I definitely will later, but he was off yesterday, and he’s definitely needed at work today. So if you really don’t mind coming along, I would appreciate it. Assuming this never-ending nausea lets up a little, we could stop somewhere for lunch afterwards.”

“Of course!” she agreed. “You have no idea how happy I am for you right now!”

“Once I find out for sure, I’ll let myself be happy,” Trixie smiled, returning her friend’s enthusiastic hug. “It’s a weird feeling, you know? There’s so much grief and shock over Brom right now, just as there should be, and it almost feels wrong to be joyful or excited.”

“No,” Honey shook her head. “I mean, I do know what you mean, but do not feel guilty for being happy. You can mourn for Brom, but still rejoice in a new life being created. Grief and joy aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“Thank you. I think I know that deep down, but knowing and believing aren’t always the same thing.” She glanced at the clock. “So, we have two hours to get through before we need to leave. Do you have the files on the Anderson case? We might as well look over that one again and see if anything jumps out at us.”

“Good idea.” Honey pulled a manila folder from the filing cabinet. “I actually had an idea on that one.”

They steadily worked for the next two hours, then flipped the sign on the door to “closed.” Trixie gave Dell a quick call to let him know she was leaving for the appointment and assured him she would call him as soon as she had news. It was a short drive to the OB/GYN’s office in White Plains, but the waiting area was packed, and she was grateful for Honey’s company as she waited to be called back. The appointment itself went quickly, however, and she was elated to leave the office with a prescription for prenatal vitamins and a due date. After stopping for lunch, Honey went back to the office while Trixie dropped by the police station to give Dell the news in person.

“Got a few minutes?” she asked, poking her head in his office.

He looked up from his computer, and an anxious smile replaced the scowl she had been so familiar with as a teenager. “Of course.”

She closed the door behind her, then walked over to put her arms around him. “Think Erica might like a brother or sister for a birthday present?”

“Since she asked for one last year, I’d say she won’t complain.” He grinned broadly. “Seriously, though?”

She giggled. “According to Dr. Barnes, we can expect another daughter or a son on November 28th. That’s only six days after her birthday, so yeah, I’d say it’s possible.”

“That’s great!” he said, holding her tight. “We’ll definitely have to celebrate as soon as we can. Did she give you a prescription for vitamins?”

“Of course. I’m planning to have it filled on my way home tonight. She also gave me some pamphlets and made some suggestions to help me cope with the nausea.”

The phone on his desk rang, and he motioned for her to wait while he answered it. She watched as concern replaced most of the elation on his face, and she rubbed his shoulders. She could tell from his side of the conversation that it was something to do with the murder case, and once he hung up, she asked, “Can you tell me about it?”

He sighed. “This stinks. Every instinct I have is telling me to take you home and do everything I can to keep you safe and away from all of this for the next nine months. Instead, we’re hip-deep in a murder investigation that’s going practically nowhere.”

She brushed off the comment about keeping her safe, knowing that while they would have clashes over what constituted “safe” over the next few months, they would be no worse than the ones they had been having since she was thirteen and that they would get through them. Instead, she focused on his latter statement, and frowned. “So the search of the game preserve was a bust?”

“Not entirely. They found a ’93 LeSabre hidden in the woods. There were fingerprints that matched the ones taken from the walker at Mrs. Vanderpoel’s, and a coil of rope in the trunk, along with a hooded cowl.” He shuddered. “I don’t even want to imagine how Brom must have felt with his assailant dressed like the Grim Reaper. At any rate, the registration verifies the tip you gave us, but there’s still no sign of the suspect. He skipped out of Olyfant’s without paying his rent, and he apparently owed enough that word on the street is that we’re not the only ones looking for him.”

“At least we know we’re on the right track. Can you get a copy of his photograph from the DMV? As much as I want to avoid Ed Gaffey, I’m sure he’d run it on his broadcast. Maybe someone in town has seen him.”

He nodded approvingly. “Good thinking, Trix. That’s actually already been done, and it ran on the noon broadcast. However, I’m even more convinced now that he’s the man who came to the house, and he knows you’ve seen him. Is there any chance you’d agree not to go anywhere alone until we’ve caught him?”

“Is it enough to agree not to take chances?” she asked after a moment’s hesitation. “After all, I do have to drive Erica back and forth to school every day, and while I’m sure Honey would pick me up on her way into the agency, there are times we have to split up just to do our jobs. I know we’ll have to lighten our case load so that she can handle it on her own when I take maternity leave, but right now we have a lot of clients depending on us.”

He sighed unhappily. “I know, but you do realize, too, that you won’t even have a working cell phone until later in the week? Right now, I wish we’d waited to switch your phone.”

“Yes, but my old one didn’t exactly work when I needed it to, either,” she reminded him. She thought for a moment. “What if I get one of those cheap prepaid ones? That way, I’d at least have a way to call you in an emergency.”

“That would work,” he conceded. “I want you to keep your gun with you, too. I know you can’t legally carry when you’re at the school, so I’ll make sure I can take Erica and pick her up every day.”

She nodded. “That works, and I promise I’ll try to keep someone with me, too, as much as I can. Hopefully it won’t be long until he’s found and in custody.”

With a plan in place, she gave him a quick hug and used his phone to call Honey to let her know she’d be a little later than expected in returning to the office. After leaving the police station, she first went to Crimper’s to pick up a prepaid cell phone, then she went home to pick up her revolver. While there, she decided to take a few minutes to get the cell phone set up, and was disappointed when she realized it needed to charge before she could. She put it on the charger, then went into the bedroom for the revolver.

A door closed softly in another part of the house, and unlike the previous summer when Emily Martin had caused the doors to open and close, she heard footsteps and realized that someone was in the house with her. She locked the bedroom door very quietly, then took the gun from the safe and made sure the safety was off. She picked up the bedside phone only to realize the line had either yet not been repaired or had been cut again. Close to panic, she remembered someone once telling her that any charged cell phone will call 911 even if it doesn’t have service, and she desperately grabbed the one that had been cut off the day before. Praying the phone would really work, she dialed the emergency number and was relieved to actually get the dispatcher on the line. She very quietly and quickly gave her address and explained the situation.

The dispatcher promised to have someone sent as soon as possible, and she kept the call connected. Desperate to get away, Trixie opened the bedroom window and tried to remove the screen. She had almost succeeded when the intruder tried the doorknob. He called out, “Lady, I know you’re in there.”

She fought to remain calm and kept pushing at the screen. Unfortunately, it refused to budge, and she soon realized that the painter who had repainted the house for them before they moved in must have painted onto the screen as well. She started looking for something that could cut the screen, but before she found anything, she heard him start kicking the door. She gave up on the screen and picked up her revolver, training it on the door. “Stop. I have a gun, and I know how to use it.”

“Yeah, right,” he replied. “I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve never seen a dame who could hit the broad side of a barn with a gun. Just try it, and you’ll wind up hurting yourself.”

Despite her fear, she rolled her eyes, but realized that she needed the irritation to help keep her focused. “Don’t bet your life on that, Isaac. Or do you go by Zeke now?”

“Only to my friends, and you’re certainly no friend. You ratted me out the other night. Figured you were just another dumb blonde and not sharp enough to figure it out, but you’re the only one who saw me. It had to have been you. So you’re going to pay, then I’m going take care of my idiot cousin who sent me here in the first place.”

“I may be blonde, but I am not a dumb blonde,” she retorted. She wondered who his cousin was, but didn’t think any more about it as she realized antagonizing him probably wasn’t the smartest move.

The wood of the hollow door started to splinter as he rammed his shoulder into the door, and he groaned. “Open the door. Now!” ”

“I have a gun,” she repeated. “I will not hesitate to use it.”

“Give it up, lady,” he sighed. “I don’t have time for this.”

He gave one final kick, and the door caved in. She saw his evil grin as he strode into the room and walked towards her, one of her own kitchen knives in his hand.

“Give me the gun, doll. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. See how nice and sharp this knife is? I promise you’ll barely feel a thing. One quick slice through your jugular, and you’ll never squeal on anyone again.”

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. He took two more steps, and the knife gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the open window. She aimed the gun. He reached towards her. She pulled the trigger.

He crumpled to the floor, blood gushing from his chest. “You b*tch!” he spat out, then fell silent.

She had enough presence of mind to carefully put the gun on the bed, but then she covered her face with her hands. She barely noticed the sound of approaching sirens, and she was oblivious as the front door flew open and cops rushed in. It was only when Dell raced into the bedroom and pulled her into his arms that she moved at all. Realizing she was finally safe, she sobbed, “He had a knife. He was going to kill me!”

“I know,” Dell assured her, stroking her hair. “It’s over, baby. You’re safe.”

“Please, please tell me he’s going to make it,” she wept. “I just wanted to stop him. I didn’t want to kill him!”

He looked at the still figure on the floor and the paramedic bending over Isaac shook his head. “It was either kill him or be killed. I’m glad it was him and not you. You did exactly what you needed to do.”

“He’s right, Trixie,” Chief Gillespie said, coming to stand beside them. “Dispatch finally got the call through to my radio while he was threatening you. I heard everything he said. He planned to go somewhere else after leaving here. I think it’s safe to say you saved two lives, not just your own.”

Dell tightened his arms around her and looked at the chief. Tears filled his eyes. “In that case, she saved three lives. She’s pregnant, Bill. She had just dropped by the station to tell me for sure less than two hours ago.”

Things happened very quickly after that. When she refused a paramedic’s suggestion to go to the ER by ambulance, Chief Gillespie personally drove both Dell and Trixie so that she could be checked out as a safety precaution. Other policemen worked the crime scene that had once been their bedroom, and the body was taken to the morgue.

Dr. Ferris, after consulting Dr. Barnes, insisted on keeping her in the hospital overnight for observation. Both physically and mentally exhausted, she slept for several hours, never noticing the constant stream of family and friends that came by to check on her. However, she was very grateful to find both Dell and Erica asleep in the armchair beside her bed when she finally awoke, and she vowed to find a way to privately thank Dr. Ferris for bending the rules by allowing Erica to stay despite her age. It wasn’t long before she fell back to sleep, though, and the sun was shining brightly when she woke up.

“Mommy Trixie?” Erica asked. “Are you really going to be okay?”

The queasiness that had plagued her in recent days had returned in full force, but for the first time, she was actually happy to have it. It was a reminder that not only was she okay, but that all was well with their unborn child, too. “I really am, munchkin,” she told her. She knew it would be a while before she truly felt peace about the events of the previous day, but somehow, she knew she would get there. Careful not to pull on the IV she was surprised to find in her arm, she held out her other arm to the child, who happily clambered into the bed with her. She pulled her close.

“I was so scared last night,” Erica told her, snuggling into her side. “You’ve been sick, so when Uncle Jim told me that you were in the hospital and that he and Aunt Joeanne would bring me here, I thought I was going to lose you, too.”

“I promise I’m going to be okay,” Trixie assured her again. “Did Daddy tell you what happened?”

She nodded. “Someone broke in and tried to hurt you, but you made sure he couldn’t hurt you or anyone else. I’m so glad you did, Mom, and I love you so much! He also said I’m going to have a baby brother or sister sometime around my birthday! I’m so excited! I promise I’ll be the best big sister ever!”

“I know you will,” Trixie assured her. “And I love you, too. So very much.”

“What about me?” Dell teased, smiling as he watched his wife and child.

“Of course you, too,” she replied. “I love both of you more than you could ever know. But how soon until I can get out of here?”

“Dr. Barnes was planning to come by for one more check this morning, but then I suspect Dr. Ferris will release you,” he assured her. He hesitated, but then said, “We do have a decision to make first, though. Our house is still technically a crime scene, but we also need to do some remodeling before we spend another night there. New carpet and two new doors at a minimum. However, I’ve almost lost track of how many people want us to come stay with them until we can get back in our own home. My mother, your parents, both of your brothers, Jim and Joeanne, Dave and Jean, the chief, even Mrs. Vanderpoel.”

“I’m glad,” she admitted. “As much as I love being home just the three of us, I don’t think I could sleep in our bedroom right now.” She sighed. “I know we’re still looking for another house once we can sell ours, but one thing I think I’m going to insist on is at least one extra bedroom. That way, if anything happens, we’ll have a spare room we can use.”

He grinned. “I completely agree. Plus, a state of the art security system.”

“Can we stay with Uncle Mart and Aunt Di?” Erica inquired. “Their house is definitely big enough for us to spend the night, and I can practice being a big sister with Trent and Brent.”

Trixie met Dell’s eyes, and she was gratified to see his grin as he nodded. “I’m sure they’ll enjoy that,” he told her.

She was released mid-morning under doctors’ orders to take it easy for a couple of days. Once word got around that they were temporarily staying with Mart and Diana, there was a steady parade of well-wishers that either dropped by or called, and she was immensely relieved that all of the conversations were positive. She suspected that had a lot to do with the release of the 911 call to the media, and public opinion was horrified that someone would brutally kill an old man and then target a young woman. It also helped when several members of the police force came by to share their experiences of having to kill in the line of duty.

Brom’s funeral was held on Thursday, and his will was read Friday morning. Once the terms were made public, Trixie understood Honey’s reluctance to reveal the identity of the second heir. To his vast surprise, Bobby inherited the cabin outright, with everything else being split evenly between him and Mrs. Vanderpoel. To his even greater surprise, there was enough money in the estate that his half would go a long way towards modernizing the cabin if he chose to live in it one day.

While it would be a few more days before the repairs to their home were finished, she returned to the office on Monday, happy for a sense of normality. However, she had only been there about an hour when an old nemesis hesitantly walked in and any feeling of routine vanished.

“Trixie?” the middle aged man asked, self-consciously looking around the small office. “Could I talk to you for a few minutes? In private?”

Remembering the events that still seemed so fresh, she hesitated, and he sighed. “Honey can stay, Trixie. And I promise it’s safe. I’d just prefer to talk somewhere where no one can see me through the window.” He smirked. “I do have a reputation to maintain, you know.”

She grinned despite herself and nodded. “Of course. There’s a conference room in back that we can use.”

She subtly felt for the now-working cell phone in her pocket and gave Honey a reassuring look while as she stood up and grabbed a legal pad and pen. Even given their history and her recent brush with danger, she somehow trusted that he truly meant no harm to her. “We’ll leave the door open, Hon. I’ll be okay.”

Trixie led the way to the small conference room and pointed him to a seat. “I have to admit this is a surprise, Snipe. Is there something I can help you with?”

“No. I…,” he trailed off and took a deep breath. “This isn’t easy. I’m not used to saying I’m sorry for anything, let alone someone who almost sent me to prison. That’s water under the bridge, though, and well, I am sorry for threatening you all those years ago, especially since you’ve now saved my life.”

Her mouth dropped open and she remembered Isaac’s statement about going after his cousin after he finished killing her. “He was your cousin, wasn’t he?”

Snipe nodded. “Yeah. Some sort of cousin to my ma. I never knew exactly how, though. Never really cared, to be honest. He’d always come around every so often when I was just a kid. Ma didn’t like it, but she was scared of him. Once I was old enough, he’d get me involved in whatever he was up to. He kinda got me my start, you know?

She nodded.

“He came around a few weeks ago, and had me get him a room at Olyfant’s. Then he started wanting information. I knew he was up to something. He’d hated old Brom ever since I could remember, but he’d never tell us why. Said it would do no good, but that one day, he’d get even with him. Okay, so maybe the old man had something coming to him, I don’t know. When he asked about Miss Martin, though, I lied to him. Told him she was still in that old cottage you live in. I know I talk big. I know I threaten and even hurt people. I might be a worthless thug, but believe it or not, there are lines I don’t cross, and I really don’t hold with hurting women. I might threaten them, but well, like I said, I’m a lot of talk. You just don’t hurt an innocent woman. Besides, I knew that if he went through with killing old Brom, it was only a matter of time before he turned on me and Bull. We’d know too much, you see. I knew if you or your husband got a look at him, you’d eventually put two and two together.”

He sighed regretfully. “See, I knew you could take care of yourself, and you did. I’m really sorry you had to kill him, but I’m grateful, too. I heard that 911 call on the radio, and I know I’m the ‘idiot cousin’ he talked about. He must have figured out I lied to him, and he’d have killed me in a heartbeat. I know it sounds crazy saying I’m glad you killed a relative of mine, but well, you’ve heard the old saying, ‘he needed killing’? If it ever fit anyone, it fit old Zeke. The thing is I forgot about that little girl of yours. I know you’d protect her, but I have a daughter of my own. Her ma never let me see her, and she’s grown now, but well, I know I’d do anything for her, even give my own life for her, and I’ve never even met her. I never would have put your daughter so close to him. It makes my blood run cold, even now.”

Trixie’s heart went out to him, and she smiled softly thinking of both Erica and the child growing within her. “I can understand that. I’d do anything for Erica, too. But she didn’t see him, Snipe, and we’ve kept her away from the house while it’s being cleaned up and repaired. She’s going to be okay. I promise you that. I’m glad to know you sent him, though. It clears up some questions I had about how he knew where Brom was but didn’t know Miss Rachel had died.”

“That’s a load off my mind,” he told her softly. “Still, I feel bad about it.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, pink stuffed bear with a familiar red heart-shaped tag hanging from its ear. “I know it’s not much, but I think all little girls love stuffed animals. Would you give her this from me? You don’t have to tell her where it came from. I just want to feel like I did something to make it up to her. I figured, too, you’d take something for her before you would for yourself.”

She took the beanie baby from him and nodded. “You have nothing to make up for, but yes, thank you. She loves these things, and this is one she doesn’t have.”

He smiled a real smile. “I’m glad. Understand, too, I’m not trying to change things between us. I’m not going to turn over a new leaf or anything. I’m too old, and well, don’t feel bad if you wind up helping send me to jail again someday.”

“You’re never too old,” she told him. “If you ever do decide to turn your life around, I’m sure we could get someone to help you. Your cousin’s gone now, and you’ve done all your time. There’s nothing standing in your way.”

“Just me.” He sighed as he stood and walked to the door. “Tell you what. I’ll think it over, but no promises. Thanks again for agreeing to talk to me. It’s meant a lot.”

“Anytime,” she told him sincerely. “Anytime.”