July 13, 1944
Thomas wasn’t sure killing the man had
been the right thing to do, but the man was dead. No turning back now.
He scanned the area and tried not to focus on the body hidden in the
shrubbery. Too well did he know what would happen if he were caught
with the body of a white man. The memory of how his uncle had been
lynched twelve years earlier still haunted his dreams.
Crack! Startled, Thomas’s eyes
darted to his right. For a second he thought he saw someone watching
“Hey, boy. Whatcha doin’ out here this
time of night?”
Thomas jumped. When he looked to his
left, he saw a uniformed policeman approaching. Sweat popped out on
Thomas’s face. He wiped it off with the sleeve of his black shirt.
“Uh…I’s…I’s awaitin’ for my sistuh to
get off work so’s I kin walk her home, Offisuh.”
The policeman tapped a baton on his
open palm. His eyes narrowed as he regarded the young colored man.
“Where does your ‘sistuh’ work, boy?”
“Uh…at the ho-tel, in the kitchen,”
Thomas said. “She oughtta be along any minute now.” Just then, he
spotted two colored girls walking down Second Street toward them.
Thank you, Jesus! “Here she come now.”
Turning to look at the girls, the
policeman said, “Well, you better git on along then.”
“Yessuh.” Thomas nodded and ran toward
the teenage girls.
“How y’all?” he said as he approached
Both girls grinned and stopped. “We’s
fine,” said the taller girl.
He stood still for a moment, not sure
what to do. Then, he looked behind him. A block away, the policeman
“Uh…what time is it?” Thomas asked to
make conversation and keep the girls from walking away.
The taller girl—wearing a red cotton
dress with her hair slicked back into a ponytail—looked at her watch.
“Near ‘bout nine thirty.”
“Thanks.” Thomas turned around to see
if the policeman was still there. He was.
“Y’all got trouble with the po-lice?”
said the shorter girl, whose curly hair stuck out from under a
green-and-white bandana. “I see he’s over there awatchin’ you.”
Thomas shrugged. “I got no trouble
with the offisuh. I guess he jes’ don’t like me hangin’ ‘round.”
“Come on and walk with us,” said the
Thomas grinned and nodded. “Thank ya’
kindly.” He fell into step with the girls. When he looked back, he saw
the policeman amble off toward Main Street twirling his baton.
Relieved, Thomas slowed his pace. When the policeman was out of sight,
he turned to the girls. “The po-liceman gone now so I bes’ git back.”
“And, jes’ what was you doin’ over
there?” said the taller girl with her eyebrows raised and her hand on
“Guardin’ a dead body,” Thomas said
Both girls laughed. “Oh, you’s sump’n’,”
the shorter girl said and slapped her knee.
He said goodbye to the girls and ran
back toward the body.
Jeagan looked up and pushed
golden-brown hair away from her face.
“Good morning,” said a woman—slender,
blonde, and forty plus—as
she settled into the aisle seat and stowed her handbag under the seat
in front of her.
“Hi,” Jeagan said, trying not to show
her disappointment. She had hoped the seat beside her would remain
empty so she could concentrate on what the next few days might bring.
“Beautiful day for a flight.”
Jeagan nodded and looked out the
window of the Boeing 727. “I hope the weather in Memphis will be this
“It should be a lot warmer than
Denver.” The woman snapped her seatbelt into place. “Are you visiting
family in Memphis?”
“No. I’m going to Memphis to do
some…uh…research.” Jeagan left out the part about the murder.
“How interesting,” the woman said.
“For a thesis, or are you writing a book?”
Jeagan’s face relaxed into a smile. “I
graduated from Colorado State several years ago, but thanks for the
compliment. I’m actually doing research on…on antiques.”
The woman nodded. “How interesting.”
To make conversation, Jeagan asked,
“Why are you going to Memphis?”
The woman straightened her brown tweed
jacket under the seat belt. “I’m visiting my daughter and my grandson.
I haven’t been back to Memphis since we moved to Denver in ‘91.” She
paused. “It’s been nearly three years now.” Tears sparkled in her eyes
as she continued. “You know, it’s funny how fast time goes by when
you’re married, but when your husband dies… .” She laughed and pulled
a tissue from her handbag to dry her eyes. “You’ll have to excuse me.
I go along fine for a long time, and then all of a sudden, the tears
“That’s okay. I’m sorry about your
husband, and I do understand how you feel. I lost my mother two years
ago, and I still miss her. And, Dad… .” Jeagan frowned. “Well, that’s
“If your parents were as close as Jack
and I were, then your dad’s probably still grieving.”
Jeagan turned to look out the window
as the Northwest flight pulled away from the gate. “You’re probably
right. Dad seems so cold and wrapped up in his own world, we can’t
even talk anymore.” She turned to look at her seatmate again. “I don’t
mean to burden you with my problems.”
The woman patted Jeagan’s hand. “Don’t
apologize. I started this conversation. You know, sometimes it’s
easier to talk to a stranger than it is to talk to your family or
“That’s true.” Jeagan nodded.
“Anyway, if we’re going to travel
eleven hundred miles together, we might as well know each other’s
name. I’m Candice Franklin.”
Jeagan smiled and stuck out her hand.
The women chatted while the plane
taxied toward the runway. Minutes later, the plane lifted off from
Stapleton International Airport.
After the flight attendants served a
snack and the conversation lagged between Jeagan and Candice, Candice
pulled out a thick novel. She shifted into a comfortable position for
the two-hour flight.
Left to her own thoughts, Jeagan
closed her eyes and relived the confrontation of the night before with
her dad and Brandon. After work, she had met them at Pappadeaux for
dinner. She arrived after the men and found them, drinks in hand,
seated on a wooden bench in the brick courtyard.
When he spotted her, Brandon
Montgomery, her fiancé, pushed up the sleeve of his tailored navy suit
jacket along with the cuff of his starched white shirt to check his
watch. A look of disapproval wrinkled the smooth surface of his tanned
face. His dark eyes cool, he leaned over and kissed Jeagan’s cheek.
“Late as usual,” he said. “I could’ve played another set of doubles.”
“Give her a break, Brandon,” Geoff
Christensen said. He smiled and his eyes, the same midnight blue as
Jeagan’s, lit up when he saw his daughter. “You look wonderful, Jeag.”
Well over six feet, Geoff unfolded himself from the bench and stood to
hug his daughter. “You look more like your mother every day.”
Jeagan smiled. Dressed in a short,
black wool sheath with a black, lambskin coat draped around her
shoulders, she said, “Thanks, Dad.” She ignored Brandon and returned
her dad’s hug and nestled her face in the softness of his wool
She knew her dad had lied; she did
not look great. Dark circles, like smudged mascara under her eyes,
gave her face a haunted look, and the loss of eight pounds, within the
last two weeks, had reduced her size-six frame to near gauntness.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I hurried
home to grab a coat. It’s a lot cooler than it was this morning.” A
sudden gust of wind caught her shoulder-length hair and whipped it
across her face. “Let’s go inside.”
“Our table should be ready any
minute,” Geoff said. He placed his arm around his daughter’s shoulder.
Brandon followed slowly. He pulled out
his cellphone and dialed.
“Who’re you calling?” Jeagan asked
when they entered the restaurant.
“I’m checking to see if there’s any
word from the club. Matt and I are trying to get a court for eight in
“Do you ever play with Brandon?” Geoff
asked Jeagan after the hostess showed them to a table by a window that
faced the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance—now a dusky
purple outline against an orange horizon.
“Not very often.” Jeagan glanced over
at Brandon. “I’m not—”
Brandon pulled out a chair for her. “I
just need a little more competition to keep up my game,” he said.
She cut her eyes up at him as he
pushed in her chair.
He pulled out a chair for himself. “I
mean you play a good game, but… .”
“I’m not quite in your league is what
you meant to say.”
“All right, kids.” Geoff laughed. “No
fighting in public.”
Jeagan glared at Brandon as she
accepted a menu from the waitress.
He took the offered menu and opened
it, unaware of Jeagan’s look.
Not hungry, Jeagan laid the menu on
the table. She took a deep breath and folded her hands in her lap. “I
have something to tell you both.”
The waitress offered Geoff a wine
list. He scanned it, consulted Brandon, ordered a bottle of merlot,
and returned the list to the waitress.
“Okay. What is it?” Geoff asked,
turning toward his daughter. “A promotion?” His eyes twinkled.
“It’s about time,” Brandon said.
“They’ve got her working all hours of the day and night on everything
from proposals to scientific manuscripts.”
Jeagan straightened in her chair and
rested her forearms on the table. “No, it’s not a promotion. I just
wanted to tell you both that I’m going to Memphis.”
“Memphis?” Brandon’s eyes widened in
“Whatever for?” Geoff asked. “Do you
have a project to work on there?”
“No. No project. I’m going to see what
I can find out about my desk and the murder I—”
“Oh, don’t start that again,” Brandon
complained. He dropped his menu on the table and leaned back in his
chair. “I thought you were going to take that desk back to the antique
The waitress returned to the table,
opened the bottle of wine, and poured a sample into a wine glass.
Geoff tasted the wine. “That’s fine,”
She filled each glass and then stood
with her pad ready to take orders.
“Can you give us a minute?” Geoff
“No problem,” the waitress said. “I’ll
come back in a couple of minutes.
Geoff smiled. “Thanks.” He turned to
his daughter and laid his hand on her arm. “I know you’ve been under a
lot of pressure at work and losing Mom like we did a couple of years
“It’s not that, Dad.” Jeagan sipped
her wine and tried to stay calm. “I have to go to Memphis. I need to
find out what’s happening to me. I can’t sleep. I can’t work. Ever
since I bought that desk.”
“Just take it back to the antique
store and be done with it,” Brandon said with exaggerated patience, as
if explaining something to a child.
“I can’t do that, Brandon.” Jeagan
turned toward him. “I need to know what’s going on, and the only way
I’m going to find out anything is to go to Memphis and do some
“But, all those things you say you saw
have nothing to do with you. So why are you getting yourself all upset
over something that may have happened long before you were born?”
Brandon asked, his voice a notch louder.
“Calm down, Brandon.” Geoff looked at
his daughter. “Honey, I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but
Brandon has a point. You don’t need to get yourself all worked up
about something you think you saw that you can’t do anything about
“Why won’t either one of you take me
seriously?” Jeagan hesitated for a moment and then inhaled deeply. “I
saw a man murdered. Isn’t that important?”
“You don’t know what you saw,”
Brandon commented sharply.
“I do know what I saw, Brandon.
You don’t want to try to understand what I saw because it didn’t
happen to you. Nothing’s important unless it happens directly to you.”
“Oh, grow up, Jeagan,” Brandon said,
trying to keep his voice down. “You’re just talking a lot of nonsense.
Maybe what you saw really happened. Probably not. But, even if it did,
what difference can it make to you? You don’t know any of those
Jeagan looked to her dad for support.
Geoff took a sip of his wine. “I’m
afraid he’s right, honey. You need to let it go. You have your own
life. You two have a wedding to plan, and—”
“That’s it!” Jeagan pulled off her
engagement ring. Tears glistened in her eyes as she laid the ring in
front of her fiancé. “I’m sorry, but the engagement’s off.”
Brandon’s eyes widened as he looked
incredulously at her. “You can’t mean that.”
“Now, just calm down, honey.” Geoff
reached over and touched Jeagan’s shoulder.
“I am calm.” Jeagan looked at
her dad. “I’m just sorry I can’t be what you two want me to be.” Tears
slipped down her flushed cheeks. “I feel very strongly about going to
Memphis. What happened has affected me. I may not know these people,
but I am involved in what happened to them. I have to find out
for myself if I actually saw that man murdered.” She swiped at the
tears, retrieved her handbag from the empty chair next to her, and
stood. “Lorin gave me the week off, and I’m going to Memphis to see
what I can find out.” She jerked her coat from the back of the chair
and headed toward the exit.
Brandon stood and called after her.
Turning to look one last time at her
dad and former fiancé, she noticed that people had turned to stare at
Brandon. She saw her dad place his hand on Brandon’s arm and shake his
head. Brandon sat down and threw his napkin on the table.
Turbulence bounced the plane and
pulled Jeagan’s thoughts back to the present. She took a sip from the
cup of water on her pull-down tray and wondered why the two most
important men in her life couldn’t understand and support her in her
decision to go to Memphis. Instead her dad and Brandon treated her as
if she were out of her mind.
Returning Brandon’s ring, she told
herself, had been the right thing to do. He treated her like a child,
continually patronizing her. She missed him, but maybe she would get
over that in time. Surely. She couldn’t and wouldn’t be treated like
his incompetent kid sister.
The first six months of their
relationship couldn’t have been a happier time for her. But, when
Brandon’s controlling, condescending nature surfaced, her stubborn and
independent nature retaliated, and, she guessed, an end to the
relationship was inevitable.
Her dad was another problem. She knew
he loved her, but since her mother’s death, he had wrapped himself in
a world that all but excluded Jeagan. She rarely saw him. When she did
see him, he was warm and affectionate, but most of the time he either
played golf or traveled somewhere on a business trip. Could it be that
with her golden-brown hair and honey-colored skin, she reminded him
too much of her mother? Surely that was not it. But, then why had he
shut her out? She hurt too, but she hadn’t pushed him out of her life.
With a sigh, Jeagan realized the
futility of attempting to analyze either her dad or Brandon. Besides,
right now, she needed to focus on how to find evidence that would
either prove or disprove that a murder had been committed in Memphis
on July 13, 1944. And, if a man had been murdered, what did her desk
have to do with it?
She gazed out the window at patchy,
white clouds like sheep grazing in a cobalt-blue pasture. Her
thoughts drifted back to when she had found the desk three weeks
earlier at Fran’s Antiques on South Broadway in Denver.
She had been searching for a writing
desk for some time, but didn’t want a new one. An older desk with
character would fit in better with the decor of her new townhouse in
Highlands Ranch. Alone as she browsed through the shops along Broadway
Avenue’s Antique Row, she entered Fran’s to the sound of a tinkling
bell over the door. Immediately, she was met by the musty smell of an
attic, which brought back memories of her grandmother’s attic in
Fran—tall, meaty, and
gray-haired—greeted her with his booming voice. “Can I help you with
anything, young lady?”
“Yes,” Jeagan said. “I’m looking for a
small writing desk.” She walked across the uneven plank floor, which
squeaked beneath her feet, and up to the glass counter. Inside,
antique jewelry sparkled in the fluorescent display light—diamond
rings in heavily filigreed silver settings that looked like something
her grandmother used to wear, creamy cameos set against pink stones,
gold and silver broaches covered in yellowed rhinestones, and men’s
black onyx and sapphire rings.
Fran laid his dust rag on the counter
and wiped his hands on his apron. “Well, let’s see what we have in the
back that you might like.”
Jeagan glanced around the store. The
walls were papered with white honeysuckle vines on a blue background
and were covered with gold-framed beveled-edged mirrors, carved
wood-framed pictures of pastoral settings, portraits of Victorian
ladies, and fruit and floral still lifes. Worn wine-colored velvet
chairs, a cream-colored tapestry Victorian sofa, along with an upright
piano, a cedar hope chest, and several round oak tables filled the
front room of the shop.
Following Fran through a second room,
she noticed long oak tables stacked with books—most with worn and
tattered covers—along with glass goblets, gold- or floral-edged china,
enamel kitchen wear, elaborate silver tea services, and kitchen odds
In the back room of the shop, Jeagan
noticed several oak and mahogany bookcases with heavy moldings and
carvings, a black iron bed frame, gaily colored patchwork quilts, and
an enamel-topped sideboard. Then, in a far corner, almost hidden by a
large cherry wood desk, she spotted a small writing desk—mahogany,
with a letter holder attached to the curved back.
She threaded her way through
marble-topped end tables and leather-topped coffee tables. When she
reached the desk, she ran her hand over the slightly scarred dark wood
and touched the curved back with the letter holder—hand-painted with
blue and yellow flowers. She felt the ornate oval pulls, now dark with
age, and pulled open the wide middle drawer. Again, the musty smell of
an attic filled the air.
“We only got that one in yesterday,”
Fran said. He moved ladder-backed chairs out of his way to clear a
path to the desk.
“It’s perfect,” Jeagan said. She
smiled up at Fran.
He grinned, his eyes crinkling at the
corners. “I thought it might be.”
Jeagan bought the desk on the spot.
Fran loaded it into her green Ford Explorer and she took it home. That
was when her life had turned into a nightmare.