As I mentioned yesterday, this book deals with surviving child abuse and addiction. Just before Ray meets his son, he begins an investigation into the murder of Robert (Row-Bear) LaFontaine--the other possible candidate to have been Parker's father. Robert's heart was removed. Chris has told Ray that there were other murders around the state in which the victims' hearts were removed: A foster family, the Byrds; Judge Salus; and a social worker, Ms. Vaughn. There were already a list of suspects in Robert's death. Now, Ray has two more. See all suspects' pics at the end.
"You do realize you're on the short list of suspects who might've wanted Robert LaFontaine dead, don't you?"
"No." Ray laughed hard until he realized
was serious. "There was no bad blood between us anymore," he said
soberly. "Since Robert hit Washington,
we haven't even argued. I actually attended his wedding and a couple of parties
at his house in Baton Rouge.
Damn! I'm his twins' godfather. Why would I be a suspect?"
"Ray, you've threatened to kill him on more than one occasion. Let's see: One—at Larkin's house; two—in the hospital; three—in Raif's car; four—sitting at your desk talking to me; and, oh, five—you beat the hell out of him in public."
"That was thirteen years ago.
are you serious?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Oh, give me a break!" Ray jerked his head to the side. "I didn't even know any of the other victims."
Dantzler shrugged. "It could be argued that they were just to throw us off track and that Robert was your intended target."
"Lawrence, do you believe that?"
"No, but you need to know the gossip. Some could question if you and Raif were disposing of the murder weapon. You didn't help yourself by telling a certain newswoman that the last reporter who followed you ended up dead."
"Is that what this is about?" Ray fisted his hand. "I hate reporters."
"Just stick around." Dantzler gave him a lopsided smirk.
Ray clenched his teeth. "Chris, what is this bullshit? Is this why you snorted earlier?"
She nodded. "Ray, it gets worse. I think they've hooked
up with the dumbest agents ever."
"Me, too, if you'd like to know," Dantzler said with an impish grin on his face.
"How could it get worse?" asked Ray, rubbing his head as a migraine attempted to come on.
Chris laughed. "Larkin's on the suspect list, too."
"You can't be serious!" Ray said, his hand coming down on his desk in a hard slap. "Larkin wouldn't hurt a fly."
"That's what I said," assured
"But my little team argues that she has the capacity to kill to protect
you. After all, she did once. She killed Latrice."
"Self-defense!" Ray's nostrils flared.
"Bullshit, I know, but she did teach the young woman with Robert."
"Yep. One semester of lit."
Ray rolled his eyes.
Lawrence held up his hand. "However, the third suspect holds a little merit. It's Deanna LaFontaine."
Ray shook his head. "No, she didn't kill him. She's been covering his tracks for him from the beginning. She wanted to be First Lady. Moreover, what reason would she have had for killing the other people?"
"She got tired of her husband's philandering. The missing hearts were to show how heartless he was, and his mistress might as well go, too. Who knows? Maybe Robert was into men, too. Maybe all the vics were former lovers."
Ray cackled. "Robert was a fool, a womanizer"—and, maybe, bisexual—"but he did not bed dogs or cows. Did you see the Byrd woman? Woof, woof. She looked like a pug. Her eyes even bulged. And the DHS woman! She weighed more than you and was a foot and a half shorter."
"Yeah, Ray. I've looked at the file pictures. I can't imagine Robert touching them either." Dantzler sniggered.
Ray fiddled with a pen on his desk. "No. There's definitely a connection somewhere between Robert and the other murders. I think Miss Horn just got in the way. No. None of your suspects hold water, and you know it."
"Yes, I do, Ray. So, help me come up with some others."
raised blond brows Lawrence
A Hard-knock Life
At the third shelter, Ray spotted the old Honda motorcycle Parker had ridden that afternoon. He and Larkin entered the dingy, but warm and dry, facility. With the four days of rain had come much cooler temperatures. As the person at the entrance announced, "We're full," without looking up, Ray flashed his badge.
"I'm Police Chief Raiford Reynolds. I'm looking for Parker Godchaux. I think he already signed in."
The tired-looking elderly man at the door looked at the registry. "Yes, he did about an hour ago. He missed dinner. Is he in some kind of trouble?"
"Go and find him, Chief."
"Thanks." Ray took Larkin's hand protectively as they walked though the crowded shelter. "There," Ray pointed out the youth who was playing spades with three much older men.
"Okay. Get your son out of here," prompted Larkin.
With his heart pounding, Ray tapped Parker on the shoulder. Parker turned around and exclaimed, "Mr. Reynolds!"
Ray commanded gently, "Get your things. I'm taking you home with me."
Parker protested, "We haven't got the test results back yet. I don't want to be a bother."
"Fooyay! You and I both know what those tests are going to confirm."
Larkin slid her hand up Ray’s arm in a calming caress. Parker surveyed the very pretty auburn-haired woman beside Ray, and Larkin smiled softly at the young man who had her husband's eyes. Ray came to his senses and introduced the two. "Larkin, this is Parker Godchaux, the young man I told you about. Parker, this is my wife, Larkin."
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Reynolds," said Parker formally as he offered a shaky hand.
Larkin took his hand and felt calluses on seventeen-year-old hands that should have been almost baby soft. "Larkin, please," she said compassionately.
Parker gave a curt nod. "Larkin, you can't seriously want me in your home."
"Mr. Reynolds said he told you about me."
Ray grunted, "Ray—for now."
"Yes, he did," Larkin responded. "That's precisely why I want you in my home. If you are, indeed, Ray's son, you'll be most welcome. On the other hand, if Robert LaFontaine proves to be your father, well, we were once friends, and you'll still be welcome."
"Mr. LaFontaine is not a nice person," said Parker matter-of-factly. "I hope he's not my father."
Larkin laughed softly. "Yes, he was most definitely a jerk. Now, get your things because Ray isn't a jerk."
"No, he seems nice enough," said Parker as he made eye contact with Larkin. Then, he looked at Ray. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," Ray replied with a nod.
Parker turned to the older card players who had been listening intently. "Excuse me, guys. You'll need to find another player. I'm gonna sleep in a real bed tonight." Parker disappeared and returned a minute later with a backpack.
"That's it?" asked Ray.
Outside, Ray said, "Get your bike and follow us. Where'd you get it?"
"I stole it, of course."
Ray stopped and looked at the boy with raised eyebrows as he asked, "Really?"
"No, but I had a hard time convincing the cops in
of that. I saved up money from odd jobs and bought her. She didn't even run. I
fixed her up. She purrs now." Parker beamed with pride.
"Sounds as if it's in the blood," joked Larkin. "Ray restores old cars," she explained.
"Really?" asked Parker as his face lit up in curiosity and excitement.
"Yes, I'll show you," Ray said, "but I don't think it's in the blood. Raif doesn't tinker with old cars. He would get too dirty."
"Who's Raif?" asked Parker.
Ray answered, "My twin brother."
Larkin said, "Raif builds miniature villages with miniature people and animals—all to scale. He has a Victorian village that he displays in his front yard at Christmas. He even has Christmas carols playing."
"Awesome!" Parker said, showing that he was still very much a little boy on some levels.
His outburst stung Larkin's eyes with tears as she realized this child had not had a good life. She asked gently, "Parker, where's your mother?"
He shrugged. "I last saw her about a year ago just before the judge put me in another foster home."
"Did you run away?" asked Ray.
Parker snorted. "Yes. I've only been in this home a couple of weeks. I just got out of"—He stepped back, unsure of the response he might get—"juvey."
"For what?" asked Ray.
"This time?" Parker asked.
Ray arched an eyebrow. "Just how many times have you been to juvey?"
"Several." Can't lie to him. He's a cop and could find out anyway. He shrugged, hands held out to his sides. "Usually just overnight or a week in a nothing environment, but this last time was six months in maximum juvey, you know, reform school." He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. "I'm sure I'll be headed back after this family reports me missing, if they do. I don't think they really care. I only have six months until I turn eighteen. They'll probably just keep quiet, get their check, and let me pass out of the system and their hair."
Ray's eyes stretched wide open and his brows shot to his hairline, but he asked, "What exactly did you do to get six months in reform school?"
"I hit my foster father, and I'm not sorry, and I'd do it again."
Defiance permeated Parker's declaration as
his every muscle tensed.
Not a topic for the street, Ray determined.
Parker said a little bitterly, "Now, I'll just go back inside because I'm sure you don’t want me to go with you."
"Follow us," Ray said. "You have a lot to learn about this family."
"Umm…" Parker hesitated.
Ray shook his head. "No discussion." There was no threat in his voice, but his tone brooked no argument.
In the car, Ray looked at Larkin, his jaw clenching and unclenching. "Chill," she said, rubbing her husband's arm. "There's a long story ahead of us tonight."
Finally at the house, Parker stood in awe as he looked around the massive restored antebellum home. His mouth gaped slightly and his eyes bulged. He blinked several times. Have I died and gone to Heaven?
Larkin took his hand. "Are you hungry?" she asked.
Parker could not help but smell the chicken. He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"Come in the kitchen. Ray and I didn't finish dinner. We'll eat together."
In the kitchen dining nook decorated in autumn colors with rust-and-gold-striped wallpaper, Larkin indicated a dark oak ladder-back, cane-bottom chair next to Ray's at the polished table with four placemats of a fall leaf pattern. "Sit down, and I'll get you a plate," she said.
Parker was not sure how to respond to someone's waiting on him. She's serving my plate? I must be dreaming. While he waited, he picked up the baby shoes that remained on the table. "What are these?"
"Baby shoes," replied Larkin.
Ray rubbed his head again as the migraine was being persistent. He reached for the prescription that sat on the table and popped another pill.
"You okay?" asked Parker.
"Yeah. I get 'em, too, but I don't have any pills. I just get sick."
"We'll take care of that," Ray said as he patted Parker's shoulder. "At your age, a healthy diet will make a huge difference. If that doesn’t get rid of the headaches, we’ll try some herbal remedies before we even think about medication. Drugs will be a last resort."
Parker nodded. "Okay." Then he cut his eyes back to the shoes.
"Larkin gave me the baby shoes as her way of telling me we're having another baby," Ray explained.
"Wow!" said Parker. "You've had a full day, finding out about your eldest and your youngest back to back. I saw the pictures on the wall. You have two more?"
Ray nodded as Larkin placed terracotta stoneware plates in front of the two men and sat down to her own.
"Where are they?" asked Parker.
"Spending the night with Raif because I wanted to tell Ray about the baby," Larkin answered.
Drooping one eyelid, Parker voiced his doubt. "So, you didn't send 'em away because of me?"
"No, Parker, I didn't even know about you when I sent them to Raif's."
"Okay." Parker took a bite of the broccoli. He looked down at his plate and up peripherally at the two adults. Suddenly, he picked up the chicken breast and devoured it as if he had not eaten in days.
A hand flying to her throat, Larkin asked, "Parker, when did you last eat?"
Realizing how uncouth he must have seemed, Parker tried to swallow before he answered. "On the thirteenth just after I saw Mr. LaFontaine. I stole the ten bucks that was on his desk."
"Damn it to hell!" shouted Ray as he slammed his hand onto the table. "Did your mother ever take care of you or teach you right from wrong?"
Parker sat far back in the chair, waiting to be hit. "It's all right," Larkin said as she took Parker's grease covered hand.
"No, it's not!" screamed Ray as he stood.
"Ray!" said Larkin. "Sit down and stop it. You're scaring the hell out of the kid."
Ray sat down but still talked loudly. "I'm sorry, but it makes me angry to know my son has to steal to live, to eat. Parker, I swear to God if I had known about you, this would not be happening to you."
"Are you mad at me?" asked Parker, eyes round as saucers, a slight tremor in his voice. "I can go back to the shelter. Honestly, I'm okay there."
"No. No. I'm sorry. I'm not angry with you." He clenched his fist and let it go. "I do want to know what has happened to you. Did Mia ever take care of you?"
"When she wasn't coming off a high." Parker nodded.
"High?" Ray took several breaths. "She was using drugs?"
"Off and on. She was in and out of rehab. The first time the judge took me away from her, I think I was three." Parker took a bite the roll on his plate.
Ray and Larkin tried to eat and encouraged Parker to share his story as he ate in a more reasonable manner. He ate every bite on his plate before he talked. He seemed reluctant to speak.
How much do I tell them? What if Ray turns out not to be my father? Will they really let me stay here in this beautiful place? He looked around the cozy room.
Larkin said, "Talk to us, Parker. You don't have to be afraid."
How does she know I'm scared? "I'm not afraid," he said.
Ray placed his elbows on the table and tented his fingers, putting his index fingers to his lips. "I'd be scared shitless."
"Really?" Parker asked.
"Really." Ray laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them. "You know, I can find out facts from court records, even a minor, but I want to hear about your life from you. We will welcome you into our home, but I want to know a little bit about you. So, it's up to you. Tell us your story, or I can just snoop."
Trapped. Okay. You asked for it. A tiny lopsided grin played around his mouth.
"Mom had this boyfriend for a while. He took pretty good care of me. Then, he disappeared. Mom went to rehab, and I went to a foster home. That was the second one. I've been in seven, no, eight. The last one was only a few days before I took off. Mom would get clean, and I'd go back to live with her. Then, she'd get high, and I'd go to another home."
Parker held tightly to Larkin's hand as if holding on to her would keep him safe. "Her boyfriend came back when I was eleven. His name was Fritz. He used to say he was 'Fritz the Cat.' When he came back, I didn't recognize him. He was cleaned up and clean. He had cut his ponytail and wore decent clothes. He told Mom if she'd get her act together, he'd take us to
New York with him. A few days later, he came
to my bed."
"He what?" Ray interrupted, his voice an octave higher than normal.
"No, no, not like that." Parker waved his hand. "There was just a curtain separating my cot from the sleeper sofa. The apartment was basically one big room and a bathroom. Mom and Fritz used the sleeper. He came over and sat down on the cot. He mussed my hair the way he always did. He told me he was leaving. He explained that if he stayed, Mom would only pull him back into the heroin. He left me a phone number. I still have it." He pulled a ragged wallet from his pocket and took out a scrap of paper. "He told me to call if things got unbearable and he would come and take me away."
"Why didn't you call?"
"He wasn't my father." His eyes darted to the ceiling. "I always wanted to meet my father."
A half-truth. Why lie now when he's been so honest? Ray closed his eyes to stop unwanted tears. "Go on," he whispered.
"Well, when Fritz left, I checked on Mom. She was high again. That was the fifth time I went to a foster home.
"Not all the foster homes were horrible. Miss Maxi was nice. She had four boys living with her. She took good care of us."
"It’s good to hear some of them were decent," Larkin said.
Parker nodded. "The others were tough, especially the last one, no next to last. The Byrds were awful—Guy and Mitzi. I spent three months with them. I finally hit back and got sent to juvey."
"They hit you?" asked Ray. "Define hit."
"Are you asking if it was spanking?"
"No. I got a few paddlings in school. This was not spanking. I can show you if you want."
"There's something to show me?" Ray gripped the edge of the table.
Parker looked at Larkin. He seemed to draw support from her. Weird, ran through his mind.
"Show us," she said with a nod.
Letting go of Larkin's hand, Parker started to slip his t-shirt over his head. "I'm not real comfortable with this."
"Just lift the edges. You don't have to take it all the way off," Larkin said in an encouraging, coaxing tone.
Parker took a deep breath and lifted one side of the shirt. It did not take much to realize he had been beaten with some kind of strap that had broken the skin and left scars on his back and rib cage.
Larkin could read the fury in Ray's face. "Ray, calm down," she warned.
"I'll kill the bastard," muttered Ray through clenched teeth.
"Ray, let Parker finish telling us his story. Parker, honey, what did you do to get sent to juvey the first time?"
How much can I shock them? Do I want to get sent packing? I have nowhere to go, but Ray will search my record. At least if I talk, I can tell my side. "Stealing. It was always stealing. A couple of breaking and enterings."
Ray interrupted, "You weren't armed, were you?"
"No!" Parker shook his head. "Unless you consider the crowbar I used to pry open the window a weapon." He began to fidget. "Mom couldn't keep a job. I had to eat, and I had to help Mom."
"You got money for her drugs?" Larkin asked for clarification.
"Sometimes. Other times, I just raided people's refrigerators."
"Oh, dear, God," moaned Ray, dropping his face into his hands. I'm too tired to deal with this shit.
"But I didn't steal the motorcycle," Parker declared. "I really did buy her, and I really did fix her up. She sort of kept me out of trouble."
"Yeah, a hobby will do that," said Ray, hoping Larkin wasn't reading his mind. I have every intention of tracking down Mia Godchaux and wringing her neck. Ray tried to keep the conversation going. He asked, "Well, Parker, do I have any grandchildren anywhere?"
"No. They don't put boys and girls together in juvey, and, let's face it, I've never been Mr. Popularity."
Larkin had to cover her mouth not to laugh at the response. "Well, obviously you're straight." She winked at Parker. "And drug free," she added.
"You bet. I don't ever wanna be like Mom."
Larkin patted Parker's hand. "Good. Now, we have a nice guest room with its own bath. You're not much bigger than Christopher. I think his pajamas will fit you, even if they're a little short. I'm going to raid his closet."
Parker became very self-conscious again. He raised his arm and sniffed. "Do I stink, Larkin?" he asked.
"Actually, no, but a hot bath and a clean bed will make you feel a whole lot better." She shook her head. "After you get comfy, come back and have some anniversary cake for dessert."
"When was your anniversary?"
"Okay. Thanks. Lead the way."
Parker started to follow Larkin before Ray stopped him. "Parker, wait a sec. Who was that awful foster family?"
"And you saw LaFontaine when?"
"The thirteenth—on your anniversary."
"Parker, who was your social worker?"
"Oh, that fat woman. What was her name?" He scratched his head. "Ms. Vaughn. But not this last time. I had a nice young lady, Miss Stamper. She put me with the Taggarts. That's the one I ran away from."
"And who was your judge?"
"Salus, every time." He puffed out a long sigh. "I never got lucky and got the lady judge. Ray, why are you asking me these questions?"
"Don't worry about it." He waved his hand and shook his head. "I just want to know."
"Okay. Can I go take a bath now?"
"Yeah, go ahead. I'll slice us all some cake with a glass of cold milk. See you in a few minutes."
Parker left with Larkin, and Ray prayed. God, please, don't let Parker be the connection. He has had enough of a hard-knock life. Lord, I know he's mine, but even if he's not, let me take care of him now.
Cover by Christopher Chambers.
The suspects: Who do you think did it? Ray, Larkin, Deanna, Parker, Mia? Vote and then read to see if you were right.