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The Nobleman (Chapter 1-3)

 

 

 

The Nobleman

A Serial Novel

 

 

by Jaffrey Clark

 

 

 

 

 

Text Copyright 2016 Jaffrey Clark

Cover Art Copyright 2016 by Jay Walker

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, whatsoever without written permission of the publisher.

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

“The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.” (Proverbs 2:22)

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

About The Nobleman

Chapter 1

 

Sunday, October 2nd

6:26 pm

 

At the edge of an abandoned parking lot along Brigg Bay, the sounds of downtown Easton were no more than a distant echo. A wind blowing out of the south muffled what was left.

Kneeling in a pile of gravel, stones, and bits of glass, a young man labored to remain calm. His heart raced as adrenaline surged though his limbs. The moisture gathering on his brow had grown into a heavy sweat, chilled by the wind. The pain in his chest was growing, threatening to bring tears to his eyes. “This is it,” he thought.

Holding out his hands, he looked blankly at the blood that covered them, dripping onto the pavement. The fading light made his eyes bulge all the more. He shook his head in disbelief. His white button down shirt clung to his chest and stomach, soaked through. Twenty feet behind him, his sports jacket lay ripped and bloody as well, bearing witness to a deadly struggle.

Not daring to look back, the young man pushed his hands hard against the ground, pressing stones into his palms. Blotchy, red hand-prints remained as he raised himself to his feet to face his fears like a man. Before he did, he uttered what all men do at some point in their lives. “God, help me,” he whispered, and turned.

Pop! Pop! Pop! Three shots rang out, shattering the evening calm.

Staggering along the edge of the bulk head, the young man’s pale and frightened face nearly glowed in the growing dark. The last thing he saw before falling over the side was the fiery outline of Easton’s tallest buildings.

 

 

Monday, October 3rd

7:15 am

 

“Would you like white or wheat toast with that?” A petite girl who could not have been more than twenty cocked her head expressively while she held her small pad and pen aloft. Something about her cheer seemed slightly more than genuine. Her tight blond pony-tail was pulled back so tight it may have actually been what held the corners of her mouth in a thin, chipper smile.

“I’ll go with wheat, please, and some extra butter on the side,” a deep, masculine voice replied. The fellow she was serving was easily ten years her senior, and not pretending to possess any cheer. His face was heavy and set; sober would have been the word. His tight knit, jet-black hair and thin goatee were well trimmed and sharp on the edges. Handing his menu to his fairy of a waitress, he rubbed his face with both hands to remove some of the fatigue that had gathered there. When he was satisfied with the effort he reached for his coffee to continue the process.

“How about you?” the waitress asked, taking a quarter turn toward the gentleman sitting on the other side of the booth.

“I’ll take the Western Omelet with the home fries, and skip the toast,” he replied, “Oh, and more coffee when you get the chance.” His cup was already empty and on the edge of the table. He smiled back at her as he handed her the menu. “Thank you, Lisa.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied. Spinning on her heels she headed to the next table, and the next order, always saying the same thing so happily. “Are you folks ready to order, or do you need more time?”

The second fellow at the booth watched her go before putting both his elbows back on the table. “Marc, do you think she really doesn’t recognize us? She’s waited on us almost once a week all summer, and here it is, October.”

“Has she always brought us our food?” Marc asked. After a second’s pause, he finished. “Right. Then it doesn’t matter a whole lot to me, Pete. I’m secure.”

“Well you know me, never very sure of who I am until my waitress uses my first name,” Pete replied. It certainly came across as biting, but somehow natural. Marc hardly seemed to notice.

Feeling the close shave of his fair-skinned face, Pete looked around the diner for some curious character to entertain himself. Molly’s Diner was a pretty ordinary place. It had ugly red leather cushioning on all its seats, an old beat-up wooden bar where the truckers and daily patrons sat, and a somewhat pointless, gold railing sort of fixture that trimmed just about everything. The art was canned and dull, and the fake vegetation that filled the small wooden boxes along the walls was so generic, that it took a strong power of observation to notice it was still there after ten minutes.

All that really mattered was that Molly’s smelled like a diner. It sounded like a diner. Forks and knives rang softly off of heavy china. Everyone’s breakfast was cooking somewhere just out of sight. When the double doors that led to the kitchen flapped open and closed with waitresses carrying trays in and out, a quick glimpse could be had of cooks hurrying about, or hovering over any number of skillets and pans. A faint sizzle could be heard if you were close enough. The smell of fresh brewed coffee reigned.

When Pete didn’t find anything or anyone interesting enough to stare at, he returned to trying to catch the attention of a waitress carrying a coffee pot.

They both waited in silence for the next five minutes or so, interrupted only when a waitress finally caught on to Peter Gray’s coffee mug pushed out to the end of the table expectantly. “Thank you, very much,” he replied, when it had been refilled.

With a full mug now in one hand, Gray checked his watch and looked at Marc Jackson blankly. “When do we have to be in?” he asked.

“As soon as we’re fed and watered, as they say. We won’t make much sense of last night if we fall asleep on our desks.” Marc Jackson took another big slug of his well-creamed coffee, and sighed. Holding up his chin with one fist, he put his coffee down and drummed his free fingers on the table slowly.

Another five minutes or so passed, in which Jackson stared into space and Gray observed everyone in the diner that he could see, in between glances at the TV above the diner bar. At one particular look, he paused, and tapped the table. “Marc.”

Jackson snapped out of his troubled thoughts just in time to look up and see footage from a scene that he had been walking through in his mind since he’d popped off the pillow an hour earlier; it was from the night before. The sound of the reporter’s voice was just loud enough to hear from where they sat, close to the front door.

“Police are now investigating the scene of what appears to be a homicide, committed just last night along the bay. In a parking lot by an abandoned lumber yard, the signs of a bloody struggle were found after police received reports from locals of gunfire. It is unclear as to what happened, or what the motive was, but a related story has police worried. Jason Tole, the son of business tycoon, Robert Tole of Crown Capitol, has gone missing. More details on his sudden and unexpected disappearance are forthcoming. In the meantime our thoughts and prayers go out to the Toles as they expectantly wait to find out if Jason’s disappearance and this violent event are related. Any information on Jason Tole’s whereabouts is most welcome by law enforcement.”

Jackson muttered under his breath.

“That was fast,” Gray said, twisting his mouth uncomfortably. “How do they know so much already?”

“It’s their job, but let’s not talk about it here,” Jackson said firmly. “We can say anything we want as soon as we get back to headquarters.”

“Right,” Gray replied.

Another five minutes of melancholy rested over them as they watched food arrive at nearly every table around them. Finally, Lisa came back carrying a huge platter in one of her skinny, little arms. “Here you go guys, sorry about the wait.”

“No problem,” Gray replied.

Jackson just sat back and let her fill the table, pursing his lips in a half smile.

“And, here is your extra butter for the wheat toast. Can I get either of you anything else?” she asked.

“Good to go, Lisa, thanks,” Gray replied.

Jackson already had his knife running through his pancakes and the slice of orange in his mouth that had accompanied his toast. He shook his head, “No,” before Lisa could say anything else.

“Excellent! Enjoy your meal,” she said cheerfully.

For little more than ten minutes Jackson and Gray ate heartily without saying a word. They could focus on other things when the food ran out. A follow-up drive-by from Lisa was met with nods and a half-chewed compliment for whatever it was they were biting. Gray made sure to keep his coffee hot.

With only bites remaining, Gray waved Lisa down for the check. “Alright, guys. You can take that up front whenever you’re ready. Have a great day!”

“You too, Lisa, thanks,” Gray replied.

Jackson nodded with another pursed-lip smile as if it were the same thing.

Leaving a few dollars on the table, they walked right to the cash register with exact change, and then out the door.

“Back to it,” Jackson said.

Gray trailed him a little as he walked with purpose toward the edge of the business district. Jackson zipped up his jacket to keep out the morning chill. With his hands in his pockets, his thoughts were right back at the parking lot by the bay. Nearly every aspect of the scene raised a question. The only answer that it presented was that something horrible had happened. That wasn’t very helpful, as it was a given every time Jackson got the call to put on his homicide hat.

“This is going to be an ugly one, Marc, I can feel it,” Gray said over his tooth pick.

“Homocide is never pretty, brotha,” Marc said in a rote response.

On the other side of the street walking the opposite direction, was a heavily dressed young man with corn-rows, a scraggly beard, and a heavy swagger. He was keeping to himself with his hood pulled up half-way on his head, but his step was telling anyone who might have been walking his direction: “Git out my way.”

Jackson saw him out of the corner of his eye and knew immediately what sort of gangster he was. He didn’t know the youth’s name, and that didn’t matter. Who he rolled with mattered more, and that was pretty obvious.

Headed away from the business district, Jimmy Harris hadn’t seen Jackson. He had somewhere to be, and in a hurry. This wasn’t his time of day to be stomping around either, and the fact irked him. As if his airs were not unwelcoming enough, the early hour had imprinted a scowl on his face. It wasn’t likely to come off either; especially with the message he was carrying, and where he was carrying it to.

The change from one part of Easton to another could be measured in a matter of three to four blocks; sometimes only two. Passing by Molly’s Diner headed south, Jimmy Harris passed another block of store fronts, most not open yet. Next he passed a block that consisted of a run down playground and a place where everyone’s dog could drop business. One block later, after a Baptist church that pre-dated just about everything, along with its over-crowded grave yard, Jimmy Harris cut west and into his part of town.

The southwest side of Easton was packed in. It was a monopoly of row homes with fenced yards not large enough to be fenced, and side-walks that had seen better days. The occasional single family home broke up the monotony, but three fourths of the place was what suits in the business district referred to as low-income housing. The inhabitants had a great deal more respect for it than that. They didn’t all want to be there, but it was their town, their streets, their hoods.

Spotted by cars, as many had left for the day to attend their respective occupations, the sidewalk curbs were nearly empty. A few students waited for the bus, blowing plumes of steam into the air for the first time that fall. Chestnuts and oaks that spotted the sidewalks were just beginning to turn colors.

Passing by one place he’d passed a thousand times before, Jimmy Harris provoked the wrath of a small dog that had been let out to get out what wasn’t allowed in the house. Kicking up some dirt, it staked its claim on a small patch of grass. Jimmy didn’t give a damn, but the dog didn’t know that; he had to make one thing clear regardless of who passed by: “This is my turf.”

After almost two miles of hoofing it, Jimmy Harris let himself through a small gate leading to the long sidewalk entrance of #15, a house that stood alone; alone, as in twenty feet from the house beside it, instead of an inch. It was a yellowing white wherever there wasn’t red brick. The yard was overgrown, like most along Prince Street, but there wasn’t any trash in it. The only mess in this yard was the kind that nature was making for itself, and that could be re-used.

Bounding up the steps and onto the porch, Jimmy Harris tested the knob; it wasn’t locked. Giving a rhythmic rap on the door, he eased himself into the front room of the first floor. The TV was on, and on the couch were two young punks a lot like Jimmy Harris; at least in dress. They didn’t have his facial hair, and instead of corn-rows they had let their hair go fro, but they were hooded; black hooded.

The first slowly pulled his hand back out of his pocket when he saw who it was that had entered. Without a word, he lounged even further into the couch as if he were going back to sleep. The second had his hood pulled back far enough that the end of the tattoos that covered his one shoulder could be seen at the base of his neck. He looked up slowly, as Jimmy walked by. “Sup, Pone,” he said in a gravely voice.

“Yo, Mo. Gotta talk to Wilks. He in the kitchen?” Jimmy asked.

“Havin’ himself some breafast. He spectin’ you?” Mo said.

“Not really, but I just got news I know he gonna wanna hear,” Jimmy replied.

“Best give it to ‘em, then.” Mo pushed himself out of the couch, revealing how small he was. Not even 5’ 8,” his clothes hung on him like he had deflated from his original size. “Aight, dawg. I got some boys to meet on da street. I see you round.” Hiding his hands in his deep pockets, he slipped out the front as Jimmy turned to continue further into the house.

Even before he turned the corner, he heard his name. “Pone, wutch you doin’ in my house?” The voice was not accusing or threatening, but it was powerful. Jimmy Harris slowly rounded the corner.

Sitting at a large white table with his huge arms resting on either side of a plate piled high with bacon, eggs and sausage, Darnell Coleman looked up from his meal. Behind him, at the sink was a younger girl, maybe his daughter, probably not. She turned enough to see who had shown up before getting back to cleaning the heavy grease out of the pan she’d just used for Darnell’s heavy breakfast.

Darnell’s usually shaved head and face had some stubble showing everywhere but on the very top, and his eyes were something of a mix between bloodshot and sallow. His dirty undershirt, wrapped over a large belly, was starting to disintegrate around the collar. That was well compensated for by a heavy gold necklace around his muscular neck. His large, tattooed arms, spotted with scars, ended in hands that could throttle an English Mastiff. His fork and knife looked insufficient in their grip.

He shoved a fork-full of sausage into his mouth, and spoke as if he hadn’t. “Take a seat.” He pointed to one of the open chairs with his knife.

Jimmy obeyed. That’s how you acted with Darnell Coleman, or “Wilks,” as all the Black Hoods knew him. You didn’t mess with Wilks. He was leader, president, chief, and king of the gang; nuff said.

Doubling the food in his mouth, Wilks spoke again, “You down here early.” Wilks chewed and looked him over, reading what it was that had brought Jimmy Harris to his breakfast table. Before Jimmy could say anything, Wilks added: “You got somethin’ to say, I besthave it, son.”

Jimmy sighed deeply. His legs started to tense up. “It’s deep,” he said.

Wilks stopped chewing but kept staring at Jimmy. After a few more seconds he swallowed whatever was in his mouth, regardless of how ready it was for his stomach. Turning his head only enough to look at his own shoulder, he said with a hint of kindness. “Give us a minute, babe.” Without hesitating, the girl at the sink put down what she was doing. On her way to the stairs, she brushed Wilks’ broad shoulders with her hand. He watched her go for a second before once again fixing his gaze on Jimmy.

Wilks put his fork and knife down for a second, and crossed his arms. “Sup, Pone? You look like you been chased down the block.” After a quick pause he added, “If it’s cus you don’t like wutch you gotta tell me, that ain’t gonna make it easier.”

Jimmy felt the rest of his body tighten with anticipation for what might happen next. He could already feel the length of his stride carrying him away faster than anyone could follow. Taking a deep breath, he said it: “Word on the street has it someone wasted Jason Tole.”

Wilks lowered his chin a little.

Jimmy could feel it coming.

“He in the bag?” Wilks asked, almost calmly.

“I don’t know, but I know there was a killin’ along the bay by the lumber junk, and Jason Tole is missin.’” Jimmy allowed himself to relax only a little. He wondered if Wilks already knew somehow, or if it had somehow gone according to plan.

Narrowing his eyes a little, Wilks said, “That wasn’t my word.” Cursing through his teeth, he raised his big hands and brought them down on the table hard. Slam! His plate jumped an inch. Standing up quickly, his chair went flying onto the floor behind him.

Jimmy was already out of his chair, against the wall and out of reach, ready for whatever fury might be unleashed in his direction.

 

 

9:15 am

 

“Missing?” a voice exclaimed angrily. “I don’t want to hear he’s just missing. Not while we have an unknown blood bath along the bay! I want to know where he is, and if he’s alive! Because right now he’s being presumed dead, and that’s a lot worse than missing.”

Commissioner Nicholas Duda of the Easton Police leaned on his desk where he’d slammed it hard for the second time. His chair was pushed back, giving him room to stand demonstratively. His dress shirt was rolled up almost to his elbows, his tie was loose and his stately jacket was over the back of his chair. He wasn’t going to be making appearances with the press.

The two officers on the other side of his desk nearly stood at attention, though they hadn’t been asked to. Neither of them was wearing his hat, and the younger of the two, new to the force, appeared to be struggling with whether or not to take the Commissioner’s anger personally. They’d obviously been the bearers of less than hopeful news.

Commissioner Duda put his hands on his hips and faced his officers. “No sign of him having come home last night, Officer Connell?”

“No, sir. His apartment was never entered, and no one has seen him since yesterday afternoon.” The older of the two officers did the answering.

“No answer on his cell phone?” the Commissioner asked.

“No, sir. And we’ve confirmed that no one in his family, and none of his immediate friends have heard from him.” Officer Connell answered bluntly each time.

“Businessmen like the Toles can practically be suspected dead if they don’t answer their cell phones as it is.” The Commissioner ran his hands through his thinning hair. “His car?” he asked.

“Parked where he apparently always keeps it, sir. He must have taken a cab or some other transportation yesterday when he left his apartment, though folks have said that’s unlike him,” Connell replied.

“I want to talk to Jackson,” Commissioner Duda said. “Get back to work, gentlemen. Your services in this regard have been appreciated.” Even as he said it, he turned away to look as several pictures on the huge hutch behind his desk. “If you are needed any more, you will be informed. Keep the rest of the city safe. That is all.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” they both replied. Without another word, they donned their hats and left.

Commissioner Duda’s office was the biggest, most adorned office in headquarters. He’d been with the Easton Police for 32 years, and in that time worked in almost every position, rank, and precinct of the city. It was his home, his yard, his turf. Having been Commissioner for the past four years, the first three had been a huge success. Crime had lessened in the city drastically, drug related crimes especially. Gang violence had plummeted. Though no one knew exactly why, who’s not going to take some credit for it as Police Commissioner? The city of Easton had been experiencing one of the most peaceful seasons it had seen in almost two decades.

Commissioner Duda sighed as he looked in particular at a picture of himself with another gentleman in a suit. He in particular looked younger. “God, I’m sorry Robert,” he said under his breath. He turned away from the picture and slowly took a seat at his desk. Staring at the door, he waited for the silhouettes that approached to knock on the opaque glass where his name was boldly typed at eye level.

Rap, rap.

“Come on in,” Commissioner Duda said loudly.

Marc Jackson and Peter Gray entered his office and immediately began to take their seats.

“No need, Detective Gray. I just want Jackson to give me the run down. You can await him at your desk, thank you,” Commissioner Duda said.

Peter Gray nodded. “Yes, sir,” he replied robotically. Without another word or look in their direction, Gray closed the door softly and walked back down the hall.

Once the door was closed, Commissioner Duda released the tension in his chest. “Is what I’m hearing on this true, Marc? I don’t make it my business as Commissioner to get involved any time some Joe leaves his blood all over a parking lot and goes missing. But when that Joe is in all likelihood Jason Tole, the son of one of Easton’s biggest, and best known businessman, I get involved. Is it him?”

Jackson gave it straight. “There is a 99% chance that the jacket we found at the scene of the suspected homicide belonged to Jason Tole. It’s not the kind of jacket any of us would wear. The blood type on the jacket and the knife that was left driven into the bulk head also match Jason’s. The next steps are to go through his apartment and see what we can piece together while the crime scene evidence is more fully analyzed.” Jackson recited the news as if it were any other case. But even his presently stoic face acknowledged that it wasn’t. His hard exterior was ever so slightly compromised on this one.

Commissioner Duda dropped his head a little before continuing. “What is happening? First Nathan Tole and now his little brother, Jason? Robert Tole is practically a house-hold name in this city and the wolves are devouring his family right in front of us, the protectors of the peace!” He stood up again, and walked back and forth behind his desk. “Robert Tole and I are friends. Well, we haven’t spent any time together for a while now, but we were pretty good friends a while back. I’m not sure I can bear informing him that his younger son and only remaining child is the suspected victim.”

Jackson just waited. He knew what was going on, because he’d been this way already. That helped him feel in control of the situation in some ways.

“Should we have seen this coming?” the Commissioner asked. “It’s not as if Jason Tole killed a gang member. That might expect reprisal, but all he did was testify, and that against a gangster that seemed for all purposes to be given up, if not despised by his own gang.” As he paced back and forth, he replayed his decisions. “There wasn’t any reason to think he should go into witness protection, and no one pushed it.” He stopped. “But now I wish I had suggested it.”

Without shifting in his chair, Jackson replied, “Everything was done by the book, and the Toles were well aware of what it all meant. Jason wouldn’t have been stopped from testifying at his brother’s murder trial, and I doubt he would have accepted anything but pursuing life to the fullest here in Easton once it was over.” Somewhat surprised by himself for having begun validating the head of the Easton Police, Jackson adjusted his tone and message to get back in place. “Sir, I will keep you up to speed on everything that comes out for the case. I know this is pushing the personal for you.”

Commissioner Duda stopped and rested one of his hands on the desk. He hadn’t thought anything of Jackson’s speech; for the moment they were on the same level. “Yes, it is.” He paused and looked at his lead homicide detective. “For you too.” He eyed Jackson a moment. “I’m sorry you may be investigating the death of another old friend. You were friends with both of them at one time, weren’t you?”

Jackson looked down at the desk in front of him to tame the rising sentiments of fond memories. “Yes,” he replied. Keeping his composure well, he added, “We ran around together for a few years when we were attending the same school. That was a while ago.”

“So you’re saying it’s not personal for you?” Commissioner Duda asked.

“Every life taken in Easton is something of a personal matter for me, sir,” Jackson replied.

“I just want to know I’m not asking you to take on something that is going to be too close to the chest, Marc,” the Commissioner said. “It’s less than good policy to have you work the case if it’s breaking you up inside the whole time.”

Jackson nodded, “I understand, sir. I won’t pretend this isn’t unique, but I have investigated the deaths of a few guys I’ve known.”

“High profile and completely unexpected?” Commissioner Duda pressed a little more.

Jackson straightened his back a little. “Not exactly, sir, but I can assure you that I will not have any problems doing my job to the best of my ability. I won’t let anything cloud my judgment, sir.”

Commissioner Duda looked at him for a moment, weighing what he’d heard against what he saw. He was looking at a serious professional, accustomed to everything homicide carried. “Good. I’m aware you’re not known for being soft.” He returned to his seat and leaned back. “I understand divers are in the bay already?”

Jackson leaned forward and rested his elbows on the arms of his chair. “Yes, sir. I haven’t heard if anything has been found yet. We still can’t confirm that there was a murder committed, though there is enough blood to suggest it. The main reason we think it was would of course be the knife. The evidence on the ground doesn’t support any bullet wounds, even though there were several folks in the surrounding area who claim to have heard gun shots. If a gun was used, the shooter picked up the casings.”

“Go on,” Commissioner Duda said.

“Well, that’s about it for what we can tell,” Jackson said. Scowling slightly he carried on. “But there’s something else that is bothering me now. It had me bugged all night.”

“Reprisal for Jason’s testimony in his brother’s death?” the Commissioner volunteered.

“Something like that, but not necessarily. Nathan’s killer was caught, convicted, and put away as fast as I have ever seen in a homicide case.” Jackson held out his next thought, not sure if conjecture was welcome.

“Go ahead, Marc, I said I was involved,” Commissioner Duda said with a wry smile. He knew his detective had a lot more to say.

“It’s not sitting well with me now. I’ll admit I was quite alright with it at the time. We were a fast acting, effective law enforcement unit administering justice on a very public case. But Delgado just took it. He looked like a cold-blooded killer in the act, but most cold-blooded killers don’t plead guilty as a first act and then accept their sentence with open arms. His lawyer didn’t even try to defend him.”

“Well there wasn’t anything his lawyer could do; his lawyer was a formality. He pleaded guilty because he was seen in broad daylight committing his crime and his fingerprints were all over the gun. Jason Tole of all people was the number one witness, and tackled him to the ground. There wasn’t anything but a fast and effective trial to be had,” the Commissioner replied. “What are you saying?”

“If we positively confirm that Jason Tole was murdered last night, I’m going to have questions for Luis Delgado. If it’s a reprisal killing, then he’ll know something, and if he knows something I’m going to get it out of him. He does have more to lose.” Jackson leaned back into his chair. “Will you help me bring him in if the worst case scenario proves to be the real one?”

Commissioner Duda slowly began to nod. “I will.” He leaned back as well. “I’ll get in touch with the District Attorney’s office once we have a bigger picture.”

Jackson just nodded. Working with people he didn’t much like was part of life.

“I’d say you’re welcome, but there’s nothing welcoming about any of this,” the Commissioner said. “And now I’ll shut up and let you go. You’re the detective, not me; not anymore, thankfully.”

Jackson rose from his chair and nodded. “Thank you, sir. Once again, I’ll keep you up to speed on the details. Regardless of the outcome, the Toles already know their son is missing, and a good chance of why. I know you’ll be the one to announce the verdict on this one. I’ll try to make sure you have all the facts that can be had.”

“Thank you, Marc. I appreciate that,” the Commissioner said.

Marc Jackson followed in Gray’s footsteps, closing the Commissioner’s office door carefully before walking the full distance of the hall. At the end of it, he and most of the force worked out of what you might call glorified cubicles. He turned his broad shoulders sideways to pass a few other staff on his way.

“Hey, Marc,” or “Mornin,’ Marc,” is all they said. They knew what was going on. Jackson returned each greeting with a deep “Mornin,” and kept his focus.

Gray was waiting in his cubicle, looking through a few emails and more or less waiting for something to give. When he spotted Jackson coming toward him, he rolled his chair half out of his cube and raised his eyebrows.

Jackson ignored his silent inquiry into what he missed. “Any calls from the diving team or the lab?” he asked.

“No, not yet,” Gray replied. “What was that about?” he asked.

Jackson leaned into Gray’s cube and kept his voice low. “He’s vested. All of this looks bad for the force, and this is likely another high interest homicide case. Not just that, it’s the same family. It’s hard to say of course how much press it’ll end up getting. I doubt we’ll be lucky enough to have any peace for the foreseeable future. None of that is surprising or privileged, is it?”

Gray ignored the subtle chastisement. “Nathan Tole wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be,” Gray offered at the same volume.

“Yeah, but this is Jason Tole. Same last name, same family, and most of all, the same father.” Jackson shook his head. “No, this is gonna be a bad one. Let’s stay ahead of it.”

At that moment Jackson’s phone rang. “Here we go,” he said, rolling into his chair to answer his phone. “Detective Jackson.”

 

 

2:30 pm

 

Just north of Center City Easton, the streets grew wider, cleaner, and somehow there seemed to be fewer of them. It was true. The size of each home, apartment building, condo complex, and a yard for each was at least double of what lay to the southwest. It was the same city, with the same sky above it and the same rock beneath, and even some of the same street names and numbers, but it was not the same. There were fenced in properties, but they weren’t like the fences that kept in yards far too small to bother parceling off. No, these walls surrounding estates, with hedge rows and trees meant to hide what lay inside, or who lived there. It was a different place with the same name. It was the other side of town.

The colors of roofs, siding, doors, windows, shutters, and landscaping were all better coordinated. Driveways and orderly parking garages held the cars instead of the curb. Trees didn’t have gum stuck to them, or crass language carved in them to share with everyone that passed by. Telephone poles weren’t riddled with staples, nails, and more gum. Where there was grass, it wasn’t dying from lack of attention, or in some place, too much. Some of it looked more like the ninth green than a residential lawn. Seldom did you see public transportation.

But as different as it was, the north side of Easton was still full of people; people with something to protect, to call their own, their turf. They were people with the same weaknesses, only done up with large amounts of money. Even money in amounts unknown by folks in the southwest couldn’t shield these people from the same pain and loss to which every beating heart was susceptible. Their money made all the difference in the world, but it didn’t matter a lick when it came to being human.

For the Toles, the great equalizer was once again knocking on their door. Over a mansion that happened to have no gate, or even box woods to serve as a wall, the heavy weight of loss hung like a mist that hadn’t burned off with the mid-day sun. Their pain was one that every parent fears more than anything in the world: the loss of a child. Only they were on the precipice of experiencing such helplessness in a second, vivid wave. For Nancy Tole, it was almost more than she could bear.

Sitting in the visitors room at the front of the house, a woman approaching her sixties and the golden years of life, felt like her life was over. Sorrow flowed through her, shaking her whole being. In short breaths, she sobbed from her core. Her shoulder length gray-blonde hair hung about her like a veil, hiding the hands that hid her face. Her thick, black rimmed glasses were on the floor by her feet, next to a box of tissues and a cell phone. She wasn’t wearing slippers, but rather sneakers. Until now, she’d been moving, unable to stay still for even a moment. Everything depended on her hope, and that meant she had to keep living, moving forward. It couldn’t be explained, but as long as she bustled about, the news she desperately needed would come. Only it hadn’t. It had been replaced.

A brighter shade of red showed at the cuffs of her red, long-sleeved t-shirt, where the tears had been gathering once they’d slipped through her fingers and run down her wrists. The tears she’d built back up since drying her eyes over her first born were being lost over her second, of two children. This was bareness: to have had in complete joy, and then lost two, fine sons, in the prime of life.

Coming out for air, she hardly noticed Maria Tellez rejoin her on the couch. Her house keeper and now close friend for over ten years was with her, sharing her tears, adding her own. What few words could be spoken to the news they’d received only moments ago were gone. Only presence and companionship in grief had anything to offer.

Nancy Tole was now waiting for her husband. He was all she had left of her family, and what she had poured her years into. She couldn’t be strong without him. Maybe together they would keep from falling apart, but by herself, she had nothing left. The sunlight from a beautiful autumn day streamed through the front windows, which were half open to let in the fresh air, but it was lost on her. It only added detail to a scene, a moment she did not think she could carry for the rest of her life. She looked past the sunlight, to the driveway, waiting for Robert. He would be strong. He was always strong.

Another few minutes passed without Nancy feeling it, or Maria saying anything. At last, Nancy’s view was adjusted by the arrival of a sleek, luxury car pulling up the driveway. The sounds of its engine and the tires on the driveway helped revive her a little. Parking in the turn around right at the sidewalk, Robert Tole climbed out of his car slowly. His thinning gray hair folded a little in the breeze, breaking from its ever fixed part. Closing the door to his car almost as slowly, he walked around the front of it and inside. He was leaning more heavily on his cane than normal.

“Thank God, Robert’s home,” Maria said. She jumped from her seat on the couch to open the door.

Robert Tole walked through slowly. “Thank you, Maria.” When he’d reached the spot where he could see into the rooms on either side of him, and up the staircase, he looked up to the second floor for a moment. No one was coming down to greet him. He turned to his dear wife where she sat staring at him from the couch. His blue eyes were red from crying already. Each of them twisted their faces in grief at the sight of the other’s hurt.

“Our boys,” he said, going to her.

At last Nancy could move again. She sprang from her seat to grip him in her arms. A renewed wave of pain overwhelmed them, bringing them together as one. What they’d made together was gone.

Maria watched, helpless to clean up this mess, unable to organize any aspect of it. This was something that had to happen and had to run its course.

When they felt like they couldn’t stand and weep anymore, Robert led his wife back to the couch. The tragedy and all that would come with it was only beginning.

A full half hour passed without a call or visitor, and that was something, as so many people were still waiting to receive the blow that they feared would come at any moment. Robert and Nancy held each other as the beautiful mansion that surrounded them faded away. True wealth was being measured. It was a strange accounting; it didn’t make earthly sense.

At last, Robert’s cell phone rang. He checked it and more tears streamed from his eyes. “It’s my sister. I have to let her know.” He braced himself for what was going to be one of the toughest calls he would make; the first of many difficult conversations.

Robert Tole wiped his face, feeling his gray mustache on the way down to his chin. “Dorian?” he asked, as he answered.

“Robert?” a weakening voice asked on the other end. “Is, …?” she couldn’t bring herself to ask the question.

“They found Jason’s shoes and, … and his phone in the bay,” Robert said, forcing himself through it. “He’s being presumed dead.”

“Oh, no, …” Dorian Tole stifling her cry on the other end. “Robert, I’m, … I’m sorry. I’m, so sorry.”

“Me too, me too,” Robert pushed out, squeezing his wife harder with his free arm as another wave of grief took her. “We’ve lost them both, Dorian,” he said.

“Are you both at home?” Dorian asked.

“Yes,” Robert responded. He let his tears roll freely down his face and onto his sweater. “You can let people know as they ask.” Some of the tension and panic that had built in his chest released. His head cleared. Taking advantage of the moment, he continued. “We’re not going anywhere or doing anything about it for a little while.”

Dorian was talking through rushed breaths. “Okay, okay. Just let me know if there is anything at all I can do. I’ll do anything for you guys, anything.”

“I think close company would be a help, and you would be most welcome,” he said, thinking mostly of his wife. “We’ll be having some other company as well, I’m afraid. There will be security watching the property, and us if we go anywhere. There’s some concern that this is more than random violence.”

“Heavens, Robert,” Dorian replied. “I can’t believe this.”

“If Jason, …” Robert trailed off as his throat tightened up. “We don’t mind the precautions.” He couldn’t say much more. His moment of control was passing. “Do come over if you like,” he managed to say.

“I will,” was all she could say. “I will see you soon.”

“Bye.” Robert hung up his phone and returned to the full embrace of his wife.

By the dinner hour Maria had taken over a dozen calls from business contacts, friends, and even the Mayor of Easton. It was clear that no ordinary young man had perished along Brigg Bay. More importantly, no ordinary man had now lost both of his sons. Even Robert Tole’s main business competitors had paid their respects, all before the evening news informed the city at large. Maria watched it alone while she prepared a light meal, careful to make sure it was not overheard or seen by the Toles. It was easy as neither of them had really moved since Robert had come home.

Robert Tole’s sister, Dorian Tole arrived shortly after dark, and under close watch. Robert made a call to let the police officers monitoring his property know she was coming. Her arrival brought love, and helped the grieving continue. Like anything that has to run its course to conclude, this experience would have to do just that; the course would prove hard.

All Robert and Nancy Tole really wanted at this point was to have their son, Jason’s body recovered so that they could honorably lay it next to his older brother Nathan. Nathan’s remains already lay in Nancy’s plot. Jason’s would have Robert’s.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Tuesday, September 6th

1988

 

Two young boys stood on the sidewalk waiting for the bus. Tan and freckled from a summer of fun, they both wore an expression of defeat. Their hair was much lighter than usual from so much time spent in the sun, a lot of it in the waves. Bead necklaces they’d purchased over a month ago still hadn’t left their necks. The wait for next summer had just begun.

The clang of a metal lunchbox rang out as the smaller of the two boys knocked his over. The picture of Wolverine on the front took another scuff mark where it had already lost some color from past abuse. Picking it up, he placed it between his feet where it wouldn’t happen again, held secure between his red All-Stars with thick, blue laces. His older brother didn’t even notice. He was now staring at a young girl who approached from further up the block, accompanied by her mother. She too looked hesitant to suddenly call an end to summer.

The backyard barbeque, ice cream and Slip ‘N Slide from the day before were gone. The bruises from the Slip ‘N Slide were not. The younger boy rubbed one of his elbows, tender from where he’d gone down a little harder than intended, over and over again. Jason looked like a fidgeting mess next to his big brother, Nathan.

Nathan’s Ocean Pacific t-shirt was tucked into his jean shorts, held tight to his tiny waist with a braided, rope belt. His socks were pulled up high without a wrinkle. The white laces of his British Knights, also new that summer, were bright enough to hurt Jason’s eyes. Nathan’s hair was so well parted you could have shaved his head and it would have grown back according to its training, in a part from left to right. His near perfection didn’t make Jason feel disorganized so much as it increased his awe of his big brother; he looked up to him, he admired him, and that increased his love.

Nathan and Jason Tole attended the same school as everyone else in the North East District. They didn’t need to. They could have attended any private school within distance, but their father wouldn’t have it.

“They’re not going to grow up knowing at every turn that their father is rich, and that somehow makes them better than anyone else. My father’s successes were his, not mine. He did it right. He didn’t spoil me, and I’m not going to spoil them. Extraordinary is earned, even for eight-year-olds.” Robert Tole was the tough one, and he wasn’t worth fighting with in most cases. His wife Nancy was the sweet one, and though she certainly followed his lead, she had her own ways too.

Nancy Tole packed her sons cupcakes on a regular basis as well as special notes on special days, or if she just thought they were looking glum over their Golden Grahams or Frosted Flakes. It was another thing to be glum over their shredded wheat, a mandatory cereal in the rotation by order of their father. “It tastes like crunchy paper in my mouth,” was how Jason first put it. Somehow that changed dramatically when his mother sprinkled even the slightest bit of sugar over it. Nancy didn’t pack their book bags for them that would have been weakening them but she was sure to kiss them both on the head any time they left the house, if she could catch them. She knew she wouldn’t always be able to, whether because of age or height.

The bus could be seen making its way toward them when it was still blocks away. Jason watched pensively as the yellow monster gobbled up children twice his size. Nathan was more interested on this particular day with the girl that had joined them for the first time. He was only ten, but he would have remembered seeing her before. Her summer dress, auburn curls held up by bright red berets, green eyes, and red jellies were all being catalogued in his mind’s eye. It didn’t even strike him as odd that he was taking such notice. Jason on the other hand was oblivious to their fellow, soon-to-be prisoners. His concern was how he would make it to lunch and recess. “Gym class,” he thought. “That’ll keep me alive until lunch and recess.” This began to calm his worries by the time the bus arrived. When he scooped up his lunch box and made for the stairs, he felt a hand on the strap of his back-pack holding him in place.

“You can go first,” Nathan said, holding his little brother back.

That was the first time Jason had even noticed it wasn’t just them at their stop.

“Thank you,” the little girl said, tossing her soft curls behind her, and in their faces. Her left wrist, which reached out for the railing, was loaded up with handmade bracelets, no doubt a collection from a whole summer of making and trading them with friends. In a flash, she was straight to the back of the bus like she’d known where her best friend would be sitting from the time she woke up that morning. Girls.

Jason pulled his shoulder forward, not liking how much Nathan had controlled him. The other kids were bound to have seen it. Recovering from the scene with a little independent force also helped him feel better that he hadn’t been a little gentleman while Nathan had. Father had told them to be gentlemen, and Jason admired their father even more than he admired his brother. He wasn’t going to let on now though; there were fifth graders on this bus. He’d be a gentleman next time.

Filing on quickly, Nathan followed Jason into one of the remaining empty seats, slamming against the back as the bus jolted forward again. They were toward the end of the loop, so there was no way they could have landed the seat with the hump. It was more of a prize for Jason as he was much shorter. Nathan appreciated leg room more each year. He was already five feet tall. Skinny, but tall, and that was what mattered, because growing taller was a race. Jason focused on other races because growing tall was not his strong suit. But then again, he was only in second grade; he had time.

Every once in a while a certain, small, female voice carried from the back of the bus to where the two of them sat. Each time it did, Nathan had to keep himself from turning around for a look.

“Hey Nathan, what did you guys do this summer?” Tim Hersey asked.

Tim Hersey was a squirrelly kid with big glasses and spiked blonde hair. He was definitely embracing the meaning of bright in his clothing choices this year. It was remarkable that he didn’t try to blend in more. He was the perfect sort of tender-hearted kid that bullies could pick out of a crowd.

“Went to the beach a bunch,” Nathan responded. “What did you do?”

Jason was staring at Tim’s white Umbros. Something a little darker was showing through. “Is that your underwear?” he blurted out.

Tim Hersey looked down and blushed hard. Gazing back at Nathan and Jason, he looked as if he would die on the spot. Several of the other kids nearby had heard Jason’s question, and a few of them looked around their seats, as if to ask “What underwear? Can I see?” Tim Hersey was about to have the worst first day of school ever. He was already on the verge of tears when the first taunt rang out.

“Ewww,” was the response of a boy that had been sitting on the inside of Tim’s seat. He grabbed his bag and jumped seats in a hurry, laughing as he went. The leprosy of grade school was being seen with a kid that wasn’t cool, or was just being teased. Tim Hersey had just been diagnosed as unclean.

Jason felt ashamed. Nathan looked at him with disapproval. Tim didn’t deserve this. He may have worn dark blue underwear with white Umbros, which was a horrible mistake, but he didn’t deserve this. Jason did what he knew he had to do. He had begun to turn red himself, first out of embarrassment for his friend Tim, then out of anger toward cruelty. He might have been careless, but Jason Tole was not mean.

Jason dragged his bag behind him and took the open spot with Tim. Tim moved to the window seat. Over the next five minutes the ridicule gained momentum as the news about Tim’s underwear spread through the bus.

Girls scrunched up their noses as if they could now smell Tim’s underwear, and in no time everyone at least knew to look for Tim Hersey’s underwear when they arrived at school and lined up.

Tim started to cry. Jason turned a brighter shade of mad.

Before Nathan could intervene with what he saw coming, Jason jumped.

“Shut up!” Jason screamed. He all but exploded with shame, protection, and a desire to make things right. It was loud, and almost animal, the volatile emotion of a little boy on display.

The noise of chatter faded.

Jason stood half in the aisle, slightly crouched with clenched fists, daring anyone to take the teasing back up. His Wolverine lunch box fell out into the aisle with him.

Kids from every seat looked at him with wide eyes. What on earth was this? First see-through shorts, then a crazy boy. Was it the same boy? That would make sense.

Becoming aware of the spectacle he was creating, Jason instinctively looked up at the driver’s rear-view mirror and made eye contact with him. Thick black eye-brows and a big, black beard looked back at him disapprovingly. But in a split second those beady eyes were probing the rest of the bus.

Jason dove backwards into his seat, not daring to look at Nathan. Now he felt even worse; sort of. He felt horrible that he had already failed to be a gentleman, again, but he didn’t feel sorry for threatening those who had been cruel. It was one thing to fail in being a gentleman but it was another to ridicule someone for their shorts, however see-through.

The bus driver came to life over the speaker. “That’s what I was about to say,” echoed a deep threatening voice. “Now stay in your own seats, and act civil or I’ll report every one of you to the principal. You can visit his office one at a time. Is that how you want to start school?”

There was no reply.

The bus driver had stopped the bus. He was at a stop sign, but he wasn’t going through just yet, and it was his turn. Jason peered around the seat, his face returning to its proper color, to see the driver wave a car or two on in front of him.

“Do we understand?” he asked louder.

“Yes.” A droning, semi-united response dribbled out from the benches of children at half the volume of their usual, shrill conversations. The driver knew that was a pretty good response.

“Alright,” he said, pushing the gas again.

The rest of the ride to T.B. Irwin Elementary was subdued. Tim finished up his crying. Jason stared at his knees, with occasional looks at Nathan. Nathan was now embarrassed by his maniac little brother, and let him know it by shaking his head a few times. Hushed whispering took over everywhere else.

When they finally arrived, and were pushing down the aisle, the driver stood by to look at each one of them, inspecting their guilt and letting them know who was boss. Nathan was ahead of Jason, and Tim was between them, holding his book bag in front of him with a renewed sense of horror for what the day might bring.

Jason stared at the floor intensely, shoulders drooping in disappointment. His eyes were finally tearing up; he couldn’t start his first day of school crying like Tim. But he cringed at the thought of his disapproving big brother, and … what would his father think?! He blinked hard to hold them back, but a few tears escaped.

A heavy hand rested on his shoulder. Leaning down a little, the driver whispered, “You’re a feisty young man, but you need to tame that temper, son. That’s what will get you in trouble, not your fighting spirit.” Without changing his stern face, he winked and ushered him down the stairs and off of the bus.

Jason wiped his eyes and wrinkled his nose as he got off; the bus driver’s breath was terrible. But Jason felt better. There was something good about what he’d done. He had a fighting spirit. He looked down at his lunch box and the scratched up imprint of Wolverine. Jason knew he couldn’t exactly be like that. Wolverine was a fighter, but he wasn’t a gentleman.

 

 

Present Day

Tuesday, October 11th

6:18 pm

 

“Sad news tonight in the City of Easton. Nine days after this story began, Jason Tole’s disappearance on Sunday, October 2nd, is being ruled a homicide. In a case that has had Easton stunned, and its police force stumped, this brings closure, but certainly no comfort to his family. It is a terrible loss, and not their first. Justin Hill has the details.”

Through a 13-inch TV, sitting on a dirty wooden counter, Katie Smaley of Eye Witness News reported the latest, the greatest, and the worst. With just enough change in tone to fit the story, she shared the update as another matter-of-fact without batting an eye. The voice of investigative reporter, Justin Hill, took over the story.

“Jason Tole’s death comes just four months after the sudden and violent murder of his older brother, Nathan Tole, who was shot and killed in gang violence. The crime proved to be petty and drug related, but no less devastating for the Toles.

Law enforcement in Easton has vowed not to rest until Jason’s murderer is brought to justice. Though his body has not yet been recovered, Jason Tole’s life will be celebrated this Friday. He was just 31 years old.”

As Eye Witness News took a commercial break, switching from Jason Tole’s death to an advertisement for an allergy medication, a tattooed hand held up a universal remote and muted the TV.

In the background the sound of an engine was fading into the distance. A seagull’s cry sounded from somewhere closer.

 

 

Friday, October 14th

10:23 am

 

A long line of cars filed into the cemetery parking lot. The flags sticking out of all their windows had received the desired respect from traffic and helped keep them all together as they arrived from the viewing.

It had been a very different viewing. Jason Tole’s body had not been found; not yet, according to the Easton Police. In all likelihood, Brigg Bay would remain his final resting place. Calvary Chapel’s cemetery is where he would have a grave stone, a coffin, and where he would be physically remembered. So, instead of a viewing, with Jason’s body in the coffin so that each person could say goodbye, they’d had a service of remembrance.

A video of his life from birth until that year was the center piece. His size, fashion, hair and almost everything about him changed, except his smile and his eyes. Nancy Tole did not watch the final cut. She stared at the side of the empty wooden box where her son should have laid, and listened to the music, but the pictures were too much. Too many memories of love poured out for her boy; for her boys. Nancy knew where Jason and Nathan were, and that is how she wanted to think of them from now on. A future-minded idea and picture of her sons. She also knew that her own survival depended on it.

It was a double funeral, like an unhealed wound torn open with a second blow, and made deeper. Until college, at least, and then again when he had graduated, Jason was rarely captured in pictures alone. He was with his brother Nathan. And now, they were both gone. Jason would be joining his big brother one more time, but in a final rest, not another action shot. There would be no funny faces, flexed muscles, odd hats or antics.

Robert watched every picture carefully. He let them burn into his mind, retracing the memories already there, etching a story written in stone ever deeper, not to be eroded by time. His eyes were wet, but he had just about finished with tears. The tightness in his throat, the ache in his chest, those were still strong. He could hardly speak because his emotions wouldn’t allow the words to escape in anything more than a broken word, or croak. No, Robert wouldn’t cry much more; a little perhaps. He was moving on to the next step in grief.

In the pit of his stomach a small flame was beginning to burn. Revenge perhaps, anger at the injustice of it all. Robert suspected as much. He was the one with the temper. He’d beaten Nathan’s killer to within an inch of death in his mind every time he saw him in the court room earlier that summer. And then, out of shame for the murder in his own heart, he had nursed the thug back to health, just enough to put him in prison for his crime. In the end, he had even forgiven the hopeless young man that had killed his first born … in his heart. No such words would have made it past his tongue if he had ever tried such a thing in person.

Robert Tole knew the danger of anger. He had a long list of past offenses he’d committed against the people that lived around him. Most had been fixable. Some hadn’t. Those ones were locked up in the back of his mind, or jettisoned from memory altogether until they were brought back by a circumstance, a word, even a smell. Memories of past offense are funny that way. They never really cut ties with those that create them; they just hide for a time, waiting to be called back, or for a chance to resurface.

If the fire in his belly was anger or revenge, and it most certainly was both, Robert was going to use it, not be used by it. “It is always a matter of mastership,” he would say. “We work with what we have, or we are worked by it.” A lot of things could be summed up that way for Robert. He wasn’t so stiff he didn’t understand exceptions, or difference, or even gut instinct, he had plenty of that. He just had a lot of compartments and edicts. This was how he lived, or when necessary, how he coped.

Robert and Nancy Tole were the first to make their way down the center aisle of the graveyard to where the casket was already being moved. She carried his free arm, and he leaned with his other on his cane. The sky above them was bright blue, patched with thick clouds. It was a nice day, but with a threat of rain. From the look of it, it could go either way. Not that anyone would enjoy it if it turned nice.

Behind them, wondering slowly in the same direction, almost unwillingly drawn to the same place, was a large crowd. It was comprised of the lives that the Toles had touched. They fell into one of two groups with a lot of overlap: business and loved ones. No one wanted to be there, and yet they did. It was inner turmoil, with some showing it on the outside.

Among them was the Mayor of Easton himself, David Wagner. He was a friend of Robert’s from years past, before his political aspirations became fulfilled. They’d stayed in touch since. Nearly everyone from Crown Capitol was present, from Robert’s new right-hand man by default, Gabriel Knight, to the lead janitor of Tole Tower. Their captain needed them, and not to help navigate the workings of the next business venture, but to support him now in navigating his way through one of the hardest things a father can experience.

The principles of Robert’s biggest competitors, Kinley Investments were also there. They were not friends, but they knew as much about Robert as he did about them. More importantly, they’d known his sons nearly as well. After passing on Nathan’s funeral, they came to Jason’s. It was simply not possible to do anything but pay their fullest respects this time.

Many business owners and partners who had dealt with Crown Capitol, and thus Robert Tole, both present and former, were there. They ranged from the ultra-wealthy to the small business just barely making it by. If you didn’t already know them, you couldn’t tell them apart by their clothes. Everyone was wearing their finest black suit or dress.

Commissioner Duda of the Easton Police was there. He was the one that had phoned Robert the news of his son’s death, and then announced it officially over a week later. Not everything had been done by the book, but there wasn’t a book for everything, certainly not this. The Commissioner’s eyes were red where he’d rubbed away tears of sorrow for the brokenness of his old friend. Marc Jackson was with him, also wearing a suit for the occasion. He had felt awkward until he arrived at the viewing. He forgot about it completely when he saw that one of the pictures in the slide included him. He looked around cautiously to see if anyone knew it. No one looked his way. A weight rested on his shoulders in that moment that he had never felt before. “This is personal,” he thought. He’d already known it, but now, he really felt it.

Joining Robert and Nancy close at hand was Dorian Tole, Robert’s sister and only sibling. She was not married, so she stood with them. Extended family from Nancy’s side huddled behind them both in a subordinate sort of support. Among them were friends of the family, former friends of Jason, and Nathan. Even Timothy Hersey was there, a friend since grade school. He wore a look of disbelief like so many of Jason’s friends. Nathan’s murder had been an alignment of fate and tragedy beyond what anyone could ever expect. Jason’s had now upped it. How was it possible?

Then there was Elizabeth Barnes. She had come so close to being family. She was the daughter that Robert and Nancy had longed to receive. But while their arms had been open to receive her, Nathan had been shot in the back. Jason’s death was Nathan’s death all over again for Elizabeth too. It was true of a lot of people, but more so for her and the Toles. To be the fiancé of a fine man like Nathan and have him stolen away was hell. Now she’d lost the next closest thing to him. Jason had been her brother, even if she hadn’t walked the aisle with Nathan.

Elizabeth did not wipe away her tears. They ran freely. Her waving, auburn hair was tucked behind her ears, flowing down over her shoulders. Her deep green eyes glistened with tear after tear, always replaced when one was blinked away. She was practically racing through the grief that had been reawakened. She had to get through this. She would never completely be over Nathan, but she had begun to move past him in a way. She’d had to. It wasn’t a choice. Her life was ahead of her and calling. She could either answer, or plug her ears and build a home over his grave. And there it was: “Here lies Nathan Tole.” Her family was with her, grieving with her as much as with the Toles.

There’s something magical about funerals. There are seldom misunderstandings, miscommunications, or details left unfulfilled. What are normally mistakes, like reading the time on an invitation wrongly, the tendency to put oneself first or bumbling inconsiderate statements practically disappear. Whether it’s because they multiply in their offense at a funeral, so making vigilantes of everyone, or because selfishness is placed in check is hard to say. Or maybe it’s that everyone actively believes in God again for the day, because the questions that accompany death necessitate it. One thing is for sure: the occasion is as serious as gravity; six more feet of it than usual in most cases.

The head pastor of Calvary Chapel Church took his place at the end of the grave. “Robert and Nancy would like to thank everyone who has attended today, for coming to remember their son, Jason Tole.” The pastor’s voice was soft and compassionate, as it should have been, but his throat was also tight as he spoke. This wasn’t formality for him.

“We remember Jason Tole for the vibrant light that he was. Even in the last four months of his life, after tragically losing his brother and closest friend, Jason was a breath of fresh air. A stronger man …” clearing his throat, the pastor fought to continue. “A stronger, more loving man could hardly be found.” After a pause, he added, “Jason spent the last four months of his life comforting us, more than we comforted him. We now look to God to comfort us.”

After a pause, as he considered his own sons, he presented a prayer to the God whom he clearly believed was listening. Robert and Nancy gave God their full attention as well, heads bowed. Everyone did the same.

He began with, “Father God, you know what it is to be separated from a son.”

Nancy Tole bowed lower. She had now been separated from two.

“Though we cannot fathom, or relate to this truth, we know that you understand our hurt. For Robert and Nancy, you know and understand their loss. We pray that you would comfort them in the way that only you can. We all offer up to you our pain, and ask your mercy on us, the living. We thank you for this young man, and that we all knew him. We are richer, more blessed, and more alive because of it.”

It may have been a prayer, and one of the most appropriate parts of the day, but every sentence caused pain, working out the grief.

“We pray for your strength, oh God, to live in a way that honors you, and Jason’s memory. We pray for strength and help to live like he did, as fierce and loyal friends, placing others before ourselves, as generous people who are not reserved in our kindness, and as lovers and doers of just cause.”

Lifting his Bible from where it had been hanging at his side in one hand, he pulled the ribbon marker and opened to a familiar passage to many of those present. “John, Chapter 14, verses 1 through 3 read as follows,” he said, holding his book aloft.

 

“Let not your hearts be troubled.

Believe in God; believe also in me.

In my Father’s house are many rooms.

If it were not so, would I have told you

That I go to prepare a place for you?

And if I go to prepare a place for you,

I will come again and will take you to myself,

That where I am you may be also.”

 

Robert Tole felt his sorrow leaving him once again, to be replaced by anger. His thoughts fought against what he was hearing. “My heart is troubled,” he thought. “I know these things, but what happened to my son?

Changing places in his Bible, the pastor turned to another page. “And then Psalm 103, verses 13 through 17.” With the same carrying voice he read on:

 

“As a father shows compassion to his children,

So the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;

He flourishes like the flower of the field;

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

And its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting

To everlasting on those who fear him,

And his righteousness to children’s children.”

 

Stepping back from the head of the grave, where the earth had been opened up just earlier that morning, the pastor took his place with the rest of the crowd. It was the funeral home director’s turn now.

Nancy grieved all the harder. Her children would never have children.

But Robert realized something. It was a start, and he would have to fight for it, by fighting himself. Compassion somehow had to be the answer, the ice to cool his fiery anger at the injustice in the death of his sons. He was still a father, even though his children were gone. He was also still a husband, and couldn’t cease living as a gentleman.

The decision had already been made as to who would lower the casket into the ground. Robert and three of Jason’s cousins joined the director from the funeral home at the metal frame that held Jason’s casket above ground. In unison, and without words, they slowly lowered the brand new, varnished box into a rocky bed.

Robert gritted his teeth with every turn, grinding out the finality of what he was doing. With every turn he both stoked and cooled the fires of revenge that were growing inside of him. “What happened to my son?” was countered with “Justice will prevail” and “God is not mocked.” Doubt gnawed at him in his weakness. This was proving harder than Nathan. And all the while a building narrative of compassion and steadfast love made its voice known in the background. His mind had become a battle ground.

Red and white roses were passed out among the crowd by one of the assistants from the funeral home. They were to be tossed in on the coffin with a final, personal goodbye. People held them carefully, not smelling them or admiring their ornate fragility. They mattered a whole lot less than normal. How ironic that the same flowers used in romance are used also in death.

After a minute or two of slow descent, Jason Tole’s coffin hit bottom. No one who had been lowering it wanted to watch it anymore by the time it was finished, least of all Robert. It was certainly not “Good riddance,” in the way you would bid farewell to fruitless labor, but the need to step away from something that offended the norm. How could we be closing the book on the life of a vibrant 28 year old? Well they were. Acceptance was going to take a while, if not forever.

Robert, Nancy and their families stood by and watched as one by one, the crowd that had gathered paid their last respect for the day, and dropped their rose into the grave. This is when it finally dawned on them how many people had come. It took a long time. Everyone passed by Robert and Nancy afterward to give some personal greeting, a handshake, or just a teary-eyed nod. So many powerful people were rendered powerless in the moment.

It helped them both tremendously. Nancy came back to life for a while, allowing herself to be blessed in knowing that her work in her sons had not been in vain, very far from it. So many people had come to celebrate and remember her baby boy. A scared smile, but a smile none-the-less returned to her lovely face.

For Robert, it was the same recognition, and each successive realization of the good of his son’s life was a blow dealt on behalf of compassion and steadfast love in the battle that raged on in his heart and head. For now, anger and revenge were being defeated.

Toward the end, and not among the Tole family, was Elizabeth Barnes and her family and friends. She lingered by Jason’s grave longer than most, but at last surrendered her white rose to the ground. Turning to Robert and Nancy with a face so beautiful, but a spirit so broken, she approached them knowingly. Her hugs expressed what words never could have; her almost father and mother-in-law. With that, she wondered away among the tombstones and the crowd that was dispersing. That was it. She wouldn’t attend any reception. It was for family only.

At the end of the line were the representatives of law enforcement that had more to do with the funeral from a professional standpoint. There was a good handful, and their absence from the force for the morning was like the moment of silence that the rest of the Easton Police observed for Jason Tole. Almost every single officer and support staff knew a good bit more than the headlines, whether it was their direct business or not.

Marc Jackson was last among the crowd. It seemed he’d intended it. He had a word for Robert Tole that was important to him. He didn’t know if it would be good or bad, but it just was. Things weren’t typically gentle with Jackson. The truth mattered most, and after that people could deal with it. The pastor of Calvary Chapel would have shared with him the idea of “speaking the truth in love.” Jackson probably needed it.

He never attended the funerals of those he and his unit found dead and gone. He was still even wondering if this had been a bad idea. But, Commissioner Duda himself was paying his respects. The whole thing was crazy. No, it was more than that. He’d say it was crazy, to push it off, and keep it impersonal. He’d be lying now every time he said it wasn’t personal. He was going to find the creep that done it. That’s what he needed Robert Tole to know.

After dropping his rose in at last, Marc Jackson approached Robert and Nancy after Commissioner Duda had greeted them and expressed his regrets. Robert forced a smile and put out his tired hand. There was even a slight shake, as he leaned against his cane with the other.

Once the Commissioner had moved on to greet someone he hadn’t seen for quite some time, Jackson spoke. “Mr. Tole,” Jackson said, expressing his sympathies with just the name. “I don’t know what consolation to bring you both. I’ve tried to think about what to say to you, and I don’t know what else to say but that I give you my word,” he looked Robert in the eye intently, intending to deliver strength and hope, but realized that he was not the strong one. It caught him off guard and made him pause, but he had committed. “I will solve this case.”

With those words, Robert Tole’s inner battle was over. Though the war would no doubt continue, he’d just experienced his first victory. He felt compassion for Marc Jackson. He could see the boy that had frequented his house so long ago, dying to prove something, to show he was it. Marc was going to prove something to him now, and in so doing, he now carried a companion burden.

“Thank you, Marc,” Robert said. He meant it. He also knew it was a risky thing for Marc to say. “We trust you will.” He kept it simple and let his tone and posture speak the rest: that Marc Jackson didn’t owe them anything. Someone else would owe, sooner or later.

Marc Jackson nodded, willing self-confidence. That was not normal. He never had to search for his self-confidence, but something about this was threatening him. Passing people in conversation throughout the cemetery, Jackson made a straight line for his car. Once he’d closed the door and started the engine, he cried softly. When some of the pressure had been let off, and the pictures of Jason and Nathan Tole were filed back in their proper place, Jackson jammed his emotions back down in place with a heavy fist. “Back to work,” he said out loud.

 

 

10:52 am

 

Just inside the front doors of the First Union Bank of Easton, behind a counter and out of sight, a tough guy lay on the marble floor slowly coming to his senses. His head was split, bruised and bleeding just above the duct tape that covered his eyes and mouth. He wasn’t going to see anything or say anything. He wasn’t going to do anything about it either.

The heavily armed, masked bandits that had dropped him there with the butt of a handgun had specially chosen him for the abuse. A guy his size might try something, so they made an example of him. His huge, body builder arms were pulled tight behind him and zip-tied twice: once at the wrists, and again at the elbows. It made him look more flexible than he was.

A small group of patrons who had been unfortunate enough to enter the bank during the robbery were being held at gun point just inside and behind the second counter. They weren’t being allowed to fill out deposit slips while they waited.

“Keep your eyes on the floor until they’re covered,” one of the gunman said to the latest patron to walk through the doors. “I won’t say it twice. There’s the tape.” He spoke harshly, but in an atonal, nasal sort of voice. You would never have known he had an accent not common to the neighborhood. All that showed were his two dark eyes.

Shaking like a leaf, a middle aged woman with big, red hair dropped her purse on the floor and began taping her own mouth and face. Her well-shaped eyebrows and complexion would recover, but only if she survived this.

From his position on the inside, the masked gunman could see anyone coming to the doors, but they could not see him. It may have been cloudy out, but the daylight was just enough to cause a solid glare on the glass, hiding the events taking place inside.

This branch of the First Union Bank was located on the northwest side of downtown Easton. It was far enough out that the streets weren’t overly busy, but not so far that certain people looked out of place. It definitely wasn’t like the northeast corner, but it was good and full of money; the residents, and their bank. These bandits had done their homework and hit payday.

Four of them had it covered. One carried a Tec-9, a second an Uzi and the remaining two a standard Glock; they were all modified with silencers. They were ready for a fight if need be, but they weren’t making a noise they didn’t have to. Plan A was to be blocks away before anyone except their hostages knew any better. Not knowing fully whether an alarm was tripped when they first pushed through the doors, they worked fast, taking all the cash available in the whole place in less than two minutes. It was like they’d been through the place already and had rehearsed the hit for time. These were more than just hyped-up thugs with too much self-confidence.

One of the tellers and the branch manager, whom they’d employed for the exercise, worked fast for them. Fear of death is a powerful stimulant to be sure. The bandit holding his Uzi at face level for the branch manager cheered her on in a similar a-tonal, nasal voice. From the look of their masks, there was a clip of some sort built in to distort their voices. “The faster you move, baby, the better your chances. I would hate to ruin that cute nose.”

She was pale with fright. She’d broken several of her perfectly painted nails rushing through drawers to empty them of “all their green,” as one of the bandits had put it. The feeling of cold, hard steel on her temple from the first threat was still sending chills down her spine. Scooping again and again, she filled one back-pack after another. The folks coming later that afternoon to cash their checks for the weekend would be sorely disappointed.

“That’s it, honey, time’s up,” the gunman said. “Both of you, on the floor, face down, hands behind you.” His accomplice tucked his handgun inside his waist line and quickly zip-tied their wrists and ankles. Tossing the back-packs around, all four gunmen put them on. Only the one carrying an Uzi put his gun in the bag also, and approached the front door lazily. He rolled his mask up and onto his head to where he now looked like any white dude off the street wearing a wool cap. Pushing one side open, he stared at the ground and took a left, headed south.

The gunman posted by the door waited fifteen seconds before motioning to the next bandit to follow suit. The second bandit left his Glock inside his waistband, under his baggy shirt, and made for the doors. This one pulled his mask off completely, letting his long, dark hair fall around his face. He too stared at the ground, but headed north and around the building to the east. He was shorter and thicker than the first bandit in every way.

Another twenty seconds this time and still no more customers were wandering toward the visible corner of a presently quiet intersection. The gunman at the door waved to another short, stocky bandit still holding his Tec-9, automatic handgun at the ready. With the signal, he stowed it in his backpack, and strutted out the front. He was just a construction worker with a thin goatee, a wool cap and a particular interest in the side-walk. Never mind the back-pack.

It was still clear. Without a word to anyone lying on the ground around the bank, taped, zip-tied and scared breathless, the fourth gunman drifted out in the same manner. The scene was left as it was, waiting for one of the hostages to work up the nerve to pull off his duct tape or for an unsuspecting customer to walk through and discover what had happened.

It had gone off without a hitch. The Latin Angels had just pulled a robbery like never before, making off with more money than they had ever laid eyes on all at once. Of course, the money would never be in one place, all together, ever again. Most of it would never see a bank again either. They also wouldn’t keep it all. That was the agreement with the first fellow to leave, the one who had planned the gig.

The fourth bandit casually walked around the building to where he had left a beat-up mountain bike leaning against the brick wall. He took off in a hurry. To the on-looker, he was just a college kid now, or a poor boy without a car, getting around the only way he could without paying for public transportation.

This casual gunman really did look young enough to be a college kid. He had no facial hair to speak of, save a shadow on his upper lip you could refer to as a mustache. His hair was short, shaved on the sides and buzzed on top.

He coasted downhill toward the business district of Easton as fast as the decline would take him. Five blocks down, he took a right into an alley behind a strip of store fronts. While he hid his bike behind a dumpster, the first siren could be heard in the distance. Twenty feet from the dumpster a Ford Tempo was parked with a generic “pizza” delivery sign stuck to the roof. It was in a little better shape than the bike he’d just ditched, stolen the day before to be his prop.

Pulling on a red “Chicos Pizza” cap, he put his whole backpack into a thermal pizza bag. He was headed south again as a cop car shot past headed north. He was home free, which meant that his accomplices most certainly were as well. All four of them had taken a separate get-away in different directions.

Freddy Molina was smiling now. The pressure and adrenaline he’d felt all morning, reaching its crescendo for ten minutes in the bank, was now fading. What a rush! He’d broken into cars, and even cased and robbed some rich guy’s house, but rob a bank? He could get used to this. He looked at himself in the rear-view mirror. A seriously bad dude was looking back. Running his hand over the pizza bag in the front seat next to him, he felt the bulge of his backpack, so full of money he didn’t even know how much he was cruising with.

At the next stoplight, he stared down some suit driving a Volvo. He wanted to yell, “You don’t know who you’re looking at, man. I’m Freddy Molina; bad ass and loaded, fool.” Freddy had forgotten he was driving a Ford Fiesta. It was a Nissan GT-R in his mind, or perhaps more accurately, in his ego. “I made high styled, stuck-up, rich people duct tape their own faces in fear,” he thought. “No chinges con migo. Don’t mess with me.”

A few tempering truths were missing from Freddy’s memory in the resulting high of becoming a bank robber. He hadn’t planned it. He hadn’t even walked into this bank until he’d been informed that he and some of the boys were going to hit it. He’d been told what to do, how, and when. Freddy was lucky to have made it out of this one. As the member of a violent gang, he was lucky just to be alive at nineteen.

None of this properly occurred to Freddy, though. He finished his drive to the southeast side of center city, and pulled into the small parking lot next to Chico’s Pizza. Hopping out of his car he entered a side door, “For Employees Only.” Sunlight was replaced with fluorescent, and the sometimes dingy smell of the city with fresh tomato sauce. Freddy rushed into the small break room, eager to pick up his disguise and drop the money. It was not as well lit as the kitchen beyond it, and cluttered from employees ditching their stuff to jump into their shift. Turning around from closing the door a little more softly than usual, Freddy was caught off guard. The restaurant owner was standing there with his arms crossed, apparently waiting for him.

A wrinkled little man with a full head of dark hair donned a scowl. Antonio Gonzalez was just that, a sour mix of moody Italian and emotional Columbian. His old Chicos Pizza polo was faded, a print and design from God knows when; not that Antonio worried about branding or logo appeal. It was all about the sauce.

Everyone who worked for him joked about how old he might be, but no one actually knew. His gray hairs could be counted, but his wrinkles couldn’t. His voice sounded like gravel was caught in it, but the guy was always there, watching everyone work. Did he sleep? Was he human? It was assumed that maybe the food Antonio made for himself, which was spiced beyond what any customer could have handled, was having the effect of a preservative. Ironically, only Freddy had tried some of Antonio’s personal pasta sauce and not cried from the heat. Antonio was always mad at Freddy for something, but as anyone who had worked for Antonio knew, that meant he liked you. All the cooks attributed the liking for Freddy to the fact that he had handled the old man’s spice. That was like love.

“You’re late, Freddy,” Antonio chided, shaking a thick pointer finger. It actually swung, like it had more weight than his hand. His accent was as thick and rich as the sauce that he talked about every day.

“There was traffic, construction or something, Mr. Gonzalez. I tore around it all though, taking side roads, boxing the scene. I probably drove twice as many miles as I should have, but I got here fast. You know you got no driver with a better knowledge of the city street than me, right? I got my pizza sign on my car already and a bag in my hand. Nobody gonna miss their lunch because of me. Besides, who eats lunch before eleven? That’s loco. Let breakfast settle, right? Dinner is what matters anyway.”

Antonio just shook his head. “You talk so much, Freddy. I don’t care,” he said, holding out both his hands now, emphasizing the feeling. He did too care. That is what really kept him alive. “You are on a shift, now get an order and take it out,” he said, continuing to shake his head as he went back into the kitchen to watch everyone work.

“Yes, Mr. Gonzalez.” Freddy waited until the old man was out of sight and then grabbed another thermal bag from the hooks where they were all lined up, waiting for the real action: Friday night. Friday lunch was busy too, but Freddy only needed one pack to actually carry food; the one he held needed to remain the disguise for his back-pack a little while longer.

Bolting into the kitchen like he’d been at it for hours, Freddy scanned the deliveries that had already lined up to see where they needed to go. The kitchen was alive with the Friday lunch hour. Heavy metal spatulas chopped any number of foods sizzling loudly on the grills, while the oven doors opened and closed, pizzas popping in and out.

Freddy ignored it all, really hoping he would be ignored back. He wasn’t going to wait for someone to tell him to take a specific order. He was going to take the one closest to where he needed to drop the cash and his gun. He found one close enough in the first glance. Grabbing the ticket and finding the box on the shelves above it, he took off again, back out the side door, into his Fiesta and out the back of the lot.

The money was the most important thing in the world until it was in the hands of his family, the Latin Angels. He didn’t have any other family, or at least, not since he left it to join the gang at sixteen. And now that he and the gang were loaded? He would still deliver pizza, even after this job, because that enabled him to keep an eye on the streets of Easton for the gang. And he would drive a Ford Fiesta for the job too because it was just a show.

What Freddy saw helped his family. He remembered nearly everything he saw when he was out delivering Chicos. He knew the streets, the dealers, where they worked, and who was buying. He had an eye out for any trouble. If a loner or Black Hood showed up looking to make deals on a corner where they didn’t belong, Freddy would let the boys know and it would be taken care of before the punk got any ideas. He was an “ojo avizor” for the gang.

There was one more, very important thing that Freddy kept an eye on while he delivered for Antonio Gonzalez: the cops.

 

 

11:42 am

 

With a chicken cheesesteak halfway to his mouth, Jackson paused. There was a sharp increase of commotion coming from down the hall. Placing his prized, Friday favorite back on its wrapper gingerly, Jackson poked his head out of his glorified cube. He’d changed out of his funeral suit and back into his usual khakis and a button down shirt, no tie. Taking a look around, he spotted Officer Connell on his way to the back door. “Hey, Connell, what’s goin’ on?” he asked.

“Bank robbery on the north side if you can believe it,” Connell replied.

“Wow, that’s heavy,” Jackson replied. “What’s the status?”

“Don’t worry. No dead bodies or drugs. You’re clear for now,” Connell replied with a knowing smile. “Other than that, it’s not good. We haven’t had one of these in a long time.”

Jackson nodded thoughtfully, running a hand over his short, tight hair. Stopping his hand in the back to relieve an itch that had been growing, he mused aloud. “That’s bound to bring the FBI around.”

“It’s definitely their jurisdiction, and from what I’m hearing so far, this wasn’t some lucky madman with a revolver and a getaway car.” Connell leaned against the wall.

“Well, don’t let me keep you, I was just wondering about the buzz,” Jackson said.

Officer Connell shrugged. “You’re not keeping me. I had the early shift. I’m done for now. Catch you later.” Officer Connell continued the way he’d been heading.

Back to his lunch, Jackson also returned to the puzzle he’d been building in his head. He had time, barring any other action, to puzzle away too. “What is the connection between Nathan’s death and Jason’s death?” he wondered just under his breath. He took another big bite, and he repeated the question in his head.

The walls of his tan-colored cubicle were thinly spotted with newspaper articles, pictures, maps, notes to himself, and just about anything you could think of for piecing together a mystery. Jackson did this anytime a case became a hard nut. When a case was solved, everything from the walls came down. What hadn’t been relevant went in the trash and everything else was filed.

Kept separate from it all were his certifications as an Easton Law Enforcement Officer and his college diploma. As he had a cubicle that sat up against a real wall, he had them displayed there; prominent, centered, and in fine gold frames. Just below them, on a window sill, as he was fortunate enough to have one of those as well, was a picture.

Three people stood in downtown Easton, the sports complex behind them, and tickets in their hands. The middle one was a young boy no older than twelve with one of the biggest, most genuine grins a boy can have. On either side of him stood the halves of what appeared to be a long standing couple. The old man’s hair was turning white and the cares of life had written their story on his brow. His left arm was wrapped around the boy’s shoulders. The old woman had aged more gracefully, but gray was working into her hair was well, streaking back toward her bun. Her arm was wrapped around the boy’s waist. All three of them were so alive.

Jackson had his back to them at the moment. He was focused on something else; well, two things, because a few bites of his chicken cheesesteak remained. Making it all one huge bite, he balled up his wrapper, tossed it into the corner trashcan with a flick of his wrist, and leaned back in his chair. A bundle of napkins followed the wrapper as more of a penalty shot once his hands were clean. Then, resting one arm on his desk to lightly tap the keys of his keyboard, he held the side of his head with the other, elbow supported by his arm rest. He ran through it again in his head.

Jason Tole witnesses the sudden and senseless murder of his older brother Nathan by a drugged up LA who happened to have a hand gun at the time, and a beef with objects that moved. It was really bad timing for the son of a real estate mogul. Jason Tole, as a successful witness helps put him away, and now he has been killed. But Jason’s death, though sudden, is not in the open, not obviously gang related, and his body is not found. If his murder had been a reprisal, it would have been a drive-by, or a hit in his apartment, and definitely a gun killing. It probably wouldn’t have happened by the bay. What the heck was Jason doing by the bay anyway? What is the likelihood that brothers, known to be more than upstanding citizens without enemies, both get murdered within four months of each other and their deaths are unrelated?

Jackson shifted to resting his elbows on his knees and staring at the floor.

Even if they are related, this is more than the usual gang killing. Another thing: gang members would have left the body. And who fights with a guy, stabs him several times and then shoots him? Why not just shoot him and roll out? Someone might see or hear a knife fight. And why leave your knife? Is it a calling card? If so, it’s a dangerous, cocky move. That knife was being examined so closely that anyone within ten feet was going to be linked to it. Maybe it was an idiot? Can’t be. That would make me an idiot for not finding him yet. Idiots leave big evidence and this killer didn’t.”

Sitting upright again, Jackson looked out of his cube to see the arms of the clock down the hall joined together in pointing up: 12 noon. “Where’s Gray?” he thought.

As soon as he’d said it, the man appeared, carrying a beefy burrito in a brown paper bag. A wet spot on the bottom could be seen where the salsa had sprung a leak from its foil wrapping. As he walked in the direction of their cubes he seemed to grow happier with every passing second. No one could be that happy about a burrito. A hand tapped on the edge of Jackson’s cube before Gray reached it.

Samantha Garza, chief detective from the District Attorney’s Office stepped into view.

Oh,” Jackson thought. Gray’s stupid smile made sense now.

“Hey, Marc, I hope I’m not interrupting your lunch,” Samantha said with a semi-embarrassed smile. “I figured I would check in before the weekend to make sure nothing was on hold that we needed to get done right away.” She looked pretty and sweet in her casual female suit, but she wasn’t. Well, she was pretty, that couldn’t be denied. She wasn’t sweet, and that cancelled out the pretty by Jackson’s accounting. In his three years as lead homicide detective he’d gotten to know her well enough.

“Hey, Sam, how’s it going?” Gray said from behind. He made it three, blocking the rest of the cubicle opening. Jackson suddenly felt caged.

“Good, Detective Gray, how are you?” Samantha replied formally.

She still wouldn’t speak to him on a first name basis. Gray was used to it. He didn’t mind, she was smokin.’ They were at work and she couldn’t reciprocate without being unprofessional; understood.

“Excellent,” he said. After a few awkward seconds, he added, “Well, I’m gonna eat some lunch. Let me know when you get started.” Stepping into his own cube he let some air back in for his partner.

“I’ve eaten. Have a seat, Sam,” Jackson said, straightening in his chair and folding his hands on his lap.

Samantha lowered her shoulder bag to the ground and took the only other chair in his glorified cubicle. Crossing her legs, she asked in a gentle voice, “How was the funeral?”

“It was, what it was,” Jackson replied. “It helps in a way, I guess.” He was not really in the mood to talk about it. But when was he in the mood to talk to Sam? She made him uncomfortable.

Samantha just nodded, agreeing. “Any breaks from the lab in finding something other than Jason Tole at the scene yet?” She already knew she didn’t actually need to break the ice, which she personally liked.

“Nope,” Jackson said with evident displeasure. “It’s becoming a reasoning case pretty quick. With no real evidence pointing to anyone, we’re going to need to back up and try some different approaches.”

“Well, you know I like questioning people,” she replied.

“That is something we have in common,” Jackson said, not meaning to emphasize “something” so much. Oh well. “We’re blurring the jurisdiction lines on this one too?”

Samantha looked a little surprised at the comment, reading deeper than Jackson knew, to the true meaning. She let it roll off. “Yes. The DA has me for that very sort of thing. Anyone other than Luis Delgado you want to talk to?”

“He’s it for actual interrogations, since we have no good suspects yet. To add to it I’ll be checking in with some of my street sources,” Jackson said. “That should hopefully lead to other folks we could call on.”

“Okay, so in this reasoning case, how can I help other than bringing Luis Delgado back in from State Pen?” Samantha asked.

Jackson didn’t answer right away. He liked this situation. He would have liked to dismiss her on the spot, but he couldn’t do that and that’s not exactly what she was suggesting. “You can certainly help me puzzle it out,” he replied. “Not that you’re supposed to.”

“But again, I’m something of a legally approved rogue. What are the questions?” Samantha asked directly.

Jackson knew that talk of jurisdiction and protocol with Samantha Garza was pretty pointless, and she came with more authority than he could wrestle with anyway. So, he dove into it. “Who other than a gang member taking revenge for his boy, Luis, would want Jason Tole dead?”

“So, who would want him dead, not necessarily who killed him?” Samantha asked.

“Both,” Jackson said.

“Well, only someone with pretty cold blood could stab a guy several times, shoot him, and proudly leave one of the weapons at the scene.” Samantha stared at the ceiling as she thought.

“That is true, if there was only one person involved in the actual kill,” Jackson added.

“Then two cold-blooded people wanted him dead, or were willing to kill him for someone else,” Samantha adjusted. “Though two killers would have made evidence twice as likely and we have none.”

“True. For the actual murder, one person is far more likely,” Jackson mused on. “But as for motive, it’s still not clear who to put on the table.”

“Delgado didn’t have any close brothers or friends that would take revenge,” Samantha said out loud, though more to herself than Jackson. “And even if he did, Delgado wasn’t a gang member shot down by another gang, which is typically the reason for more killing.”

“Also true,” Jackson muttered. Any number of images filled his mind.

“What about the business world?” Gray asked from the entrance to the cube. He was still chewing while he wiped his mouth. “I mean, while we’re working on alternate explanations.”

They both looked at him.

Jackson marveled at how fast he’d eaten a burrito that probably came in at a full half-pound. “What are you, a teenage boy?” Jackson thought.

“I’ve been listening in,” he said. “The cube walls aren’t that thick.” He tapped on them dismissively.

Samantha plowed right on as if he wasn’t there. “Jason Tole didn’t have any enemies that anyone has even conjectured. Literally, no enemies,” she said.

“It’s probably the only other realm in which someone might have had it out for him,” Gray said.

Jackson redirected. “There really isn’t anything we’ve gained from his apartment, his friends, family, or anyone about the night he died. He had no plans that anyone knew of, or that we found clues to.”

“So the fact that he left his apartment at all is unknown, and why he left is unknown,” Gray said. “A body would be really nice right now,” he added off hand.

Jackson and Samantha ignored this last comment. There wasn’t a body. They had to work without it and the story it could tell.

“But he definitely left, and willingly for all we can tell, because there is no evidence of any foul play at his apartment, and unless he intended to leave, there would likely have been something suspicious left or seen by others,” Samantha added.

“And no one noticed him leave,” Jackson said.

“So he did leave freely, then,” Gray added, as he put his hands in his pocket and leaned against the edge of the cube.

“I know we’ve been down this road already, but, who might have convinced him to end up by the bay, or even head that way?” Samantha asked.

“Once again, we come to our gap in an alternate theory for who the killer is, other than some anonymous monster from the street,” Jackson concluded with a sigh. “We’ve been through his computer files, internet searches, and we’ve even read through more texts than I can remember. It’s all so normal, predictable, even boring. The only red flags all pointed back to Nathan’s murder, and Luis’ trial.”

“GPS reveal anything enlightening?” Samantha asked.

“No,” Jackson replied as quickly. “It loosely confirmed that he went to the scene of the crime, but a cell phone can’t accurately tell us where he went in-between. It’s just not reliable.”

“Jason wasn’t working on some business project that was ruffling feathers, was he?” Gray asked out of left field again.

“No, that didn’t even describe Nathan, four months ago,” Jackson replied.

“And we’ve probably asked his parents too much already,” Samantha added. “They haven’t been able to think of anyone or anything that could have led to his death.”

They thought in silence for a moment.

“Yes, Delgado is the next step,” Jackson said. “I want to start, or re-start with him. I think he knows something.”

“He’ll be in your holding cells early Wednesday morning,” Samantha said definitively. She smiled.

Gray smiled too.

Jackson just nodded with a serious face. All he wanted was to get out of Delgado what he hoped was there. He’d barely questioned him when Nathan was killed. There was no reason. He confessed immediately. Jason was a solid eyewitness. His fellow gang members didn’t even want to take the stand on his behalf. Not that they would ever be eager to enter a court room.

“Does anyone want to get a drink when we all get off?” Gray asked quite suddenly. “Jackson and I are off this evening, anyway.”

Samantha glanced at Gray, and just said “Me too,” but then looked at Jackson. Apparently he was the one this depended on.

Jackson knew Gray had wanted to get to know Samantha better since he first laid eyes on her. But why was she looking at him? “My partner wants to hold your hand, not me, girl,” he thought. Oh, the things he didn’t say. Hesitation was all that was needed.

Samantha broke the silence. “But, I’ve told a friend I’d meet her for dinner and we’ll probably be having drinks then. I’m not really feeling a night on the town in that way.” She smiled at them both. “Sorry, I’ll pass this time, Detective Gray.” Without a moment’s hesitation she stood, shouldered her bag and bid her farewells. “Marc, Detective Gray, I’ll expect a call from one of you Tuesday?”

“You got it,” Gray responded first.

“Sure thing,” Jackson replied flatly.

“Have a great weekend, boys,” she said. With that, she left.

Gray watched her go, just now realizing she wasn’t being as professional with Jackson. “Maybe it’s because they’ve worked together more,” he thought; anything to keep his hopes alive. She was smokin.’

“Stag it is, I guess,” Gray said.

“Works for me,” Jackson said. “Do you have any more evidence pulled out from Nathan Tole’s case?” he asked.

“Coming right up, partner,” Gray said. When he rounded the corner, he was chewing again. He handed Jackson a few more file folders, unable to say much over his food.

Jackson just looked at him knowingly. “Samantha is a little stiff at first. She’ll warm up to you. It took me a year or so to get over her front.”

What he really wanted to say was, “Leave it, Gray. If she likes you, you’ll know it. She’ll probably eat you alive. And what on earth do you see in her anyway?” But, he stopped himself.

Gray nodded, swallowing. “Yeah, I figured. She probably gets hit on a lot, and keeps her guard up because of it.”

“Yeah,” Jackson said. Not really. “Thanks,” he finalized, holding up the files.

 

Chapter 3

 

Thursday, September 6th

1990

 

The street that Nathan and Jason Tole lived on was quiet. A block away traffic zipped by, but with the way their street ended at a huge playground, none of those cars turned in unless the drivers lived there. It was the perfect sort of place for roller hockey, basketball, or the latest version of tag, the rules for which were ever changing. It was a great place to learn all about what you were made of, about cheating, honesty, being a sore loser, a good winner, and in the end getting along either way.

At twelve and ten, Nathan and Jason were learning these things. It was still normal to smile, cry, get angry and yell, take your ball home, and come back to finish the game all after your homework was finished and before dinner. No wonder an hour or two could feel so much longer in grade school.

On this particular day, while there was still some length to the days, Nancy Tole let them play. Robert wouldn’t be home until close to eight. They could all have a late dinner together, and the apple and cheese slices Nathan and Jason had when they first came home from school looked to still be fueling their hot little engines. Nancy watched from the window as Jason ran for his life from a taller neighborhood boy like he had a club. It was true in a way, as the boy was the original tagger in a game of Zig-Zag Tag, a special edition of the chasing game which required running across the street for nearly every move you made.

The object was to run from one point to another on the sidewalks, from one side of the street to the other in a zig-zagging pattern. The kid that lost the elimination round of rock-paper-scissors to get the game started had to then try and tag kids as they ran back and forth. When tagged, that kid joined the original tagger in catching everyone else. At some point the game would turn very quickly, but the last kid standing, whether he completed the course or not, didn’t have to chase the next round.

Jason was bright red and sweaty, while Nathan was barely glistening. They were both still free. One of the street taggers was Beth, the sweet little girl from the bus stop. She was biding her time; she wanted to be the one to tag Nathan. Her curly auburn hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and she wore a big, thick sweat band on her wrist, as if she was actually sweating. She wasn’t. It matched her bright yellow shirt, so that was its actual purpose.

“Na, na-na, boo-boo, you stepped in poo-poo,” Jason called out, and then darted across the street. He narrowly avoided the poisonous touch of some girl who’d been unfortunate enough to get tagged first. Jason couldn’t remember her name now; she was from one block over and new to the scene. Her black pig-tails were so far out they were almost on the sides of her head, and her bangs were huge; bigger than most girls. Her white t-shirt was tied on the side, showing some of her waist line. What was her name? Oh well, she was the enemy. “Na-na, na-boo-boo! You’re slow as … poo-poo!” he called through heavy breathing.

She stuck her tongue out and pretended to turn her back on him.

Jason knew that tactic. C’mon, he wasn’t going to fall for that, he was practically a Zig-Zag Tag professional.

Nathan was a side-walk square ahead of him, bounding through the course like a gazelle. Every time he made it across he laughed merrily. The narrower the miss, the louder he laughed. It didn’t hurt being one of the oldest, tallest kids in the game.

Beth was waiting, trying to get in position.

Nathan was watching her too, but less because he actually thought she might catch him. He liked her, and he thought maybe she knew it. It had taken a little while for him to get there, but he was okay with it now. The flirting was on, and the other kids had begun to notice. Nathan and Beth had even been teased some, but they hadn’t minded. They probably wanted to kiss.

Jason feigned to run, and the girl with pig tails spun around in a split second to pursue. He laughed at having fooled her. “Hah, you thought I was gonna go,” he chided. At that second he looked to Nathan, who looked back with the connection. Each said with his eyes, “Go!”

Running across at the same time, they were lucky enough that the four taggers waiting in the middle of the street didn’t commit to either of them fast enough. They advanced. In the same run though, the numbers had tilted to the tagging team’s advantage. It was now five to four. This is where it got serious, and where tag legends were born.

Beth had been waiting for the odds to swing to her side. She set herself up to be directly in the middle of the section of street Nathan now had to run, and then focused on Jason.

“You can’t catch me, Beth, I’m too fast,” Jason said, shaking his head. He was as serious as a ten-year-old could be. He’d beaten her so many times before, it wasn’t funny. And now the girl with pig-tails joined her.

Jason started to wave his hands, like he was casting a spell over them. “Watch the hands,” he said.

“You’re so stupid,” the girl with pigtails said, and folded her arms in disapproval.

Jason looked up in time to see Nathan take off, staying just ahead of Teddy Jones, the other tall boy from down the street.

That’s why Beth had been watching Jason. She knew that he’d be watching his big brother. It was the sure calculation that gave her the edge. Spinning and lunging, she stuck out her arm as far as she could and felt Nathan’s shirt fly by.

“I got you, Nathan,” she cried out. She had, but just barely. It was arguable.

Nathan honestly hadn’t felt it, but he couldn’t have been happier with the claim. “Alright, alright,” he said, stepping out into the street to join her.

Jason took off. This would be his last chance for one more move, and to get as far as Nathan had. Everyone but the girl with pig-tails had been joining Beth in the triumph of catching Nathan. She was focused on bringing down that snotty boy with the tie-dye shirt.

Jason tried to turn sideways enough to get past her, but her finger tips brushed his back. He felt it but finished running across to the other side, and jumped up onto the curb.

“I got you, I got you! You know it!” she yelled.

Her shrill voice only made Jason want to fight the claim even more than he already did. Had anyone really seen it? It was his word versus hers. He didn’t reply but raised an eyebrow like he was surprised to hear it. For some reason he held his tongue.

“I got you!” she yelled even louder, forming fists.

“Calm down,” Jason said. Letting go of the urge to deny the truth, Jason stepped off the curb. “Alright, you got me. I just didn’t really feel it,” he lied. He couldn’t let her be too smug.

Oh, but she was. Turning her back on him for the old news that he was, she joined the overwhelming odds against the two remaining kids on the curb. Jason didn’t even bother, it was over.

“Who wants to play one more?” Teddy asked loudly.

In that moment a bell rang down the street. “Awww,” he said, looking toward his house. “I gotta go. See-ya!” Teddy took off with a wave over his shoulder.

It was finally getting dark. The cars a block away that zipped by all had their lights on now, and they weren’t very easy to see. One car from among the many pulled in and headed their way.

“Jason, that’s Dad’s car,” Nathan said. He knew his dad’s car anywhere, at any time of day.

Jason could feel his heart beat in his head from running around so much and getting so hot. He waved to everyone and started jogging back. Looking over his shoulder after a few seconds he saw Nathan taking his time. He was walking with Beth.

As the group dispersed, Nathan and Beth stayed together for a moment longer. Becoming mere shadows in the low light, Jason watched them look at each other. Jason thought he saw smiles stretch across their faces. Something was being said without words. For a split second it looked like they might hold hands. Jason was so ready to call them out. But then they just gave each other a high five and separated.

“Nathan, c’mon, we’re gonna be late for dinner, and Dad’s gonna make us take showers,” Jason said.

Nathan didn’t reply, but rather watched Beth for a moment longer as she cut through one of the neighbor’s yards to her house a block away. When her bright yellow shirt was too hard to see, he jogged to catch up to his little brother.

Jason didn’t bother asking any questions. He knew the answer. His big brother was starting to like girls; or more specifically, a girl. He resisted the urge to say, “You’re gonna marry her, aren’t you?” Maybe he was just tired from the game.

 

 

Present Day

Tuesday, October 18th

6:24 pm

 

In a small apartment just outside of the business district, a young woman fought with her memories. What had become some of her most cherished were now her worst enemies. That is where she was in the process; the process of letting go of Nathan Tole. Losing Jason Tole had hurt that process horribly.

Elizabeth Barnes fluttered around her tiny kitchen, preparing dinner for two. She’d had enough of her parents and family in general for the past few months. She needed to get it all back to normal. Having Meredith over would be normal, and provide company, a good thing because Elizabeth did not want to spend the evening alone. It had been a rough day at work. Hiding in nearly everything she saw, read, heard and did was a memory of Nathan. And where it wasn’t Nathan, it was Jason. She needed support after a day of fighting. She was tired; it didn’t matter what day it was. Her work outfit was off and her comfy clothes and slippers were on. The mascara on one eye was slightly smudged, but her wavy, auburn hair was, as always, beautiful. Of course, she wouldn’t have agreed with that assessment.

The olive oil in the pan got too hot, and she didn’t notice. In went the garlic, burned. Turning it down to try and compensate, she added oil and the onions and peppers. Oh, no, she didn’t want to do that; just onions at first, then peppers later. Now everything would be burnt except the pungent onions, overpowering her favorite recipe for angel hair pasta.

“I’ve made this dinner a hundred times,” she moaned. She’d made and shared at least a quarter of them with Nathan, and a few recently with Jason. And that was an example of the day. Nathan was dead and gone, but Elizabeth hadn’t finished saying good-bye. Even his little brother, the next closest thing, was now gone. The truth of it sent a pang through her heart.

Meredith would be there in a few minutes. Elizabeth was eager to no longer be alone with her thoughts. The oven declared its readiness, so she popped a dish of salmon in and set the timer. Laying the table, she proceeded from there to pop the cork on a bottle of wine. “If you’re going eat this well, you may as well do it right,” she thought.

A small dining table for four lay centered in a room that allowed minimal movement all the way around it. Right next to the kitchen, Elizabeth could practically place dishes on it without leaving the tile floor. Walking around to the other entrance to the kitchen, which led to the door and the living room area, Elizabeth next grabbed the remote from the back of the sofa and turned on the Food Network; something, anything, and more of it to help with the fight. She was going to have one of her favorite meals, with a good friend, and the memories could like it or leave; leaving was preferred.

In everything other than food, Elizabeth Barnes had been working on a change in taste. The colors of the apartment had been primarily earth tones, and some of them darker. Over the summer, she’d brightened the place up with more white, and where there were accent colors, they were now brighter ones. She’d sold and replaced her sofa and lounge chair. Everything else was the same, because she could only reinvent herself as much as her budget allowed. She wasn’t going to move altogether; she refused that thought for the second time since she’d arrived home.

The water was boiling. She tore open the box and dropped the frail strands in all at once. Bending them to fit the pot before they had softened, some broke, sending little fragments into the hair and onto the counter. At least that was normal. While she swept them all up and threw them in, there was a knock at the door.

Elizabeth pushed the pan with her sautéed veggies off the burner, turned off the TV and rushed to the door. Just in case, as was her habit, she checked to see who it was. A rounded and morphed view of a cheery blonde in jeans and a sweatshirt stood there waiting patiently. In her one arm was a slender brown bag.

Pulling back the door, Elizabeth opened her arms and smiled. “Friend!” she said. It could also have been heard as “save me.” The two embraced with sighs of emotion. The guy down the hall tried not to watch too obviously, but he failed. He missed the lock on his door with his key a couple of times before committing his eyesight to it.

“Come in, come in,” Elizabeth said. Pulling her into the hallway, she closed the door softly, and added, “Creepy guy alert.”

“Oh?” Meredith asked. “Should we invite him over? He may follow the delightful scent of your cooking over here anyway,” she said with a snicker. Meredith White was quite different from Elizabeth Barnes in appearance. She wasn’t slender. She was blonde, fair, and also a few inches taller. She wore glasses and liked her jewelry and lipstick. All of that had been scaled down a lot since work let off, but there was typically a lot going on in her appearance regardless of the context.

This was just the outside. It did nothing to separate their kindred spirits. Both of them were inclined to say what they felt like saying, and even more so when they were together. There were no secrets between them, because they couldn’t keep anything from each other. They got together and down came the fences. Meredith was exactly who Elizabeth wanted to be with for the evening.

“How are you, darling,” Meredith asked, acting it up a little.

Elizabeth knew she meant it quite seriously though. “I had a rough day, I won’t lie,” she replied in a weak voice. She stirred the pasta and began pulling out a few noodles to test. Dropping them in one hand, she passed them back and forth a few times to cool them off.

“Those angel hairs don’t need much,” Meredith said, helping herself to some of the wine that was already open.

“You are right about that,” Elizabeth said.

“Well, I know most things about pasta, being Italian,” she said, smiling.

“Oh, right, Northern Italy, somewhere near England?” Elizabeth joked.

“Where tea and fine wine meet,” Meredith continued.

“What do the English eat, anyway? I don’t think I even know,” Elizabeth said. “Seriously, all the good food is French and Italian.”

“There is definitely a reason for that,” Meredith replied, taking a sip of her wine. “Not much of what the Brits eat is very desirable, dear. But I wouldn’t know much about that, I’m so completely American.”

“Hamburgers and apple pie for you,” Elizabeth teased.

“And Budweiser,” Meredith replied keeping a straight face.

Elizabeth giggled and then faked a gagging sound. “Eating those three in one sitting would kill me,” she laughed.

“You are far from a heart attack, sister,” Meredith said.

“Not from a weak physical heart, anyway,” she replied. It was out before she could stop it.

Meredith knew what she meant, but ignored it. “You are a beautiful woman, with a strong everything, Beth,” she said. Her tone changed with the comment. Her normal joking or often sarcastic edge was quickly replaced with caring and support.

Elizabeth almost felt guilty. Was this what she was after? Did she need someone to come to her and build her up over a nice meal? No. Elizabeth turned the table with a weary arm. “So, what is new in the life of Meredith White?” she asked, shifting the focus. It felt good.

“Well, I’m paid well but don’t care much for my job. I think my boss might be hitting on me – the married one. And Mr. Ruffles won’t talk to me,” Meredith said. “But none of that is exactly new I guess.”

“Mr. Ruffles won’t talk to you?” Elizabeth asked. “That is new I think, and ridiculous. Any animal that relies on someone for survival should be thankful and express it.”

“You haven’t spoken to him lately have you?” Meredith asked, taking another sip.

The oven sounded, and the salmon was out and on the table in seconds.

“You must be hungry,” Meredith said.

“As a matter of fact I am, and the hotter the salmon, the better it is. You know this about me,” Elizabeth replied. “No I haven’t spoken with Mr. Ruffles. Does he think there are enough mice in Easton that he doesn’t need you anymore?”

“Apparently, but he’d get hit by a car before he caught his first one. How does one tell a cat such things?” Meredith said. She leaned on the table, watching her friend closely. She knew all of this talk was cover. It was fun, and they both loved it, but it was still mostly cover. Meredith had felt her friend shiver when they’d first hugged. Elizabeth was lonely. Meredith was glad that she’d come by.

Tossing the angel hair pasta, Elizabeth brought it over to the table. “Dish up there, Mere,” she said while returning to the kitchen for some glasses of water.

Once they’d settled and begun enjoying their food, the conversation rolled on, about unrealistic deadlines at work, not enough play, and what they’d done on the weekend. It was of course only a matter of time before the conversation came back around and settled on men. How could it not, even if they didn’t want to talk about it?

Elizabeth did not want to begrudge Meredith the topic of conversation as her friend was quite eligible and interested in finding the man for her. Meredith tried to avoid it for Elizabeth’s sake and still they came to it.

“So are you seeing anyone?” Elizabeth asked. If they were going to touch a painful topic then she would keep the ball in her friend’s court.

“Since we last spoke? No,” Meredith said quickly, followed by the last bite of her salmon.

“What happened to that guy you met when you went home for the Fourth of July this summer?” Elizabeth asked.

Meredith chewed a bit more. “He didn’t call me back. What can I take away from that other than he couldn’t have been as interested as I would have liked him to be? I wanted to call him, pick him up and take him out myself, but,” she sat up straighter, “I’m not desperate.” Going for another bite, she muttered, “Not completely,” and laughed under her breath.

“Oh, Mere,” Elizabeth said. “Any guy that doesn’t want you doesn’t deserve you.”

Meredith nodded her head sideways, as if to say, “I don’t know?” But she knew what had happened. “He just wasn’t it, that’s all. So, to answer the question, I’m rockin’ it solo.”

Then there was a pause where Meredith would normally have directed the question back, in a manner of speaking. She didn’t. Instead she leaned on he elbows and looked at her friend. Were they going to avoid reality when what tied them so closely together was being real with one another?

Elizabeth looked at the clock in the kitchen on the microwave. She knew it too.

“So you had a rough day?” Meredith asked gently.

“Yeah,” Elizabeth breathed. She felt the pressure welling up to a level she wasn’t going to dodge again.

Another pause was given, in which Meredith waited to see if Elizabeth would just talk. She knew that her friend needed to. She’d just lost the man who had become one of her biggest emotional supports to help her through losing her man.

Elizabeth spilled over. “I don’t understand, Meredith, I don’t understand,” she said. Tears filled her eyes. “What happened to Jason?” This was just the beginning. “I needed him.”

Another short pause and Elizabeth got up and left the table to grab a tissue box that sat next to the fridge on the kitchen counter. Sitting back down, she wiped her eyes, smearing more of the mascara. “It’s just … so hard to accept still.”

Meredith left her chair, but she did so to take one of the other two that was next to her friend. She left her plate and the rest of her meal where it was; it had very suddenly become unimportant. She’d be crying soon as well so it was good that she’d have the tissues within reach.

Elizabeth began to talk again. “Jason was a hot head when we were all little. He wasn’t like Nathan, who had the disposition of a little gentleman.” She said it with a voice full of longing. “But Jason had changed. He was such an amazing guy. Not like Nathan of course, but so like him in many ways.” She paused, puzzled with grief. “He wouldn’t have done anything violent. There wasn’t anyone to pick a fight with.” She shook her head. “How could he have ended up this way? Nathan was fate, the way good men are taken in a bad world, but Jason? There’s just no reason this time. I know it’s still being investigated and that the truth may be found out, but for now, I have no truth for why he is gone too.”

Meredith held one of her hands and just listened. She knew that Elizabeth had replaced Nathan with Jason. She also knew that Jason hadn’t realized it, and that Elizabeth didn’t want him to. For him, they were just two friends both grieving for their best friend, together. But it had quickly become more than that for Elizabeth.

“We’d started looking out for each other. When one of us was down, the other was up, and being with Jason helped me think of Nathan without so much pain.” Elizabeth grabbed a new tissue. She pushed her plate back. “It’s so confusing.”

Meredith wanted to dare a question, but she couldn’t.

Elizabeth answered as if she’d already heard it. “He never spoke to me about being together for real, but I’d started to want it. And I don’t think it was just missing Nathan either.” She looked at her friend with wet eyes. “I’ve been broken twice, Mere, twice. And I’m just not sure I can get over it completely.”

“Well, you aren’t alone, even if that’s what you feel,” Meredith said.

Elizabeth had heard, but she wasn’t there. “He was pretty quiet the last time I saw him. I thought he was just sad, so I did what I could to comfort him. I held him. That’s all I’ve ever known to do.” She held a hand to her mouth before continuing. “It was one of the times that he really held me too. It had been so good.”

Meredith rubbed her shoulder. “Are you just realizing a lot of this now?”

“In a way,” she replied quietly. “I’m even a little embarrassed about it.” She looked at Meredith again. “I haven’t really spoken of Jason like this to anyone else.”

Meredith nodded. She let go of her friend to take off her glasses and wipe her own tears away. Her heart broke just imagining what it was like to be Beth.

Elizabeth shook her head. “But what am I complaining about? I can’t even imagine what this is like for Mr. and Mrs. Tole.”

“Yeah,” Meredith replied. There was no disagreeing with that, but she was concerned primarily with her friend. “Beth, I don’t think there is anything wrong with how you grew close to Jason, I don’t think there is anything wrong with how you are feeling, and it’s going to take time. A period for which, I will be here for you.”

Elizabeth nearly sighed. “Thank you,” she said. “I mean, it’s not like my parents haven’t been supportive, or lacking understanding, but it means so much to hear you say that.”

“Well, I mean it very much,” Meredith said.

Pushing back their chairs, they hugged like sisters.

Wiping her eyes dry with her hands this time, Meredith put her glasses back on. Elizabeth blew her nose and added a third tissue to her collection. They both remembered they were eating dinner.

“I’m still hungry,” Elizabeth realized.

“Me too. Let’s eat this goodness before it gets completely cold,” Meredith added.

“Let’s,” Elizabeth said, gathering some more pasta on her fork. “Then we can get to the best part,” she said, her true smile retuning, “Chocolate.”

“Amen,” Meredith replied.

 

 

Wednesday, October 19th

8:01 am

 

One way glass is not fair. It’s not fair to those on the inside, anyway. It is built to be an advantage to those on the outside; the seeing unseen. But then again, if you are a criminal, your claim to fairness in life has been forfeit. In that case, it is a matter of your own doing that your life is no longer completely yours.

Luis Delgado was one of those criminals whose claim to fairness had been revoked. He’d violated the biggest rule in the game, committing the most unfair act a man can: murder. Now that Luis had been through the ringer, getting twenty years without bail, you would think that this one way glass experience would be different, in that he would have nothing to hide. What’s there to hide? He had already lost.

Marc Jackson had become convinced somewhere in his gut that Luis Delgado did have something more to hide. So, here they were, together again on the blind side of the glass. Seeing but not being seen were Peter Gray and Samantha Garza.

Jackson leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on the table opposite Luis. He was wearing what he always wore, only with a little more ice in his stone cold stare.

Luis Delgado was a thin, worn, ex-druggy gangster, several months out from going cold turkey. He too had his arms rested on the table, scribbled with tattoos of angels and demons with guns, and the name of his little sister wrapped in a wreath of roses. His prison uniform covered everything else much above his elbows. The many small scars around his brow and especially the big one where his lip had split completely spoke of fights lost and beatings he’d been unable to fend off; even his thin goatee half-covered several more around his chin. He didn’t look particularly strong.

“Luis Delgado, I’m Detective Jackson. We spent some time together this past summer,” Jackson started things off by re-introducing himself.

Luis just stared back at him with weary eyes that hadn’t known a lot of sleep as of late. He didn’t reply.

“Haven’t been enjoying the nice weather out in the yard with the boys at State?” Jackson asked, noting Luis’ pale skin.

Again Luis did not reply. He just took a deep breath and looked back at Jackson with a mostly hollow expression.

Jackson cocked his head sideways, curious at his guest’s silence. “They dope you up these days to calm you down, or you just don’t have anything to say?” Jackson asked.

“Maybe if you tell me why I’m here, then I’d have somethin’ to say,” Luis responded blandly. The hardened criminal that had been there several months earlier was mostly gone. Had it been crushed when Luis hit rock bottom?

Jackson sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Well, Luis. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there has been a killing, and I think you may know something about it.”

Luis blinked slowly and sighed; he really was tired. “Why you think that, man?”

Jackson paused for only a second, taking aim. “Because the little brother of the man you killed, you know, the one that helped put you away? He’s been killed too.”

Luis moved. It was subtle, but there.

Jackson didn’t miss it. Was Luis surprised? Was he pleased? Was it guilt? Jackson looked him over, making sure it was obvious. A slight disgust crept through his expression. “Of course, you already knew that didn’t you?” Jackson asked.

The silence that followed filled the plain, white room. The fluorescent lights above bored into their heads and made the fake wood grain veneer of their table look yellowish. It probably was; it was pretty old.

Jackson went on. “Jason Tole was murdered Sunday night, October 2nd, by the bay.” He watched Luis like a hunter watches his prey. “It was sloppy, and we think we know who it was. We also think you know who it was, and that you knew it was coming.”

Luis knit his brow a little, but didn’t speak. A look of guilt passed over him, but disappeared just as quickly.

“Didn’t you?” Jackson reiterated.

“Black Hoods kill like a spoon cuts,” Luis said. He was now glaring back at Jackson with an awakened intensity.

Jackson blinked this time. “Black Hoods killed him?” Nodding slowly, he rose from his chair and left the room without saying a word. Once the door was closed behind him, Jackson let Luis’s last comment show on his face. Rounding the corner of the room to talk with Gray and Samantha, he said, “Black Hoods?” somewhat flabbergasted.

“Yeah, that wasn’t expected.” Gray looked back at Luis through the glass, and added, “He doesn’t look like he’s throwing out ideas.”

Samantha Garza was still staring at Luis through the glass where she stood. There was some shock registered on her face as well.

“What do you think, Sam?” Jackson asked, joining them in the gallery. “Is he just trying to throw me?”

Luis was still sitting there without much expression. He knew he was being watched. He’d been here before.

“I think you got the best of him awfully easy,” Samantha said. “That much hasn’t changed from June.” Turning to look at Jackson’s half-surprised, half-angry face, she added. “Why would he say that unless he thought that’s what you were implying, and so felt it necessary to take a shot at the rival gang?” After a pause she added, “Why also, would he know anything if it was a Black Hood hit?”

“Exactly,” Jackson replied.

Samantha Garza put a hand to her forehead. “Something about this doesn’t sit well,” she said. “Jackson, you were right about bringing him back for questions. He does know something. It’s already obvious, and it took,” she checked the clock on the wall behind them, “all of 2 minutes?”

“Looks like it,” Gray replied, as if it had been asked of him. He was lost in his own thoughts now, observing Luis’s every move.

Jackson nodded. “Let’s find out what it is,” he said, returning the way he’d come. Jackson re-entered the room and took his seat again. “Sorry about that,” he replied. “So, where were we? Oh, yeah, you said that the Black Hood’s killed Jason Tole.”

Luis didn’t reply. He looked sorry again, but this time it stayed.

“Just curious, but if you and your boys are sworn enemies of the Black Hoods, and you killed Nathan Tole, why would a Black Hood kill Jason Tole a couple months later after he seals your sentence with his witness? Last I checked no one in the Black Hoods would feel the need to knock off the guy that put you in jail. It seems more likely they would make him an honorary member of the gang.” Jackson let that settle on Luis before adding. “Not that your own boys would do anything for you either.”

Luis looked at Jackson differently.

“That’s right, Luis, I know more about you than you think. Your gang was ashamed of you, weren’t they? They’ve always been ashamed of you.” Jackson went straight at him.

From the unseen side of the glass Samantha and Gray looked at each other.

“He’s not wasting time in isolating him, is he?” Samantha said.

“Nope,” Gray replied. “You’d never know Marc Jackson was a quiet, kind, soft spoken gentleman if this was all you saw.”

Samantha smiled a little. “Or is this the real Marc Jackson?”

Gray recoiled a little and raised an eyebrow. He’d been sarcastic, but not that sarcastic.

On the outside, Luis smiled at Jackson’s stinging comment, but it wasn’t real; it was just a cover for the pain. This hardened, former drug addict, turned killer, was hurt. With every passing second it showed more and more. Not because of what any cop could say, but because of what they could say that was true.

Jackson didn’t back off. “Like the mutt no one wanted, right? Not real enough, not down for the struggle. You hid in a pipe and needle. You weren’t even a good seller, were you Luis? You’d cut into your own stash, and when you didn’t have one, you’d steal from the guys around you. So why would anyone, even in your gang, let alone the Black Hoods, do anything like take revenge for you?”

Luis looked unhappy now. He was a miserable human being and he couldn’t hide it. He folded his hands and began to fidget, realizing he’d already been cornered.

“I’ll tell you what, Luis, if you tell me what you really know about Jason Tole’s death, we won’t drag you into it too much. If you don’t, we will, and you may be charged in a second murder if it can be done.” Jackson paused. “That could open up the possibility of a death sentence.”

Luis stayed where he was. The last threat didn’t carry the weight it should have.

“I know you’re thinking that you can just stay quiet on this one and somehow stay out of it, but you can’t. You didn’t mention the Black Hoods just because you hate ‘em, or because I said it was a sloppy kill and Black Hoods are sloppy in your opinion. You know something and that’s why you’re here. You know something, and whatever it is, it’s made you afraid of leaving your cell, hasn’t it, Luis?” Jackson bored at him like a drill. “I know I’m putting you in a bad position by bringing you in for more questioning. But, the longer you hold out, the longer you are here, the more likely whoever it is you’re so afraid of will think you’ve squealed. And what will that mean for you?”

“He’ll know if I talk,” Luis mumbled.

“Who?” Jackson shot back.

“He prolly already knows,” Luis said, as if correcting himself. He shook his head.

“Who, Luis? Who knows?” Jackson pressed.

“I don’t know,” Luis said dryly.

Jackson was pretty sure that comment had been the truth. He stood up and rounded his chair. Thinking for a moment, he leaned on the back of it and toward Luis. “That doesn’t help us much, does it?”

“Us?” Luis retorted. “You don’t care ‘bout me. You’ll use me en throw me away like a piece of trash once you get what you want.”

“Who will know that you’re talking?” Jackson asked, ignoring the comment. Jackson did see Luis as trash. What’s the matter with dragging trash through the mud? They both get each other dirtier.

“I got nothin’ to say to you, man,” Luis said.

“Well you’ve said the Black Hood’s killed Jason Tole,” Jackson said. “That’s a pretty big start, don’t you think? You may as well tell me more.”

On the other side of the glass, Gray stroked his clean shaven face. “So far it looks like he was serious about that Black Hood comment. It’s too random given the circumstances not to be.”

Samantha nodded and watched on.

Luis Delgado sneered at Jackson. “And what makes you think I care, man? I’m just lookin’ out for myself, dyin’ to get my next fix, isn’t that what you think?”

Perfect. Jackson took advantage. “I do. But I also don’t think you’re a real killer, Luis.” He stood up straighter. “Tell me why I think so.”

“Interesting,” Samantha said out loud from the other side of the glass.

Luis felt baited. He wasn’t going to take it so easily.

“Keep talking, Luis, because that’s you’re only way out. I will keep you here as long as I have to, and when I get an idea in my head, like this one, that you know more about Jason Tole’s murder than you’re letting on, I don’t stop until I get what I want.”

“He’ll know if I talk,” is all Luis had to say.

Jackson scratched the back of his head and sat back down. Leaning on the table again, he changed gears. “Listen. You’ve already given yourself up here, and I now know you’re afraid of someone. In the same way I can make this very difficult for you, I may also be able to offer you something if you tell me what you know. It doesn’t need to be much, just a name, a hint, a lead. You may even be able to pick up, start over, and make something of your sorry life some day.”

Luis Delgado’s eyes began to tear; he shook his head.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Gray said.

“You bet,” Samantha replied. “He’s already starting to crack.” She smiled. “He’s not that tough a nut after what the drugs have done to his nerves, but still.”

“It’s messed up, man, messed up,” Luis said, a tear rolling down his cheek. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be wearin’ this,” he said, pulling out the chest of his bright orange prison uniform.

“Why is that, Luis? It’s pretty clear to me that what’s messed up is you, and that’s why you’re wardrobe sucks.” Jackson fought the feeling of pity for him. He tried to let the tears only make him despise the ruined drug addict more. Normally he would have loved to see someone like Luis in this position. He had good reasons for it too. But for some reason this was proving a challenge.

“I never wanted to shoot him,” Luis said. “I’ve wanted to shoot people and never have,” he said, “but some rich, white boy walkin’ down the block?” Luis said, somehow still shocked by what had happened months ago. “Why the hell was he even there, man?”

“Why the hell were you letting bullets fly in his direction, Luis?” Jackson fired right back at him. He added visceral for effect; at least partially for effect. Part of him hated the gangster sitting in front of him. The other part despised the system that had created him.

Luis blinked away a few more tears. He was looking off into space now. “I was used,” he finally said. “I shoulda known somethin’ was up.” He looked down, shamed by his own vulnerability. “I was used,” he said again, now looking back at Jackson. “My own brothers got me so high I woulda shot anyone that walked up to me. They prolly thought I’d shoot ‘em both, and I woulda too, if I’d been able to see straight.”

Lightning bolts. Jackson leaned back again. He felt a mix of satisfaction, loss, and horror at what he was hearing. It was as he had suspected. There had been more to Nathan’s murder than had ever surfaced during Luis’ swift and successful trial; a lot more to it. But to think that Jason had been a target as well in what was labeled an accidental shooting, random gang violence? If they’d both been targets, that was forethought, and even Luis’ case could be brought back for full fledged, first degree murder. Nathan had not been a random tragedy, and that meant Jason definitely hadn’t been. Jackson was back to the same question: If Luis killed Nathan, who killed Jason?

“Luis, why would your gang, or any gang, want Nathan and Jason Tole dead?” he asked. “What’s the street got to do with Tole Tower?”

“I don’t know,” Luis replied.

“How can I believe that?” Jackson said, shaking his head. “You’ve just said you were used to knock off two guys that have nothing to do with your gang, and that you were put up to it by your own boys. That’s a lot different than the evidence you were first tried on. It would be first degree murder now, not some form of negligent manslaughter. You wouldn’t be the only one put behind bars for it.”

Luis looked back at him, defeated. The idea of bringing someone else down with him hadn’t found footing with him.

Jackson went on. “You’ve also said the Black Hoods finished the work that you hadn’t.” Jackson leaned forward even more. “Sorry, but it sounds like you’re suggesting that two mortal enemies, the Latin Angels and Black Hoods have now worked together to kill the Toles.” Jackson paused, processing the thought himself. He’d never heard anything so preposterous, or so deeply concerning.

“I can’t tell you nothin’ else,” Luis said.

The door was closing. Jackson knew it when he saw it. Luis had regained control of his emotions, and now he was just back to being scared. It had been a good start. Jackson could live with it. He had some heavy things to sort through as it was. “Luis, I’ll tell you what. We’ve got some nice cells here at headquarters, as you know. I want to extend an invitation to you to stay until you’re ready to tell me the rest of the story.” Jackson stood, and got ready to head out, hoping Luis would stop him.

Luis Delgado did not. He swallowed hard, and looked the other way, glued to his chair. Now he was pissed too, but he was scared first. Fear remained written on his face for Gray and Samantha to see as Jackson joined them on the unseen side of the glass.

“Wow,” Gray said. He looked at Jackson. “This could end up changing some things.”

“Understatement of the day,” Samantha said.

“And the day only just began,” Jackson added. “It changes some things alright. It drags some of the meanest people in Easton into the picture. And what’s worse is it doesn’t make any sense.”

“How’s that?” Gray asked.

“Rival gangs don’t work together,” Jackson said.

“Period,” Samantha emphasized. “Which is why it’s tempting to just call him a liar. The real problem is if he’s telling the truth.”

“That’s different,” Gray muttered, still staring at Luis, “especially in our line of work.”

Jackson didn’t say anything. He could have agreed and said it was troubling, but his knit brow said it for him. A small knot was forming in his stomach as he thought about mixing it up with the gangs to get to the bottom of it all. He could take a pass. With a deep sigh, he felt his promise to Robert Tole. He wore it now like a lead jacket. He couldn’t take it off until he’d found Jason’s killer.

 

 

10:58 am

 

Clouds slowly rolled up the coast, making a patchwork quilt of blue and green on the ocean. The expanse of land meeting ocean, meeting sky presented breath-taking perspective and depth, but it was hard to enjoy for Robert and Nancy Tole. The several days of sunshine had not penetrated their sorrow as much as they had hoped, and now the October skies had returned for real. White caps dotted the water further out where the wind was blowing even stronger than on shore.

From the enclosed porch of their vacation home in Upton Heights, they lounged on their deck furniture reading, doing word puzzles, sipping coffee, and staring at the edge of their world. The bright colors of their upholstered chairs and footrests were summer, but now stood in contrast to the heavy weather that had rolled in that morning. The open area of the porch, as it kept going beyond all the glass, was far more weathered. Robert thought in between sips of coffee of how he should have had it treated that summer. But a lot of things had been set aside that summer, just as they were being set aside now. It made him want to pick something back up, but Robert wasn’t still hiding away for himself, he was doing it for Nancy, so that she wouldn’t be doing it alone. Dorian Tole would be joining them before long and that promised to open up an opportunity for Robert to attempt a small measure of normalcy. He’d begun thinking about work again, about how his sons wouldn’t be working with him anymore, and how he wanted to do things that would honor them somehow.

By Upton Heights’s standards, the Toles had a large, beach-front property. It was lifted up high to avoid flooding with the winter storms, in a position of prominence on the stretch. But Robert felt closed in by the houses on either side which he could easily see with a look one way or the other. With almost no one in town on a weekday in October, it also felt deserted, and that only made Robert restless to boot. Alongside this desire to get something done, something of value and meaning, something to build the legacy that would no longer be passed on to his sons, was the temptation of revenge. It had remained in check so far. And being pleased with the fact only helped Robert keep it there. He had a feeling the struggle was only just beginning.

And then there was still a weight, an ache that flared up in his chest like the sets of waves that kept crashing onto the shore, but Robert was well ahead of his wife. Robert had never known someone to shed so many tears, and grieve so hard for anything. Whatever strength Robert had regained was strained by the pain he saw grip his wife. Though this only added to his desire to escape his own grief through action, he knew he couldn’t leave her side. Of any place, this is where he belonged now. When one of them was weak, the other had to be stronger, and it always worked that way. Right now, Nancy was not strong.

Nancy Tole had dark circles under her eyes even though she had been sleeping a lot, and quite heavily. This was because sleep wasn’t enough; it wasn’t what she needed. She had been working overtime since the day Jason’s death had been confirmed, trying helplessly to sort through the memories of her sons, so many of them planned by none other than her. These were ever with her, trapped in her head. Outside of her there were pictures that had to be filed away and kept safe forever so that she would never lose them. She’d already done this, but a new urgency had been born to do something more, and whenever she tried she always ended up tarrying over them in silence, and then in bitter tears. There were boxes of clothes, toys and books that would no longer be passed on to her grandchildren; she would never have grandchildren. Just another crushing thought. Elizabeth Barnes came to mind quite a lot as well, and Nancy empathized with what it would be like to lose Robert. She’d even begun to fear it, but that of all things, she’d hidden well from him.

In all of this sorting, piling, and re-piling of things that didn’t need to be moved or re-organized, Robert was there to join in and help her, or intervene when he saw that it was tearing her to pieces. That’s why they had changed houses altogether and gone to Upton Heights. Their shore house was a newer one, with fewer memories than home. Even so, guidelines were in place. The attic, for instance, was agreed to be off limits for the foreseeable future. It held Nathan and Jason’s surfing equipment, beach games, and even some of the toys they’d kept from their childhood. Only Robert could go up there. It was a crawl space of memories still so heavy and sweet, it may as well have been a death trap for Nancy. This vigilance and care Robert had shown his wife was about to pay off.

Nancy lowered her novel with her thumb in between the pages, and put her glasses back on so she could spend a while watching the clouds go by. The sky was darker at the edge of the water, who knew how many miles out. From there it grew brighter as it approached her, though quite filled with clouds. She took a deep, audible breath, like it was the first after coming up from a deep dive, relaxing her whole body, as if for the first time since before Jason had gone missing. Her mind cleared. It didn’t have anything to do with the story she’d been reading.

Robert looked over at his wife curiously, coffee cup in both hands in front of him. When he saw a peace come over her face that he hadn’t seen for weeks, he took his elbows off of the arms rest, and put down his coffee. He wanted to savor it. It might not last long at first, but it was there.

A smile crept over Nancy’s lips. She turned to Robert and tried not to laugh with relief. “I think the worst is over,” she said simply. Looking back at the dark sky that was even then shrinking in the distance, she kept her smile. It was the realization that the darkness of loss could leave, that it could and would be swept out to sea.

Robert reached out and laid his hand over hers on her arm rest. It was cold, as always. Nancy turned it around and wrapped it in his, receiving his warmth. “Thank you,” she said. “I love you.”

It spoke everything. “I love you too,” Robert replied. He smiled back at her and a feeling of joy filled him, a sharp contrast to what he had already grown accustomed to.

It was a good start for a new direction.

Within moments the door bell rang.

“That must be Dorian,” Nancy said. She hopped out of her chair. Taking the straight hallway past the living room, kitchen, and bathroom, she approached the door. The shadow of someone on the other side could be seen through the small frame of angled glass just above the door handle. Nancy turned the dead bolt, still locked from the night before, and pulled open the door.

“Nancy, how are you, dear?” Dorian Tole left her suitcase where it was and stepped in to hug her sister-in-law.

“Better with time,” Nancy said confidently. “Better with time,” she repeated, gripping her friend. “Did you have a safe trip up here?”

“I did. Nice and quiet on the roads,” Dorian replied, stepping back out to grab her suitcase. Her short, bushy blonde hair fluttered in the wind as she tossed the bag just inside. There was so little aging to be seen elsewhere that you wouldn’t have known she regularly dyed it. She had an elegant female version of Robert’s long nose, blue eyes, and smile. They could have been twins. They were almost as close.

Her sense of style was never missing something fine. A fleece jacket and jeans were accented by a nice pair of heels. Dorian’s “relaxed” was still able to look good on the town. To pull that off, she required options. The one bag she’d arrived with did not mean efficiency, it merely meant that it was the heaviest and her other bag were still in the car. “I’ll be right back, Nancy. I just have a few more things to grab from the car.”

“Hey, sister, so glad you could join us for a few days,” Robert called from further down the hall. “Need a hand?” he asked, heading their way without his cane. He limped slightly without it.

“No, no, you guys stay right where you are, I’ll be back in a second,” Dorian replied. She spun around and headed back down the front staircase, striking her heels loudly on each plank. Seconds later a car door slammed and she could be heard ascending again, only this time with a longer pause between each strike of her heals. She rounded the top with two more bags, only slightly smaller than the first, and a smile; she knew she looked ridiculous.

Getting Dorian settled didn’t take long. She practically had her own room at the beach house. She was Robert’s sister, but after thirty-five years of marriage, she had also become the sister Nancy never had. Dorian added a fresh energy to the house; things were brighter, and there was suddenly something more to do, even though it wasn’t true in a northeast beach town in October. But Dorian would come up with something to get things moving, because she was never still and she knew that her beloved brother and sister-in-law needed it.

“How’s the weather been up here?” Dorian asked. “Marvelous until today I bet. It’s been a nice week everywhere else,” she added, answering her own question. That was typical Dorian.

“It really has,” Nancy replied. “Would anyone like some tea?” she asked, busying herself in the kitchen.

“No thanks, for me,” Robert said. He leaned against the countertop island, enjoying the company of his ladies. “I’ve had too much coffee as it is.” That’s what he had been doing all morning to interrupt his own thoughts: make and drink coffee. What he needed now was some water. He helped himself quietly.

“I’ll take a cup,” Dorian replied.

“What’ll you have?” Nancy asked.

“I’ll take black,” Dorian replied. “I want an excuse for cream and sugar. Has Maria come up at all?” she added, changing course in a flash.

“No, we let her stay home for the week. She’s watching the place and keeping up what needs it while we’re away,” Nancy replied. The water pinged happily as it first hit the bottom of the kettle.

“She’s a dear woman, Maria,” Dorian remarked to no one and everyone.

“That she is,” Robert said. “She’s like extended family.” He thought of Maria’s children. They were all grown and were making their mark on the world. He didn’t say anything about them, though. Children were off topic and to be kept there if possible.

“Only God knows what we’d do without her,” Nancy added. “I mean, we’d obviously carry on doing everything ourselves alright, like we used to, but nowhere near as well and graciously as she does. Robert is right. We value her, not just her work.” She put the kettle on, and turned to them both. “She and her kids are like family.”

Robert and Dorian braced themselves inwardly, but Nancy held her own. Either she really was having a breakthrough and was mending, or this was just a really good moment. It was probably only a good moment, given it hadn’t been a week yet since the funeral, but either one was good. Functioning was the start. No doubt she was hiding heavy thoughts, but then all three of them were.

Dorian led the way into more chit-chat while they all waited for the water to boil, and then their tea to steep. She had a way of covering it all in no particular order, from the dredging they were doing in the bay again, to leaf removal in the city neighborhoods and the latest musical performance she’d enjoyed.

“How long can you stay?” Robert asked when the tea was nearly gone. He suddenly felt that familiar awkwardness. He was always the one with an agenda. But his ladies knew it, and they expected it. He was safe.

“Robert, I can stay a week, I can stay two weeks,” she said, looking from Robert to Nancy and back. “The store runs with or without me, like clockwork. I’m hardly there anymore, to be honest. Every bedroom set we had on display sold this month already, and I didn’t see a single one of them through.” She held up her hands in satisfied surrender. “I bet not even you can say as much, Robert.”

“No, not really,” Robert lowered his head and smiled. “But things are fine. Business has been slower lately and just as well, of course.” He tried not to answer her question, but he wanted to. He looked at Nancy, unable to keep his thoughts from her completely.

His dear, weakened wife understood. “Robert probably should get back soon for a day or two, if only to check in on Gabe.”

“It’s true,” Robert added, but not too soon after. He was trying harder than usual not to seem anxious about anything. Anxiety did not need to be added to the mix of difficult feelings. “Gabe is covering things, but he definitely wasn’t prepared for this large of a baton. It’s not an ideal situation to keep as is, of course.”

“Well, like I said, I can be wherever, and I brought enough to stay a while,” Dorian admitted.

Robert smiled. “Did you bring all your bathing suits and matching towels?”

“Hah,” Dorian puffed. “Not exactly, no. I’m not planning to stay until next summer.”

“As much as I like this place, you would be doing that alone – Upton is miserable in the winter. No one is here at all, and that is only great for a few days before it gets to you,” Nancy said.

“Agreed. I think a week or two more is all we’re going to need here, before going home,” Robert said. He only ever thought he knew what his wife felt now. She was so fragile.

Nancy nodded, looking into her tea. She knew she couldn’t hide from the world. Reality followed her anyway. Hiding wouldn’t help after a while, and she knew it.

“It will do you good, once you’re ready for it,” Dorian encouraged. Then turning to Robert, Dorian almost said something that she wanted to say, but didn’t. Like a mental hiccup.

Nancy saw it, and felt it had been for her; perhaps some comment that would only upset her? She was not just tired of being sad. She was also tired of feeling like people had to walk on eggshells in her presence. The pain was real, and at the surface, but it couldn’t be a handicap to everyone.

“I’m going to go upstairs and change out of my pajamas,” she said. “I’ll be back in a few.” With that, she left, so that Dorian and Robert could speak more frankly. She didn’t want to think about it though, and she appreciated their sensitivity with new perspective.

Once Nancy was up the stairs and around the bend, Robert looked at his sister sideways, waiting for her to release what she had held back.

Dorian turned to him, feeling the warmth of her cup of tea with both hands. “Any news from the police?” she asked. Like all of them, she sharply felt the lack of closure: no body, no killer.

“No,” Robert replied quickly. After a pause, he went on. “I’ve been in touch with Nick Duda.” He looked at her surprise, and clarified. “He told me to call him, and him only. He’s keeping up to speed with the details. I can’t be calling detectives but I also can’t be waiting for the press to inform me of things either.” Looking toward the deck and the open ocean, he added, “He’s a friend first, then commissioner, which is probably risky for him, but I’m thankful for it.”

Dorian thought for a moment before her next question, weighing it, visibly troubled by it. She asked, “What about you?”

“What about me?” Robert asked.

Dorian looked at him disapprovingly. “What about your safety? Has anything made it look as though you could be in danger too?” She put down her tea, and held her brow. “I’m sorry, I can’t believe I’m asking these things,” she said, lowering her hand and looking at her big brother’s heavy expression. “I guess there is no reason to suspect you’re in danger if there isn’t any security watching you guys here.”

“No, I think we’re safe,” he said, lowering his voice. Robert shifted his weight to lean against the countertop differently. “Nick has told me it’s not necessary since the funeral. There haven’t been any threats, or leads to suggest anything.” As if that were not convincing, he said again, “We’re safe.”

Dorian took a sip of her tea, keeping an eye on the stairs. She hesitated, but asked anyway. She wanted to know. “Is there anything else you can do?” she asked.

Robert sighed. He knew what she meant. He was Robert Tole. He owned Tole Tower in the center of the city. After a decade of wild success, about a decade ago, not a politician, judge, or other public figure didn’t ask for his support in an election. His opinion was sought, and respected. In this way, whether he’d asked for it or not, he’d had influence over local ordinances, taxes, laws, regulations, and trends in Easton and beyond. His sister knew it too, and so had asked the obvious question.

“Dorian, I must remember my place,” he said. His response was not just weak, it also felt weak. His place was one of power. He knew it.

Vengeance knocked on the door.

Dorian didn’t say anything at first. She and Robert had grown up with a father who had carried far less weight than Robert did now, but had thrown every ounce of it in whichever direction he could to influence the outcomes of his life. He’d done it well too. Some had called Howard Tole an unscrupulous, pit-bull of a business man. He was the one that had started Crown Capitol from nothing, making it a strong company to pass to his son. Robert and Dorian had never thought of him as anything other than their strict, hard working, loving father. But one thing is for sure – Howard Tole would be doing something in Robert’s situation, maybe even of severe consequence.

Dorian wasn’t watching the stairs. All she wanted to see now was what sort of man her brother had become without her noticing. She knew he was tough. She knew he had been a strict, but loving father. But now she was wondering if he was being a coward. She dared to say it, though quietly. “It is your place to influence justice.”

Vengeance opened the door.

Robert stood up straighter and focused on the feeling that he’d had for Marc Jackson, when the young man had made a promise out of his control: to make things right. He looked back at his sister with a measure of intensity she hadn’t seen yet. “I will not be the one to dispense justice. And as for influence, I will tread lightly. I would far more prefer people to fear what I could do, than see me try it.”

“But what if you need to exert your influence?” Dorian said. She didn’t accept his answer. She wanted to see justice like he wanted to see justice, but she did not appreciate his struggle; it wasn’t hers, and hers wasn’t the same.

“No!” Robert forced the word out angrily. He took a drink from his glass of water. His hand shook with emotion. He was angry, but not at Dorian. She’d only helped him feel it more clearly. He put his glass down softly for fear that he’d slam it in frustration.

“Dorian, I am in grave danger of wanting vengeance, when I know it will only bring more pain and suffering, especially to Nancy.” He said it powerfully.

Nancy was halfway down the stairs.

Vengeance was denied again, but just barely.

All three of them looked at each other, and then away, ashamed for whatever part they had played.

Dorian apologized first. “Robert, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked, I just …” She trailed off and wiped away a tear.

“Come on down, babe,” Robert said to his wife. “We were talking about the news, or lack thereof,” he said, relaxing immediately with the end of the conversation.

“I see,” she said, self-consciously. “We’re trusting that the truth will prevail, Dorian,” Nancy said, helping to further end it. “We want to see justice and an explanation for all of this too.” The sight of Dorian’s tears provoked her own.

Dorian nodded. “I’m sorry, Robert, please forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you,” Robert said, resting a hand on her shoulder.

Nancy joined in too, comforting the one who had ostensibly come to comfort them. It’s funny how that often happens, and in so happening, the goal is accomplished.

“Let’s have some lunch,” Nancy suggested. She was now the strong one.

Robert fought thoughts of revenge, and what he could do to turn the streets of Easton upside down to reveal who it was that had killed his son. His main weapon was the response of his dear wife: “We’re trusting that the truth will prevail.” But he could not stop wondering how he might help it.

 

 

1:23 pm

 

In the same way that the city of Easton could change face in a matter of blocks, so it could accept or reject those that inhabited it.

A boy could walk a straight line from east to west, and half way to his destination find himself in enemy territory just crossing the wrong street. The citizens of Easton with this problem rarely walked in straight lines as a result. Or was the problem that they didn’t walk straight lines to begin with? Ultimately, it didn’t matter. If you rolled where you didn’t belong, it could cost you.

There may as well have been signs from street to street that read, “Welcome to Block 44,” or “You Lost, Sucka?” The houses sometimes looked the same, and there were no signs or fences, but the division was just as definite as the borders of neighboring nations within a continent torn by war. Parts of Easton were as good as a tiny continent with borders to be fought over, protected, and expanded.

If you stopped to ask someone why things were this way, you’d get a funny look. You may as well have asked them why water is wet: “It just is, don’t you know?” If you asked the right person, you might get a short sermon on the injustice of the neighboring nation. Everyone knew where they belonged, except for true strangers. Folks that didn’t frequent the southwest blocks typically steered clear of the whole area. When needed, they’d get a guide. It really was its own continent, with natives and foreigners.

For this reason, you just didn’t see certain people in certain places. If you did, it was a message to run for cover, because it probably meant trouble. If they were on your turf, then you had some representing to do. If you were on their turf, you were a fool or you were looking for a fight.

You can imagine the apprehension when one of Easton’s finest saw just this irregularity. Tapping his brakes, the police officer’s personal alarm systems went on full alert. A block ahead, in the direction he was headed were three fellows that didn’t belong anywhere near Prince Street. They were wearing a lot of white, and they weren’t black. On the other side of the street from them, a few folks were sitting on their porch watching. A few of them were actively heading inside.

The officer on duty radioed in: “This is Officer Connell. I’ve got some probable Angels strolling down Prince, between 11 and 12. Available units stay posted.” That’s all he needed to say, and anyone with any experience on the force knew exactly what it meant. Slowing even more, Officer Connell waited to be seen. And he was, very quickly, but there was no initial reaction from the foreigners; they kept walking up the block like nothing was wrong. His approach felt like an eternity. They may have been in the wrong part of town, enemies in a foreign land, but the Police were not welcome anywhere in Easton’s southwest side. No matter what happened, Officer Connell would be on the wrong side of it. He knew that.

The three Latin Angels, two of them now quite clear by their white headbands, rather suddenly took a turn through a small gate and proceeded up a long sidewalk toward a yellowing, white and brick house.

“Interesting,” Officer Connell said out loud. He didn’t have a category for it. His hand was ready to radio and reach for a firearm at the same time as he pulled even with them. Only one of the gangsters turned back to shoot him daggers. Connell stared back without emotion. The other two were already headed to the front door.

On the inside of #15 Prince Street, a couple of Black Hoods were lounging on the couch as always, one of them being Maurice Rogers. He alone visibly cringed when members of their rival gang walked through the door, even though he’d known they were coming. He couldn’t help putting off a bad vibe. He hated them no matter who told him to bottle it, and no matter what he was getting out of this madness. Maurice was squirming inside. On top of this unheard of visit, he had something to answer for and his enemies were there to question. That’s the only reason he was still there at 1 pm. The possible means of resolution were running through his head and making his palms sweat.

The Latin Angel that walked in first felt Maurice Roger’s stare like a slap in the face. He didn’t let on. He had a beef with the boy, but Ricky “Cuete” Cadena was in another league from this little crack dealer. Killing him would have been easy, but he wasn’t going to. It was beneath him now. There was an agreement, with big money behind it.

“Que paso,” Ricky asked. He didn’t smile. He never smiled. He just strutted by confidently, like he was in charge, even here.

Maurice looked away. He wasn’t going to hand out any satisfaction by letting on that he was scared.

The other Black Hood relaxing on the couch lifted his chin and held out a fist for one of the other Latin Angels to accept. Officer Connell would never have believed what was happening inside #15 Prince.

“Sup?” one of the Black Hoods said, giving pound to a Latin Angel his age.

“Nothin,’ man,” the young Angel said. “We jus stoppin’ by for the boss’ to talk some things out.”

“Take a seat, bull,” the Hood said.

The Nobel Peace Prize could have been awarded right then, on the spot, but what was happening on the streets of Easton would never be submitted. None of the gangsters involved were going to represent it and take credit for it. They didn’t give a damn about the Nobel Peace Prize. They weren’t at peace in the name of peace. Peace itself was no currency in their world. Killin’ the enemy on the other hand had some weight. But cash, and a lot of it, was heaviest of all.

Ricky walked past Maurice without further acknowledgement. His soft brown eyes hid a hard mind. His short, dark hair looked like it had been carved into his head, it was so well kept. No, Ricky Cadena was not an ugly dude, but his attractive face had its scars. He was hardened.

Ricky Cadena headed into the kitchen at the back of the house where the business was. Even with the invite, with the unprecedented reality of it, Ricky was sharp going around the corner to where Darnell “Wilks” Coleman sat, as usual, at the kitchen table. It was his office, his den, his house, and where the food and drink was kept. No one knew why or how Darnell seemed to eat so much, but who was questioning? They didn’t call him Wilks because he was a fat chump. Maybe all the meat he ate was why his arms looked like they could crush anything they gripped. He also liked beer quite a lot, as evidenced by the Budweiser in his hand when Ricky approached him. It was hardly after lunch, and he was already enjoying a cold one.

“Que honda, Cuete?” Wilks asked. He watched the leader of his rival gang closely, but not with malice. Like two equally dangerous predators, they viewed each other with a respectful wariness. They had no intention of challenging the other’s strength, but they couldn’t cease being who they were. They were always ready to fight.

“Here to make sure nothin’ goin’ wrong,” Ricky said. His cold voice didn’t take any of the song out of his words, but he was no one’s sweet Spanish teacher. “En cuz you ask for me,” he added.

Wilks nodded. “I did, I did. Have a seat and be comfortable in my house,” he said. “We got somethin’ for our friend, baby?” he asked the young woman standing at the kitchen counter behind him.

A beautiful girl, far younger than Wilks opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Dos Equis without even answering. She eyed their guest warily, even with slight contempt, but she served him just the same. She was not being asked, she was being told. She did what her man told her to, even if it was serving a gangster she’d been born and raised to hate on sight.

Ricky eyed the girl in the same way she stared at him, but still thanked her. “Gracias.” With a quick twist he pulled the cap and put it down carefully.

Wilks held out his beer and Ricky met him halfway. Chink. That was the end of the formalities, if that is what they could be called.

“Before we talk business, I got a question,’” Wilks said resting his heavy arms on the table.

“What you wanna know?” Ricky replied, holding his beer perfectly still. Before Wilks could ask though, Ricky added, “Jason Tole?”

Wilks sat up, taking a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said, “Jason Tole.” His irritation with the whole topic was on the edge of his deep voice.

“We didn’t have nothin’ to do with it,” Ricky said. His face never changed.

Wilks raised an eyebrow then took a huge swig of his beer. Sighing with satisfaction, only in his beer, he asked, “Whutch you know about it?”

“Nothin,” Ricky replied quite quickly. “We did Nathan Tole. That’s it.”

Wilks nodded slowly. “That punk-ass Brit and his sharp tongue ain’t told me nothin,’” he said bitterly. “You been up to other things then?”

“Yeah,” Ricky replied. He didn’t say anything that wasn’t pulled out of him.

“You hit that bank up town?” Wilks asked. He already knew, but he always wanted to hear it from the source. Everything had to be confirmed. No one could be trusted.

“Yeah. On Bishop’s lead,” Ricky said.

Wilks whistled low through his teeth. “He’s ain’t my twist, and he ain’t neva gonna be my dog, but that sucka knows how to pull somethin’ big.” He took a swig and added, “I wanna break his nose every time I see him. Thinks he’s the hot hand-a-God.”

Ricky nodded in agreement, as if he wasn’t impressed or hadn’t any strong feelings either way. You’d have thought from his reaction that he robbed a bank every day. He would if he could, but he never let on too much either way.

Wilks went on. “You like ‘em?”

Ricky looked back at the big man as if he’d asked a stupid question, “I like the bills.” That was all there was to it for him. Life was simple. It was a struggle, and it was for money and power. Money would do for now.

“You don’t care what the deal is?” Wilks asked, sincerely curious. “Cus I wanna know what he wants from this rich-boy family. He sure knows how to hurt ‘em.”

“The bills are big enough not to ask,” Ricky said. “El mas chignon, man. Top dog barks, and everyone else moves.” It was another view of how the world worked. Ricky took a longer draw from his Dos Equis and waited for Wilks to get to it.

“Truth,” Wilks replied, lounging more heavily into his chair.

Ricky stayed rigid.

“Right,” Wilks said, calling an end to small talk. “I hear one of my boys made trouble for one of yers the other day,” he said. He didn’t come across as overly concerned about it.

“Jus one,” Ricky replied, quite ready to resolve it, and not digging Wilks’ cool about it. To himself, Ricky thought bad things. A big part of him wanted to live up to his name and put a bullet through his host’s fat belly, but when was Ricky not ready to fire? His feelings were kept hidden from view. Ricky “Cuete” Cadena was to be feared, because you didn’t know what he was thinking. Whether he wanted your number, or he wanted to wipe you out, you saw the same face.

“Which one? We’ll handle it right now,” Wilks said. He already knew who it was, but once again, he wanted to hear it straight from the source.

“Un pequeno,” Ricky said, nodding toward the front room, which was now at his back. “Thinks he can do what he wants. He took a sell on my turf.”

Wilks nodded, slowly, narrowing his eyes. “That all?”

Ricky felt his heat rising. “Yeah.”

The young lady standing behind Wilks fidgeted.

Wilks nodded again, in his cool comprehending way, and then leaned forward onto the table. “Mo,” he said with deep, commanding authority.

A second or two later, Maurice Rodgers edged into the kitchen, staying out of reach. He still had his sunglasses on. It had nothing to do with bright light, because, no part of #15 Prince was very bright. He had both hands in the pockets of his voluminous jacket.

That didn’t sit well with Ricky.

Wilks knew it.

“Mo, put yer hands where we can see ‘em, dog, and if they be anythin’ in yer pockets, leave it there.” It wasn’t a casual suggestion. The sleeveless shirt Wilks was wearing showed several of the wounds he’d received in his day, and further revealed that a few bullets wouldn’t likely slow him down. Not that Mo would ever try anything. He was afraid of Wilks, even more than most, and he wasn’t stupid: Darnell “Wilks” Coleman was his ticket to staying alive today.

Mo took his hands out of his pockets, slowly, and let them hang at his sides.

“Take off the shades, Mo,” Wilks commanded next. In the same second he turned to look over his shoulder. “Hey, baby, why don’t you go upstairs and relax.”

As usual, when more dangerous business was under way, the young girl was all too obliging to stay out of it. She turned on the spot and walked away. Wilks watched her as she went. Once she was half-way up the stairs at the back of the house, he repeated himself. “Take off the shades.” The change in his tone of voice was like a man speaking first to his dog, then his wife, and back to his dog.

Mo knew what was good for him. He pulled off his sun glasses and tucked them into the outside pocket of his jacket.

Ricky cocked his chair a little further to the side, so that Mo was more in front of him.

“You sell somewhere you was told not to?” Wilks asked simply.

Mo’s bloodshot eyes and face had aged well beyond his years, and now added to their tired look, was a wide-eyed fear. His mind raced with explanations, excuses, how he might blame someone else. There wasn’t anything to say but the truth, as opposed to it as he was. So, he didn’t say anything.

Ricky saw that Mo was not going to fess up, so he made a confession for him. “Before one of my boys hit a best spot, where he gets a lot of sells, this pendejo,” Ricky jerked a thumb at Mo as he said it, “took a sell and ran, like we would never know.”

Mo looked like a little kid waiting to be spanked for stealing cookies, hot off the sheet. He twitched with discomfort at the potential punishment.

Ricky’s hand slipped inside his jacket just as quickly as Mo moved, and stayed there.

“Peace,” Wilks said forcefully. “Cuete, his hands where we can both see ‘em, and Mo ain’t no fool.”

Ricky looked back and forth and relaxed again, putting his hand back on the table. To keep it busy, he grabbed his bottle and took another mouthful of beer; his eyes never left Mo.

“Mo, you best crack yo mouth open and give us a few words for what you was thinkin,’ or better yet, swear on yer head it won’t happen again. You answer to me first, but it ain’t jus me no more.” The mean face that Wilks naturally wore grew even meaner. “Should I choke it outta you?” Wilks’ arms quivered, like they were eager to do it.

“I didn’t – ” Mo began, but had a hard time getting anything near a confession to form on his lips. He hated this LA sitting in front of him, he hated every Angel he’d ever met, and he was going to hate them until he was dead. But he didn’t want to be dead yet. “I sold a few rocks, boss,” he admitted in a scratchy voice. “I harly got nothin’ for ‘em.” He saw that wasn’t enough so he added, “Won’t happen again.”

“No one sells crack for nothin’,” Ricky jumped in, staring at Mo with vengeance.

Wilks held out his free hand, the size of a small plate.

Mo knew what to do. He slowly reached into his pocket, knowing he could be shot for doing it the wrong way, and pulled out a small stack of folded bills. President Grant’s face was on the outside. “That’s all I got on me,” he lied. It was a lie he would have told a priest, a judge, or even his mother. That’s what dealing drugs on the streets of Easton had made him.

Wilks knew it was probably a lie too, but it was one he could live with, especially in the moment. He immediately tossed them onto the table in front of Ricky. They fell apart slightly. President Grant was accompanied by several of his twins, and Mr. Franklin.

Ricky narrowed his eyes before reaching for them. He looked at Mo, like he was reading the records in the little dealer’s mind to see if this was all the money he had made in his unrighteous dealings. After a few seconds he slowly reached out and folded them into his own pocket. He didn’t say anything. His approval was nothing more than the absence of further interrogation.

“You do it again, or anythin’ you ain’t sposed to, and we’ll all watch while you go fist to fist with Carlos,” Wilks said. Looking to Ricky, he raised an eyebrow.

Ricky nodded in agreement, and smiled. It was the first time his lips had curved at all.

Mo knew who Carlos was, and he knew what Ricky was imagining: a big, ripped, heavy handed, fast, brawler cleaning his clock. When anyone messed with Angel traffic, they typically got a visit from Carlos “Tank” Ruiz. And what made Carlos so effective, was that he didn’t kill. He just showed them the meaning of pain, and it was a lesson they never forgot. There were low lives in Easton that didn’t walk right, talk right, or see straight anymore.

“Aight,” Mo said. He kept it short. He didn’t want to meet Carlos face to face. He was fine with just hearing the stories about other guys who had.

“Get lost, Mo,” Wilks said.

Mo was all too happy to oblige. He was out the door and down the sidewalk in a hurry. He said nothing to the gangsters still lounging in the front room. They knew why, and didn’t particularly care. They didn’t want to mess with Carlos either.

Back in the kitchen Darnell “Wilks” Coleman and Ricky “Cuete” Cadena re-affirmed their pact to keep the peace on the streets of Easton. When their beers were gone, they parted ways quietly. The three Latin Angels returned the way they’d come. Most of the residents of Prince Street never knew it.

 

 

About the Nobleman

 

If you enjoyed this offering by Jaffrey Clark, please consider writing a review where you acquired it. He would love you for it! To get the rest of the story, visit thenoblemannovel.com. Experience the Serial Publication of “The Nobleman,” get the whole ebook when it’s over, and more.


The Nobleman (Chapter 1-3)

When the son of business tycoon, Robert Tole, goes missing , and a murder scene is discovered by Brigg Bay, the worst is assumed. Days later, it is confirmed: Jason Tole is dead. What has law enforcement baffled, and Robert Tole reeling, is that Jason's brother, Nathan, had been the victim of random gang violence four months earlier. Jason's death has no clear links. Detective Marc Jackson is not new to murder, or gang violence. What does complicate this case is his past, with both the Toles, and the gangs of Easton. As his investigation unfolds, one thing becomes clear: neither Nathan or Jason's deaths were coincidental or isolated. Bad blood, and hints of a villainous mastermind begin to be revealed as dark secrets come to light.

  • ISBN: 9781370679270
  • Author: Jaffrey Clark
  • Published: 2016-08-23 03:20:10
  • Words: 33215
The Nobleman (Chapter 1-3) The Nobleman (Chapter 1-3)