Read Teresa Watson Online

Authors: Death Stalks the Law

Teresa Watson (3 page)

“Apparently so. Your eyes glazed over for a minute.”

“Oh, stop it. Jake is my past, T.J. is my present.”

“Yes, but is he your future?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”

“You should,” Trixie said, taking a drink. “You aren’t getting any younger.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“So what did you say to Jake when he showed up?”

“The usual. He’s still a bit too dominating, acts like a jerk, blah blah blah. Not those exact words, but the meaning was clear.”

“Ah,” she nodded. “So he made some comments about how you couldn’t be counted on, and how you bolted at the first sign of trouble, yada yada yada.”

I shrugged. “It’s possible.”

“So you ran away…again…and came here.”

“No, I went to the café first.”

“Ah, to drown your sorrows in pecan pie. So how did you end up here?”

“Gladys Norwell made some snarky comments about T.J. acting strange ever since Oliver Coogan’s death. She says he’s acting that way because I’m spending too much time at work, and how he should dump me.”

“T.J. dumped you?”

“No, he didn’t. Just wishful thinking on Gladys’ part. She’s only happy when everyone around her is miserable. Needless to say, I told her off and left. Jake was standing in the door as I tried to leave, and made some comment about me being passionate about something. I told him to shut up and left.”

“Which is how you got here.”

I nodded. “I definitely couldn’t go to Mother’s house. By now, she knows what happened, knows Jake is in town, and that we are meeting at my house later tonight.”

“You aren’t!” I nodded again. “Are you crazy? What about T.J.?”

“What about him? Jake is here to help me with the newspaper. We are going to have to talk at some point.”

“You know that you two are going to end up talking about what happened all those years ago.”

“I know.”

“T.J. is going to find out about your connection to Jake. This is a small town. Word travels fast. I suggest you get together with him before you meet with Jake tonight.”

“I can’t, he’s working. Oh my gosh…”

“What?”

“He’s supposed to come over tonight for supper.”

“Who?”

“T.J.”

“And Jake is coming to the house, too?” She started laughing. “Girl, you are in one big mess.”

I put my head in my hands. “What am I going to do? I can’t have both of them over there at the same time!”

“Why not?” Trixie said. “They are going to find out about each other soon enough. You might as well get it over with tonight.”

“This has disaster written all over it,” I groaned.

“Look, sweetie, you aren’t the same person you were nine years ago, and neither is Jake, I’m sure. You need to prove to him that you can handle this situation. It is going to be uncomfortable at first, but it will work out, as long as you confront the problem head on and don’t run away from it. This is your turf; stand your ground!”

“You make it sound like I’m going out to do battle or something.”

“A current boyfriend meeting a previous boyfriend is never pleasant. They are going to be sizing each other up, thumping their chests, and trying to prove they are the better man. The only thing that would keep that from happening is if there is a Mrs. Mathias in the picture. Do you happen to know if he is married?”

“No clue. I didn’t exactly want to spend time catching up. I was too busy…”

“…running out the door as fast as your legs could carry you,” Trixie finished. “I suggest you do some research on him before he shows up tonight.”

“I guess,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be better if he told me himself? I mean, if I go in spouting off all the things he’s been doing the last nine years, it will sound like I’ve been keeping up with him. He’ll think I’ve been regretting my decision to leave.”

“Good point. It would make you sound desperate, which you aren’t. Are you?”

“Of course not!”

“Then I only have one other suggestion for you: cook a good meal and stock up on snacks. You are in for a long night.”

“Why don’t you come over?”

“Hm, it’s a tempting offer. I mean, who wouldn’t want a front row seat to the fireworks show of the year? Ok, I’m in. I’ll even bring some dessert.”

“Thank you,” I said, squeezing her hand.

“Don’t thank me yet,” she warned. “If you don’t ask questions, I will, and I won’t be nice about it.”

I slid off the stool. “I know, and I don’t care right now. Try to come over around five if you can. We can get things set up before they get there.” I headed for the door.

“One question.”

“What?”

“Were there sparks flying when you saw Jake again?”

Luckily for me, the dim lighting made it impossible for her to see my face. She would have known the answer right away.

 

 

Chapter Six

When I walked outside, Jake was leaning against my car with his arms crossed. “Moonlighting?” he said with a smile.

“Very funny. What are you doing here? Are you following me?”

He shrugged. “It’s possible.”

I walked around him, unlocked the car, and threw my stuff in the back seat. “Is there something specific you want, or are you just going to follow me to the next place I go?”

“I thought we could have brunch, so we could discuss some business.”

“Just business?”

“You’ve made it clear you don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public, so it’s only business.”

The only place that would even consider serving brunch was the café. It was a no-win situation, and I knew it. “Fine, we’ll go back to the café. Maddie serves excellent food. I should call Ellen and Bruce to include them in this discussion.” I figured if they were there, the fewer questions people would ask.

I’ve been wrong before.

Ten minutes later, we were sitting in a back booth. “So, who is this handsome guy?” Maddie asked as she handed Jake a menu.

He stood up and shook her hand. “Jake Mathias, ma’am. Dale hired me to help out at the newspaper.”

“Oh, so you’re the one they’ve been waiting for? Pleased to meet you,” she said, smiling.

“Ellen told me the food here is excellent,” he said, sitting down. “What do you recommend? I haven’t had a good home cooked meal in a long time.”

“You just leave it to me,” she told him, taking the menu from him. “You want your usual, Lizzie?”

“Sure, why not?” Maddie nodded and walked away. “Laying it on a little thick, aren’t you?”

“No. Ellen did tell me the food here was excellent, and I haven’t been home in months.”

Maddie came back with two glasses of sweet tea. “Food will be ready in a few minutes.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Jake said.

“Please, just call me Maddie.” For a second, I thought I saw her blush as she left to take someone else’s order.

“Nice little town,” he said, taking a drink. “This is what you settled for?”

“We aren’t going to talk about anything personal, remember? Strictly business.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I did talk to Ellen for a few minutes, and took a quick look at the layout. I see several areas that need some improvement, but overall, you and the staff have done a pretty good job, considering this isn’t really your area of expertise.”

“Thank you. The staff has done a lot of the work, and they have been very patient with me.”

“Who was the woman you told off earlier?”

“Gladys Norwell, the town gossip. There isn’t anything that goes on around here that she doesn’t know about.”

“Have you considered asking her to do a column once a week?”

“Are you crazy?”

“You need to up your subscriptions. Who doesn’t like to read about everyone else’s dirty laundry? She couldn’t use any names, and she could even put in a teaser about a juicy item in the next week’s column.”

I shook my head. “No way. She is already unbearable. If you give her that kind of power, she could do a lot of damage, intentionally and unintentionally.”

“This is a small town. How many skeletons can there be around here?”

Given my family tree, I didn’t answer that question. Thankfully, Maddie brought our food. “Here you go. A cheeseburger and fries for Lizzie, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn for you.”

“This looks great, Maddie,” Jake smiled. “I have a feeling I’m going to have to start working out again, or I’m going to gain a lot of weight from eating your cooking.”

This time, she definitely blushed as she walked away. We ate in silence for a few minutes. The lunch crowd started to filter in, and I saw several curious glances in our direction. I hoped no one would come over to talk to us. And then Gladys walked in.

So much for hoping.

She made a beeline for our table. “You have a lot of nerve, Elizabeth Crenshaw, coming back in here after the spectacle you made of yourself this morning.”

“I was only speaking the truth, Gladys, and I meant every word of it.”

She looked at Jake. “And who is this?”

“Jacob Mathias, ma’am,” he said, standing up and shaking her hand. “Dale hired me to help Lizzie at the newspaper.”

“She doesn’t need help, young man,” she retorted. “She needs to be at home, taking care of her boyfriend and her dog, not working day and night for a business that isn’t even hers.”

“From what I’ve been told, she has been a great source of strength for her co-workers, considering their editor has left for an undetermined reason.”

“Ha, I’ll give you a reason,” she said, pointing at me. “It’s her crazy aunt.”

“That’s enough, Gladys,” I hissed. “We are having a business meeting here.”

Jake ignored me. “Her crazy aunt?”

“You mean you haven’t heard? Her aunt is a murderer.”

Lord help me, I did the only thing I could think to do: I picked up both glasses of tea, poured them on Gladys’ head, grabbed my purse, and left.

 

 

Chapter Seven

I went to the store after that. I figured I was going to be hiding out at home for a while in order to avoid all the looks and questions I was going to get, so I stocked up, loaded the groceries in the car, and headed home. Normally, I would be driving my mini Cooper, but Mother had borrowed it a few weeks ago and had yet to return it. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get it back.

My house was on a street near the outskirts of town. There weren’t a lot of houses out there, but plenty of trees. A couple of blocks from my house, I noticed a black Dodge Ram truck parked next to the curb. As I got closer, I saw someone tied to a tree not far from the truck. I parked behind the truck and ran over to the person. It was Hopkins. He had a gag in his mouth, and he was furiously shaking his head. I pulled the gag out of his mouth, and he coughed a few times. “Get…out…of here,” he finally gasped.

“I’m not about to leave you tied to a tree, Hopkins,” I said, scooting around to the other side of the tree trunk.

“I’m ordering you to leave, Crenshaw,” he said.

“Who died and made you my boss?” I retorted as I began working on the knots.

“You don’t understand. I’m trying to save your…”

His sentence was cut off by a loud explosion that sent me flying backwards. I bounced off a couple of tree trunks before landing on the ground. My back and head hurt, and my right arm was hanging funny.

Rolling over to my left side, I ignored the wave of nausea and used my good arm to push myself to my knees. I crawled over to Hopkins, who was unconscious. He had a deep cut on his forehead, and there was a piece of metal sticking out of his arm. I looked over at the truck, which was a burning, twisted hunk of junk now. Glancing to my left, I saw Mother’s car was also toast.

My phone was in my car, so I checked Hopkins’ pockets, found his, and called Owen. “Hey, Hopkins, can I call you back? I’ve just received a report about an explosion I need to check out,” he said when he answered.

“Well, Hopkins is unconscious at the moment, and I’m not feeling too great myself. That explosion happened about two blocks from my house. We could use an ambulance and the fire department, too.”

“Lizzie? What the…?”

“Owen, for once, just shut up and do what I ask you to do,” I said. “I’m not in any shape to answer your questions right now.” I hung up.

I crawled behind Hopkins and tried to undo the knots again, but working with one arm was not easy. There was no way I could do it. I turned around, leaned against the trunk, and closed my eyes.

Next thing I knew, someone was gently shaking my shoulder and calling my name. I opened my eyes to find Owen and T.J. staring at me. “Hey, sweetheart,” T.J. said, “how are you doing?”

“I’ve had better days.”

“I will admit, you’ve looked better,” he replied, picking a piece of lettuce out of my hair.

“Gee, thanks. How’s Hopkins?”

“Still unconscious,” Owen said. “We cut the ropes, and the paramedics are looking at him right now.” He leaned back and waved. “We’ve got another ambulance crew here. They just pulled up. They’re going to take a look at you.”

“You have little cuts all over your face, Lizzie,” T.J. told me, “and your right arm doesn’t look very good. Just let them take care of you, ok?” I nodded.

As the paramedics moved in, Owen said, “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I found Hopkins tied to this tree, and before I could get him loose, there was an explosion. Mother’s car…”

“Not drivable, I’m afraid,” Owen said.

A wave of pain washed over me as one of the paramedics moved my arm. “I don’t know anything else, Owen. Hopkins is the one you need to talk to. Is he going to be alright?”

“No clue.”

“She’s ready to go,” the paramedic told Owen. “Do you think you can walk over to the ambulance, ma’am?”

I nodded and stood up. I felt a bit lightheaded, and leaned against T.J. He scooped me up and carried me to the ambulance while my paramedics stopped near the other crew to see if there was anything they could do to help. “Just sit there,” T.J. said. “I’ll be right back.”

Where did he think I was going to go? Granted, my house was only two blocks away, but if I couldn’t make it a few hundred yards to an ambulance, there was no way I was going to make it home.

“What in the world happened to you?”

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