Charlie Bower called me before eight that Saturday morning. "Travis Brinks," he said. "You knew him, Cooper?"
Charlie Bower worked homicide among other things. And he was using the past tense.
I put down the mug of coffee. "I did," I said. "Professionally."
"Better come on in."
So much for spring time in Charleston. The morning had broken cool and sweet, the grass slick and glistening with dew. I'd taken my dog Samson for a walk. Drifts of golden-green pollen slurred along the sidewalk, coating cars in a fine powder; azaleas were exploding in pink and white, and heavy purple blossoms weighted the ends of crepe myrtle branches. I'd thought to spend the day downtown with the tourists and ghosts of old Charleston. I shelved those notions and took a long draw on my coffee.
"On my way," I said.
Two weeks before or so the Chief called me into her office at SecureSouth-all one word, you know-and laid it all out for me. Her skin was darker than the coffee she'd mixed so liberally with cream, and she was tall, stout, with firefly bright hazel-green eyes that could nail you to a seat and make you sweat. Time was she'd been a capital crimes prosecutor in D.C. When I saw her mad I was glad I'd never committed a capital crime in the capitol city.
I sat across from her desk and she tossed me a binder-clipped sheaf of papers. A copy of the client contract, with contact information and the initial interview and report.
I flipped through. "Brinks, like the bank?"
"Like the bank," she said. "But no relation. Like you and the Cooper River. This one's in construction. Small scale commercial and residential both."
I skimmed the notes the client had jotted down in the "Please explain your need for our services" section. "His equipment's getting sabotaged?"
"Rival company? Environmental extremists? Shakedown racket?"
The Chief's eyes sparked a bit. I'd been in the Army for years, serving in the Rangers and then a special operations detachment the Army doesn't even like to admit exists. The Chief was still the toughest boss I'd ever had. "Usually, Cooper, if they know who's doing it they call the cops and that's it. But it does so happen he has an idea who it is. Go talk to him."
I said, "All right," and left.
I called the Chief on my way to Charlie's office. We were under orders to never call her at home unless it was the direst emergency. Our resident super-geek, Brummer, thought only a nuclear war or possibly an assault by brigades of zombies qualified. But I walked fearlessly where angels feared to tread and all that. To hear my partner Morgan tell it, that was less because I was brave and more because I was stupid. Or stubborn. Or both.
She answered with a voice that could slice you and dice you as surely as any $19.99 home shopping network special. "Cooper, you better have a damn good reason for interrupting my Saturday morning latte."
"Travis Brinks has been killed," I said. "I don't know the details but Charlie Bower's asked me to come in."
Her breath hissed in for a moment. "Is it connected to us?"
"I have no idea, but I assume Charlie's invitation isn't because he wants to win back the yard-fifty I took off him last month in poker."
She was quiet for a long moment and I imagined I could see the wheels and pulleys whirring in her brain, miles away, across two rivers, drinking her warm milk with a splash of espresso in her oak-shrouded Mount Pleasant home.
I lost patience. "So how do I play it?"
She sighed. "You cut any corners or bend any rules, as you tend to do?"
"Don't think so."
"Then you cooperate fully."
I was quiet for a moment and then said, "All right," and turned off my cell, tossing it into the back seat. Hated the damned things.
Charleston was a city of rivers, bordered by the Ashley river to the south and west and the Cooper-no relation-to the north. Time hung suspended in peninsular Charleston like the gray Spanish moss drifting from the oaks. Eighteenth century houses loomed quiet and ethereal over sleepy tree-shaded lanes.
But much of our business took place in the suburban and rural peripheries of the city. Running down bail skips in the decrepit and tumbledown houses of the northern peninsula where gentrification had yet to encroach. Serving papers in the projects in North Charleston, locating a deadbeat dad living in the planned communities built on the bones of old plantations over the Cooper in northern Mount Pleasant, and looking for runaway kids at all parts in between. Half the city was a magical tunnel back into time and the other half could have been anywhere in the suburban south. Whatever the case, there was enough human folly to keep SecureSouth working.
First I tried the office. His secretary was in her fifties but had blue eyes of a sort you rarely saw on people, and she shut down Facebook long enough to tell me that Travis Brinks wasn't in. He was out at a worksite out in Goose Creek, a suburban enclave just north of North Charleston, where he was supervising the laying of a foundation for what would one day be a gym for a church. I thanked her for her help and she was back online before the door closed behind me.
Goose Creek was one of those anywhere, everywhere places. Strip malls, car dealerships, fast food joints, convenience stores. There was an old town in there somewhere but you had to dig for it. The church was a relatively new building and looked to me more like the kind of place that belonged next to a hospital where doctors sent you for an MRI. Christ Cathedral, it was called.
I thought of the old weather-beaten, white board Methodist church my grandmother had dragged me to back when I was growing up in Georgia, and I wondered what she'd have made of this kind of place.
They'd laid a large concrete footprint out in a side lot. Various pipes and conduits shot up like ungainly weeds along the edges. I was directed to a big man in well worn blue jeans and a heavy flannel work shirt. He was having at a smaller man who wouldn't meet his eyes.
"I damn well told you that I wanted this pipe coming from Ashley Fitting."
The smaller man said, "Mr. Brinks, I know that would have been cheaper, but I'm telling you-"
Brinks was maybe my age, mid thirties. He was as tall as I was and heavier. He moved up into intimidation range and pointed his finger down at the smaller man, who was probably ten years older than him. "I didn't ask you your opinion. I don't pay you to have a goddamn opinion. You just do what you're told."
Brinks threw his hand up in the air angrily, turning away from the other man. "Get the hell out of here before I do something you'll regret."
The other man's mouth opened and closed and his eyes were narrowed. I knew that a big part of him wanted to tell Brinks to go to hell and be done with him. Another part kept him still. Maybe it was the part that was scared of the violence which seemed to linger inside of Brinks, who stood nearly six three and weighed north of two fifty.
Or maybe it was his back hip pocket that held him back. Where he kept his wallet. The construction business in Charleston had gone bust in a big way. More houses had been built than there were families to live in them.
Brinks saw me approach and stuck his chin at me. "What do you want?" he asked. It came out as a bellow. This was a man who did a lot of bellowing.
"Inspector for Office 9," I told him. "You're one over your allotment."
He looked at me. No clipboard, no nametag stuck to the shirt pocket. Just a guy in khakis with a dark sportscoat over a white shirt. "Office 9? Allotment? Inspecting for what?"
"Assholes. You're one over your allotment. Here's your chance to cease and desist."
Yes, he was the client. But I hadn't tolerated his kind since my grandfather had told me in third grade to take a tomato stake after the fifth grader trying to make my life hell. It had only taken one whack.
The smaller man snorted despite himself and was suddenly interested in his work boots.
Brinks flushed. He started to step forward. I took one forward as well, which rattled him. If he took another step forward I'd teach him the polka. "You trying to be funny?" he asked.
"Trying, hell," I said.
The short man covered his mouth. Brinks looked at him. "That's enough, Stanley."
Stanley walked away. Brinks looked at me. "Who in hell are you, really? Give me one reason why I shouldn't toss your ass off my site."
"Jake Cooper, SecureSouth." I handed him my card. "You might find I don't toss so easy."
Our eyes met and held for a moment and then he blinked and looked down at my card. He wasn't used to people standing up to him. He especially wasn't used to them screwing with him.
"Whatever happened to customer service?" he asked, after a while.
"I'm sure there are people you can hire who will kiss your ass. They don't work for us."
He nodded, considering. "She said you were a bit of a hardass."
I shrugged and waited. When the silence walked about four steps past uncomfortable I said, "So, sabotage?"
He nodded, my transgressions forgiven, at least for now. "Yeah." He gestured to a backhoe and grader which had evidently been towed over to a corner of the site. "Two nights ago. Wednesday night. Someone put sugar in the tanks. It won't tear up the engine altogether but it takes forever to clean out the fuel lines and filters and all that. Had to rent a grader to finish the side lot."
He gestured to the pipes protruding from the foundation. "And the first night we poured the concrete someone cut half the conduits off with a saw. We had to rip chunks up, lay the work in again, re-pour. After that I hired a night guard."
"The Chief said you had an idea who did it."
He looked at me for a moment and said, "Steve Teachman, Quality A Electrical. Him."
"Did he used to work for you?"
Brinks shrugged. "He contracted out to me. Yeah, him."
"Why him in particular? Why not some disgruntled employee or a competitor or someone who really hates church gyms?"
"You're the detective. You figure it out."
"Do you want proof you can use against him in court, or do you just want him stopped?"
He considered for a moment. "Both."
I met Charlie Bower during my brief stint as a training officer with the North Charleston police when I first moved to Charleston some years back. Charlie was former army himself, having done a three year tour out of high school. I'd only lasted a few months with the cops and around the time I signed on with SecureSouth he moved from the North Charleston squad to the Charleston Police Department.
Charleston and North Charleston appeared almost seamless but were two different municipalities. Charleston got all the charm and North Charleston got all the industry. The metro area clocked in at about half a million, with a hundred and twenty thousand in Charleston itself and just under a hundred in North Charleston. The crime rates in both were reasonably impressive. Not too long back North Charleston got itself on a list for highest murder rates in the U.S., although the various authorities had worked hard since that dubious distinction was awarded to lower the numbers.
Charlie's office was in the city building on the banks of the Ashley River. The stadium for the local minor league ball team was only a quarter mile down the river and on a spring afternoon you could hear from the parking lot the cries of the crowd and the pop of the ball. There was no game this morning though and I left behind all the things I wasn't allowed to bring with me and after I went through the metal detector I had the desk call Charlie. He brought me up to his office, offered me some motor oil going by the name of coffee and sat me down across his metal desk in his gray and industrial office.
After we got settled, Charlie reached down into a cardboard box on the side of his desk. He tossed a small plastic bag labeled "evidence" onto the desktop. It contained a business card. I didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out whose it was. "We found that in the victim's wallet." When I didn't say anything but nodded over the petroleum grade java, he sighed. "So tell me about your connection to him."
"How did he buy it?"
"Not yet, Cooper. Fill me in on your relation to the victim first."
So I laid it out for him.
SecureSouth's excellence rested on three great strengths. First was the Chief. I'd never seen any administrator come close to her. Second was our tech guy, Brummer. He was a bit of a mad genius and he was on our side. Third was Anne Marie.
I didn't know what her official title was. Five foot three in sock feet, although you never saw her in anything shorter than three inch heels, red-headed, and with the temperament of a snapping turtle, that was our very own Anne Marie. The fact that she was also beautiful didn't help things. She was our receptionist, dispatcher, the Chief's administrative assistant, a database miner par excellence, and had every single person who worked at SecureSouth except the Chief shaking in his or her boots around her.
She answered my call by saying, "Cooper, you're late on the expense report. Get it in by tomorrow or you can wait another month on reimbursement."
"And hello to you, too, Anne Marie."
"Whatever. What do you need?"
I explained about Steve Teachman and Quality A Electrical. She said she'd get back to me and rang off with a warning about my expense report.
I expected to find Teachman at a job site somewhere, like I had Brinks. But the industry was down across the region and he was in his North Charleston office. It was a square cinderblock affair with a glass front which had likely started life as a convenience store. If I worked in a place like that I'd spend too much time thinking about where the slurpee machine had been.
A tiny bell sang when I walked in. To my right was a counter with a computer on it, and to my left all kinds of shelves and boxes of wiring and tools. The place was so dimly lit inside it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. When they did I realized that a woman was peering around the computer monitor and saying, "Can I help you?"
She was in her mid to late thirties and attractive. Her dark hair was pulled back and there was something in her eyes that was a little sad and a little tired even as she smiled at me.
"I'm here to see Mr. Teachman."
"It's a complaint, of sorts, so I need to give it straight to him."
Her brow furrowed. "Okay. I guess. Can you give me a minute?"
She got up and walked to the end of the counter and opened the door on the opposite wall. I heard her call his name as she closed the door behind her.
It was quiet in the front room while I waited for her. I loved the smell of places like this. The tang of copper wiring, the faint hint of oil from the tools, the abiding cold presence of steel. Rooms like this had a kind of ambience to them I couldn't express. The practical wedded to the nostalgic. The farm supply stores I'd grown up with, old, small, dusty office supply places, and best of all, the old Mom and Pop hardware stores, they all had it. None of the new big box stores had it at all.
The door opened and the pleasant woman nodded her head. "Steve's back here. Come on through."
Half the back room was more storage. Voltage meters, wire couplings, various tools, coils and bales of wire hanging from wall brackets. The other side of the room held several tall architect's tables, the kind which were at a slant rather than horizontal and that you worked at standing up or on a stool.
Two men were at one of the desks poring over a schematic. They looked up and saw me. One was slight, in his mid forties, with wispy, thinning brown hair, and thick glasses. The other was young, maybe twenty. The older man said to the younger, "I'll catch up with you, Brett."
As Brett filed out, his boss turned to me and extended a hand. "Steve Teachman. What's this about a complaint?"
I shook it. "It's kind of complicated." I handed him my card.
He looked over it. "SecureSouth. Weren't you guys in the paper last year? That kidnapping case?"
He eyed me, his pupils abnormally large behind his glasses. "How can I help you?"
"You know a man named Travis Brinks?"
His eyes blinked rapidly. "Unfortunately."
I smiled at that. "Yeah, he's a real sweetheart, ain't he? He's had some sabotage going on at this building site in Goose Creek. He's working at a church."
"That's it. The new gym and parking lot. Any way-someone's poured some sugar in his engines, screwed with the foundation fittings, those kind of shenanigans."
"What's it got to do with me?"
I'd taken classes on detecting liars. I didn't put lots of stock in them. I've found that people who are innocent and very nervous give many of the tells: they touch their face, not their heart, they stay turned away, they won't meet your eyes unless they overdo it and stare at you, so on. I've also found plenty of liars so practiced they never gave themselves away at all. Typically relying on my gut instinct worked better than most of what I'd picked up from those classes. Teachman wasn't being honest with me but he wasn't reacting like someone who was guilty of anything.
"Brinks believes you did it."
He looked at me. "Oh? Why's that?"
"He wouldn't say." Actually he'd said, You're the detective. You figure it out. But I wasn't, really. The detective. That was my partner Morgan. He was a first class investigator. Or Perez, our former U.S. Marshal. Me, I was the guy who did unto others.
Teachman said, "Well, I'm sorry he feels that way, but I can assure you, I did no such thing."
"So what is it between you two?"
"Nothing. He's just impossible to work with. Some of these contractors are."
He turned and looked at his schematic again. "What's that for?" I asked.
He glanced at me. "New school over in West Ashley. Schools are hard. You've not only got power and emergency power you've also got intercom systems, IT conduits, all that stuff. The game's a lot more complicated these days."
I looked at the schematic. A series of lines broken up by codes and symbols. A way of instilling order, insuring things worked they way they were supposed to. He saw my look and said, "Can you read it?"
I shook my head. "I remember a few signs from high school science. That's about it." I pointed to one symbol with numbers inscribed afterward. "What's that mean?"
"That shows how a capacitor will regulate flow." He thought for a second. "It's all about capacitance. You know, capacity. What you can handle, what you can't. You have to take so much in and let so much out. That's how it works."
We sat there for a few seconds. Then Teachman blinked and looked up at me. "There won't be any more sabotage," I said. "Nor shenanigans." I liked the word shenanigans. "We'll be watching out for it."
He shrugged. "Okay. It's none of my business. But sure."
And I left, trying to give a reassuring smile to the worried face of the woman behind the counter.
So here's what we did. We put up tiny cameras which relayed wirelessly to a remote hard drive. We left dust on the gas tank lids of a couple of rigs; its traces wouldn't wash off easily and would show up under blue light. We replaced his night guard with two of our own and had them conduct off site surveillance, to lure in any more saboteurs. I took turns myself.
Five days passed and no one came. The sabotage had ended but we still didn't have any proof that Teachman or anyone else was our man.
Teachman came back clean on all the databases. No criminal history.
It was only the second time I was going over the file Anne Marie had assembled for me that I caught it. I was leaning over her desk and she was griping to me about the way I logged mileage. I tended to forget to do it on every leg of a trip; instead, I reconstituted it every few days. She said if we got audited it'd be my ass in a sling, not hers.
I showed her the line on the printout. "Where'd you get that?"
She tapped her computer monitor. "Social media, soldier boy."
I took the file and drove to Christ Cathedral. Steel studs were being erected in the new gym next door and the parking lot area looked ready for asphalt. I guessed they'd pave the lot last so they'd be able to get equipment in and out as they needed. I didn't see Brinks anywhere.
I went around to the front of the church, entering and following signs down a corridor to a counter labeled "Church office." It was a big place. Television monitors hung in the hallways and bulletin boards everywhere boasted of their community involvement and the various goings-on at the church. Picnics, softball, youth group.
The lady on the other side of the window reminded me of my grandmother. She wore the kind of print dress my grandmother had worn, wore the same kind of glasses my grandmother wore, and had the same beatific smile pasted over an iron spine my grandmother had. Her nametag read "Mrs. Canfield." I bet that everyone at this church knew Mrs. Canfield. They told stories about her. They watched their step around her. Everyone knew you didn't mess with Mrs. Canfield.
"Can I help you?" she asked, in the deeper, throatier accent of Upstate Carolina.
"I'm supposed to meet a fella at church this Sunday," I said. "And I think he said this one, but I just can't recall. I was wondering if you have a directory of members I could look through."
She eyed me suspiciously through her glasses. I tried hard to be accommodating. "Why don't you just call him?"
I looked down and tried to let more of the Georgia farm boy of my childhood filter through into my voice. "Well, ma'am, I met him at the VA. It wasn't the kind of meeting where you ask a phone number."
Normally I hated relying on my time in the military to soften hearts. Especially since my service hadn't been the sort they thought of when they thought of the sacrifices made by people in uniform. But her eyes widened a bit and she nodded, as if to herself. She reached down into her desk drawers for a moment and placed a neatly bound booklet on the counter. "Here you go, son."
I almost asked her if she had any people in south Georgia. I flipped through the booklet and found what I was looking for, and pretty quickly.
I said, "Thank you ma'am," and handed her back the booklet.
"Will I see you in church this Sunday?" she asked.
"I hope so, Mrs. Canfield," I said, lying straight through my smile.
The Toyota van pulled into the driveway of the house. Like all the others in this North Charleston neighborhood the house was covered in vinyl siding meant to mimic wood. I wasn't sure what I thought about the whole fad.
The woman stepped out and slid five or six bags of groceries over her arms, cradling them inside her elbow, making it to door without losing anything. She juggled with the bags unlocking the door and then went inside. I waited five minutes. Enough time to put up the eggs, milk, cheese.
Then I rang the doorbell. After a few seconds she answered it. Her eyes widened when she saw me. Her hair was down and her neck seemed long and slender and I thought I saw what the other two men in her life had seen.
"You?" She'd remembered me from my chat with her husband.
"Yes. Jake Cooper, SecureSouth. I need to talk to you for a few minutes."
She looked away. "I don't see why.'
"I think you do."
She stepped away from the door to an open room with a living room to one side-worn leather couch, gigantic television-and a kitchen to the other, separated by a long counter with barstools. I followed her in which seemed to surprise her, although she'd left the door open.
She backed a few feet from me, onto the kitchen linoleum, and crossed her arms. "What do you want, Mr. Cooper?"
I looked into her eyes, large and dark. Still sad. "How long did your affair with Brinks last?"
Her mouth set and she said, "Get out."
"I'm assuming it's over now."
She was loud but not screaming, not shrill. Not yet. "I said get out."
"You and Steve and Brinks all go to that church Brinks is working on. Christ Cathedral. But on Wednesday nights like this Steve leads a Bible study."
She flushed. "That's it, I'm calling the police."
I slid my phone down the counter until it stopped next to her hand. "Go right ahead. Before you do you better cook up a reason why there were traces of sugar all over your car and your prints are on the gas cap of that grader."
Charlie interrupted me. "Waitaminute-you got prints off that grader? And how'd you get access to her car?"
"I didn't, Charlie. I was just playing a hunch."
"A hunch, huh? And her and Brinks?"
I shrugged. "Brinks suspected Teachman for some reason or another. They went to church together but Brinks didn't mention it to me. It fit."
Two that scored true. Catherine Teachman sank down slowly to one of the barstools. "God," she whispered.
I leaned over the counter on my elbows. "Here's the thing," I said. "I don't get why you did it. I mean, I could understand why your husband would…but why you?"
She buried her face in her hands. Then she said, "One night Steve left church early with a sore throat. He was waiting inside when Travis dropped me off. His face-that look on his face. Lord, I've never felt so small, so vile."
She looked at me. "And you know what the worst part was? After I begged for forgiveness and told him I didn't know why I'd acted out the way I did, all that?"
I didn't have any idea what the worst part was. I'd never been married. This whole thing seemed pretty rough to me.
"The worst was that he told me he forgave me. He didn't say a word for me for two days, and came to me and said just that. He forgave me. Then he called up Travis and told him it was over and to stay away."
"How did that go?"
She wiped her eyes, smearing her mascara. I handed her my handkerchief. "Huh. No one carries a handkerchief anymore."
"I do. How'd it go with Brinks?"
She shrugged. "You've seen him. Maybe he doesn't scare you, big, awful as he is…but he threatened such awful things to Steve. And Steve…he just sat there and took it."
She interrupted me. Now that she was telling it she wanted to tell it and be done with it. "Finally Steve put the phone on speaker and he said, 'Travis, it's over.' Then he said, 'Isn't it, Catherine?' And I said it was. I screamed it."
Her face became angry remembering. "But Travis wouldn't stop. He just kept screaming at Steve and even me until Steve hung up."
"What did Steve say?"
"I told him, 'Steve, don't let him get away with that.' He just looked at me with this sad look on his face, and just he said to me, 'Proverbs 15:1.'"
"Sorry," I said. "I don't get-"
"'A soft answer turneth away wrath.'"
We sat there for a few minutes. Somewhere in the kitchen I could hear a clock ticking loudly. But all the clocks I could see were digital. On the stove, the microwave. It was disconcerting. Then I said, "So you got mad and thought to strike a blow at Brinks. On Steve's behalf."
She nodded, looking away. "Yes."
I straightened up, lightly patted her on the arm, pocketed my phone. "I appreciate your help."
"What are you going to do?"
"About you? Nothing. Just don't do it again, all right?"
She glared at me. "He deserves more. So much more."
I shrugged. "Sure he does. But I'm hired to stop the sabotage. So if you go after any more of his stuff, I'm calling the cops, do you understand?"
She acted as if she hadn't heard me. "He's a user of people. I knew. I knew all along. But he was good looking. He was different. I can't-I can't have kids. So. So I let him use me and just cast me off. Like I was trash."
She started crying again and I let myself out.
"Okay," said Charlie. "You think Teachman did it? Or his wife?"
"How was it done?"
"He got brained with a hammer. He was talking to someone on his porch, turned to go inside, and they caught him." He looked at me, his suspicious brown eyes narrowed. "Men kill with hammers. Not women."
Unless it's a woman who knows how to put sugar in gas tanks and take a saw to conduits and fittings, I thought.
"How tall you say Teachman was?"
"Not very. Five seven at most."
He nodded. "The wife?"
"Maybe an inch or so shorter."
He sighed. "Well, nothing conclusive there. We know the striker was a shorter person by some inches. They both fit." He idly scratched on a pad for a moment. "So what do you think. Does he have the capacity for murder?"
I spread my hands. "Don't all of us?"
For a moment there was a wolflike cast to his fate. "Some of us do, for sure. Want to come with me to pick 'em up?"
Two hours later we pulled up behind a North Charleston patrol car to Quality A Electrical. Warrants had been requested, approved, and faxed back to Charlie. I stood around outside with the officer from North Charleston while Charlie went inside, and then another patrol car from Charleston arrived, blue lights flashing, but no siren.
The two Charleston officers entered the building and a minute later one came out, leading Catherine Teachman to his car. Her hands were cuffed behind her back. She wouldn't look at us. I went past the second Charleston cop to the back room where Steve Teachman was seated at one of the desks on a stool, his hands cuffed behind him as well. Charlie stood over him, his hands on his hips.
When he saw me enter, Charlie nodded to me, and then said to the uniformed cop, "You babysit for one minute while I get the search warrant team over here."
The uniformed policeman nodded, not leaving his slouch by the door. Charlie paused next to me for a moment. "She started to talk and he hollered for a lawyer before she got two words out," he said, whispering to me. "Then she shut it too."
I nodded and Charlie crossed to the outer door, pulling his cellular from his coat as he did so.
I went over and sat next to Teachman. The officer eyed us, a little suspicious, but he'd just seen me conferring with Charlie, and he must have decided I was all right.
Then I said, low, so the policeman couldn't hear, "Why'd she do it, Steve?"
Steve shook his head and said in the same low voice. "No, Cooper, you got it wrong. I did it."
I shook my head. "No you didn't."
He stared at me, his large behind his glasses. Then, "I'm going to tell them I did, Cooper. I'll even tell them right where the hammer is. And it has only my prints on it."
He ducked his head, shaking it. "You know why she did it, don't you? She thinks I need protecting from him. She was worried for me. Thought he'd come after me. She didn't think I was strong enough to handle the bastard."
I wanted to tell Teachman, you can't know that. Could be she was just mad at her lover. It happens. But I didn't say anything.
His voice was hushed. I had to strain to hear. "I still remember the first time I saw her. She was on the far side of the room at a friend's wedding. She wore a blue dress, her hair was up, she was laughing, her eyes shining. I'd never seen anything so beautiful. I still haven't."
He looked at me, his eyes wet. "Please, Cooper. Please. Let me do this." He swallowed and said, "I'll show her how strong I am, Cooper. She has no idea. I'm strong. Stronger than anyone she ever saw. You've got to let me do this."
And so I did.
A few months later they sent him away for murder two. Last I heard, she visits him every week. I think of them sometimes when I return home, walking into the dark and lonely rooms of my quiet house.
About the Author
Scott Yarbrough has previously published fiction in Blackbird, Flyway, The Iron Horse Literary Review, The Main Street Rag, The Clackamas Literary Review, The New Orleans Review, Thirteen Stories, storySouth, Apalachee Quarterly, and other places. He teaches English at a small university and lives with his wife, two daughters, and excellent golden retriever just outside Charleston, South Carolina.