The two a.m. call from my aunt got my blood pumping. Daddy’s drinking had the family newspaper on the rocks, and now he’d totaled his car. By the time I emailed my boss to let him know I was going home, packed, and hit the road, it was nearly three. The miles between Atlanta and Danville rolled by with me alternating between being thankful Daddy survived and being worried about his mental health.
My first stop in town was the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office. My family was a tad off-beat, but we were law-abiding citizens. Until now. I’d never been inside the jailhouse before. For courage, I clipped the leash on my black lab so she could accompany me.
An attractive blonde deputy rose from the reception desk when we entered. Her crisp uniform and bright smile contrasted with the worn-out lobby. “We don’t allow dogs in here,” she said. “Hey, I know you. You’re Lindsey McKay.”
I smiled, aware my carrot top had given me away. “Guilty as charged.” I squinted discreetly at the shiny name plate on her pocket flap and startled at the familiar name. Sister or wife, I wondered. “Sorry, Deputy Harper. I drove through the night, and I wasn’t thinking. Excuse me, while I return Bailey to my car.”
“Never mind. It won’t take two shakes to out-process your Dad. Bailey can stay.” The woman smiled. “I’m Alice Ann Harper. You were in my brother’s class.”
My jaw dropped. Ike’s sister had grown into a beauty. “I didn’t know you were a cop.”
Alice Ann reached under the counter and withdrew papers and a brown paper bag with Daddy’s name on it. “The employment opportunities are somewhat limited in Danville.”
I nodded. An office door banged open, and a brawny male in a close-fitting white polo shirt navy slacks, and a holstered gun swaggered my way. Age had been kind to Ike Harper. He’d filled out through the shoulders and chest, but his waist was as trim as ever.
“How’ve you been, hon?” Sheriff Ike Harper crushed me in arms of steel.
Masculine warmth made my cheeks burn. Uh-oh. He still had it, and I didn’t want it.
“I’m good. Nice to see you, Ike.” I gently pushed against his chest until he released me. “I’m here for my dad. What can you tell me about his wreck?”
Ike squatted and gave my dog the same effusive welcome I’d received. I noticed he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
“Mr. McKay clipped an oak and rolled his car on Oldham Road at one a.m.,” Ike said.
How odd. “What was he doing out so late?”
“He kept muttering about a deer in the road. EMTs checked him out, and he refused transport. My guys brought him here. He has a court appearance for the DUI and a fine. Shouldn’t be too bad for his first offense.”
My thoughts whirled at the news. “This feels . . . surreal. I mean I knew his drinking increased over the years, but he always drank at home. I’m stunned. Thank you for getting him checked out. That’s one thing off my mind.”
“He’ll come him around now that you’re here. On another note, want to get a cup of coffee while you’re home? We missed you at the ten-year class reunion last month.”
With those lady killer eyelashes and luminous brown eyes, Ike had been a player in high school. That wasn’t for me. “I had a conflict with reunion weekend, and no thanks on the coffee. Between tending to Daddy and salvaging the newspaper, my time won’t be my own.”
Alice Ann slid papers my way. “Sign these forms.”
Ike leaned against the counter as I signed. “You still working for that science magazine in Atlanta?”
“Yes. The Georgia Journal of Science. I like it there.”
“They’re lucky to have you. If you need anything while you’re home, just ask. I’m swamped today coordinating the search teams looking for Judge Sterling, but I should be free soon.”
“The judge is missing?”
“His wife reported his disappearance at dawn.” Ike waved and headed to his office. “Good to see you, Linds.”
I collected the bag of Daddy’s things and trailed Alice Ann down a long corridor, Bailey padding silently beside me.
My plan was to be stern, but I caved when I saw my father behind bars. In the seven hours since his accident, the cuts on his face and arms had scabbed over. Both eyes were blackened. Alcohol fumes permeated the air. “Daddy?”
He perched on the narrow bottom bunk. “Lindsey? That you?”
Alice Ann waved me inside the unlocked cell. “Take your time.”
Bailey trotted in and licked my father’s toes. “Who’s this fine retriever?” my father asked, as he patted my dog.
“That’s Bailey. I told you I’d rescued her from the shelter when we talked in March. On your birthday.” I knelt and pulled his shoes from the brown bag. He’d lost more weight since I’d seen him at Christmas. With Mama overseas, was he even eating regularly? My heart sunk. Why didn’t Aunt Fay call me earlier?
“Where’s your brother?” he asked.
The question caught me off-guard. “Colin’s dead, Daddy.”
His brow furrowed, and then he nodded. “Forgot.”
Oh, dear. My father was worse off than I thought. I helped him with his shoes. “How do you feel?”
“Sore. And hungover.” He met my gaze. “You going to yell at me?”
“You’re making bad choices. That wreck. You could’ve died. We’ll discuss this later, when you have a clear head. Let’s get you home. Can you stand?”
Together we walked down the corridor. Why was he thinking about Colin now? After my brother was lost at sea ten years ago, my family fractured. At least I’d gotten counseling in college and started over. For years, my father had refused to talk about Colin.
A young boy burst in the sheriff’s lobby. He looked to be about eight and he had Ike’s eyes and hair.
“Dad, hurry,” the boy shouted. “There’s something dead under the bridge. Can I have it?”
The blood drained from my face. I froze in mid-step. What father allowed his kid to collect dead animals?
Ike ruffled the boy’s hair. “Easy, Trent. You’ve shocked Miss McKay. She doesn’t know the animal refuge needs road kill for their injured hawks.”
My heart started beating again. “Thanks for the explanation.”
Trent tugged on Ike’s arm. “Come on. Someone else might get it. I wanna feed the hawks.”
Reassured all was well, I waved goodbye, loaded my father in my car, and headed home.
We took Dock Road to River Road, passing the bronze historical marker outside St. Paul’s. My crazy ancestor, Beulah Lindsey McKay, had saved the church from fire-wielding Yankees over a hundred and fifty years ago. Other towns had bats in the belfry. We had Beulah in the bell tower.
“What’s going on with the newspaper?” I’d helped with the family paper in high school so I knew the routine. This was Tuesday. The Gazette should be already made up. If not, I’d need a miracle to launch this week’s edition by tomorrow.
He hung his head. A lot of gray silvered his hair. Seemed like he’d aged twenty years in the nine months since I’d last seen him.
“A fellow writes a few editorials, and everyone’s a critic,” Daddy said. “Cut me some slack here. I’ve got one heckuva hangover.”
I made a mental note to read those columns as I parked in front of our two-story Victorian home. “That reporter still with you?”
“Robert quit months ago.”
Swallowing a bitter retort, I helped my father up the porch steps. I should’ve been reading the online edition to follow the news from home, but I stayed so busy, I’d deleted the latest links unread.
White paint curls furred the plank siding and the gingerbread trim. “The house needs work.”
“So it does.” Dad grunted and continued to his bed, nudging his shoes off with his toes. “Ellen’s at the paper.”
My dad’s assistant had been two years ahead of me in school. According to Aunt Fay’s emails, Ellen’s divorce had been finalized six months ago.
“I’ll check in with her next. Get some rest. We’ll talk later.”
I lugged my suitcase in and then drove up River Road to the brick newspaper building. The shoulder of the road by the Gazette was jammed with cars. What now?
Bailey and I hurried into the Gazette. “Ellen?” My voice echoed through the building. How odd. Maybe Ellen was out back. With growing unease, I clipped on Bailey’s leash and trotted out the side door to the waterfront. A murmur from the crowd reached me just before the Danville River Bridge. A pungent odor brought tears to my eyes, and a dark stain marred the embankment. Summer flies buzzed.
I threaded my way through the throng, my dog at my side until Ellen Mattingly snagged my arm. Despite the August heat, my father’s assistant looked cucumber-cool in her khaki pants and white blouse. Long hair hung down her back.
“Lindsey,” Ellen said. “Hold up. This is a crime scene.”
“Hey. Good to see you.” I hugged her. “What’s the story here?”
Moisture brimmed in her blue eyes. “Judge Alan Sterling is dead.”
News reporting ran in my veins, but I wasn’t prepared for this. “Oh, no. What happened?”
“Leroy Brown over at the shrimp docks saw him before all the cops arrived.” Tears rolled down her face. “Judge Sterling was stabbed to death.”
My thoughts hit turbocharge. The judge was dead. Really, truly dead. Stabbed. Not an accident.
I patted Ellen’s back. “It’s going to be all right.”
My gaze traveled to the concrete pillars supporting the Danville Bridge. Overhead traffic thumped by in a blur. I understood their haste. Ten years ago I felt the same need to hurry out of town.
Bailey tugged the leash out of my palm and bolted inside the forbidden zone. My stomach knotted as she headed straight for the dead man.