Prodigal Son: Prologue

Dear Drake,

I am in school now. I am learning to read and write. I don’t go to a real school. My teacher comes to our house. She gave me this cool computer, so I can write things down now. It’s hard. I’d rather play my 3DS games, but Madison said it was important to study. She made a deal with me. If I get all my work done, then I can play with my DS for an hour. Madison doesn’t know that I am writing to you. She told me that you didn’t want to hear from us, but I didn’t believe her. Hal told me he could get your address for me, and that he would mail the letter for me. You just can’t tell Madison. I think she would get mad that Hal and I have a secret that she doesn’t know.

I won’t be writing to you for a while. I’m having my first surgery in a couple of days. The doctor says that I’ll be able to use my hands once they get fixed. I’ll write to you again when I can.

Love,

Elijah

A Room of My Own?

Where I write

When my husband and I are driving through neighborhoods we wish we could afford to live in, we imagine what kind of rooms we would have in our dream house. He, of course, wants a man-cave where he can display his sports memorabilia and his action figures–excuse me, his rare collectibles. We imagine a giant room where our son’s massive collection of toys (excuse me, his rare collectibles) can be stored away from the living room.

Image result for writing desks

I dream of a place that doesn’t echo with the sounds of Wii tennis or laundry tumbling in the dryer. A place that doesn’t require me to clean up every time a meal is served. A place that isn’t surrounded by bills to be paid or homework to be finished. It doesn’t have to be a large room, just a small room, preferably with a door, where I could retreat every day to write or meditate or reflect. Where I could find a book without crawling through drying laundry or kitty litter. Where things that were valuable only to me

wouldn’t disappear.

Once when we were looking for a file cabinet at OfficeMax, I found a beautiful desk. It was designed to fit in a corner. It had not one, but two full desk-tops. The kicker for me, however, were the cupboards that ran the length of both desktops. The doors were inlaid with glass so I could see my supplies and find anything I needed. I yearned for that desk with all of my being, and it was on sale, but there was no room in our little house. It seemed that there was room for everything else: two jumbo rat cages, three litter boxes, six giant bins of toys, six book cases, a corner desk and two more book cases for the man-cave, but no room for my writing desk. Perhaps, the message is that there is no room for my writing. So, I make room.

After dinner, the computer comes back out to sit on the dining room table and remind me to write in the morning. It goes away for breakfast, but comes out again before lunch. I carve out time from chores and work and parenting. I don’t need a special room in my house for writing as long as I make room for writing in my life.

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Living Fearless

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

Dear God,

The thing I care most about is making sure that my son has a good life. I worry that I’m not a good enough role model for him. I don’t want him to live a life full of regrets, full of half-lived ambitions, and unresolved dreams. I want him to go after what he wants. I want him to be fearless.

To be the role model he needs, I need to start cultivating those qualities in myself. I need to stop sitting back and letting life pass me by. I have to pursue my dreams. If I want to be a writer, then I need to write. If I want to be a teacher, then I need to teach. Whatever it is that I’m meant to do, I need to find that thing and pursue it with my whole heart–for him, so he can see that it is possible to pursue his dreams and, in the pursuit, live a fuller life, rather than pining away, wishing for what might have been.

Living fearless,

J

Angst of a writer

My violin


I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.

Gustave Flaubert

 From the moment I picked up my first violin, I found it easy to make the instrument do what I wanted. My ear was true, and I could easily hear when my fingering was off and adjust accordingly. I was often dissatisfied with the sound I produced, because I played a beat-up loaner from the school. No matter how well I placed my fingers, the notes I produced were harsh and discordant. That changed when my mother’s foster-uncle loaned me his violin to play. It was a beautiful instrument with mother of pearl inlaid on the back. Its tone was old and mellow and it followed my commands obediently. I soon learned, however, that even my uncle’s beautiful violin was inferior to other instruments. I did not know that until my mom purchased my own violin from a concert violinist. My new violin was a 3/4 instead of a standard violin. Suddenly, everything felt right. I could hit the notes I intended and my violin had a light, delicate tone.

I started writing my own stories the same year I started playing the violin–the third grade. While writing was my passion, it didn’t come as naturally to me as playing the violin. While my violin produced the sounds I intended instantly, my pencil stuttered disobediently across the page. I just couldn’t seem to make the images that danced in my head come to life on the page. My brain felt as wooden as my violin, but did not sing as sweetly. Still, I persisted. After nine years, I gave up the violin. I never played it for enjoyment, but for the fulfillment of my mother’s frustrated childhood dreams. I, however, continued to write. Over the years, I started many projects, but left them unfinished. I grew frustrated with my uncooperative pencil, and let my writing routine lapse.

This fall, I realized that, unless I committed to putting that uncooperative pencil to paper every day, I would never be the writer I wanted to be. I committed to the NaNoWriMo challenge and completed my first novel. Every day, I berated my wooden brain and lackluster pencil for their lack of creativity, but I continued plodding to the end of my novel.

I realized that writing, unlike a violin performance, can be revised. Once I finished a violin solo, it was gone forever–the notes played and heard. I would never have the chance to repeat the performance and improve it. With writing, however, I can continue to work on a piece of writing that dissatisfies me until the words produce the melody that pleases me. I can let go the frustration I feel when I am drafting, because eventually I can make my writing sing. I will never be one of those writers who produces a perfect piece of writing on the first try, but I will eventually produce a masterpiece with dogged persistence and many revisions.

Sins of the Father: Epilogue

He had ditched the Jeep a couple of cities back. The Greyhound bus he rode in was almost empty. His pack sat in the seat next to him where the boy should be sitting. He still couldn’t believe the boy had betrayed him. The boy had screamed like he was some kind of monster. He didn’t have time to reason with him. He could’ve picked him up and carried him, but he knew the Sheriff wasn’t the only one in the woods. He couldn’t risk getting captured, and he couldn’t protect the boy if they started shooting at him, so he had left him there. He wondered where the boy was now. Probably in some shitty foster home. He’d been in a foster home once when his dad had gone to jail. He’d taken off as soon as he got the chance. It was better to be on your own than live like that. The people had actually locked their food up, so the kids in the house couldn’t eat very much. He clenched his fists. If his boy was in a house like that, he’d kill them. He forced himself to relax. He couldn’t worry about the boy now. His boy had made his choice. He’d have to live with the consequences. When things cooled down, he’d come back to Colorado. He’d find his boy again and that bitch of a Sheriff would pay.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 19

It was late afternoon. Surely, the police had found his latest scene by now. He’d done everything but call in the directions to the place. Powering on the burner phone he had purchased on his last visit to Grand Junction, he dialed the Sheriff’s cell number. He wanted to make sure he dealt with her directly, and that she understood what was at stake. She had to know that he wouldn’t stop until he had his boy back. She picked up the call after the first ring. She was anxious and waiting right by her phone. He smiled. That was good. She was getting to ready to bargain with him.

“Sheriff Rhodes.”

“Hello, Sheriff. Did you get my message?”

He could hear her take a deep breath on the other end of the line. Her breath shook a little as if she were trying to calm herself. That was good. She was close to losing it.

“I’ve still got your man, Sheriff, and he’s not looking too good.”

Drake, in fact, was asleep on the couch. He was pale and bruised, but he was holding up. He was a pussy, but his will to survive was strong.

“If you hurt him, I swear I’ll…”

“We both know you won’t do shit. You do what I say and you’ll have your man back safe.”

He could have said “safe and sound” but he was pretty sure that Drake was no longer sound. He was having a hard time dealing with what he had done. The man supposed he was having a hard time with his conscience. While Drake had killed that couple, he was weak inside. He didn’t have the strength of character to deal with his choices. He didn’t think that Drake would ever be the same person again. He’d wanted the Sheriff to pay for taking his boy, and now she’d pay every day of her life—when she looked at her man and saw what he was truly capable of.

“I’m going to give you some directions. You’re going to meet me at midnight. You’re going to bring my boy with you but no one else. If I think that you have anyone else with you, I’ll kill your man and come take my boy anyway. This way, we both get what we want.”

He proceeded to give the Sheriff the directions. She was repeating them, so he knew she was relaying them to someone else. That was fine as long as she was alone when the time came. If she wasn’t, he’d break Drake’s neck and go after his boy himself. He’d kill everyone in the town until he had him back. And he’d start with the Sheriff.

When he hung up, Drake was awake and staring at him.

“Why are you doing this?” Drake asked.

“She took my boy. I want him back.”

“Why?”

“Why? Are you stupid or something? He’s mine. I’m not leaving him in this hellhole. He stays with me.”

“So you can turn him into a killer, like you did me?”

Anger lanced through him. He slammed his fist onto the table. Drake jumped at the sudden crack. He charged Drake and hauled him off the couch. Drake flinched away from his raised fist.

“Listen to me, asshole. My boy ain’t a killer. He never will be. I keep him out of my business, and I made sure he’d never do what I do.”

He wanted to kill Drake so badly, his fist began to tremble. He stared into Drake’s pretty-boy blue eyes. He didn’t really need Drake. He could kill him now and leave. He could meet the Sheriff alone and take his boy back. No exchange. He’d kill the Sheriff and save his boy. Drake had begun to tear up. Fuckin’ pussy.

He shoved Drake back onto the couch, but the prick wouldn’t shut up.

“How did you make sure?”

He drew ragged breaths in to calm himself. He couldn’t afford to lose control now. He’d made a deal and he was going to stand by his word. Wiping the sweat off his head, he turned to Drake.

“What?”

“How did you make sure that Elijah wouldn’t….do what you do.”

He bristled at Drake using his boy’s name.

“I made sure he couldn’t use his hands.”

Drake began to look a little ill. “His hands?”

The man sat down. They had a couple hours until it was time to go. If Drake wanted a chat, they’d have a little chat. Maybe, it would keep him from killing him.

“The men in my family have a sickness. My father had it. I have it. For all I know, my granddad had it, too, but I never met him. I know that Elijah probably has it. My dad started taking me on what he called his trips when I was about Elijah’s age. My dad worked a lot, so I didn’t see him very often. I looked forward to those trips. Just him and me. No women around to interfere. We’d go into the city, and find a whore. Dad would take us to a cheap motel room, the kind that didn’t ask too many questions and rented their rooms by the hour. He’d get the whore nice and relaxed and then he’d finally relax himself. He’d give in and put the woman out of her misery. That’s what he used to say. That he was putting her out of her misery. She wouldn’t have to fuck strange men for money, or worry about where her next fix came from.”

“So he was an altruist?”

The man snorted. “Fuck no, he wasn’t no altruist. He was a black-hearted killer. He couldn’t look what he was in the face, so he had to make up a reason to kill that would help him live with himself.”

Drake looked surprised.

“What? You think just because I kill, I don’t know fancy words, like altruist? When my dad was working, I had a lot of time to myself. I liked to read. I would steal books from the library, and take them home with me. I’ve probably read more than you. Ever read The Gift of Fear? That book taught me how to get people to trust me, and how to alleviate their natural-born fears. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Stephen King. Thomas Harris. I learned a lot from reading.

“Killing isn’t about helping people. It’s about control—absolute control. When I walk down the street, I choose who will survive and who won’t. Didn’t you feel it? Back at that cabin. I gave you the power and you took it. You held that couple’s lives in your hands. You held my life in your hands. You held your life in your hands. Do you remember what that felt like?”

Drake shook his head, clasping his hands between his knees. He began to rock like that.

“It didn’t feel like that at the time. I didn’t feel like I had any choice.”

“We always have a choice. Your mind just tricked you. Our will to survive is so strong our minds will make us think we don’t have a choice, when we actually do. You could have turned the knife on me. You could have turned it on yourself. You made a choice”

He could see Drake begin to tremble. That was what was wrong with society. People couldn’t live with their choices. For a moment, he had admired Drake. He had acted out of self-preservation. He had done what he needed to do to survive. What made him a pussy was his fuckin’ conscience. Drake had to believe he was a good person, but sometimes to survive you needed to be bad.

Drake cleared his throat.

“What does that have to do with Elijah?”

There was that name again. If Drake knew the boy’s name, it meant that he had trusted him enough to talk. When he got him back, he’d have to remind him of the value of silence.

“My boy is just like me, and my father before me.”

Drake was shaking his head.

“He is, but I decided when he was born, that I’d never let that side of him come out. I kept him away from the family business, as you might call it. He never goes with me on a kill, and when he was old enough to realize what I was doing, I made sure he could never kill.”

“How did you do that?”

“I broke his hands.”

Drake looked at him, stunned.

“You probably think I’m a monster, but I’m like any other man who is trying to protect his boy. I did it for his own good. He’ll never be able to wrap his hands around another person’s throat. He’ll never be able to hold a knife or a gun. I read a book once about a little girl in China. She had a feet bound to make her more attractive to a Chinese husband. For some reason, that idea stayed with me. I realized I could do the same sort of thing to my son, but with his hands. He’ll never use those hands to kill.”

“He’ll never use them for anything.”

“That’s the price he has to pay.”

They sat in silence for a while. He was feeling better, calmer. He didn’t have the urge to twist Drake’s head off his neck anymore. He wondered where his boywas now. Probably, with the Sheriff. Was she getting him ready? He hoped the boy didn’t get used to the comforts of having a home. That was not the life that was meant for him. The boy was tough like he was. He knew how to survive. If he had to talk to get by with the Sheriff and her fancy man, then that was what he had to do.

“C’mon. We have to get ready.”

He gestured to the kitchen. Drake got off the couch and went into the kitchen ahead of him. Drake might be broken, but the man knew he couldn’t trust him. He had Drake pack up what food there was in the house into his pack. There were quite a few canned goods. He had Drake put the cans into his pack. He added some spoons and a can opener to the cans, and zipped up the pack. It was heavy, but he was used to carrying a heavy load.

“You got any cash on you?”

Drake looked surprised and slapped his back pocket. The man smirked. He hadn’t bothered with Drake’s wallet. He wasn’t a thief, except when he had to be, but his cash was gone, even what he took from the lady at the flower shop. Drake pulled out a couple of hundreds and some twenties, and handed them over.

“Thanks. I’ll consider this a gift.”

Drake nodded.

“Let’s get moving. You don’t want to keep your lady waiting.”

They left the cabin and headed out to the battered Jeep. He was going to park it in the woods, and hope he and the boy could to it in time. He knew that the Sheriff wasn’t going to come alone, but he was prepared for that. The place he’d found for the exchange was dark. Anyone she brought with her would need flashlights to get to the spot. He’d be able to see the headlights of the cars coming down the track leading to the small clearing he had chosen. It wasn’t perfect. There was high ground around the clearing, but he hoped that the dark would obscure him. He’d keep Drake close until the last minute. As soon as he had the boy, he’d take off running to the Jeep and get as far as he could, before they had to abandon it.

He opened the passenger side for Drake.

“You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?” he asked Drake as he climbed into the Jeep. Drake shook his head.

“Good. We’re almost done. Don’t try to play the hero now. You don’t have it in you.”

He slammed the door, and headed around to the driver’s side. Looking at Drake’s miserable face, he said, “Cheer up. You’re going to be back with your lady before you know it.”

Sins of the Father: Chapter 17

Drake didn’t recognize the man who stared back at him from the mirror. His eye was bruised and swollen from the man’s fists, and the back of his head ached. His skin was pale and he felt cold and clammy. He probably had a concussion. Slowly, he worked the soap back and forth over his hands and watched the bloody suds pool at the bottom of the sink. Someone else’s blood. He was washing someone else’s blood off his hands. He’d always thought that when push came to shove, he would be a brave man, that he would be able to sacrifice his life to save someone else, but he had learned that wasn’t the case. When that bastard had pointed his knife in his hand, his insides turned to jelly and he had pissed his pants, and then he had done whatever the man told him to do.

The cabin was out in the woods, far from the highway and from neighbors. No one had heard the old couple scream as they’d been tormented in their last few minutes alive. And they hadn’t been screaming at the monster who held him captive, they had been screaming at him as he drew the sharp hunting knife the monster had given him first across the poor old lady’s neck and then across the screaming old man’s neck. The knife had slid across their skin as if he were cutting silk and, then blood had sprayed across his face. Their screams cut short by his knife, their lives trickled away with the rivers of blood that leaked from the slits in their throats.

Going numb, he had slipped to his knees the knife clutched limply in his right hand. As the monster gently removed the knife from his hand, he realized belatedly that the monster had given him a lethal weapon, and instead of turning it on the monster or, even himself, he had meekly cut the throats of the innocent people before him. Now, he stood in the bathroom preparing to take a shower and wash the incriminating blood away. Using the old couple’s battered old Jeep, the monster had driven further into the wood. They had found this cabin which was deserted. Perhaps, it was someone’s hunting cabin. Drake breathed a sigh of release when the monster forced the door open and they found the cabin empty. Drake couldn’t watch another person die.

Making the water as hot as he could stand, he stepped into the shower and let the hot water stream down his face and body. The heat of the water made the wound on his head sting and revealed scrapes and cuts he didn’t know he had. He grabbed the old piece of soap from the soap dish in the shower and scrubbed his hair and face. He scrubbed until the water ran cold, and then stepped out of the shower. He grabbed an old ratty towel hanging on the towel rack and hastily dried himself off. He hated to put on the clothes the monster had stolen, but he had no choice. The monster had taken his clothes. Sniffling, Drake pulled on the dead old man’s faded blue jeans and fraying sweater.

Even if he managed to get out of this alive, he would have to face the consequences of what he had done. He had made a conscious choice—his life or the old couples. He had chosen his own life. He jumped when the monster pounded on the bathroom door.

“You’ve been in there long enough.”

Quickly, he opened the door and stepped out of the bathroom. Drake was a tall man, but the monster met him eye to eye. He also had a good 50 pounds on Drake, but he wasn’t fat. He was hard with muscle. His pecs stretched out the black t-shirt he wore and Drake had felt the impact of those bulging biceps. His eyes were so dark they were almost black. And they were cold, dead. He’d never seen such old eyes in another human being. He braced himself for another blow, but the monster just motioned towards the kitchen.

“Dinner’s on the table.”

The last thing Drake wanted to was eat, but he made himself go into the small kitchen and sit at the battered wooden kitchen table. The monster had found some canned stew. Drake picked at the gelatinous mass thinking of the homemade stew he liked to make for Madison in the winter. The monster saw him picking at his food.

“You better eat.”

Drake began eating the tasteless stew. He felt like spewing it all over the monster’s face, but he continued to choke it down. Even now, when he’d lost everything, he was afraid to act, afraid of the pain the monster could inflict, both physical and emotional.

He watched Drake carefully. When he’d handed Drake the hunting knife, he’d just wanted to see what kind of man he was dealing with. He was ready for Drake to turn the knife on him. He wasn’t nervous. He knew how to defend himself and how to disarm an assailant. He’d expected Drake to at least bargain with him, but Drake had calmly slit the old couple’s throats. For a moment, he had dropped his guard. If Drake had turned on him then, he would have had the upper hand, but he didn’t turn on him. Drake had dropped to his knees. He had been able to take the knife from Drake. He had placed the bloody knife and Drake’s bloody clothes in a Ziploc bag he had found in the kitchen here. He packaged them up carefully like the police would. His own prints were on the knife as well, but he didn’t worry about that. He never worried about leaving evidence behind, because his evidence couldn’t be tracked. He was a ghost.

When they finished eating, he had Drake wash up the dishes while he went to examine the gun he had lifted from the old guy. As a rule, he didn’t like weapons, but he needed a little more insurance than his own fists could offer. The gun was clean, well cared for, a double action pistol. It wasn’t as good as what the police probably carried, but it would do for his purposes. He needed it to keep Drake in line and to show the Sheriff that he meant business. When he was satisfied that the gun worked well, he slid it into the back of his jeans, and covered it with the tail of his shirt. He picked up the knife and began polishing it with a rag.

When Drake entered the living room, he motioned to him with the knife to sit on the brown plaid couch under the window. He could tell Drake was at the end of his stamina. He needed rest. He didn’t have the stamina or the strength of character to withstand what he had gone through. He knew Drake like men well. Drake was as tall as he was, but not strong. While he looked like he hit the gym every now and then, he wasn’t muscular and he wasn’t strong. He was one of those men who liked the appearance of being strong, but he lacked inner strength.

He watched Drake slowly begin to doze off on the couch. He let him sleep. He would need his energy for what was to come. It wouldn’t be long until the Sheriff followed the signal from Drake’s phone to the other cabin. He had turned the phone back on just before they left. He had left Drake’s car in front of the cabin and they had taken the couple’s old Jeep. His burner phone was charging. As soon as it was finished, he would call the Sheriff and set the last part of his plan in motion.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 13

After a couple of days of resting and eating, he had finally come up with a plan. He would need to figure out how to get the silver car out of here without being seen, and he would need to figure out where the Sheriff lived. The old man he had killed didn’t have any computers or electronics. He had a radio and an old TV with basic cable, but the news wasn’t saying much. He knew the police were looking for a silver Honda. They even had the license plate. The news had broadcast an announcement about the description of the car, but not a description of him. He had been careful about that.

He’d been wearing his hood up when he grabbed the second woman, so he knew the camera only had a shot of his hoodie. They still knew his size, but not enough of a description to pick him up. He wasn’t about to go walking around Fruita, though. People would be careful of strangers right now, and he knew that there had to be a few people who had seen him and the boy walk down the street. But he still needed access to a computer. Grand Junction was only about 20 minutes down I-70. He had the red F150. No one was looking for that yet. No one seemed to have noticed that the man he had killed was even missing. His decrepit rotary phone never even rang. It worked, because he had checked for a dial tone, but no one ever called the man. If he could get to Grand Junction in the red truck, he could go to the library and use the computers there. Everyone was on social media these days. He would do a search for the Sheriff’s husband and see what came up. It was only about 10:00 in the morning. He had time to do everything today, but he was reluctant to leave. He looked down at his now clean clothes. His black hoodie that he wore all the time over a black t-shirt and black jeans. He realized that he would need to look different if he went to Grand Junction. He still had to drive through Fruita to get to the highway and, even if the news wasn’t broadcasting his description, the State Patrol and the Grand Junction police might have a general description. He rubbed his hand over his bald head. At least, no one knew he was bald. His head had been covered when he walked down the street and when he grabbed that woman.

He walked back down the hall to the man’s bedroom. The man had been a little smaller than he, but not by much. He rifled through the closet. The man seemed to like plaid shirts. He had several plaid shirts. The man picked a bright red plaid shirt. Sometimes, the best way to hide was to stand out. No one would suspect a bald man in a bright plaid shirt. He couldn’t hide his muscles, though. He was a big man, but there were a lot of big men. He grabbed the shirt off the closet and went back to the room he was using. He stripped off his black t-shirt and buttoned on the shirt. It was a little snug but it would do. He tucked the shirt into his waistband and headed back into the man’s bedroom. He needed something else to complete his look. After rifling through the drawers, he found a belt with a large belt buckle. It seems the man had been a rodeo cowboy. He threaded the belt through his belt loops and turned to look in the mirror that hung on the back of the man’s bedroom door.

He looked completely different. And if he exchanged his Doc Martens for that old pair of cowboy boots that was sitting by the back door, his look would be complete. He would be just another country boy. After slipping on the cowboy boots, he grabbed the keys to the truck that were on the counter. He felt exposed, though, when he stepped out of the door. He was used to keeping his hoodie up and shielding himself from the world, but to make this plan work, he needed to walk with his head up. He needed to let people see him. He wished he had a hat, though. He’d feel a little better with something on his head. He’d destroyed the man’s only hat, however, when he’d bashed it with the tire iron.

He started the pick-up truck and drove it slowly down the gravel driveway. He felt better now that he had started on the first part of his plan. This afternoon, he’d finish the second part. When he was finished, he’d only have to wait for the sheriff to come to him. And she would come. She’d have to or lose everything.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 12

silhouette3Monday morning, Madison called Hal to check in on the case. No one had seen the silver Honda or the man fitting the description they had released.

“Maybe, he’s left the area,” Hal speculated.

“Maybe,” Madison agreed. “We need to stay on the look-out, though. We need to start thinking about places he might hide if he is still in the area.”

“I’ll talk to Kurt and some of the other deputies. They would have a better idea. There are a lot of cabins outside of Fruita that are out of the way.”

“Thanks, Hal,” Madison said, “I need to take care of some issues with Elijah. We have to get him to the doctor, and I want to find a psychologist.”

“Good. I’m glad you liked my suggestion.”

“You’re always full of good advice, Hal.”

Hal laughed and hung up. “Steward out.”

Madison called CPS in Grand Junction. With Mandy gone, she needed to see if Elijah had a new case worker. She also needed to get information about getting him medical attention and finding a psychologist. The receptionist put her through to the Director of CPS.

“This is Jack Hammond.”

“Hello, Mr. Hammond. This is Sheriff Rhodes in Fruita. I was calling about Elijah, the boy who was placed with me and my husband.” “Yes. Sheriff Rhodes. I was just going to call you. We need some information about this case. Since Mandy was never able to file her report, the boy hasn’t been officially assigned to you yet.”

“I understand. I was calling to see about taking Elijah to the doctor and I think he needs to see a psychologist.”

“I think we should meet. Are you and your husband available today? I understand you’re the Sheriff and you have a lot to deal with right now, but we need to get everything settled officially.”

“Yes. We’re both available today.”

“Let’s meet at 9:30. Will that work?”

“Yes. We’ll be there.”

Child Protective Services was in a modern, streamlined building that was home to the Department of Human Services. The multi-hued brick building was located in the complex for Mesa County Community Resources. The area was surrounded by large trees that showed a faint haze of green as their leaves began to open. She drove Drake’s minivan, so Drake could keep Elijah occupied. They had brought the Nintendo 3DS games that Drake had bought Elijah yesterday. As soon as they told Elijah where they were going, he had shoved his fists in his pocket and shook his head. Drake and Madison had noticed that whenever Elijah felt threatened his first instinct was to protect his hands by shoving them in his pockets. Since Elijah still didn’t trust Madison, she left Drake alone to talk to him. Whatever Drake said had worked, because Elijah emerged from his room a few minutes later ready to go.

As she parked, Drake said, “Okay, Elijah. We’re here. You can bring your game in, because the meeting might be kind of boring.”

Drake closed his game and stuck it in his hoodie pocket. The lobby of the building was decorated in the same earth-toned hues as the outside of the building. Overstuffed chairs stood in clusters throughout the lobby. There were also bins with children’s toys and books. Elijah and Drake sat on a large couch opposite the window as Madison went to the receptionist’s desk to check in. They only waited a few moments when a tall balding man came out to meet them.

“I’m Jack Hammond,” he said holding his hand out to Madison and, then, Drake. Elijah kept his hands deep in his pocket. Jack kneeled down to look Elijah in the eye. “This must be Elijah. How are you, young man?”

Elijah looked at Jack with solemn eyes, and gave a slight nod.

“I’m going to assume that means you’re doing all right.”

Elijah nodded again and Jack got to his feet.

“Let’s meet in my office. Elijah can wait in the children’s room.”

Jack scanned his card over a black scanner and the door clicked open. Elijah’s eyes went wide when the door clicked back behind him. Drake patted him on the shoulder. “It’s all right, Elijah. We’re right here.”

Elijah stayed close to Drake and Madison as they walked down a long hall with a shiny tile floor and doors along its length.

Jack paused at a double door with a sign that said, “Children’s Room.” The sign was made with sparkly letters and had stickers decorating it.

“Elijah, let’s take you to meet Ms. Jackie. She has a lot of things to do in here. There are video games or you can read a book.”

Elijah pulled his 3DS out of his pocket.

“Ahh, a 3DS. You can play that, too. We have some games in there that you could try out if you want.”

A young blonde woman opened the door.

“Ms. Jackie, this is Elijah.”

“How are you, Elijah?”

Elijah nodded again. “Did you want to check out the DS games we have? We might have some that you don’t have.”

Elijah looked at Drake who gave him an encouraging nod.

Jack said, “We’ll be right down the hall in my office, Ms. Jackie, if you or Elijah need anything.”

Ms. Jackie nodded and led Elijah to a bin full of small cartridges. Drake and Madison followed Jack down the hall to a large office at the end. The office was painted a soothing light gray and had windows looking out onto a greenbelt. Jack motioned towards two dark gray chairs placed at the front of his desk. Jack sat down behind his desk and pulled out a file.

“Elijah seems to be quite comfortable with you,” Jack said.

Madison replied, “I think he is more comfortable with Drake. He and I didn’t meet on the best of terms.”

“As I told you on the phone, I don’t have any of Mandy’s notes, just the original report on the boy. Can you fill me in on what happened?”

Madison and Drake both told Jack about how Madison had found Elijah as well as Madison’s decision to foster him. Jack asked about Elijah’s hands and his refusal to speak.

“He told you his name. I think that’s a good sign. He’s only been with you for two days. The fact that he’s starting to speak is a good sign.”

“Drake has been working with him to develop a relationship.”

“And what about you, Sheriff Rhodes?”

“Well, it’s been rocky. I’ve made some mistakes. I still believe that Elijah is the key to all this. I’ve learned some new information about him that makes me believe that Elijah is much more than a witness.”

Drake looked at her questioningly. She hadn’t gotten the chance to talk to him about what she had discovered. She wasn’t in the habit of talking about her cases at home. Drake had accepted that a long time ago, but this was something he should know.

“We have several witnesses who saw Elijah travelling with the man who we believe committed the two murders.”

Drake looked shocked, but he tried to pretend that he already knew all about it. She loved him for that. She should have told him the minute she got home, but she had decided to leave the case at work and try to separate it from her interactions with Elijah.

“But you don’t know how Elijah is connected to your suspect?”

“No, and I don’t want to question Elijah about it any further right now. Plus, if the Sheriff’s office needs to question him, he needs to have his guardian present. That appears to be me and Drake right now. As the sheriff, I can’t recuse myself from the case, but I can avoid discussing the case at home.”

“Will you need to question Elijah about his involvement?”

“I don’t think that Elijah was personally involved in the first murder. The evidence doesn’t support that, but he may have seen what happened. The Sheriff’s office will need to question him at some point, but, if that is necessary, I will have my deputy, Hal Steward, question him. He’s taken the lead on the investigation. Drake can be the guardian that accompanies Elijah, and we can also seek legal counsel if that is necessary.”

“It sounds like you have this all planned out.”

“I do, Mr. Hammond. When we get this guy, I want to make sure we can convict him, but I want to make sure Elijah is protected as well.”

Jack nodded, and continued taking notes in the file. When he was finished, he gave Madison and Drake referrals for a pediatrician and a child psychologist.

“I think Dr. Roberts, the pediatrician, would fit him in today. He sees a lot of the kids in our foster homes.”

Jack walked Madison and Drake back to the Children’s Room. When they stepped into the room, Elijah was focused on his video game. Ms. Jackie was sitting next to him.

Drake called to him.

“Elijah, we’re finished. It’s time to go.”

Elijah looked up and smiled at Drake. Madison thought that when Elijah smiled, he looked like a completely different boy. The fear that haunted his eyes left for a moment.

Closing his game, Elijah walked over to Drake and Madison. Ms. Jackie followed him.

“Good bye, Elijah. It was fun spending time with you.”

Elijah nodded silently at her.

Back in the car, Madison turned to Elijah in the back seat.

“Elijah, we have the name of a doctor that can see you today. He’s just going to give you a check-up, okay?”

Elijah nodded, but his eyes grew dark with apprehension.

“It’s all right. Drake and I will be with you.”

Madison called the number Jack had given her and made an appointment.

“They can see us at 1:30.”

Drake looked at his watch. “It’s 11:00 now. How about some lunch?”

Elijah was nodding his head vigorously. Drake pulled out of the parking space and headed back onto the road.

“I saw a diner that looked kind of fun down back the way we came.”

Madison nodded. The diner was only a few blocks away. It was a retro fifties-style diner with silver siding and neon lights. When they stepped into the diner, 50’s music was playing. A hostess seated them in a shiny red vinyl booth. Drake fed some quarters into the jukebox selector on the table. An old Elvis song came on. Madison rolled her eyes.

“C’mon, Madison. It’s Elvis. You have to respect the classics.”

“Don’t they have any Five Finger Death Punch or Nine Inch Nails in there?”

Drake pretended to look shocked. “Those aren’t real names. You made those up! C’mon, Elijah, who’s going to name their band after a punch or nails?”

Elijah shrugged, and looked at his menu. Madison and Drake continued to argue about music while Elijah watched them with a confused look on his face.

When the waitress came, they all ordered large cheeseburgers, curly fries, and shakes. As soon as his food arrived, Elijah began to eat. It seemed like he was always hungry, but Madison hoped that would lessen as he began to eat more regularly. She thought it must have been hard travelling with that man on the road. His clothes were so tattered they couldn’t save them, so they threw them away. They showed evidence of having been mended time after time. She wondered who had taken the time to fix his clothes. Not that man, surely? She didn’t think Elijah could hold something as small as a needle, but she couldn’t see a cold-blooded killer taking time to fix Elijah’s clothes.

When they finished eating, they still had some time left, so they took Elijah to the Mesa Mall. They bought him a few more clothes and a second pair of shoes. When they passed the GameStop, Elijah’s eyes lit up.

“Why don’t you take him in there to look while I call the office,” Madison suggested, “I better check in.”

“What do you say, Elijah. Do you want to get some more games?”

Elijah’s head bobbled up and down in excitement. He’d only had his video game for a day and he was already hooked. While they went into the store, Madison sat on a bench in the middle of the concourse.

“How are things going, Sheriff?” Hal answered his phone.

“Fine, Hal. We have a doctor’s appointments in a half hour. I wanted to check in.”

“Everything is quiet here. I issued a state-wide bolo on the silver Honda, but no reports have come in.”

Drake and Elijah came out of GameStop with yet another shopping bag.

“All right, Hal. I have to go. I’ll come by the office when we finish up at the doctor’s.”

“Steward out.”

Madison stood and met Drake and Elijah.

“Ready to go?”

They walked out to the car and stowed everything but the GameStop bag in the back of the SUV. As they drove to the doctor, Elijah busied himself with his new games. After a few minutes, they could hear electronic music and the sound of explosions. When they reached the doctor, they allowed Elijah to bring in his game.

“Make sure you turn the sound down when we get into the waiting room,” Madison said.

Elijah nodded and muted his game.

The doctor’s waiting room was not very full. A large aquarium sat against one wall near some blue chairs. Orange and blue fish swam among coral. Elijah sat near the aquarium and watched the fish swim in and out of the coral. Madison checked them in and sat near Drake and Elijah. When Elijah’s name was called, they followed him into the examination room. The nurse took his height and his weight. She took his temperature and placed a clip on his thumb.

Elijah looked askance at the clip on his thumb.

“That just tells the amount of oxygen in your blood. See that number, there?”

Elijah looked at the read digital readout. After a minute, the nurse checked the monitor and wrote the number down in his chart.

“You’re fostering Elijah, correct?” the nurse asked.

“Yes,” Drake answered.

“How long has he been with you?”

“Just over two days. He came to us the night before last.”

The nurse continued to take notes in her chart.

“I have a note here from the receptionist. It says that Elijah doesn’t speak?”

“Well, he doesn’t speak very often. He told me his first name, but that’s all he’s said so far.”

“Okay. The doctor will be in to speak with you in a moment.”

The paper on the examination table crinkled as Elijah wiggled around. He jammed his hands back into his pockets and jiggled his foot nervously. Madison fidgeted as well. She felt strange and out of place while Drake seemed calm and relaxed. Finally, the doctor knocked and stepped into the room. Dr. Roberts was a short, round name with salt and pepper hair that stuck up on the top of his head.

“Good afternoon, folks. How are you today?”

Drake spoke up as he had with the nurse.

“We’re doing fine, Doctor. How are you?”

“Good, good, can’t complain. Very busy.”

“Thank you for seeing us on such short notice.”

“That’s okay. It’s important to get kids like Elijah checked out right away.”

Dr. Roberts turned to Elijah.

“How are you today, young man?”

Elijah looked down at his feet and shrugged.

“Don’t worry, Elijah. I’m just going to check you over real quick.”

The doctor put the ear pieces of his stethoscope into his ears.

“I’m going to put this on your back and listen to your breathing. Just breathe normally.”

The doctor lifted Elijah’s hoodie and shirt up and slid the stethoscope under them to listen.

“Take deep breaths now.”

Elijah breathed deeply until the doctor told him to stop. The doctor then moved the stethoscope to Elijah’s chest. He used a scope to look into Elijah’s ears. He also looked into Elijah’s mouth and his throat.

“So far he looks pretty good. He needs to be seen by a dentist for a good cleaning. I can give you a referral if you would like.”

The doctor paused and looked at his chart. “I see here that his hands have been injured.”

Madison could see Elijah tense. He didn’t seem to like anyone to talk about his hands. The doctor asked Elijah, “Elijah, can you let me see your hands?”

His voice was soft and gentle. Elijah looked at him as if gauge the doctor’s attention. He looked at Drake who nodded encouraging. “It’s okay, Elijah. Let the doctor examine your hands. He won’t hurt you.”

Elijah slowly pulled his hands out of his pockets. The doctor touched them lightly as he turned Elijah’s fists so he could see the fingers clenched into his palms. Occasionally, he would touch a finger or a part of his hand and ask Elijah if he were in pain. Elijah always shook his head, but Madison thought he was hiding what he was feeling. When the doctor was finished examining Elijah, he said, “Elijah, do you want to go to the nurses’ station and get a sticker or something? I just need to talk to your guardians for a few moments.”

Elijah slid off the table and rushed out the door as if he expected the doctor to change his mind.

After Elijah was gone, Dr. Roberts asked, “You don’t know how his hands were injured?”

“No,” Drake answered, “Like we told the nurse, Elijah has only told us his first name.”

“His hands are badly injured and inflamed. I would like to get them imaged as soon as we can so we can look at the damage and work on a plan to repair them. He seems to be in a little pain. I think heat will be the best thing for him if he’s aching. Is he able to take care of himself?”

“Yes,” Drake replied. “He can pick up quite a few things between his thumb and the side of his fingers. Sometimes, he drops things, but he is very independent.”

The doctor made another notation, and handed them the instructions for taking care of Elijah’s hands. “The imaging center will call you within the next couple of days to schedule an appointment. You’re also going to be taking him to see a psychologist?”

“Yes, we’re going to make an appointment as soon as we get home. Is there anything we can do in the meantime to help him?”

“I think you’re doing all you can. I think he’ll start talking after a while. You just need to give him time.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Madison and Drake stood as the doctor left the room. “You’re were quiet during the appointment,” Drake said.

“I know. I did all the talking during our last meeting, so I thought I would give you a chance.”

Elijah was anxious to leave when they returned to the waiting room. As Drake and Madison approached him, he got up and moved quickly to the door.

“What’s the rush, Elijah?” Drake asked with a smile. “We thought you might want to hang out for a while in the waiting room. It’s nice in here with the aquarium and all.”

Elijah flashed him a frown and pulled the door open. As soon as they stepped outside, he seemed to relax. Madison thought she and Drake should probably tell Elijah about getting his hands x-rayed or whatever they wanted to do, but Elijah had already been through enough today. As they headed back to I-70, she turned to check on him. He was already dozing.

She whispered to Drake. “I think we should wait until tomorrow to tell him about his other appointments.”

Drake nodded. “I agree. I think he’s a little overwhelmed by everything.”

To tell the truth, Madison was feeling a little overwhelmed herself, but she didn’t tell Drake how she was feeling. She couldn’t really talk about the case and she didn’t want him to know about her screw-up with the Turners. And now she had to make sure that Elijah was protected. They rode in silence the rest of the way to Fruita.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 11

silhouette3Drake was washing dishes while Elijah helped dry. It was a struggle to hold onto the wet plates, but he wanted to help Drake. When he grabbed a large plate, though, his grip slipped on the wet china and the plate smashed to the floor. Instinctively, he stepped away from Drake and braced himself for a blow.

“Uh, oh,” Drake said. “Can you go get the broom? It’s hanging on the wall in the garage.”

Elijah stared at Drake. He wasn’t mad? Drake looked at Elijah. His blue eyes were serious, but they didn’t seem mad.

“Are you all right, Elijah? You didn’t hurt yourself did you?”

Elijah shook his head, and moved around the pieces of china to get the broom. If his father had been here, he would have cuffed him hard on the ear. He found the broom in the garage and carefully lifted it off its hook. He was starting to like Drake more and more. He’s almost forgotten himself and spoken to him several times. He would have to be careful. He couldn’t afford to slip up. He couldn’t let Drake, or the Sheriff, find out about his father or himself.

He brought the broom to Drake. Drake snapped off the dustpan which was attached to the handle and handed it to Elijah. While Drake swept up the shards, Elijah held the dustpan in place. Working together, they cleaned up Elijah’s mess. As Drake handed Elijah the broom, he said, “We make a pretty good team, don’t we?”

His father never talked like that. His father was always the boss. Elijah did what his father told him and that was that. They didn’t work together. They weren’t a team. Elijah often felt like he was a bother to his father, just an irritation. He often wondered why his father didn’t get rid of him. He could travel a lot faster and longer without having to stop and rest or get food. His father was like a machine—never stopping, never sleeping, but always on the alert. Elijah was amazed that he had finally outsmarted him. He hoped his father was far away right now. He thought of his father walking down the highway into the darkness, finally alone. For a moment, Elijah felt guilty standing in this warm kitchen filled with golden light. He was safe from his father, but at what price?

As he was hanging the broom back up in the garage, the garage door began to open. For a moment, he froze. His father had found him. He hadn’t left town, but had tracked him here. He was getting ready to hide when he saw the lights on the Sheriff’s SUV. Even though the Sheriff made him as nervous as his father did, he relaxed when he saw it was her coming home. Drake came to stand behind him at the door and put his hands on his shoulders. For once, Elijah didn’t tense and pull away. He liked the warmth of Drake’s hands seeping into the cloth on his shoulders.

The Sheriff got out of the SUV. Even though she parked her car in the garage, she still locked it. She was careful like his father. She reminded him a little of his father—the way she was constantly on alert, always scanning the surroundings, even when she was at home. He’d noticed that at dinner how she sat so she could face the side door from the garage and the livingroom where the front door was. His father did that, too. If they ever ate in a diner or a fast food place, he always sat so he could see all the exits and his eyes never lost that calculating look as he scanned the place for danger.

The Sheriff was like that. When she looked at him, he felt like she wasn’t seeing him. She was seeing the key to solving her case, but he wasn’t going to help her. This case would have to go unsolved. She didn’t seem nervous or scared as she approached Elijah and Drake. Elijah had heard them fighting when he went into his room and slammed his door. He heard another door slam and the house had gone quiet. He’d finally dozed off and when he had awoken, someone had covered him with a quilt. That was strange. He didn’t usually sleep that soundly, but he hadn’t even known someone was in his room.

Madison came and stood at the bottom of the stairs. She looked sad.

“Hey, you guys, I’m really sorry about this afternoon.”

Drake stepped around Elijah and headed down the stairs. Elijah thought to himself, Here it comes, but Drake didn’t hit Madison. He just hugged her. Of course, Madison was a sheriff and she had a gun. Maybe, that was why Drake didn’t hit her. He had vague memories of his mother and his father fighting, and the fights always ended the same way, with a punch. He turned and headed back into the kitchen with Drake and Madison on his heals.

Drake asked, “Did you eat dinner?”

Madison nodded. “Hal and I grabbed a really late lunch, so I’m good for now. I’m going to go change, and then I need to talk to you and Elijah.”

As he settled in on the couch, Elijah prepared himself to be questioned again. She could ask him all the questions she wanted, but he wasn’t going to answer them. They couldn’t know about what his father had done, or about what he had done. Elijah wasn’t exactly innocent either.

Drake sat down next to Elijah on the couch. “After we talk, do you want to play MarioKart again? I’m ready for another round.”

Elijah wanted to play, but his hands had been aching. He wasn’t used to using them so much, and he thought they were getting tired. He didn’t know how to tell Drake. He didn’t want to bring up his hands, or that would mean more questions, so he just nodded.

“Good. I have to even our score.”

Madison came into the livingroom. She had changed to a large blue sweater and blue leggings. Her hair was down. She had long black hair, but she usually kept it up in a ponytail. She looked completely different. Not like the Sheriff at all.

“Elijah,” she said looking at him. He braced himself to resist her questions. “I’m not going to ask you any more questions.”

He wasn’t sure he could trust her.

“But we need to take you to a doctor. Actually, I want you to see two doctors. One is a medical doctor and one is a psychologist. Do you know what a psychologist is?”

Elijah shook his head. He’d never been to the doctor. His father always took care of him if he got sick.

“A psychologist is someone who helps people with problems they might have. People talk to them and they help them. Would you go see a doctor like that and maybe talk to them?”

Elijah shrugged. He didn’t want to say no exactly, but he wasn’t going to talk to any other adult, either. Madison seemed to accept his answer. He and Drake began playing their game. His hands hurt, so he didn’t do very well. Drake finally noticed that he wasn’t playing very well.

“Are you tired of playing, Elijah?” Drake asked.

Elijah nodded.

Drake shut off his game and turned on the large screen television that was mounted on the wall above the fireplace.

“Let’s watch a movie instead.”

Elijah settled back in next to Drake. Drake got up. “We can’t watch a movie without some popcorn. Hey, Madison! We’re watching a movie. Do you want to join us?”

Madison had gone back into their bedroom, but she came out when Drake called her. She sat on the couch next to Elijah, and grabbed the remote. She went to a guide on the television and began scrolling through the movies.

“How about The Incredibles?” she asked. “We can watch the first one tonight and then the second one tomorrow when we get home from the doctor.”

Elijah nodded. He could smell the scent of hot buttered popcorn as Drake popped the popcorn in the microwave. Drake came out with a large bowl of popcorn and some glasses of juice on a tray. He settled back to watch the movie. He hadn’t seen many movies. Every now and then, his father would get him a room somewhere and he would watch whatever happened to be on, but he’d never been able to just order up any movie he liked. As Drake and Madison settled back on the couch, he began to relax. He leaned back, too, and for a while, even forgot that Madison was the sheriff. For a moment, he could pretend that this was his family and that he was home.

He’d had to get rid of the body and clean up the mess he made. He’d hit the guy at the base of the skull with the tire iron. The guy never even saw him coming and he went down like a bag of rocks. After checking to make sure that the rest of the cabin was empty, he had loaded the body in the back of the pick-up truck that was parked in front of the cabin and drove it around to the back. The lot for the cabin backed up against a stand of pine trees. He carried the body into the thickest part of the trees and dumped him in a small hollow at the bottom of a large pine tree. He covered the body with some branches and leaves and then headed back to the cabin. He now had transportation that the cops wouldn’t be looking for and a place to say.

When he stepped back into the cabin, he noticed some spots of blood on the shiny wood floor. He cleaned up the blood and then scoped out the rest of the cabin. He checked the front bedroom first. A double bed was in the center of the room and covered by a worn quilt. A battered chest of drawers stood in the corner. The drawers were all empty as was the closet, so he figured that this must be an extra bedroom. He thought of the boy as he checked the room. It would be nice to live in a spot like this all the time. No more moving around, no more running. They would be on their own away from people. And without people around, he probably wouldn’t get his urges as often. He could keep the boy from getting any urges himself. He sighed as he closed the door to the empty room. He had to quit dreaming about things that could never be. Someone would probably miss this guy sooner or later. He checked the next room down the hall. A small bathroom with an old claw-foot tub and cracked tile, but at least it was clean.

The last room at the end of the hall was another bedroom. This one looked lived in. The bed was rumpled and the closet was filled with clothes. There was only mens’ clothes in the closet. No sign that he had a wife or anyone living with him. He thought he was safe for now. He closed the door to that bedroom and decided to sleep in the front bedroom. He went out to get his pack out of the car. He needed to do some laundry and take a shower. Then, he would eat and come up with a plan. He knew that the Sheriff had taken the boy home with her. The woman he had snatched from in front of the Sheriff’s office had finally told him what he needed to know. She had died before she could tell him any more. He needed to figure out where the Sheriff lived. He couldn’t go around asking people in the town where the Sheriff lived. People would notice. He had to assume that the Sheriff had gotten a description from someone. When he had an impulse, he didn’t hide who he was other than putting up his hood. He never stayed around after a kill, so he’d never had to be very careful. He and the boy kept moving from city to city. He tried to avoid small towns like this one whenever he could, but they were stranded. He would never have given in to his need to kill if they hadn’t been so desperate for money. He didn’t usually steal from the women he killed. It wasn’t honorable, but this time he had had no choice. He’d only gotten a couple of hundred dollars, but it would have been enough to get on a bus and get out of this god forsaken town.

Now he was stuck here. He’d walked right under the security camera to snatch the last woman. Again, he’d had no choice. He needed to find his boy and that woman was talking to him and the Sheriff moments before they left. He’d kept his hood on, but he was sure the camera had caught him. Probably, every business in the town had his picture by now. He grabbed his pack out of the trunk of the silver car. At least, he had a vehicle that wouldn’t draw attention. The man who owned the cabin had a red 150. He would be able to drive it for a while until someone noticed the man was missing. He was going to ditch the silver car as soon as he could. Shouldering his pack, he went back through the front door, through the livingroom and back into the kitchen. There was a small mudroom to the right of the backdoor. There was a decrepit washing machine that he hoped still worked. Fiddling with the dial, he heard a rush of water. After loading his and the boy’s clothes into the washer and adding detergent, he went into the kitchen to get some food.

The kitchen was stocked with enough food to last a few days at least. He made himself a bologna and cheese sandwich and grabbed a beer out of the fridge. As he sat at the scarred mica-topped kitchen table, he began leafing through the local newspaper, The Fruita Times. It was a small paper, not many pages. He stopped on the Community page when he saw a picture that he recognized. The picture showed a woman with long dark hair officiating at a pie-eating contest. Even though she was smiling, he could tell that she wasn’t quite comfortable being there. Her whole body was stiff and her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Next to her stood, a tall man with curly brown hair. The man was laughing and his arm was around the Sheriff. He looked at the caption: “Sheriff Rhodes and her husband, Drake, officiate at the Fruita Carnival Pie Eating Contest. The Sheriff vows to arrest anyone who tries to cheat.”

The caption was trying to be humorous, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the Sheriff’s husband. A plan was beginning to surface. He ripped the picture out of the paper and stared at it. He smiled.