Read Teresa Watson Online

Authors: Death Stalks the Law

Teresa Watson (2 page)

I stormed out the front door and ran right into T.J. “Whoa, slow down there, or I’ll have to give you a ticket,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. “What are you doing here?”

“Arguing with a moron,” I replied, pulling out of his embrace.

“He could sue you for slandering his good name.”

“And it would get thrown out when the jury realized it was a true definition of his character.”

“Wow, he really upset you. Tell me what happened.”

“Not much. I got a message from Debra, so I came down here to tell Owen and to find out what he was going to do about it.”

“And?”

“Nothing. He says his hands are tied. Not enough money or manpower to look for her.”

“He’s right about that. The city council has been tightening the screws a bit. They aren’t giving him enough money to allow overtime.”

“Is that why you cancelled our lunch plans today and dinner tomorrow night? Are you moonlighting somewhere else?”

T.J. nodded. “Things have been a little tight the last couple of months, so I decided to do some security work during my off hours. I had a meeting today with a potential client about some work, and they want to try me out tomorrow night.”

“I had no idea things were so bad,” I said, giving him a hug. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shrugged. “It’s not that big of a deal. I’ll manage, but I’m afraid it will cut into our time for a while.”

“Well, it’s not like I’ve been the best girlfriend in the world the last two months,” I pointed out. “That newspaper is keeping me busy. I feel like my head is spinning because of all the things I have to take care of every day.”

“You need to take a day off and unwind. Even Dale took a day off once in a while.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, glancing at my watch. “I better get down there.” I gave him another hug and a kiss. “Come by later if you can.”

He promised he would and went inside, while I got into the Cobalt and drove over to the newspaper office. As I parked, I sighed. I was really starting to hate this place, and that wasn’t a good thing.

Ellen Carpenter, the social reporter and my right hand lady the last couple of months, looked up when I walked in. “Oh good, you’re here! That guy Dale hired to help us called this morning. He said he was going to be here sometime today, and that he wanted to talk to you as soon as he got here.”

“That’s the best news I’ve had all morning,” I told her.

“Are you ok?” she said, taking a closer look at me. “You look like someone ran over your dog or something.”

“Overworked, underpaid, the usual spiel. My dog is depressed, I never get to spend any time with T.J., and I’m pretty sure my mother is hearing wedding bells.”

“You mean he proposed to you?” Ellen exclaimed, bouncing in her chair. “When’s the wedding? When did he prop…”

I held up my hand. “Hold it. No proposal, no engagement ring, no wedding bells. Come back down to Earth, Ellen. Mother has been trying to get me married off since I was in college. Every time I get serious with a guy, she starts buying bridal magazines.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly disappointed.

“Did this man happen to leave his name when he called?”

“It’s Jacob Mathias,” a deep voice said from behind me, “but most people call me Jake.”

I froze. It couldn’t be. Turning around, I looked into the deepest blue eyes I had ever seen.

“Hello, Lizzie. It’s been a while. You look great.”

Of all the newspapers in the world, he had to walk into mine. The only man I had ever run away from.

It was definitely going to be one of those weeks.

 

 

Chapter Four

“Jake,” I managed to say after an awkward silence. “What are you doing here? I mean, I know why you’re here, but…”

“Why did I agree to help out a small town newspaper?” he finished. I nodded. “Dale is an old family friend. When he called asking for help, I said yes. I had no idea you were involved until a few days ago. If I had known, I might have turned him down.”

“Well, no one is holding a gun to your head and making you stay,” I snapped. “There’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”

“I’ll leave the running away bit up to you,” he retorted. “It’s what you do best.”

“This isn’t the time or place to get into that tired, old conversation,” I hissed.

“Fine. Name the time and place. I’ll be there.”

“Tonight, my house, six p.m. Let’s get this out in the open and over with, so we can focus on work.”

“I’ll be there.”

“While this is wildly entertaining,” Ellen interrupted, “and as much as I would
love
to know more, could we focus on work right now? I have a few questions I would like answered first, before you two kill each other.”

“As you are in such capable hands, I am going home,” I said. “I’ll check in with you later, Ellen. Call me if you have
any
problems.”

“Seems to me the only problem she has is keeping a boss around here that won’t run away at the first sign of trouble,” Jake replied.

I glared at him. “If he gets too bossy, Ellen, just remind him that everyone is allowed to express their opinions. Women were given the right to vote almost a hundred years ago. Some people just need to learn to give everyone a chance to speak before jumping to conclusions.”

“Some people need to learn to say something when they aren’t comfortable,” he said. “Leaving someone in a lurch…”

“That’s enough!” Ellen said, holding up her hands. “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to know what is going on between the two of you. Jake, go to Dale’s office, straight back and to the left. Lizzie, go home. I’ll call you if I need you.”

Embarrassed, I glanced at Jake one more time before I left. As I drove off, I mentally kicked myself for falling into the same old trap whenever I was around him.

I had met Jake in college. I was a naïve, small town girl, and he was a guy from the big city. He had big plans for his life: he wanted to become an award-winning journalist, reporting from war-torn countries about the atrocities plaguing them because of dictator-like rulers. All of his plans included me going with him. But he never stopped to ask me what my hopes and dreams were. He just assumed I was going to drop everything and come with him.

I tried many times to talk to him about the things I wanted from my life, but he repeatedly told me that his way was the best. He didn’t want to hear anything that was going to deviate from his plan. I got tired of the endless arguments, so whenever the subject came up, I foolishly stayed silent, which he took to mean that I had finally seen things his way.

It was his best friend who told me Jake was planning to propose the night of graduation, and I realized that if I didn’t do something, I was going to be stuck living a life I wasn’t sure I wanted to lead. I had already sent most of my things home, so as soon as I finished walking across the stage, I slipped out a side door, ran back to my dorm room, packed up the last remaining things, threw it in the car, and left. No note, nothing.

I wisely did not go straight home, knowing that would be the first place Jake would look. Instead, I went to stay with a friend on her family’s avocado ranch in California. Between working on their ranch and a receptionist’s job for a dentist, I managed to keep a low profile for two years. By then, Jake had followed his dreams, reporting from the front lines when the Iraq war started, and I decided it was safe to go home. And now, home wasn’t so safe anymore.

There is only one cure for what ails you in times like this: pecan pie…or cheesecake. Ok, two things. I turned the car around and headed for the café.

Maddie, the owner of the Eat it or Starve café, took one look at me and pointed to a corner table. “I’ll be right there,” she told me as I went to sit down. She came over with a large piece of pecan pie and a glass of sweet tea. “Ok, what did T.J. do this time?” she said as she sat down across from me.

“What’s the matter, Lizzie? Trouble in paradise?” Gladys Norwell said from her center table. “Has T.J. finally come to his senses and dumped you for a woman who won’t embarrass him in public?”

“Hush up,” Charlene Sims replied. “T.J. is a very nice young man. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.”

“He’s been acting mighty strange lately,” Gladys continued, ignoring Charlene. “I thought I saw him at a restaurant in Red Oak yesterday.

“You think?” Maddie said. “Don’t mention it unless you know it is true, Gladys.”

“Why do you think it was T.J.?” I said.

“Because whoever it was had on that tacky brown sheriff’s uniform that Owen makes his deputies wear.”

“That could be anybody, Gladys,” I pointed out. “Lots of the counties around here use those brown uniforms.”

“Do they have Brookdale police on their shoulder patches?” she retorted.

“That still doesn’t prove it was T.J.,” Charlene pointed out.

“He was meeting with that FBI agent that was here a couple of months ago, what’s his name…I can’t remember.”

“Hopkins,” I said.

She nodded. “Bingo! Anyway, they were having a pretty intense conversation…”

“You think every conversation is intense, Gladys,” her husband, Harold, replied.

She glared at him. “Just before Hopkins left, the other person handed him an envelope. Sounds a bit cloak and dagger to me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Maddie said. “You need to stop watching that James Bond marathon on television. You don’t have the figure to be a Bond girl.”

“If it was T.J., he was probably getting some information about a potential client,” I told her after the laughter died down. “He told me he’s been looking for security work to supplement his salary.”

“Dang council’s fault,” Sam Martin, the butcher, said. “Roger Tinsdall needs to make the other members realize we need to give our police force a raise. Our little town is being invaded by people from Dallas who want to live in a quiet place. They are bringing their crime rate with them.”

“And where do you propose the money come from?” Walter Simmons said. “You can’t squeeze money from a dried up turnip.”

“The point I am trying to make is,” Gladys said, taking control of the conversation, “that T.J. has been acting funny ever since that Coogan fellow was killed. Personally, I think it’s Lizzie’s fault. In my day, most young men wanted a woman who stayed home and took care of their family. Lizzie has been spending all her time at the newspaper since Dale left, and she doesn’t have any time for T.J. Even Babe has become depressed because Lizzie is neglecting her. Besides, she’s never been good at picking boyfriends. They’ve all been losers.”

I got up and walked over to Gladys’ table. “Let me tell you something, you nosy old busybody. T.J. hasn’t broken up with me, and whatever is wrong with Babe is none of your business. Dale left me in charge of his newspaper, and I intend to do the best job I can do so I don’t disappoint him. T.J. understands this, and has been very supportive. Just because you have turned into a dried up old prune does not give you the right to speculate about someone’s life and spread rumors just to make yourself look important. One of these days, it will come back and bite you on the butt, and I hope I’m standing right there watching when it does. Keep your nose out of my business and my name off your lips.”

I walked back to my table, paid Maddie and headed for the door, only to find my path blocked by Jake. “Nice to know you can be passionate about something,” he said, holding the door open for me.

“Shut up, Jake,” I said as I left, knowing I had just given Gladys more gossip to spread around. By the time I got home, she will have told everyone I was a two-timing hussy who should be run out of town.

I wondered if my friend had another job opening on her family’s avocado ranch.

 

 

Chapter Five

How had this day gone so wrong so fast? It wasn’t even noon yet!

I knew I was going to get an earful from my mother as soon as she found out what I had said to Gladys, so going to her house was out of the question. I couldn’t go back to the office, because Ellen would corner me and want an explanation, which I wasn’t prepared to give right now.

Wait a minute…I knew where to go and no one would expect me to be there.

Five minutes later, I parked near the side entrance to the Gentleman’s Club. Trixie Greene’s black Porsche was already there. I had only been there two times, but just to pick her up. This time, I was actually going in.

No one, except for the men who went there all the time, knew what it looked like inside. There was plenty of speculation, of course, but nothing concrete. I’m sure you can guess how Gladys described it. Her opinion didn’t count.

I opened the door and walked inside, waiting a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. To my right was a long mahogany bar with leather bar stools. There were tables and chairs on the main part of the floor, with a few leather covered booths lining the walls to the left. Music softly played over the speaker system.

“What are you doing here?” Trixie said as she came around the end of the bar. “I’m not open for business, and I’m not looking to hire any new girls. What did T.J. do this time?”

“Who says he did anything?” I said defensively.

“Because you have that look on your face that says a guy has totally ticked you off. So if it isn’t T.J., it must have been my brother.”

“We did have a heated exchange this morning, but nothing I can’t handle.”

“Ok, I give up. Why are you here?”

“Jake.”

“Oh boy,” Trixie said. She went behind the bar, pulled down a couple of glasses, filled them with ice, and poured a couple of Cokes. She slid one across the bar as I sat down on a stool. “Why are we talking about him after all these years?”

I took a drink. “Because he is the guy Dale hired to help me at the newspaper.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Nope. He walked in about an hour ago.”

“How does he look?”

A mental picture of Jake popped into my head: blond hair, those deep blue eyes, Oxford shirt, slacks, and loafers. The sleeves of his shirt couldn’t hide his muscles and…I shook my head to make the image go away. “About the same.”

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