The House That Jack Built, Page 2Willow Rose
“Well, maybe he walked,” Carrie said and put on her shoes, grabbed her car keys, and stormed out the door.
THIS WAS THE LAND THAT HE WORKED BY HAND
“Isn’t it just perfect, kids?”
Shannon put her arm around my shoulder and looked at the kids. We had taken them to visit the lot where we were going to build our future house.
It had all gone through really fast. Once Shannon and I agreed that we wanted to buy the property, the deal went through within a few days. The lot had been vacant for many years, the real estate agent told us, and that was a shame when you thought about this wonderful oceanfront location.
I couldn’t agree more. The lot was perfect for our purpose. There were still the remains of the old house that used to be on the property, but I was going to get that removed as soon as possible, and then start building our new house. The house that was going to belong to us, to our little family.
“What do you say, kids?” I asked and turned to look at the twins.
Abigail looked skeptical. “It doesn’t look like much, Dad.”
Always so honest. She was right. Right now it didn’t look like anything…just the overgrown ruins of an old house that had been torn to pieces by a hurricane in 2005 and never rebuilt. It had been in the hands of the bank for a long time.
Until now. Now it was ours. Well, technically, it was Shannon’s, since she had paid for it, but we had put my name on the deed as well, so I would feel like it was just as much mine. She was also going to pay for all the construction of the new house. Meanwhile, I had told her I would make the drawings and design it along with an architect we had hired. I would also supervise the construction as soon as it started.
“You don’t have to,” Shannon had said. “I can just pay someone to do it.”
“No, this is the way I want it,” I had argued. “You contribute with money, I with my hours. If this is supposed to feel like my house too, then I need to do this. I need it to be my house too. I want to built the house of my dreams.”
She told me she understood and we never discussed it again.
“It might not look like much right now,” I said, addressed to Abigail. “But picture a house, a magnificent house with porches facing the beach, with a wooden stairwell that ends in the fine sand right when you step out of the house. Picture a living room with spectacular views, and picture a second floor with bedrooms overlooking the ocean as well.”
Abigail closed her eyes. “It’s hard to really picture it, Dad.”
“I can see it,” Austin said.
“So, you really think it’s a great idea for all of us to move in together?” Emily grunted.
“We’re all going to be a family soon,” I said and held a hand to Shannon’s stomach.
“What?” Emily asked with a frown.
The twins looked at us as well. We hadn’t told them the news yet, and now was as good a time as ever.
“That’s right,” I said. “Shannon is pregnant. You’ll have a new little brother or sister soon.”
All four kids stared at us. Angela’s eyes widened. “You’re having a baby, Mom?” Then she let out a shriek of joy. “I’m going to be a big sister? I always wanted to be a big sister.”
“It’s not that big a deal,” Abigail said and looked victoriously at her younger brother by fifty-eight seconds.
“You might be a big brother instead if it’s a boy,” Austin said, sounding very clever.
I couldn’t hide my laughter. Neither could Shannon. I looked into her eyes, feeling such a deep love for her. For just one moment, while we all looked out on the roaring Atlantic Ocean in front of us, holding each other’s hands, we all forgot everything else in our lives. All the troubles, all the worries were gone for just this short moment. I, for one, couldn’t wait for all of us to be a family.
Some moments in your life you’ll never forget. Hector Suarez had no idea today was one of those when he was sitting in his brother’s restaurant in Havana with his girlfriend Veronica.
At the age of only fourteen, Hector didn’t know much about politics or what was going on in his country. Born and raised on his parent’s farm in Ternimo de Guanajay with nine brothers and one sister, Hector had always lived quietly and happily unaware of the impact a change in the political system could have on him and his family.
All he knew was that he liked Veronica, that he loved the Cuban sandwiches they were eating, and that he was wearing two different colored socks…one yellow and one black.
Hector took a sip of his beer and looked at the girl in front of him. Hector knew it was the woman he wanted to marry one day. He just knew it.
It was while taking the next bite of his sandwich that he heard the screaming. Loud voices in the street as someone ran inside the restaurant and started to yell:
“Castro is taking over! Castro is taking over!”
Not knowing what a life-changing event this was, Hector finished his food, grabbed Veronica by the hand, and escorted her home. He went to bed while his older brothers’ loud voices were debating wildly in the living room with their father.
The next day at their Sunday dinner at the farm, where the family always gathered, the voices were still agitated. One of his brothers voiced his support of this new regime. Finally, their father ended the conversation with the single statement that Hector would end up remembering for the rest of his life.
“Government is no good.”
That was it. His father had spoken and that ended all discussion and debate, much to his older brother’s disappointment.
Just a few weeks later, Hector felt the wrath of this new government that they spoke so much of. His older brother Raul came to his room one night and woke him up. His face was sweating heavily and his eyes pierced with fear.
“Raul? What’s going on?”
Raul sprang for the window and looked outside, then closed the curtains. He looked at Hector.
“I’m scared, Hector.”
Hector sat up. Fear had not been a part of his life up until this day…only the fear of his father’s wrath when he got himself into trouble. But this was different. This was a different kind of fear. It was deeper.
“What are you afraid of, Raul? What’s going on?”
Raul sat on Hector’s bed. “If I tell you this, will you promise to never ever tell father?”
It was a lot to ask. But with Hector, his loyalty to his brothers was always more important than his loyalty to his parents. It had always been like that for him.
“Of course. What’s going on? Talk to me, Raul.”
“I’m in trouble. I have done something. I need your help,” Raul said.
“What did you do?”
“I helped two men get out of here. I helped them get into the Mexican Embassy,” Raul said. “They got arrested. They’ll tell them my name. I just know they will. They’ll come for me. They’ll arrest me too.”
Hector didn’t know much about politics or government, but he did know what his father thought of this new government and he did know when a brother was in trouble he needed to help him.
The next day, he dressed Raul up in some of his mother’s clothing and smuggled him out of Havana in the back of his father’s truck. As he left him with his friends in a small town where he could hide in an attic above a pharmacy, Hector shed a tear, wondering if he would ever see him again.
“So, are you excited?”
Kristi looked at Shannon above her steaming cup of coffee. Shannon smiled and nodded. Yes, she was excited about buying this lot and finally settling down in Cocoa Beach. Since Joe was gone now, there wasn’t any reason for her to go back to Nashville.
“I am,” she said. “I’m very excited about everything. The house, the baby…it’s all happening.”
“Why do I detect a slight bit of wor
ry in your voice?” Kristi asked.
A guy came out from inside the restaurant and placed their sandwiches in front of them. He looked shyly at Shannon. She was used to that. Cocoa Beach still hadn’t gotten used to having her around. It was getting better, though, and lately she had been able to walk around freely in town, especially since the reporters left. She hoped they would stay away. She and Angela needed all the peace and quiet they could get.
“I am worried,” she said and took a bite of the sandwich. “How can I not be?”
Kristi sipped her coffee, then emptied it, and started her sandwich. It had become a regular thing for the sisters to meet at Juice N’ Java for coffee and sandwiches on Monday mornings when Kristi was off from work. Shannon enjoyed it. She loved having her sister in her life again.
“I’m sure they’ll find the gun,” Kristi said. “It’ll all blow over eventually. Just give it time.”
Shannon felt tears pressing behind her eyes. She held them back. She couldn’t stand this pressure that was put on her, especially not now that she was hormonal because of the pregnancy and everything. The police in Nashville threatened to charge her with murder of an old friend, Robert Hill. Her ex-husband Joe had left a letter when he died, stating she killed him by beating him to death with a microphone stand, when it was, in fact, him. She had only hit him the first time when he aimed that gun at them and told them he would kill Joe to be with Shannon because he was madly in love with her. Robert Hill had written songs for her first album, songs that had given her a breakthrough as an artist. Now the entire world believed she had stolen the songs, even though Robert Hill told her she could publish them without using his name. Now she risked going to jail over what Joe had done. If only they could find the gun he had held in his hand on that night. The police had told her that would make them believe her story. But they still hadn’t, and it ate her up.
“What if they don’t?” she asked. “What if they don’t find the gun? It’s the only evidence I have to let them know it was self-defense…that I didn’t mean to kill Robert Hill. They already believe I stole his songs for my first album, when in reality he gave them to me. He didn’t want his name on them.”
“And, still, you put his name on them now. You did the right thing to change that, to make sure his legacy remains. It pleased his family a lot that you changed it. Nobody wants to see you in jail, Shannon. I mean, who would sing for us? The whole world loves you.”
“Not everyone,” Shannon said. She hated to feel this emotional, but it was hard not to. The doctor had told her to relax and be sure not to worry. It would affect the child, but it was so hard when facing a murder trial. What was going to become of the baby if she had to do time? She could get life for this. Would she even see her baby grow up? And what about Angela?
Shannon felt her blood pressure elevate quickly. Kristi saw it on her face and put a hand over hers.
“You have to relax. You can’t get upset like this anymore,” she said. “You have some of the best lawyers in the country working for you. It’ll be fine.”
“I just wish they would get it over with. I hate the waiting, you know?”
“But you have to go through it. It could take months, maybe even a year before we know what will happen. You have to trust that everything will turn out fine, and then focus on the baby and your new life. Can’t you immerse yourself in your music? That used to make you forget about everything else, like the time I graduated and you forgot to show up at my party because you were so caught up in your music, remember?”
Shannon laughed. She did remember. Vividly. Especially how Kristi had yelled at her afterwards. Back then, she hadn’t understood why she was so upset. Now, she did. She understood that this was what she had always done to her sisters throughout their lives together. She had taken the spotlight and been too caught up in herself to celebrate their victories.
“I know. I have been writing a lot lately. The hormones have set off the emotional side of me, and the trial too, of course, and maybe the falling in love with Jack. I’ve said yes to doing a couple of concerts this month. I need to get out there and feel the love of my audience again.”
“That sounds good. How does Jack feel about it?” Kristi asked.
“He knows how much my work means to me. He loves his job too and gets caught up in it. In that way, we’re much alike. We both have a lot of passion for our work. Luckily, his parents are always there to take the kids if needed.”
“Angela is always welcome at my house too, if you ever need it,” Kristi said.
“I know,” Shannon said.
“So, when do you start building the house?” Kristi asked, finishing the rest of her sandwich.
“As soon as the lot is cleared. There are remains from some old house that was taken down in a hurricane years ago. We need that removed. We should be ready to start in a few weeks. Jack is all excited. He wants this to be perfect.”
“I’m sure it will be,” Kristi said.
Shannon smiled. Her sister was right. Jack would make it just perfect. If only Shannon could be certain she would be around to enjoy it.
We were still trying to track down the last two Monahan sisters, the murderous sisters who called themselves the Angel Makers. They had murdered so many people thinking they were getting the world rid of child molesters and abusers. They had been four in total when they started out, one had died in the Bahamas, and another, Sarah Millman had been arrested, but released on bail. She was being kept under constant observation by us in the hope she would try to contact her two other sisters or they would contact her somehow.
But the trail was getting colder and colder. Meanwhile, Sarah Millman was awaiting her trial. I was trying to get her convicted of killing her husband first. Then her involvement in the other cases would come later. I had given all my evidence to the State’s Attorney, Jacquelyn Jones, and hoped she would be able to make a case against her. Sarah Millman and her lawyer had already declared that she was mentally unstable and drugged at the time of the murder, and handed us an evaluation of her mental health. I knew this was going to be a hard nut to crack. But I hadn’t lost hope yet. Neither had I lost hope that I would find the two other sisters, Angelina and Kelly Monahan. We had sent out a nationwide search, and so far the trail of Angelina ended in North Carolina, where she was seen two weeks ago at a restaurant. We were almost certain it was her.
I pushed the files aside on my desk and looked at the screen of my computer. I was fed up with this case and couldn’t stop thinking about the house. It was all that was on my mind lately. My dream house. I opened an email from the architect and looked at the floor plan he had made so far. I liked it, but had a few changes I wanted to make, so I wrote him back.
When I had sent it, someone entered the room. It was Beth. It was her first day back at the Sheriff’s office after the explosion that left her burned on a big part of her body. I smiled when I saw her. Everyone in the room stood up and started clapping. She limped heavily when she walked, but she held her head high.
“Ah, come on,” she said as she moved to her desk and saw all the flowers. “I didn’t die, you know. This looks like a damn funeral home.”
I handed her a card that we had all signed. “From all of us.”
Beth snorted and opened it. It was a gift card to a spa treatment. Beth burst into violent laughter. “A spa? Me? That’s a good one.”
“Well, we thought you could use a day off to treat yourself a little,” Ron said. “I am giving you any day off you want to go. Just let me know.”
Beth looked at him like she didn’t believe him. Then she shook her head. She scoffed, but I could tell she was moved.
“What are you all just standing here for?” she asked. “We got ourselves some female killers to catch, right Ryder? Where are we on that?”
I chuckled and sat down. Everyone returned to their desks. Ron had wanted to buy a cake and everything, but I had told him Beth didn�
��t want any of that. She wanted everything to go back to the way it was. I had visited her every week at the hospital while she was there. That was what she had told me every time I came. I could at least give her that.
“So, how are the kids?” Beth asked.
“Good. They’re all good, thanks.”
“And the stomach is growing, I take it?”
I smiled at the thought. “Not much yet, but it will be. She is throwing up a lot, though. Not just in the mornings, but all day.”
“Then, everything is as it should be,” she said.
“It is. And everything is in place with the lot. It is ours and as soon as it is cleared, we start building.”
“That sure sounds good, Ryder. Now, where are we on catching the Monahan sisters? Fill me in. I want to nail those murderous women.”
I couldn’t blame her. The explosion they had caused had burned Beth’s face, so the doctors had to transplant skin from her thigh to her face. Beth was never going to look the same again. I fully understood her anger. I think we all did.
Vernon was brought into the courtroom wearing his orange suit and handcuffs. His belly-chains rattled as he walked, his heart in his throat like so many times before when he had appealed his case.
The judge looking at him from above her glasses knew him all too well.
“Mr. Johnson,” she said, addressed to him, after they had sat down.
A tear left his right eye and rolled across his cheek. This was it. This was the moment of truth.
“Your name and the history of your case have been with me since I started this job. Now, twenty-eight years later, here we are again. New evidence has come to the light of day. A vital testimony has been recanted, and this clearly undermines the confidence the public might have had in the verdict that was previously rendered.”