By Thursday, Terse and Vivian had seen each other 2 times since Saturday night. He was in awe of her devotion to those children. Also, he could not imagine his childhood, if he been moved from house to house. Vivian was bright, pretty, and very witty. To Terse, she was like a breath of fresh air coming into Gallagher.
He had invited her on Tuesday to lunch at his newly renovated place. It was close enough for her to walk from the office. Vivian was amazed at what she saw when she first walked in. Terse's apartment was perfect for him, it was comfortable, yet masculine. It was clean and uncluttered. There were pieces of art and books, that he had collected, displayed all over. "Terse, this is phenomenal."
"Well, it's better than a charred flat."
"Did you do this?" she said as she waved her hands around the room.
"Well, luckily I had left some of my favorite pieces in Mobile when I first moved here. So, even though I lost a lot, there were still some pieces to use here." He gazed around the room, then looked back at Vivian, "But, no, I cannot take credit for the decor. Mama has a designer in Mobile who helped me. I was in the final days of preparing my book for publication when the fire happened." He laughed, "I called my editor to tell him my flat had burned and I had lost everything. His comment was, 'Well, I know the book is on the cloud, I need it by tomorrow'. I may as well told him my dog ate my homework."
Vivian started laughing,"He wasn't really like that."
"Oh, it was worse than that. He wanted me in New York 2 days later for a photo shoot for the back of the book's cover. I did not even have clothes to wear. Thank God for Maisy, she knows my size and taste. So she did some quick shopping and in a day or 2, I had enough clothes to wear."
"Anyway back to the decorator - she has known me since I was 6, so she knows my personality- what I like and what I don't."
"Sounds more like a family friend," Vivian said as they walked into the kitchen.
"She may as well been given how often Mama wanted to 'freshen up this room' or 'change the color palette of that room', or worse of all, if her sister had redone her kitchen, Mama could not let that happen without meeting the challenge. That was the time the end of the house became a construction zone for several months."
"Speaking of the kitchen, for a small space, this looks pretty serious," Vivian said as she looked around at the stainless steal island and the pot rack above it loaded with professional pots."
"Well, when I moved in, everyone assumed I did not cook. Wade originally had this unit designed as a 'Bachelor's Pad'. Cooking was not a consideration. I never said anything, but cooking is a passion of mine. So when it had to be rebuilt, I offered to split the difference for an upgrade for the kitchen."
They made their way to the bedroom and the bathroom. Vivian just shook her head, "Your place is so neat and clean. Mine may as well be declared a hazardous waste dump."
"It can't be that bad."
"Oh, it's worse. But, I am working on discipline with the kids. Their doctor says they are just acting out due to the sudden death of their parents. The family was so close. So we are taking baby steps - literally - to establish a new norm."
"I don't mean to pry, but how can you afford them? I mean all it takes to care for them?"
"Luckily, their father had a Will that established a trust with funds available to whomever was guardian of the children, to care for them. It is a very generous trust, so the financial part is not an issue."
"Well, I guess that made you more comfortable taking them in."
Vivian paused,"Not really. One of the provisions of the Trust was that no one, with the exception of the bank who was the Executor, would know the Trust existed."
"So that had nothing to do with your decision?"
"None at all. I didn't know about the trust until I had had them for several weeks," Vivian got quiet and then she laughed, "I guess I wasn't being very responsible taking them in, given my resources. But it was the right thing to do." Vivian turned her head toward Terse, "It was like jumping off a cliff holding something dear and hoping you land safely." She paused,"But enough about me."
Across town, the Sheriff was discussing Reverend Barker with Dr. Magill. "Mercer, were you at John Barker's funeral?"
"Yeah, but I was late for the church and just made it to the burial?"
"How did you think Mrs. Barker was?"
Mercer paused and looked at the Sheriff, "Like any young grieving lady who has just lost her husband. Why do you ask?"
"Personally, I don't think she looks upset at all."
"Maybe she is in shock? Remember there are some issues there."
"Voodoo or not, maybe she has no remorse."
Dr. Magill looked concerned. "Sheriff, John Barker died of a massive coronary in his car. I don't think she could have caused that. She is just a young widow stunned with the reality of losing her husband so suddenly."
"If you say so." Then the Sheriff changed topics and discussed some other issues he needed help from the coroner with.
Meanwhile at the Post Office, Mike ran into Anna Belle. " 'Miss' Anna Belle, I haven't seen you in while, how have you been doing?"
"Just fine Mike." She paused, as they watched Mrs. Barker walk out the door. "I feel so sorry for her, losing her husband like she did, so suddenly."
"Do you know her well?"
"No, I only see her on the street. I got the feeling she always kept to herself. Not that I frequent the Baptist Church," Anna Belle smiled.
"Nor do I." Mike thought before he said anything else, but then added,"The Sheriff thinks she may not be so sorry about his death."
Anna Belle looked a little shocked,"But, I thought Dr. Sadler said it was a heart attack?"
"He did, but the Sheriff is suspicious."
"I hope he comes to his senses and leaves poor Mrs. Barker alone."
"It will work itself out, whatever the truth is." They spoke a little more and then bid each other goodbye and parted company.
Back at the Sheriff's office, the Sheriff received a call from Wade.
"Afternoon, Wade. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I've just got a quick question for you."
"Word on the street is that you think Mrs. Barker may have something to do with her husband's death. Dr. Sadler told me he had ruled it a natural death due to a heart attack. Don't you think she is just a young widow in shock?"
"Wade, since when did you become a Baptist?"
"You know I'm a lapsed Episcopalian?"
"Well, it's my understanding Mrs. Barker rarely ventures from her house, then it is only to attend church, go to the Post Office, or the library."
"Sheriff, my point is that Gallagher is a little town. Everyone knows everyone else. I just hate to see this young widow suffer the indignity of being accused of the murder of her husband."
"Wade, I don't remember making you a deputy. How 'bout you rent your homes and apartments to everyone who needs one and I'll take care of keeping peace and the law here."
They spoke for a while and then rang off.
It wasn't long before Mike got back to the office. A few minutes later, the Sheriff stuck his head in Mike's office,"Had an odd phone today from Wade Gallagher."
"Really. What about?"
"He is concerned about the widow Barker."
"Concerned about her?"
"Yeah, he does not think she is guilty."
"Huh, that's odd because I ran into Anna Belle Vontese at the Post Office." Mike repeated their conversation about Mrs. Barker to the Sheriff.
"Does this strike you as odd?"
"Yes sir, you know what they say? If you come to a fence post with a turtle sitting on top of it - he didn't get there by himself."
"Whatever," said the Sheriff and he walked out of the door.
"Oh, Mary Lou," said the Sheriff as he passed her desk. "I need you to get a warrant for Owen Davis and get it to Atlanta. I want his ass brought back here. His information is in that arson file for Terse's place."
"Will do," said Mary Lou as she started looking through her drawer of files to get the correct one.
The Sheriff's phone rang. He answered it, "Sheriff here." It was Hollis Sadler.
"Got a moment."
"Sure as long as you are not going to tell me that you are sure Mrs. Barker is not guilty of killing her husband?"
"What?" said Hollis. "Sheriff, those comments I made at the scene were just off the cuff. After examining the body, there is no doubt in my mind, he died of natural causes - a massive coronary."
"Hollis, I talked to his widow and some other people who know her. She is mentally unstable, was not happy with her husband, and, as you pointed out, has shown no emotion over his death."
"You were the one who said different folks react differently?"
"Then why are random folks, who do not know her very well, making a case that she is innocent."
"Maybe because she is?"
"[They] doth protest too much, methinks."
"Bringing the great bard into this is a little much. Sheriff, trust me, he died of natural causes. What do you have against his widow?"
"It's nothing personal."
"Then let it be. No point poking a yellow jacket nest. Aren't there more pressing issues going on?"
"Maybe so, I'll think about it. Now why did you call me?"
"I heard that y'all got a good haul of hooch the other night with the Eldridge twins?"
"Yep, we did. 10 cases."
"What are you going to do with the liquor?"
"Hollis, that is evidence."
"How much do you need as evidence? A dozen or so bottles? No one will know the difference," Hollis made his case. "You realize now that our source has been compromised? . . ."
The Sheriff interrupted him,"No cut off completely."
"It is going to take us a long while to find another supplier. And even longer to find some of that quality." Hollis paused. "Why did you expose them any way?"
"If I had not, I'm pretty sure that Colonel would have found it looking for that damn body. Remember, we are so far down the line, the twins have no idea we are fans." Then he got stern. "No, those 10 cases cannot be touched, besides the Feds are in this now. That is a 'hole 'nuther ballgame."
"OK, just thought I'd ask."
They spoke for a minute or two and then rang off.
Mary Lou knocked on the Sheriff's door facing. "You may want to take this call. Some man says he has the paperwork to take custody of those children that Vivian Vontese girl has. You know, the new one who just moved into town."
"Doesn't she work for Wade?"
"I think so."
"Mike," the Sheriff yelled, since he had never learned the phone intercom system, "I need you."