Eric sits quietly at the table, picking at the baked chicken covered in handmade mushroom sauce, still thinking about the interaction at lunch. He could not shake what the detectives saying that the insurance company is the link between his friend’s losing their lovely wives. He stabs the meat repeatedly, sliding it around in the sauce, but does not cut himself off a bite.
Sarah watches her husband as she takes a bite of the chicken and sliced mushrooms in the sauce off her fork, her eyebrows knitted together. “Do you not like the chicken and mushroom sauce I made for dinner? I can warm something else up in the microwave if you would like? We have plenty of leftovers in the icebox.”
Eric looks up startled by his wife’s voice, being miles away in his head, “Oh, no Hunny, this food is delicious. I just have a lot on my mind right now and don’t know what to do with the information I have found out today during lunch.”
Sarah readjusts herself in her seat as she puts down her fork, “Okay then, let’s talk.”
Eric puts his own fork down and looks into her eyes, “What if I told you, I met the detectives working on the murders of Sharon, Lily, Elizabeth, Tara, Jenifer, and Diana?”
Her eyes open wide when she hears this, and uses her napkin to wipe her mouth, “Really?”
He nods his head and clasps his hands in front of him, leaning his elbows on to the table, “The detectives didn’t know that all the men of the wives used to work at my insurance company. I was talking to Suzy, and they overheard us talking about the deaths. I sat with them and we chatted. We think that one of their past cases has triggered the deaths.” He grabs his fork and knife, cutting off the chicken, and thrusting it in his mouth, suddenly hungry. “I gave them Judge Grayson’s number to call so they can get a court order to have access to all cases so they can look for a connection. I told them I will help in any way that I can especially pull the cases for them.” He gets another bite, chews a bit, swallows, and gulps down some water before he wipes his mouth with his napkin. “Oh, and I kind of invited them over in three days for a chat and dinner?” He looks at her apologetically.
Sarah shakes her head, “Fine, I can cook something for you and your new friends. I will make a pot roast with carrots and potatoes and gravy. Maybe a side salad and some garlic green beans.” She picks up her fork and eats again. “And as for the entire conversation you guys had, yes I am glad that you are going to help but please be careful.”
Eric gets up, walks over to her and kisses her cheek before he returns to his seat, excited about getting Sarah’s approval for helping the detectives with the case. He scarfs down his food, Sarah shaking her head as she eats slowly. Eric cleans his dishes and heads off for his nightly whiskey and newspaper, reading by the fire in the living room, though he is buzzing with energy. He pours himself the golden liquid of choice, sitting on the couch, and places it beside the couch on the dark wood table. Sarah joins him a while later after finishing her own dinner and cleaning up, curling up on the couch to continue reading her fantasy book.
Eric glances at Sarah, smiling as his wife becomes engrossed with her book, being taken to a far-off land with elves, dwarves and magic. He opens the newspaper that was sitting on the table and reads the stories inside, skipping the financial section since he always reads that in the morning before work. He reads the article about poor Elizabeth’s murder and tries to see if he can see anything in the article that would tell him what happened, but it is only riddled with holey theories. Eric finishes reading the other parts of the newspaper, sipping the whiskey from time to time until it is time for bed.
Sarah glances at the clock above their fireplace as its loud melody sings out that it is time for bed. She closes her book with the page marked and places it on the table beside her side of the couch, standing and stretching before she and Eric retreat to their bedroom for the night.
Outside their house, a dark gray car slowly drives by, the windows up so no one can see the driver, then slowly drives out of the neighborhood. Then 15 minutes later, the same car drives past again but going in the opposite direction before it stops in the middle of the road, the car idling. A man walking his dog passes the car and gives it a strange look before the car drives away.
Early the next morning Kyle and Adam are already showered, dressed, and heading to the office of Judge Grayson to pick up the court order needed to get into Old Times Insurance and get their hands on the insurance cases from each man victimized by a faceless murderer who took everything from them, their wives. Kyle and Adam park in front of the stark white building full of windows that the morning sun barely hits since the detectives have gotten up so early. But they knew the judge would be there since he likes to get an exceedingly early start to his day as well. Kyle and Adam glance around the building, not seeing any other cars except for one further down, a light tan looking car, telling them that no one else is at work just yet.
“That must be Judge Grayson’s car,” Kyle nods towards it. “I guess he is already here, just like he promised.”
Adam grins, “Well then, the sooner we get that paper the sooner we can be outside of Old Times Insurance to wait for… who did Eric say were the owners? A Mr. Hancock and a Mr. Matthews?”
Kyle pulls the door open and the two men step into the entryway of a well-furnished courthouse that they have only been in a handful of times while living there. The men walk over to the front desk where there is usually a secretary waiting to help people get to the right courts or offices, but the desk sits empty. They look around to see if they can find some way to find Judge Grayson’s office, but there isn’t really anything around that can lead them in the right direction so they each take a hallway but only find the courtrooms on the lower level. They head up the stairs and see an office in front of them, so they split up again until Kyle finds the right office, flagging Adam down.
Adam joins his partner in front of Judge Grayson’s office, the name plate shining in the dim light of hallway. Adam gently knocks on the door and they wait until they hear a low muffled voice telling them they enter. Kyle twists the door handle and pushes the door open so that they can enter a beautifully dark office full of handmade wooden furniture and the blinds pulled to let in the sunrise behind the man sitting in a comfortable black chair behind the desk. The gray-haired older gentleman with several laugh lines visible around his mouth raises his deep-sea-blue eyes as Kyle and Adam approach his desk.
“Ah, you must be the detectives I spoke to on the phone yesterday around lunch and then again last night,” Judge Grayson says as he walks around the desk, his wrinkled hand extended towards Adam and Kyle.
“Yes, sir, I am Kyle, and this is my partner Adam. It is nice to meet you in person, Judge Grayson,” Kyle tells the man, shaking his hand, then steps back so that Adam can shake his hand as well.
Judge Grayson shakes their hands, then waves them to sit in the chairs across from his desk as he walks back around and takes his own seat. “So, tell me more about this case, how you met Eric, and how you think this murderer is picking off the wives of those who work at the insurance company.”
Kyle and Adam take their seats, Adam pulling out the bag from his coat and setting it on the desk before the two men break into the story about the murders, Eric, the insurance company, and how they believe it is a salesperson murdering the women. Kyle and Adam make sure that they inform the man about everything, even though they themselves don’t know if the man in front of them could be a murderer. Judge Grayson leans his elbows on his desk and rests his chin on his clasped hands as he listens to the men in front of him, his concern for his town growing when he finds out that there is a stranger entering the town and murdering the citizens for some unknown reason. Judge Grayson’s eyes grow dark as Adam shows the stolen magazine to him, his jaw clenching and lips pushing forward like an annoyed duck. He notices the name on the little tag of the magazine and makes a mental note of it before he pulls out some paperwork from the side of the desk.
“Thank you, Judge Grayson, this will help us so much on our case. We hope that this court order will shed some light on the murderer since he or she is targeting the wives of employees.” Kyle tells the judge, sitting at the edge of his chair, watching Judge Grayson work quickly on the paperwork.
Judge Grayson folds up his signed papers and places them in an envelope that also has his name on the front, and he writes Mr. Hancock and Mr. Matthews on the front. He puts his pen away and slides the envelope over to the detectives so that they can grab it and take it with them. Adam grabs the bag with the magazine while Kyle grabs the envelope and sliding it into the inside pocket on his coat.
“Thanks again, Judge Grayson, you have been a great help to us,” Adam tells the man as he stands up shaking the judge’s hand again.
Kyle shakes the judge’s hand before they walk out of the office, huge grins on their faces and they decide to head to their favorite breakfast place to celebrate with coffee and omelets with cheese, diced ham, bacon, and jalapenos and a side of hash browns.
Eric kisses Sarah goodbye after a quick oatmeal and coffee breakfast, Eric wanting to be to the office early so he can get his paperwork mostly done so if Adam and Kyle have the court order, he will be mostly free to help them. Sarah wishes him luck and waves goodbye, standing by the door as she watches his car disappear down the street.
She turns to go back inside; the clouds threatening to spill the rain down on top of her as the storm clouds sit low in the sky above. The wind picks up, blowing leaves off the surrounding trees and whipping them up against the windows. Sarah rubs her arms as she enters her room to get one of her soft jackets she wears around the house. Slipping it on, she sighs and walks back into the kitchen where she cleans up from breakfast, wipes down the counters, and looks in her icebox to see if she has everything she needs for that night’s dinner. She turns on the little radio that sits in the kitchen window before she sits at the kitchen table and makes a list of what she will need to buy for the dinner when Adam and Kyle join them.
Sarah writes other items they need on a piece of paper and decides to do a little shopping at the market before the storm gets any worse. Then she will clean the house and take a nice warm bath, something she has not done for herself in a while. She could also take her book and finish reading it since she only has a few more chapters to go and then she can move onto a paranormal horror written by the same author. She finishes her list, takes off her around the house sweater, and grabs her white jacket with her purse and keys, heading outside in the growing angry weather. Before the rain falls, Sarah has pulled into the market and is already inside, lightning racing across the sky above the marketplace. Sarah shivers when not too far away, the thunder roars, warning everyone that the storm has arrived. Sarah grabs a cart and heads deeper into the market, starting at one side and making her way to the other, heading up and down each aisle as she grabs what she needs and on a couple of items not on the list.
As she walks around, looking for her items, she notices the strange gentleman she had seen at the diner when eating lunch the other day. She watches as he walks past the aisle she is in, staring down the aisle at her, then turns to walk down the aisle beside hers. Sarah quickens her steps out of the aisle and down the next away from him, trying to not let her anxiety to get the best of her and drawing attention to herself since she doesn’t know for sure if the man is following her or it is just coincidence that he is there.
Sarah heads to the front and pays for her items when she notices the nice young couple at the next check out. The woman turns around as if she is looking for someone, but looks relieved when she doesn’t see the person. But as soon as she sees Sarah, her eyes light up, and she waves at her.
“Hey there, stranger,” she calls over to Sarah.
Sarah smiles, “Hello to you, too, stranger. Are you and your husband enjoying your stay in our little town?”
“Are we ever!” She pats her husband’s back and points to Sarah before she walks around to Sarah’s side to chat a bit. “This town is so cute! We have been talking about maybe moving here. We are both tired of the city life and want to try something new.”
“A lot of our neighbors are from the city. They came in for a vacation and never left,” Sarah chuckles. “Why Ken here is originally from Los Angeles. Came to visit an aunt who lives here and as you can see; he never went back.”
Ken, the cashier, looks up and grins at the woman, “It’s true. Well, I went back and sold a lot of my stuff, packed the rest and shipped it out here, quit my job, and since my rent was almost up, I didn’t renew. Then I came back and stayed. That was 10 years ago, I want to say.”
“10 years? Wow,” the woman exclaims. “Maybe we will be like that one day. We have already started looking at houses that are for sale. They are so cute and quaint that I just can’t get over it.”
Sarah smiles, “The houses here are genuinely nice and comfortable and great for renting out for summer since we get more tourists around that time. My husband and I were discussing buying another home to rent out to tourists for the summer or for those who wish to live here but not buy a house right away.” She pays Ken and picks up her bags, looking outside. “Also, a great place to raise a family.” She looks back at the woman. She sees the woman’s face fall, and she gasps, “Oh I am sorry did I…?”
The woman shakes her head, “It’s okay… we had a child once, a daughter, but we lost her three months after she was born. This happened 8 years ago.”
“Oh, I am so sorry for your loss,” Sarah says, adjusting the bags in her arms. “I am sorry that I…”
“No need to apologize as you didn’t know,” her husband says as he joins them, carrying their two bags.
“Where are my manners?” Sarah says, shaking her head. “I am Sarah and well you just met Ken.”
Ken salutes at them as he continues to check out the next customer in line. Sarah and the couple head for the front door to get out of the way as they chat.
“Dameon and this is my wife, Willow,” Dameon says introducing them to Sarah.
“Well, it is nice to meet you two and I hope you all decide to stay in our little town. Like I said, it is a great place to live, especially if you are tired of the hustle and bustle of the city.” Sarah smiles as they head out of the store, stopping under the awning. She looks up at the angry sky, the rain rushing down towards them. “Better make my way over to the butcher. I still need some meat for a dinner party in a few days.” She thinks for a moment then looks at the couple, “Why don’t you all come over for dinner this weekend? I can give you my number and we can chat on the phone about it later.”
Willow grows excited and pulls out a pen and paper from her purse, “I always come prepared.”
“Perfect! My number is 557- 9839. Call me say tomorrow as I will be busy in the morning and then we can make plans,” Sarah says, her eyes lit up.
“Thank you, Sarah, you have been so nice to us since we have been here and we both appreciate it immensely. I will call you for sure tomorrow afternoon,” Willow says, putting her paper and pen back in purse after writing the information.
“Great! Well, time to brave this storm to get back to my car. I will talk to you all later.” She gives a half wave under one of her bags and then rushes out into the pouring rain towards her car. Once there, she puts a bag down on the trunk, digs out her keys, pops the trunk and puts the bags inside before she quickly closes the trunk and nearly jumps in behind the steering wheel to escape the rain. She sits for a few moments, using a handkerchief to dab away some water from her face and arms, staring at the couple as they hurry to their own car and vanish inside of it. The lights come on and they drive away, waving at Sarah as they pass. Sarah waves to them and turns on her car, heading off down the road to get to the butcher so she can get some meat for two dinners with people and a few other meats for meals for just herself and Eric.
Soon Sarah is home, warmed up and dry, with all the food put away and already hard at work cleaning the house. She is very thankful that she had done the laundry the day before the storm hit, wiping down the bathroom sink and staring outside the window through the mirror. She shivers a bit and hopes that Eric is safe in his office, warm and working either with a client or with the detectives he had mentioned at dinner last night. She shakes her head when the thunder pounds over head and gets back to work so she can curl up in front of the fire with her books.