Chapter 1

Bradley Marshall leaned back in the chair and smiled until a painful ring from his phone snapped his attention away from his computer screen. He reached for the phone in his front pocket.

“Brad? It’s Renee. I think I’m in trouble. I may have seen something I wasn’t supposed to see.”

“What? Renee, where are you?”

“I’m at Richard’s. I . . .” The connection went dead.

Brad stared at the phone in his hand. He saw on the display she had called from her cell phone. With the press of a couple of buttons he called her back. The phone rang several times before she answered.

“Renee, it’s Brad. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine Brad. I’m sorry to have bothered you. It’s nothing, really.”

“But you said you were in trouble.”

“I was mistaken. Again, I’m sorry I bothered you. Goodbye Brad.”

The phone went silent again. How strange. With the divorce almost final, she was not in the habit of calling. Then again, if she was really in trouble, she might have called instinctively. They were, after all, still married and had been married for over six years.

Brad rubbed at the tension in the back of his neck. Damn it. It’s not my problem even if it feels like it is. What was I doing? Whatever is was I’m thirsty now.

Brad went into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of apple juice from the refrigerator. Sipping from the glass he drifted back toward the den. Damn it. Sitting around worrying about those phone calls was not an attractive plan. He looked at his watch. It was about eleven this Thursday evening. Jack should be down at the Red Lion Bar & Grill. Better to walk down there and complain to my friend. Who knows, after the walk, perhaps the phone calls will be less bothersome.

Brad left the alarm system off in case Renee came by later while he was out, and left the house which was located in a part of Houston called Mandel Place. He and Renee had shared the house before she moved out. He started down the sidewalk toward the Red Lion.

It was a perfect night to be out. The crisp air of early October was the combination of a hint of autumn and the smell of grass still being mowed. He watched the shadows dart across the sidewalk whenever a breeze blew through the elms lining the street.

He tried to get his mind off the calls from Renee and back on his novel. He was more than half way through the first draft and satisfied with his progress. When it was finished, he would of course, look for a publisher. But he didn’t need the money. A couple of years earlier he had sold his computer software security company for several million dollars. Even after splitting the money with Renee, which was being accomplished quite amicably, he would be more than comfortable. Publishing the book would be for bragging rights, more than anything else.

He reached the Red Lion in a few minutes. Scanning the inside of the bar, he saw most of the tables and booths to his left were occupied. He recognized the sound of Michael McDonald singing ‘What a Fool Believes’ from the jukebox. In front of him he noticed the stocky frame and crew cut of his friend, Jack Wilkerson, hunched over the bar.

“Jack, I keep wondering why Rusty doesn’t charge you rent.”

“You obviously haven’t seen my beer tab. Have a seat and I’ll buy you one of those fizzy waters you drink. That is if you’re still drinking fizzy water.” Jack said.

“I am and you can. Rusty, bring me a club soda.” Brad sat next to Jack.

“Your trouble was you never learned to pace yourself. That’s the trouble with most younger people these days. They want everything too fast. Instant oatmeal, instant rich, instant drunk.”

Brad wrinkled his nose. “I never much cared for oatmeal.”

Jack chuckled. “I expected a bigger argument. How long has it been for you now, since you’ve had a drink?”

“It will be a year soon. I never told you, but you helped me make the decision to quit.”

“Me? How so?”

“You had rented a movie and was raving about it. Shawshank Redemption.”

“I remember that movie. Good flick. When people look at old movies and say ‘They don’t make ’em like that anymore’ you can point to something like Shawshank and say ‘See here, they do too,’ ” Jack said.

“You were especially taken with a line from the movie, ‘You better get busy living or get busy dying.’ You asked me one night which I was doing. I couldn’t shake that question out of my head. I kept asking myself whether I was busy living or dying and I didn’t like the answer. Drinking was interfereing with my living and the next day I quit. I’d like to think I’ve been busy living ever since.”

“That’s a hell of a story. Almost brings a tear to my eye. Almost. Not quite. Maybe if you told it better.”

Brad laughed. “I have another story for you.”
“Is it going to pull on my heart strings some more? There’s only so much I can take in one night.” Jack said.

“No, I don’t think so.” Brad relayed to Jack the tale of the phone calls from Renee.

“So we’ve gone from old movies to old wives. Can we go back to movies?”

Brad chuckled. “She’s barely a wife.”

“Isn’t your divorce about final?” Jack asked.

“It will be in a couple of weeks.”

“Odd that she would call you at all. I would expect most of your correspondence these days is through attorneys.”

“It is,” Brad said.

“Except that if she was really in trouble, you are after all, still her husband.”

“I thought of that.”

“And you have no idea who this Richard might be?”

“None at all.”

“Then my advice is to put it out of your mind. You may never know what was going on when she called. She may not ever tell you. I know it’s not easy, but there’s nothing you can do so forget about it,” Jack said.

“She just sounded so frantic at first.”

“I could offer up an indelicate hypothesis concerning what it may have been about Richard that frightened her so, what with her being more accustomed to you. Since you might find the suggestion insulting, and you are my friend, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Brad smiled and shook his head. “Oh, I do appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome. Again, nothing you can do. And besides, she’s practically your ex-wife. There are different rules for ex-wives, or so I’ve heard.”

“I guess you’re right. Hell, I know you’re right, I’ve been telling myself the same thing,” Brad said.

A short while later Brad left the bar for the walk home. The banter with Jack had lifted his spirits and his thoughts turned again to his novel. The next chapter would introduce the reader to a surprise. He considered the best way to approach it. He arrived at his house and pulled his keys from his pocket. Inserting the key in the lock he found the door was unlocked. He froze for an instant. He was sure he had locked it on the way out. He pushed the door open and eased into the house. There in front of him was Renee lying in a pool of blood.

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