“Blindsided,” Chapter 20

I can’t help but feel like we’re intruding while Mom and Dad embrace as if they’ve been apart for years.

I guess they have, in a way, courtesy of my dad.

The guilt of secrecy will feast on your conscience the longer you carry it around with you. I carry the burden of mine just as Dickhead carries the burden of his, but at least Mom and Dad have clean consciences after ridding themselves of theirs. And to an extent, so have Dickhead and I, albeit only to one another. In my case, some secrets are best kept to prevent the people you love from possibly doing something that ultimately may cost them their freedom.

Like killing Joe.

My parents also manage to bring up even more questions than ever before involving the soap opera that was Coach Smith’s life off the gridiron.

What I do know — and Dickhead will be finding out soon enough — is that we’re taking a detour from the interstate once we head back up to Kentucky.

I remember Bob Gallant telling me that his mom lives in Perrysville, which is an hour from Owensboro, so we’ll hit the William Natcher Parkway from I-65 and head there to try to track her down and hopefully weasel his whereabouts out of her. Bob went completely off the grid after abruptly leaving the Daily Herald two months back, so tracking him down might prove to be a bit of a challenge, especially if his mom decides she doesn’t want to cooperate. Dickhead will have to make himself scarce if I get a chance to talk to Mrs. Gallant since HE is the reason Bob left in the first place. I’m sure Bob told her lots of horror stories about HIM. Dickhead won’t be happy about that, but he’ll have to get over it. She’ll slam the door in our faces otherwise, and I can’t have that. Not with all the questions our talk with my parents are raising.

One thing I hope I don’t find out along the way is the identity of my biological father. Unless, of course, it happens to be the man who raised me. I don’t know how I’ll feel if it turns out to be Coach Smith, not that it matters. Bill Granger is the only father I’ll ever claim and the only father I’ll ever love.

Next on our list of suspects is Mrs. Smith. Spouses are usually the No. 1 suspects in the murders of their significant others — even I know that — although I think she’s the type who’s more likely to hire someone else to do the deed for her after hearing Dad’s account of what Lester Smith blabbed to him all of those years ago. Rich bitches tend to NOT want to get their well-manicured hands dirty. IF she IS aware of his indiscretions, then she’s as good a suspect as anyone else, particularly since she has the means to finance a murderer for hire.

I finally give in to my need to reach into the Krispy Kreme box that keeps beckoning to me, shoveling down a glazed doughnut in a matter of seconds. I wash it down with my now-lukewarm coffee before devouring a second doughnut. A third follows.

If we don’t get going soon, I’m going to inhale the entire box of Krispy Kremes and Dickhead will have to roll my gluttonous ass out of here!

Still, I grab a fourth, greedily gobbling it before firmly closing the box and taking it to the kitchen to get it out of my sight. I leave it on the table out of self-preservation, finishing off the rest of my coffee and putting the cup in the trash prior to returning to the living room to herd my newly appointed bodyguard to his car while the going is early.

We have places to go and people to see.

“I was just telling your parents that we need to get going so we don’t get stuck in Nashville traffic,” Dickhead tells me, already a step ahead of me.

He holds his hand out for Dad to shake.

Surprisingly enough, my dad does just that. They also exchange a look that causes me to roll my eyes.

Men.

“I’ll keep her safe,” he promises Dad.

My dad nods his approval in more ways than one, pounding Dickhead on the back like he’s one of his old Navy chums he hasn’t seen in eons.

“See that you do,” he says.

Mom and Dad then sandwich me in the kind of hug that makes every child feel safe and secure and so very loved.

I hate goodbyes.

“We love you,” Dad says, suddenly very serious, tilting my chin upward so I have to look him in the eye. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

He knows me too well.

“I love you, too,” I reply, trying not to tear up while giving him an extra squeeze to reassure him that I really am going to be OK once I have some time to process and come to terms with my parents’ shocking revelations from this momentous morning. “YOU are MY dad, just so YOU know. No matter what happens, no matter what else we find out, I need you to … to understand that.”

His head bobs up and down vigorously as he releases my chin, still looking at me expectantly.

“OK, OK, I promise I’ll try my best not to get into any trouble,” I add, breaking eye contact with him because I’m already starting to feel guilty about the day’s itinerary that I have yet to share with Dickhead.

But trouble always seems to have a knack for finding ME.

They walk us out to the car, waving as we secure our seat belts and Dickhead turns the key to start the engine.

We ride in silence until we’re back on I-565.

Dickhead reaches for my hand, caressing it with the softest of kisses.

“Are you all right?”

I give him a smile I don’t quite feel, grateful for the tenderness of the unexpected contact.

The man gives me downright shivers. The good kind.

“I am as OK as I’m going to be for now,” I admit, still reveling in the warmth of his gentle touch. “They’re my parents, and I’m not going to stop loving them because of the choices they made a lifetime ago. It is what it is, and I’m just going to have to suck it up and deal with it all one way or another. I wish I didn’t know, but there’s no turning back now.”

And now I have to try to talk him into going to Perrysville.

“I realize neither of us is exactly wearing presentable clothing to go out interviewing people, but we need, um, do you mind if we take a slight detour on the way back to Bluegrass?” I ask slyly, giving him a sideways glance as I try to hide my eagerness to get in touch with Mrs. Gallant.

“You’ll try your best not to get into any trouble, eh?” he mimics my promise to Dad, releasing my hand to grab his now-cold coffee from the drink holder between our seats. “This detour of yours doesn’t happen to be in a little town called Perrysville, does it?”

I might as well have a billboard sign hanging over my head.

Or the man is just downright clairvoyant.

“OK, you got me. Bob’s mom lives in Perrysville, but I’m sure you already know that.”

His smirk reappears.

“I wasn’t just sending texts to Alex and Mandy Jo this morning, my dear,” he says. “I also sent a few texts to Jackson while you were busy enjoying your Krispy Kremes. And, yes, Jane Gallant is still living in Perrysville, which is where we, indeed, are headed. I know that if I don’t take you there myself, you’ll try sneaking away from me later on to go find her on your own. At least this way, I can keep an eye on you. I don’t like it one bit, but I gave my word that I would keep you safe.”

Seems he knows you better than you think.

“You do realize that you can’t be there when I talk to Mrs. Gallant, right?” I point out. “If you think my parents gave you a chilly reception because of what I, uh, told them about you, how do you think she’s going to react if she sees you? She may not know who you are on sight, but that accent of yours will give you away faster than she can slam the door in our faces. Believe me when I say that Bob most definitely told her all about you. He’s a HUGE mama’s boy. So I HAVE to talk to her alone. PLEASE.

I’ll have to try the “concerned friend” approach even though I despise deception of any kind. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep up the ruse long enough to discover Bob’s location and get the hell out of there before Mrs. Gallant finds out the REAL reason for my visit. The whole thing can just as easily blow up in my face if I’m not careful.

Worse yet, what if Bob is the killer?!

That realization alone is enough to make me second-guess the brazen stupidity of my plan, but there really aren’t any other options that come to mind other than talking to Mrs. Smith when we get back to Bluegrass.

My gut tells me this is our best lead by far, so we need to see where it takes us. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if Dad told the police the part about Mrs. Gallant’s husband accusing Coach Smith of getting his wife, Jane, pregnant and whether they relayed that information to Briscoe and his partner. If I know my dad, though, he probably skipped the part about him paying that visit to Coach Smith altogether to deflect suspicion from himself. And if Briscoe gets wind of what Dad did, who knows what may happen to him?

No, I just can’t have that on my conscience.

So it all comes down to this silly little scheme of mine. I only hope we can pull it off without anyone else — namely US — getting hurt.

Or, worse, dead.

“I can hear you plotting already,” Dickhead says, interrupting my inner battle. “I simply cannot risk you facing that woman alone. It’s already taking every ounce of my willpower not to call the detectives right this second and tell them what your father revealed to us when he went to see Lester Smith, but it seems my common sense is eluding me because I know what it would do to you if I did. I have a feeling he wasn’t completely forthcoming with the Alabama bobbies, so I don’t want to see your father arrested, at the very least, for obstructing justice.”

SIGH. Here we go yet again.

“And before you start an argument you WILL inevitably lose, hear me out first,” he commands, once again morphing into REAL Dickhead. “I’ve come up with a safer plan than that absurd idea of yours that MAY — make that WILL — end up getting us both killed. As Bob’s former boss, I can request that the local bobbies do a welfare check on him. I may have to fudge about his last known address being his mum’s residence and feign worry about his mental state, if it comes to that, but it’s MUCH safer than you taking your life into your own hands and knocking on a door without knowing who may be lurking on the other side of it. At the very worst, the Perrysville bobbies will laugh in my face and tell me to bugger off. But I’d rather that than have you risk your life — EVER.”

Well, fuck me. When he puts it like that, I can’t bring myself to go against his wishes. Scratch that. His ORDERS.

“Fine,” I sulk, crossing my arms in a huff. “We’ll do it your way.”

Secretly, it’s a huge relief to know he cares so much about MY welfare. But I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of telling him because he’ll just give me that knowing smirk of his that irritates me and, as long as I’m being frank, excites me. His ego is big enough as it is, “friendly” terms or not.

“Good. I knew you’d see things my way.”

Whatever.

I hate that he knows I know he’s right.

It stings.

“First, we need to stop and get some suitable attire for you,” he says, ignoring my moodiness. “We can find something more appropriate for you to wear at the Cool Springs Galleria.”

He’s referring to the mall just off I-65 in Franklin, Tenne-damn-ssee.

“I will get my clothes out of the boot and change in the loo when we get to the welcome center in Kentucky,” he needlessly adds.

“Fine by me,” I say, still too obstinate to admit to him that his plan is MUCH smarter than mine.

“My treat.”

I give him my best saccharine smile.

Oh, I’ll make sure you pay, PAL.

“As long as the price is reasonable.”

So much for that notion.

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