"It wasn't a suicide."
Skimming over her notes for Channel Seven TV's noon news report, Tess Abbott barely registered the caller's comment. Instead she shifted the telephone to her other ear and underlined the alarming statistics that she'd uncovered in her investigation on plastic surgery being performed on teenage girls.
"Did you hear what I said? It wasn't a suicide," the woman repeated, her Southern drawl even more pronounced. "He was murdered."
Suddenly Tess jerked her gaze away from her notes and gave her full attention to the caller. "Who was murdered?"
Every muscle, every nerve in Tess's body went still at the mention of her father's name. Two months ago when the news broke about her father's suicide in prison, the media had been all over the storyincluding the tabloid bottom-feeders. They'd come out of the woodwork, dogging her at the news station, pestering her grandfather at the Capitol. They'd even staked out her apartment on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in an effort to get some reaction from her. As an investigative TV reporter, she had understood the media's frenzy over the story. After all, the death of the man who had killed the only child of the powerful senator from Mississippi twenty-five years earlier was news in itself. Coupled with her grandfather's outspoken views on stronger penalties for criminals made the suicide of Jody Burns all the more newsworthy. While the reporter in her had understood the hunger for a juicy story, the child in her who had lost both of her parents that long-ago night had resented the intrusions. She resented it even more now, she realized, her jaw tightening, because she'd thought all the hoopla over Jody Burns's suicide was finally behind her. "Listen, I don't know who you're working for and the truth is, I really don't care. But I'll tell you the same thing I tell everyone else. No comment."
"And unless you want me to file harassment charges against you and whatever outfit you're working for," Tess barged ahead, "don't call me again. Ever."
"Wait! Please, don't hang up! I'm not a reporter. I swear it!"
There was just enough desperation in the woman's voice to pique Tess's interest. She hesitated a second, then said, "All right. Then who are you and why are you calling me?"
"I am . . was a friend of your father's," the woman corrected. "And I'm calling you because Jody didn't kill himself like they said. They murdered him and made it look like a suicide to keep him quiet."
Tess squeezed her eyes shut a moment, fighting back the images that flashed through her mindimages of herself awakening from a bad dream, of entering the den and seeing the father she adored kneeling over her mother's body, covered in her blood. Shaking off the memory, she said, "How Jody Burns died is of no concern to me."
"But he was your father."
"He ceased being my father the night he killed my mother," Tess informed her, making her voice as cool as her heart for the man she'd once called "daddy".
"But he didn't kill her."
Tess started to tell the woman that she was wasting her time, that Jody Burns was no innocent. After all, she should know, Tess reasoned, since she was the one who'd found him still holding the bookend in his hand that he'd used to smash in her mother's skull. But before she could get the words out, a knock sounded at her office door.
"Hey Tess," Jerry Wilson said, sticking his head inside the door. "You're up in fifteen."
"I'll be right there." When the door closed behind him, she said, "I have to go."
"But what about your father? Don't you want justice for him?"
"Some would say he got the justice he deservedeven if it came twenty-five years late," Tess countered, recalling her grandfather's words when they had first learned of Burns's death.
"Then they would be wrong," the woman insisted. "Jody Burns didn't, belong in that prison. He was not the one who killed your mother."
"A jury thought otherwise."
"The jury was wrong. And your father was going to prove it, too. That's why he was killed and it was made to look like a suicide."
Regretting that she'd allowed the conversation to even get started and aware that she needed to get to the set, Tess said, "Listen, I have to go."
"That's it? You aren't going to do anything?"
"I would have thought you of all people would want justice."
"I'm all for justice. But there's nothing I can do." Softening she said, "Listen, if you really believe what you've told me, then you should contact the police."
"The police! They?re the last ones I can go to. Oh, God, this was a mistake. I never should have called you."
"Wait!" Tess had been an investigative reporter long enough to recognize panic in the woman's voice. "What do you mean you can't you go to the police?"
"Because I can't risk it. If he was to find out that I knew . . . No, I can't take that chance."
Oh, what she wouldn't have given to see the woman's face, Tess thought, to be able to look into her eyes, read her. "Listen, if you're in some kind of trouble"
"I'm not. At least not yet. But if he finds out that I know and that I called you, God knows what'll happen to me."
Tess could practically taste the woman's fear. "If who finds out? Tell me who it is that you're afraid of."
"I can't. I've already said too much."
"Then tell me who you are," Tess said. "I'll help you."
"The only way you can help me is if you finish what your father started. Don't let him get away with murder again."
"Again?" Tess repeated.
"God, don't you understand? The person who had Jody killed is the same one who killed your mother. And unless you do something, he'll get away with it this time, too."
But before Tess could demand more information, the connection was severed and a dial tone buzzed in her ear.
Order a copy
|© 2004Metsy HingleAll rights reserved