Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chapters 81-83

Dear Readers - 
For more than a year now, Maggie has been blogging her story in first person on these pages. We are close to the end of the book, and the more I tried putting the rest in first person, the more awkward the prose became. So, hopefully without offending anyone, the remaining chapters will be presented as originally written, in third person. I believe this will help you in understanding it all. Thanks again for reading it so faithfully! 
                                                           Jeanne Spitler Guerra

Chapter 81
   Thursday’s weather forecast predicted a significant spring snowstorm moving across the Santa Fe area, heading for Amarillo, but Colin and Maggie left confident they could completely miss it by traveling the Clovis Highway route. Near Santa Rosa, however, their luck changed. Just two miles before the southeast turn off I-40, they became part of a major traffic jam. Up ahead, an oil tanker had jackknifed when the driver fell asleep and then tried to overcompensate, flipping his rig and setting it on fire. Wreckage was strewn across the two eastbound lanes, with burning diesel fuel spilling to one of the westbound lanes as well, creating a thick pillar of black smoke. 
   Three hours later, the roadway was cleared and they were able to resume their homeward trek. By then, the snowstorm had almost caught up and was turning more toward Lubbock. It would be sheer luck for them to outrun the storm and make it home by dark. 

   Stopping only once briefly for gas, they crossed the Texas border by nightfall. Colin called Jamie’s cell to let him know they’d be late but Jamie didn’t pick up, so Colin left a message. Since Saturday afternoon, Jamie had been using a guest room, tending the cat, seeing to the placement of the new bed from the cabin at Palo Duro, and had promised to leave before the honeymooners arrived home. He had a major research paper due the next week, and the quiet of their house was a perfect place to get it done. Colin had generously given him a hefty check in return for the light housesitting duties. 
   By the time Maggie and Colin pulled into their driveway, huge wet snowflakes were falling and turning everything white. They got out, and Colin said,  “Let me see the keys, Love.”
   “I never lock my door, remember? This is Lubbock, and now that I have a big strong ex-G-man living here to protect me, I still don’t have to lock it ... and besides, Jamie’s truck is here. I thought he was leaving this afternoon?”
   “He was. Maybe a friend picked him up. No lights on.” 
    Miss Priss stepped out from under the porch bench and meowed a greeting, stretching up to the doorknob and batting at it with her paw.  
   “Miss Priss! What are you doing out here?” Maggie cooed to the cat. “Did Jamie forget to let you in? Why didn’t you go through your private door in the back? You’ll freeze with this blizzard coming in.”  
   She reached the front door, turned the knob and pushed the door open a little before Colin put his arm around her waist and said with a wide grin, “Just a minute, bride. I think I should do this right.” He bent down and picked her up. Delighted, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a quick kiss. As he carried her over the threshold, he teasingly said, “Good thing you lost those twenty pounds.” 
   Stepping inside and closing the door behind him with his foot, the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and in the semi-dark room he noticed Miss Priss had stopped, too, back slightly arched. 
   Maggie started to protest about the weight joke, but Colin’s suddenly serious demeanor stopped her. He abruptly set her on her feet and quickly moved in front of her, shielding her from some unknown danger in the darkened house. 
   “What is it?” she asked.
   “Something’s wrong. Stay here,” he commanded in a low voice, reaching instinctively for the gun at his side that wasn’t there. 
   She immediately sniffed for smoke, and smelling none, reached over and flicked the light switch on, saying, “Don’t be silly.” Turning toward the living room, she gasped, then fell back against the wall, holding back a scream with both hands as she crumpled to the floor. 
   Jamie’s body hung from a rafter, his fingers tightly tucked downward in between the rope and his neck, as if at the last minute he’d changed his mind about dying. Maggie’s thrift store lime green chair was lying on its side inches beneath his dangling feet. 

Chapter 82
   Colin instinctively moved toward Jamie, desperately wanting to take him down, even though he knew it was far too late. His Bureau training took over and he stopped, knowing not to contaminate the scene. He crossed himself, sent up a silent prayer, then put his arm up over his face in an attempt to block out the sickly smell of death. 
   Forcing himself to look at the body and the room with an investigator's eye, he focused in on Jamie's laptop, sitting on the desk a few feet away, screen up, plugged in, but dark. Colin took his penknife from his pocket, opened the blade and touched the corner of the mouse pad lightly, bringing the screen to life. He scanned the message and then reread it, closing his knife and putting it away. He quickly turned back to Maggie who was quietly sobbing, head buried in her hands. He gathered her up in his arms once again and carried her back over the threshold. 

   As Maggie sat crying in the truck, heater turned up high with the snowstorm arriving in full force, Colin called 911, then Sean, and then Doug. Arriving first, Sharon and Doug were asked by Colin to take Maggie to the Nest so Colin could talk with the police.
   “Come on, Baby,” Sharon said gently to the now silent, staring Maggie. “Let’s get you outta here.” Receiving no answer, she nodded to Doug, who moved in and scooped an unresponsive Maggie into his arms and into his car. Sharon drove the three of them home. Doug placed her in front of a roaring fire as Sharon tried to get her to sip some brandy. 

   About an hour later, fearing Maggie was in shock as she continued to stare unspeaking into the fire, brandy untouched, Sharon decided she needed to be more forceful or she’d have to take her friend to the hospital. “Maggie, you must take some of this. I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to pull yourself together. Your husband will be coming through that door any minute and he doesn’t need to worry about you at a time like this.”
My husband? Maggie thought. Jim’s coming? No, not Jim. She looked at Sharon, seeing her for the first time and said, “Colin. Colin’s coming?”
  “Yes, dearest. Now drink some of this and let’s get you pulled together. You and Colin will be staying here for a while. I’ve opened the guest cottage for you two, and Doug’s putting something together in the kitchen. There now,” she said as Maggie finally took a sip of the strong warming liquid. It burned all the way down, then moved throughout her body like a ripple in a pond. She took another sip. “That’s better. A couple more swallows. You’ve got to think of Colin. He’ll need you to be strong, Maggie. Jamie was like a son to him. He’ll need you.”
   When Colin came through the door looking stricken and lost, Maggie rose and gently put her arms around him, head on his chest.
Holding her tight, he began to sob. Maggie cried too but knew Phelps had been right. She had to be the strong one now. 
   Slipping out as soon as Maggie rose, Sharon quietly closed the door behind her, finding her own surcease in Doug’s waiting arms.

   That night, Doug and Sharon asked no questions, knowing now wasn’t the time. They did what they could, fed them — though no one had much of an appetite — hugged them and sent them to sleep out in the cottage. Maggie and Colin clung to each other until each, in his own time, fell into an exhausted but fitful sleep near dawn. 
    Early the next morning, Maggie asked Steven to put out the news release on the death of Jamie Chavez, senior Texas Tech University engineering student and the president of the Saddle Tramps organization. His death was ruled a suicide by the investigating officer who said a note had been found on the laptop, but the contents were not made public ... yet. The investigation was ongoing and funeral arrangements were pending.

    Also early in the morning, the remnants of the blizzard already melting, Colin drove to Canyon to find the local priest to accompany him in breaking the tragic news to Jamie’s grandparents, who were grateful Colin had come to tell them personally. Along with the priest and the grieving grandparents, Colin then made arrangements for the funeral to be the following Tuesday. Father Sean would be in touch with the priest, as he would like to be a part of the Funeral Mass. 
    Maggie had wanted to accompany Colin, thinking he shouldn’t be alone, but he said he needed the time alone to sort some things out. He’d see her that evening back at the Nest. Even though Sharon objected, Maggie borrowed a car shortly after Colin left and drove out to the solitude of the cotton fields. Four hours after leaving, she returned, clothes muddy from the knees down. 
 Chapter 83
  Over a light dinner, Colin asked if Maggie felt up to talking about it, because he had something to share with all of them. She could if he could. She was determined to be brave for him, to help him through his grief, even as she worked through her own. 
   “When we found him,” Colin began, swallowing his anguish, “I tried to survey the scene — like I used to do. His laptop was open, but dark. I found the message police are calling his suicide note.”
“Oh, Colin,” Maggie said, reaching for his hand. “I didn’t see you ... I ...”
  “It’s okay, Love. I memorized it and wrote it down before the police got there. I wanted to be able to look at it again ... to study it. Here’s a copy.”
   Looking at him as if she didn’t want to see it, Maggie hesitatingly took it from him at his nod. Doug and Sharon read it with her.  
can’t live withoutmother withguilt – setfires – gave bastardevil Boyle his due  – wanted2cut heart out – sorry – pleasforgive   J

   “Apparently,” he said with a face full of grief and pain, “Jamie was our guy all along.” 
   “And killed Boyle?” Maggie said in stunned disbelief. “Oh, no, Colin. He couldn’t!”
   “Which also means he was the one who attacked you in the tower. I can’t believe it either, Maggie, but look at the note. He called Boyle a bastard, said he was evil, and couldn’t live with the guilt.”
   Sharon said, “He was a bastard. But to kill him?”
   Shaking his head, Doug said, “He must have been more devastated by his mother’s death than anyone knew. And then humiliated when Boyle threw the Saddle Tramps out during his senior year as their president. Grief can be a changing force in some people ... completely throw them for a loop. Make them do things totally out of character.”
   “But to set fires and to kill Boyle? And three of the fires were before they were kicked out. How does that make sense?” Sharon asked the group.
   “It doesn’t,” Colin said. “But as Doug said, grief does strange things. I once hiked the mountains for several weeks trying to get hold of my grief. I was about Jamie’s age then.”
Maggie considered what Colin had said, shrugged and then replied with resignation, “And I poured myself into any activity to would take my mind off the pain when my parents died. I coped by filling every minute of every day. Then I met Jim and threw myself into marriage and family. I guess it’s different for everyone. Oh, poor Jamie.” 
  She reached over and put her hand on Colin’s again. This has been so hard on him, she thought. Much harder for him than anyone here. “Have you talked with Sean about the note, Colin? I know he and Jamie were fairly close, too, weren’t they?”
   “They were, and no, I haven’t shown him the note yet. I need to let him know. Once this gets outand you know it will because it solves the fires and Boyle’s murder—then Sean might be able to ... I don’t know, maybe he can help me explain it to the other Tramps ... and ... He was Jamie’s confessor, but I can’t imagine he knew this.”
Sharon said slowly, “You called him last night to give last rites, didn’t you?”
  “He couldn’t actually give last rites,” Colin said, voice cracking. “Last rites involves confession to a priest just before death, not a note. Sacraments are for the living.” He took a deep breath. “But he did pray for him. That’s allowed. I’ll talk to him tomorrow and see what he might have known.”
“Known? If he’s Jamie’s confessor, he might have known it all, but he can’t tell you, can he?” Maggie asked. “He’s sworn to secrecy in the confessional.”
   Doug looked from Maggie to Colin. “But Jamie’s dead. Is he still bound by it?”
   “I don’t know ...” Colin said dejectedly. “I just know I need more of an explanation than we have now. On the road today, I tried to look for clues to his behavior since last summer, since his mom died, but I don’t know what I missed. I just didn’t see anything except depression. But setting fires and killing Boyle? I just didn’t see it.”
“No one saw it, Colin,” Doug said, laying a hand on Colin’s shoulder. “We listed him on our white boards in January, but we all agreed it was not plausible for him to set those fires ... Wait, he couldn’t have set the tower fire, could he? We all saw him in the procession at the time the fire was supposed to have started.”
   “No,” Colin said slowly. “He could have set it. The day before the wedding Chief Callahan  called to tell me they finally got back all the results of the tower fire investigation, and they’re pretty sure it was set by remote control ... not a timer, but a detonation device he could have set off as he walked past the building that night. The range was close enough as he rounded Memorial Circle.”
“Good Lord,” Doug said. “Why? So he could be sure it didn’t start until after they marched in? So he had the glory of marching in as president and a damn good alibi? Wow.”
   Sharon shook her head in disbelief. “And the museum fire? How was it set?”
   “With a simple clock timer. But he was there, remember, working the event. Could have set it after he had words with Boyle.”
Sharon looked at him quizzically and then said, “But the theory was each fire was more sophisticated than the last. If the museum fire was set with a ‘simple clock timer,’ as you call it, how is that more sophisticated than a remote detonation device?”
   “The accelerant was larger. He used not only cleaning supplies – acetone – as he did in the engineering fire,” Colin said as he watched Sharon instinctively reaching for her arm. “But he added hydraulic fluid used in windmills to make the fire hotter and faster at the museum. And somehow he dismantled the sprinkler system in the office area and had the museum area system on delay. It was creative engineering.”
Sharon groaned at his use of her oft-spoken words. 
  Maggie said, “But why? Why would he set the museum fire, or any of them?”
  “Maybe,” Doug ventured, “just maybe the fires made him feel in control of something? Sometimes the death of a loved one makes people feel impotent, helpless ... and they need to do something, anything that allows them to regain some sense of control. He then used Boyle as his target, to deflect the grief.” 
        To Maggie’s questioning look he shrugged, “Majored in music, minored in psychology.” 
   Colin thought about it. “That’s something I’ll ask Sean tomorrow. He’ll tell me.”

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