a mystery novel by Ann Lynes
Agent Morrison had been stunned, if not a bit upset, when I told him I was taking a three month leave of absence to pursue interests in Phoenix. I had not even taken a vacation or a sick day in my entire ten years in the FBI.
I was pleasently shocked to find I had plenty of vacation time and didn't need to take any time off without pay.
It wasn't easy to rent a house in December in Phoenix. All the "snowbirds" flock to Phoenix during the winter from other parts of the country. I was lucky enough to locate a white two-story house that looked as if it had fallen on hard times--white paint chips fell from the walls, the grass was dried up and brown, and the windows cracked. Nothing a little hard work couldn't cure. Located on the corner of Earll and 40th Street, it wasn't far from Cassandra.
Upon asking Amber if Tim could spend his two-week Winter break in Phoenix with me, she burst into laughter and then into tears. She agreed when I sent a round-trip plane ticket from Washington, D.C. to Phoenix and back again. I knew she felt the ticket was her insurance policy that Tim would be coming back to her.
I knelt down beside Tim, opening a box marked "Christmas Ornaments" Amber had sent with Tim. Setting the blue, gold, and red ornaments in a row on the floor, I watched the golden flames rising from the logs in the fireplace. We were enjoying a daytime high of sixty degrees. Nothing like the highs of thirty-seven back home.
"Dad, don't you like Washington anymore?" His big steel- gray eyes looked into mine, munching on a handful of popcorn. Questions swarmed in his eyes like bees around a hive. I was so glad I had popped the other bowls that were waiting in the kitchen.
"I have business here I need to take care of." I touched his hand softly. "You can understand that, can't you?"
"Mom said you caught the bad computer guy."
Why did she go and tell him that? Every time I saw Tim, he looked more and more like his mother. The red tresses, gray eyes, the round face, the freckles. "I have personal business to take care of."
"Are you going to Mom's wedding?" He scooped up another handful of popcorn, shoving it into his mouth. "Calvin asked me to be share the best man role with Damian."
I silently watched the television, which had been turned down low and was mostly being used as background noise. "How do you feel about Mom marrying Calvin?"
Tim was silent for a moment, twisting his mouth. Perhaps thinking it over. "I don't mind Calvin. It's Damian and Letrisha. Mom pays them more attention because she doesn't want them to feel out of place."
"I bet you feel out of place among Calvin and the twins," I commented, turning to study my son's face. "Is that why you wanted to come live with me?"
The boy slowly nodded; his head down. I lifted his chin with my hand. "Running away from your problems isn't going to solve them, son."
"Easy for you to say. You are living here."
He was right. I had distanced myself from the problem of Calvin and Amber. I had tried to push away the hurt I felt. The kind of hurt that numbs every part of your body, that makes you shiver in one-hundred degree heat.
I caught a glimpse of Cassandra's picture being flashed on the screen. Reaching for the remote control, I turned up the volume. "This just in," a young dark-haired news anchor said from behind her news desk, her co-anchors sitting on either side of her. "Cassandra Martin has been arrested in connection with the shooting of prominent psychologist Doctor Richard Schmitz. Martin is reported to be a former girlfriend and patient of Schmitz." The news woman turned the page of her notes. "Martin, and a revolver reported to be owned by her were found at the scene.
Martin had gone on trial for the 1985 murder of her husband Kenneth. The jury in that case had ruled she had killed him in self- defense." The newscaster looked up into the camera. "Her bond hearing is set for tomorrow."
I stared at the television. My heart stilled. Cassandra--a murder? How did I miss the fact that she had murdered her husband? She said he was in jail. I knew she couldn't have killed Schmitz because she was with me. I had to help her.
Tim tapped my shoulder. "Dad, are you alright?"
"Yeah," I told him as I turned around to face him. "I'm fine." I looked at him, studying him as he returned to his popcorn string. It was so long it filled the distance between the tree and the kitchen.
Until the bond hearing tomorrow, there was nothing substantial I could do. Who was I going to leave Tim with? I didn't know anyone here is Phoenix. I couldn't drag a young boy to a bond hearing. The Boys and Girls club. I'd pay for his admission card. "You want to go play basketball and go swimming in a heated pool?" I asked, watching as he finished off the popcorn.
"With you?" His face brightened.
God, why did this have to be so hard? Did I really have to choose between Cassandra and my son? "I have to take care of business first." I observed as his smile turned into a frown. "I will take care of it as quickly as I can, and then I will take you to the baseball diamond."
Tim reluctantly agreed. "Do you know the woman who appeared on the screen, Dad?"
"She's a friend." I disappeared into the kitchen to retrieve bowl number two. "Here you go, bud." I set the bowl in front of Tim. I helped him string the popcorn garland, one by one.
* * * * *
"So you are the man who released my baby from jail," an older woman approached me at a make-shift welcome home party for Cassandra.
Because Richard had been shot in the chest instead of the head as originally thought, he was holding on to the last threads of his life. Blood had been smeared in the hair and the side of the face to making it appear that he had been shot in the head, or at least ithis was the situation reported by the police physician.
In light of this new information, Cassandra was being held on a charge of attempted murder, with a pending murder charge if Richard died. The judge set bond on the premise of Richard's full recovery. He reviewed Cassandra's previous record, her employment record, and her assets before setting bond at $100,000, requiring she put up Martin's Travel Agency as collateral. The bail bondsman wrote up a contract noting the $30,000 "downpayment" in lieu of bail and a promissary note to the State for the full amount.
After playing "catch" with Tim, I was invited--and felt obligated--to attend a small gathering put on by Cassandra's family. Tim joined me at Cassandra's house. He was off playing with Cassandra's younger cousins.
I smiled at the venerable woman. "J.D. Hoffman, ma'am." I held out my hand, but she didn't shake it. What was it with the women in this family? Didn't they understand the custom of shaking hands?
"She didn't kill him, J.D." She looked into my eyes. Fear lie just beyond the calm in her eyes.
I studied the familiar face. There was no doubt where Cassandra inherited her beautiful features. This woman was an exact version of Cassandra, only older.
I returned her level gaze as I said, " I know. She was having lunch with me at the time Richard was shot."
She touched my shoulder. "I appreciate all your help, J.D." Then a curious gaze clouded her eyes. "Where did you meet my daughter."
"I was the FBI agent who had Richard arrested for using Cassandra's Internet account to sell child pornography."
She was taken aback. "I didn't realize Richard was a criminal." Her face turned a bright shade of red. "I wanted her to marry him. I thought he'd be good for her."
"Cassandra didn't tell you?" I shook my head. "I'm not surprised. She's a very private person."
The older woman nodded. "She needs someone to love her, to marry her, and to show her what true love is about." I smiled. And I'm just the person to do that, I added silently. "Are you married, Mr. Hoffman?"
I made a quick excuse, pushing my way through the crowd to Cassandra, who was sitting at the kitchen chair with Graham and April kneeling on the floor beside her. "Cassandra."
She looked up at me. Her eyes no longer twinkled instead they were hollow. Looking in them made my heart feel as if had been squeezed by someone's hand. "Graham, April, can I speak with Cassandra along for a few minutes?"
Graham and April nodded, walking back into the crowd. I sat down in an empty chair opposite her. "You and I both know you didn't shoot Richard. And I'm going to help you prove it."
"Nothing like having the FBI on your side when you are about to go through another murder trial." She glanced down at her hands. "At least the last one I did commit."
Reaching for her hand, I held between mine. "You are not alone. I will be there every step of the way. You won't go to jail. I won't let you." I love you, I muttered under my breath. It was the first time I really admitted it to myself. "Give me a chance, Cassandra," I pleaded.
"I guess I have no choice." She looked up. I couldn't see her heart, but from the expression on her face, I knew her heart was crumpling.
Graham took me by the arm and led me outside onto the patio. "You are becoming close to my sister, aren't you?"
He guided me down the walkway. A protective older talk with the potential boyfriend. "I really love your sister."
"She's been hurt enough in her life, J.D." He stopped, turning to me, and scrutinized me. "So if your intention is to con her, abuse her, or, in otherwise, hurt her, please leave her alone." Graham hit his palm with his clenched fist. "I don't want to hurt you, and I will if you hurt her."
I nodded. "I intend to treat her with utmost respect. She richly deserves that." I smiled. "I understand your concern."
"I'm glad we see eye-to-eye," Graham continued to walk toward the gate, opening it. He walked down the sidewalk. I followed him, sensing he had more to say. "She's my twin."
"Yes, I know," I said finally, trying to keep in step with him. "She says she isn't looking for a relationship, but I'm waiting for her anyway."
He stopped to look at me again. "It isn't fair I get all the happiness, and she gets all the grief." He started moving again. "I knew something was wrong with Richard. I couldn't place my finger on it." He shook his thumb in front of him. "Thank you for your help in putting my finger on it."
"I just did my job."
We were almost to the end of the block when he turned around, heading toward the house. "J.D., I like you."
* * * * *
Several days later, I invited Cassandra over to my house for dinner. Tim watched as I fumbled around in the kitchen. That afternoon, Tim and I had gone shopping for pots, pans, silverware, dishes, etc. Since all mine was still in my Washington D.C. house, I decided to furnish my Phoenix home with new items rather than the yard sale junk I had at home. All the new items were purchased at the Target Department Store up the street and around the corner. "You set the table," I told Tim looking up from the hamburger, noodle, cheese confection I was shoving in the oven.
Tim rose to his feet, reaching for the solid blue plates from the counter. "Cassandra's special to you, huh, Dad?"
I absent-mindedly grunted, "Yeah." Closing the oven door, checking the dials, I wiped my hands on my apron. I only wore it to prevent my nice pressed, crisp white shirt and black dress pants from getting ruined. The black dinner jacket was draped around a dining room chair.
"You never cooked for Mom. Or got dressed up just to eat dinner at home."
"Your mother didn't like anyone to mess up her kitchen." I grabbed a head of lettuce, a cucumber, and several carrots from the refrigerator, piling them on the counter while I rummaged around in the drawers for my new plastic cutting board. I rinsed the head of lettuce, hit it against the counter several times, and removed the core. "For Pete's sake, I can cook. Your grandfather made sure I knew how. For five generations, the Hoffman men have been brilliant chefs." I sliced the lettuce with a razor-sharp knife. "Your grandfather was very disappointed when I went into the FBI."
I turned back to see Tim setting the glasses near the plates. He had positioned the fork on the left and the spoon and knife on the right. The salad bowls were across from the glasses. He'd even folded the napkins into some type of origami formation and placed them on top the plates. I smiled. A natural in the kitchen. His grandfather would have been so proud.
"What am I suppose to be--a FBI agent or a chef?," he asked, sinking into a chair.
"Whatever you want," I told him as I returned to chopping the lettuce for the salad. "The choice is yours."
The doorbell rang. Tim sprang to his feet, running to answer it. Like I had taught him, he asked who it was before answering the door, and then stood on a chair to peek out the peep hole. I watched him carefully in case he started to lose his balance.
As he unlocked the door, I waited with bated breath until I saw Cassandra's familiar figure walk in the house. "Dad, Cassandra's here."
"Cassie." She considered Tim, smiling. I had a strong hunch the smile had been a brave front for Tim's sake.
She wore no make-up; her hair brushed back into a French braid. Her white, long-sleeved shirt was hiding behind a black sleeveless dress that hugged her body but left just enough to the imagination. Her face had an unhealthy pasty coloring to it. Dark bags resided under her eyes.
I worried that this trial might be too much for her. She seemed to have lost her strength. I watched her, wondering how I could help. I couldn't muster any sympathy. I couldn't even imagine what she was feeling or thinking. I felt so frustrated, wanting to comfort her, to make everything better. But I couldn't make it all better. I needed to feel as if I had a purpose in her life, that I was wasting my time pursuing her. Some glimmer of hope.
She took a seat on a dining room chair. "Smells good in here." She grinned, glancing at the salad I was making. "Anything I can do to help?" She rested her chin on her fist; her elbow planted on the table. Eying the origami formation of her napkin, she commented, "This is neat."
"Tim made it. I've got everything under control." I glanced back at her. "Why don't you fix yourself a drink? Scotch is in the cabinet above the sink. Anything else is in the refrigerator. Ice is in the bucket in the freezer."
She reached into the cabinet, retrieving the canister of liquid. "Where are the glasses?"
"In the cabinet to your right." I shot her a sideways look. She opened up the cabinet and seized a stocky, clear glass. After filling it with ice, she poured the liquid into her glass. "We have to talk. I have this lawyer friend. practicing over in Scottsdale. Private practice.
She sat, brooding over her glass. She was seated next to Tim. Staring into her Scotch, she seemed to be studying the ice cubes as they turned in the liquid. "Of course, you do." She lifted her head. "Look, I know you're trying to help--"
"Yes, I am," I interrupted her in a husky voice, which seemed alien even to me, as I walked over to the table to set down the wooden salad bowl and dressings. "Do you want to keep your freedom or not?" I sat down across from her, taking my bowl and filling it with the cucumber, carrot, lettuce combination. "Dig in!"
Tim and Cassie exchanged glanced before complying by shoveling salad into their bowls. "What is this lawyer's specialty?"
"Criminal cases." I wondered if she knew how much I loved her. I couldn't believe it myself. All I wanted to do was protect her from the evils that lurked out there. "I contacted him, and he wants to see you tomorrow morning."
She sighed, stabbing lettuce pieces dripping with Italian dressing. "And I put Clayton in charge of Martin's Travel like you suggested."
I smiled. "Wonderful. I know it's going to be tough for you to leave it completely in his hands, but, Cassie, you have to keep a low profile."
"He's extremely capable," she reflected. "I hand-picked him when I first opened Martin Travel from the new graduates at American Express Travel School and personally trained him." She chewed the lettuce, then swallowed. "He has been supervising the opening of the new branch office." She sighed heavily, "I was going to give it to him. He was going to be the manager of it."
"I'm sorry" were was the only words I could manage to utter. They weren't good enough, I chastised myself. Not enough to make her feel better. God, what was I going to do?
Home · Chapter One · Chapter Two · Chapter Three · Chapter Four · Chapter Five
Chapter Six · Chapter Seven · Chapter Eight · Chapter Nine · Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven · Chapter Twelve · Chapter Thirteen
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