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Drama

           “So, what’s the catch,” Jenny Miller asked the realtor as the pen she held hovered over the signature line on the mortgage contract.

           The realtor insisted that everything was on the up-and-up, and there was nothing to be worried about, but Jenny’s gut told her a different story.

           A tightness built up in her abdomen as it did when something was awry. Even though everything looked good on paper, her instincts told her that she should walk away. For the first time in a long time, however, she went against her better judgement and signed the contract.

           This house was perfect for Jenny and her family. It was in a quiet neighborhood, and the asking price was well below any other comparable home in the area. It was an opportunity she could not turn down.

           In the past, Jenny would have consulted with her husband, Jacob regarding large purchases such as this, but Jacob had died suddenly only a few months prior, and Jenny could no longer live in their matrimonial home without being haunted by his memory.

           His death made the evening news. They reported the mysterious circumstances revolving around the case, and how the police appeared to “rush the investigation” without tangible evidence.

           Jenny had just arrived home on the night of November twelfth. She had attended a birthday party with their children until 7:00 pm. Her husband would normally arrive home from work around 5:30 pm, but on this night, Jenny returned home to a darkened house with no other vehicle in the driveway.

           A police cruiser was parked adjacent to their home, and two officers approached her as she attempted to help her children from the car. They introduced themselves as Sergeant Sanderson and Constable Bishop, and asked if they could speak with her in private after she got the kids settled.

           The news of Jacob’s death was unexpected and crippling. She could feel her knees give way beneath her as she began to falter. Two strong hands caught her before she reached to floor. Through blurry, tear-filled eyes, she could see Constable Bishop standing above her. She could see his lips moving, but the words came out as jumbled slurs.

           Sergeant Sanderson dashed out of the room briefly and returned with a glass of water which he handed to Jenny. She held the glass unsteadily and tried to take a sip. The constable sat her down in a nearby chair while she regained her composure.

           Jenny asked the sergeant how her husband died, but all he could tell her, was that it did not appear to be of natural causes, but an investigation would be taking place and she should have more details following the investigation.

           They began to ask her questions about where Jacob worked and his normal routine after work. They asked if she knew of anyone that would want to cause him harm, or if he had any habits such as drinking, drugs, or gambling that would attract the wrong people.

           Jenny insisted that Jacob was a hard-working man who loved his family and had never done anything illegal in his life. The constable took notes while the sergeant continued to ask Jenny questions, then they apologized for the intrusion and passed on their condolences to her and her children.

           Less then one week later, Jenny sat in the front pew of their church and stared at the closed oak casket that would become her husband’s final resting place. Tears flowed steadily from the eyes of her girls, but Jenny’s eyes were dry. She was beyond the shock, denial, and pain stages, and was now in a moment of reflection.

           She could picture the vacation that her, Jacob, and the girls took the summer before to Lake Tahoe. With seventy-two miles of shoreline to enjoy, they launched their bow rider from the Lake Forest Boat Ramp near Burton Creek State Park, and began to travel along the western shoreline.      

           The water was crystal clear, and they spent the day on the lake tubing and fishing. It was a memory she would not soon forget. Jenny’s daughter, Jill, lightly nudged her mother’s arm and told her that the priest was calling her up to the altar. Suddenly, Jenny’s mind was back to the loss of her husband.

           As she approached the podium, Jenny stumbled slightly as her knees once again weakened, but she held strong and continued up the steps. The microphone shrieked as she began to speak. The priest walked over and adjusted it slightly and Jenny tried once more.

           She thanked everyone for coming and for the love and support that they had all shown to her and her children, then she read a bible verse that she and Jacob had always cherished.

           Romans 12:10

           Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.

           “It is by these words that Jacob and I lived our lives,” she said. “We have treated others the way that we would treat our own family, and we have instilled this value in our children as well. Love is eternal, and I know that Jacob will forever be a part of me. This part of our lives was just the beginning, for we will reunite when it is my turn to cross through the pearly gates.”

           Once the funeral service was completed and they led the procession to the grave site, Jenny began to feel a heaviness coming over her. It felt as if something was out of sorts and that she wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye.

           The days and weeks that followed were the most difficult since the moment she had heard of Jacob’s demise. Every room had a memory that would bring a tear to Jenny’s eyes. There was the photo of the two of them on their first date with what seemed to be a lifetime ago, or the ticket stubs from the concert where Jacob arranged to get on stage and propose to Jenny just before the band played her favorite love ballad.

           She would spend time reminiscing than cleaning, so the house began to become cluttered and her own appearance became unkempt. The girls were late to school on more than one occasion, and eventually, Jenny’s sister, seeing that Jenny was in a depressive state, suggested a grief counselor.

           Jenny was a proud woman and refused to pay someone to tell her how she should feel, so instead, her sister suggested that they begin to box up some of Jacob’s belongings or items that might trigger feelings that would upset her. Reluctantly, Jenny agreed.

           When they began packing up Jacob’s belongings, Jenny kept coming up with excuses for why they should keep them out, but by the time the third box was full, Jenny was more focused and knew that this was something that needed to be done.

           They were nearly done the eighth and final box, when Jenny came across a matchbook from a motel two towns over. She thought it was an odd thing for Jacob to have inside his coat pocket, but shrugged it off and threw it into the box with everything else.

           Four days after she had boxed up his things, Jenny began to feel slightly better. She was more focused on her children, and decided to go back to work. On her first day back, all of her coworkers consistently reminded her about her loss and treated her with kid gloves.

           Jenny could feel eyes on her all day wherever she went. News of her husband’s death had spread throughout the small town, and she could her the whispers and murmurs as she walked down the street. She knew then and there, that she needed to move away from that town if she was ever to find peace.

           The moving van had arrived at her new home thirty minutes after she and the girls had. She directed the movers as they entered the front door and showed them what goes where. Within an hour, all of the furniture was in place, and all that remained, was the unpacking of the boxes.

           For the next few hours, Jenny and the girls began to unpack and set up one room at a time beginning with their bedrooms. This was the first time that Jill and Jessica would have each a bedroom. Jenny told them that in time, they would repaint the rooms a color that they preferred, but for now, they needed to deal with the wallpaper that was currently covering the bedroom walls.

           Later, after dinner and a shower, Jenny sent the girls to bed before returning to the kitchen to continue with the unpacking. She didn’t realize they had accumulated so much during their ten years of marriage. Less than an hour later, however, she was too exhausted to continue and went up to bed herself.

           Jenny tossed and turned as her dreams filled her thoughts with visions of her husband being bludgeoned beyond recognition while sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. It seemed so vivid in her mind until she awakened with sweat enveloping her body.

           The next morning, Jenny could not get the vision from her nightmare out of her head. She prepared breakfast for the girls, and as she searched the drawer for a spatula, she saw a meat tenderizer, and the vision reappeared. She tried her best to concentrate on other things instead.

           The following night, Jenny was awakened by a scream coming from Jessica’s room. Jenny quickly ran down the hall and swung open the door. Jessica sat in her bed with the covers pulled up over her nose.

           “What’s wrong, Jess?” Jenny asked her youngest.

           “I saw daddy,” she said.

           “It was just a dream, sweetheart. You need to go back to sleep.”

           “It wasn’t a dream, mommy. He was here, and he was all dirty.”

           “Okay, Jess, but he is gone now, and you need to sleep more. Goodnight.”

           Jenny shut off the light and left the room, leaving the door opened just a crack. She was sad to see her girls having a difficult time adjusting.

           A few days had passed with no further dreams of Jacob, so Jenny had a sense of relief and slept soundly, but the next day brought questions to be answered. When she went downstairs to the kitchen, Jenny was startled to see muddy footprints across the porcelain floor that led from the back door to the basement.

           She immediately ran back up the stairs and pulled the two girls into her bedroom, locked the door, and called the police. When the police arrived, the officer told them to wait upstairs while they searched the house. They began in the basement.

           Jenny listened intently for anything that was happening downstairs, but heard nothing. Suddenly, a creaking hinge from behind her caused her to spin around. Frightened, but instinctively protective of her children, Jenny grabbed for the first object she could find, which ended up being a curling iron that was sitting on the edge of her dresser.

           The door opened more, and a man began to emerge from the shadows. Jenny and the girls began to let out a scream, but the man quickly held his finger to her lips and motioned for them to be quiet.

           Jacob stood before them. Their faces turned white, and their mouths were hanging open. They thought that they were looking at a ghost. Finally, Jessica spoke up and said, “I told you I saw daddy!”

           “Is it really you, Jacob?” Jenny asked with a stammer in her voice.

           “Yes, Jenny, it’s me. I am so sorry I scared you, but I can explain everything. First, you need to get rid of the police, okay?”

           Jenny told Jacob to hide under the bed when she heard the police coming up the stairs. They rapped on the door three times and announced themselves before Jenny unlocked it. They said that they had searched the rest of the house, and all they found, was a pair of muddy shoes at the bottom of the basement stairs.

           It appeared that someone forced the lock on the back door and entered, but nothing seemed to be disturbed. The officer assumed that it was just a vagrant looking for a place to get out of the rain. The only thing they couldn’t understand, is why he would leave his shoes behind.

           Jenny suggested that the vagrant may have found her deceased husband’s shoes in the boxes that she had stored in the basement and left with those instead. The police officers considered it a possibility and made a note of it before showing themselves out.

           When the police cruiser left, Jenny called Jacob out from under the bed and told him to start explaining before she calls the police back.

           They sat down and Jacob began to tell his story. It turned out that he had bumped into an old college friend one day that asked to meet up for a drink after work.

           “So, my buddy, Larry, asked me to meet him at a bar a couple towns over, and since it happened to be the night that you and the girls were going to be out late, I agreed to go. After one drink, I was ready to leave, when he told me that he wanted to introduce me to a couple of his friends from his old neighborhood. They were staying at a motel across the road from the bar.”

           Jenny remembered the matchbook that she found in the jacket pocket and realized that it was with the belongings that the police had returned to her after the investigation was closed.

           “So, anyway, Larry takes me across the street, and we go into this dirty motel room that reeked of stale cigar smoke. There were two men in the room. One was on the bed watching television, while the other sat at the table playing Solitaire.”

           Jacob grabbed at his throat and said he was thirsty. Jenny asked Jill to get a glass of water from the bathroom for her father.

           “When Larry introduced me, the men looked upset. Then I saw a pistol handle sticking out of the waistband of the man in the chair. I turned to leave, but Larry stopped me and told me not to be rude in front of his friends. He sat me on the edge of one of the beds and grabbed a beer out of the mini-fridge, handing it to me.”

           Jenny suggested that maybe the girls shouldn’t hear anymore of the story and sent them to their bedrooms until they finished. The girls protested, but finally conceded at their dad’s request.

           “Soon after, things started to get crazy. They guy playing cards got a phone call, and after he hung up, he said to the guy on the bed that ‘it’s time’ and the two men stood up. I tried to stand up as well, but Larry shoved me back down.”

           Jenny had a look of terror on her face as she listened carefully to her husband’s story.

           “What happened next, was a blur. I felt something hit me in the back of my head and I passed out. When I woke up, I was in the back seat of my car with a hammer in my hand, and Larry was in the driver’s seat wearing my jacket. His face was beaten so badly, that I didn’t recognize him at first. What clued me in, was the college ring he was wearing. We both received one when we played varsity ball.”

           Jacob paused as he recalled the disfigured skull of his old friend. He then cleared his throat and continued.

           “I didn’t want to be next or accused of murder, so I took off running. I figured if I returned home, they would track me down and go after you and the girls next, so instead, I disappeared and let everyone think it was me in the driver’s seat that day.”

           “Why didn’t you go to the police?” Jenny asked.

           “That’s where the story takes a twist. I went back to the motel later the next day and saw a police car out front. I thought to myself that they got caught, but to my surprise, I saw an officer walking out of the room counting a wad of cash that was in an envelope. I realized then, that the cops were corrupt and if I went to the station, word would get back to these guys that I was still around.”

           Jenny finally understood why the investigation was swept under the carpet. Now, they needed to figure out what to do next.

           The next day, Jenny contacted a detective in the Internal Affairs Unit and explained the situation. She only hoped that this department wasn’t corrupt as well. The detective said that she would be in touch soon.

           Six weeks had passed when Jenny received a call from the detective. He asked if Jacob would be willing to testify in court. They had enough evidence against several police officers and detectives to bring it to trial. Multiple arrests were slated to happen simultaneously that afternoon.

           When the trial day arrived, Jacob and Jenny entered the courtroom with the girls, and were under the protection of a detective. The men who were in the motel room sat at the front of the courtroom along with the officer he saw taking a bribe.

           When it was all over, thirty-four sentences were passed for eighteen officers and the two men who ran a racketeering business that dabbled in murder and assault as well.

           That afternoon, Jacob got his life back. He admitted that when he saw that Jenny was interested in the house, he called the homeowners who happened to be clients and talked them down in exchange for some free service. Jenny’s gut was right again.

March 05, 2023 23:17

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