Andi ran, crazed with fear, until she rounded the corner to the main street of Fresno. There she paused to catch her breath and to try to pull herself together enough to rejoin her friends. By now, they must be anxiously searching for her.
I can’t look afraid. Not a bit, or Cory, especially, will catch on. He knows me too well.
Andi pulled in great gasps of air, willing her heart to slow down. She closed her eyes and squeezed the tears back, rubbing her cheeks to brush away the few drops which had fallen.
What am I going to do? Mr. Henderson murdered Philip Barnes! And to blame it on Zeke Blazer? It was perfectly believable. The whole town had watched the animosity grow between the district attorney and the old man. There would hardly need to be a trial.
And that evil Mr. Henderson had managed to get rid of the attorney who was prosecuting him for his that scandalous case of land grabbing, intimidation, and murder. It was a perfect plan.
Until I stumbled on it.
Andi groaned. “Well, nobody’s going to find out about it from me,” she vowed, shuddering. She was scared to death of those four men, and terrified of their boss. They could find her anywhere. Everybody knew where she lived.
A worse thought sent a chill up her spine. Mr. Henderson had threatened to kill Justin if she said anything.
Andi sat down beside some barrels on the boardwalk and sighed. Out of the corner of her eye she saw one of Henderson’s hired hands glance her way as he left the saloon. He nodded politely then walked off in the opposite direction. Andi bowed her head and cried quietly into the folds of her skirt.
Andi’s head jerked up at Cory’s shout, only to find him staring down at her with a worried expression.
“What’s the matter with you? Where have you been? We hid forever, and finally the rest of us gave up and went on home.”
Andi shook her head and continued to sit on the boardwalk, staring down at the shoe tops that peeked out from beneath the hem of her skirt.
“Are you hurt?” Cory sounded concerned. He squatted down beside her. “You’re awfully pale. You feelin’ all right?”
Andi leaped to her feet and brushed off her dress with an air of indifference. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking. I’ve gotta go. See you later.” Without another word, she turned toward the center of town and ran off, leaving Cory with his mouth hanging open.
“Well, good-bye to you too!” he shouted, sounding hurt at the brush-off. “Girls!” he muttered under his breath. Then he yelled toward his friend’s back. “Andi! What’s got into you today?”
Andi swung around and faced Cory. “I told you I’ve gotta go. I don’t have time to talk anymore.”
The sudden pleading in her eyes brought Cory up short. He shrugged. “Okay, Andi. I’ll see you tomorrow, I reckon.”
“Thanks, Cory,” Andi whispered and ran off down the street towards Justin’s office.
“Is everything all right, Andrea?”
The question brought Andi up short. She looked at her mother from her seat at the supper table. “Of course. What makes you think anything’s wrong?” She took a forced bite of her biscuit to show her mother she was really hungry, even though it tasted like sawdust.
“You’re very quiet tonight,” Mother said.
“Sorry. What would you like me to talk about?” Andi grinned with forced cheerfulness and reached for her milk. In her hurry she knocked it over. Milk flowed across the table and over the edge.
“Nice work,” Chad said, tossing a napkin onto the mess. He gave his sister a dirty look.
“I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“Did I say you did?” Chad retorted, returning to his own dinner. He glanced up. “What’s the matter with you? You look all wound up, like you’re ready to snap or something.”
“It’s nothing.” Andi mopped up the rest of the milk in a hurry. She was so taut, she couldn’t concentrate on anything. She recovered her glass, refilled it, and returned to the table, trying to force herself to look and act calmly.
“No trouble at school?” Elizabeth asked.
“Mr. Foster isn’t on you about etiquette or manners or anything this week?” Melinda asked with a smile.
Andi shook her head, then thought of something that would get her family off her back. “Actually, I had a fight with Cory,” Andi began.
She smiled at her family’s reaction. “Not a real fight,” she added. “We just had words. We’ll work it out by the weekend, I’m sure, since Cory will want to go fishing on Saturday, and he’ll want to fish at our creek, as usual.”
“I see,” Elizabeth murmured, lifting a fork toward her mouth. “If it’s as simple as that.”
“It is, Mother. Besides—”
A knock on the door prevented Andi from finishing her sentence. Before long, Luisa escorted Sheriff Tate into the dining room.
“Good evening, Elizabeth, everybody,” Russ announced. “I’m real sorry to interrupt your meal, but this couldn’t wait.” He glanced around the room, took in the whole family, then addressed Justin. “May I speak with you a moment, Justin?”
“Sure, Russ.” Justin stood up and left the dining room.
When he returned, Sheriff Tate was not with him, and Justin’s face wore a sober expression.
“What was that all about?” Mitch asked.
“Russ rode out to tell me that Philip Barnes was shot to death this afternoon.”
Shocked silence greeted this announcement.
Then Melinda gasped. “Oh, no!”
Andi thought she might be sick. Her belly turned over. She looked at her plate and said nothing.
“Who—?” Elizabeth began.
“Russ has taken Zeke Blazer into custody. He was found right next to the body, drunk as always, and holding Phil’s derringer.”
“That’s dreadful!” Melinda exclaimed. She turned pale.
“Yes, it is.” Justin sighed. “Phil Barnes was not just a fellow lawyer; he was a good friend.”
“I’m so sorry, Justin,” Mother said.
He nodded. “Old Zeke is in quite a state. He keeps insisting he has no idea how he got in that alley, and he doesn’t remember anything about shooting Phil.” He let out a deep breath. “Russ told me that Zeke is asking if I’ll come to the jail and speak with him. He wants me to defend him.”
“Defend him?” Chad barked. “Or convince him to plead guilty?”
“Maybe.” Justin sat down. “I don’t know.”
“There are other lawyers in town, Justin,” Mitch added. “Why does he want you?”
“I defended him a few years back, before his real decline. It was for aggravated assault. I was able to get him a deferred sentence.”
“I doubt that will happen this time around,” Chad said.
“Probably not. But if he can’t get another lawyer . . .” Justin shrugged. “The least I can do is listen to his story.”
“You’d defend that drunk even though he’s been accused of murdering Phil?” Chad shook his head. “Big brother, sometimes you surprise even me.”
Justin scowled, clearly annoyed at Chad’s flippancy. “If I decide to defend him, then yes, I’ll do my best by him.”
“I reckon it’s your funeral,” Chad remarked.
A sinking feeling settled at the pit of Andi’s stomach. “You’re . . . you’re not really thinking about being Zeke Blazer’s lawyer, are you?” Oftentimes Justin said things just to make Chad react. Hopefully, this was one of those times.
No such luck. “But why?”
“Mostly because it’s my job. Especially if Zeke can’t find another lawyer. The court will have to assign him one, and it might just as easily be me in that case.”
“Can’t you say no?”
“I suppose I could. After I speak with ol’ Zeke, I just may do that. But I won’t make that decision until I’ve spoken with him.”
“Please don’t,” Andi pleaded.
Justin picked up his fork. A slight frown creased his forehead. “Please don’t what?”
“Please don’t defend Zeke Blazer.”
Justin lowered his fork. “What in the world would you know about this?”
“Nothing,” Andi insisted. “It’s just that—”
“Andrea,” Elizabeth interrupted. “This is not your concern. Why should you be so worried about it?”
“I-I . . . No reason, I reckon,” Andi replied, pushing back her chair. “May I be excused? I’m not hungry anymore.”
“But there’s Luisa’s famous peach pie for dessert!” Melinda broke in.
“I know, but I’ve got homework. A lot.” Without waiting for permission, she stood up and left the dining room. Her heart raced. What would Mr. Henderson think when he found out Justin would be defending Zeke Blazer?
Andi couldn’t finish her homework properly. The scene from that afternoon played over and over in her head. Her cheek hurt from where Mr. Henderson had rammed his pistol into it. She was certain it would bruise, and how would she explain that?
Rubbing the sore spot, she changed clothes and climbed into bed. She pulled the covers up around her neck then she gave into the tears she’d held back since arriving home.
READ CHAPTER 8
READ CHAPTER 8