River Falls, by Barb Lundy
Something about her kitchen usually made Ashley Simms feel safe. An inviting oak table stood near a recessed gas fireplace. Light filled the generous space. It became the nexus for family celebrations and crisis. Today, Ashley and her sister Sadie enjoyed steaming mugs of freshly brewed coffee and warm pumpkin muffins. They attempted to celebrate Sadie’s birthday.
Yet the atmosphere was neither secure nor celebratory. Sadie, her green eyes shining with unshed tears, needed to recount every detail of her husband’s death. “I hate admitting this,” she took a long sip of her coffee, “but I feel more relief than sadness that Hunter’s gone.”
“Tomorrow you may feel the opposite,” Ashley said. “Grief takes its own path. You know what dad used to say. The only way to out is through.”
“Somehow the autopsy results helped. I thought they’d take less time, but now that they’ve called it an accidental death we can begin to heal.” Sadie thought about her kids. Tori, just 3, would probably grow up without any memories of her father. At 7, Kyle’s knew too much. He struggled with bad dreams right after the accident, but his second grade teacher just told her Kyle’s playing with classmates again and doing well with his schoolwork.
Sadie pulled a manila envelope out of the side pocket of her purse. “Here’s the coroner’s report,” she handed it across the table. “Still not sure why you want to read it.”
“I want to know what you know. That’s all.” Ashley pulled out the stapled pages. She read in silence for a few moments, drawing her dark eyebrows together in concentration. “Interesting when they say his accident coincides with his ‘overall sensation seeking behavior’.”
“He had those speeding tickets …and the gambling problem.”
Ashley nodded. She thought about the call she got before dawn one morning from her brother-in-law. The tension in his voice. The demand. “Can you float me $5000, Ashley? I’ll need it for two weeks tops.” She’d refused but his call triggered some investigating. It didn’t take her long to find a 2nd mortgage. He’d forged Sadie’s signature. As a credit manager, she easily tracked his activities.
“At least now you’ll have some control over your life,” Ashley said, reaching over to take her sister’s hand.
“I have to thank you for that. The life insurance policy you encouraged me to get will pay off. Even after clearing all the debt he created, we’ll have enough to be okay.”
Ashley never trusted her brother-in-law. She saw the crisis coming for years. She would have taken a life insurance policy out on him herself if Sadie resisted, but finally her sister agreed, without telling Hunter.
Ashley got up and refilled their coffee cups. “I know I keep asking but what can I do for you right now?”
“Nothing I can think of. Talking’s the biggest help.” Sadie pulled her long amber-blond hair over her shoulder, twisting it as she always did when under stress. “I have to wonder if he ever loved me. The last three years, ever since Tori’s birth, he carried so much anger around. He didn’t see the harm he did.”
“Or didn’t care,” Ashley said this as an aside. Almost surprised she said it aloud.
“Two months before he died I would not have believed that, but now…” Sadie yanked a tissue out of a small packet she’d placed next to her cup. “Now I see he was not the man I thought I married. All the promises, all the sleepless nights. For a while I thought he had a mistress, but then creditors started calling.”
Sadie thought Ashley only discovered credit cards Hunter opened without her knowledge, but her sister did much more. Though Ashley knew very little about motorcycles, it didn’t take her long to learn how the braking system worked. The weekend Hunter flew to Vegas Ashley made her move. She damaged the caliper seal, substituted his new brake pads with well worn ones and depleted some of the handlebar brake fluid. She finished before Sadie and the kids drove to the Thai Kitchen and back with dinner.
The perfect April evening, when rain turned to sleet, Ashley called Hunter. “I’ll give you that loan for Sadie’s sake. Not yours. I don’t want Jim to know, so come to the family cabin to collect it.” She promised him cash.
And so he started up River Falls road at dusk. Ashley guessed if he navigated the first blind curve in the foothills, the down side of the steep mountain incline, just 5 miles into the trip, would throw him. The accident report said he must have been 30 miles over the limit when his bike spun off the pavement. Hunter died at the bottom of the ravine that snaked below the road.
Ashley pulled herself from reverie as Sadie brushed crumbs from her fingers and came around to give her sister a hug.
“You are always there for me”
Ashley held her tight then pulled back and gave Sadie a radiant smile. “Happy Birthday, Sis. Life will get better now,” knowing the best gift she gave Sadie would have to remain anonymous.
Barb Lundy is a hypnotherapist. She taught writing for many years at Denver area colleges. Her poetry appears in more than 70 journals, including work in JAMA, The Potomac Review and The MacGuffin. Barb was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005. She is just beginning to write in the mystery genre.
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Tags: Barb Lundy, crime, family, lies, murder, sisters