IN HIS CUBBYHOLE, WITH HIS TECH EQUIPMENT and marked-up script, Bradley listened to the whisper of backstage activity. The lighting guy had gone home early, complaining about his cast itching as if invaded by ants, and left Bradley to work the changes for the first act.
Before the play started, he’d run through the whole script sequence with only one glitch, which he replayed until he knew it cold. Now, his brain on automatic, the irritation with his father intruded again.
What was Dad trying to prove? His old job had seemed safe all those years, yet he’d almost been killed. Investigating a murder had to be maximum dangerous.
Seeing his father in the hospital, tubes running everywhere, Bradley had sat beside his bed in the dark and confessed. He knew his mother had wanted the divorce. But fathers were supposed to be strong, able to fix things. Bradley counted on him to fix the family back together. He confessed that he missed his father and ached to talk to him at times. Dad hadn’t been awake to hear that confession. Later, Bradley never seemed to find the words to express how he felt.
Now that Dad had gotten sucked into another dangerous job, Bradley wondered if his own accusation had pushed him. Dad was no quitter. He’d tried more than once to patch things up. How many families stayed together forever, anyway? Among all his friends, he knew two.
As the act one curtain fell, Bradley brightened the lights, then took the stairs two at a time to the men’s dressing room. Jeremy’s car hadn’t been in the parking lot when Bradley arrived. He wanted to ask a few questions about Jeremy’s brother. Aaron reminded him of Duff Clark, the bully he’d clobbered in grade school. Aaron had that same angry hardness in his eyes, even when he tried to be all buddy-buddy, selling Dad the Tahoe. If anybody knew whether Aaron had killed his father, it’d be Jeremy.
Hearing his voice softly rehearsing his lines, Bradley found the actor-director at a makeup table. The voice came from a tape in an old boombox. Jeremy buttoned the dusty blue uniform jacket of a railway conductor and murmured the lines along with the audio.
“Wasn’t sure you’d make it,” Bradley said. “That inquest was maximum intense.”
Jeremy positioned a partially bald, stringy gray wig on his head. Securing it with spirit gum, he glanced at Bradley in the mirror. “It was dumb.”
“Birdwell’s a jerk.”
Bradley didn’t know what to say to that. The coroner had seemed okay, but Bradley conceded he might feel differently if it was his father who’d died.
“You did fine,” he said. “I mean, you and your brother finished quick. It was later that everything turned intense.”
Jeremy penciled a deep wrinkle alongside his mouth.
“My dad has to help the sheriff investigate,” Bradley said.
“Tell him to check out McCray’s bank account. Find where she squirreled away all the money Dad gave her.” Jeremy streaked dark color under his cheek bones, creating shadows.
“He gave her money?” Bradley tried to recall what was written under “motive” beside Melinda’s name on his father’s chart.
“Everyone knows my father spent nights at her house. She’s a pig.”
Bradley recalled how Melinda had looked at the inquest. Optimum figure. Prettiest woman he’d seen since leaving Houston. A lot of men had watched her, including Jeremy’s brother.
“I guess Aaron must feel pretty bad about the argument with your father just before he died.”
“Didn’t mean anything. Dad and Aaron were always arguing.”
Was that significant? Bradley had spent four years barely saying a civil word to his father, the air between them as heavy as crankcase oil, but he’d never wanted to hurt him.
“Forty thousand dollars is a lot of money,” he said.
Jeremy laid the brush down and met Bradley’s gaze in the mirror. “Why the hell are you so interested in my brother?”
“If it was my father that died, I’d want to know what happened.”
In the railway conductor’s face, Jeremy’s eyes looked fierce. “My brother didn’t kill my father. Despite what that woman says, my mother didn’t kill him either.”
Bradley suddenly felt bad about digging into Jeremy’s problems. He was a friend. If Bradley had a brother, even a bully like Aaron, he wouldn’t rat him out. Wanting to smooth it over, he nodded.
“Ms. McCray sure caused a stir at the inquest. Guess your mother got the raw end of it.”
Jeremy stood abruptly and faced Bradley, the old-man makeup incredibly realistic.
“No matter what my father did, my mother never raised her voice to him, never demanded he stay at home when she knew he was going out with another woman. It ate at my mother, made her old and bitter. But she never gave up hope that he’d change—until he started whoring around for the whole town to notice. Whoever shot the arrow, that McCray pig killed my father.”
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