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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 27

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

On the road, Vanessa called her boss, explaining that she was stopping at the school to talk to the coach and administrators about Wendy. She hadn’t scheduled the appointment, wanting to catch them off guard. Something was going on there, and she intended to find out what. If Coach Bullock had been having an affair with Wendy, he might have done the same with other girls. Or boys. She wasn’t discounting that possibility. Most pedophiles preferred one gender or the other, but some were multi-purpose perverts. Bullock probably didn’t see himself as a pedophile, because the girls were teenagers, but he was still a predator. She wouldn’t tolerate that.

As she turned into the campus, the saw a bus taking students to the small, satellite college campus down the road. She’d forgotten that Aiden said Wendy had done dual enrollment. Making a note to talk to those people, too, she headed to the office. The receptionist didn’t balk when she flashed her badge. She put the call in to the principal and Coach Bullock. That would do for a start. She was a little surprised to have the school security officer, Mendez, arrive first.

“I’ll take you to the gym. Coach Bullock has class. I’ll watch the kids while you talk.”

“And Principal Harkness?”

“He’ll get there. He’s in a meeting.” He shrugged, rolling his eyes.

“He’s avoiding me.”

“Would he do that?” He winked at her.

They knew one another from the police force. He had taken the security officer position when he was injured on the job. Still a young man, he hadn’t wanted to quit entirely, and had found a good fit here.

“What do you think of Bullock?”

“Nessa, I really shouldn’t….”

She showed him the photo of Bullock touching Wendy’s ass. He pressed his lips together, rolling his eyes away.

“You aren’t surprised.”

“No. Disgusted, but not surprised.”

“He still doing that?”

“Not around me. I’ve heard rumors, but I can’t catch him at it. I approach students, but they won’t talk to me.”

“Is it just touching?”

“Not from what I’ve heard.”

“Rape?” she asked very quietly.

“Depends on how you define it. It’s sick and perverted, but supposedly consensual. Though how it can be when they’re mostly under eighteen, I don’t know. None of them will talk.”

“Maybe Wendy was going to.”

He stopped walking, moving to face her, stepping closer. “I’ve heard rumors, again, can’t prove anything, that there were some girls who were planning to come forward and talk.”

“How many?”

“Three? Four? Some have graduated, some still here. They were talking about a lawsuit. One of them got knocked up, and he paid for an abortion. It’s all hearsay, but I think it holds validity. I just can’t find the truth by myself. These kids don’t talk to me, except to tease or be insulting.”

Vanessa couldn’t help thinking that this might be what Aiden knew, and was keeping to himself. Perhaps she could enlist his help. Did she dare? Following Mendez, she asked a few more questions about his family, his job and made chitchat.

When they got to the door, he turned to her, with his hand on the bar. “What aren’t you telling me, Detective Weinstein?”

“I can’t talk about it here,” she said quietly. “When are you done here?”

“Around three—ish. I usually hang around until four. Why?”

“Come by the station when you’re through. We’ll talk.”

“You got it.” He opened the doors to the gym.

The smell of sweaty bodies assailed her. Taking a step back, she had to regroup.

“Something you aren’t telling me?” Mendez asked. “Like a tiny Weinstein on the way?

“How did you guess? I don’t really even show yet.”

“I have four kids, Nessa. I know the signs. Let me bring him to you.” Taking a step forward, he waved, whistling sharply.

Coach Bullock’s head snapped around. He’d been eyeing the girls playing basketball. Vanessa’s sharp eyes didn’t miss that. Nodding, he jogged across the floor. He was still fairly fit, though he was a solidly built man. He didn’t strike Vanessa as a golfer, more of a wrestler or football player. Mendez introduced them and invited them to step outside. Vanessa nodded her thanks. Bullock looked miffed, but followed her out. She could feel his eyes on her, and felt distinctly grubby as a result.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 26

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Helping Aiden up, he walked into his room with him, leaving Deirdre and Corin behind.

“Guy stuff,” Corin said, heading to his room.

“You’re a guy,” his mother said, a little surprised at his acceptance.

Corin shook his head. “Big guy stuff.”

He’d accepted that his older brothers were closer to one another than to him. He didn’t like it much, but there was no separating them. There might be two years apart in age, but they were only a year apart in school. As a result, they had shared a lot more with one another, than they had with him.

Deirdre stood in the hallway, completely flummoxed by her sons. They were all getting so grown up. Soon, they wouldn’t need her anymore. Her phone was ringing when she got back to her office. It was Fred.

“Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful. How’s my girl?”

The emotions she’d kept bottled up all day, burst free. Sniffling, she tried to answer.

“What’s wrong? Are the boys okay?”

She explained what had happened at the school, Aiden’s long afternoon away, and the strange emotions she felt.

“My love, I wish I could be there. I hate being away, but I can’t leave. I’m in charge of the whole bloody business. The other person, who was supposed to be in charge, had a fall and is in a cast to her hip.”

“Quite a fall!”

“Parasailing or something stupid. Dumb pastime.”

Deirdre had to agree. Then again, she and Fred had never been ones for outdoor activities, except golf and camping. She wasn’t as good as he and the boys, but she held her own. Camping was her love. They went out at least every other weekend in the summer, spring and fall. Winter, the boys would go with their father, but she stayed home. She might enjoy camping, but liked her warm hearth and hot showers.

“How long will you be?”

“At least a week. This is a monster. Someone f**ked up the damn floor plan. This is one of those bizarre layouts, like the Port Orange store, with the pharmacy in the middle. That requires a lot of different shelf and aisle placement. It’s a mess. Someone else wired the freezer section wrong, so that has to be completely redone.”

“Are you in charge of that, too?”

“I have to kick ass seventeen times a day. It’s like working with a crew of monkeys. I take that back, the monkeys would be smarter. I never worked with such a dumb crew. The only ones who know their asses from their elbows are Holly and Maynard.”

They were from his store and he’d worked with them a lot.

“Because you trained them.”

“Good point.”

They talked a while longer, but both were tired. Deirdre did remember to tell him she had given Aiden permission to use his car the following day.

“It’s fine. He knows what he’s doing. We’ll have to see about a car for him. He’ll be nineteen—wow in a month? And then off to college next year. I’ll talk to Byron about something second hand.”

“Okay. You get some rest, love. I know you start early and finish late.”

“You, too. I’m sorry you’re having to go through this without me.”

“Can’t be helped. I love you.”

“I love you.” He hung up.

Deirdre allowed herself a few minutes of tears, then got ready for bed. Her dreams were frantic, filled with people chasing her, and pretty, dead girls, with long, blonde hair.

Vanessa woke before her alarm. Turning it off, she woke Dario. He, of course, wanted to start his day with some happy time. Afterward, they had a rushed breakfast. As she was dressing, she realized that several of her favorite skirts no longer fit. Not sure how she felt about that, she pulled out a pretty A line dress, reminiscent of the Sixties. It was swirls of different shades of blue, which looked good with her caramel complexion. Dario couldn’t stop admiring her.

“I think you’re getting a little bump.” He rubbed her belly. “Yep!” Bending over, he kissed her belly. “Hey, Pepita. It’s Papi! I can’t wait to meet you!”

They kissed goodbye before heading up the road to work. Dario stopped at the house on the corner to pick up one of his co-workers. They both worked for a building contractor. Dario was the carpenter, and Debra was the electrician. They were heading out to do an estimate for a remodel, so decided to go together. Vanessa waved as she stopped at the sign at the end of their road. Dario waved back, blowing a kiss. He kept waving until she was around the corner and out of sight.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 25

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“Thank you,” Corin said quietly. “I feel kinda stupid….”

“Never. You know how many times Aiden had to save my ass? Creeps have to learn that they don’t f**k with any Partridge. I’ll show you some tricks sometime, when Mom’s not around. She’d have a cow. Aiden showed me that duck and punch.”

“Right in the gut!”

“You kidding? I got him in the dick. He’s gonna pee sideways for a month.”

They exchanged a knuckle bump.

“You think Aid’s okay?” Corin asked very quietly.

“Don’t know. Aid doesn’t talk much. It freaked him out, finding her like that. He liked her a lot.”

“How do you know that, and I don’t?”

“You were still a little kid, he wasn’t gonna talk about stuff like that with you.”

“Like what?”

“Duh—he had sex with her.”

“Oooh….”

“You’re a dweeb sometimes,” Burl said affectionately.

“Thanks. Have you—ever?” Corin wouldn’t look at his brother, his ears burned red.

“No. Almost. You’re too young to think about stuff like that.”

“Aiden was younger than you!”

“And he was too young, too. He even said so when he told me. But you know, stuff happens….”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“So, show me how you do that,” Burl said, changing the subject.

Corin warmed to the subject change, and they played until dinner time. The meal was leftovers. They chose what the wanted from the array of containers, and warmed it in the microwave. On days like this, they did their own dishes. If they ate the last of something, they washed the empty container. They were just finishing up when Aiden walked in the door. Saying nothing, he went to his room, slamming the door. Deirdre peeped out of her office. “Aiden?”

“Yes?” he called, not opening his door.

Deirdre tapped on it, waiting for him to answer. He did so, looking worn out.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah.”

“Where have you been? I thought you’d be home ages ago.”

“I had some thinking to do. I took the bus to the beach.”

“Call next time, I’ve been worried sick.”

“I tried to text.” He pulled out his phone. “Crap, it saved as a draft.” He showed it to her. “I’m sorry. I really thought I’d told you.” He spotted Corin and rushed to his brother’s side, examining him carefully. “What happened? Burl?”

His middle brother explained the altercation.

“Burl took care of it,” Corin said. “He was super spooky, nailed Moe in the nuts and scared the crap outta Xander and Oliver! And Mom! Wow, she was kick ass.”

“But you’re okay?”

“Bruised, not broken,” his mother assured him. “Dinner is leftovers.”

“I ate at McDonalds.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. What did you find out?”

“Mom, I don’t really want to talk right now. I’m beat. I’ll try to do school tomorrow. Do you think I could drive the boys in Dad’s car?”

“It hasn’t got a sticker.”

“I can buy one in the office. Please?”

Sighing, she couldn’t think of a good excuse. He was a good, safe driver. “Be careful and cautious. Don’t take chances and don’t let your temper get you in trouble.”

“I promise to behave—as badly as possible. Sheesh, Mom. You act like you don’t trust me.”

“I trust you fine. I don’t trust anyone else. Drive defensively.”

“I promise. If I don’t, Corin will rat me out.” He ruffled his brother’s hair.

“Can’t I take a day?” Corin whined. “I’m bro-hen!” He made his fingers like twisted claws, bending over like Quasimodo.

“No. You’re not broken. You’re bent,” Aiden said, pinching his ribs.

Corin squeaked, jumping away. “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

“Sorry, I’m sorry, kid. I’m so sorry!” Aiden burst into tears, falling to his knees. “I’m so sorry.”

His little brother dropped to the floor beside him, hugging him almost savagely. “I’m okay. I’m fine. It’s gonna be all right, Aid. It really is. Just—we do this together, okay? Nothing and no one comes between the Partridge Boys.”

“Nothing, no one,” Burl said, squatting by his brothers. He didn’t hug them, but he was beside them adding his support. “They will find who killed her, and bring the bastard to justice. Belief.” He held out his knuckles for his brothers to tap.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 24

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“He swung first. I have witnesses,” Burl said.

“That’s right,” Thug Two said, ratting out his friend. “Moe swung first.”

“Yeah, he did. We saw the whole thing. He was f**king with the little one earlier. We tried to stop him!” Thug Three added.

They couldn’t talk fast enough. Several other students stepped forward, speaking for Burl.

“We still have to call your parents,” the officer said.

“No need. My mother is in the car. She saw the whole thing.”

Traffic had stopped, so Deirdre was able to get out of the Jeep and walk to the sidewalk. Corin cowered in the back seat.

“These boys attacked my youngest son,” she spoke in a chilly tone. “Where were the teachers and administrators when that happened? Corin, front and center.”

Her youngest son got out. He wasn’t any taller than his mother, and slender. The other boys were considerably bigger. The security officer took one look at Corin, and got an entirely different attitude.

“They charged up to the car,” a girl said. She was the picture of a pretty high school teen; fresh faced, her hair in a ponytail, wearing a sweater, pleated skirt and saddle Oxfords. “Burl got out to stop them, but they were looking for Corin.”

“You know them?” The officer pointed to the other three boys.

“Yes, sir. Xander, Moe and Oliver.” She pointed to each of the boys.

“Marybeth!” Xander, Thug Two, squeaked.

“Shut up,” she replied.

“Did you see them picking on Corin?” the officer asked her.

“No. If I had, I’d have stopped them, or gotten a teacher. I may look like a little, bitty girl, but I’m a red belt in Aikido.”

Burl flashed her a grateful look. “They owe my little brother an apology,” he stated calmly.

“Agreed. Boys?” Crossing his arms, the officer looked intimidating.

Faced with him and Burl, the three of them babbled an apology.

“What about him?” Moe pointed at Burl. “He hit me!”

“From what I saw,” the officer said. “He was defending himself.”

The principal stepped into the circle. “The rule is that anyone fighting gets an automatic ten day suspension.”

“If you suspend my son for protecting himself, I’ll have your job,” Deirdre said. “You have multiple witnesses, parents and students, who saw what happened. Your security officer even saw it. There are cameras, too, I assume? If you suspend my son, then I’ll have to have those subpoenaed to find out why no one saw my younger son getting roughed up. He’s got a black eye and his clothing is torn. I think this is evidence enough for me to get a lawyer, don’t you?” She appealed to the officer.

“Ma’am, I’ll find out, personally, what happened. I apologize, son. Someone wasn’t paying attention and doing their job.”

“Thank you, Officer Mendez,” Deirdre said in her most regal tone. “Now, gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take my son to the hospital. I assume that I can have them send the bill to the school? Good.”

Not waiting for confirmation, she got in the Jeep, followed by her sons. Officer Mendez round up the other boys and they were taken to the office. They were just going inside the door when she pulled away from the curb.

Three hours later, they got home. Corin wasn’t badly hurt, just bruised. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Burl stepping in to defend him. On one hand, he was glad his brother was protecting him, on the other, he felt like a baby. He was playing Call of Duty when his door opened and Burl walked in. Flopping on the bed, he said nothing, just watched his brother play.

“You kill at this,” he said when the mission was complete. “I’m not this good.” It wasn’t entirely true, but Corin was better at some things than he was.

“You’re just saying that, but thanks.”

“You’d kick my bony ass,” Burl said, dropping to the floor with his brother.

Corin handed him another controller and started the game. They played side by side for a while, crowing then they did well, cursing when they did badly.

“Thank you,” Corin said quietly. “I feel kinda stupid….”

“Never. You know how many times Aiden had to save my ass? Creeps have to learn that they don’t f**k with any Partridge. I’ll show you some tricks sometime, when Mom’s not around. She’d have a cow. Aiden showed me that duck and punch.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 23

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“Mom, really?” Burl yelled. “Why can’t you be like normal mothers and listen to appropriate music?”

Deirdre turned the music down. “And what’s appropriate?” She smiled, raising an eyebrow as she turned it down a little.

“I dunno, like Enya or Michel Bublé.”

“Hmm…. No. And hell no.”

The music changed, now it was More Human Than Human by Rob Zombie. The song began with the sounds of a woman having an orgasm. Burl hid his face in his hands.

“Please, Mom! Come on! People know me!”

Taking pity on her son, Deirdre laughingly turned the music down more. Corin got there a couple minutes later, disheveled and red faced. His shirt was torn and his face bruised. His lower lip was puffy and one eye was going black.

“What happened to you?” Deirdre asked, concerned.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Freak!” some kid yelled at him.

“Can we just go?”

Others walked by, leering at them, making rude noises and cursing.

“What the f**k?” Burl said. “What did you do?”

“Nothing! I heard some guys talking about Aiden finding Wendy’s body, and they were saying awful things about her—and him! So I tried, politely, to set them straight. I said he hadn’t found her, I had, and they jumped me.”

“Jumped you? Who?” Burl opened his car door.

Deirdre, who had been ready to pull into traffic, slammed on the brakes. “What are you doing?”

“No one f**ks with my baby brother. They want a piece of Partridge, they go through me.”

“Burl, I’ve told you…!”

He actually glared at his mother, one foot on the ground. “I don’t care, Mom. I’m as non-violent as the next guy, but someone put hands on my little brother, they cross a line. Look at him, he’s half the size of nothing. That can’t happen!”

“Get back in the car.”

“No. Corin, who was it?”

Three large, tough looking boys were walking over to the car. Corin shied away, although he was inside. That was all Burl needed. He walked over to the center one, blocking his way. He wasn’t quite as tall as Aiden, but was more solidly built. His anger made him seem bigger.

“You got a problem, Partridge?” the boy asked, squaring off with the middle brother.

“Yeah. You’re messing with my brother. I guess no one told your dumb ass not to f**k with our family.”

“Must have missed that memo,” the boy said, taking a step closer. He chest bumped Burl.

His friends hung back, ready to bolt. The raised voices had finally caught the attention of other students, and teachers.

Deirdre started to get out of the Jeep, but Corin caught her arm. Shaking his head, he held her in a steel grip.

“I guess you don’t listen well, then. That’s been the word now for three years. You f**k with one Partridge, you get us all.”

“I see only you. Your big brother’s not here to protect you.”

“I don’t need Aiden,” Burl said softly, looming over the shorter boy. “You think I need him to fight my battles?”

“You fighting for the baby,” the boy countered, but he looked less sure.

“You leave him outta this. Your argument is with me, now.”

“Your crazy big brother’s probably the one who killed her,” the boy grew bold, thinking his friends were behind him.

They had backed off even further. Teachers and administrators were converging on their position. Given the number of students who were gathered around, they were having a tough time getting through the crowd.

Burl started laughing. It was a deep, dark, ugly sound. “You think you’re a tough guy, huh? You’re a pussy. You and your butt buddies need to back off. If I catch you anywhere near my brother, or even smell your stank….” he didn’t have to finish the treat. It was implicit.

The other boy, unfortunately, didn’t read it right. Feeling bold, but threatened, he took a swing at Burl. The middle Partridge ducked, slugging the thug in the stomach. The other boy gagged and retched, red in the face. Moaning, he gripped his stomach. Backing up a step, Burl put his hands behind his head as the school security officer came over.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 22

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

While going through pictures of the golf team, Vanessa spots something, with her husband’s help.

“No clue. But you noticed something, or it would be an 8×10, not a 10×13. I wouldn’t have spotted it so fast in a smaller print. That’s the dead girl? Wendy?”

“Yes,” she replied sadly.

“Beautiful girl. Too bad she was doing the coach. And probably the goob.” He pointed to Jim.

“You think?”

“Yeah. That old man has tapped that.” His nail clicked on her desk.

“That’s disgusting.”

“Very, but I’m not wrong. There are a lot of pervy old men out there.”

“A lot of pervy young ones, too,” she said, her mouth full of taco. “Oh-yum! Perfect! Thank you. This is amazing.” She took a sip of her soda. “You spoil me.”

“Whatever my baby, and her mama want—and she wanted tacos, enchiladas and flan.”

“Yes, she did. Funny that a baby who is half Peruvian and a quarter Cuban, wants Mexican food.”

“And a quarter Jewish. At least she doesn’t want gefilte fish.”

“Even if she did, no way I’d eat that. It’s bad enough to gag a moose. Now, matzo balls, I like.”

She finished the food, realizing Dario hadn’t eaten.

“Oh, God. I ate it all! Are you okay? Are you hungry?”

“I ate before I came. Can you go home? It’s after six.”

“Yeah. I’ve got what I need. I’ll start interviewing people tomorrow. I’ll just drop by the school to talk to Coach Grab-Ass. That will be a fun conversation.”

“Your idea of fun, and mine, are different. Meet you at home, love.” He kissed her, patted her belly and left.

Vanessa checked out and followed him to the parking lot. They drove home together. He arrived seconds before she did, and waited until she got out of her car before unlocking the door. Once inside, he locked up and pulled her into his embrace.

“I’ve missed you today.” He rubbed against her, kissing her deeply.

“I can tell. I want a shower, first.”

“Works for me. I’ll join you.”

Their union in the shower, was loud and spirited. Later, they made love more gently. Afterward, Vanessa was exhausted. She curled up and went to sleep. Dario was disturbed by the picture of Coach Bullock. He never went through Vanessa’s things from work, but this bothered him. Leafing through, he found the group shot. Scanning it, he pulled it up on his wide computer screen. What he saw unnerved him, but he kept looking. He told himself it was for his wife’s sake, but he knew it was for Wendy’s as well. After he was done, he put the pictures away and wrote his findings on a large Post-It pad, sticking it to the picture’s margin. Vanessa would find it when she got to work. For the moment, it was enough. Trying not to wake her, he got ready for bed and fell into an uneasy sleep.

After Aiden and Vanessa left, Deidre sat down at her computer and did some more digging. She wasn’t convinced Troy was the one who had killed Wendy, but she wanted all the background on him she could get. She also wanted to know more about the golf team. There was more going on than Aiden had told her, or Vanessa. She was sure of it. As the child of abuse, she had learned to read people well. Her son’s body language set off warning bells and whistles in her mind.

Going back to the yearbook, she settled down to research the students and faculty. Starting alphabetically, she read each person’s page. She didn’t want to print anything off, because the boys occasionally poked around her office looking for pens, paper, or other school supplies. She bought a lot of the common items when they went on sale just before school started, and kept them stocked in her office. She didn’t want them pawing through and finding something, particularly Aiden.

Deeply embroiled in her reading, she got a call around noon from Aiden. He was on the way to Port Orange with Detective Weinstein. He wasn’t terribly specific about their reason, but he did say it had to do with Troy. It would be time to get the boys from school, soon. She printed the pages about Troy, precious little, and made herself a sandwich for lunch. Tucking the pages in her purse, along with a steno-pad, she headed to the school. She hoped to talk to the golf coach, on the premise that she hoped all her boys were doing well, but he wasn’t in.

Going back to her car, she turned on the air conditioner and cracked up Space Lord by Monster Magnet, the unedited version. It boomed and thrummed, turning a few heads from parents and students who happened to walk by. Deirdre didn’t pay any attention to them, turning the radio up more when it started playing Closer by Nine Inch Nails—also unedited. Her first son hopped in the car just as the singer got to the chorus: “I want to f**k you like an animal.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 21

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 Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

When she arrived at the office, she settled at her desk, prepared to do some searching. A man walked up, clearing his throat. She finished her search parameters without looking up.

“Hiya, Scott.”

“How did you know it was me?” He slung a hip over the corner of her desk.

“Change your cologne.” She smiled up at him. “It’s distinctive.”

“Bad?” He sniffed himself.

“Not at all, but no one else smells the same.”

“Update me. What happened with Troy In—”

“Intriago.” She spelled it for him.

He repeated it silently, nodding. “Okay. Him.”

Vanessa gave him a rundown of her discoveries.

“And the Partridge kid, you’re sure he’s not good for it?”

“No, I don’t think so. But he knows something he’s not sharing. His reaction to her death was genuine. He was horrified, disgusted, grief-stricken.”

“You let him take down Troy?” he scowled.

“Duh—pregnant lady? I didn’t have a uniform with me, and he volunteered. It was a clean hit, on grass. No serious injuries.”

Scott nodded, biting his lip. “What are we doing now?”

We? Aren’t doing anything. I am looking for potential suspects. Aiden said Wendy had issues with the coach and a couple players. I have a feeling he didn’t tell me everything.”

“You’re convinced about the kid? You’re sure he didn’t do this?”

“There’s a core of anger there, which I don’t understand. Do I like him for this? No. Am I worried I’m wrong?” She spread her hands, shaking her head.

“You’re wrong about as often as I am, Nessa.” Which in his mind, meant never.

“Maybe, but there’s something—dark. Secret.”

They talked a few more minutes, batting ideas around. Finally satisfied, he left her to work.

Focusing on the screen, Vanessa examined her search hits. Selecting the yearbook site, she checked on the year Wendy graduated. Accessing the golf team photo, she saw a familiar face. This one was sun-kissed and smiling, not frozen and pale in death. Front and center, Wendy stood, flanked by Jim Butcher and Coach Bullock.

Searching the photo, she found Aiden. Shorter and younger, he stood near the middle of the group, grinning proudly. There was a sizable crowd, larger than she had anticipated. She shouldn’t be surprised, it was a popular sport in Florida. New Smyrna Beach alone, had five golf courses. Surely not all the players were retirement age.

The names were listed below, with links to their class pictures and bio pages. She clicked on all of them, printing off the information. Her hand hovered over Aiden’s link, but she clicked it anyway. He might not be a suspect, but he knew something. The coach’s name took her to a far longer page. He had played professionally for a few years. Since his career had been less than stellar, he had left the pro circuit. He worked as a golf coach and was an instructor at the municipal course.

There were several pages of golf matches listed, with photographs of their victories. In all of the pictures, Wendy stood proudly in the center. Jim Butcher and Coach Bullock, as always, on either side of her. In more than one, they men weren’t looking at the camera, they eyed Wendy. In one, the coach’s expression could only be described as lascivious. Vanessa stared at it a long time before printing it. She gave herself a bigger copy, and took it to her desk, studying it carefully.

Someone came up behind her, but it wasn’t Scott. Soft lips brushed her neck and she leaned into her husband’s embrace. Eyes closed, she savored the moment.

“I brought dinner,” he mumbled, lips on her throat. “Or can you actually go home?”

Her sensitive nose picked out the aroma of her favorite Mexican food and her mouth started to water.

“Let’s eat, then go. I’m starving.”

“Pepita is taking it out of you.” His hand caressed her still flat belly.

“Yeah, now I know what my sisters were talking about. They were all ravenous when they were pregnant.”

They sat at her desk and Dario laid out the food. His eyes didn’t miss the picture of the coach.

“Why’s the old guy playing grab-ass with the teeny bopper?”

“He—what?” She snatched up the photo, examining it more closely.

“You’re losing your edge, my love. Look at the old lech’s right hand. He has a handful of lush, teen ass. What a perv.”

“He does! How did I miss that?”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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