The pages reflect the little light that fills the room. They seem to beg me to pick them up and see what secrets they contain. I know what is written within, yet I burn to have my eyes glide over the words to see the story from another perspective. Finally, a clearing of the throat snaps my attention. Then, a nod, encouraging me to take hold and devour what lies ahead of me. I can no longer contain my curiosity, you see, and so, I grab the folder and begin to read.
My name is Officer Burkle, Officer John Burkle, and these are my accounts of what happened to James Lucas Smith. Now, you must excuse me; time has been unkind to this noggin of mine. I sincerely hope I haven't left anything out, but sadly, I can't guarantee that I haven't. I have been keeping these parts safe for the last five decades, and I'm happy to say that these here parts were safe. Safe as houses, until they weren't. Right at the end of my career, I failed in my duty as protector of the town, and for that, I'll need to face Jesus' judgment when I meet him. However, that is not why we are here today, is it? No, there is much to be discussed, I know.
I remember it like it was yesterday. At my age, you see, time never stands still. It was a Sunday, and I was at church like every other Sunday. My wife, Mary May, was at my side, where she belongs. We sang our praises to the Good Lord above, just like we always did Sunday mornings. Just as we took our seats, she walked into the small, packed church. Boy, she was a breath of fresh air for us ol' country folks. Oh, yes, sir, every head in that there church turned and stared. Now, either she was used to people gawking or didn't notice, but she walked calmly with a slight smile on that angel face of hers. She sat down next to young James Lucas Smith, who couldn't believe that this beautiful girl chose to be his neighbor for the service. I bet that boy didn't take much in of what the good reverend said that day. That was the day that our little town first met Milley Jackson.
Never in my life had I seen a love that blossomed so quickly, not even on them Hallmark Channels. James and Milley became inseparable. We hardly ever saw one without the other, and it made us happy. He was a good lad, James, he was. He deserved to have a pretty little woman on his arm. Their love seemed infectious, making everyone smile who crossed their path. So it was no surprise when we heard that James had asked Milley to be his one and only. Heck, we were the first to RSVP to the wedding.
Every Sunday, the two of them would walk into the church holding hands, smiling as if they had a secret that made them the happiest people in the world. But, of course, they had a secret, true love. Or so we thought. A few months after their wedding, James started to look different, skinnier, weaker. Milley, on the other hand, was beaming with good health. She seemed to be glowing, and she shook her head affirmatively when my Mary May asked if they were expecting. The weight of a new life in the world would fall heavily on the father; I thought while looking at James. The young lad was stressed, and that was no good for his health.
As the weeks passed, we saw the young couple every Sunday, holding hands, smiling at one another, happy, in love. James kept losing weight and now seemed to have lost most of his hair. "Son, have you seen a doctor?" my Mary May asked the boy. "No, ma'am, it's just a cold. Milley takes good care of me," he answered, smiling at his wife. Milley's belly was swollen, showing signs of new life.
So it went. Every Sunday at the service, we would be shocked by James' appearance while Milley looked more radiant. I insisted that he see a doctor, but the lad refused, stating that he had the care he needed in his caring wife. Then one Sunday morning, they didn't show up. My Mary May suggested that the child had been born, yes, possibly, I thought. I couldn't shake the thought that something had happened to James, something unspeakable. You see, the last time I saw him, he was merely a skeleton of the man he used to be. It just wasn't right.
It was a gorgeous night out, so beautiful, in fact, that I decided to walk over to the Smith's home instead of driving my old pickup truck. I parked and saw the lights were on in their cozy tiny home. It appeared to be peaceful, nothing out of the ordinary. I walked up the steps to their porch listening for signs of distress, but there were none. When I knocked on the door, Milley came to open the door with a big smile on her face. Her big, round belly was gone.
"Officer John," she addressed me, "What a delightful surprise! You are just in time for supper. Come now, I won't take no for an answer." She shoved me towards the dining room table. A warm, delicious aroma filled the air.
"Where's the baby, Milley?" I asked when she joined me at the table with two full plates for beef stew and rice. I nodded my thanks, waiting for a response.
"Oh, she's with family. I'll join her later. Now, don't you worry, Officer John. I'll teach her right. She knows her momma just has to wrap a few things up here first." Milley smiled, the smile of a new mother thinking of her infant.
"What about James? Won't he be joining us tonight?" I asked, looking around the room. Milley smiled again, "Oh, no, Officer John. You see, James isn't able to join us tonight. Now you eat your dinner, sir. You don't want it getting cold."
Now it must have been the good graces of the Almighty, but I didn't take one bite of that stew that night. If I had, I would have ended up just like James Lucas Smith. What a poor, unfortunate soul. They had found him a few days later, buried in the backyard of the home he had shared with his true love. Although that is horrible enough, the genuinely upsetting thing was that parts of him were missing; pieces of flesh had been removed.
It took the coroner a week to give us much-needed answers to what exactly happened to James Lucas Smith. "Poisoned," Dr. Matthews had said, shaking his head sympathetically," the slowest, most cruel way to kill someone." But, of course, by that time, Milley Jackson had packed up and disappeared. She was like them little spiders. You know, the ones that eat their baby daddies once they have had their way with them. Black widows? Is that what they are called? Well, Milley Jackson, I doubt that was even her real name, or if this was the first time she had done something like this. Sometimes evil comes in a pretty package with a big smile.
A smile appeared on my face as I read the last words of Officer John Burkle's statement. I had always liked him. I flicked through the documents in the folder, photos of the other men, reports done by other officers, more identities that once belonged to me. It was all very fascinating, indeed. The handcuffs restricted my motion as I closed the folder and pushed it away. On the cover stood the words, Lily Starling. Yes, that was my name, but they would never entirely have me figured out. They'll never understand that sometimes the good just has to pay.