Pulling his pickup truck into a parking spot at the edge of the lot, Ford inhaled deeply as he looked at the majestic brick building which had stood longer than any other building in Lynyrd Station.
A tornado had swept through town twelve years ago and wiped out most of the town. Few buildings were left fully standing, the courthouse being one of them. Others were partially destroyed and now had new additions added on to the formerly standing walls. So, the courthouse was revered in a special way as indestructible.
Today, he only hoped it ended this black chapter in his life.
Spotting his sister, Emmy Lou, and his brother, Dawson, waiting for him at the top of the steps in front of the entrance, he pulled his keys from the ignition and exited his truck. Swallowing the lump in his throat as he neared them, the somber looks on their faces told his story. They were scared, worried, and sick to have to be here today but eager to get on with life. Their new life.
His boots made soft thumping sounds as he ascended the steps to greet his siblings. The sun beat down, already creating a bead of sweat on his temple, and he could feel moisture gather at his back. Another scorcher today.
"I know. I'm not used to being on this side of the courtroom, and I'm nervous as hell."
"’Bout time you see what some of your clients have to go through. It'll make you a better lawyer for them."
She scoffed and slapped at his shoulder, but the weak smile she gave him said it all. She thought so too. She was a damned good lawyer, though she often found herself working for the worst clients. Drug dealers and pedophiles—as a defense lawyer, she got them all. But she always believed a fair trial kept these scumbags from getting an appeal and kept them in jail where they belonged. Good thing they didn't know she felt that way.
Turning to Dawson, Ford wrapped him in a warm embrace. "Love you, man. It's going to be all right."
"I know, Ford. We're finally going to see this piece of shit go to jail for killing Mom and Dad. I haven't been able to sleep, thinking we'd finally be getting justice for them."
"It's all I've been able to think about for the past four years."
Finally. Stepping back, he inhaled deeply and asked, "Shall we head inside?"
They turned to enter the old brick building, the sun still high in the sky. The cloudless day seemed a good omen for them.
"Ford! Hey, wait up."
He turned to see Detective Rory Richards briskly walking toward them. Leaning forward to shake hands with his high school friend, Ford could see the trouble in his eyes.
"What?" Emmy yelled. "Honest to God, didn't you have that animal chained up in every way possible?" Tears instantly raced down her cheeks as she looked to Ford for their next move. His jaw clenched, and his heart dropped to the bottom of his stomach, threatening to spill the meager contents inside.
"He had help. We're thinking Waylon June." Rory's fingers shook as he handed the grainy pictures to him. "We'd like you on this, Ford—if you think you want to track this asshole down again."
It was hard to make out distinct features, but the resemblance was certainly the mark of family. Sliding each picture off to Emmy and Dawson as he looked them over, the last one was a gut punch. Both Bobby Ray and Waylon giving the camera on the prison escort van the finger and wearing smiles on their disgusting pudgy faces. Emmy gasped as she saw the last picture. Dawson swore and choked back a sob.
Emmy grabbed Ford’s arm and turned him toward her. "You have to go. You have to go and get that motherfucker again."
"Morning, Megan. I've got your breakfast all ready. It's chicken day, so you're gonna be busy, need to eat to build up your strength." Nila's deep, gravelly voice could be heard over the clatter of dishes and frying foods. A large woman in her early sixties, Nila had hired Megan when she needed a job, and they'd been together for the past four years. Everyone in town loved Nila's broasted chicken and her apple pies. Megan loved that Nila took care of her, and she returned the favor. It wasn't uncommon for Nila to forget to eat herself—especially on chicken day.
"Thank you. I'll just do a quick sweep of the dining room with the coffeepot before I sit."
"Morning, Ralph. Ed. More coffee?" She filled their cups without waiting for them to respond. They always wanted more coffee. Regulars came in at six in the morning and sat through the better part of breakfast, gossiping about who was where and when they came and went. Gossip central right here.
Edging her way through the tables set for four, the red and white upholstered chairs in shiny vinyl and chrome legs resembled a fifties diner. She continued chatting and pouring until she came to a booth in the corner. Stopping short of the table, her stomach plummeted as her eyes caught those of the occupant. Lazar blue eyes trapped her, causing her throat to go dry as her heart sped. Not again. This was the fifth day in a row. Why wouldn't he believe her and go harass someone else?
"Marcus. I don't suppose I could hope that you're actually here for the food today?"
Slowly pushing his cup to the edge of the table, she gritted her teeth as she concentrated on filling it but fantasied about dumping the whole pot over his head.
"I think we both know why I'm here."
"I don't know where Waylon is. We're divorced. Have been for over six damned years. He doesn't check in. He doesn't call. He doesn't write. He doesn't visit. And I like it that way. I want nothing to do with him or you or any of your cohorts. Now, if I need to call the police about the harassment, I certainly will."
A smile spread across his face in a slow slither, as if he were a snake—which was the perfect way to describe him. He was a drug runner, and unfortunately for her, so was Waylon. Also, unfortunately for her, Waylon seemed to have stolen a very valuable something from Marcus, and he wanted it back.
"I think you're blowing this all out of proportion. I'm sitting here drinking coffee, not unlike those gentlemen over there you chatted so nicely with, and I simply ask you a couple of questions about a mutual friend. Don't think the cops are going to be too interested in that story."
She clenched her jaw tightly as her breathing increased.
"Plus, with your record, I don't think the police are going to believe you over me. I don't have a police record."
"Yet," she spat out.
Turning abruptly, she hustled back to the kitchen, more to get away from him than anything else, but also … well, to get away from him. Ramming her fists into her apron pockets to hide the shaking from Nila, she walked past the table set with her plate and a fresh glass of orange juice, intending to use the restroom.
"Hey girl, you need to eat," Nila called after her.
Giving a quick wave of her hand and a glance over her shoulder, she replied, "Just gotta use the bathroom. Be back."
"Megan, honey, time to get rolling. You okay in there?" Nila knocked softly.
"Yes. I'll be right out, Nila." Washing her hands, she breathed in and out a couple times and told herself it would be all right.
Leaving the bathroom, she smoothed down her apron, shoulders back, head high and forced herself to be brave. Then she heard Chad, the busboy, say, "Huh, never seen that guy before.”
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