We finally sit down to a light — albeit late — supper of sandwiches before I’m able to give that jetted shower of his a try while he handles the cleanup duties.
It’s definitely not my cup of tea.
It’s not every day I come out of the shower feeling like I’ve just been run through a car wash. I’m happy to be clean, but dayum, not like that. I’ll definitely be using the clawfoot tub from here on out.
I put on one of the long nightgowns he bought me today, comb the tangles out of my hair and brush my teeth before trading places with him.
While he showers, I explore his bookshelves, curious to learn more about him via his reading interests. Surprisingly, he has eclectic tastes that range from Zane Grey to J.R.R. Tolkien and a little bit of everything in between, even Mary Higgins Clark.
Dickhead finds me still perusing his collection a short while later, but he’s careful not to touch me, lest we lose our heads again when we both know we need to stay alert. I suppose one of us needs to keep a level head.
But he looks and smells, oh, so good wearing those same black satin pajama bottoms and nothing else from the night before. And his hair is still wet but thankfully not cemented with that fucking gel he can’t seem to live without, much like Linus and his blue security blanket from the famous Peanuts comic strip. I make a mental note to find an excuse, however flimsy, to touch it before he calcifies it again.
“Have you ever read Zane Grey?” he asks, smiling at my open fascination.
“No,” I reply, “but my grandfather loves his books. I buy him first editions every year for Christmas. They’re not expensive, if you know where to look for them. I have a friend who orders the books online for me since I don’t have the Internet at home. I’ve managed to find the odd one at the used bookstore in Glasgow, but you don’t see the first editions too often. People tend to hold onto them.”
He pulls a worn paperback from the shelves — The Code of the West — offering it to me.
“This is one of my favorites,” he says. “I couldn’t help but notice your, ah, extensive romance book collection this morning. Since you seem to fancy that genre, then you might appreciate Zane Grey. Most of his books are classified as Westerns, but the romantic element is incorporated into many of them, including this one. The heroine is spirited, and I quite enjoy the boxing aspect of it.”
What the hell does this heroine do? Lasso some poor, unsuspecting cowboy with whom she falls in love, beat him to a pulp after going 12 rounds in the boxing ring when he won’t admit he loves her, too, and then force him to marry her anyway via a shotgun wedding when she discovers she’s with child following a night of unbridled passion together because, hey, that’s how they roll in the West?!
But I accept the book, anyway, knowing I’ll force myself to get through it even if I don’t end up liking it simply because it seems important to him that I read it. Plus, I remember reading somewhere that Diana Palmer is a huge Zane Grey fan, so that gives me a little hope.
“I’m going to be up for a while yet catching up on some work,” he says apologetically, interrupting my thoughts. “I know it’s been a harrowing day for you, Piccolo, so I’ll understand if you wish to go to bed now.”
And risk having another nightmare?!
Hell fucking NO, thank you very much!
“I’m good with staying up,” I answer emphatically.
Dickhead has a desktop computer in his office, but opts for his laptop and soon is reclining on the couch typing away on his keyboard with the TV turned down low to the late-night local news on WBIT. It’s only 10 p.m., but it seems much later.
It’s been a long day.
I sprawl out on the opposite side of the couch intent on starting the book when I notice the handgun sitting beside him for the first time and — surprise, surprise — commence mulling over the bits and pieces we’ve learned over the past three days instead. I know I gravitate toward romance novels simply because they predictably always have happy endings in the world of fiction. But what if someone who was somehow involved, directly or indirectly, with Coach Smith decided to get revenge for an unsatisfactory outcome in real life, if you will, to whatever their relationship was — or wasn’t — to him?
I may be wrong and end up with egg all over my face, but I always go with my gut. And it’s telling me that I’m on the right track.
Vengeance is personal. The murderer or murders and — if I stop burying my head in the sand and face up to it — perhaps even whomever broke into my apartment had it in for Coach Smith and those they think he held dearest. His assholery alone most assuredly earned him a lot of enemies over the years, but I don’t believe that’s the reason why he was killed. No, the true motive behind his murder stems from his philandering ways. It HAS to be!
He had a weakness for women. He said so, himself, according to my dad’s recollections. And I guaran-damn-tee his wife — Abigail Wellington-Smith — knew about his roving eye. You can’t be married for as long as they were and not know each other from the inside out. I’ve met her before, and she’s no oblivious idiot. Cold and calculated? Hell yes. Blind? Hell no.
And who would desire retribution more than a woman scorned repeatedly? And who would want him dead more than a woman whose husband fathered at least one child out of wedlock, a woman more worried about keeping up appearances in her social circles rather than going through the public shame of divorcing an habitual cheater, a woman trying to protect her family name and the children to whom she gave birth?
Coach Smith always did as he wanted, consequences be damned. But he was afraid of his wife. Maybe they had a fucked up arrangement of some kind when it came to his, uh, indiscretions, and perhaps one of the stipulations of that understanding was that he never knock up any of his other women. He was scared shitless that she’d find out about his baby — most likely Bob — with the Gallant woman — presumably Jane, since her surname is not all that common — so there is some credence to that supposition.
I know it sounds far-fetched, but I keep coming back to Mrs. Smith every single time. I can see her masterminding an elaborate scheme to commit murder — she’s deviously brilliant enough to pull it off — but she definitely has someone else doing the dirty work for her. She has the means to go the murder-for-hire avenue, but I don’t see her trusting a complete stranger to do the job for her. There’s too much risk of her getting caught that way. Plus, that’s not her style. It’s too impersonal. No, it has to be someone she knows, someone over whom she has complete control, someone whose buttons she knows just how to push — a patsy she meticulously groomed for the task.
“You’re thinking out loud again, Piccolo,” Dickhead says with more than a little amusement, interrupting my mind’s little amateur sleuth whodunit episode, “but that is a feasible theory.”
Why didn’t I think of him before?!
“What if Bob knew Coach Smith was his father?” I pose the question eating away at me to Dickhead. “What if he came to Bluegrass specifically to get close to him? And what better way to get to him than his position at the paper?”
This epiphany makes complete sense to me. The puzzling pieces all are starting to fit together now.
Bob is the eager-to-please type forever seeking approval, I impart to Dickhead, ironically using him as the sounding board I promised to be to him. Unfortunately for Bob, the two people he most wanted to impress while he was at the Daily Herald were Coach Smith and, well, HIM. Both found him to be as utterly useless as I did, but they made no secret about their opinions while I wisely kept mine to myself since Bob was my direct boss and I wasn’t about to confide my feelings to Dickhead at the time because we just didn’t get along. Being so publicly disrespected by two men in positions of authority most assuredly did NOT sit well with Bob, but to be openly scorned by his biological father when all he probably ever desired was a relationship with him must have pushed him right over the proverbial edge.
And straight into madness.
And who better to feed into Bob’s madness than Mrs. Smith, who had been frequently scorned by her own husband? What if she somehow found out he was Coach Smith’s son, that her husband knew all along he had fathered a child with Jane Gallant? What better way to get back at him and achieve ultimate justice for herself than to have his own flesh and blood kill him? Patricide.
And perhaps even his own mother to complete her twisted circle of “just” punishment.
I can see Mrs. Smith pandering to Bob’s needs to get him to do her bidding, twining him round and round her dainty little fingers in the process. And believe me when I say that his needs know no bounds.
Having worked alongside him in such close proximity on many a deadline, I learned real quick that he lives for being the center of attention by doing stupid shit like wearing all of his press passes around his neck 24/7. Even at the fucking office. The only time the rest of us wear ours is when we’re required to do so, period. We hate having to wear them at all, truth be told.
Bob constantly needs his ego stroked — demands instant gratification because he believes himself indispensable, even going so far as to take credit for all the work that Jackson and I actually did saving his floundering ass on deadline on a daily basis — and who better to do it than the crafty Mrs. Smith? I can see him lapping up all the attention she must have given him, believing all the lies she told him, buying into her plans to make all the people who wronged him — THEM — pay.
Do I think he’s gullible enough to fall for it?
You bet your sweet ass, I do!
“What if his leaving the paper so suddenly really wasn’t because of you? What if they planned for him to do it solely to deflect suspicion from him? Hell, no one would ever even think to question why he quit because of your difficult reputation. It’s the perfect alibi!“
Dickhead isn’t looking so amused anymore.
“It could have been Bob who broke into my apartment,” I acknowledge. “I should have fessed up before, but Bob asked me out a few times. I turned him down because — and don’t you dare laugh — he was my immediate boss and he just didn’t interest me at all, in that way. Actually, in any way. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, so I never bothered mentioning it to anyone until now. He always seemed harmless enough, but I made sure I was never alone with him just in case I was wrong.”
Dickhead grabs his cell phone from the oak table next to him, frantically tapping out a message on the touch screen.
“I bet Coach Smith suspected his wife was up to something — that maybe she knew about Bob and possibly even me — and started carrying his gun for protection, even risking his beloved job and his freedom by bringing it on school grounds. I look JUST like my mom, so it wouldn’t take much for Coach Smith to put two and two together to figure out I was her daughter, maybe even HIS. It explains his, uh, weird reaction the first time I met him five years ago. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. Now, I know why. Anyway, I think he was planning to call me to warn me, to warn my mom. But someone — most likely Bob — got to him before he could make that call. If Bob DID kill Coach Smith– and I know in my heart he did — he must have seen my mom’s nickname and maiden name, which he wouldn’t have known because I never told him, and my home phone number, which he DID know, written on that piece of paper. It’s possible that Mrs. Smith never knew her husband might have fathered another child — ME — as much as I despise the idea … until Bob told her what was on that paper.”
I retained my existing phone number since my move of a month ago was within the same city — Bluegrass — and because it’s too much of a hassle for me to give out a new one to the many contacts I have through my job.
Mrs. Smith could have had Bob follow us to my parents’ house — we even felt like we were being watched at one of our stops on the way to Tideville — hoping to get to me before we got there. And when he couldn’t — bless my dear, overbearing traveling companion for thwarting any plans Bob might have had to harm me en route — he broke into my place thinking I’d be going back THERE instead of HERE. And when I didn’t, he trashed my apartment in a fit of rage. He couldn’t have known that I moved a month ago, of course, but it wouldn’t be too hard to find out where I live. It’s not exactly a state secret. He always flirted and chatted it up with the ladies in the front office, so they wouldn’t think anything of it if he called and asked one of them for my address. Unless he already knew it.
It’s also safe to assume that he murdered his mom — at Mrs. Smith’s behest, I’m sure — most likely somewhere in between our stay in Tideville and our trip to Perrysville. Jane Gallant was their one weak link, and she undoubtedly would have had plenty to tell us, especially if she had known about Coach Smith’s murder. Oh, the secrets that poor woman could have divulged, bless her cheating heart. So Mrs. Smith had her minion shut her up forever. I shudder to think how she convinced Bob to commit matricide.
As to the whereabouts of Jane Gallant’s husband, Jack, and how — or IF — he ties into any of this, I haven’t the foggiest.
But we’ll find out. Great reporters always do, which brings me to straight to Mandy Jo and the exclusive interview she managed to score with the, uh, GRIEVING Mrs. Abigail Wellington-Smith.
“Did Mandy Jo have that interview with Mrs. Smith yet?” I ask Dickhead, who’s still texting like a madman.
“As a matter of fact, no,” he looks up long enough to answer me before staring back down at the phone in his hands. “It’s scheduled for tomorrow morning, just after deadline. Mandy Jo will be interviewing her in the conference room.”
We NEED to be there when she does!
“I will sit in on the interview,” he informs me, giving me his full attention now. “YOU will not.”
And THIS right here is why I’m NEVER going to stop referring to him as Dickhead!
“Damn you, I HAVE to be there!” I squawk in frustration.
“I know, Piccolo,” he says in all sincerity, first placing his phone and then his gun on the table by him before moving from his side of the couch to mine to take my hands into his, “but you know why I cannot allow you to be in the same room as her, why I cannot allow you to see her at all. You wear your heart on your sleeve. I bury my emotions well. Too well, sometimes. You don’t have a deceptive bone in your body, love. It’s one of your more endearing traits. But we can’t risk tipping our hand to her, and we both know she will see right through you. Please, Piccolo, you must trust me on this.“
What other choice do I have?
I love him, but nothing else has changed. He’s still the boss, and he calls all the shots.
“Fine. We’ll do it your way.”