If you missed the first chapter, start here!
I'd just like to take this chance to congratulate myself on not accidentally changing any of the characters' names mid-stream. (It's an ongoing struggle with everything I work on, let me tell you.)
The park wasn’t quite empty, she realized, as a second dog raced for the ball, but she recognized the Australian Shepherd and looked around, finally locating Anne on a bench in the far corner. Penelope waved and walked over, one eye on the grass to avoid stepping in a mess and the other on the dogs running back to her. She threw the ball again and sat down on the bench. “Your husband gave me the third degree this morning,” she joked as she looked toward the other woman, “but I think he finally decided I probably wouldn’t have incriminated myself quite so thoroughly if I were guilty.”
The corners of Anne’s mouth went up, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Penelope stood up to throw the ball again, her brain still processing what she’d seen. Normally Anne wore almost no makeup, but this morning she was wearing a heavy coat of concealer around one eye. Penelope sat back down again. She would never have pegged Brian as an abuser, but she’d learned a long time ago that people did surprising things. She tried to keep her voice light. “Do you need somewhere safe to stay?”
Anne stopped watching the dogs and gestured to her face. “This? Brian didn’t do this. I tripped over the dog and hit the door frame.”
“If you say so.” Penelope couldn’t do anything more if Anne wasn’t ready to get help, but she fully intended to talk to Jake about it. He was Brian’s friend, but he was also Brian’s boss and he would know what to do.
“No, really, Brian had nothing to do with this.” Anne’s voice took on a pleading note as she turned on the bench to face Penelope. “Brian doesn’t know anything about this and he can’t find out.”
Penelope could only think of one reason Anne would be sporting a bruise that she didn’t want her husband to know about. “What you do in your personal life is your business, but if you’re cheating on Brian with someone who hits you, you’re making mistakes on a whole new level.”
“Pen, it’s not like that.” Anne stopped and sighed. “Well, it’s sort of like that, but he’s not the one who hit me. I stopped by his house the other morning for… well, you can imagine why I was there. But these two guys broke in. They had ski masks and kept yelling at me to tell them where the money was.” She shivered. “I threw my purse at them and told them to take everything. I mean, I had maybe fifteen dollars in my wallet. I thought I was dead for sure. But then they ended up leaving without taking anything at all.”
“They just left?”
“Yeah, one minute they’re screaming that I need to tell them where the money is, and the next thing I know one of them says ‘It’s not her.’ and ran out the door.” Anne reached over and grabbed Penelope’s wrist. “You see why we couldn’t go to the police, don’t you? Even if I asked them to keep it quiet, there’s no way Brian wouldn’t find out.” Anne let go and turned to look at the dogs. “‘It’s not her,’” she repeated softly. “I’m an idiot. I wonder how many other women he has on the side. I thought when his wife left that we would finally be together, but it was one excuse after another.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“How’d you hide that bruise from him? He’s going to see it at some point, you know.”
Anne shrugged. “We don’t see each other that much during the week with his schedule and I‘ve been going to bed before he gets home. That’s part of the problem. He’s always working.”
Penelope grimaced. “It’s the mayor, isn’t it?”
Anne’s silence confirmed her guess.
“Anne, this could be related to Jezza. Brian needs to know.”
“You can’t tell him.” Anne stood up and picked up her dog’s leash. “He would never forgive me.”
Penelope threw the ball and both dogs ran after it. “You need to find some way to tell him. Make up some story about going over there to pick up papers or something, but this could be the thing they need to catch whoever killed Jezza.”
“Just stay out of it, Pen.” Anne walked toward the gate and Penelope followed. “I’ll deny that I ever said anything. Everyone knows you’re obsessed with the man. They won’t believe you.”
The dogs ran up again and Penelope waited until Anne had leashed her dog and gone out of the dog park before she threw the tennis ball for the Corgi again. Behind her she heard Anne get into her car and drive away.
(Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)