Jo drove straight out of the city and headed toward the small rural town where she had grown up. Traveling down the familiar country road past golden hay fields with giant rolled bales, apple orchards dotted with red and yellow, acres of corn dead on the stalks, and pastures filled with grazing cows and horses, she began to relax. She slowed as she came up behind a John Deere combine using the road to move between fields and taking up more than its half. She pretended not to notice when the driver waved her around. She was in no hurry, and puttering behind the behemoth piece of machinery gave her more time to enjoy the peaceful scenery. She swung into the Happy Apple fruit stand and spent more time than she should have picking out the perfect pumpkin.
At the cemetery, she pulled into the parking lot and parked toward the back. Tall evergreen shrubs stood sentry along the perimeter of the lot, like guards protecting the residents.
When Jo was a kid, she had enjoyed walking through the cemetery with her mom, who stopped at any tombstone that bore her family name or that of one of her friends. The history of her small farming community had always fascinated Jo. The commonality of so many names within the cemetery told a great deal about the people who lived there. Generations of farming families, mostly from Germany, had settled in the area to start a new life. Armock, Umlor, Dietrich, Rasch, and Klein were all names that could still be found in the community, their ancestors carrying on the family farms for generations.
Strolling through the vast cemetery, Jo passed headstones that dated back almost two hundred years, some names and dates barely readable as the stone had weathered and smoothed out over time. Marble family monuments dominated the plots, while small inlaid markers named the individuals buried within. Only one tombstone bore the name Riskin. The flowers around the stone were fresh, and the inlaid badge was always polished. Jo made sure of that. She stood in front of the dark-gray marker and read the inscription for the thousandth time: Michael David Riskin.
She set the pumpkin on the stone in front of his name. Fall had been Mike’s favorite time of the year, and every year they had spent what Jo had considered a ridiculous amount of time walking through pumpkin patches, looking for exactly the right shape and size for him to carve. He acted like a little kid, hopping over rows to run to a potentially perfect gourd only to slump in disappointment when he found the flaw that kept it from becoming his. And when he did find that perfect choice, that one pumpkin that was meant to be his, he would beam with anticipation, his green eyes dancing with excitement, as he described exactly how he would use its unique characteristics to carve the perfect jack-o’-lantern. Jo, on the other hand, would grab the first pumpkin that wasn’t rotting, knowing that her pathetic carving skills would destroy any unique characteristics that it held, anyway. She would roll her eyes and sigh loudly every time Mike rejected yet another pumpkin, but she secretly loved the yearly ritual.
Her eyes were drawn to the second inscription on the stone, “Michael David Riskin, Jr.” She pulled the toy John Deere tractor out of her pocket and laid it in front of her baby’s name. Her son had never had a chance to be born. She had never had the chance to be the mom that she so desperately wanted to be. He would have been over a year and a half old if the trauma and stress from Mike’s murder hadn’t caused her to miscarry. Whoever the son of a bitch was that she was hunting, he had killed not only her husband, but also her son. Her anger and hatred for that unknown person simmered inside her, playing over and over in the back of her mind like a Benedictine chant. At one time she had been afraid it might consume her, but she was getting it under control. She would never find the perp and bring him to justice if she went over that deep end. She had to keep it together for Mike… and for little Mike. She had to find the killer and make him pay for what he had done to her family.
She sat down on the grass in front of the tombstone and started talking. During their years together, she and Mike had talked and debated through every topic either of them had an interest in, and sometimes ones they didn’t. Her husband had helped her through some of her early cases, giving her guidance from the couple of years’ experience that he had on her. And she liked to think that she had helped him through some of his. He had shown her how to see things from the logical, black-and-white side, while she had shown him how to see the human being behind every crime. Although they worked in different divisions and precincts, they had been a great team.
She told him about the bombshell Lynae had dropped the night before and lamented the upcoming dinner with Aunt Trudy. When she ran out of the easy topics, she picked at the grass silently for a few minutes.
The dampness from the early-morning dew suddenly felt cold on the backs of her legs. “I have a new lead.”
You’ve had a lot of those over the years. What makes this one different? His voice was still so clear in her head.
“I don’t know, but I really have a good feeling about this one.”
Did she give you anything you can use?
“No. According to my source, her boyfriend pulled the trigger.”
Bring him in.
Jo pulled out a handful of grass and flung it to the side. “I don’t have anything to bring him in on. No outstandings, no probable cause for a search warrant, nothing. I have the secondhand story of a drug dealer looking for a deal.”
That’s not enough. You couldn’t get her to talk?
“She’s afraid of him. And she should be.”
Why are you so sure this one is legit?
Jo shrugged. “Just a gut feeling.”
You have to go with your gut. It’s usually right. Keep an eye on him. He’ll make a mistake, and when he does, you’ll be there to make sure he pays for it. You’ll find a way, Jo. I have faith in you.
Jo gazed at the dark stone. “What if I don’t, Mike? What if I never find the person who did this to us? I don’t know if I can live with that.”
You have to live with it, Jo. You have to find a way to be okay. You know I only want you to be happy.
“I know. I’m just not sure I can be.”
She leaned her head back and stared up at the bright-blue sky. A dog barked in the distance. A car that needed a new muffler rumbled by. Life just kept going on. The sun kept coming up in the morning, the seasons continued to change, and everything moved forward. Except her.
She looked out over the open hay field adjacent to the cemetery and thought about how desperately Mike had wanted to buy that field and turn it into a driving range. She wiped a tear from her cheek. Stupid golf.
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